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31 Days, 31 Ways: Feral Hog Hunting Takes Flight

DAY 2 of our 31-day series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: Licensed hunters will be allowed to shoot feral hogs from helicopters.

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31 Days 31 Ways

Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here

Day 2: Licensed hunters will be allowed to shoot feral hogs from helicopters.

Cattle rancher and retired peace officer James Stone of Lockhart shakes his head at the mention of his greatest enemy these days: feral hogs. He calls these 200- to 700-pound creatures a "nuisance" because they are wreaking havoc on his land and his small herd of livestock. So far this year, he says he has trapped 90 hogs and removed their carcasses himself. The hogs have torn through his fences and uprooted his trees. Though the drought has kept the hogs at bay recently, he fully expects they'll return in droves. And when that happens, he fears for any living being that crosses paths with the ferocious hogs. 

Among rural and urban lawmakers alike, there is little doubt feral hogs have become a statewide problem. More than 2 million of these wild animals are venturing into communities and destroying any property or livestock that stand in their path. The state estimates feral hogs cause about $400 million worth of economic damage every year.

To control the population, the Texas Legislature is legalizing the practice of allowing licensed hunters to buy seats on aircrafts and shoot the animals themselves. Sport hunting of feral hogs could also benefit landowners, who would be able to earn revenue by allowing hunting on their land, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists. 

Previously, landowners were already allowed to contract with sharpshooters to eradicate wild hogs on their property. This law just expands helicopter hunting to any sports hunter with a license.

(Check out the Tribune's interactive data visualization to see the current demand for helicopter hunting by landowners, how many hogs Texans have already killed from the sky and landowners' reported reasons for needing to kill hogs.)

Thrilled as landowners may be about the prospect of ridding their lands of these "nuisance" animals, hog hunting isn't cheap. Houston-based Vertex Helicopters, for example, is offering a "Helicopter Hog Hunting" package at an hourly rate of $475 per flight hour, with a three-hour minimum requirement.

Stone says he doesn't plan to pay to hunt the hogs from the air, but he welcomes the Legislature's new rule and hopes it is the solution to a problem that has eaten away at his time and his money.

Resource for potential hog hunters:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Becca Aaronson contributed to this article. Additional helicopter video courtesy of Black Bore Productions.

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