HOPKINS COUNTY Texas is tapping its sportsmen to fight the state's growing feral hog population.

Year-round hunting of the swine is permitted by nearly every available method, and a spot about 80 miles northeast of Dallas has become a hotbed for the growing sport. More than two million feral hogs cause an estimated $50 million in property damage a year in Texas.

You got farmers that got these hay meadows out here, nice and pretty, said Jeremy Sickles, spokesman for the Bluecollar Bowhunter Club in Hopkins County. Then you wake up one day and it looks like somebody pulled a disc over it.

Feral hogs can be hunted year round with no bag limits. Practically every weapon from guns to bows and arrows and even pit bulls are used to hunt down the hogs.

When pit bulls are used, the dogs latch onto the hog as the hunter finishes it off with a knife.

Right now, ranchers can get a permit for population control, allowing them to hire a helicopter and gunner to thin feral hog herds destroying their land. It s expensive.

Landowners say the state needs to expand further, letting them sell the aerial shooting rights to interested hunters. Opposed by groups such as the Texas Humane Legislation Network, legislation to legalize the selling of aerial feral hog hunting died in the Texas Senate last year.

Groups opposing the aerial attacks say there is a potential for hogs to be wounded but not killed. The bill s sponsor said he plans to file again in the next session.

About 90 minutes east of Dallas, the Bluecollar Bowhunter Club has come up with a new way of encouraging hunters to target the swelling hog population.They're putting on the Texas Big Nasty Hog contest. Entrants have to take down a hog with a bow and arrow and turn in a videotape as proof of the kill.

It's more challenging, said Jared Brumley, a club member. The biggest hog turned in last year was 264 pounds.

Most hunters eat the meat.

Already, they're getting inquiries from around the country, including some out-of-state hunters who pay hundreds of dollars to fly in and hunt the feral hogs.

The trip could pay for itself. The total pot is more than $6,000. The competition lasts a month.


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