Turns out, hunting feral hogs from a hot air balloon is not all that popular in Texas.
Three years after state lawmakers approved the high-flying hunts, no balloon company has gotten a permit, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Gunning down feral hogs from a helicopter, however, has taken off. Since the Legislature passed the so-called “pork chopper” bill in 2011 to drive down invasive pig populations, scores of businesses have begun offering aerial hog hunts to customers willing to pay thousands of dollars for the experience.
[Ag Commissioner Sid] >Miller said he floated the hot air balloon proposal to a state lawmaker after meeting a West Texan who raved about using balloons to hunt hogs. They are less noisy than helicopters and offer a more steady shooting platform, proponents have said.
Still, balloons come with their own challenges, chief among them, the wind, which can send hunters flying in the opposite direction of the hogs.
“Even though you might know where the winds are forecasted to go, doesn’t mean that’s always what the winds are going to do,” said Josh Sneed, Southwest Region Director for the Balloon Federation of America.
Sneed doesn’t know any Texas balloon pilots who offer hog hunts. Safety has been a chief concern, he said.
“You can do it safely,” he said. “But most pilots don’t feel comfortable having people carrying rifles in their balloons with them and discharging (them).”
Helicopters have proven far more popular. There are currently 155 active permits for aerial wildlife management that list helicopters, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife.
HeliBacon, based in Bryan, has approval from farmers and ranchers to hunt hogs across roughly 300,000 acres in the area, said CEO Chris Britt. Hogs tend to be nocturnal, so the after-dawn excursions last just a few hours. About 85% of the company’s customers come from out of state and some of them from abroad, he said.
“From the customer’s perspective, they want to fly in a helicopter at a low level. They want to shoot a machine gun. They’re chasing a live, moving target,” Britt said. “The fact it happens to be a feral pig that they are killing… and it’s good for the ecology, the farmers and the economy is a bonus.”
Using aircraft to take out an entire group of wild pigs is effective, but if some get away, they learn to start avoiding the sound of helicopters, said John M. Tomecek, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist at Texas A&M University.
See here, here, and here for more on the pork-chopping bill, which also got off to a slow start. I don’t know how I missed the story of the hot air balloon option, but it wasn’t expected to do much anyway.
It’s easy to make fun of all this, and honestly I don’t know why anyone would want to pilot any kind of aerial vehicle while one or more people in said vehicle was firing guns at moving targets, but as we have noted many times before, feral hogs are a huge problem in Texas. It’s nearly impossible to control the population growth, because they reproduce so quickly and plentifully. I’m fine with some outside-the-box ideas to try and keep the population under some control – a plan to deploy poison against the hogs was ultimately withdrawn after concerns were raised about environmental damage – though as the story notes, it’s not clear how effective the pork-chopping strategy has been. But hey, until something better comes along, at least people are trying it.