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Bringing Home the Bacon: The Best Guns & Gear for Hog Hunting

by James Tarr   |  November 20th, 2013 26

Anyone who’s cracked a gun or hunting magazine in the past few years has seen the huge explosion in all things related to hog hunting — guns, ammo, even TV shows. This is due in no small part to the explosion in the feral hog population (currently estimated between 4 and 5 million), but there’s more to it than that.

Personally, I didn’t understand it … until I did it. The simplest way to explain the popularity of hog hunting is that it has all the draw that prairie dog shooting does (usually, multiple animals to shoot at and limited or no restrictions on hunting), only the targets are bigger, closer and tougher, which means you get to use “real” guns, guns that are designed for shooting game animals, not varmints.

Also, any style of hunting you like, you can probably do while going after hogs — day hunting, night hunting, stand hunting, baiting or hunting while riding in vehicles. Whether you’re after meat, trophies or just a lot of trigger-pullin’, you can find it hog hunting.

Normally, I get mixed reactions from people who find out that I’m a gunwriter or, even worse, a gun owner. I knew the hog problem in the South had to be pretty bad when the female counselor at a local church in Michigan wished me luck on one of my hog-hunting trips.

“I grew up in northern Florida,” she said. “When I was a girl, there weren’t that many hogs, and they were small. Now they’re all over, they’re a lot bigger, and they’re eating everything.”

For their size and weight, however, hogs are amazingly tough. They have thick hides and bones, and actually have shields on their shoulders designed to protect them during fighting. They are usually (but not always) shot at relatively close distances and quite often are moving. This has provided a unique set of challenges, so we are now seeing guns, optics and ammo specifically tailored for hog hunting.

Primary Hardware
Depending on where you are, adult feral hogs can run anywhere between 80 and 300 pounds, although the great majority are between 100 and 200 pounds. That isn’t that big, but hogs are surprisingly tough to kill. Any rifle (or handgun or shotgun) that is powerful enough to kill a tough, 200-pound game animal will work on hogs, but some are better than others.

While there is no doubt that a Winchester Model 94 in .30-30 or a bolt-action .30-06 will kill hogs dead, one of the draws to hog hunting is the ability to use specialized equipment. A couple of years back, Savage introduced its Hog Hunter, a 20-inch-barrel bolt action with a green composite stock, rifle sights and a threaded barrel. It is offered in .223, .308 and .338 Win. At the last NRA convention, Weatherby unveiled a prototype rifle called the Hog Reaper.

Built on the Vanguard Series 2 platform, the Hog Reaper has a 20-inch barrel, iron sights and will be available in solid colors as well as their Proveil Reaper Hog pattern. The Mossberg MVP series features a short-barrel bolt action that accepts AR-15 magazines. Any of these seems a good choice for those people who just don’t feel right unless they’re hunting with a turnbolt.

Hogs often take a perfect hit that should drop them in their tracks, and instead they take off running. In fact, you can pretty much be assured that anything less than a perfect shot (spine or one that breaks the shoulder) will send your hog running for at least 50 yards, even if it’s dead on its feet.

That, and the fact that they are usually found in packs, means that semiauto rifles are quickly becoming the preferred hog-hunting tool. Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs) come in all sorts of calibers in addition to .223, all of which will work on hogs and allow quick follow-up shots.

Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat loves ARs chambered in 6.8 SPC for killing hogs, and he killed the largest hog he’s ever seen (318 pounds) on his ranch with one. I’ve used a Remington R25 in .308, and it worked quite well. I watched another gunwriter use a Bushmaster AR-15 chambered in .450 Bushmaster to hammer a few hogs. There are a lot of people, of course, who think the .223 has insufficient power to kill a hog, but they’d be wrong.

Calibers, Ammo
Don’t think the .223 has enough oomph to take down a pig? A year ago I might have agreed, but since then I’ve done a lot of hog hunting. In my experience, a heavy, bonded .223 bullet actually works better on hogs than 12-gauge slugs. Sound crazy? I know, but on my last hunt I saw hog after hog soak up one-ounce 12-gauge slugs (one big sow took five and kept on going).

William “Hoppy” Kempfer at Osceola Outfitters in St. Cloud, Florida, who’s been guiding hog hunts for 17 years, has seen the same thing.

“I’ve never seen more ‘wounded’ animals than those hit by big, slow-moving bullets like .45-70s and .45-90s,” he told me.

I used a Benelli M4 tricked out by ATI and hit a 90-pound hog twice with slugs. Both went all the way through, but the hog acted like it hadn’t even been hit. The next day I dropped a 150-pound hog with one Federal Fusion MSR .223.

Our group of writers took 15 hogs in three days, and everybody had the same experience when it came to slugs vs. .223. I theorize that hogs are more susceptible to hydrostatic shock than they are blunt-force trauma. This is good news, for just about everybody seems to own an AR these days, and most ammo manufacturers are offering hog-specific ammo for them.

Last year Remington introduced its Hog Hammer line of ammo, featuring nickeled cases and the fabulous Barnes TSX bullet. It is offered in seven rifle calibers. Bullets meant for hogs need to penetrate as well as expand, and the TSX copper solids do just that. I killed hogs — and saw hogs killed — with .223, .308 and .450 Bushmaster Hog Hammer ammo.

Winchester has their line of Razorback XT ammo, which features copper solid bullets in five rifle calibers, as well as .44 Magnum and 12 gauge (buckshot and slug). The rifle bullets have three flats along the ogive, something I admit I haven’t seen before.

Federal doesn’t make any ammunition specifically for hog hunting, but the company’s Fusion line — especially the Fusion MSR loads designed for (you guessed it) MSRs — works great on hogs. After seeing Federal’s 62-grain .223 load (an exposed-lead-tip bullet with a bonded core) drop pig after pig with one shot, I have to agree.

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