Texas has a plague of wild pigs, and the pandemic has only made it worse

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LUBBOCK, Texas — They’re huge. They’re hairy. They stink. Texas has a plague of feral pigs, and the problem costs the state millions and the U.S. $1.5 billion every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“They’ll get you … Pigs are everywhere. It’s not a question of if you have them, it’s when you’re going to get them,” Lubbock-based wild hog trapper and trader John Holocker said.

Feral hogs have torn up Texas for years. So, frustrated landowners have taken to hunting them on foot, by trap and even by air- shooting the invasive species from helicopters. And don’t be fooled, these pigs can be deadly. In November 2019, a healthcare worker died after being attacked by feral hogs outside of Houston.

When the pandemic struck, some experts said the pig problem got even worse. In some rural areas, the shutdown was great news for the hogs but bad news for the farmers.

“[Feral pigs] are disgusting. They are absolutely nasty … They’ve had a ball during the pandemic. The pigs have had free reign over everything they can find, everything they can eat. They’ve had free breeding,” Olivia Johnson, business manager of Cedar Ridge Aviation, said.

Cedar Ridge Aviation conducts helicopter hog hunts in Knox City, about two hours east of Lubbock.

“We killed about 150 pigs in the last two hours,” Dustin Johnson, owner, operator and pilot for Cedar Ridge Aviation, said.

On average, the company has about 75 hunts a year, but as a nonessential business, it was shut down for several months in the spring. Pilots said they should have killed about 5,000 pigs from February to April, but they didn’t kill any.

“If we’re not here shooting the pigs, then they pretty much overtake the field,” Johnson said.

It was devastating for the local farmers and ranchers who relied on the helicopters to hunt the hogs they can’t reach.

“Pigs are just continuously getting worse … They’ll eat anything, they can live anywhere. It’s just tough to get rid of them,” David Kuehler, a wheat and cotton farmer based in Knox County, said.

Kuehler said he lost at least 100 acres of a 400-acre field to the hogs last year.

“You figure that’s $25,000 in just that one field,” Kuehler said.

With no natural predators, they stick their snouts into the farmers’ business, attacking livestock, eating seeds and digging up roots.

“They’re very destructive, very destructive,” Holocker said.

But Holocker has a different approach to the hogs.

“I need people to bring me the pigs,” Holocker said.

He traps them and buys feral hogs from other trappers for a company in Texas.

“They will take them, process them, and then, they send them to France and Germany. It’s a delicacy. It’s good eating,” Holocker said.

It’s a win-win for the farmers and those who want to make a little extra bacon on the side. But what does wild pig taste like?

“It’s like a lean pork,” said Aaron Sims, Lieutenant Game Warden for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Sims added that wild hogs have been on the rise for years, and they can be vicious if provoked.

“They’re wild, and so if you get close to a wild animal, it might attack,” said Sims.

There’s a bounty on feral hogs year round, and you don’t need a hunting license to hunt them on foot anymore. However, if you want to hunt them by helicopter, you still need a license.

But before you grab your gun, Sims reminded hunters to be careful and to follow the rules and regulations.

“They’re not a game animal. They’re not supposed to be here. They do a lot of native damage, so people want to hunt hogs and we encourage that as long as they do it safely and as long as they do it on property that they have permission to be on,” Sims said.

For a full list of hunting rules and safety guidelines, head to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

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