When it comes to unique hunting experiences, helicopter hog hunting may be near the top for one of the wildest ones out there. Such a concept would normally be frowned upon with other big game species. However, as an invasive species, feral hogs have caused such massive damage that desperate times call for drastic measures. Which is why the state of Texas basically has an "anything goes" policy when it comes to the swine. Before long, hunters were using helicopters to help control the feral hog population. Even with these eyes in the sky, hunters have a hard time keeping up with how fast these animals reproduce. It resulted in a whole new industry in the Lone Star State. Business owners are either contracted by landowners as full-time hog hunters tasked with taking out whole sounders, or they are outfitters who take hunters from other states on the hunting trip of a lifetime.
Today we'll take a closer look at this interesting new style of hunting, including why it's necessary to the management of feral hogs. We'll also look at the costs and what you'll need to do to take part in one of these fast and exciting hunting expeditions yourself.
The Pros and Cons of Helicopter Hog Hunting
One of the big problems with feral hog hunting on the ground is they are extremely sociable animals. They like to gather in big groups called sounders. When a group of them descends on a farmer's field, they can destroy it overnight. These sounders often consist of 40 to 50 animals. Even with multiple hunters, once you start shooting, the group scatters. Even with higher capacity magazines and fast semi-autos, some hogs are almost always going to escape into the safety of the brush or other cover. The scattered hogs sometimes go off and form their own sounders, thus complicating the problem even further. This is where helicopter hunting has an advantage. A skilled pilot can keep multiple hunters on top of the sounder until they take down every single one, even in thick brush. There is no place for the animals to hide, thus limiting how much they can spread.
The main con to helicopter hog hunting is the expense. Fuel for helicopters is not cheap, and that's reflective in the rates charged by professional operators to landowners, and in what hunters will pay for a helicopter pig hunting experience. Unfortunately, feral hog hunting from a helicopter also makes a rather small dent in the overall hog population in the grand scheme of things. According to VICE News, approximately 43,000 hogs a year are killed from helicopters. That's a drop in the bucket when you consider there's more than two million of them in Texas and counting.
How Much Does It Cost to Hunt Hogs from a Helicopter?
As we already mentioned, helicopter hunting can be quite expensive. Much of the costs are just in the fuel and operation of the helicopter itself. Knowing that, it's not surprising most seem to charge about $2,500 to $2,800 per hunter for a two-hour heli hog hunt. Some outfitters will offer a lower rate per person based on the size of the group. We often hear about people doing one of these hunts for a bachelor party. The more buddies you convince to go along, the less it will cost. The lowest price we saw was about $1,100 for a group of three or more. One of the more expensive packages we saw started at $5,300. Some will even offer corporate rates if you can convince your boss to a more unusual team-building exercise!
Before you freak out on pricing, know that these costs usually reflect more than just the time of the hunt itself. Most outfitters will come and pick you up at the airport before transferring to your final hunting location. They'll also provide all the firearms and ammo, so no need to bring your own. Most also often offer many onsite amenities. The price often includes the full cost of lodging and meals for two to three days (alcohol usually excluded). Some also offer target and skeet shooting at their facilities. Others may throw in a predator hunt for coyotes or a ground hunt for hogs at night into the cost too. Finally, most outfitters will also record footage of your hunt for you to share with buddies later and brag.
When you factor in all the extras, helicopter hog hunting is rather affordable. Especially if you compare it with other types of guided big game hunting. When compared to a guided hunt for a black bear or a bull moose, a guided helicopter hog hunt is a bargain by comparison. It's also more attainable because you don't need a Texas hunting license to participate in one, even if you're not a resident. It makes for a win-win situation for all parties involved. Farmers allow helicopters to fly over their land and they take the pigs out. The pilots and operators benefit from hog depredation by selling the experience to out of state hunters and tourists. And of course, the hunters and tourists get a one-of-a-kind experience you cannot get anywhere else.
When to Book, and Other Considerations
Even though hog hunting is open year round in Texas, most operators will not fly during deer season out of respect for those hunters, and simply for safety reasons. Many pilots don't want to operate at low altitudes when occasional stray bullets might be flying through the air. That means most will not book between the early part of October and the end of January depending on the county. Whenever you do book, most outfitters recommend you do it as soon as possible. Even though helicopter hog hunting is niche and most only serve a few hundred clients a year, their open slots fill up quickly. Avoid getting stuck on a waiting list by booking far in advance.
We should also note that most helicopter hog operations do not retrieve the animals that are killed. Mainly because 50 or more feral hogs could be killed on a single successful hunt. The logistics of retrieving them all become unrealistic at that point. It's only because these animals are so destructive that this practice is done. It's an ugly part of invasive species control and conservation. Also, many large hogs are also tough and not as fit for human consumption. Instead, the bodies of the animals are usually left for predators and scavengers. Nothing goes to waste in nature. Some operations will mark the spots of the bodies and then return in the evening for coyote control on top of the hog control.
The main reason we mention this is because if you want some feral hog meat, you'll want to mention that to your guide ahead of time and see if that's something they'll offer. Other than that, helicopter hog hunting is an experience that's wholly American and something that every hunter should try at least once in their lives.
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