May 18, 2021
By Layne Simpson
I was born and raised in the Deep South and began hunting with my father at a very young age. Something I will always remember about my first deer hunt is that I saw far more feral hogs than deer. After harvesting a nice whitetail buck with a Winchester Model 94 in .32 Special, I cashed in an unexpected bonus by taking several hogs. We had an abundance of them then, but it was nothing compared to their numbers and distribution today.
During the 65 years I have hunted wild hogs, it has been legal to harvest them year-round with no bag limit on the number taken on private lands. Night hunting is also allowed. Mostly because farmers and livestock growers absolutely hate them, seldom have I been refused permission to hunt on their properties. Long ago I lost count of the number of pigs taken by my guns.
When Spanish explorers colonized what is present-day Florida, they introduced Eurasian swine to the area as a source of meat. The feral animals we enjoy hunting today are descendants of those animals and hybrid mixes of them and domestic pigs that escaped from captivity. For several hundred years they mostly chomped and rooted across the Southeast. Their territory and numbers greatly increased during the 1980s when they began to be exported to other states by private hunting clubs and the owners of public hunting preserves. Today, feral pigs reside in about 36 states, with numbers exceeding six million, and their impact on wildlife of all types and their habitats has been devastating. Their damage each year amounts to more than $1.5 billion.
Like bears, pigs have poor vision, but their sense of smell is outstanding. Whether accidental or intentional, hunters are poor judges of animal weight. I recently saw a photo of a hunter with a defunct “250-pound” hog, but when compared to the size of the hunter, it likely weighed less than 100 pounds. During all my years of shooting them, I can recall shooting only four that exceeded 200 pounds (and they were weighed on accurate scales). The average weight of an adult feral hog is around 120 pounds; a very large percentage taken by hunters weigh half that and less. Descendants of “Hogzilla” are occasionally taken, but they are extremely rare.
Are hogs dangerous? As a rule, they would rather flee than fight, but if wounded, they can become quite aggressive. I have witnessed on several occasions what razor-sharp tusks can do to a hound.
Hogs are extremely intelligent, and mature animals are often like ghosts in the woods. While hunting with hounds, I have observed wise old boars hold tight and remain calm, whereas youngsters quickly attempted to vacate the premises. Hog dogs are usually too excited to be selective, and they tend to chase the first animal that takes off.
A boar seldom ventures out to feed prior to late afternoon, and it may go completely nocturnal when pressured by woods filled with deer hunters. The best chances of taking one during the day is to use hounds to push it from its hiding place.
Another option is to wait until dark and use night vision equipment. Hunting at night became popular among German hunters long before the common availability of such devices, and for that reason, riflescopes capable of transmitting light when very little exists were developed.
Many hogs are shot over bait, but following the hounds can be more productive. It is also far more exciting because the chase often ends with the animal in thick brush where shots are taken quite close. Being aware of where the dogs are before taking the shot is extremely important, and shots usually range from a few feet to no more than 10 yards.
A handgun with open sights or a red-dot optic is ideal. Lever actions chambered for various revolver cartridges are also great choices. Hunting with hounds and over bait can account for quite a few kills each year, but it is nothing compared to remote-controlled, corral-style traps capable of gathering up an entire sounder of pigs with the push of a smartphone button located miles away. It’s the only way many farmers are able to grow crops.
I absolutely love shooting hogs with various handguns and quite a few have fallen to percussion revolvers, with a reproduction of the Remington New Model Army being a good example. Another is a Ruger Old Army. A ball fired from either gun almost always exits on a broadside shot behind the shoulder with a follow-up shot seldom required.
I often use revolvers in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt, and with well-placed shots at reasonable distances, all get the job done. I prefer a barrel length in the neighborhood of 4.63 inches when hunting with hounds. My favorites when shooting from a blind are a Freedom Arms Model 83 in .454 Casull and an SSK Industries custom Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 Magnum. Both have 7.5-inch barrels and wear scopes.
Plenty of hogs have also fallen to my autoloading pistols. One is an old compensated Colt Double Eagle in .45 Super. Another is a Model 1911 in 10mm Auto, and while several loads have been drop-dead effective, I am partial to handloads using the Swift 200-grain A-Frame and the Rim Rock hard-cast 220-grain bullets. My favorite 10mm handgun has a 5.0-inch barrel and open sights, but after recently trying a 6.0-inch-barreled Ed Brown LS10 wearing a Trijicon RMR red-dot reflex sight, the temptation to switch is appealing.
A thick gristle plate covering the shoulder of a mature boar can defeat expanding bullets constructed for use on small varmints. A feral hog comes with a bunch of negatives, but like any animal, it deserves a quick, humane death, and varmint bullets should not be used. Any good deer bullet of any caliber will quickly zip right through the hog’s thick gristle plate and turn out the lights.
When loaded with a bullet of controlled-expansion design, the .224 centerfires can be quite effective, and light recoil makes them fun to shoot as well. During younger days, my primary pig rifle was a Savage 99H Takedown in .22 High-Power and the Speer 70-grain, 0.228-inch bullet handloaded to 2,760 fps. I still enjoy hunting with it, but the Speer bullet is no longer available, so I have switched to the 60-grain, 0.228-inch Cutting Edge Raptor. It is sudden death out to 150 yards or so. The .223 Remington is as effective as the old Savage cartridge, and due to their higher velocities, the .220 Swift and the .22-250 are even deadlier. Expanding monolithic bullets from Barnes, Cutting Edge, and Hornady along with the Swift 62- and 75-grain Scirocco II and the Nosler 60-grain Partition are excellent choices.
A shortcoming of the .22s is they run out of steam before the larger calibers loaded with heavier bullets. When shooting the .223, I’d rather a pig be no farther away than 150 yards, with a max of 200 long paces on a stationary target. The .22-250 and .220 Swift are consistently deadly out to 300 yards or so, but beyond that they shed pig-dropping power fast. Keep in mind most pigs taken by hunters across the country are dropped inside 200 yards, although longer shots are sometimes possible.
As good as the .22s are, the .24s and .25s are better. In addition to being capable of excellent accuracy, the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts, .25-06, and other cartridges of their calibers may be our best all-around pig cartridges. Rifles chambered for them can be quite accurate, comfortable to shoot, and send heavier bullets of larger caliber downrange.
Unless your plans include a drastic reduction of the pig population, you can get along just fine without a dedicated pig rifle—although plenty of cool models set up for hog hunting have become available from many of the major riflemakers in the last few years. So if you are enticed by one of them, by all means go for it. When making your choice, consider that each year thousands of hogs are taken by hunters who are after other game with rifles chambered for dozens of other cartridges, including .260 Remington, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, .280 Remington, .308 Winchester, .30-06, and various magnums. For woods hunting, a lever-action rifle chambered for any cartridge ranging in power from the .30-30 and .35 Remington to the .444 Marlin and .45-70 is an excellent pig-thumper.
Rifles & Carbines
The AR-15 in .223 Rem., 6.8 SPC, .300 HAM’R, .300 Blackout, or one of the other AR cartridges is a pig-killing machine, but if you mostly hunt in places where thick brush and trees are nearby, don’t rush out and trade your Marlin 336 or Winchester 94 for one. Aimed fire with those rifles is slower but not enough to matter greatly, and regardless of the amount of firepower in your hands, a sounder of pigs will vanish into thick cover within seconds after hearing the sound of your first shot.
Slide-action rifles also work quite well. My old Remington Model 14 in .35 Rem. has accounted for its share of pork through the decades, and my Remington Model 7615 in 5.56mm/.223 Rem. will take as many pigs from a fleeing sounder as any AR-15. Through the years, a friend of mine has taken numerous pigs with a Remington 760 in .243 Win. that has very little finish left on the receiver and stock, and he does not plan to switch rifles.
Before the AR became as popular as it is today, among serious pig shooters the Remington 742 autoloader was the rifle to have. The Triple-K 10-round extended magazine used by them is still available for that rifle. I mention this because about two million 742s were made in .243 Win., 6mm Rem., and other good pig cartridges. I still have a 742 with an 18.5-inch barrel, and my old Remington Model 81 in .300 Savage slings lead equally fast.