Purpose Built for Pork: Savage Hog Hunter Review
September 19, 2012
Though they are not one of our more glamorous game species, feral hogs are quickly becoming our most popular because they are incredibly destructive, fertile creatures. Females become sexually mature at seven months, and they'll drop eight to 12 piglets each year until the day they die. Even by the most conservative estimates, our nation's wild hog population has surpassed four million, and it's growing fast. That's bad news for farmers because the marauding porkers can lay waste to vast tracts of cropland overnight. In fact, in some parts of Texas, feral hogs have made it impossible for some farmers to earn a living. They are equally destructive in suburbia, where gluttonous pigs can turn lush golf courses and entire streets full of verdant lawns into barren moonscapes in a single night.
Fortunately for those farmers and ranchers, hunters are willing to pay to help solve the hog problem. Because hogs are so plentiful, hog hunts are cheap, and hunters are eager to take advantage of this affordable, delicious resource. Manufacturers are eager to woo those hunters with a wide variety of hog-specific guns, ammo, and optics. The coolest hog-specific item to hit the market, at least to this Texan, is Savage's new Hog Hunter rifle.
Made for Slaying Hogs
The Hog Hunter is built on Savage's proven Model 11 or 111 push-feed action. The short-action Model 11 is available in .223 and .308, whereas the long-action Model 111 is offered in .338 Winchester Magnum. All three rifles have Savage's standard three-position, tang-mounted safety. The rearmost "Safe" position locks the bolt, the middle "Safe" position allows you to cycle the action, and the forward position is the "Fire" stage. The bolt release is on the right side of the receiver, just behind the ejection port.
All three Hog Hunters have 20-inch barrels, though the .338's longer action makes it an inch longer overall and 12 ounces heavier. I chose the .308 version because I think it's the best choice for the hog hunting I do. Like all the Hog Hunters, its relatively stout, medium-contour tube is threaded 5/8 inch X 24 TPI to accept a sound suppressor or muzzle brake. Suppressors are legal to own in at least 35 states, and they're now legal for hunting in several of those states, including Texas. Because many hog hunters hunt at night or near suburban developments, suppressor use is increasingly common.
The Hog Hunter is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and its barrel is fitted with adjustable sights from LPA. The front has a gold bead, and the rear is adjustable for windage and elevation. I like backup iron sights on my rifles, and the LPAs are good ones.
The barreled action is finished in an attractive, rugged matte black and bolted onto a utilitarian but good-looking synthetic stock. The Hog Hunter has a blind magazine that holds four rounds (three in .338 Win. Mag.). I'd prefer to see a hinged floorplate because it's easier and safer to unload, but Savage designers chose a blind magazine to avoid the possibility of the magazine inadvertently opening when it catches on brush or limbs. I can't fault their logic because that's a real possibility in the thick brush feral hogs seem to prefer. Besides, the middle safety position allows users to unload the rifle safely.
Other features include an oversized bolt knob that makes rapid reloads a breeze, a soft-rubber recoil pad, and Savage's AccuTrigger. I fitted my test rifle with a set of Talley lightweight mounts, and I originally mounted a Leupold 4-12X 40mm VXR scope with an illuminated reticle. I did quite a bit of shooting and hunting with that scope, and it's an excellent scope, but I was anxious to test the new Nikon M-308 riflescope line so I replaced the Leupold with a 4-16X 42mm M-308 scope with BDC 800 reticle when that scope hit the market earlier this year. The M-308 was designed for AR-10-type rifles, but its BDC reticle and Rapid Action Turrets, which are calibrated for the popular 168-grain match load, make it a perfect match for the 20-inch Savage, too. Nikon's bright, clear glass makes the M-308 perfectly suited for low-light hog hunting, and its long-range reticle allows me to hold dead-on out to 800 yards if need be. It's also a fairly compact scope that looks great on the Savage Hog Hunter.
I really liked the Hog Hunter right out of the box. It's an attractive rifle, to be sure, but its handling qualities are what won me over. I've always been fond of short, heavy-barreled rifles. The Savage's tube is more of a medium contour, but it gives the gun that muzzle-heavy feel I love. The rifle seems to point itself, and the barrel swings on target smoothly and effortlessly. Its short length also makes it easy to manipulate in a deer blind and a pleasure to carry in the South Texas brush.
I was also impressed with the Model 11's smooth action and oversized bolt knob, which made cycling the action effortless and lightning fast. The Hog Hunter's 2-pound, 10-ounce trigger pull also impressed me. I wasn't sold on the concept when the AccuTrigger first came out in 2003, but the dozens I've tried since have made me a fan.
After zeroing the scope, I settled in to do some serious accuracy work with Winchester's new hog-specific 150-grain Razorback XT, Federal's 165-grain Barnes TSX, Hornady's 165-grain InterLock, and Black Hills's 175-grain match loadings. Since I had planned to shoot some pigs with the 150-grain Razorback load, I started with it. I was pleased to see my first two rounds almost touch, but the third round opened the group up to 1.10 inches. The next four groups were a little tighter, and the average for five, three-shot groups was an impressive 0.95 inch.
My next groups (fired with 165-grain loads from Federal and Hornady) delivered similar performance. The Hornady load shot a hair tighter, with an accuracy average of 0.82 inch, and the Federal load averaged 1.30 inches. The Black Hills match load averaged an excellent 0.78 inch. That's pretty impressive accuracy for any factory bolt action, and it's really impressive when you consider that the Hog Hunter rifle has an MSRP of $513.
With my accuracy work out of the way, I installed a titanium .308 suppressor from a now-defunct maker. I've used that can on many rifles over the years, and I've been impressed with how well it holds zero, but those rifles were bedded. I was curious to see how much hanging a 19-ounce suppressor off the end of the barrel would affect the Hog Hunter's point of impact. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the point of impact shift was a lot less than I expected — about 3 inches low and 2 inches left. That may sound like a great deal, but because the shift is consistent, it's very easy to compensate for by dialing the scope or adjusting hold. My accuracy was unaffected by the suppressor, but recoil was considerably less with the suppressor attached.
With my gun zeroed for the Razorback XT load, I spent the next few months testing it on hogs. A drought made the hunting tough, but I managed to take eight hogs with the Savage Hog Hunter. The pigs weighed from 80 to 180 pounds, and ranges varied from 50 to 290 yards.
I shot the 180-pound boar right on the point of the shoulder from 250 yards, off of shooting sticks from the kneeling position. The bullet destroyed both shoulders and everything between before exiting. Later, I shot a slightly smaller boar at 290 yards from the prone position. Once again, the bullet exited, but the pig dropped in its tracks. I was pleased to see my bullet strike exactly where I expected it to at that range. I wasn't surprised, but it was nice to see.
The Hog Hunter is an easy-handling rig that points as naturally as your best Brittany. That proved to be an asset when I had to make a quick, 75-yard offhand shot at a nice meat boar, and again when I shot a client's wounded pig as it ran through the brush. That short, heavy barrel helped me swing smoothly, yet the compact rig came up fast and right on target. Four more pigs with four shots just proved what I already knew — the Hog Hunter is a rifleman's kind of rifle.
The Hog Hunter is an accurate rifle with excellent handling qualities and all the features I'd demand were I ordering a custom-built hog rifle. I'm also pleased to see Savage hop aboard the suppressor bandwagon. I got my first suppressor in 1998, but until recently, I didn't know many people who owned them. The proliferation of hogs across America and an increase in the number of states where suppressors are legal for hunting has changed that.
Whether you're a casual hog hunter or a rancher dealing with a real hog problem, you'd be wise to consider Savage's new Hog Hunter. It's a good-looking, quality rig that has everything you need to handle your hog problem in one very affordable package.