Thursday, July 1, 2010

Boar Hunting Calibers: What Works, When? Pt I

© 2008, 2009, 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
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(This is a 2008 piece I wrote years before. My opinions on caliber selections haven’t changed that much, but there are a few things that I’ve softened on. Seven years and a couple more dozen hogs later I still haven’t had that Columbian Mauser converted, but its still in the works.)

Hog Guns:
Picking the right one for you.

Robert Ruark said "Use Enough Gun." Peter Capstick said, "Use enough gun, but not more than you can handle." To which I add, "Use enough gun, but not more than you can handle, and make sure you can shoot it."

When it comes to hogs, I'm going to say something that will land me in a heap of trouble with certain parties that I run with. You can take them with anything, so long as you do it right. That's correct, anything from the lowly 22 short to a 557NE. The catch is knowing where to put your shot. I suppose it's the same with all game. It all boils down to three things: Shot placement, shot placement, shot placement.

In terms of practicality though, there are upper limits on the size of a hog with relation to each caliber selection. There are basically six categories; the 22s-24s, the 24s-25s, the 26s-28s, the 30-338, the 35s- 375 and the over 40 crowd. Using commercially available ammunition as our standard, the 24s and 25s should be limited to small sub 70 lbs hogs. The 26s through 28s should be kept to the 150s and lower. The thirties and 338s are good for up to 300lbs and less while the 35s, 40s and bigger can handle just about anything. These are arbitrary numbers of course and I'm sure that arguments to the contrary can be sighted ad-nausea, but these are recommendations based on actual hog taken by myself and others, and for the sake of starting arguments.

All the preceding is assumes that you are using good quality bullets constructed to take the kind of abuse intended for big game. Hunting pig can be as easy as picking flowers, to a worse case scenario that might degenerate into hand to hand combat where the odds are definitely not in your favor. Spending a few dollars more for premium bullets is mighty cheap insurance. Just ask Cliff McClure of McClure Farms here in Parrish Florida. He has a twenty-three stitch memento from a Thanksgiving Day hunt that went awry.

It also depends on whether you are meat hunting, trophy hunting, or actually attempting to eradicate a population, as is necessary in some cases. Today, we have factory loads in almost every caliber loaded with premium bullets. I would seriously consider 22 caliber cartridges loaded with Trophy Bonded or maybe Barnes' X-Bullets under certain conditions and for the lighter weight pigs, but that is asking a lot from either of those bullets.

First, leave the Nosler Ballistic Tips at home. Though exceptionally effective for broadside shots at whitetails, at the close range that most hogs are shot at, they frequently disintegrate, blasting a large surface crater and frequently failing to penetrate much past the ribs. Likewise forget most if not all the hollow-pointed non-partition bullets, they just will not hold together on any moderately sized hog. The only exception might be if you are using a 24/6mm cartridge for juvenile pigs that you intend to use as small roasters. A friend who manages a large cattle spread locally, swears by a short action Savage in 223 Remington. It has a 4X12 Bushnell scope mounted on it and he uses it for predator control. He guides spring turkey hunts and is perpetually fighting a battle against raccoons, coyotes, and hog, which destroy turkey egg clutches and catch and eat the poults. Federal 55gr Nosler Ballistic Tips are his ammunition of choice. He is an exceptional shot in that he shoots almost daily and has an intuitive sense and practical knowledge of his quarry and the rifle he uses. When taking small hogs he waits for, or stalks to a position that offers a slight quartering away shot whereupon he slips that 55gr pill behind the shoulder into the heart/lung region. This just reinforces the contention that what counts is where you hit them, not how hard. As the heart/lung area of a hog is further forward than on most game, it is important to get behind the shoulder and range forward. If the opportunity presents itself he has, and I am a witness, shot them in the head. I am not a good enough shot to attempt this tricky maneuver in the field, but I have killed them with a Ruger 10/22 from a tree stand by shooting in the box between the eyes and ears. The range was very short, 12 yards or so and the pigs were still. Do I recommend this? No I do not… Unless you have a lot of practice and actual field experience.

Again, loaded with good bullets, the 24s and 25s will do yeoman's service on smaller hogs; I would not recommend them for anything larger than 100lbs, which is really a smallish pig. The mid twenties do not expand sufficiently and they do not have the mass for deep penetration. Shoulders can and do stop them. At close range they are going too fast and at longer ranges they lack in energy.

With 26s-28s we enter the classic European calibers, which range from the 6.5mm to 7mm range. Being a big fan of the Swedish 6.5X55 I will make an exception here and state that the Swedish round is adequate for any boar you might meet, with this one caveat; that you use the classic 160gr round nosed bullet at the sedate 2400fps. Weight retention and penetration are excellent with the ability to break the shoulder of any hog with relative ease. The 270Win, 7X57, 280Rem are all adequate mid sized hog hunting rounds. Coupled with Swift A-frames or Partition Golds they are efficient game getters. The 7mm magnums loaded with Winchester Failsafes get my nod for long range shooting at average sized hogs if you can get them to shoot accurately from you rifle.

The 30s-.338s are the compromise category. I think that the 308 Win is a good all-round cartridge in the hands of a deliberate hunter; that is the man who knows his rifle and knows what shot to take. The 30/06 is better, and the 300 Winchester Mag is, in my opinion, the best of the 30 calibers. But I also think that the 338 Win Mag might just be the ticket for large boars at longish range. Loaded with 230gr Failsafes or 225gr Swifts the 338 offers more weight retention and penetration than any of the thirties with a trajectory to match a 30/06. The problem is that most people do not put in the time at the range to become accomplished shooters with the seemingly heavy recoiling 338. As I have had my own range, I have no excuse and have become fairly recoil resistant.

The new series of UltraMags don't impress me much, whereas the short ones from Winchester, due to their far more efficient natures, do. I would like to try the new 300WSM with Failsafes or Swifts at an extended range from I really accurate rifle, and I'd really like to try a 338 and 375 WSM if that ever came about. Maybe someone will wildcat it if they haven't already! (Editors note: Been done and commercialized; at least in the 338 ie: 325 Winchester.)

Anyway, the largest hog I have taken with a rifle fell to a Weatherby 30/06 loaded with Remington's Safari Grade ammo. Remington loads the Safari Grade with 180 gr Swift A-Frames zipping along at 2700fps at the muzzle. At 75 yards the Swift drilled through 18 inches of hog, including 9 of spinal column. This close range coupled with the forward quartering angle and the fact that it ground through so much bone speaks very highly of the construction of the A-Frames. The hog went down but required a coup de grace to finish him. I would not hesitate to use that round again, for any boar, but I think there are better ways of getting there.

The 35s, rightly called medium bores, have the advantage of starting at 225gr and working their way up from there. The 358 Win and 35 Whelen are great examples. Bullet weights are 220gr and go up. Other than the 375 Winchester Big Bore and the 375 H&H, there's not much to choose from in that category. But if I was hunting those five and six hundred pound Russians in Argentina or New Hampshire I might consider a 375H&H in a Ruger 77. Launching a 300gr Swift, that should be enough to dissuade them from disemboweling me.
That covers the small and medium bores. The large bores are dissected in Boar Hunting: Rifle Calibers Part II

Albert A Rasch
Member Bagram Tent Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...

The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Though he spends most of his time writing and keeping the world safe for democracy, Albert is actually a student of biologist. Really. But after a stint as a lab tech performing repetitious and mind-numbing processes that a trained capuchin monkey could do, he never returned to the field. Rather he became a bartender. As he once said, "Hell, I was feeding mice all sorts of concoctions. At the club I did the same thing; except I got paid a lot better, and the rats where bigger." He has followed the science of QDM for many years, and fancies himself an aficionado. If you have any questions, or just want to get more information reach him via TheRaschOutdoorChronicles(at)MSN(dot)com