Even Europeans know about the feral hogs of Texas, whose tusks have earned them the reputation of "dangerous game." But compared to an African safari or a guided grizzly hunt, Texas hog hunts are being promoted as affordable adventures, starting at about $350 for a weekend.
"It’s the poor man’s grizzly," said Justin Bounds, who operates Caney Creek Lodge near Teague in Freestone County.
"We’ve had some interesting things happen," he added, "like a guy getting run up a tree, but nothing like a mauling."
Guides like Bounds and Donnie Hays of Detroit see hogs as year-round revenue generators because there is no designated season on them.
But Texans aren’t the only hunters who are excited about the sheer availability of the prolific pigs.
"I’ve had hunters come from 16 different states," Hays said. And then there was this couple from Fairbanks, AK.
"The wife won free airline tickets to anywhere in the U.S., and for their anniversary they decided to hunt hogs in Texas."’
Hays' Red River County ranch in far northeast Texas began offering hog hunts last March.
He started the business because he was tired of working for other people, but he still needed a stable income.
Business has been good. In his first year, he could count on one hand the number of weekends that he wasn’t booked. Repeat customers have come back for seconds and thirds.
Hays also offered guided deer hunts for nine weekends last season, but those proceeds were dwarfed by his year-round hog profits.
Hays charges $125 a day or $350 for a weekend. "My prices are at the lower end, but I’m not trying to get rich,"’ he said. "My goal is to make a living at it, but to also treat people right."
"Hog hunting is a service industry."
On the higher end, Bounds charges $695 per gun for a weekend hunt on regular feral pigs. Some clients pay him as much as $1,500 for a package that includes a feral "meat" hog and a trophy boar with European bloodlines.
His ranch in east-central Texas also offers a wide range of exotic game, but he estimated that hogs comprise 85 percent of his business.
Now in its fifth year, Caney Creek Lodge has hosted weekend hog hunts for clients from as far away as Montana, the Dakotas, New York and even Sweden and Finland.
But Bounds, a former archery pro shop owner, wants to leverage hog profits toward improving the trophy whitetail herd he has been developing in high-fence pens.
The goal is to place Caney Creek Lodge among the "elite" of Texas ranches that charge as much $50,000 to hunt a 200-class buck.
"I’m using hog hunting to get me there," Bounds said. "It’s a filler, but a great filler."
As hog popularity continues to grow, guides might be concerned about supply.
But with an estimated 2 million fast-breeding hogs in the state, Hays said, "The sky is the limit."
"I’m sure there’s a point out there where there could be saturation," he added, "but I don’t know how to slow down the population of Texas hogs."