Some of my friends have ‘bucket lists.’ Things they want to do before they die, like climb Mt. Ranier, or race in the Baja 1000, or sail to Jamaica, or visit the Great Wall of China, or find a clean convenience store restroom. I don’t have such a list, but if I did, shooting hogs from a helicopter would occupy the top seven slots. Well, until a couple of weeks ago, when I finally got to do it. Now it would occupy pretty much all the slots.
With an assignment to do a story about helicopter hog hunting for Gun Digest, I called up Kyle Lange, of Lange Helicopters, Inc., out of Mertzon, Texas, and lined up a hunt around Doss and Loyal Valley. The pigs over there have been doing a lot of damage, and Adam Geistweidt, who has lost a lot of valuable hay to the pigs, talked to a bunch of the ranchers in the area and got permission for a pig killing. Ranchers are usually pretty happy to get rid of feral pigs without having to huff and puff and blow anything down.
The hog problem in Texas has just about reached epidemic proportions. The critters do millions of dollars’ worth of damage to property every year, they breed faster than rabbits, and they have no natural enemies. Well, except for me and Kyle.
But until a few years ago it was illegal to hunt pigs from a helicopter unless you were a rancher or a rancher’s ‘agent.’ Ranchers could hire someone like Kyle to kill the pigs, but they couldn’t charge someone else to kill them from the air, and helicopter pilots couldn’t charge anyone and let them shoot from their choppers. The pigs multiplied, the problem got worse, and it was no fun for anyone. Except for the pigs.
But this is Texas, and if there’s something that needs killing in Texas, we generally get around to killing it, sooner or later. Common sense finally prevailed, and the Pork Chopper bill was passed. It allows ranchers to charge people to shoot pigs from the air on their land, and it allows pilots to charge people to shoot at pigs from their helicopters. And all is right and good.
Of course, this is still not an official sport, and feral pigs are still not game animals, so there is no closed season and no bag limit, which is also good. Shooting hogs from a helicopter is not hunting, it’s eradication. But since it’s not a sport, the person killing the hogs is, technically, not allowed to do it for ‘enjoyment.’ You can shoot pigs from a chopper, you just can’t like it. Not legally, anyway.
Kyle told me he and a friend sat down once and tried to figure out how you could tell, without asking, whether someone was enjoying themselves shooting hogs from a helicopter. He said, “We decided the only way to tell was if they were smiling. So when you shoot pigs, don’t smile.”
I tried that. It didn’t work. Shooting hogs from the air is like having two birthdays every week. It’s like eating ice cream for a living. It’s more fun than the IRS would allow, if they knew about it. Don’t tell them.
Kyle flew around about 200 feet high, while I sat in the left seat with his Colt AR-15 in my lap, my left foot on a peg outside the door hole, and we watched for hogs. The Colt has a short barrel and a SilencerTech suppressor, which is pretty necessary. We both wore headsets, so we could talk, and Kyle played soft 80’s rock on the radio. The only thing missing was ‘Ride of the Valkyries,’ from ‘Apocalypse Now.’
Between my feet was a bag stuffed with about a dozen loaded P-mags, and some loose ammo in the bottom. When we found hogs Kyle would get over them and bank the helicopter so I was looking pretty much straight down at them, and he would get just above the trees. At first I thought he was trying to make me fall out onto the pigs, but I got used to it.
Shooting running hogs with a .223 from a bouncy, swaying, dipping helicopter is not the easiest thing I’ve ever done. It’s a good thing Kyle buys ammo by the pallet, because I went through quite a bit of it. Every time we found hogs, though, we got them all. As far as you know.
The highlight of the day, for me, was a coyote that made the mistake of bolting from his hiding spot south of the Llano River. I really wanted a shot at a coyote. Shooting the hogs was a blast (not officially, of course) but killing a coyote is just, I don’t know, better.
Unfortunately, I only got one shot at the coyote. Fortunately, it was enough. Beginner’s luck put my bullet just under his left eye. We even landed and picked him up, and dropped him behind the home of a very happy rancher, who waved at us from his porch.
If you ever get a chance to shoot pigs from a helicopter, don’t. Because once you do it, you’ll never want to do anything else. But if you do try it, I highly recommend Kyle Lange and his dad, Aubrey, who was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. They made the trip even more fun than it would’ve been otherwise, if that’s possible.
And remember – keep your seatbelt buckled, and don’t forget to frown. The government hates fun . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has never, to date, ridden in a helicopter without shooting at stuff out of it. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org