With the wind at her back, the pig came up out of the wallow and walked straight into trouble. Jake White had his rifle rested over sticks, waiting for the right moment. At 30 yards he sent a 165-grain GMX into her brain, dropping her on the spot.
The pig was an ideal porker, a dry sow weighing perhaps 150 pounds and in good body condition. Jake was shooting a scoped Tikka in .308 Winchester, a fine choice for almost any pig anywhere in the world. But at that distance, with that shot, from a steady rest, it didn’t make much difference what rifle, cartridge, or bullet he used.
I’ve done a lot of pig hunting here and there, and I’ve written quite a lot about hunting them. Whenever I write about my preferences for guns and loads I’m sure to hear from folks who say, with great authority, “I shoot all my hogs in the head with a .223.” Or this: “We hunt with dogs, and I shoot all my hogs in the head with a .357 revolver.”
I’ve shot hogs with .223s and with a .38 Special with dogs in a close-quarters melee. However, most of my hog hunting is spot-and-stalk, where I can’t control the distance. Or from stands, where distance is predictable, but presentations and available light are not. Also, I consider hogs admirable game animals, to be killed, recovered, and consumed, and not just pests to be eradicated.
Size May Vary
Wild pigs vary greatly in size. I think of them a lot like black bears, with a huge size differential between the animal you’re likely to encounter and the animal you might come across. The continent-wide average 175-pound black bear is not exactly the same animal as the 600-pound monster you might encounter, so ideal energy requirements are not the same.
Wild hogs are similar. On California’s Central Coast, where the hogs have a tough time making a living, a 250-pound boar is big. I accept that boars up to twice that size are possible elsewhere, but no difference. There’s a major gap between a 100-pound eatin’ sow and a boar that is two, three, or four times larger. Also, boars develop that thick gristle plate over their shoulders, a genetic fighting defense that sows don’t have.
Again, if your hunting technique (or impeccable marksmanship) allows perfect head shots every time, it probably doesn’t much matter what you use. For body shots, I’m convinced .22 centerfires aren’t enough for clean kills, and I’m fairly certain even the 6mms, though often used, are questionable on really big boars.
The Bare Minimum
Just recently, I was in a little pocket of feral hogs in southern New Mexico. John Lazzeroni and I shot several with his fast magnums, but I wanted to take one with my old 1899 Savage .250-3000. With a 100-grain InterLock bullet at 2,800 fps, we could argue whether it’s more or less powerful than a .243, but I reckon it’s much the same.
We stalked a big, mud-caked boar prowling an irrigation pivot and had to wait for him to clear some cattle. I got the shot quartering-to at about 50 yards. This century-old rifle has a pop-up tang receiver sight. It’s accurate enough, but with iron sights these days, it’s more a matter of my vision than a rifle’s capability. I centered the bead on the point of the shoulder. The hog dropped to the shot, mission accomplished, high-fives all around. Except: After a few seconds we weren’t sure he was going to stay down, so I shot him again.
It’s stupid to make any judgments from just one animal, maybe not even from a few dozen. Even then, it depends on shot placement and bullet selection. After a half-century of hog hunting, I’m comfortable saying the 6mms and .25s are marginal for body shots on large boars. Any decent deer bullet will work fine, but I prefer tougher bullets that are sure to penetrate, especially with very fast cartridges. With handguns, it’s easy. You don’t necessarily need the heaviest loads, but you need a .44 Magnum or upwards.
At the Top End
Regardless of how you feel about them, these are hogs, and they are excellent subjects for testing rifles, bullets, and loads. A year or so ago, I took a good-sized Texas hog with a 1906 William Evans .470—plenty of gun! Years ago, daughter Brittany and I shot several monstrous Australian boars with a Ruger No. 1 in .405 Winchester. Over the years I’ve shot a lot of hogs with needlessly powerful firearms and loved it.
But let’s not forget our Proverbs: “Pride goeth before a fall.” The most embarrassing miss I can recall in a long time: Neighbor Jack Wisenhunt had a lease north of town, and we stalked down a ridge on a good boar in half-light before sunrise. I was shooting an E.R. Shaw .35 Whelen Ackley Improved—a big gun—with an Aimpoint Hunter sight. The boar was blond, and to this day I can vividly recall the red dot on the pale hide, but I missed him clean. Minimum or maximum, how well you place the shot is a lot more important than what you are shooting.
I don’t think I’ve shot any hogs with the 6.5mm Creedmoor, but I’ve shot several with the ballistically identical .260 Remington with 140-grain bullets. No problems. These are good starting points for “perfect for pigs.” My daughters and Donna and I have shot all manner of wild hogs with the 7mm-08, and I’m happy with the older (but ballistically similar) 7x57. God knows how many hogs we’ve shot with the .270 Winchester. These are cartridges for all pigs in all seasons.
We Americans love our .30 calibers. Provided ranges are reasonable, the great old .30-30 is plenty of gun for any pig that walks. Hunting with friend and local rancher Tony Lombardo, I had an Aimpoint on my Mossberg .30-30. I missed a hog at distance (heck, the red dot covered the pig and three acres around it), but we circled ahead in Tony’s Jeep and I got a running shot at the pig crossing a top two ridges away.
Damn, I was sure that bright red dot was ahead of the shoulder when the trigger broke. The pig never faltered, and we immediately lost sight in tall grass. The pig was running hard toward a road, so we checked it for blood, found nothing, and concluded (yet another) embarrassing miss. We checked the next valley and all the trails and found nothing. Upon circling back, we found the pig stone dead in tall grass 10 yards from the road it hadn’t crossed, 40 yards from where it had received the 140-grain Monoflex, leaving a trail like a spilled can of red paint. At reasonable ranges, the .30-30 is marvelous. But for general use, the .308 Winchester is better and far more versatile, and there’s never anything wrong with a .30-06. Magnums are not needed for any wild hog, anywhere, but, of course, the fast cartridges from 6.5mm upwards will always work just fine.
The Most Fun?
Across the board, I think most of us hunt hogs with the guns we have, and almost any scope-sighted deer rifle is not only fine, but also just right. However, hog hunting is fun and is somewhat less serious than a quest for a really big buck. It offers a good opportunity to mess around with various firearms and bows. If you don’t get (or miss) a shot it’s not a catastrophe; another opportunity is likely to come along.
Although mostly a “gun guy,” I’ve hunted hogs with vertical bows and crossbows and an assortment of rifles and handguns. In handguns, I’m pretty sure the .44 Magnum is about right, powerful enough and versatile enough for most situations, but certainly you could use a .41 Magnum or a 10mm semiauto. In rifles, I have kind of a “thing” for lever actions. I’m delighted to see that this classic American action is making a comeback in popularity.
I probably have the most fun hog hunting with lever actions, and I use them a lot. There are millions of .30-30s still in use, and they are perfectly suitable. I mentioned that big hog I took with an early .250 Savage, but I’ve also used 99s in .300 Savage, and there are tens of thousands of them out there. And there are many other great choices. In addition to .30-30, lever actions from Marlin have been (and are) chambered to .35 Remington, .444 Marlin, and .45-70—all awesome hog guns. Want to drop a hog with dramatic authority? Try a .45-70.
I have a Marlin 1894 in .44 Magnum that I’m just itching to use on hogs. Despite a 1.5-6X scope, so far it’s been a hard-luck rifle, with no opportunities across several outings. I guess the same applies to a Big Horn Armory M89 lever action in .500 S&W. I can’t wait to thump a hog with it. Over the years, I have taken a lot of hogs with the old Winchester M71 in .348, and it remains a favorite. That much power is not needed, but it sure is fun to use!