TOP RESULT: Jim Swan couldn't have been happier when aerial shooter Mark Scant reported finding only one feral pig to shoot.
TOP RESULT: Jim Swan couldn't have been happier when aerial shooter Mark Scant reported finding only one feral pig to shoot. Emily Smith

Shooting pigs from helicopters helps to break 'curse'

ONLY five years ago pigs were robbing Koumala grower Jim Swan of 500-700 tonnes of cane a year.

The extent of the 'curse' was revealed in 2012 when Mark Scant went up in a helicopter and shot 264 pigs over three days.

Yet on Thursday Mr Swan couldn't have been happier, after Mr Scant returned from another shoot to report he could find only one pig.

"They are a curse. (But) it's gone from catastrophic... to absolutely nothing," Mr Swan said.

The feral pig aerial shooting program was launched in 2008 by Reef Catchments, local landholders and Sarina Landcare Catchment Management Association.

Sarina Landcare administration officer Nadine Hamill said she'd even received reports from a professional crabber about the increase in crab numbers since the pig shooting program launched.

"That's another positive. The pigs get in where (the crabs) burrow in the mangroves," she said.

"The pigs don't just give the farmers a hard time, they devastate our mangroves, they dig up crabs, they eat turtle eggs."

But she said in order to stay one step ahead of the notoriously clever animals, which would learn to hide from the sound of the helicopter, they had to think outside the box.

Last year, as the helicopter went up, one of the landholders set a scrub fire on their property and set out with dogs, to make sure the pigs had nowhere to hide.

They also continued baiting and trapping programs throughout the year, between the two three-day aerial shoots.

The increase in participation by landholders, who had to pay a fee to be included in the program, also helped the pig numbers fall.

While only 34 participated in 2015, it jumped to 58 growers in 2016 and has increased again for 2017.

Despite the excellent result on Thursday, with only one pig shot, Ms Hamill said the hot weather may have caused the pigs to hide.

Mr Scant, who went up in the helicopter at daylight, said while there were still a few pigs out there, it was good to know they'd been brought down to a controllable level.

"During the first couple of shoots, centres of paddocks were completely gone in places, headlands were dug up, waterways dug up. (It was) extremely noticeable," he said.

"All the places we had high pressure, we're flat even seeing a pig now," he said.

While Mr Scant said leaning out of an R-22 helicopter at "about gum tree height" and trying to shoot pigs with a pump action rifle was "definitely not an easy job", having a lifetime of knowledge of the area certainly helped.

He communicated with the pilot through a head set and hand signals, and once they'd found fresh signs of the animals they were generally easy to find, after flying a circle or grid pattern.

"(But still) many a time they've beaten us. You might be in a helicopter but it's not invincible. They can have advantages on top of you too," he said.

"But if you don't get them this year there's a good chance you'll get them next year or the year after."

The shoot was to have been held at the end of November, but was postponed due to the late sugar cane crushing season.