SAN ANTONIO – The use and sale of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle have been in the public eye after the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde late last month that left 21 people dead.
There have been many calls to ban AR-15s, which have been used in several mass shootings across the country.
But the firearm is also used often in the local ranching and farming communities, especially when dealing with feral hogs in South Texas.
Jourdanton resident Joseph Meyer owns a helicopter company called Flying J Services. Many farmers and ranchers hire him to fly over their property to shoot and kill feral hogs.
“The AR-15 is used quite a bit from the air and from the ground,” Meyer said. “The rifle is probably one of the highest ways to get rid of as many as you can at one time.”
The firearm is also used by state wildlife officials who conduct daily operations to control the wild hog population.
“Ground shooting not only removes individual pigs but also sends a signal to other pigs in the sound, or that that’s not a safe place,” said Michael Bodenchuk, state director for the Cooperative Texas Wildlife Services program.
Bodenchuk said, despite these measures, these invasive species still cause millions of dollars in damage to land and crops.
“We estimate the damage to agriculture and natural resources in excess of $500 million a year in Texas alone,” said Bodenchuk.
The state uses different methods to treat feral hogs, including trapping, and is now evaluating a trial program involving land owners using toxicants.
Bodenchuk said those trials are in the testing phase, and the use of AR-15s remains one of the department’s most effective tools.
“The pigs will vacate a field if a few members of the herd are shot. We use semiautomatic firearms rifles from the ground in order to get as many out as we can. They are an effective tool for feral hog control,” said Bodenchuk. “Last year, we removed over 51,000 feral pigs to protect crops and agriculture.”
However, Bodenchuk said the department has no say on whether landowners should use firearms or not.
“That’s the landowner’s decision. The simple fact is the government can’t do feral hog control by itself. We need landowner participation to be effective. And so, we want landowners to participate in feral hog control. Whether you do that with firearms or traps or some other methods, up to them,” said Bodenchuk.
Meyer is a landowner and has owned a gun for nearly his entire life. He said, for many, it’s part of the culture in rural or farming areas.
“My dad taught me several times. You learned early how to handle a gun, how to handle it, and how to respect it,” said Meyer. “My kids have been around guns since young, and they’re taught what they can’t do. It’s education. It’s learning and discipline.”
Meyer said there is no easy solution to the debate over gun control and regulations.
“It’s an extremely sad thing that’s happened across the country, not just in Uvalde, and it’s something that has to be dealt with,” said Meyer. “A little bit of restriction laws on age and stuff, like that could make a difference. I don’t believe the banning of the guns is going to fix the problem.”
And while the debate over the use of AR-15s will remain front and center, Meyer and others feel these firearms, for now, will continue to be used for hunting and to treat feral hogs in rural farming areas.
“In Texas, there are already areas where ranchers can’t plant certain crops because of feral hog damage. We can’t plant peanuts, for example, in many areas because of the hogs. And corn is not acceptable in areas of high hog densities,” said Bodenchuk. “If the control were not in place, both landowners and government control, we would lose some of our agricultural production, which is our second biggest commodity in Texas.”
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