Hunters take to skies to cull wild hogs

AERIAL ONSLAUGHT: Participants involved in a wild hog helicopter hunt
Picture: REUTERS

In Texas, the pigs do not fly but the hunters do.

Tourists looking for thrills are taking to the skies above Texas to shoot wild hogs as part of the state’s effort to limit the spread of an invasive species that causes millions of dollars in damage to farmland and livestock nationally.

For up to $50 000 (R640 000), people can hunt the feral hogs from a helicopter and even use a machine gun to mow them down.

“There’s only so many places in the world you can shoot machine guns out of a helicopter and no one shoots back,” HeliBacon co-owner Chris Britt said.

HeliBacon, one of the companies offering the aerial hog hunts, says its customers alone gunned down about 10 000 feral hogs in the last 18 months, but that barely makes a dent in the Texas’ population of more than two million, a total higher than any other state.

There were 2 752 helicopter hog hunts in Texas last year, up 81% from 2011, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

About 34 400 hogs were killed in those hunts, up 53%. The total US population of the hogs is estimated at more than six million, and state and federal government officials are increasing efforts to rid themselves of the pesky animals.

There are nearly 150 companies and individuals permitted to hunt invasive feral hogs from helicopters as part of Texas’s socalled pork chopper bill passed in 2011.

State legislators last month sent a bill to Governor Greg Abbott that would allow hog hunting from hot air balloons.

At HeliBacon, based south of Dallas, packages starting from about $3 600 (R46 000) for two include airfare, lodging, ammunition, trophy photos and upgrades from semi- to fully automatic firearms.

“They love it,” Britt said of his customers, which include fatherand-son trips and groups from the oil industry.

Animal rights activists are not fans, but Georgia-based Savannah River Laboratory environmental sciences manager Jack Mayer said aerial hunting was one of the most effective ways to eradicate hogs in open areas such as Texas corn and rice fields.

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