Interactive: Feral Hog Hunting Takes Flight

The "pork chopper" bill will land on the governor's desk soon, and if it is signed, helicopter hog hunting will be opened up to sport hunters across Texas. Currently, only landowners with feral hog problems are allowed to pay for helicopter hunts, which can be pricey — $300 to $600 an hour. If the bill becomes law, licensed hunters could contract with landowners to come on their property, pay for the helicopter, and hunt hogs and coyotes from the sky.

Before the legislation gets off the ground, The Texas Tribune has taken a look at data provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to see the current demand for helicopter hunting by landowners, how many hogs Texans have already killed from the sky and landowners' reported reasons for needing to kill hogs. When it comes to aerial predator control, the department's responsibilities include tracking licensed helicopter organizations and pilots, ensuring landowners give permission before a hunt takes place and keeping reports from the hunts on how many animals were gunned down.

And they keep a handy data bank on all of it.

Demand to shoot hogs from the air has grown dramatically since 2005. Over the last five years, the number of coyotes landowners requested to kill hovered around 100,000, but the number of hogs has more than doubled — from 246,000 to 519,000.

But just because landowners want to kill hogs ravaging their property doesn't mean they'll actually find them once they're in the air. The number of hogs killed from flight pales in comparison to the demand for hog death. Landowners have requested to hunt down more than 2 million hogs by aerial hunting since 2004, but reports show gunners weren’t nearly that successful — fewer than 70,000 hogs have actually been shot and killed by aerial hunters during that time.

Helicopter hunting is most popular in South Texas, where shooters can easily aim over the open rural landscape. Pilots have to fly slow and low, which makes aerial hunting practically impossible in areas like East Texas, where dense vegetation blocks shooters' view and prevents helicopters from flying low enough.

The map below visualizes approximately how many hogs landowners requested to kill from 1996 to 2010, broken down by county. Click on a county to see how many hogs landowners wanted to hunt from the air in that time period.

Landowners can check off their reasons for killing feral hogs on the form they file with the parks and wildlife department.

The most popular reason: To protect wildlife. Hogs have been known to harm humans, but landowners are much more concerned about protecting land, livestock and crops. Texas lawmakers estimate feral hogs cause $400 million in agricultural damage annually.

Besides coyotes and feral hogs, landowners have also requested to kill 47 other types of animals from helicopter — some quite exotic. Coy-dogs, bobcats and red foxes are the next most popular predators on the hit list, but landowners have also requested to hunt zebras, eagles and, perhaps most peculiar, oysters. Not so common kill requests can be seen visually in this word cloud of animals landowners requested to kill 1000 or fewer of.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department | Built with Google Fusion Tables and Highcharts JS