Monday, July 31, 2017
By Lisa Lakey
Imagine soaring through the sky in a basket, AR-15 at the ready and a giant balloon propelling you further above the trees. Sound a bit odd? Not in Texas.
Starting September 1, hunters will have the option to shoot feral hogs and coyotes from none other than hot air balloons, thanks to House Bill 3535 that Gov. Greg Abbott signed June 12.
The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) and passed unanimously through the Senate and with only two representatives abstaining from the vote in the House.
Earlier this year, Keough told the Texas Observer that the bill was yet another means of attempting to control Texas’ feral hog population, and it would create a new industry in the state. He also told the newspaper he believed air balloon hunting was safer than hunting from a helicopter.
Feral hogs have long been a hot issue, not just in Texas, but anywhere the species exists. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the state is host to 1.5 million wild hogs that result in $50 million in agricultural damages annually.
Hunting hogs from helicopters has been one method in a long line of attempts to curb growing populations and has been met with enthusiasm from plenty of sportsmen throughout the state, including State House Rep. John Cyrier (R-Bastrop).
Long have Texas hunters targeted feral hogs from helicopters; now they'll get their chance to hunt wild pigs from hot air balloons. (Dustin Ellermann/YouTube)
Cyrier, despite voting “yea” for HB 3535, afterward urged Abbott to veto the bill before the governor ultimately signed it into legislation. A licensed airline pilot, Cyrier feared “catastrophes” if the bill was passed.
“The serious problems that currently exist with hot air balloon flights were not adequately addressed during this bill’s consideration,” Cyrier wrote in a letter to Abbott, obtained by the Texas Tribune through an FOI request.
Cyrier warned Abbott of the lack of proper regulation of commercial hot air balloon pilots. Last summer, a fatal crash in Lockhart took the lives of 16 after a balloon collided with an electrical power line. The pilot had a history with drug and alcohol-related charges.
Cyrier told the Texas Tribune earlier this month that he did not see hot air balloon hunts to be an effective means to control the hog population. A sentiment shared with many hot air balloon pilots. But despite his feelings, come September several AR-15’s just might take to the skies in a basket.
“With everything going on during session, it was something that I personally had missed,” he told the Tribune, “and I wish I wouldn’t have missed it, because I would have said something during that time period, and at least would have asked questions."