I checked my safety harness one last time as the bird lifted off, then aimed my carbine in a safe direction and heated it up. We headed west, low and fast, with the morning sun at our backs. I looked behind me and saw the Special Forces Major I was teamed up with charge his gun and flash a big smile as he poked his 7.62 out the hole where the starboard door was supposed to be. A few seconds later, we had our first contact.
The devils had been hiding in some thick brush near a pond, but the sound of the low-flying chopper flushed them like a covey of quail. The pilot turned hard and started maneuvering sideways. I lost sight of them, but an instant later the concussion of the Major’s muzzlebrake-equipped 7.62 reverberating off the canopy let me know he was on ’em.
My partner pounded several of them before the pilot straightened it out, reacquired the scurrying scoundrels and maneuvered me toward them. A second later I unleashed a hail of 5.56 on the bastards, wiping out the remaining six or seven before they could make it to the river. It was over way too fast, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before we got into another sounder of marauding feral hogs.
An unusual problem
According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, the Lone Star State is home to nearly 2 million feral hogs. A freakishly high reproductive rate and lack of natural predators lead to out-of-control population growth, and their incredible intelligence makes effectively hunting them very difficult. Controlling their population requires drastic measures.
Though most hunters think feral hogs are a great bonus, they are an incredible nuisance to farmers, ranchers and other wildlife. They can destroy massive crop fields in a single night, they devour feed meant for livestock, and they prey on calves and fawns. You know you’re in hog country when you see massive tracts of land that look more like moonscapes than crop fields, the result of late-night hog feeding frenzies that absolutely destroy the land. The financial cost to farmers and ranchers is enormous.
A good friend of mine has nearly 17,000 acres in South Texas that are overrun with hogs, so I am intimately familiar with the financial toll they take and the level of destruction the gluttonous animals leave in their wake. My friend and I shoot and trap them on his property as much as we can, but taking out eight or 10 in a weekend doesn’t make a dent in the population. A few months ago he decided that the ruined crops, wasted cow feed and pockmarked fields were just costing him too much. He asked me to come up with a more effective solution to the pig problem, cost be damned.
A plan is born
After checking into the legalities of it with the state, I decided to start shooting hogs from a chopper. It’s very effective, and I also thought it would be a great way to see just how bad his hog problem was. As fun as it sounded, helicopter time ain’t cheap, so I decided to invite a few industry friends to join in the fun and help defray the cost.
Most experienced helicopter cullers use shotguns, but they usually fly very low over crop fields. My friend’s place has some big fields, but it also has lots of trees. Pigs are very smart, and I knew we wouldn’t be able to rain down copper-jacketed lead from above for very long before the pesky porkers wised up and headed into the brush. Since we’d be flying high and shooting through the canopy, I decided to use a rifle. Because aerial gunnery is so demanding, I felt that the gun had to be an AR-15.
Since his office is just an hour down the road and he makes some of the best ARs on the planet, I decided to ask Mark LaRue to join us. Mark is an avid pilot, hunter and AR advocate, so I wasn’t surprised that it took him less than a minute to say yes. He graciously offered to bring 5.56 and 7.62 versions of LaRue’s OBR rifles for us to use on the hunt. The OBR is known for its accuracy and reliability, both of which we would require to quickly and humanely dispatch running hogs.
Shooting with a traditional scope from a helicopter is very difficult. It also makes me motion sick. Because traditional scopes are designed to be shot with both eyes open, I decided to use an Aimpoint instead of a low-power scope. I also thought its red dot would be much faster than a traditional reticle and it would offer greater precision than iron sights. The lack of magnification would make shooting running targets from a moving bird a little easier, too. Besides, I already have one on my personal LaRue AR. Even so, Aimpoint’s Brian Lisankie was kind enough to send down some demo units so my less fortunate friends could enjoy their finer points.
Federal’s Tim Brandt sent an ample supply of 62-grain .223 and 150-grain 7.62 ammunition for our excursion. FMJ bullets aren’t ideal for hunting, but we would be shooting multiple times at moving targets from a moving platform, so I felt that quantity was far more important than quality. Besides, I think Tim would have had a heart attack if I’d asked for 5,000 rounds of Trophy Bonded Bear Claws.
Mark LaRue will probably kill me for saying this, but his OBR (Optimized Battle Rifle) doesn’t have any earth-shattering technological features. Sure, they have some design features that are unique and very clever, but his guns are so damn good because of Mark’s attention to detail and quality-first attitude.
All that quality starts with the upper and lower receivers, both of which are CNC-machined in-house from solid billets of 7075-T6 aluminum. LaRue has made a significant investment in high-tech machinery that allows him to do things his way, which means holding the tightest possible tolerances. LaRue designed the OBR with more material in critical, high-stress areas to eliminate known weaknesses of the 7.62 AR platform and stiffen the receiver for increased accuracy. Because of the quality of his machines, he is able to make uppers and lowers that fit together with the kind of precision it takes to make guns that look good, shoot great and run with the unfaltering reliability our soldiers deserve.
Stainless steel Lothar Walther LW-50 barrels are standard on every OBR. LW-50 barrels are renowned for their accuracy and service life. The 7.62 OBR is available with a 16.1-, 18- or 20-inch barrel, all of which have a 1:111/4-inch rate of twist, which is ideal for 168- and 175-grain ammunition.
One of my favorite OBR components is the handguard. It is a sleek, attractive design that feels great in my hand. The handguard has short pieces of Picatinny right where you need them—at the end of the handguard at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock—though they can be removed or repositioned. The top rail runs the full length of the upper receiver and extends past the low-profile, adjustable gas block. Its built-in cant was designed to provide correct orientation for inline night vision equipment.
LaRue also makes a 5.56 OBR that shares many of the 7.62’s features, including the adjustable gas block, full-length top rail, Geissele trigger and LW-50 barrel, though the 5.56 barrel has a 1:8 twist rate and a Wylde chamber. The 5.56 is available with the same barrel lengths as the 7.62, as well as a 12-inch Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) with a carbine-length gas system.
I set up all the demo guns with an Aimpoint Micro T-1 or Comp M4. My personal LaRue Stealth already has a Comp M4 on it. All the optics were mounted in LaRue’s rock-solid Aimpoint mounts.
On the range
We didn’t have enough time to do an extensive accuracy evaluation before our helicopter shoot began, and I wouldn’t do it during or after the shoot because I don’t think it’s fair to shoot a gun for accuracy that’s fired well over 1,000 rounds since it’s been cleaned. Even so, the 7.62 OBR we shot was a solid half-minute gun with match ammunition once I mounted the LaRue rep’s conventional scope on it. I didn’t have a lot of match ammo on hand, but I had enough to come away from the experience quite impressed with the 7.62 OBR.
The 5.56 also performed very well in my limited testing, putting every shot inside a two-inch circle from 100 yards. That’s no mean feat with zero magnification and a four-MOA dot that is bigger than the target. Of course, the test guns’ outstanding Geissele triggers made shooting those small groups a little easier.
Oh, the carnage
Shooting truckloads of animals with a semiautomatic carbine from a flying chopper can hardly be classified as hunting. But it is an accepted hog management strategy, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It is also incredibly challenging.
The hardest thing about aerial gunnery is trusting your gut instead of thinking about each and every shot. If you are constantly trying to figure out the exact amount of lead or reverse lead required, the pig will have changed directions or escaped before you ever trip the trigger and you’ll never hit anything. Instead, you must shoot with both eyes open and a hard focus on the target. When the dot feels like it’s in the right spot, start squeezing the trigger and don’t stop until the pig drops or the bolt locks back. Amazingly, it usually only took a few rounds to get on target, and the more I did it, the more first- and second-round hits I got.
The Special Forces Major who joined us said it is much harder to hit pigs than he had anticipated, but he still put on an impressive display with his 7.62 OBR that included a couple of 150- to 200-yard shots on running hogs. I cartwheeled a coyote that was running flat-out at about 150 yards, but I missed far more of those tough shots than I made.
Despite all our misses, as a whole we really put it to them. In fact, we had so many pigs down that it was impossible to chase a sounder of hogs on Sunday without pushing them past carcasses from earlier flights. We shot them in the thick brush, we shot them under trees, and we made lots of running shots. By the end of the shoot, we had accounted for a bunch of coyotes and more than 550 hogs, including some monstrous boars.
After the smoke cleared
During the two-day shoot, we fired approximately 5,000 rounds through three LaRue carbines. We fired those rounds in fast, furious bursts that heated up the barrels, baked gunk in our actions and filled the tiny Robinson’s cockpit with empty brass. Despite the adverse conditions, not one of the LaRue guns so much as hiccupped, and every Aimpoint optic held its zero. We put a few drops of lube in every gun between hour-long flights, but we didn’t perform any other cleaning or maintenance.
I was so impressed with the OBRs that I ordered two immediately after the hunt, a 12-inch 5.56 and an 18-inch 7.62. And it’s a good thing, because landowners from all over the area have been contacting me to come help them with their hog problems. It looks like I and my new LaRue OBRs are going to be logging a lot of helicopter time over the next year or so. I can’t wait.
Want to go airborne yourself? Check out gaohunts.com.