Feral Hogs Make Home in the Panhandle

- The hunt is on for hogs in the Panhandle.

"We fly around and shoot hogs out of the helicopter," Shane Williams, Chief Pilot for Cedar Ridge Aviation said. 

Williams and his partner Dustin Johnson work from a ranch south of Paducah. They've flown all over the state hunting feral hogs, including right here on the High Plains, where experts say these hogs are finding a new home.

"They've expanded their numbers exponentially. And they're making their way to the Panhandle. The reproductive potential of feral hogs is crazy. If you had a bred female pig standing here in front of us today, in 33 months, she could, in her offspring, without any mortality, could yield over 1,300 hogs," Rick Gilliland with the local USDA Wildlife Services said.

Gilliland says these non-native hogs have made homes in every county in Texas except for one, and they're devastating farmland across the Panhandle.

That's where teams like Cedar Ridge Aviation come in. Experts say aerial hunting is one of the most effective ways to get rid of these hogs.

Government helicopters cover some ground, but commercial aerial hunting, which was legalized in 2011, has grown as a way to supplement efforts, often at the request of farmers themselves.

"They call us and say, hey I've got a problem. Is there anyway you can help us. So what we do it we have an LOA, a land owner authrorzation. They sign that and that gives us legal permission to be able to fly over their land and be able to shoot the pigs off of their land," Williams said.   

The Cedar Ridge Aviation team goes out at sunrise, they'll spend about three hours out and shoot anywhere between ten and two hundred hogs. They've got plenty of people willing to pay to hunt. Visitors come to fly and shoot from all over the country.

"This is the only place I know you can fly and shoot out of a helicopter. You can't even shoot out of a truck most places, let alone a helicopter. Legally," Mark Dashiell, a hunter from Illinois said. 

But it's not all fun and games. It's estimated these huge hogs do $52 million in damage per year in Texas.

"This is about the worst I've ever seen... almost this whole field is rooted up. I mean they didn't get all the wheat seed, but they did a lot of damage," Daniel Godsey, a farmer who contracts with Cedar Ridge Aviation said.  

On top of all those dollars in damage, the hogs also carry disease.

"One of our major goals is to keep feral swine away from domestic swine, because of a couple diseases. But they can also potentially carry about 30 other diseases that can affect humans," James Alexander, a veterinarian with State Health Services said. 

It's a million dollar problem, that's growing.

"It seems like we've arrived at a critical point. I don't have a whole lot good to say about them. I understand they're fun to hunt, but in the big picture, we're better off trying to get rid of them," Ken Cearley, with the Texas A&M AgriLife extension said.

And that's what teams around the state are trying to do. We have more information about Cedar Ridge Aviation, and about feral hogs in general.

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