Feral Hog and Wild Boar Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

.444 Marlin

.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, although this surely must be a rare occurance. 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, Florida, the South and the Appalachians. There are scattered pockets of feral hogs in Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico in the west and throughout the eastern U.S.

It is estimated that the number of wild hogs in the U.S. exceeds five million. Of these, a few are European (Russian) wild boar, some may be mixed breeds and the vast majority are simply feral hogs. Over 2.5 million of the latter are estimated to live in Texas, the feral hog hunting capital of the U.S.

The European wild boar is reputed to be meaner than his feral hog cousins and larger in average size. 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 an exceptionally acute sense of smell, very good hearing and their eyesight is adequate, probably better than they are often given credit for.

Where they are hunted they are mostly nocturnal, appearing after sundown, so a riflescope with an illuminated reticle is desirable. They are more solid, compact and durable than a deer of similar weight and a thick cartilage shield protects their vitals. They are, however, not bullet proof and practically any deer rifle, with appropriate loads, can be used to hunt feral hogs.

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 large individual may weigh 200 pounds and extreme examples weighing up to 400 pounds have been reported.

Feral swine and wild boar will sometimes attack if cornered, or at least run toward the hunter to escape, and (rarely) have been known to charge without 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.

Controlled expansion bullets with a reputation for deep penetration, such as the Barnes TSX, Hornady GMX and MonoFlex, Nosler Partition and E-Tip, Remington HTP Copper, Speer Grand Slam, Swift A-Frame and similar offerings are recommended. These bullets should do fine in medium weights, such as 130 grain .270, 139-145 grain 7mm and 150 grain .30 caliber, for all but the largest feral hogs and wild boar.

If conventional soft point and tipped bullets are chosen, heavy for caliber bullet weights would probably be preferred, such as 150 grain .270, 160 grain 7mm and 170-180 grain .30 caliber. If you are a specifically hunting large (200+ pound) feral hogs and wild boar, a "belt and suspenders" approach, meaning a deep penetrating and heavy for caliber bullet is a reasonable choice.

Some of the ammunition manufacturers have introduced ammunition lines specifically for hunting feral hogs and wild boar. Examples include Hornady Full Boar, Winchester Razor Boar XT and Remington Hog Hammer.

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, in any case, I would inadvertently leave out someone's favorite. 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. However, 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." This 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 6.8mm SPC, .30 Remington AR, .300 Blackout, 7.62x39, .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts, .30-30 Winchester, .32 Winchester Special, .35 Remington, .375 Winchester, .38-55 Winchester, .44 Remington Magnum, .444 Marlin, .45-70 and similar cartridges.

Choose hog specific factory loads, or the equivalent, in the MSR calibers. The ammo you'd use for deer hunting should be fine in the more powerful calibers (.243 Win. or better).

2. Cartridges for average size feral hogs at medium to long range.

Here such calibers as the .240 Weatherby Magnum, .25-06, .257 Weatherby Magnum, .260 Remington, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 6.5x55mm, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5x68mm, .264 Winchester Magnum, .26 Nosler, .270 Winchester, .270 Magnum, 7x57mm, 7mm-08, 7x64mm, .280 Remington, .28 Nosler, 7mm Magnum, .300 Savage, .308 Marlin, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British and 8x57 JS Mauser come into their own.

Hog specific factory loads, or bullets suitable for general Class 2 game hunting, are commonly recommended.

3. Cartridges for large feral hogs and European wild boar.

When specifically hunting big tuskers weighing over 200 pounds, the recommendations usually start with the .270 to 8mm caliber "all around" cartridges mentioned above and go on to include standard velocity medium and big bore cartridges.

Examples of the latter include the .338 Marlin, .338 Federal, .338-06, .356 Winchester, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen, 9.3x62mm, .38-55 +P (Buffalo Bore Heavy load), .405 Winchester, .444 Marlin, .450 Marlin and .45-70 +P (specifically for strong actions). Naturally, the powerful .300, .338 and .35 caliber Magnums can be used, but they are not actually necessary.

Stay within the optimum range of the cartridge selected. Hog specific loads (when available), or heavy for caliber, controlled expansion bullets are popular choices.

Remember that bullet placement is always the key to quick kills. In the case of feral hogs and wild boar, a neck shot is often recommended. Aim for the center of the neck immediately in front of the shoulder to maximize the chance of breaking the neck. (A hog's vertebrae run through the center of its neck.)

An alternative is the double shoulder shot, which has the advantage of providing a larger target area than the neck vertebrae, although it may not be immediately fatal. If you can angle your bullet to break both shoulders, the beast cannot escape. This requires a bullet of adequate sectional density that holds together after impact with heavy bones.

If you tear up the lungs or heart a kill will result, but a big hog may be able to run some distance before expiring. The lungs are somewhat farther forward in a hog than in a deer, so on a broadside shot slip the bullet immediately behind the shoulder. 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 big and potentially dangerous as a moose, buffalo, or bear. However, they are not as innocuous as deer and pronghorn, either. Watch your "six." Feral hogs normally travel in loose groups and potential trouble could come from an animal to the side or behind your position. As always, shoot only if you KNOW you can make the shot!

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Copyright 2006, 2018 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.