LDWF investigating allowing recreational hunters to serve as helicopter gunners to help reduce feral hog population

If implemented, plan could mirror Texas program, which became legal in 2011

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is currently working with Texas Parks and Wildlife to investigate developing a program that would allow recreational hunters in Louisiana the opportunity to pay and serve as gunners on helicopter flights to help reduce the state’s feral hog population.

The process is in its early stages, but LDWF spokesman Bo Boehringer said the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Council in April heard from a Houston-based helicopter company that currently provides aerial hog control services with hunters in Texas, where the practice became legal in 2011.

“We see the value in removing hogs from the landscape, and if recreational hunters are willing to step up to the plate and cover the cost of those copter flights, the landowner wins in that situation, the state benefits from hog removal and it solves the financial question of who’s going to pay for that removal,” Boehringer said.

Mike Morgan, president of Vertex Aviation Group in Houston, spoke to the commission on April 3 and said in a phone interview that the premise of the Texas plan is pretty simple.

Hunters pay a private helicopter company a fee to serve as a gunner, the helicopters conduct flights over property belonging to participating landowners who need hogs eradicated and the swine are removed at no cost to the state or the landowner. 

“The private hunters are now able to subsidize the cost of the helicopter hunt program,” Morgan said. “There’s no shortage of hogs and no shortage of people who want to shoot hogs from a helicopter.

 “So it’s much easier to bring in private hunters, let them pay in this program and then subsidize the costs.”

Morgan stressed, however, that his clients understand they’re not sport hunting at a trophy ranch where animals are penned and then selected for culling. 

“Our goal at the end of the day is to get rid of hogs, not sport hunt,” Morgan said. “So that’s one thing we really try to stress with people hunting with us. While you are paying for this trip, you’re paying to participate in an ongoing depredation program.

“This is not an entertainment program. It’s a search and destroy program to get rid of hogs in the state. Sometimes you may get a small amount and there’s times you might get hundreds. We are hunting, we’re not shopping.”

But participating as a gunner with Vertex doesn’t come cheap.

There are numerous flight options, but it costs $750 per flight hour per person, or $1,500 per hour for two hunters, with a two-hour minimum booking required. 

Ammo is additional, and Vertex specifies that everyone participate in a mandatory $350 aerial hunting safety course before take off.

But the experience is unique, and there’s no shortage of those signing up as gunners, he said.

“We fly anywhere between 5 and 50 feet doing between 10 and 90 miles per hour shooting semi-automatic rifles at a 300-pound hog that’s running at 35 miles per hour,” Morgan said. “When’s the last time you did that?”

He explained the aerial safety course is mandatory because lots of things you learn in basic gun safety classes, like always pointing the barrel of your shotgun up in the air, aren’t necessarily a good idea when you’re sitting directly underneath a helicopter’s rotor system.

“So we have to train that out of people, and it’s not the easiest thing to do,” Morgan said. “We have a very small timeframe to change their muscle memory.”

Boehringer said there is no specific timeframe on when new details on a possible plan will be presented to the commission.

“We’re on the front end of that process and Sec. (Robert) Barham committed to the commission we’re going to come back to them and lay out a program or permitting process that we envision could mirror what is done in Texas,” he said.

Patrick Bonin
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Patrick Bonin is the former editor of Louisiana Sportsman magazine and LouisianaSportsman.com.