Bringing Home the Bacon: The Best Guns & Gear for Hog Hunting
November 20, 2013
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 â€” 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 â€¦ 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 â€” 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.
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.
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 â€” and saw hogs killed â€” 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 â€” especially the Fusion MSR loads designed for (you guessed it) MSRs â€” 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.
Feral hogs do not generally wander open fields. They like undergrowth and cover. Many of the shots you'll get will be inside 100 yards, so the best hog scopes will be on the lower end of the magnification scale.
Many scopes are useful for hogs, but Leupold is the only company I know of making a scope specifically for hog hunting. It's a variation on the sturdy VX-R line and can be had in 1-4X or 1.25-4X (similar to the VX-R Patrol illuminated-reticle tactical scope, minus the oversize turrets). The VZ-R Hog also features Leupold's "Pig Plex" reticle, which has a small circle right at the center of the crosshairs.
EOTech does not make a dedicated hog holosight, but I used the company's red dots (and 3X magnifiers) to good effect on a hog hunt at the Broken Spur Whitetails Ranch in Texas. The ability to flip the 3X magnifier out of the way as we approached big tangles of brush where we knew hogs were hiding was a real advantage. While having both an EOTech and magnifier on the rifle did add a noticeable amount of weight, I found I liked that.
We weren't hiking long distances, but rather riding ATVs to where the hogs were, so the weight didn't kill my arms, and with the extra weight of the two sights on my .308 Remington R25 I could watch my hits on the hogs out to 100 yards. On one hog hunt we used Aimpoint Comp M4s and Micros on shotguns. While the red dot sights worked just fine during the day, we noticed that the sights didn't gather light like traditional scopes, and in low light (hunting for black hogs) they didn't work as well as we'd hoped.
Honestly, any light-gathering scope that has a low-end magnification near 1X would work very well for hog hunting. On my last hunt in Florida we were provided with TruGlo scopes with illuminated reticles, and I found the illuminated crosshairs to be very useful near sunset. Black crosshairs on black pigs can be hard to see even in the middle of the day.
If I were building up a gun specifically for shooting hogs, I would probably put a Trijicon 1-4X Accupoint with a triangle-tipped post reticle on it. This scope features fiber optic illumination of the reticle, and the adjustable magnification means you can be deadly from point-blank range out to any distance at which you can hit a hog.
Do it in the Dark
Feral hogs aren't nocturnal, but they're a lot less wary in the dark. In many places it is popular to hunt hogs at night. To do this, however, takes additional equipment.
Thermal sights are very interesting, and very expensive. Thousands and thousands of dollars expensive, which is why many outfitters offering hog hunting rent thermal scopes for their clients to use.
Night vision scopes are much cheaper than thermal scopes, and getting cheaper all the time, but a good one will still set you back the cost of a good rifle/optic combo. It's popular to use suppressors when hunting hogs at night, where legal. Using a rifle that has a suppressor and night vision optics pegs the cool meter, but even though your rifle is a lot quieter, as soon as you hit your first hog the rest will scatter. Whether it's the sound of the bullet impact or the sound the hog might make, a group of hogs will not just let you stand there and shoot them all, whether or not you're using a suppressor.
For whatever reason, hogs see red lights and red laser dots (yes, I've heard stories of them running off just at the sight of a red Crimson Trace dot), but they simply ignore green light. During a hog hunt in North Carolina we strapped flashlights with green lenses to the ends of our rifles. We were able to hunt over bait piles as late as we wanted. The bait pile was but a darker smudge against brown grass at 11 p.m., but if I heard anything, all I had to do was turn on the flashlight and the whole area was lit up green. That night I learned a lot of things, one of them being that opossums are noisy eaters.
Hogs are getting so numerous and destructive to crops that in many places private landowners will let anyone shoot as many hogs as he can find. In most states hogs are considered little better than vermin, and you may not even need a hunting license, but check the local regulations first.
One thing's for sure: With up to 5 million feral hogs tearing up the land between Florida and California, there's plenty of opportunity to get in on the fun.