BRYAN, Texas – You’ve heard the saying “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Well, so is the Lone Star State’s problem with wild hogs. The invasive species has been wreaking havoc on the ecology and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year. In recent months, they’ve even become deadly.
Some wildlife removal experts are using heavy ammunition and an aerial advantage to contend with the wild animals.
“Heli-Bacon flies around in helicopters and we kill feral pigs with machine guns,” explained Heli-Bacon CEO Chris Britt.
Britt admits it’s an unfair advantage, but he says that’s the point.
“In this particular case though, the purpose is not to be fair. The objective is to kill as many as possible.”
Britt co-founded Heli-Bacon in 2012. The commercial aerial hog hunting business in southern Texas takes passengers up in the air over farmland to hunt feral hogs.
“Really what we're doing is aerial wildlife management. When we are regularly hunting an area or a region, we can keep the feral hog population down in that area by 80-85 sometimes 90 percent,” said Britt.
“From the farmer's perspective, they get a form of free pest control that they don't have to pay for,” he said.
John Tomecek, an assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Texas A&M University, says invasive feral hogs reproduce quickly, are extremely resilient and are devastating to the ecosystem.
“Whether we're talking soils, water, agriculture wildlife whatever it is they're incredibly destructive and the system isn't built to tolerate them,” said Tomacek.
According to the USDA, more than six million wild hogs are wreaking havoc in at least 35 states, causing $2.5 billion in damage annually. Half of the invasive swine are in Texas.
It’s unlikely any single effort will completely eradicate the problem. Aerial hunting is just one tool being used to manage it.
Absent chemical controls, aerial and land hog hunting in Texas is legal year-round. USDA also uses traps.
“They're beginning to invade suburban areas. They're spreading to other states. And so, the population is getting bigger and the problem is getting worse not better,” said Britt.
Last month, a man wrangled a wild hog in his yard after it chased his 14-year-old daughter.
Wildlife removal experts bagged a whopping 488-pound feral pig outside Houston just two weeks ago.
“The animals are huge. They're very strong. They're very tough and resilient. They have large tusks and cutters,” said Britt.
Human confrontations are extremely rare. But in November, feral hogs attacked and killed 59-year-old Christine Rollins outside a home in eastern Texas.
“These pigs carry 12 different diseases more or less that you and I can catch. And so, for us from health and safety perspective it's a growing concern,” said Tomacek.
For now, with no natural predator, it’s up to hunters and trappers to try and keep these invasive pigs under control.