As soon as I posted the video of my weekend excursion with HeliBacon, the comments flowed in fast and furious. “Disgusting” one said. “Your a f***ing pussy. Hunt like a real man,” commented another. Another individual stated that my actions have angered an alien race which he worships and that they will similarly hunt me from spaceships with lasers for my crimes. While some of this is the standard response from those who disagree with hunting in any form, the addition of a helicopter and machine guns seemed to tip the scales for some people. So while I have some time, I figured it would be worthwhile to discuss the ethics of hogs, helos, and hunting . . .
The main premise of modern hunting is conservation. When we as a species moved from a hunter-gatherer based subsistence to an agricultural arrangement, we voluntarily took ourselves out of the food chain for the most part. Instead of searching for animals to eat every day, we raised our food apart from the normal cycle of life in the wilderness. Animal populations that had previously been prime sources of food for us humans were ignored, left to their own devices with almost no natural predators to keep their numbers in check. The same mechanisms that allowed them to survive the insatiable appetite of humans — namely their quick and plentiful reproductive cycle — meant that the local populations were suddenly above the carrying capacity of the land.
That’s the standard argument for hunting: that by having humans once again take their place at the top of the food chain we can keep the animal population in check and give the remaining animals a better life. It’s an argument that only the fringe animal rights groups resist, and is even embraced by that bastion of gun control activism, The New York Times. And when it comes to hogs, things become even clearer.
The hog population in the gulf coast states has exploded in recent years. The animals are estimated to cause about $800 million in damage every year, which is especially detrimental to farmers and their crops. Looking down from the helicopter you can see the damage as clear as day, with hog-infested fields looking like they’ve been hit by mortar fire. Especially with the current economic woes, one bad night of hog problems could be enough to run a profitable farm into bankruptcy.
But the problem posed by feral hogs in Texas doesn’t stop with financial damage — they also cause physical bodily harm as well. As I have settled into my new home here in Texas, I’ve been spending more and more time at Tyler Kee’s ranch, visiting with his family and hanging out with his horses. While their county isn’t as badly infested with hogs as others in the Lone Star State, the animals have nevertheless been the cause of many injuries to the livestock as well as the family.
Tyler’s mom was out riding around her ranch one day a couple months back when a feral hog viciously attacked her horse and knocked her out of the saddle. She broke a few bones in the process. She’s recovering fine now, but that might not be the case next time. I’ve heard variations of the same story from countless others, detailing the negative impact on man and beast alike from these unwanted critters.
States all along the Gulf of Mexico have similarly identified the financial and physical threat to the inhabitants of their states, and taken steps to not only allow but encourage the removal of these animals. There are certain counties in Texas that have even taken to offering a bounty to hunters, offering cash in exchange for feral hog tails. Added to that government-sponsored culling of the feral hog problem is a booming industry in Texas where landowners will pay specialized companies to come onto their land and eradicate as many of these dangerous and harmful animals as possible, an industry that has spawned the A&E reality TV show American Hoggers.
So the situation in Texas is that hogs are dangerous animals that are threatening to put farmers and ranchers out of business. Not only do the state and local governments encourage the widespread eradication of these animals but the people that live in the areas want them gone as well. Add to that the quick and productive reproduction of hogs — with multiple piglets per litter and multiple litters per year — and the problem balloons to the point where normal methods of population control simply are no longer effective.
To me, all of that makes sense. An exploding population needs to be controlled, and there’s a demand to eradicate as many of these destructive animals as possible. Once you get to that point, the manner in which you eliminate the problem no longer matters (it doesn’t need to be “sporting”) so long as the animals are killed as humanely as possible. In this case they were, since the helicopter pilot kept track of where the shot hogs fell and doubled back every time to make sure we ended their suffering as quickly and efficiently as possible. I can personally guarantee that these hogs suffered less than anything you’d see on the Outdoor Channel.
I think the guys at Jager Pro (from Tyler’s night vision enhanced hog hunt) summed it up best: “A hog is not a game animal. It is a pest and no different than a rat, termite or cockroach. Jager Pro is performing a hog control service and not hunting for sport. Our guest hunters are expected to kill every hog we see; even the juveniles. For example, if you have a termite infestation in your house, you want a pest control agent to kill all pregnant termites and baby termites before they destroy your biggest investment; your home. Georgia farmers expect us to kill every hog in his field before they destroy his biggest investment; his crops.”
So let’s break down this weekend’s experience and try to figure out what specifically rustled people’s jimmies.
There are two main reasons why conventional hog hunting is considered dismally inefficient: Texas is huge, and hogs move around. Feral hogs don’t have a set area where they live, instead they move around constantly following the food. A moving pack of animals is extremely hard to track down in the vast expanses of Texas ranch land unless you have some way to cover a large area in a short period of time. There are only two viable ways to make that happen: drones and helicopters.
Helicopters offer the ability to not only survey entire ranches looking for the animals, but provide a means to immediately act on that information. If you’re using a drone you would need to spend time and effort navigating yourself towards the target, and possibly losing track of where the hogs went. The helicopter allows for the efficient identification and elimination of these destructive animals.
The way I see it, the reaction some people have to helicopter hog depredation is the same reaction certain people have to AR-15 rifles and 30 round magazines. “OMG! That’s an assault clip and a machine gun! No one needs those!” Except we do — it’s the best tool for accomplishing a job that the local government and the local population not only agree needs to be done, but pays good money for people to do it.
I get the feeling that the reaction some people have to the use of machine guns is just an extension of the “no one needs an AR-15 to hunt” claim. And every time someone tries to make that statement, I whip out a picture of my 300 BLK hunting rifle. I’m one of those guys that like to build a “perfect” firearm for each application, whether it be hunting or competition shooting or just long range steel, and I’m at a complete loss for alternatives to the AR-15 platform when it comes to hunting in the hill country of Texas. But when it comes to helicopters, machine guns are the way to go.
I’ve been up in a helicopter shooting things before, and using a semi-auto AR-15 is okay. It works, but it’s not the ideal tool for the job. You have an extremely small time frame in which to hit your target before it runs off, possibly only wounded, and taking the time to reset the trigger and prep for another shot soaks up a lot of that time. With a machine gun, you can walk your shots in and make sure that you bring the animal down instead of letting it run off and suffer.
In my opinion, machine guns are the most humane solution when shooting from a helicopter.
The Overall Experience
“So does machine gunning animals from a safe seat in the sky make you feel like a real man?” That was one of the comments I got back, and was indicative of the opinion that many people had: that because I was doing this, I was obviously a bloodthirsty sociopath who enjoyed shooting animals. And while it would be easy to drape myself in the cloak of journalism and say I was doing it as an experience to report back on, the reality is that I didn’t see the hogs as animals — they were just targets.
Before stepping foot in the helicopter, I had already squared my own ethics with the practice. They were animals that the land owners were paying to get rid of, they’d be killed one way or another, and to me the day was nothing more than a marksmanship challenge. It wasn’t about killing animals; it was about hitting targets. And I wasn’t happy that I was ending lives, I was happy that I was succeeding at the most challenging test of my skills that I had ever experienced. Hitting a moving target while seated in a moving object where the motions of both are outside my control, was a pretty intense experience, and stretched my skills to their limits. That’s what I was most excited about. And while I’m sure the experience could be replicated using moving steel targets of some sort, the fact that I was helping eliminate a common and dangerous pest satisfied my own moral compass.
At the end of the day, I did feel a slight twinge of remorse once back on the ground — I’d have my doubts about the mental stability of anyone who didn’t. But aerial hog depredation is something that is common in Texas these days and in demand among land owners, and I was happy to think that I might have saved someone else’s loved one a trip to the hospital at the hoofs of these animals. It’s a practice that we should definitely re-examine periodically to ensure that we aren’t hunting these animals to extinction, but while the problem is as bad as it is today I personally don’t see an ethical issue with it. Then again, as Dianne Feinstein constantly reminds us, ethics are something that varies from person to person.