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:
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.
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.
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.