As he makes his morning round of chores, a chorus of snorts and squeals resounds from Bubba Ortiz’s front yard.
Ortiz, the owner of Ortiz Game Management and Wildlife Development, is up before the sun is out. He tends to a hog cage he designed and built less than a hundred yards from his house near New Braunfels’ stretch of Interstate 35. From this plot of land, he makes his living in capturing, killing and cooking wild hogs.
In Texas, the hog business is booming. An entire sub-economy revolves around the strange ways Texans try to kill the invasive species brought by the Spanish in the 1500s — from kerosene to hand grenades to machine guns fired from helicopters. The industry even garnered national attention this spring when Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller proposed solving the state’s hog problem with poison.
Though Texans get creative with their weapons of choice, Ortiz takes what he considers a more humane approach.
After catching the hogs in traps he lays in clients’ properties, he takes them back to his holding station until he has captured enough for transport, or until someone comes and pays him to prepare one for a meal.
“Every one that ends up here ends up dying — either by my hands or through a processor or perhaps a certified game ranch that we sell to — but they all end up on the ground somewhere or on the table somewhere,” Ortiz said.
Though Ortiz said the wild hogs are a nuisance that needs to be eradicated, he still tries to keep them comfortable during their time in custody.
“They’re like my prisoners, you know; I have to take care of them. They got enough water? They got enough shade? They got enough food?” Ortiz said. “That’s bad karma to starve them to death.”
After having spent 48 years in the industry, Ortiz said he maintains a certain level of respect for the beasts that help him bring home the bacon.
“I don’t hate them. That’s a pretty strong word. Do I think they’re a nuisance? Absolutely, [but] I really can’t hate them, I guess, if they’re putting pennies in my pocket,” Ortiz said. “The power of pork has kept me alive.”
Ortiz isn’t the only person who hunts the prolific pigs that plague the southern United States. However, Ortiz said he one of the few who does it to his level of rigor and dedication. For Ortiz, who claims to have caught his first pig at the age of 4, catching wild hogs isn’t just a trade, but a family enterprise.
“I think the reason we’re so successful is we have the time and opportunity to do it full-time,” Ortiz said. “We dedicate as many man hours as it takes, and we have resources and equipment to do it. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes knowledge.”
In his time as a hog trapper, Ortiz not only has developed an understanding of the animal, but also ideas on how wild hogs could help.
“We have people who need money; we have hungry people. I think that the two should meet up somehow,” Ortiz said. “I’m not saying we’re the tip of the spear, but maybe we’re the edge of the side of the spear.”