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Texas tackles wild hogs with high-stakes hunts

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WOODSON, Texas — This holiday season many Texans will feast on turkey and roast beef and, being Texans, barbecue. Some will dine on pork, but not just any kind of pork. Call it "wild boar."

How this meat reaches the table is a story that is quintessentially Texan, involving rugged individuals, a love of the outdoors and, yes, guns. To tell that story, let's go back to earlier this year, before the coronavirus, to a wheat field in north-central Texas at dusk.

Peering through an infrared night-vision scope atop his customized AR 15-style rifle, Fred Jones spied his prey trotting into the field by the dozens.

"We may not get the big one," Jones said, "but we're going to kill some pigs."

In Texas you don't need a permit to kill wild hogs on public or private land. Hunters can legally stalk them with all sorts of weapons: drones, digital pig calls, baying dogs (a practice known as "hog dogging"), helicopters and even hot-air balloons. Most hunt at night with AR 10- or AR 15-style rifles that make it easier to quickly shoot hogs in packs, or sounders.

It's open season year-round on feral pigs, whose population in Texas has grown to nearly 3 million. Hunters are not required to retrieve carcasses, although there's an incentive to do so: "wild boar" sells for up to 60 cents a pound.

 

The hogs are considered an invasive species, much larger than their south Texas cousin the peccary, or javelina. And they're armed with four tusks that can be several inches long and razor sharp.

Last fall, hogs killed a 59-year-old home health aide east of Houston. Earlier this year, wildlife removal experts killed a hog northeast of Houston that weighed nearly a quarter ton — 488 pounds.

Feral pigs damage more than $52 million in Texas agriculture annually, according to federal and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension experts, and up to $2.5 billion nationwide. They harm watersheds and archaeological sites, rutting and burrowing into "pigloos" to cool off (pigs don't sweat).

Omnivorous, they eat just about anything, including endangered species, and can transmit nearly three dozen diseases. And they breed fast. Sows can give birth at about a year old and deliver multiple litters annually of up to a dozen piglets.

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