Wild hog hunting keeps growing in popularity, thanks in no small part to the astounding expansion of feral hog populations, currently estimated at somewhere between 4 and 5 million strong. With this surge in the hunting of these wild porkers, gun makers have started designing and selling hog specific rifles, as well as ammunition and other gear.
But hogs are found over such a wide geographic area -- from North Carolina west to New Mexico, along the length of California, and well into the Midwest -- that no one hog gun is going to be able to do it all. What works for the hunter stalking pigs in the swamps of Florida, probably isn't going to get the job done on hogs strung out along the California foothills.
Traditionally, most hunters just used their deer rifles on feral hogs, and got pretty good results.
Many of these long-time hog killers are still out there getting the job done, like the iconic Winchester Model 94. But in the brave new world of hog hunting, night vision scopes and suppressors are becoming increasingly common gear, and many of the newer pig guns have a tactical edge.
With this in mind, we take a look at some of the best hog rifles out there, the old, the new, the tactical, and the custom.
Winchester Model 94 in .30-30
The Winchester Model 94 set the standard for what a lever action should and could be, and "The Gun that Won the West" would later become a top North American deer hunting rifle with its smokeless .30-30 chambering. Not surprisingly, many Winchester 94 owners have taken their fair share of hogs with this rifle, too.
I was recently in East Texas, and found that the Model 94 still has a large and loyal following among local hog hunters. Many parts of the countryside here are jungle-like, and a brush gun's exactly what's needed, for deer or hogs. The Model 94 fits the bill very nicely, with its carbine length barrel and smooth lever action, with the 30-30 round providing lots of hog killing ability at 150 yards or less.
"I bought mine in 1963, been using it ever since," Robert Mosley, of Center, Texas told me while we drove around Shelby County, Texas, scouting for hogs, the 30-30 lying between us in the front seat of the pickup. "I've laid many a hog in the shade with this lever action. Can't really see myself hunting with anything but it."
You could argue about the caliber, though of course hunters have long embraced the .30-06 as a top hunting cartridge, but the Winchester Model 70 has been a big game taker since it was first introduced in the 1930's. The Model 70's made before a design alteration in 1964 are considered among the best bolt-action hunting arms ever made, and many are still in use.
Jackson Fox, a friend of mine from Fairbanks, Alaska, has been using his grandfather's Model 70 Featherweight in .30-06 (pictured) for 20 years now. The rifle, made in the 1950's, has been passed down in Fox's family, and in addition to deer, bear, moose and caribou, this rifle's been taking hogs, too, in the wide open spaces of California and Texas at ranges beyond 200 yards. Fox still uses it today, most recently on an Alaskan caribou hunt last fall.
"The .30-06 is a great caliber for hogs," says Jackson. "It's an excellent knock-down and punch-through round. Versatile, too. I usually use the lighter 150-grain bullets, but the roundnose 220-grain bullets can bust through the brush when you're hunting the thick stuff."
If you are going to include the Winchester Model 94 in the hog rifle discussion, you also have to add in the Marlin Classic Model 1895 in .45-70. The .45-70 is a bruising brush buster, and this lever action model will take on the largest hogs at close ranges. I saw one of these .45-70 Marlin's in East Texas, and the owner, a dedicated hog hunter, assured me, you hit a big hog solid in the shoulder area with the .45-70, and you will be eating pork!
Hunters going after wild hogs in thick swamps and brush have been using the .444 in the Marlin 1895 ever since this round was offered in this lever action model in the early 1970's. A beefed up version of Marlin's 336, the Model 1895 is a fine hog whacker out to 250 yards. After that, the larger, heavy bullet requires way too much windage to be considered effective.
"I purchased my first .444 in the early 80's and right away knew this was a superb hog caliber for this area [northern Florida]," says Jim Hammond, hunter and gun writer. "I quickly found this to be a cartridge that had the power to stop them where they stood. In this part of the country, we hunt in the brush, where smaller projectiles could easily be deflected by twigs and branches. This cartridge has a large enough bullet that will push small twigs and branches out of it's way and continue on target, unlike the smaller 30 caliber bullets."
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P15 Rifle in 5.56mm
Let's get past this issue right away: some people think the .223/5.56mm cartridge is too small for hog hunting, especially if you tangle with a bigger pig. But the fact is, a whole lot of people have killed a whole lot of wild hogs, large and small, with rifles chambered in .223/5.56mm. Case in point: I took my first hog, a 210-pound free-ranging Oklahoma boar, with a Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P15 in 5.56mm.
The Performance Center M&P 15 is one sweet little tactical rifle, with a 20-inch stainless barrel, an A2 buttstock, a two-stage, 4.5-pound trigger and a nice balance to it. It's extremely accurate at a distance, too, as I discovered during some time at the shooting range last year with the rifle. It Comes in anodized hard coat black or RealTree Advantage Max-1 camouflage finishes.
Topped with a good optic and using some hard-hitting ammunition, I'd take on a big pig out to 300 yards.
A lot of people know Wilson Combat as the manufacturer of some of the best 1911 handguns around. What many people don't know is that company founder, Bill Wilson, is a huge fan of hog hunting, and has designed several rifles with hogs in mind. His current favorite for hog hunting is the Wilson Combat Recon SBR Tactical in 6.8 SPC. Wilson estimates he's probably taken 200 hogs with it, many of those on his ranch in north-east Texas.
The SBR Tactical has an 11.3 inch barrel and comes with a suppressor. Wilson's personal rifle has a Wilson Combat Whisper Ti suppressor. For optics, he uses either a Trijicon Accupoint 3-9x40 or a Leupold VX-R 3-9x50 scope.
"I killed the largest hog I've taken in seven years on the ranch with my 6.8 with a Night Optics D740 NV scope, shooting a Barnes 95gr TTSX," says Wilson. "He went 318 pounds."
The recoil on a 6.8 SPC, Wilson adds, is nearly the same as a 5.56mm, making it the perfect choice for women, youngsters, and anyone who is recoil sensitive.
5.56mm Custom Build Rifle Base on Accurate Armory LE Light Model
Jonathan Owen is so much into tactical hog hunting that earlier this year, he and his brother Stephen launched Special Hog Weapons and Tactics or SHWAT to bring together tactically-minded hog hunters like himself. His personal hog killer started life as an Accurate Armory LE Light model carbine in 5.56mm.
Then, he started building his own rifle, adding a 16-inch cold hammer forged barrel by Daniel Defense, specifically with a 1 in 7 twist to stabilize heavier bullets. Next, a Centurion Arms C4 12" rail was added, to allow the mounting of lights, lasers, and other options. Then, a LaRue Tactical Forward Universal Grip, a Hogue Grip, a Battle Arms Development Ambidextrous Safety Selector, and an Accurate Armory TI-7 Tactical buttstock.
"I also have a Wilson Combat TTU Trigger," says Owen. "It's the perfect trigger for hog hunting. Not too light to make you nervous about it in a dynamic hog hunting situation, but is super sweet, breaking perfectly. Nice ergos on the index finger, too."
For an optic, "A Trjicon ACOG with 4-power magnification," Owen adds. "It has a mini red dot sight on top for when the hogs are close and the shooting is fast."
The hot chambering for tactical hog hunting is the 300 AAC Blackout. It's a mid-range cartridge, similar to a 30-30 in ballistics. However, the 300 AAC BLK round was designed with suppression in mind by Advanced Armament Corporation, the "AAC" in the round's name.
Last year, AAC came out with its first complete rifle in this caliber, the AAC Micro 7. A smaller, nifty rifle, the Micro 7 is a bolt-action built on the Remington Model 7 action and chambered in 300 AAC Blackout. These rifles are fast pointers and comfortable to carry on long hunting trips.
It comes suppressor ready with a threaded muzzle and an AAC thread protector included. It also features an X-Mark Pro adjustable trigger, and an AAC Picatinny scope mount pre-installed.
AAC began developing the 300 AAC BLK, as a round and a firearm, a few years ago.
"The request came from a confidential military client," says John Hollister, AAC's national sales manager. "They were looking for a specific gun to use in combat, with very specific requirements."
Essentially, the client wanted a .30 caliber AR style platform that was ultra reliable, suppressor ready, and fired both super- and sub-sonic rounds (below the speed of sound, approximately 1140fps).
In the super-sonic rounds that AAC created, according to information provided by AAC, "At 300 meters, 300 BLK has 16.7 percent more energy than 7.62x39mm [AK round]. Max effective range, using M4 military standards for hit probability, is 440 meters for a 9-inch barrel, and 460 meters for a 16-inch barrel. 300 BLK from a 9-inch barrel has the same energy at the muzzle as a 14.5 inch barrel M4, and about 5% more energy at 440 meters--even though the barrel is much shorter."
"For hunting, think of it as like a 30-30 but from an AR. After you are done, you can remove your 5-round magazine and put in a 30 for plinking or home defense."
Today, many companies make complete AR's in 300 AAC BLK, including Daniel Defense (pictured: Daniel Defense M4 v5-300 ACC Blackout). Smith & Wesson also offers a similar chambering in the M&P15 in 300 Whisper. The Whisper round is slightly different from the BLK, though Smith & Wesson made the rifle to fire both 300 Whisper and 300AAC BLK offerings.
Suppressed or not, the 300 BLK variations are effective mid-range hog killers, offering a 30-caliber punch, multiple shot capability, and most models come ready for a suppressor.
Admittedly, Benelli has not marketed its R1 to the public as a hog hunting rifle. It seems to have all the makings of a fine one, nonetheless. A semi-automatic, the R1 is available in .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., and, most recently, .338 Winchester Magnum.
Semi-autos are often favored by hog hunters as they allow for a faster second shot than can be achieved with a bolt or lever action. But one other reason hog hunters like the 5.56mm AR rifles so much is that their low recoil allows a shooter a much better chance to place those second and even third shots.
Of note, the Benelli R1 dampens felt recoil in two ways: with a ComforTech®recoil dampening stock and Benelli's A.R.G.O. piston-driven system. According to Benelli, "No rifle in the world that allows you to get back on target faster than the R1. Imagine a .300 Winchester Magnum that feels like you're shooting a light .270 … To put it more graphically, other high-powered hunting rifles kick about twice as hard."
This should mean a hunter using an R1 has a pretty decent chance of taking out multiple hogs when a group of wild porkers are in range.
Without a lot of fanfare, Savage Arms just recently began shipping its entry into this market with the bolt action Hog Hunter.
Savage pulls no punches when it says: "They aren't pretty guns, but they aren't for pretty game, either."
The Hog Hunter sports a tough, no frills synthetic green stock that will take a beating and come back for more. That same stock has a rough texture, so you can keep a tight grip on your rifle when it gets wet. The 20-inch barrel makes the Hog Hunter a natural for navigating in tight places, like those thick, overgrown woods and the bottomland swamps that hogs love. The barrel comes threaded for a suppressor. The rifle holds four rounds in the magazine, and it's available in .223 Remington, .308 Winchester, and .338 Winchester.
And the Savage Hog Hunter costs just over $500, hundreds less than other new hog bolts.
At the National Rifle Association's recent Annual Meetings and Exhibits this past April, Weatherby unveiled a prototype rifle called the Hog Reaper. A version of Weatherby's Vanguard Series 2 line, the Hog Reaper features iron sights, a matte black finish on the barrel and receiver, and a synthetic stock decorated with what appear to be skulls, based on an April 13, 2012, photo Weatherby posted to the company's Facebook page. According to that same posting, the rifle will be available in 2013.
As to what the final product will actually look like and what calibers the Hog Reaper may be offered in? A source close to the company tells me those elements are still being worked out.
Hog hunters tend to use handguns in one of two ways: with or without hunting dogs.
For those using dogs, the shooting's going to be up close and fast. A good friend of mine named David Ellis of San Augustine, Texas, uses a Glock 30 sub-compact in .45 ACP. The big, heavy .45 ACP slug stops most pigs with one shot to the head or chest cavity. His dogs are well trained, too. When he pulls out the Glock, Ellis' dogs know it's time to angle away from the hog!
I've found a surprising number of hog hunters use .22 rimfire pistols, many in the .22 Winchester Magnum. That might not sound like suitable "hog medicine," but remember: they are shooting at a foot or less, right into the head. Any number of .22 LR or WMR's revolvers or semi-automatics can do that job. A Taurus Model 991 Tracker revolver in .22WMR, for example, or a Ruger Mark III semi-auto in .22LR would look to be fine candidates for such "up close" work.
Hog hunting with a handgun from a blind or on foot? A larger caliber is going to be necessary, probably no less than a .357 magnum. You'd have a hard time going wrong with Ruger's New Model Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum. The Hunter and Bisley Hunter both come standard with 7.5-inch barrels. Considering the .44 magnum rounds they fire, they're essentially smaller, more portable brush guns.