Bounty program in Calwell Co. for feral hogs may be model for state.

With the wild hog problem continuing to grow in Texas, some counties have started offering bounties. One of the most organized bounty programs is in Caldwell County.

When it comes to wrangling razorbacks, Orion Martinez is one of the busiest in Caldwell County. With an estimated feral hog population of up to 3 million in Texas, Martinez and his traps are in hot demand.

"They are mean little boogers,” said Martinez.

Wild hogs dig through farm land, they destroy crops, and can taint water supplies. Each year feral hogs cause about $500-million worth of damage according to state officials.

Martinez uses trails of corn to lure pigs into his cages. He also has large pens. This one with hi-tech features can be activated by cell-phone. The traps, as these pictures show, typically are sprung in the afternoon or in the dark, late at night. While these pigs can be quartered up and eaten, that’s what will happen to this one, you may be surprised by one part that's worth some money; the tail.

Once a month Nick Dornak pays a $5 bounty for each tail that is brought in to his staging area in Lockhart. The bounty is offered by the Caldwell County Feral Hog Task Force, which Dornak manages.

"My opinion about the bounty program is that, it’s fun and its gets people involved in it,” said Dornak.

This is the second year for the bounty program. It’s funded, in part, by the State Agriculture Department. Last year, the agency paid out 132-thousand in special grants statewide to address the feral hog program. Caldwell County got $25,000 and was among 6 counties to receive what’s known as the chomp grant.

Additional money is raised locally to help the bounty program.  It’s paid off, almost 9,000 tails have been collected so far. Quite a few came from Orion Martinez, who turned in 24 tails in January. He said it was a slow month.

"And I'll tell you how it is working, it’s not working paying $5 for a hog that’s already been harvested but what does work is when you see guys like Mr. Martinez, who was in here earlier, who were trapping on maybe 100 acres and one box trap a few months ago and then they get excited and they start talking to people and now he is working 3 or 4 different properties and he is bring in 50 or 100 hogs every month. And when we get more and more land under management, that’s how we make progress,” said Dornak.

The task force also tries to attack the hog problem from the sky. Shooting feral hogs from a helicopter in Texas was legalized almost 5 years ago. The Caldwell County Task Force provides landowners with some financial assistance for flights. Near San Marcos, a non-profit called Operation Dustoff trains military veterans to be aerial precision shooters. The flights are not considered a hunt, it’s more like pest control, according to pilot Steve Van Buren.

"We've shot as many as 70 in an hour, which makes it pretty effective. An hours’ worth of flying and you can shoot 70 hogs that’s pretty good,” said Van Buren.”

But Van Buren believes it will take more state funding to get the hog problem really under control.

"In order to really get control of these hogs we need to be hunting these areas probably three times a year and right now we are doing good to do that once a year."

Despite limited funding, those taking part in the Caldwell Co. Task Force believe it’s making a dent in the population and can help identify emerging problem areas.

The opportunity to cash in doesn't end just with the tail; there is a growing market for these animals. Feral hog is on the menu. There is a hog buying station in Cedar Creek operated by Terry Turner. The hogs in his pen are shipped off to a processing plant southwest of San Antonio. Apparently there’s a taste for wild hog in Europe, according to turner.

"If we didn't have a market for the feral hog right now we'd be in worse shape than we are now,” said Turner.

On average Turner gets in about a 100 head a week. The processing company pays around 40-cents a pound for live wild hogs. No one is getting rich, but it is a little pay back for the damage hogs can cause.

"It just gives people, the buying stations that are out there, the trapper and outdoors man a little more initiative to go out and try to help control them,” said Turner.

No program underway now or in the future is expected to eliminate the hog problem. That’s why Orion Martinez says he will continues setting up his traps, collecting tails, and the bounty.