What do you think of when you hear the word "hawg?" Arkansas football? Motorcycles? Gigantic largemouths?

Bacon, sausage, cracklins, tenderloin and Boston butts are the first things that come to my mind when I hear the word. Rumor has it that we eat everything on a pig but the squeal, but there are a few other things on my 'inedible pork' list. Jowls, hocks, feet and chit'lins are a few.

Although I did sample a pig's ear in downtown Isola one winter day, and it didn't have a necessarily horrible flavor, I would have to add it to the "don't eat" list for the simple fact it felt exactly like a pig's ear in my mouth. And if you don't know what that feels like, just throw a piece of bologna on the sidewalk for three days, cover it with grease and add a dash of flavor, and you'll come pretty close.

Pigs and hogs are pretty much the same beast, but you should know when to use the terms and how to use them. Pigs are the cute little pink creatures we read about in Charlotte's Web. Some people keep pot-bellied pigs as pets, and 4-H'ers show pigs at the county barn.

But hogs - or hawgs, as we say down here in the South - are swine of a different character. Hawgs are pigs gone wild. Hairy, toothy ravagers of the woods, wild hogs are becoming a problem in some areas of Mississippi. Brought to the Americas by European travelers in the 16th century, wild hogs quickly spread throughout the southeastern United States, and are wearing out their welcome.


A serious problem

Talley Farms, run by Jeff and Chris Talley of Clarksdale, is located in parts of Quitman, Coahoma, Tallahatchie and Bolivar counties. The Talleys farm several thousand acres of cotton, soybeans, rice and corn, and they are no strangers to hog problems.

Chris says the main problem with hogs is at corn-planting time.

"They like the corn when it's just a few inches tall and the kernel is still attached to the roots below the surface," he said.

They can smell the corn kernel under the soil, and they will walk the length of the row, rooting up all of the seedlings so that they can eat the attached kernel.

"Then they move over a couple of rows and come back down the field, rooting up the corn," Talley said.

They do this until they are full, and it takes a lot of kernels of corn to fill up a hog. Factor in there are usually half a dozen or more hogs in the field doing this at a time, and it doesn't take long for a group of hogs to totally ruin a corn field.

They do the same to soybean fields. Hogs like to wallow. It keeps them cool, and the layer of mud that dries on their skin protects them from biting insects. During the heat of summer when there is no natural water source available, Mississippi Delta rice fields are perfect habitat for hogs to wallow. When a family of hogs moves in to a rice field, you've got big problems. Besides trampling and rooting the rice, they will root through levees and cause them to blow out. And they keep coming back until they are run off of a particular place.

The Talleys often team up with local hog hunter Jack Laney to rid problem hogs from their land. Laney has a pack of fine hog dogs, according to Talley.

During the hot months, the group heads for water. The hogs will not be very far from a water source when the woods are dry and the weather is warm. Laney's dogs trail and bay the hogs, and hold them until the hunters arrive.

You may be wondering what caliber rifle or what size shotgun these guys use to dispatch their quarry, but the truth is that they rarely carry firearms. Nope, these fellas like close combat, and they use large, Bowie-type knives to take down the hogs. It is not a sport for the faint of heart. It takes lots of nerve and a quick hand to get in amongst the dogs and hogs and come out without being injured.


Still hunting

Some Mississippi hunters pursue hogs in a more traditional way. Still hunting hogs is sometimes effective, but a pressured hog quickly becomes nocturnal.

"One of the best things about hog hunting is that it is very simplistic, in that I mean that it is not equipment-intensive," said Jimmy Barton of Monticello. "Most deer hunters have everything needed to hog hunt. The most critical element is scent control. Hogs have a more keen sense of smell than the most wary whitetail in the woods. The key to being successful when still hunting for hogs is to be downwind from them. Pattern where the hog trails are and where they are moving for food and water, and make sure you stay downwind."

Doss Earnest of Greenwood likes to set up on the edge of a corn field and hunt hogs just as he would deer. Doss has had limited success taking hogs as they moved into or out of the corn fields late in the evenings.

"The only key to it is the wind has got to be right, or they are not coming," he said.

Hogs are very smart animals, and they have an acute sense of smell. They can't see all that well, but they are quick to learn and will flee at the slightest hint of human presence.

Barton recommends hunting at dusk, rather than in the morning, and to set up on food sources to catch hogs feeding.

"One good thing for hunters is that hogs are a huge nuisance to farmers and gardeners," Barton said. "Getting permission to hunt hogs on private land that you may not get permission to deer hunt on should be easy because farmers and landowners want them gone.

I suggest using a large-caliber rifle. Most deer rifles are perfect for hog hunting. Shots are best taken in the neck or head, which will usually drop them in their tracks.

"Tracking a wounded hog can be dangerous, and I suggest tracking with a shotgun with buck shot as hogs are known to charge hunters."


Trapping works wonders

Other landowners like Ramsey Russell of Brandon go about hog hunting in a different manner. Russell and several others own a large tract of Delta land south of Satartia, called Willow Break. The members of Willow Break recognized their growing hog problem several years ago, and were quick in their efforts to keep the population from exploding out of control.

Russell and his crew use large cage traps to capture hogs. With their depredation permit, the members of Willow Break have taken several dozen hogs in the last couple of years. Always having fresh pork in the freezer is enough incentive for these hunters to keep working on their hog problem.


Tough customers

Alec Taylor from Brandon described a recent hunt in Adams County where he shot one particularly large hog that didn't go down easily.

"On Saturday morning, I set up where I had always seen a lot of hogs during deer season," he recounted. "This particular area is a riparian buffer zone between a pasture and a big wheat field that hogs and deer use to travel between feeding and bedding areas.

"I got to the stand before shooting light, and right at dawn, three 150-pound hogs walk by at 30 yards. I shoot the lead hog and it runs off, but since the hogs seemed to be moving, I decided to stay on the stand.

"Over the next hour as I am sitting on the stand, I hear trees breaking in a thicket behind me. It sounded like there was a T-Rex behind me. After 45 minutes of hearing this noise, I decided to try to sneak up on it. I was downwind of the sound, so I knew that the hog would not smell me.

"I got off my stand and started creeping up the edge of the thicket toward the noise. When I got where I thought the hog was, I stopped and waited to hear where the hog was going. Well, I look in the thicket and start seeing briars and bushes parting 10 yards in front of me. I never had any intention of getting this close, especially with a single-shot .30-06, but I had no choice.

"All of a sudden, I see this massive head come push through the briars, and I realize that I am 7 yards away from the biggest hog I have ever seen. I quickly shoulder my rifle, and shoot it in the chest. It immediately goes down, but not for long.

"As I watch, the hog gets back up and starts coming toward me. As quick as I could, I reloaded my rifle and put another round in its neck, and it went down for good, less than 5 yards from me. It wasn't until I got the nerve to approach the animal that I realized how big it was. It took a tractor to get it out, and it weighed out at 350 pounds.

"It is, by far, the biggest hog I have ever shot and the biggest that had come off of this Adams County property. It was a morning I will never forget."