HOUSTON -- There are an estimated two million feral hogs in Texas causing an estimated $52 million in agricultural damage each year, according to state wildlife experts.
A duo of high-tech hunters near Madisonville offer night vision “safaris” so Texas hunters can take part in a state-sanctioned extermination.
"We try to kill as many of them as we can,” said Clark Osborne with Tactical Hog Control.
With private landowner permission, they roam the pastures and fields of Madison and Grimes counties in a converted military style SUV. Each hunter is armed with aviator-style night vision goggles. A pan-and-tilt thermal imager is mounted on the top of the vehicle and semi-automatic rifles outfitted with suppressors are at the ready.
The rig also has a bumper sticker that says “Hog Invasion Response Vehicle.”
"Most men would call these toys,” said Tactical Hog Control co-owner Jed Dreher. “Our wives are firmly convinced they are tools."
They serve as hunting guides, using their night vision equipment and thermal imagery to avoid wandering deer, cattle, skunks and other wildlife to take hunters on a quest for the most damaging invasive species in Texas.
"Before dad died he used to say ‘the hogs can make the ground so rough a bird couldn't fly over it,’” said Osborne.
"They procreate…rapidly,” added Dreher.
According to wildlife experts, a localized feral hog population – where females can reproduce as early as six months old – can double in population in less than a year.
Operating out of Madisonville, Osborne and Dreher say their hunts average about seven kills a night and about 1,000 feral hogs a year.
"For us it's just numbers,” said Dreher. “The more we harvest, or exterminate, whatever word you want to use, the better chances we have of keeping the numbers in check.”
"I mean there's the old saying something breeds like rabbits. Well rabbits don't have anything on hogs,” said Osborne.
The state of Texas allows year-round hunting, trapping, snaring, and the use of hunting dogs in an attempt to control the feral hog population.
"It's one of those things where if you don't do something about it you're gonna have a whole lot of people going bankrupt,” said Guy Blocker with FLIR Systems, which in addition to a lengthy history of providing thermal imaging systems for military and police applications, also markets night vision equipment for hunting.
"It's not a hunt. You're not going on hunts anymore. It's an eradication,” added Scott Pruitt of NiteHog Systems which manufactures thermal and night vision scopes.
But to people who are possibly squeamish about these night-time hunts, Dreher sometimes tells this story.
"All the pigs, when they're little, they're cute. You know...everybody thinks about Wilbur,” he said referring to the book Charlotte’s Web. “But if they had an infestation of rats and roaches in their home they're not gonna call the Orkin man to come out there and say I want you to kill all the big ones but don't you hurt the little ones.We have to eliminate all of them, just like an infestation in your home."
Dreher and Osborne know their impact is small in comparison to the overall population of feral hogs in Texas, but landowners know the hunts can provide at least some immediate relief for damage to pastures, crops and fields.
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