Special Report: Heli-Hog Hunting
TYLER, Texas (KETK) - They eat your crops, dig up your fields, knock over fences, damage you're water facilities and they can even eat your livestock. This animal has cost the state of Texas almost $1 million in damage, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife says they're increasing in numbers.
"It's a Feral Hog. Which is a domestic hog that's adapted and gone wild," said Silver Star Helicopters Owner, Kurt Ilse.
He is a helicopter pilot who started guiding feral hog hunts in South Texas 15 years ago. Over time, he noticed an increase in business from farmers.
"He went to harvest his crop, and he'd look down and notice he's missing 20 acres out of a field. Or 40 or 50. And some of these guys I know probably lost $30-50,000 worth of crops," said Ilse.
Once he opened helicopter hunting up to the public, Ilse said his business skyrocketed. It was an economical way for farmers to fight their hog problem.
A grain and rice farmer in El Campo, Kyle Heard said, "For about the last 10 to 12 years they've gotten really bad each year gets worse and worse. So we started helicopter huntin' over the last 3 to 4 years and it seems to work pretty good, but you can never stop all of them."
Heard says this hunting method helps him protect his crops, but, it won't make up for the damage done.
"We have between $15-30,000 a year depending on the crop and price of the grain every year. They really just devastate our crop," said Heard.
Farmers from all over Texas started to report the same issue, which resulted in increased demands for hunting guides.
Honest Tom Guiding Service Owner, Tom Stephenson said, "Hogs became a premier source of income for a while, for everybody's who's an outfitter. And people come from up North especially to hunt our wild hogs."
Stephenson has 25 years of experience hunting hogs and is the president of three sport hunting companies. He says the feral hogs in Texas do nothing besides cost the state money.
"Almost between $50 million and $100 million worth in damage to the state of Texas. By that I mean to crops, to fences, to wetlands, to pretty much everything," said Stephenson.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife says the feral hogs were introduced to Texas by early Spanish explorers, over 300 years ago. Then, by the 1930's "Russian Boars" were imported for sport hunting purposes, and their population began to increase.
"Hogs maybe in the last 5 years, have gone up almost 30 percent in population," said Stephenson.
Stephenson said out of 254 counties, 200 of them have wild hogs.
"You've got a mounting population. Even though in the state of Texas, we kill 600,000 a year. They're increasing every year," said Stephenson.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife says feral hogs are capable of breeding at 6 months of age and can have up to 10 to 12 young. They say the problem is finding out how to control them.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Hunter Education Coordinator, Steve Hall said, "Much like the coyote, they've really adapted well to the habitat, and essentially again they're a prolific species, meaning they have lots of young and it's hard to control."
Hall has been teaching Hunter Education in Texas for 26 years, and he says he understands the trouble they stir up on Texas soil. So as far as killing them goes, the Texas Parks and Guiding services are giving hunters 'the green light.'
"Someone got the bright idea, not me, to do hunting out of helicopter. And when they first started doing it, it really really worked," said Stephenson.
They say it's a popular way to hunt right now in South Texas, but the hogs are getting smarter and smarter. In the past, he had one trip where they wound up with 400 hogs down. Now they are getting at five, at most.
"They've gotten very smart and they've adapted. They come out at night and head into the woods early in the morning," said Ilse.
He says helicopter hog hunting in their area is easier due to the open crop land and fields. But, in East Texas it's much more difficult.
"The problem they've got is that it's so wooded and the trees are so high the pigs can get away from them so easy," said Ilse.
Isle says he doesn't know how they will find a way to control their feral hog population.
"East Texas, I really feel for those people because they are going to have a problem in trying to catch the pigs because it's so wooded. You can't get in with a helicopter. And the helicopter really seems to be like the most effective way to control them," said Ilse.
In the state of Texas, there's no limit on hog hunting and they're a Non-game species.
"You can hunt them in day, you can hunt them at night, you can trap them, you can bait them, you can do all these things but you're still not going to eliminate the problem," said Stephenson.
"There's a joke that goes around that says there's two types of counties in Texas, there's those that have hogs and those that will have hogs," said Hall.
So what can we do to solve the feral hog problem in Texas? They say poison is not an option because the hogs live with other wildlife. At the rate their population is multiplying, it's going to be hard for the state to regulate. In the end, hunter officials say it's up to the people take action.
"You're not going to eliminate the hog problem, but what you can do is through this kind of hunting, through sport hunting, helicopter hunting. The Texas Parks and Wildlife has a program they will try and help you eradicate your hog problem. I'm not saying it works, but it does keep them down," said Stephenson.