column By: Lee J. Hoots | November, 18
Following a move to northwest Arizona nearly a decade ago, regular opportunities to hunt feral hogs have been sorely missed. And I mean sorely! This is mainly due to the state having very few hogs – and the climbing nonresident license fees in nearby California that have become discouraging.
Nonetheless, feral swine can be found along the Colorado River both in Arizona and California, where serious hunters either patiently still-hunt through and along the heavily reeded riverbanks or use dogs to roust mud-caked pigs in a sort of mini drive. In either case, anything other than fleeting shots are rarer than teeth on a Canada goose. I also know at least one trustworthy, experienced public-land hunter who has bumped into what was described as a “pretty large pig” while hunting quail in the west-central highlands just a few miles east of Prescott. Even if he had a shot opportunity, a 20-gauge side-by-side loaded with No. 8 lead shot is no match for an eastbound hog showing only its west end.
Shotguns loaded with slugs are quite a different story. Many years ago while hunting on a back bay in South Texas, following a morning of shooting teal and pintails friend Joe Coogan and I decided to try our hand at stalking feral pigs in the nearby marshland. At the time Joe was working for Benelli and “just happened to have” a scoped 12 gauge with a rifled barrel along. Most – if not all – of coastal Texas is swarming with crop- and range-depredating feral hogs.
Of course, feeding feral hogs are generally not too difficult to stalk if a hunter takes his time and pays attention to the wind, which almost without fail blows onshore or offshore in the evening along the Texas coast. When a good-sized pig was spotted feeding along in the waning light, a stalk commenced, including crawling on hands and knees to cover the final 25 yards or so. Then the big 12 gauge roared, and the slug hit the boar through its front shoulders, dumping it there on the spot. This should come as no surprise to any hog hunter with slug-gun experience.
A shotgun loaded with slugs is a formidable hunting tool, but carrying one slung over the shoulder for any distance while glassing for pigs from tall ridgelines is not my cup of tea. Not only are they heavy and cumbersome, a big shotgun limits the distance traveled and the ease of which a public-land pig hunter can get around on rugged ground, not to mention the distance at which shots can be taken. It is worth mentioning, however, that it’s not a bad idea to carry along a few slug loads (two or three with actual lead slugs) while hunting upland game. Like my Arizona buddy, I have, on a couple of occasions in the past when living in California, had to walk away from hogs for lack of something suitable to shoot them with.
Back when in-line muzzleloaders were all the rage, I was tasked with writing a column covering the subject, which often included field testing new rifles and bullets when hunting pigs. Over time it was learned that the hollow point pistol bullets with plastic sabots that were gaining popularity among whitetail hunters made little sense when it came to feral hogs. They simply would not penetrate well through the dense shoulder of a large boar or sow and would often fail to make their way into the lungs on shots taken at fairly shallow angles.
Part of the problem, at least in my experience, was the fact that these bullets opened up too quickly on what old-time gunwriters referred to as “raking shots.” Little “Webber-grill” pigs, those weighing 50 pounds or less, were not a problem, but hogs weighing 100 pounds or more typically just ran off. Since wild pigs generally spend most of their time in or near heavy brush, they can be difficult to track and finish off, even when mortally wounded. A gut-shot pig often leaves little if any spoor, so using a heavy lead conical that penetrates deeply, and passing up raking shots in general, makes far more sense. Hogs are rather easy to stalk in a steady breeze, so oddly angled shots are usually unnecessary if a fellow uses his head a little before tugging the trigger.
Not to discredit the need to thin out (or outright remove) invasive swine by using all legal methods of pursuit – the use of catch dogs, shooting at night with spotlights and so on – spot-and-stalk hunting proves to be more interesting, at least in my estimation. In open country such as Oklahoma, North Texas and California, for example, a hunter can stretch his or her legs while toting a revolver of sufficient caliber, or a rifle. What’s more, it doesn’t take a behemoth bullet to bring down a pig of any size. As in all big-game hunting, shot placement is the key.
I once twisted my ankle while dragging a California mule deer up a steep slope. By the next morning it was swollen enough that I could not keep up with my late hunting buddy Tom Seward, who had a pig tag burning a hole in his pocket – as did I. The sun was already warming the parched, Central Coast ranch, and the fellow who owned it was rightfully in hurry to reach a high ridgeline along which the local hogs traveled on their way to dense bedding cover.
My task then became a slow, solo downhill limp back along a ridge toward the ranch house a mile or so away, stopping and glassing frequently for game (mostly out of necessity, for I could not snugly lace up my boot). Quite unexpectedly, a young boar was spotted ambling up the same ridge along which I hobbled. With no time to consider wind currents, I chambered a cartridge in a stainless steel Weatherby Mark V .257 Weatherby Magnum and moved uphill into a patch of brush to see how things would play out. At a distance of about 30 yards the jig was up, the boar lifted its snout, sniffed a couple times then bolted toward nearby heavy cover – and almost made it before catching a bullet in its shoulder.
As a kid, I heard about “dangerous wild pigs” requiring oversized cartridges but gave it little thought, and that holds true today. After shooting perhaps 30 feral hogs and having been along to watch other hunters take at least that many, the “charging beast” so often brought to life in the sporting magazines read in my youth remains quite illusive. Plus, as I have come to recognize, back then it took little encouragement from an eager editor for the writer to liven up a story. In other words, “Make it fantastical, or I’m not interested in buying a pig story!”
As can occasionally happen when hunting most North American game, it’s possible for a person to find himself in a bad situation, though most hairy experiences are self-caused and usually include poor shooting followed by poor judgment. Like any large animal, when wounded, a pig will follow the path of least resistance. If the hunter happens to have made the choice to be standing on that path, he’s likely to be run over. Big, old boar hogs (and even sows) tend to get a little cranky when poorly shot, but I know of only one fellow, Ron Gayer (theguidesguidetohunting.com), who was truly charged when his client made a bad shot on a rank, old boar that, when followed up, was found on an open grassy hillside with no immediate concealment. A steady hand and two shots from Ron’s Desert Eagle 10mm took care of the hunter’s error.
If a pig is cornered and left without options, it will do the same thing a white-tailed deer or elk will do. But are they inherently vicious? Not at all. During his 25 years or more of guiding hog hunters and shooting a few for himself, I would estimate Ron has probably seen no fewer than 1,500 pigs shot, and only that one wounded boar was truly troublesome.
More pigs than can be counted have probably fallen to the .223 Remington cartridge over the past 10 or 15 years due to incredible interest in AR-15s, which has also lead to new bullets designed for better penetration. And while it may work fine in close quarters where several bullets can be quickly dumped into the side of a hog, the .223 is not the ideal cartridge for spot-and-stalk hog hunting.
Perfect pig cartridges (or more specifically, calibers) are the same as those that have been used by deer hunters for years, and the list starts with the .243 Winchester and probably ends with the .30-06. Anything larger is unnecessary, but if you enjoy, for example, the .300 Weatherby Magnum and shoot it well, use it. No matter the cartridge, it makes good sense to use a bullet with known penetration performance, especially when using smaller, lighter bullets.
Years ago my cousin and I hunted in Paso Robles with August Harden (now retired) on his family’s sprawling ranch made up of pasture land mixed with grain fields. The one rifle on hand was a Remington 700 .270 Winchester in an H-S Precision stock, one of several .270s I have owned over the years. That first evening August suggested we take a look around before sunset, and we located a very large spotted sow just before nightfall. It was the heaviest wild hog I had ever seen, weighing well over 200 pounds on a scale at the ranch house.
Stooped over, we slowly walked up closer, and the dry sow seemed ever-increasingly “fantastical.” As the spotted hog stood slightly quartering away at about 35 yards, a Nosler Partition was placed just behind the on-shoulder and stopped under the hide on the opposite side.
Since then I have shot a couple of tremendously large boars with live weights slightly exceeding that of the spotted sow, and not one in 30 or so hogs has ever charged. On the other hand, all but the biggest boars have been tasty – the reason I miss stalking pigs so dearly.