In the first place, there's nothing all that dirty about pigs. Oh, a few grimy streaks behind their floppy pink ears maybe, and a little caked smear on the snouts where they've been rooting.

But, basically, the pig is not that dirty a beast.

They are every bit as big as you think you're going to be. One sow had to weigh close to 400 pounds. And they are hard. They look pudgy, but slap one and it's like patting hairy concrete.

"There's one male hog in the pan," the farmer said. "Generally he won't bother you. But you don't ever want to tease a male hog. He can get mean."

Then, while he turned off the juice in the electric fence so the hunters could climb into the hog lot, he told about the time he had so enraged a male that the porker took dead aim on the hot wire and right through it, leaving the current-laden strands dancing and buzzing on the ground.

Okay, no teasing the male hogs. Will they leave us alone?

"Just don't leave anything around they can eat," said the farmer.

He meant anything. Hogs are not particular. There's the take of the drunken farmer who passed out in his hog lot one cold night and woke up to find his favorite sow gnawing on him.

But mostly the hogs on this Howard County farm eat corn, which is how the hunters came to be there at all in a dreary rain.

Every day at about 4 o'clock the farmer drives his tractor down the hill to the hog lot with a load of dried feed corn.

On the way he shouts "Soo-ie, soo-ie," and the hogs trot alongside until they get to an aging locust tree. There the farmer heaves the corn over the fence and the hogs snort and snuffle it down.

Other beasts like the corn, too, notably doves and pigeons. They are supposed to fly around and gather what the pigs leave behind, which isn't much.

The farmer hates the pigeons, which dirty up his otherwise spotless farm and which he says can carry diseases that infect the pigs. And hunters like doves, which are in season now and which are wonderful sport to shoot and wonderful table fare to eat.

The farmer said if the hunters would shoot the pigeons and give the carcasses to him for bait for his fox traps, they could shoot the doves and take them home. It promised to be quite a day.

Promises, promises.

The hunters wound up spending a lot more time studying the habits of hogs than those of pigeons and doves.

"Just take a seat by that old harrow," the farmer said, pointing to a rusted farm machine overgrown with honeysuckle. "Feller sat there yesterday afternoon and shot 18 pigeons and I don't know how many doves.

"We took the pigeons down to the chaff pile and left them. This morning there wasn't a feather left. The foxes and raccoons got every one."

There was but one hog in the lot when the hunters sat down, but before long a dozen more had joined it, including the male hog, and the beasts were snorting away within a few feet of the rusty harrow.

One giant black and white hog slipped up behind the men to scratch its back on the remains of the harrow, jostling the rusty machinery.

Another sneaked up broadside and began chomping away at one of the hunter's cardboard shell boxes. The men shooed it away with their gun butts.

The hogs had no fear but the pigeons and doves had learned a lesson from the previous day's sport. They flew for the lot but when the guns were raised they veered wildly away and lit out for bare trees in the distance.

One pigeon got too close and came down in a barrage of birdshot. When the hunters walked away for a moment to look for a better hiding spot the pigs descended on the feathery carcass and began tearing it to shreds. The hunters raced back to rescue the fox bait.

The pigs grunted and squealed.

"This is ridiculous," said one of the hunters.

But they stuck it out, and by day's end they had managed to bring another pigeon and a lone dove down through the rain.

As they packed up, the farmer told them they could come back again, as long as they called and let him know they were coming.

One hunter thought that was fine idea.He told the other, "I had a great time. Maybe it wasn't anything special to you, but it was for me.

"I guess you get to do this sort of thing all the time," he said to his partner, whom he knew to be makin a living writing stories about pigs and pigeons and doves and rain.

Well, not exactly.