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Helicopter Hunting: The Best Thing a Conservationist Can Do

Like an impulsive and eccentric artist, Mother Nature only concerns herself with the aesthetic. Flowers, fall colors, snowshoe rabbits -- these are all well within her wheel house, but she's no good with logistics. She built a faulty system that's very pretty, but still faulty. Not all species are equipped equally for life; some blink out of existence before they ever really get chance to evolve while others won't stop reproducing and hogging all the resources for themselves.

Just imagine how many rats live there, ruining everything.

Fortunately, humanity has stepped up to do the dirty work. We are the number crunchers for the environment, making sure that just the right amount of elk, bighorn sheep and other animals that threaten to drown us in offspring are still standing at the end of each winter. If it wasn't for humanity keeping Mother Nature's unbridled fertility in check, who knows how many forests we would lose to the insatiable white-tailed deer, how many streams to the thirsty bear, or golf courses to the reckless goose. People are the only species diligent enough to do the work Mother Nature is too lazy and cowardly to do herself. Hunting is more than a sport, it is the task of heroes. I know because I watched my new best friend, Shane, kill 137 pigs from a helicopter with an assault rifle this past fall.

I found Shane in a magazine called Hog Huntin'. There was an article entitled, "Death from Above" about guides like him who, thanks to a recently passed law, will fly helicopters over East Texas and let you shoot weapons at anything that breathes. In the article, you could have replaced every occurrence of the word "hog" or "pig" with "zombie" and read a pretty good post-apocalyptic narrative. Here's a glimpse of the original text:

"Yuck," you might be thinking, but that's because you don't have the proper context yet. You should know, for instance, that Shane wears a cowboy hat and is impossibly cool. You should also know that feral pigs across the United States are one of the most glaring errors in nature's career. When settlers brought the hogs over from Spain, the environment shirked its responsibility and didn't do enough to prepare for their arrival. As a consequence, the pigs capitalized on that negligence. They thrived as invasive bullies in their new habitat, eating up all the others animals and vegetation. As farming spread into wild lands, the pigs become notorious for eating up crops, which has caused the government to step in and issue everyone free reign to kill pigs in whatever way they see fit.

"With children! We choose children!"

Hunting wild pigs is different than hunting every other animal, I learned, because we are allowed to drop the pretense of reverence for life and just admit that killing things feels rad. No one has to pick up the carcasses, there are no tags to fill or a hunting lottery to draw from. We just get to shoot them from the air until we run out of bullets or fuel because we are helping the planet. It's like the glory days of shooting buffalo from trains all over again.

When I met Shane on the landing pad, he wore a sheepskin-denim jacket and a toothpick slid around under his mustache. His handshake was powerful from a lifetime of chopping wood and pulling hysterical women in for sobering kisses. I made a mental note to start chewing toothpicks.

"You ready to fly?" he asked me.

"Absolutely," I nodded. "Let's murder some animals."

He stopped short and looked me over with his steely blue eyes, the color of masculinity. "We, uh, we don't call it that, OK? We're doing a service."

"Totally," I smiled, assuring him with my own unblinking eyes that I was effortlessly awesome too, that we could be friends who talked about 4-wheel-drive and winches when this was all over. "I'm just psyched to shoot something. Particularly in the name of conservation."

Ecology is awesome.

He tried to wink at me but it only came off as a wince. Then he whistled for his pilot and we were off into the sky. Shane brought two guns in the helicopter, both of which I had only seen in movies about terrorists. I asked him if he had affectionate names for his weapons.

He nodded and said, "7.62 OBR and AR-15." Shane, it turned out, wasn't very good at naming stuff.

"Are these for armored pigs?" I shouted over the helicopter.

"What? No, of course not."

"Why do we need such big guns?"

"Because it's funner."

"Nice." I put my hand up for a high five but he was already busy with more important things like looking at my hand and deciding not to high five it.

A few minutes later we were approaching a sounder of hogs and Shane grabbed for the weapons. "What do you feel most comfortable handling?" he shouted.

My heart soared. Shane thought I had used guns before. He had looked at me and just assumed we were cut from the same cloth. After this hunt we would probably exchange email addresses. We would be Facebook friends and put pictures of trucks on one another's walls, out where everyone could see we were buddies.

In truth I had never fired a gun in my life. When I was 12 I was really into pocket knives for awhile and once I bought a pair of nunchucks while I was drunk at a state fair but that was the extent of my expertise with weaponry. I pointed to the one that looked the most like Snow Job's gun from GI Joe.

There's a reason you never saw a single living pig around Snow Job.

Shane handed it to me and I pulled at every part that looked like it could move. The clip dropped out, bounced harmlessly off my leg and fell from the helicopter. He took my gun away, reloaded it and handed it back.

"Here. Don't do anything except aim and pull that trigger there."

The helicopter dropped in low over a group of panicked hogs. They were tinier than I expected, no tusks or bristling fur. The enemy was disguising itself as adorable. Shane nodded to me that I was allowed to shoot them now. I raised the gun, closed my eyes for safety and squeezed the trigger. The gun kicked and I felt its hot breath in my face.

Regret hit me immediately. I realized at once that I had made a horrible mistake. I had wasted my entire life nurturing other skill sets when I could have been doing this the whole time. It was awesome.

I opened my eyes and looked for corpses. "How many did I kill?"

"Zero. But you really gave the horizon something to think about." Shane raised his rifle and shot down four of the hogs with as many bullets. I poked my gun out of the chopper again and shot everything: trees, clouds, the sun. I was really good at this. I could feel the baser, more instinctual side of me start to take over. That dormant piece of my heart left over from the Stone Age that longed to hunt and kill something, anything, with a semiautomatic carbine from a helicopter.

Since time immemorial.

After about five minutes, my shoulder hurt so I just watched Shane knock over pigs. He switched firing hands to prove he could and started only hitting the hogs that were more than a hundred yards away. He had apparently become so numb to the thrill of shooting stuff that he needed to handicap himself. But my bloodlust was fresh and it could not be quelled. Full of adrenaline, I needed to keep killing, or at the very least, I needed Shane to keep killing on my behalf. He asked me to point out which pigs I wanted him to shoot, hoping I'd give him a challenge.

"The pink ones with a medium build, preferably female," I said, scouring the fields for one that met that description.

Shane paused and turned to face me. "What?"

"I don't know, it just feels right. I think they might be my serial type."

Shane sighed loud enough that I could hear it over the blades. "You're ... That's not what this is about. You're ruining it."

"Hey, when do we get to see the bodies up close? I'd like to replace some of their eyes with mirror shards if that's OK."

"Also, how are you at sewing?"

"No, it's not OK." He dropped the barrel of his gun and signaled for the pilot to head home without taking his eyes off me.

Dammit. We had been getting along so well too. Somehow in my excitement I had taken the fun out of spraying bullets at families of pigs and made it shameful instead. Shane just stared at the floor of the cockpit, shaking his head and refused to speak to me the whole way home. That's the thing about best friends, they can spend hours with each not saying a word and it won't be weird.

I let Shane have some time to himself and watched the long shadows over the desert. As my heartbeat slowed, I tried to identify what it was about the great outdoors that meant so much to guys like us. It went deeper than just the fresh air or being one with the backcountry, but I couldn't isolate it. From the corner of my eye I noticed Shane quietly raise his rifle, put a bead on a coyote in the distance and drop it with one shot under the sunset.

Of course.

It was the beauty we were after. All we wanted was to witness those ephemeral moments built by Mother Nature at her best, moments no one else would ever see before they were gone forever. And maybe, assuming we were within range, the opportunity to shoot them in the head.

"I'm going to write the best thank you card you've ever seen!"

You can follow Soren's detailed exploration into the pros and cons of pocket knives on Twitter.

For more of Soren's attempts to blend in with society, check out My Ill-Fated Attempt to Save a 'Suicide Girl' and Oh Canada: Exploring America's Majestic, Pointless Neighbor.

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