Helicopter Hog Hunting
2020 Hunting 0 Comments
A hunter and his wife take to the air to help eradicate invasive feral pigs, fulfill bucket list dream.STORY AND PHOTOS BY NICK PERNA
It had been on my bucket list for a long time. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of cool things from helicopters. I’ve parachuted out of them, rappelled out of them, and have even been in a low-speed crash landing in one (no injuries, but we ran like hell!). But the one thing I hadn’t done, and had always wanted to, was shoot from a helicopter. Lean out the door with a rifle and engage some targets!
So, when I had the opportunity to do this in conjunction with one of my favorite hobbies, hunting, I jumped at the opportunity. My wife made it all possible for my 50th birthday, the perfect time for a middle-aged man to satisfy one of the items on his “bucket list.”
A couple of shout-outs first. We’re members of Wilderness Unlimited (wildernessunlimited.com), a members-only club that gives members access to some of the best hunting and fishing in California and Oregon.
They also team up with companies that offer the same opportunities in other states and countries. Through WU, we hooked up with Serge Engurasoff of Urge 2 Hunt (urge2hunt.com). Serge works with Wilderness Unlimited but also coordinates trips through outside vendors. Serge set us up with two firms in Texas that would make this trip possible. First, lodging. We booked with 10-2-4 Ranch (1024ranch.com) in Commerce, a small town about an hour and a half northeast of Dallas.
The 10-2-4 Ranch is a first-class act. They have over 11,000 acres of property available for hunting. They have what you’d expect in Texas, like deer and fowl, but they also offer exotic hunts for game imported from Africa and elsewhere.
The 11,000-square-foot ranch house is awesome! With eight large rooms, it is big enough to host a lot of hunters. We made this a family trip, so we rented two guest rooms, each with a private bath and two double beds. The ranch has great WiFi and an enormous pond (stocked, of course, with largemouth bass) just a short walk from the great room.
Along with hunting and guides, the ranch also offers first-class cuisine. We had three incredible meals every day, served by Sue, the on-site chef. The food was plentiful and outstanding.
Each meal was served in a large dining room adjacent to the great room. At night we’d relax in either the spacious great room with the enormous gas fireplace or take a short walk up the hill to Rosie’s Cantina.
Rosie’s is basically a bar, with a fridge, but it is BYOB. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to drive too far to find a six-pack of Lone Star.) Ranch guests can shoot pool, play shuffleboard, mess around with the jukebox or blast your own playlist via Bluetooth speakers. With no cover charge, and no closing time, it’s a fun addition to an already great establishment.
AS GREAT AS the 10-2-4 Ranch is, I didn’t travel 1,500 miles to play shuffleboard or teach my kids how to play pool (although we did have some great family fun).
I came to hunt. Specifically, I came to hunt pigs from helicopters. Texas, like a lot of states, is overrun with feral pigs. These formerly domesticated beasts tear up crops and threaten native wildlife. According to the USDA, there are over 5 million feral swine in at least 39 states.
It is estimated that they cause over $1.5 billion in damage annually. In many states, including Texas, you don’t need to purchase expensive tags to hunt feral hogs. Even in a restrictive state like California, you can hunt as many as you want (no limit) during a year-long season (tags are required, though).
Other states have similar depredation types of permits, as the feral hog issue is not unique to Texas or California. Texas makes it easy for out-of-state residents to hunt. Temporary hunting permits can be purchased online and are mailed to you. The state also provides you with your license number online, in the event you don’t have the physical tag in your possession.
Barring that option, they can also be purchased at any Walmart. We were able to purchase a nonresident five-day special hunting license for under $50. Serge at Urge 2 Hunt coordinated the hunting trip too. He set us up with Chris Hitt of Sky Hunter Outfitters (sky-hunters.com). Chris is a former US Army Cavalry scout pilot and native Texan. He owns and operates his own helicopter hog hunting business and flies the same helicopters he flew in the service, Bell 206 Kiowas.
A word to prospective aerial pig hunters. There are numerous firms in Texas that offer airborne pig hunting, but few have experienced military pilots flying full-size helicopters. Kiowas are reliable air frames with proven safety records. A lot of things can go wrong with helicopters, so why take chances?
THE ONE THING we can’t control is the weather. We planned our trip far in advance for mid-February. We thought our four-day itinerary would provide us plenty of blade time, a night hunt, along with some sightseeing and fishing at the ranch.
Unfortunately, it started raining the day we arrived and didn’t let up until the day we planned to leave. This was not your normal winter drizzle either. Rather, it was a storm of biblical proportions, a Texas-sized rain that caused roads to flood over.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
The rain and the wind were brutal – not only for fishing. Poor weather conditions meant no flying. No flying time meant no chance of hunting from a helicopter. As one rainy day bled into the next, my epic hunting trip seemed less and less likely to happen.
Finally, on the last day of our trip, the weather cleared enough for us to go airborne. We met Chris at the “airport” – basically, a hangar large enough to house a few aircraft and a small, dirt air strip. It reminded me of some clandestine “Air America” airfields used to resupply guerillas in Central America.
Chris provided everything. We were geared up with AR-15s (with red dot optics) and unlimited .223 ammo. Our rifles were equipped with GoPro cameras, and additional cameras were mounted on the helicopter Shooters are seated to the left side of the aircraft. My wife occupied the front left seat, Chris manned the controls to her right and I sat in the rear seat. There were no doors on the aircraft so that my wife and I could engage targets. Shooting at moving targets from a helicopter is, to a certain extent, counter-intuitive.
As the pigs run from you, you don’t lead them, you shoot behind them. A word of caution to any future heliborne bovine hunters: Bundle up; it gets cold – really cold. It was about 40 degrees on the ground the morning of our hunt. The temperature dropped another 10 to 15 degrees once we were airborne. Add wind chill when flying at high altitudes at high speeds (and no doors) and it gets downright frosty.
ONCE AIRBORNE, WE test-fired our weapons and confirmed the zero. Chris advised us in our pre-flight training that, for best results, we needed to stand on the skids and lean out as far as the safety straps would allow us. During the test-fire he “encouraged” us to do this by banking the helicopter hard on the left side.
There I was, standing on the skid, buzzing through the air, cranking off rounds … I felt like a Vietnam-era door gunner, wishing the “Flight of the Valkyries” was blaring in the background. Get some!
Chris has permission from most of the surrounding landowners to hunt feral hogs on their properties. Most are farmers or ranchers who want to rid themselves of these destructive beasts. We flew about 10 minutes from the hangar and began searching for targets (pigs). The land has a lot of scrub brush and wooded areas adjacent to open fields. Apparently the feral hogs like the scrub, and winter is the best time to hunt, as the leaves in the trees do not interfere with your bird’s-eye view.
After about a half an hour of flying, we finally located a herd of about 12 pigs near some trees in a field. Chris used his bird to corral them from the scrub brush into an open area. That’s when we leaned out, stepped onto the skids, and opened fire.
I spotted a big boar break away from the pack and locked onto it. I unleashed about a dozen rounds in his direction. A few of my rounds hit home, knocking him over. My wife engaged another group of three, but they quickly disappeared into the wood line. These pigs move fast!
The boar I hit lay wounded in the field. Despite the fact that they are considered vermin, wild pigs are still God’s creatures and don’t deserve to suffer. Chris banked hard in the pig’s direction and came to hover about 20 feet away, less than 5 feet off the ground.
“Make sure you finish it fast!” he said over the intercom. “It’s a boar; it might try to charge the helicopter!”
I fired a couple more rounds, the final one hitting it at the base of the skull, killing it. We left the boar as it lay, food for coyotes and other scavengers, which includes other pigs. (Feral hogs can be cannibalistic, in case you needed another reason to shoot one.)
So, mission complete. What’s next on my bucket list? Underwater knife fighting school? Running with bulls? Give me some more Texas heli-hog hunting, please!
Editor’s note: Author Nick Perna is a sergeant with the Redwood City Police Department in northern California. He has spent much of his career as a gang and narcotics investigator. He is a member of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team since 2001 and is currently a team leader. He previously served as a paratrooper in the US Army and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has a master’s degree from the University of San Francisco. He is a frequent contributor to multiple print and online forums on topics related to law enforcement, firearms, tactics and issues related to veterans.