If you listen to some people talk about what it takes to kill a hog, you’d swear these creatures were on a par with T-rex or at least Cape Buffalo. I’ve read in several places where folks actually advocate hunting hogs with nothing short of a .300 Winchester Magnum or even a .338!
Now, before we get too far down this road, I am also a big advocate of “Use Enough Gun”. I have a real problem with the guys who brag about killing big game with rimfire cartridges or tiny varmint loads. I realize that these rounds may work just fine under ideal circumstances, with ideal placement, but they are not the right tool to do the job. I can drive a screw with a hammer if I wanted to, but there are better ways to get it done.
There’s no doubt that wild hogs are tough animals…especially the big boars. They can, and do, take a beating without showing obvious ill effects. They have thick hides, big bones, and well-protected vital organs. The hard skull has been known to turn a rifle bullet, even at close range.
Even when you do get a bullet or arrow into a hog, a heavy layer of fat underlies the dense skin, and tends to absorb blood and can make blood-trailing a real challenge. They can run a long way with a vital hit, and they can recover from some pretty devastating wounds. They can also be downright dangerous when wounded and cornered. If you hit one, you want to see it go down.
This leads a lot of hunters, especially those a little too steeped in paper-based ballistics, to call for overkill when it comes to picking a hog round. (I also bow hunt, and maybe we can get into that later…for now, it’s enough to focus on firearms hunting.)
For example, in his article on TX-Outdoors.com, Mike Christman suggests that the .27o and .308 are the minimum calibers necessary for shooting hogs out to 100 yards, and that the 7mm magnum is “marginal” for shots from 100 to 250 yards. (Personally, I think 250 yards is a stretch for anyone to be shooting at big game, regardless of caliber, but that’s a topic unto itself.)
Christman’s premise suggests that the venerable 30-06 falls short of the task if your quarry might be more than 100 yards away. Having seen a small stack of hogs and several elk fall nicely to the 30-06, I have to question his theory. But, where is the middle ground?
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) puts out a booklet called Hunting Wild Pigs in California (You can download here, but be warned that it is a fairly large file). In the booklet (starting on Page 13, if you want do download it) they lay out some guidelines for what it takes to cleanly kill a wild hog. For centerfire rifles and large hogs, the writers suggest using something that delivers approximately 1200 foot pounds at 100 yards. I am no reciter of ballistics charts, but that standard leaves most of the more common big-game calibers well in the running…including my beloved 30-06.
If I had my choices, I’d rather go over-gunned than under. So I leave the .243 for deer hunting. I’d err on the side of .27 caliber or better with most of the high-powered .30 cals fitting the groove just fine. I’m actually in the process of stepping up to the new .325wsm for hogs and elk (mostly for elk…but it won’t hurt for hog hunting), but that’s still on the blackboard for now.
For handguns, I have no qualms about using my .44mag, but only at ranges inside of 100 yards. Some of the new hand-cannon loads are impressive, but after a few shots with the S&W 500, I figure that’s not my strong suit.
Equally important as caliber is bullet construction. Hogs require some of the same considerations as elk or moose. You need a solid, deep-penetrating bullet. The “ballistic tip” type bullets that offer rapid expansion are OK for deer, and great for varmints, but they don’t always perform well on hogs. A bullet that will break bone and drive through skin, fat, and cartilage without shredding into shrapnel is a better choice. I currently shoot 180 grain Nosler Partitions in my 30-06 handloads, and am in the process of working on a load with 165 grain Barnes TSX bullets. The Nosler Partitions are proven, and I like them. The TSX are promising (and may soon be required in CA…another blog for another time).
Handgun hunters swear by the hard-cast lead bullets such as the Cor-Bon, and I know some of these guys well enough to accept their word. Personally, I’ve loaded my .44mag Blackhawk with Hornady XTPs in 240 grain, and they’ve worked nicely for me. Barnes has a new handgun bullet that I’ll probably experiment with when all my Hornady supplies are gone.
Finally, of course, no matter what caliber or bullet you use, it has to be placed in the right spot to do its work. An understanding of a wild hog’s anatomy is useful. The Texas Boars website has a great photo layout that I think every hog hunter should review.
But, careful here… this can lead to one of the most overused and misleading aphorisms I’ve heard. “It’s all about placement.”
This is one of my pet peeves because it’s usually preceded or followed by some kind of statement arguing for the use of a sub-standard caliber. For example, there are a lot of folks out there who advocate for the use of the .223 for hog (and deer) hunting. Their argument is along the lines of, “sure, the bullet may not be effective on a marginal hit… but it’s deadly when placed in the right spot.”
On the surface, this makes sense. But when you dig down, there are a lot of flaws with this reasoning. The first, and to me the most glaring, is that hitting that “right spot” is not ever a sure thing. No matter the skill of the marksman or the accuracy of the gun, things happen. An animal is not a target stapled to a board at a measured distance across a clear field of fire. They move. Objects can interfere with bullet flight.
A hunter is seldom perched on a balanced seat with a padded, solid rest and all the time in the world to acquire the sight picture, settle down, breathe, and squeeze. The muzzle is always in motion, and the shot opportunity is often fleeting. The majority of hunters experience an accelerated heart rate and breathing when they are drawing down on game.
An ethical hunter (yes, I used the “e” word) should always use enough gun to make up for minor errors in aiming. Sure, a .223 will punch right through the rib cage and into the vitals of the largest wild boar. But what if that boar turns at the shot? Will it break through the shoulder plate on a raking angle, crack the leg-bone, and still punch into the heart/lung area. It might, but you’re going to have much better odds of turning a marginal hit into a clean kill if you’re shooting something a little more substantial.
So to counter my argument, you have the guys who say, “yeah, but I only take perfect shots.”
I have no response to this but, horse-feathers!
I don’t know every hunter in the field, and I can’t say with unequivocal certainty that there aren’t a couple who would honestly pass up any shot that’s a little too far, or at a bad angle, or is slightly obscured. There may be someone who would rather pass than take that shot that is less than 100% clean. There may be unicorns in the Los Padres National Forest too.
I’ve seen too many hunters out there who take any shot they’re given…especially if they don’t think they’ll get called on it. I’ve heard my share of “Texas Heart Shot” stories, and actually have heard guys brag about making them!
So excuse my cynicism. I’m as human and have made as many bad choices as the next guy, and I know what can happen to a hunter’s judgement when a tough call is presented.
With this in mind, when you give up hope of that animal ever turning broadside or standing still, and you take the shot anyway, you need to have enough gun to close the deal. Otherwise you end up with a tough tracking job at best, or a crippled or lost animal at worst.
Finally, the third argument is the worst in my opinion, because this usually comes up in response to a new hunter’s request for advice. It will go something like, “I have a .223 that I really like for coyote hunting. I want to go pig hunting with it. If I came up on a small hog, would it be enough gun?”
The answer is far too often, “yes,” but no one bothers to qualify the answer.
Well, sure it would be enough gun for a 50 or 60 pound pig. But, unless you’re hunting inside a fence with a managed herd of pigs, how do you know you’re only going to see a “small” hog? Even more importantly, suppose you see a trophy tusker? Are you not going to shoot because your rifle isn’t powerful enough? Why handicap yourself?
OK… end rant.
You don’t need a howitzer to kill a pig. Most modern deer rifles are adequate, and from a .270 on up they are more than adequate at reasonable hunting distances.
This topic will probably come up again. I’ll try to avoid redundancy, but this is one of my pet topics…and one I’m still exploring as a hunter and shooter.