Ben Boteler was spending his Saturday afternoon in January the way he does most Saturdays. He was in a deer stand on his hunt club at Willow Break located near the town of Redmon in Southwest Mississippi. The 3,800-acre club borders the Yazoo River and offers prime habitat for big deer.

On this particular afternoon, Boteler was very hopeful. He was currently watching three mature does feeding in a food plot. His heartbeat quickened when the does became alert and stared back into the heavy undergrowth behind them.

He muttered under his breath as soon as he realized the commotion behind the deer wasn't the 150-class buck he was hoping for but a pair of feral pigs, wild hogs, that came stomping into the food plot. He'd seen this scenario before, the does, not quite panicky, immediately trotted off into the woods leaving the pigs to their rooting of the foodplot.

Neither pig was particularly large, maybe 100 pounds, and fortunately seemed more interested in passing through than tearing up the entire plot. Eventually, the pair of hogs trotted off, but there was no visit from the big buck that night.

Dealing with wild hogs has become commonplace for many Mississippi deer hunters, and seems to be on the rise, especially in the last few years.

"We've always had a few hogs on our club, but part of our land was planted in sawtooth oaks under a CRP arrangement several years ago," said Boteler, who lives near Jackson and was one of the original members of Willow Break when it was started back in early 2000. "Those oaks matured and started dropping acorns maybe 5 years ago, and that's when the hogs became an epidemic. Now in September and October when the acorns are dropping, we'll see hogs every time we go to a stand."

According to MDWFP wildlife biologist Ricky Flynt, the state's feral pig population was historically only associated with major river systems and the Delta region of the Mississippi River. He said one of the biggest problems with wild hogs has been people trapping them in one location and transporting them, alive, to another location. This has hastened the spread of wild hogs, which are now found in virtually every corner of the state.

"It is now illegal to release a wild hog alive into the wild in Mississippi," Flynt said. "A special permit can be obtained to transport live wild hogs. The permit allows persons to hold the hog in a pen for later slaughter. These animals can no longer be released alive."

According to studies done by Mississippi State University, at least 80 percent of the wild pigs on a property have to be eliminated every year just to break even. That means hunters or land managers who aren't killing at least 80 percent of their hogs each year are seeing their numbers expand.

"Wild hogs are not a native species," said Flynt. "As a biologist, I promote the removal and killing of all wild hogs due to their destructive nature of the habitat of native wild animals and their competition for food resources of native wild animals. Also, due to the damage caused to agricultural crops, roads, levees, wildlife plantings and erosion resulting from their rooting while feeding."

According to Flynt, the best management for wild hogs on a property is to kill them with every legal means available.

"Hunters should never pass up an opportunity to kill a hog," he said. "It's that important."

Many deer hunters have realized that sacrificing their deer hunts to kill a hog isn't much of a sacrifice. Still-hunting hogs provides for both better opportunities to see big-game animals, and works toward reducing wild hog populations.

"Some of our hunters kill pigs every time they see them," said Boteler. "We even have some who come to the club specifically to hunt hogs first and deer second. I don't mind killing a trophy hog in place of a quality deer hunt, even during the rut, but during gun season, I'll wait for them to move off and resume deer hunting."

While Boteler may be preserving his deer hunting, he's not giving the pigs a break. In fact, he and fellow club member T.J.Pennick have developed a special stalking technique that works well on wild hogs, especially around the 3 miles of levee that borders the Yazoo River on club property.

"Hogs don't see well, but they have a good sense of smell," said Boteler. "We start with the wind coming to us and work our way down the levee on an ATV. This way, we can see long distances down the levee, and when we spot hogs on one side of the levee, we visually mark the spot for reference and get out and stalk down the other side."

Using the technique, Boteler and Pennick make their way down the opposite side of the levee until they reach the reference point where they last saw the animals. Using shooting sticks, the two ease over the edge of the levee and pick out the hogs they want to shoot. Shots are typically made at less than 200 yards. The two hunters kill a lot of hogs this way.

"In the morning if I'm coming out of the woods on the levee side or if I'm going back to the stand in the evening, I'm stalking," said Boteler. "We might even make a stalking run during the middle of the day between hunts if somebody is really wanting to kill a hog."

For the most part, the big-game focus at Willow Break is on deer, but that ends with deer season in late January.

"Once deer season is over, we get pretty serious about removing hogs," said Boteler. "We bring in some hunters who own hog dogs, and we track them down using the dogs."

Hog hunting, both still hunting and with the use of dogs, is a way of life for Slade Priest. He manages Tatum Plantation in Centreville, southwest of Jackson. Priest typically offers his clients their choice of still or dog hunting, or a combination of both. Priest says it's pretty common to have a number of invitations to hunt hogs by deer clubs who are looking to get rids of the animals.

"We use a number of bay dogs for hog hunting," he said. "These include airedales, walkers, plot hounds and black-mouth curs. All of our dogs are outfitted with tracking collars that have GPS locators in them. On a new property or somewhere we haven't hunted before, we'll start out at daylight and try to find a fresh spot hogs last used before they went to bed."

Baying dogs are long-range dogs and may go as far as a mile or more from the original turn-out location, especially if they get on a hot trail. The GPS locators allow Priest and his parties to track the dogs from vehicles or ATVs. Once he determines that the dogs have a hog at bay, they will approach to within a couple hundred yards and turn the catch dog loose.

"All of our catch dogs are pit bulls," he said. "They are not made for long-range tracking, but they definitely run the show. When we get within reach of a bayed hog and turn the catch dog loose, there's a moment of silence when you can tell the pit is within sight of the hog. The bay dogs will quiet down because they know what's fixing to happen. Then the pig will start squealing, and it's on."

A catch dog's purpose is not to kill a hog but simply latch on and anchor the pig until the hunting party arrives. Priest said almost all of his dispatches are made with knives. The hunters will help pin the hog down, flip it over to get a clean view of the vitals and dispatch the hog by sticking him with a large hunting knife under the armpit and into the heart.

Feral hogs are known first for their ferocious teeth and second for having bony plates along each flank. Priest says the impenetrability of this plate is often way overstated.

"You can get a knife through that plate," he said. "It might be tougher on a really big boar, but the smaller ones are not that bad. When still hunting and using a firearm, that plate is no match for a high-caliber bullet, but we get through them with the knife too."

After the animal is dead, the bay dogs are rounded up and reset for another hunt. The pit, however, often has to be pried off the dead animal using a polycarbonate breaking stick to separate him from the hog. Video of this scenario can be seen on Priest's online television series "Trained Assassins."