Feral Hog and Wild Boar Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.444 Marlin

Illustration courtesy of Hornady Mfg. Co.

The Conquistadors introduced hogs to America. Hernando DeSoto was, evidently, particularly active in this respect. They were "planted" and ran free, to be used for food by subsequent visitors.

Pigs are adaptable and intelligent and quickly established themselves in the wild. They are omnivorous, eating both animals and plants. They are alleged to be capable of killing prey weighing 100 pounds. All swine lack sweat glands for cooling, so they are usually found in proximity to water.

Today feral hogs are found in 23 U.S. states, most of Europe, and many other countries around the world. In the U.S. they are predominately found in Hawaii, California, Texas, the Appalachians and in the South. It is estimated that the number of wild hogs in the U.S. exceeds 2 million. Of these, a few are European or Russian wild boar, some may be mixed breeds, and the vast majority are simply feral hogs.

The European (Russian) wild boar is allegedly larger and meaner than his feral hog cousins. The reality is that there is likely very little (if any) European wild boar in the genetic makeup of most American feral hogs.

For example, Tennessee Wildlife Resources define feral hogs as any wild hog found in Tennessee, except on Catoosa, South Cherokee, Cove Mountain, and Foothills Wildlife Managed Areas. Any wild hog found on those Wildlife Managed Areas are defined as "Wild Boar." Feral hogs are considered big game in Tennessee.

Unlike their domestic kin, feral hogs are typically lean and fleet of foot. They have very good senses of smell and hearing, and their eyesight is adequate--probably better than they are often given credit for. They are very tough for their size as extra thick hide protects their vitals.

The average weight of an adult male is about 125 pounds and full grown sows might average 110 pounds, although many younger and smaller feral hogs of about half those weights are harvested annually. A very large individual may weigh 200 pounds, and extreme examples weighing up to 400 pounds have been reported.

Feral swine will sometimes attack if cornered, and (rarely) have been known to charge without any provocation. Rick Gilliland, district supervisor for the USDA, APHIS wildlife service has been quoted as saying: "Feral hogs can rip you apart. They are formidable. Some have tusks that reach five inches in length." This wide weight range and unstable behavior complicates rifle and cartridge selection.

Please bear in mind that in all cases and for all of the calibers listed below I am assuming that the hunter uses a bullet of adequate weight, sectional density, and expansion characteristics for the cartridge recommended, and gets it into a vital spot. It doesn't have to be a perfect shot, but I am assuming a fatal hit with an adequate bullet.

One of the real problems with cartridge recommendations is the vitality and state of mind of the individual animal when shot. Most hunters have noticed how relatively easy it is to kill a relaxed animal that is just standing around, and how difficult it can be to stop an animal fleeing for its life. These are variables that are hard to account for in any list. For the record, all of the cartridge suggestions below assume a reasonably undisturbed animal, not one high on adrenaline.

It would be too cumbersome to list every adequate boar cartridge, and I would inadvertently leave out someone's favorite in any case. So the cartridges mentioned below are just typical examples. If a cartridge is not listed it does not mean it is no good. Look for a cartridge with similar ballistics. If you find one, then the cartridge in question is also probably adequate.

The main thing is to use enough gun. But do not choose a caliber with so much recoil that you cannot shoot it well. It is my observation that many feral hog hunters tend to be over gunned. One state game commission advises: "For best results, use a repeating firearm suitable for deer hunting." That is good advice.

The anticipated size of the quarry, range, and terrain are important factors in choosing a cartridge for hunting feral hogs. I think it might be wise to divide feral hog cartridges into three categories as follows:

1. Cartridges for average size feral hogs at short to medium range. Included in this group are the 6.5x54, .30-30 Winchester, .300 Savage, .32 Winchester Special, .35 Remington, .375 Winchester, .44 Remington Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45-70 and similar cartridges. Suitable bullet weights would include 125-140 grain in 6.5mm, 150-180 grain in .30 caliber, 170 grain in .32 caliber, 200 grain in .35 caliber, 200-250 grain in .375 caliber, 240-265 grain in .44 Magnum, 240-265 grain in .444, and 300-405 grain in .45-70. Choose the same bullet designs that you'd use for deer hunting.

2. Cartridges for average size feral hogs at medium to long range. Here such calibers as the .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .240 Weatherby Magnum, .257 Roberts, .25-06, .257 Magnum, .260 Remington, 6.5x55, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5x68, .264 Winchester Magnum, .270 Winchester, .270 Magnum, 7x57, 7mm-08, 7x64, .280 Remington, 7mm Magnum, .308 Winchester, and .30-06 come into their own. Controlled expansion bullets suitable for deer hunting such as the Sierra GameKing, Hornady Interlock, Remington Core-Lokt, Federal Soft Point, Nosler Solid Base, Speer HotCor, and Winchester Power Point are commonly recommended. Examples of suitable bullet weights would be 100 grain in .243, 115-120 grain in .25 caliber, 120-140 grain in 6.5mm (.26) caliber, 130-150 grain in .270, 139-162 grain in 7mm (.28) caliber, and 150-180 grain in .30 caliber.

3. Cartridges for large feral hogs and European wild boar. This is where you want more powerful cartridges throwing heavier bullets. Recommendations usually start with the .270, 7mm, and .30 caliber "all around" cartridges and go up from there. Examples include the .270 Winchester, .270 Magnum, 7x64, .280 Remington, 7mm Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Magnum, .303 British, 8x57 JS Mauser, 8x68S, 8mm Remington Magnum, .338 Federal, .338-06 A-Square, .338 Winchester Magnum, .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, .350 Remington Magnum, 9.3x62, 9.3x74R, .405 Winchester, .444 Marlin, .450 Marlin, .45-70 and similar cartridges. Stay within the optimum range of the cartridge selected. Fairly heavy controlled expansion bullets such as the A-Frame Dead Tough, Remington Core-Lokt Ultra, Nosler Partition and AccuBond, Barnes-X and Original, Hornady InnerBond, Federal Fusion, Winchester Silvertip and XP3, and Swift A-Frame are popular choices. Appropriate bullet weights would include 150 grain in .270, 150-175 grain in 7mm, 180 grain in .30 and .303 calibers, 180-200 grain in 8mm, 200-225 grain in .338 caliber, 200-250 grain in .35 caliber, 232-386 grain in 9.3mm, 300 grain in .405, 265-300 grain in .444, and 350-400 grain in .45 caliber.

Remember that bullet placement is always the key to quick kills. In the case of feral hogs and wild boar, a neck shot results in a quick kill if it breaks the neck. A good alternative is the shoulder shot, which has the considerable advantage of providing a larger target area than the neck vertebrae. If you can angle your bullet to break both shoulders, the beast cannot escape or charge. This requires a bullet of adequate sectional density that holds together after impact, but is a recommended shot for nearly all dangerous game. If you tear up the lungs or heart a kill will result, but the animal may be able to run some distance. This is fine if you are shooting from an elevated blind, but not so good if you are on the ground at short range and the animal decides to charge. I would eschew any other bullet placements.

Perhaps too much attention has been paid to the occasional charge by a wild boar. Certainly they are not as dangerous as a leopard, lion, or grizzly bear. But then, they are not as innocuous as deer and antelope, either. And watch your "six." Feral hogs normally travel in loose groups, and trouble could come from an animal to the side or behind your position.

As always, shoot only if you KNOW that you can make the shot. Good luck and good hunting!

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.