Mississippi has two types of properties - land with wild hogs and land on the verge of homing feral swine. Feral hogs have become one of the biggest wildlife concerns for most game managers in Mississippi and throughout the nation.

Wild pig numbers grow at an unbelievable rate, and the interest in taking hogs has shifted from the landowners and land managers who want to get rid of them to a growing number of hunters who want to take them. So Mississippi landowners can easily get help from hunters in reducing the numbers of feral swine on their properties.

The reproductive potential of feral hogs causes their major difficulty. A sow can have two litters each year of four to six pigs or as many as three litters in 14 months, which means one sow may produce as many as 12 to 18 piglets in that time. Also, wild hogs - much like cockroaches and coyotes - remain in an area once they take up residence there. You probably won't get rid of them, and once you think you have, they'll more than likely return.

I've hunted hogs for 30 years, having taken them with shotguns, bows, crossbows, rifles, black-powder rifles, knives and spears. I've even handcuffed them, tied them up and carried them out of the woods. I've hunted feral pigs in the North, the South and the West, and know first-hand the challenges of hunting big boar. This past season, I hunted at the McKenna Ranch in Pachuta, and almost took a monster trophy hog there.

The almost-trophy hog

The monster hog came toward a watering hole less than 30 yards away. I already could picture his head mounted on my wall. With those big, nasty tusks protruding from his lips, this hog would make a fine trophy and conversation piece that everyone would want to see. I could think of nothing more impressive than a big, black boar's head with jaws open and tusks shining mounted on my wall.

I realized that at this distance, I probably could shoot the boar with my crossbow, but I'd hunted and taken enough hogs to know that if I didn't place the arrow behind the boar's front shoulder and angle forward, or behind the last rib, I wouldn't penetrate that thick, grizzled shield that protected its vital organs, especially a big, old, smelly boar hog like the one I'd encountered at the McKenna Ranch.

Even though I'd positioned myself downwind of the hog, it somehow sensed danger and never would step out into the open where I could take a lethal shot. This large boar hog had plenty of ivory hanging out of its lips. It wouldn't taste the swift shaft of my TenPoint crossbow that day, but instead would have to wait to meet another hunter, on another day, at another place. I'd always heard hogs had a sixth sense and often felt danger before they saw it.

Those russian hogs

Everyone likes to talk about the big Russian boar he's killed, or the hogs he's taken with Russian boar in them. However, unless you find a tattoo inside a hog's ear that says, "From Russia with love," you really can't be sure it's a pure-bred Russian. That's because there are so many hogs running free in the wild today.

"About 12 or 13 years ago, we saw some feral hogs near a creek on our property," said Steve McKenna, owner of McKenna Ranch. "I thought to myself, 'Where did those black hogs come from?' As I investigated, I learned that a neighbor 10 miles away had purchased 20 pairs of supposedly Russian boars. He erected a fence to keep the hogs in, but he didn't put the fence deep enough in the ground to prevent the hogs from digging out. His hogs got out and were on my land within two days.

"Since then, we've seen the population of hogs increase from just a few on our creek to hundreds.

"The biggest reason for the hog population explosion, not only in our area but in many areas of the South, happened 8 years ago when about 28 million hogs were turned loose throughout the U.S. because the price of hog meat decreased to about 8 cents per pound. It takes about 10 cents per pound of food to put 1 pound on a hog.

"As a result, numbers of hog farmers 'forgot' to lock the gates on their hog pens, causing a tremendous number of domestic hogs to become feral hogs. For a while, there were many farmers destroying hogs as fast as they could, any way they could."

Mississippi hog hunting

McKenna names the best time to hunt hogs as any time the weather gets too hot to hunt anything else.

"We have two creeks on our ranch - Souinlovey, a nice-sized creek that flows year-round and Twistwood, which is about half the size of the Souinlovey," he said. "The hogs stay along the creek during hot weather, except at night, when they enjoy eating and destroying crops.

"Hogs will eat anything, including watermelons, peanuts, corn and soybeans. In one night, a herd of hogs can completely wipe out a farmer's crops, and the next day, be several miles away.

"We've found that the best way to control hogs is to charge hunters a fee for hunting hogs on our land, with the going price about $350 per hog. We have many hunters who come to the ranch after turkey season, throughout the summer and usually before deer season starts to hunt hogs."

The McKenna Ranch has customers who travel from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey to hunt hogs and deer.

"Recently, we've had quite a few hog hunters coming from Meridian and Jackson as well as Mobile and Gulf Shores, Ala.," McKenna said.

McKenna says that hog hunting represents a growing industry for many landowners. McKenna's ranch has wildlife food plots and several green fields, but this year, he'll plant more cornfields to attract hogs to specific areas.

"If you plant a patch of corn next to a creek, you won't harvest it; the hogs will do it for you," he said.

Until recent years, McKenna considered hog hunting a byproduct for his deer-hunting operation. Many hunters took wild hogs as incidental bonuses when they sat in their treestands during bow or deer season. But with the growing demand by many hunters for opportunities to take more hogs, McKenna, like many other outfitters in Mississippi, has looked for ways to create regions where hunters can locate hogs easier.

"Ten years ago, we had 10 people come to the ranch wanting to take hogs," he said. "This year, we had 60 people take 73 hogs. About 25 percent of our deer hunters will take hogs, and about 75 percent will actually see hogs."

If you want to tune-up for archery deer season, now's the time to go hog hunting with plenty of hogs available throughout the state of Mississippi. Feral hogs have become such a nuisance to farmers, ranchers and wildlife managers that in May 2006, wildlife biologists from as far away as Australia and Hawaii held a feral-hog symposium in Mobile, Ala. These researchers reported that hunters across the South will have a target-rich environment well into the future.

In Mississippi if you have a big-game hunting license, you can hunt, take, kill, chase or pursue hogs during daylight hours throughout the year on private lands.

Feral-hog problems

In the original Thirteen Colonies, settlers brought pigs with them from England, and often allowed them to run free, where they mated and increased their numbers, particularly in swampy areas. California's wild pigs originated from free-ranging domestic pigs brought by Spanish settlers in the 1700s and also stockings of Eurasian wild boars made by hunters in the 1920s and again in the 1950s.

"Nationwide, feral hogs are a growing problem," said Steve Ditchkoff, associate professor of wildlife at Auburn University. "The most-serious issue with feral hogs is currently in the Southeast, although the feral-hog problem is just as bad in California and Hawaii. In the Midwest, feral-hog problems are in their infancy. But researchers are predicting that before long, the Midwest, which is the Bread Basket of America, will have as severe a feral-hog problem as the southeastern U.S."

Ditchkoff explains that feral hogs compete with native wildlife for food, and often monopolize acorn and soft-mast crops. Feral hogs also eat turtles, reptiles and amphibians - often including endangered toads and lizards. Feral hogs even have had a devastating impact on sea turtle nests and wetland habitat.

For instance, at Florida's Eglin Air Force Base (EAFB), the feral swine damage to seepage slopes closed to hunting averaged 25 percent, more than twice the 10.9 percent damage in parts open to hunting, with the combined pig damage to both types of areas costing $5.3 million in two years.

In some parts of Texas, landowners consider wild hogs as the second-worst predator, after the coyote, on newborn livestock. Feral hogs also root-up and destroy crops and dirt roads.

"The feral-hog population is creating more damage to the environment and farm lands than we realize," Ditchkoff says. "Feral hogs can destroy complete ecosystems. For instance, in Hawaii, where fresh water is a very-precious commodity, feral hogs can alter water flow and nutrient cycling to disrupt the quality of the water, costing Hawaii millions each year."

Swine control

The vast majority of states, like Mississippi, don't consider feral hogs as a game species, but instead classify them as a nuisance.

"More states are studying how they can make hunting feral hogs more appealing to hunters," Ditchkoff said. "In some states, you even can hunt hogs by spotlight at night with a permit. And in Georgia, you can hunt hogs over bait."

But hunting has its limitations as a means of population control.

"Hunting's not always effective, because hogs are intelligent animals and extremely sensitive to hunting pressure," Ditchkoff said. "Hogs simply will relocate away from an area with hunting pressure into a place without hunting pressure."

Researcher John Dickson studied wild hogs on the Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.

"Despite approximately 5,000 visits by hunters each year, nocturnal behavior, wariness and dense palmetto prevented public hunting from effectively controlling the NWR's wild-hog population, with only 56 hogs harvested there in 2005," he said.

"Trapping is more effective than hunting, and right now, it's the best tool we have for removing hogs," Ditchkoff said. "But research proves that unless you spend a huge amount of money, manpower and effort, you can't reduce hog numbers by trapping and/or hunting."

A cooperative effort of extensive hunting and trapping between adjacent landowners will have a greater impact on reducing and/or eliminating hog numbers than any individual Mississippi landowner's trying to solve the hog problem alone.

If you're planning a fish fry, but you don't find the fish, then change gears. Pack up your pole, and pick up your rifle. You can always bet on locating wild pigs. Have a barbecue instead.