Caliber and Bullets for Boar Rifles – A Reality Check

When it comes to hunting wild boar with a rifle, there are those who portray the wild pig as some sort of an invincible, ferocious monster with a skin toughened in dragon blood and almost impossible to kill. And there is the other extreme, the hunter who claims that he routinely harvests wild hogs with a well-placed shot from a .22 rifle. Sure, such a well placed shot may bring a wild hog down. But generally the bullets for caliber .22 centerfire are not solid enough to be used for hunting big game.

While the first may be a boon to hunting supply stores, hunting magazines, manufacturers of reloading equipment and weapons with a tendency to overkill, they do the worst damage to a hunter’s purse – and to the quality of the meat harvested. Yet, at least they bring a merciful, quick death to the game.

The second is outright irresponsible and should be taboo for hunting use. Hunters have the power to take a life. This privilege comes with the moral obligation to do so quickly and as humanely as possible. The use of a small caliber, lightweight bullet conflicts with this requirement regardless of how well the shot may be placed.

For that reason alone, States set minimum requirements for firearms that can be legally used to take big game. In California for example the minimum recommended caliber for the take of wild pigs is .243 with a minimum bullet weight of 100 grains – and then only for small pigs up to a maximum of about 90 pounds.

You can make a separate hobby out of the selection of a weapon and cartridge and appear in the field complete with mobile field lab. Or just stick to a few basics to decide which weapon, caliber and cartridge to use. The overwhelming majority of hunters thankfully falls into this category.

Wild boar are much more difficult to harvest than deer or other slightly smaller big game. Young and relatively light wild pigs are easier to kill than old, tough, heavy boar.

Your preference for either the smaller ‘meat’ pig or the trophy boar AND the nature of the terrain in which you will be hunting are two factors that determine the choice of caliber and bullet weight. The third is your boar hunting method, such as hunting from a blind/tree stand or spot and stalk. This method requires the most versatile weapon and cartridge because you cannot really predict what kind of wild pig you will encounter and how close or far out it will be. Chances are your shots will be from 20 to less than 100 yards.

Blinds or tree stands frequently ask for longer shots of maybe 75 yards to 200 yards.

Hunting with a pack of chase and bay dogs is an entirely different matter. The best weapon for this challenging type of boar hunt is a powerful handgun. I will talk about hunting wild boar with dogs in another article.

Any accurate bolt-action, semi-automatic or lever action rifle that is chambered for one of the high-powered cartridges is fine.

Smaller wild hogs mean smaller, lighter hunting rifles with small calibers. Large trophy boar require large caliber ‘big guns’. Legally California allows any centerfire rifle with a softnose bullet. The make, model and price of your hunting rifle does not kill a wild pig. Nor do expensive artistic carvings on the wooden stock of your pricey rifle. The kinetic energy of the bullet that comes out of the rifle does!

Any rifle that propels a softnose bullet with at least 800 foot – pounds of energy remaining at a distance of 100 yards will kill a small pig between, let’s say, 60 and a little over 90 pounds. The caliber should be at least .24. The bullet weight a minimum of 100 grain.

For example, .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, 100 grain, are borderline calibers. Any less and the caliber is not acceptable for wild pig hunting such as the 30M1 Carbine, the Winchester 32-30, the 357 Magnum (rifle), 38-40 Winchester, 44-40 Winchester are not suitable for pig hunting. Note that some are large caliber cartridges with heavy bullets. But they do not meet the minimum requirement for kinetic energy left.

These light rifles and smaller caliber cartridges are best suited for spot and stalk hunting of wild boar where shots can range from a few yards to maybe 75 yards or so.

Larger, older boar have thicker skin, stronger bones and shields in the chest area. They require a larger caliber cartridge with a heavier and sturdier bullet. They demand bullets of over 130 grain and at least 1200 foot-pounds of energy remaining at 100 yards.

Calibers meeting these requirements start with the 250 Savage and include almost all calibers and bullet weights on the market. Many of these cartridges were actually developed for military use many years ago. They have fallen out of favor with the military but still make excellent hunting calibers.

Exceptions are notably the 30M1 Carbine, the borderline Russian 7.63×39 , the 303 Savage, the 38-55 Winchester (which are good for up to 90 pound pigs) and the 44 Remington Magnum (rifle).

I use two rifles with greatly different calibers. One boar rifle is an old Romanian SKS, caliber 7.62×39, with a 3×6 scope. I call it my “brush” rifle and use it in brushy terrain with few and small open spaces. It is my preferred spot and stalk rifle. It is light, simple, very forgiving and reliable. It will bring down any smaller wild pig that pops up.

In open terrain or anywhere else where longer shots can be expected, I use my other old-timer, a vintage M1-Garand, 30-06, scoped 3×10. This rifle is heavy, therefore has much reduced recoil and great accuracy over hundreds of yards. It is chambered for the very powerful 30-06 cartridge with a 150 grain bullet. No wild boar is safe from this rifle.

This caliber is known as a ‘bruiser’ because there can be extensive bruising of the meat due to the very powerful cartridge. It is best used for head shots. But head shots are my favorites anyway.

Finally, let us not forget shotguns. A good 12 gauge shotgun loaded with a single rifled slug or a sabot is very deadly for wild boar up to about 55 yards and up to 100 yards with a rifled shotgun. I do not favor or recommend the use of buckshot on wild boar.

Lead free rifled slugs and sabots are available for shotguns just as lead free bullets are now available for most of the popular rifle calibers.

In conclusion it is fair to say that all high-powered cartridges are good choices for harvesting wild boar. Despite all differences in bullet weight, bullet shape, trajectory, remaining kinetic energy at a certain distance and so on, you can zero all of them to hit a target in a narrow shot pattern at a given distance, say, between 100 and 150 yards. Sufficient kinetic energy at 100 yards distance remaining, all will kill a wild pig with good shot placement.

What differs are the looks of a rifle, the weight, the smoothness of the action or lack thereof, the overall ‘feel’ of the weapon, the ease of use and so on. Together they make a hunter feel comfortable with a particular rifle as if it were an extension of himself. That is the best boar hunting rifle for this hunter.

Ballistic data for your cartridge is available from ammunition manufacturers, on their web sites, from reloading manuals and from secondary sources on the Internet, such as hunting web sites and the like.

And when you see those guys with their state-of-the-art expensive rifles, supporting gadgets and hybrid SUV remember: The price of the rifle does not kill a wild boar, the bullet that comes out of it does. Even if it comes out of an old inexpensive bolt action.

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