Feral hog hunting hunt ar-15 MSR caliber
Yes, feral hogs deserve a fast, ethical kill, too. (Courtesy Kat Ainsworth Stevens)

By Bryce Booher

Over the last couple years, I’ve been on numerous hog hunting trips in Texas. Naturally, as a gun guy, I’m always interested to see what rifles and ammunition others in my group are using while on these hunts. I’ve literally seen them all, from bolt action .243’s, Ruger 10/44s, 300 RUMs, and the list goes on. Some are scoped, some are suppressed, some are heavy, and some aren’t.

My personal hog gun is a suppressed 6.5 Grendel SBR with a 1-4x optic. I’ve also seen a variety of other AR-15’s or MSR’s. So that, of course, begs the question, “What caliber is best?”

I’m going to stay focused on the specific caliber of 223/5.56, as the AR-15/MSR itself offers a lot of upside when it comes to hunting hogs. So before I get too far, let’s address the elephant in the room: will a .223/5.56 kill a hog? Absolutely. Is it the best cartridge to kill a hog? Absolutely not.

Without getting into too much detail over the specific ballistics of the .223 Rem/5.56 NATO cartridge, understand that it was designed with varmint hunting in mind. It was never intended to take down 200-pound critters in one shot. As I stated above, it certainly can, but it’s not ideal.

The .223/5.56 works great on thin-skinned animals such as raccoons or coyotes. Hogs have an incredibly thick layer of cartilage guarding the vitals, thick skin, thick hair, thick bones, thick skulls…you get the idea.

Allow me to share a couple quick stories to illustrate my point:

Hog #1

A friend of mine dropped a 280-pound boar with a head shot at 200 yards using his Ruger 556. The round he was using was a 55gr ballistic tip from a major manufacturer. Two hours later, the guide was picking us (and our hogs) up in a SxS. When we reached that boar, it was laying in the road with quite a bit of blood around it. As my friend grabbed the pig’s leg to drag to the SxS, the pig kicked out of his grip and ran into the brush near by (I mean ran).

We all just looked at each other dumbfounded. My friend followed the hog into the brush with a .45 and proceeded to put another 7 rounds into it before having to shoot it point-blank with the Ruger 556. All in all, it took 10 rounds to finally put it down for good.

Feral hog hunting ar-15 MSR caliber
Courtesy Bryce Booher

Hog #2

Just last week, I shot what appeared to be about a 150-pound hog in the kill zone with my M1A in .308. The distance was about 80 yards. The round I was using was a well-known 165gr SP. The hog squealed and turned 180 degrees before taking off into the woods like he’d been shot out of a cannon.

I waited about 30 minutes for him to expire before I started to track him. I walked over to where I had hit him and there was quite a bit of blood. I tracked him into the brush following a good-sized blood trail. All told, I was a half mile into the woods from my stand before I literally could not go any further. I never recovered him.

While these are just two instances, ask anyone who has been hog hunting to tell you how tough these animals can be and they’ll tell you.

So why isn’t the 223/5.56 ideal? To put it as simply as I can, it just doesn’t have the mass. When it comes to terminal ballistics, heavier bullets tend to penetrate deeper and do more damage. Lighter bullets tend to fragment and splinter into lots of little pieces. While this is OK for smaller animals, it’s terrible for animals with thick cartilage and bones. The fragments get stuck and don’t have the energy to penetrate all the way through to the vitals.

Of course, shot placement matters. However, with the .223, it matters A LOT more. The majority of the kill shots on hogs with a .223/5.56 are head shots. That’s a viable solution, no question. However, hogs never really seem to stand still. They’re constantly moving around with their noses to the ground, sniffing out anything they can eat.

Feral hog hunting ar-15 MSR caliber
Courtesy Bryce Booher

Making the perfect head shot at 50 yards or so is definitely doable. But what about at 100? 200? 300 even? Most shots I’ve seen on hogs are 100 yards or less, but I’ve taken a few at 250+. At 250 yards, the .223 has an energy of ~500 ft-lbs using a 55gr bullet. That’s hardly enough, especially if you miss behind the ear, even by a little.

In conclusion, I’m not at all advocating against the idea of using an MSR for hunting hogs. After all, I use one myself. My suggestion, however, would be to use one chambered in a larger caliber…6.5 Grendel, 300 BLK, 6.8, and 7.62×39 all offer superior terminal ballistics than .223/5.56, while still taking advantage of all the good things about MSR’s.

Good luck, have fun, and be safe out there.

90 COMMENTS

  1. Never shot a hog with a 223/556, so I can’t say one way or the other….but bullet construction, shot placement and velocity at impact should all be considered when hunting any creature I think. That being said…I know a lot of guys who have hit hogs behind the ear and the hog never ever moved after that.

  2. I’ve been hog hunting with guys using a .223, and they need to hit the animals multiple times for them to go down. It’s really quite gruesome for the beast. Personally, I use a bolt action .308 while in a stand, or a lever action .357 (minimum 158 grain) when stalking through the brush.

    • Why focus on ethical kills then?

      They’re varmints!!!!!!

      UNDESIREABLE AND DESTRUCTIVE VARMINTS!!!!!!!!!!!!.

      If I thought it would wound them to the point they wouldn’t eat a newborn calf I’D USE A GD SLING SHOT OR BOW AND ARROW if I thought it’d deter them from eating up my herd. On the other end, I’d SLOWLY run the “F” over them with a bulldozer, with great glee just to hear them squeal AND SQUEAL AND SQUEAL and the whole time I’d have the broadest grin I’ve ever had on my face.

      What’s wrong with you guys? It’s the livestock, its’ the livestock, it’s the livestock??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

      YOU GUYS EVER DO ANY RANCHING?

      • Damn David. But, I have seen what they can, and will, do to farmland and have heard what they’ll do to livestock, so I certainly don’t blame you. I don’t hate them, but they are vermin and need to be eradicated.

      • I’ve no qualms about eradicating as vermin, but we are humans. It needs to be done humanely. That’s the difference between us and the hogs.

    • Jimmy ……….I have personally killed 6 wild hogs using the 5.56, 62 grain bullet. Aimed just above the shoulder joint with a broad side shot. They dropped where they stood. I was surprised when the first one dropped, never squealed and only kicked once. It was close range, for longer range I would opt for the Grendle of larger.

  3. The lack of a kill with the .308 surprised me. I figured that would be more than enough. I was planning on either my M1A or .300blk for a hog hunt but now I wonder.

    • I use a .308 and have always put the animal down in one shot. Even big hogs. Mind you, I usually don’t shoot more than 150 yards.

      • I shot a hog in the head with a 308 winchester from only 50 yards and it didn’t die right away. It kicked and scratched for a full minute or so. I believe if he could have gotten his feet under him would have made to the tree line before he finally died.

  4. What about with a Barnes TSX or TTSX? These are the types of rounds I think would make the 5.56 quite suitable for pig and deer. Use a premium bullet, and it should drive through.

    • 300BLK with 125-150gr supersonic loads work very well out to 100-150yds. Even subsonics (mostly the 194gr Lehigh bullets, but probably some others, such as Hornady Sub-X) do pretty well within 50-75yds.

      You’ll never regret bringing more gun, but among all the options I have, I either grab a 300BLK (10” barrel, 150gr XP) or 5.56 (16” barrel, 75gr GoldDot) for hogs. Both have yet to fail me, allow rapid follow-up shots, and punch end-to-end regardless of the shot placement or target orientation. I haven’t encountered the 300-400lb monsters you see in Arkansas, but for the 80-175lb ones common around here it’s plenty.

        • Don’t you have an America First rally to run away from like a coward, you queef bubbler?

        • Look at what others say about little ‘end of watch’ :

          “How much time in a day do you obsess over someone you’ve never met and probably never will?”

          LOL… 😉

    • funkymasta,
      I agree. The author, looking at a caliber with a broad range of bullets, seems to have chosen one aimed at the opposite end of the spectrum from this type of game and then dismissed the whole cartridge because of his own choice.

    • My wife dropped a 160 lb hog at about 35 yards with one of those all copper Barnes loads. It went maybe 5 yards. Small exit wound, hit the heart and made a hole in the opposite rib cage you put your hand through. It did not exit the hog though.

      • My wife dropped a 160 lb hog at about 35 yards with one of those all copper Barnes loads. It went maybe 5 yards. Small entry wound, hit the heart and made a hole in the opposite rib cage you put your hand through. It did not exit the hog though.

        • Your wife?

          Sir, with all due respects…

          …YOU ARE ONE LUCKY HUSBAND TO HAVE A WIFE LIKE THAT!!!!!!!!!

  5. Shot several, all with different calibers and platforms. A 2” Kimber K6 .357 Magnum had the same effect as a 16” AR with 69gr Federal GMM—shot once, ran a few feet and died. I didn’t study the wound tracks closely, but I’ve never placed a perfect headshot; I aim for the vitals around the chest. I’ve always found an exit hole (all mine have been shot once, not due to my marksmanship, I’ve just happened to only hit them once before they keel over, regardless of how many shots I took to make that one hit) and lots of blood, and a dead hog within 20-75ft of where it was shot.

    I wouldn’t use thin-jacketed 55gr FMJ, I’d prefer at least 62gr M855 (the steel penetrator punches through hide and bone very well). Ideally, a 69-77gr HP or OTM of some flavor, or step up in bullet weight to some of the author’s recommended calibers. But if you already own a 223/5.56 rifle, a heavy bullet will do the job quite well. Avoid 45-55gr bullets, particularly varmint loads or ballistic tips.

    What’s held true every single time, is that rapidly getting shots #2-5 on target (same hog or an additional hog) is the primary key to success. I love bolt and lever guns, but for rapidly zapping as many hogs as you can before they all scatter, it’s either a semi-auto rifle or a handgun that requires no additional manipulation (DA revolver, semi-auto pistol). In most cases, I can bag 2-3 before the rest are gone. I had a lever gun in hand once when I heard hogs, and if it wasn’t for a fence-line funneling them into a known clearing, I doubt I would have gotten more than 1. Maybe a SASS shooter with a slicked-up lever gun could out-run an AR, but I’m not that good.

  6. When you really, really, need to punch a beer can size hole clean thru a critter, only a 12 gage Brenneke slug will do. 🙂

    • GunnyGene….Those Brenneke are bad ass. Have trouble finding them even in good times. Got any sugestions ?

      • Haven’t been able to find any in over a year (covid, etc.). They are still listed (but out of stock) at various on-line dealers for around $250/rnd and up. I bought a case of Green Lightning about 5 years ago that I’m still operating on.

        Good luck.

    • Good to know all this but I got my lowly Smith & Wesson Sport for 2 legged critters. SEE: 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse😏

  7. Very good write-up on this subject and agree 100%. Yes you can kill pigs with .223/5.56 and 5.45 but they aren’t ideal. Their bullets just don’t have the mass. I’ve never used a 6.5 Grendel but I’d imagine it be superior to .223 on pigs. 300 Blackout (supersonic), 7.62×39, and 6.8 SPC work great at getting inside and causing immediate damage. The 30-30 and .308 kill even quicker but follow-up shots will be a bit longer. I’ve found that a spine shot in the neck is best a dropping them in their tracks but thats not always available.

    • I have a friend who hunts pigs with some specialty rifle she had made in 6.5 Grendel, and she has stacks of dead hogs to prove the efficacy of the round. She’s a huge proponent of it for pigs. I don’t know what load she uses.

  8. The last time I had the opportunity to hunt hogs, I shot one in the head from only 50 yards with a 308 winchester. That pig kicked and scratched for a full minute before it finally died.

  9. I’m glad to say I’ve finally found a place to shoot feral swine for free. Took an AK out but the guy who owns the place said no on that, going back with an 06 sometime soon.

    • Dang what a fudd… “i want you to shoot and kill all these hogs, but you cant use thst communist terrorist gun!”

      What a jackass

      • Every morning (it’s now 2:47 a.m. where I am in Texas) if I can’t sleep I tune into gun talk in places like this…then…I absolutely laugh my buttox off given the comments gun guys make on just about any topic.

        You guys are the GREATEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Thanks for starting my day, every day, with utter irrelevance to the rest of the world outside our world.

    • Some farmers/land owners are just that way. It’s their property they can say what goes and what doesn’t. Work around it. I’ve got a rancher that’s that way so I take my Mini 30 out there. It looks more ‘traditional’ to him. He was curious about it so I let him shoot it, he really liked it.

    • possum,

      Any idea why the property owner does not want you to use an AK-47 to shoot feral swine?

  10. Wild hogs are a concern of mine. I’m surprised I haven’t seen any yet. But this problem is coming. We seem to have more of an issue with coyotes here.

    • No hogs yet in my neck of the woods, northern unincorporated L.A. County. But then, those critters would need to find a way to successfully migrate across the vast Western desert. Peccaries live in the AZ desert, but they’re native to the area and built differently. Much lighter and drought resistant than the beefier swine that have been making their way across the South that has more moisture.

      But I could be wrong. We do, as you say, have issues with coyotes here. And the occasional bobcat. Just saw another one two weeks ago. I often “home carry” when in my yard.

  11. I mostly use 30-06 with hand loaded 110 gr Sierra Game King projectiles. They are theoretically moving at .223 speed (have not tried over a chronograph) but are twice the weight.

    Having said that I have used everything from .22 to 12 ga buckshot and solids over the years. I still got one shot kills with .22 more than once when I was looking for rabbits but found pigs instead. But I didn’t have the same selection of firearms when I was a teenager.

    I have also seen 2 shots from 12 ga using buckshot not go through the 3 or so inches of dry mud on a very large boar. One 30-06 round finished him.

    As always use enough gun that you practice with.

  12. My buds and I drop them regularly with 233Rem with the proper bullet in the ear.

    At night with night or thermal vision, sometimes you can stop several at a time.

    Using the right bullet in the heart can work as well.

  13. Do feral Hogs get the same respect that deer or elk get? That is a quick death. Instead of a long agonizing one. I don’t believe there is any anyone advocating hunting elk or moose with a 556/223 chamber rifle. Am I wrong? Both of those animals are large bulky big-boned creatures. Same as feral Hogs.
    An ethical Hunter is supposed wait, to shoot an animal at the most Lethal angle as possible. So do feral Hogs get the same respect, that is ethical kills, that deer get? Or are suppose to get.

    I’m not a hunter. But I believe animal populations need to be periodically culled. By private citizens and not the government.

    • Wild hogs are a pestilence. Nothing else. There are people that eat them but I wouldn’t recommend it.

    • This isn’t hunting (though it can be), this is eradication of a destructive pest. They have no qualms about killing livestock, pet dogs, or even a kid in the backyard. They destroy farmland, crops (peoples’ livelihood), fences (letting cattle loose = bad for the rancher and the family of 4 in the minivan that hits one), and anything else in their way to find the next grub they can eat.

      An ethical kill is a nicety on that elk hunt when you could just feed the family by driving to a grocery store, and when we have modern rifles that deliver 1000’s of ft-lbs of energy. But if you have hogs destroying your property and way of life, and only grandpa’s old rusted .22LR pump-action to take care of it, use it. Thankfully, most folks have better tools and use them, much to the detriment of the hog population. Ethical hog killing is a tertiary concern.

      NAA Pug and a sharp stick? Dude, go have a nut.

      • MS classifies them as nuisance critters. Any weapon, any time day or night, no permit or license needed. Kill ’em all however you can.

    • “So do feral Hogs get the same respect?”

      No.

      They immediately devour newborn calves. Let me say that again…THEY IMMEDIATELY KILL AND EAT NEW BORN CALVES which with the proper care could earn a rancher thousands.

      Get your head out of your buttox and realize that there are ranchers among us who have to put kids through college.

      Hell, I’d settle for the flame thrower caliber if I could get up on one. And, I’d laugh the whole time seeing that pig burn.

        • There are a few differences you didn’t mention. See above, below, or anywhere hogs have decimated an area.

        • Hatred of their destruction plays a role in my view of how to kill them.

          Ranch much? I don’t think so.

          Champ, there are Texans (where I live) who depend on harvesting cattle for their livelihoods!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          And, we simply know better than you how to deal with the income robbing hogs.

  14. I raise, slaughter and process my own hogs.
    Shot placement is vital.
    I use a Ruger 10/22 with match grade (subsonic) ammo, at no more than 10yards. With the right shot placement in the brain box, I drop them right there, to then go in and with a very large and sharp knife, bleed them out. Even then, a 250-300lbs hog can still be dangerous in their death throes.

    I agree with the author about bringing enough gun. Use premium ammo. Hogs hide, bones and muscle are very tough and the muscle is dense. Post mortem should give you a better idea of where you actually hit, if the bullet hit bone (likely) and got diverted to elsewhere that was not a vital zone. Hence the hog not only stayed up, but ran. Heavier bullets, generally, deflect less than lighter weight bullets.
    Hunters owe it to the hog to provide the most humane killing shot possible under field conditions. Rarely do we find “ideal” field conditions.
    But make the best of the situation.

  15. Good luck to anyone looking to find ammo to hunt with a 6.5 Grendel right now. Unobtanium at reasonable prices even IF you can find it at all.

    • The upside to that is, 6.5 is not a caliber folks tend to burn in ammo doing mag dumps at the range.

      That alone makes the cost-per-round overall not that bad…

  16. This just seems dumb.

    We all know 30/06 and .308 are good for taking hogs. Why go lower? 6.5 Grendel is ok- but why? 223? Are you kidding me? As a hunter this makes me roll my eyes. Do whatever you want, but for me I’d rather maximize my chance of avoiding undue suffering.

    And the guy who takes hogs with a 10/22? Dude. You’re a slob hunter.

    I use a 308 AR 10.

    • This.

      I don’t use anything less than .308 for slaying hogs unless I happen across them without a rifle, then it’s 9MM and even the smallest hogs take several bullets to keep down. I Unloaded into a herd from literally few feet away as they were going through an unfinished patch of fencing and not a single one fell, despite knowing I hit several of them. I’m sure they rotted along the way and kept the yotes and other scavengers well fed.

      5.56 simply isn’t adequate unless you are using a 100 round drum and a giggle switch; likewise, unless you are scoring perfect T-box hits, the vermin will run away.

      Neighbors have a feeder / trap setup and I know they use 300BLK and bigger when shooting them but I still find dead hogs in the forest. Coyotes are eating them too and a member of one of my favorite packs dropped the evidence in my back yard. Dead hogs, happy coyotes, happy humans, everyone wins.

      50BMG is preferable for exploding hogs, tannerite and various other explosives are also acceptable, black powder cannons, and aircraft; the bigger the bullet, the better. The damn vermin leave bomb craters in their wake anyway so mortars are on the table too.

      • Acr,

        I like the way you hunt.

        I’ve a stake in a cattle ranch here in Texas. I absolutely hate those damned hogs.

        They’ve cost me many thousands.

        Best,

        David

  17. .223 Remington/5.56 was not designed with Varmint hunting in mind. 5.56 is plenty for hogs if you use the proper bullet selection.

      • I’d never heard that one before… The one I always hear repeated is that 5.56 was designed to wound a man instead of kill him.

        • Vietnam vet here…over time I’m not necessarily proud of the following as I’ve come to realize it was a pointless war (and there are magnificent Viet families living as both my left and right neighbors)…but…I put many a man down over there with the 5.56 M-16.

          Wounding? B.S. I never saw an enemy soldier live through an encounter with my unit, absolutely not one…period. Not even many blood trails.

          Were they shot more than once? Absolutely. That’s what automatic fire is all about.

          Were we Marines concerned about shot placement like you guys are? Absolutely not. Putting them down before they could put us down with their AKs was the priority.

          We just used the rifles to chew them up and put them down, period. Compared to the M-14 I started with which did require shot placement and a strong back to carry the ridiculously heavy ammo load THE M-16 WAS A GIFT FROM GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

          It was an infantry, jungle war, by the way. The lighter the better.

  18. I’m glad I never read this growing up when I was killing them with 22s.
    Probably the same folks that couldn’t understand how I was killing ducks with #8s outta a 20ga.
    223 is just fine properly outfitted with non varmit rounds and at proper distance.
    PS I love my Grendel too

  19. The only hog i ever saw killed was with a 12ga slug @ about 30 yards. It dropped dead to the ground where it stood, probably around a 120lb hog.

  20. My 450 Bushmaster and 6.5 PRC seem to do well. 6.5 PRC any more is like shooting diamonds so I am back to using the 450 BM. I have a 300 RUM and was all about it at first but damn that rifle gets heavy quick so once again back to the Ruger American 450 BM. I took my Scar 20s once also but it was too heavy. As I type this I am thinking about my M1A Scout Squad, maybe try it.

  21. I’ve shot quite a few pigs with 7.62×39. Good bullet diameter and decent weight backing it.

    6.5×55 was a good pig killer. 140g SPs would penetrate deep and was a good one-shot-stopper.

    .303 was also a good pig stopper. Performance wise about 90% of .308.

    8×57 with 170g RNSPs were devastatingly effect.

  22. This is why one of the shots I’ve always been most proud of was my hog. 30 yards or so offhand on uneven ground on a running boar with a Remington 700 using a good old 150 grain Remington Core-Lokt 30-06. I hit him so perfectly he face planted and kicked a few times and that was that. Never even squealed. That’s the only shot I’ve ever had on a pig, but I’ve seen how tough they are. I’ve seen deer run away from all kinds of injuries, but I’ve personally seen pigs walk off head shots. Fiendishly tough animals.

  23. I am with GunnyGene. A 12 gauge shotgun loaded with slugs, Breneke Slug or Foster Slug or Sabot Slug works great.
    Then again, I’m partial to .338 Winchester Magnum . For longer ranges where accuracy and velocity loss become a serious issue, a rifle chambered in .50 BMG is awesome.

  24. I’ve dropped plenty of feral hogs with 55gr FMJ 223 and 556. M193 ball ammo is very effective on soft targets. Anyone saying anything different does not have first hand experience.

  25. In 5.56 I’ve found 55 gr ball and 77 gr otm to be great on pigs in 100s of eradication hunts. Nice having a 30 round mag in semi auto with low recoil when jumping a large group of pigs. The 55 gr fmj works beautifully as intended on the thick skinned pigs as it penetrates and fragments well. 62 gr green tips kind of suck.

    I do agree big boars can be tough. I’ve seen them take a 45-70 to the chest and not drop dead. But I rather follow up in that case with a semi auto 5.56 round to the head than cycling my lever gun.

    Over all I find these discussions are somewhat amusing/moot when it comes to vermin like pigs. If you can knife it, spear it, put an arrow in it, or shoot it with a 357 handgun why wouldn’t a rifle round be adequate?

  26. I agree…if you can kill them with a dull railroad spike and a ball peen hammer do it.

    Oh, I did I mention they’re vermin?

    Davidj

  27. I once saw a video some idiot posted on YouTube of himself hunting hogs with a .22 Magnum.
    Yep, .22 Magnum rimfire, 30 grain! Even after many shots, the hog was still squealing and kicking. That hog suffered a looooooong time.

    .44 Magnum would be better. One shot, one kill.

    • Nope, I don’t do a lot of ranching.
      Guess what? There aren’t many ranches here in New Jersey!
      (Unless you count one-story homes as ranches)

  28. That’s a congenial and funny reply.

    I’m gonna give you a “guy to guy pass” then on your apparent lack of knowledge of how much damage feral hogs do to cattle herds by killing just dropped calves. The hogs even eat the afterbirth!!!

    And, the loss is often compounded by the hogs attacking the cow which just dropped the calf and chew her to bits to drive her off. And, a severely injured cow is unlikely to breed for a YEAR!!!

    The losses are in the thousands of dollars each for a calf that could have been properly raised and then slaughtered at market prices today.

    Hey, ranchers have kids in college too. It’s a business that lets them graduate college. And, feral hogs are an obstacle in the way of that.

    F*** the hogs. Kill them any way possible and without remorse or pity or accuracy or caliber or anything else but…wait for it…DEATH. Their suffering doesn’t trouble me when I get the semester bill from Texas A&M for my two kids’ tuition and housing.

  29. Hey

    Looking to swap out 5.56 upper for a 350 legend upper for the grandson to hog hunt. He took two deer this past season with a bolt action 350L. Anybody taking hogs with a 350 legend?

    Also any recommendations of which upper/company to look at?

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