What Makes the Perfect Hog Cartridge?
April 03, 2015
Feral swine populations are booming across the nation and pigs are consistently spreading into new areas. In 1982, wild hog populations were present in 16 states. Today, they are found in 36 states from Maine to California, and cause an estimated $1.5 billion dollars in damage to crops annually.
Intelligent and highly adaptable, these feral swine have managed to take up residence in swamps, forests, plains, and even on the fringes of suburbia, leading to huge problems for farmers and wildlife. Hogs carry and transmit a variety of diseases including pseudorabies, toxoplasmosis, tularemia and more, outcompeting and displacing native wildlife populations.
The effects of hog introduction and overpopulation are far-reaching and present a major ecological problem. However, the silver lining is that state wildlife agencies offer liberal seasons and limits on feral swine and each year more and more hunters are taking to the woods in search of outlaw pigs.
There is no game animal in North America that varies as much in size as the feral hog. In many areas the bulk of the pigs you'll encounter weigh less than forty pounds, but there's also the remote possibility that you could run into a boar that weighs ten times that. All pigs are tough, but old males have heavily-armored shoulders that can stop a bullet.
Hogs are hunted by a variety of means and each method requires different equipment; you may be following a pack of hog dogs in the canebrakes of east Texas and in that case shots will be quick and close. Then again, it may be a spot-and-stalk affair where you'll glass for pigs and move into position for a shot once they are spotted, and that means you'll need a flat-shooting cartridge with a magnified optic.
There is no other North American big game animal that is hunted in so many ways — hogs are regularly pursued at night with infrared equipment, shot from moving helicopters, bayed by dogs, baited to stands, and simply taken as a species of opportunity when hunting something else. A hog rifle, then, needs to be versatile.
The current trend toward AR-platform rifles for hogs makes sense. Wild boar are gregarious and are often found in large sounders (groups) numbering dozens of individuals. If the goal is eradication then the objective is to put down as many hogs as possible quickly and efficiently and the AR is a great choice for that type of operation.
Then again, you can hunt hogs with just about any type of rifle you'd like, from pumps and lever guns to semiautos and bolt actions. Caliber selection is obviously very important, but bullet selection is critical as well.
In almost all cases you'll want a tough bullet that's constructed to penetrate through the shoulder of a big hog. For this reason, many hog hunters use full metal jacket bullets, especially in smaller caliber rifles like the 5.56.
But there are also a growing number of ammunition companies that are offering extra-tough expanding bullets in hog-specific ammunition including Hornady's new Full Boar (which uses the brand's GMX bullets) and Winchester's successful Razorback XT line. It takes a lot of bullet to get through that thick mass of scar tissue on a boar's shoulder, and these two bullets will do it.
Some hunters see the growing hog problem as an excuse to go buy a new rifle (as if you needed an excuse). There are a lot of good pig guns on the market now, but chances are that your favorite predator or deer rifle will probably work just fine.
There are a lot of great options for hog hunters, but here are some of the very best choices for today's pig hunter. They cover a wide spectrum of bullet diameters, velocities, and action types, but the good news is that no matter how you hunt your hog, whether that's in dense cover with dogs or out in the open, there's a cartridge that will work for you. The trick is finding out which cartridge has the balance of power, trajectory and energy you need to hunt hogs where you live.
Here's a list of 10 great hog hunting cartridges and a bit about what makes them so effective:
7mm Remington Magnum
The 7mm Remington Magnum won the hearts of American hunters thanks to its versatility. It's perfect for deer and antelope at long ranges, but it's also excellent for elk, black bear, and sheep. You can also add hogs to that list. The 7mm Remington shoots flat but recoil is not excessive, and there is a huge selection of .284-inch bullets.
Loaded with a tough 175 grain bullet with a sectional density of .310 you can expect extreme penetration even in large boars. If you already have a Big 7 in your arsenal there's no reason to search any farther for a hog gun.
The .308 is undoubtedly one of the best hog guns ever. It's available in semautos, bolt guns and lever action rifles, it utilizes popular .308-inch bullets, and it combines plenty of power with moderate recoil. Ammunition is widely available and affordable, and there are a number of hog-specific loads for the .308.
While hunting whitetail in Texas I had a .30-06 in my hands and directions to shoot any hog I saw. I was happy to oblige, and I shot a half-dozen pigs from the stand or stalking on foot. The .30-06 with plain Remington Core-Lokt ammunition was like a death ray and it had enough power to get through a big pig's shoulder.
There are a number of budget .30-06 bolt guns available, rifles like the Ruger American, Savage Axis, Winchester XPR and others, so you don't need to spend a lot on rifles or ammo to have a great hog gun.
The .223/5.56 is the most popular hog hunting cartridge and there are a growing number of hog-specific .223 loads with tough new bullets from companies like Hornady, Remington and Winchester. The AR platform offers fast follow-up shots without excessive recoil or rifle weight.
Despite its small, size the .223 is an effective hog killer is bullet selection and placement are correct. Longer barrels help increase velocity and energy; on a Texas helicopter hunt there was a very noticeable difference in energy and killing power between my AR with a 20-inch barrel and my hunting companion's rifle with a 16 inch pipe.
.300 AAC Blackout
The .300 Blackout is available in a number of different AR rifles and an increasing number of bolt guns like the new Kimber Adirondack. There are also a bunch of new loads for this rifle including a 110 grain Barnes load with tough all-copper bullets that are perfect for pig patrol.
A lightweight, low-recoiling AR chambered in .300 Blackout is ideal for just about any pig hunt anywhere, especially if you outfit the rifle with a good optic.
I love lever guns, and there are a lot of other hunters out there that feel the same way. With the rise in popularity of inexpensive bolt guns and ARs, the old .30-30 was losing ground as a deer rifle but they are hog guns par excellence.
Light and easy to handle, .30-30 lever guns offer fast follow-up shots and plenty of power for pigs. Stalk into a sounder of hogs with a loaded .30-30 and you can do some real damage. It's a great option for hunting with dogs, and Remington has added a .30-30 load their Hog Hammer ammo line.
When the .45-70 was originally announced the feral hog explosion was still decades away, but now that the pigs are here it's just one more reason to love the old .45-70. It isn't a long-range rifle per se, but it hits like the hammer of Thor and is available in a variety of single shots and lever action rifles.
If you love big bore doubles you can find a .45-70 side-by-side for about a tenth of what you'll pay for a .450 Nitro double, and pigs are way cheaper to hunt than cape buffalo. Ammo like Hornady's LeveRevolution flattens the .45-70's trajectory and turns it into a hog killer with few equals.
.257 Weatherby Magnum
The scalding .257 was Roy Weatherby's favorite of his namesake cartridges and he purportedly dropped a cape buffalo with this round. It will certainly dispatch a hog, and with the addition of super tough bullets like the Barnes TSX and Nosler Partition to the Weatherby ammunition lineup there are great options for pig hunters.
The .257 Weatherby has ample killing power and shoots very flat without excessive recoil, and the budget-friendly Vanguard line of rifles offer a sub-inch accuracy guarantee at a low price.
The .260 has a lot going for it. First, it's available in both bolt action and AR rifles, so no matter which platform you prefer you can have a .260. Second, recoil and muzzle blast are minimal. If you have to make rapid follow-up shots at a wounded pig or are in a big sounder with a lot of hogs you can get back on target quickly with a light-kicking .260.
Lastly, it utilizes long, heavy-for-caliber .264 inch bullets that shoot flat and penetrate deep. Though it was originally conceived as a target round, the .260 is a versatile hog killer.
The .338 Federal is one of the most underrated cartridges out there. Based on a necked-up .308, it's capable of firing a 210 grain .338 bullet at over 2,600 feet per second with factory loads and generates more than 3,200 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, more than enough for any hog. Handloaders have more options thanks to years of .338 bullet development.
The .338 Federal does a fantastic job balancing a high energy and relatively flat trajectory with manageable recoil and muzzle blast, making it a versatile hog round that is popular with a small but growing clique of pig hunters. It's available in AR-platform rifles, and Savage added several new .338 Federal rifles this year, so there are a lot of great options for this cartridge.