ABILENE, Texas -- A new Texas state law went into effect Thursday that allows people to pay to hunt feral hogs from helicopters, or what some have nicknamed "pork choppers."
With the new law, Dustin Johnson, owner of Knox City, Texas-based Cedar Ridge Aviation, said his business is changing completely. For three years, landowners have been paying him to get rid of hogs by shooting them from helicopters. Now, he said, hunters will be paying him to shoot hogs.
"I am 100 percent fully booked for September," he said, explaining that he has heli-hunting trips scheduled every day.
Hunting wild hogs by helicopter has helped reduce the hog population, said Russell Flanary, president of Haskell County Hog Control. The association was formed by about 125 landowners who hired Johnson to shoot hogs on their 32,000 acres.
"Before we weren't able to grow milo or anything because of the hogs," Flanary said. "Now we're able to grow milo again. ... We've all tried night hunting, trapping, all types of methods to get rid of hogs, but the helicopter is leaps and bounds better than anything else."
State Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, who authored the new state law, said hunting via the pork choppers has proved to be the best means of controlling hogs.
State agencies estimate there are more than 2 million feral hogs in Texas. According to a Texas Department of Agriculture study, hogs cause $100 million or more in damage annually to agriculture and wildlife habitats. Wild hogs are a growing nuisance around the country, including in suburban backyards.
Hogs have also damaging cemeteries, golf courses and parks, not just crops and fences in rural areas,
"Landowners have been able to get a permit to do a helicopter hunt prior to the passage of this law," Miller said. "What this does is allows the landowner to sell that seat on the helicopter. Instead of being an expense for the landowner, it will generate some income."
To be able to hunt hogs by helicopter requires a state permit as a qualified landowner or landowner's agent, said Steve Lightfoot, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Helicopter operations must be registered with the state as a wildlife aerial management operation, Lightfoot said. About 130 helicopter services are registered, about 30 more than a year ago, he added.
Johnson said he already has permission from the landowners in Haskell and Knox counties, where most of his hunts take place, and he takes care of the required landowner's agent paperwork.
Safety is his biggest concern, he said, but no training is involved to learn to shoot from the open door of a helicopter.
"I can tell you everything you need to know to shoot out of a helicopter in less than 10 minutes," he said.