Earlier this year Austin County placed a bounty on wild hogs.
With $10,000 set aside to cover the bounty, hog hunters can collect $5 for each pair of ears they redeem at Steinhauser’s in Sealy with a cap of 20 pairs per family per month. For local landowners and serious hunters, the bounty is more of a bonus than an incentive. Wild hogs have been plaguing Austin County and most of Texas for decades.
“The statewide population is estimated at around 2 million and estimated statewide property damage is $1.5 billion,” said Mark Lange, a biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife serving Colorado and Austin counties. “Populations are increasing because no control method or combined methods can stay ahead of reproduction.”
He said a team at the Kerr Wildlife Management Area has been working to legalizing a toxicant for about 10 years that can be safely used by landowners and not impact nontarget species. Until that happens, hunting remains the most effective method of controlling the population and limiting the damage.
Commissioner Chip Reed, who coordinated the bounty program for the county, said so far it is “going pretty good.”
Matt Noviskie of Bellville is a local hunter who specializes in wild hogs. He uses specially trained dogs to catch them. He sells them live to buyers who process the meat, mostly for sale in Europe.
“There’s a few different methods for getting rid of these things, but because they’ve become such a nuisance around here, I’ve been doing it the way I do it, I hunt with dogs,” he said.
Because about 90% of the hogs he harvests are taken live, he doesn’t benefit much from the bounty. He said he does some rifle hunting on occasion and collects those ears for the bounty but for the most part he uses what he makes from the sale to support his hunting hobby.
He said the three main methods used to hunt hogs are with rifles, traps, and dogs. There are also a few who hunt from helicopters.
“The most recent popular one is thermal night scope hunting. A lot of people go out at nighttime with thermal scopes and they do pretty good that way. That’s the most popular way,” he said.
A native to Austin County, Noviskie has been hunting most of his life. He has been after hogs for about the last 20 years.
“This is a hobby for me. This is my full-time job here (as a technical service supervisor for San Bernard Electric Cooperative), what I do every day. Usually I try to hunt three or four times a week. I’ve been doing it so long … I hunt tons of different properties around here,” Noviskie said.
When he goes out, he brings two sets of dogs with him in a specially built trailer. It is designed with cages for the dogs, pens for the hogs, and room to haul his equipment and an ATV.
“I have dogs that go out and find them. They’re called bay dogs. They’re different breeds of dogs,” he said.
Once the dogs find the hogs, he releases his pit bulls.
“We call them catch dogs, and they will go in and catch the hog by ear,” Noviskie said.
After the hog is caught, Noviskie and his partners move in and hogtie the animal for transport back to the trailer.
“I’ve got buyers that will actually buy them,” he said. “The biggest buyer is Texas Southern Wild Game. They buy ’em live and we sell ’em by the pound. They buy ’em live and what they do is … process the meat there and they ship it across sea to Europe and stuff.”
He and other hunters will take some to Bellville Meat Market for processing.
“There’s so many wild hogs being killed in this area now they’re trying to boom their business by a push to make wild hog sausage and they’re doing really good,” he said. You can go by there and they have a different menu, different sausages. … They’re really trying to push the wild boar meat to eat.”
Noviskie said getting about 30 cents a pound live weight for the hogs won’t make him rich, but it does help cover some of his costs.
“I got a lot of money into it,” he said. “All the dogs have got special GPS collars. I have a monitor that tells me exactly where my dogs are at all times, and it’ll tell me if the dogs are barking. Usually when a dog is barking, they’re looking at a hog. They don’t bark until they look at a hog. There’s a lot of money involved for me doing it, but like I said it’s just an expensive hobby.”
Each of his dogs wears a GPS collar and a protective vest during the hunts. Between the gear, food and vet bills, Noviskie has a lot invested in his dogs.
He said he frequently has landowners calling on him to remove hogs from their property, giving him ample opportunity to go hunting. “There’s hogs all over the place and not only do I hunt Austin County, but I hunt all the surrounding counties,” he said.
He also participates in hog hunting contests.
“They have contests all over the state of Texas. They used to have just dog hunting contests but now it’s gotten so big with the thermal people, they go out and now they have contests too,” he said.
Noviskie said most contests start on a Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. and go through Sunday at noon when they are weighed in.
“There’s times when we go hunting on a weekend in a contest and we’ll catch 40 or 50 hogs a weekend,” he said.
Even with all the contests and the bounty, however, Noviskie doesn’t think it’s enough to get control of the rapidly growing hog population.
“It’s terrible and it gets worse and worse,” he said. “There’s not a place in the county where I don’t know that hogs are not. There used to be certain places where hogs hang out around water sources like rivers and streams and creeks and stuff but now they seem … to move elsewhere to different places – lakes and ponds and they just seem to travel. They hit them creeks and they just keep going. They’re all over the place.”
He also suspects that the bounty will not run out anytime soon due to the caps placed on it.
“With the cap on it they’re only allowed to have 20 per household,” he said. “I read that the budget’s $10,000 the county has; that’s 50,000 hogs, right? At $5 per set of ears, I don’t think we’re ever going to see 50,000 hogs killed in Austin County. They’re out there, but you think about it, that’s a lot of pork.”