Because hunting feral hogs from helicopters was just getting too impractical and expensive, the Texas Legislature has now approved a new plan to help eradicate the pests: hunting them from hot air balloons.
The Senate passed House Bill 3535 this week, sending the bill to Governor Greg Abbott for his consideration. It will allow landowners to shoot both feral hogs and coyotes from hot air balloons as long as they get a permit from the state.
Feral hogs are considered an invasive species in Texas, because they create a particularly cumbersome problem for ranchers and farmers, since the pigs eat and destroy perfectly good crops and even kill livestock and cause millions in damage every year. There are about 2.5 million wild hogs in Texas — they could essentially replace the population of Houston. And so lawmakers and rural Texans have repeatedly tried to find ways to kill them.
In 2011, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, then a state representative, put forth the "Pork Chopper" bill, allowing hunters to pay for the thrilling experience of shooting feral hogs from helicopters. In fact, Helibacon, in Bryan, created an entire business model around this concept.
But it turns out hunting feral hogs from helicopters can be expensive — at Helibacon, it costs $3,695 for two people to go hunting for two hours. And so the death-by-helicopter-hunters method hasn't really made much of a dent in the feral hog problem.
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So during this legislative session, lawmakers and Miller, the ag commissioner, supported dousing the pigs with poison instead — Miller, in fact, sometimes called it the "hog-apocalypse." But that legislation failed after the poison maker, based in Colorado, backed out of the registration process for his product, called Kaput, after receiving lawsuit threats. Some Texans raised concerns about what would happen if other animals, or even humans, ate the poisoned feral hog meat. For example, animals and people could die.
Miller confusingly responded to those concerns by suggesting the warning labels could just be changed, and apparently all would be well.
In any case, with options for hog-apocalypse waning, lawmakers had to come up with a new idea.
Enter the hot air balloons. It's unclear why this is any more practical, or why it would not also be prohibitively expensive for some hunters. But if it kills more hogs and coyotes, then apparently that's all that matters.