To Air is HumanOpinion
During the past half-century or so, I’ve traveled in huge commercial jets, small, private airplanes, and by helicopter. Once I even paid real, American dollars for the privilege of taking half an airplane ride, submitting myself to a fall of almost two miles without benefit of mechanical conveyance, depending entirely on a glorified bed sheet to retard my vertically downward velocity enough to keep me from being pulverized on impact with the earth. But I’ve never been up in a balloon.
Not that I’m opposed to balloon travel. When I was a kid, I watched ‘Around the World in 80 Days,’ and figured that if Phineas Fogg could do it, I probably could, too. And I was probably wrong, but it didn’t matter anyway, since I didn’t have a balloon. And I still don’t have a balloon, but I’m wondering what one would cost, because of Texas House Bill 3392. Rep. Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) recently sponsored this bill, which would allow hunting feral hogs from hot air balloons.
My first thought, when I heard about this bill, was ‘Whaaaaat? That wasn’t legal already?’ Because if there’s one issue all Texans should be able to agree on, it’s the fact that the feral hogs need to be eradicated with extreme prejudice. And the other thing all Texans should agree on is Blue Bell ice cream.
Since everyone is sick of hearing about feral hogs, we’re going to concentrate on the balloon thing, here. Now, I’ve been a hunter all my life, and have tried just about every kind of hunting I could, but I’ve never once considered hunting from a balloon. I’m tempted to call Mark Keough and ask him if he’s serious. Because, you know, he’s a politician. None of them are quite right, and this might be a big joke. And I’m going to try real hard, here, to avoid references linking huge, obnoxious bags full of hot air to politicians, but it’s going to be difficult.
Since I’ve never heard of hot air balloon hunting, I did a Google search, and the only thing I came up with was a video on the Realtree website. This guy was in a stand, bowhunting, and he had some deer coming in, when a colorful hot air balloon came by, blasting its noisy propane heater, and scared all the deer off. Needless to say, the hunter wasn’t thrilled. The balloon came pretty close to his stand, and I was a little surprised that he didn’t fling an arrow at it. I’d’ve been sorely tempted, myself.
There was one other reference that popped up, but it was a story from a magazine called Vague or Vogue or something, entitled ‘Hot-Air Balloons and Truffle Hunting: A Relaxing Weekend in Provence.’ I read far enough to figure out that Provence is in France. I decided not to read far enough to find out what choke you’re supposed to use for truffles. The article was just too . . . Frenchy.
So I didn’t learn much from AlGore about hunting from a balloon, but I have a few observances of my own. Bear in mind that my balloon experience is limited to seeing a bunch of them floating around over Colorado Springs one morning when I woke up after spending the night at timberline on a hike up Barr Trail on Pikes Peak. The multi-colored balloons were pretty, and looking down at them from 11,000 feet was kind of neat, for about a minute. That was seventeen years ago, but it taught me a few things about balloons.
Firstly, it seems a poor mode of travel when you’re looking for something to shoot at, even hogs, which are everywhere. Flying in Kyle Lange’s helicopter, looking for hogs in some pretty good hog country, we only scared up about a hundred porkers in a whole day. So I’m thinking the average balloon hunter is going to get skunked a lot.
Also, hogs can run pretty fast. Kyle would bank the helicopter and fly along behind the hogs so I could shoot at them, and I would estimate we were traveling about 30 miles an hour. I seriously doubt a balloon would go that fast. And if it did, I seriously doubt I’d want to be in it. I have no idea how they steer those things, but my impression is: poorly. So either the hogs would just run out of range, or the balloon would float into a blackjack oak and pop, or something.
The main problem with balloon hunting, as I see it, is that certain things should not be mixed. Firearms are useful tools, but excited people tend to forget which way their guns are pointed at times, and the default direction for safety is usually upwards. And if your buoyancy depends on an unperforated nylon sack of wind overhead, an itchy trigger finger is liable to give everyone aboard a serious case of heel-toe freight line. In other words, you shoot the bag, you walk back to the pickup. If you’re lucky.
So I’m all for hunting, and especially hog hunting, although I’m a little skeptical about the efficacy of using lighter-than-air flight to accomplish it. But if Mark Keough decides to try it, I’d appreciate it if someone would send me a picture. I’ve never seen a bag of hot air being transported by a bag of hot air . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who is willing to try hot air balloon hog hunting, as long as he gets to wear a parachute. Write to him at [email protected].