Matthew Cameron covers pig hunting cartridges and how best to polish off porkers
The real problem associated with hunting feral pigs is that you never quite know just what you might be confronted with around the other side of the next bush. Of course, it’s a bit different on the plains where visibility is much better.
The other difficulty is that a rifle ideal for a set shot over a known distance becomes totally inappropriate when the animal is fleeing. Just which are suitable or unsuitable depends a great deal on the circumstances, what is available and, in this day and age, cost. There is also the small matter of the ability of the person pulling the trigger.
A further catch with feral animals is when you might actually come across them. Consider the case of a professional kangaroo shooter chasing his quarry on a remote inland property; sweeping the light along a fence line to see a fully-grown fallow deer. In his experience, it would not be the first time that such a sighting had occurred.
While pigs are normally associated with heavy, or at least adequate cover, if not under pressure they will venture out onto the open plains to feed, particularly in the cooler months. Spotlighting for foxes I have come across feral pigs, but this is a totally different situation than when pigs are the specific target.
It is patently obvious that certain cartridges or minimum calibres are more useful for hunting pigs than others. Perhaps, a minimum calibre would be an accurate .222 with good projectiles. Back in the 1950s when pig hunting was in its infancy, there were many tales of woe from shooters who emptied whole magazines of .22 Long Rifle ammunition into fleeing porkers.
We should also throw into the mix the type of projectile in use, which may have a bearing on the outcome. Will it expand on contact or proceed straight through bone and muscle? The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is just where the animal is hit. Is the shot fatal or not?
The fact of the matter is that feral pigs are expanding their range within Australia, as they are now found in areas where previously there were none. Thus, the question arises, which calibre to use? It is said that the answer is the rifle that you are armed with at the time.
It is obvious that a clean kill will require both an adequate calibre and projectile type, and some work better than others. Another issue which is seldom talked about is the type of cover available to the animal. A wounded animal could escape simply because of thick impenetrable cover close by. The way out of this snag is to use heavier calibres that anchor the animals on the spot. A set shot at any animal is a whole different ball game to that of a fleeing beast with a bloodstream full of adrenalin.
In my experience a high percentage of running animals of all sorts are usually hit in the rear two-thirds of the body. Rarely are such shots fatal unless you connect bone or nerves. What follows is the result of nearly 40 years of shooting feral pigs on the plains, in swamps and wherever you found them.
For set shots at small pigs within 150 yards/metres a .222 Remington can be ideal with the right type of projectile delivered into the heart. Perhaps in a perfect world a custom protector point of 55gr in weight would fit the situation perfectly. I know an ex-professional shooter who used them on pigs with a .223 Remington. He had good results and preferred them to standard soft-points, the other option with a 55gr Nosler Ballistic Tip. For longer results on dams and slightly larger animals, perhaps the .243 Winchester is ideal, again with a Nosler Ballistic Tip or a protector point. Some users favour 100gr projectiles in this calibre.
In similar fashion a 6mm Remington would also be suitable. I have a new barrel recently fitted to my switch-barrelled rifle in .243 Ackley Improved (40 degree). Initial results with both 103gr and 115gr protector points are most encouraging, with good accuracy. This allows longer more confident shots in a set shot situation. It’s doubtful the pigs are going to like it.
Perhaps the most widely used cartridge in this group is the .223 Remington but I consider it marginal for pigs, particularly when they are fleeing. For set shots it is possibly okay with a premium projectile. I know of one expert shooter who uses nothing else. But he is an exceptional marksman and prefers 55gr Nosler Ballistic Tips or 55gr custom protector points. He also only uses Magnum primers for preference.
For long shots over water or a set shot situation where the animals are at a longer range it becomes difficult to lay down anything but general rules, simply because of the possible variety of situations. An accurate .243 Winchester and 100gr projectiles might be fine out to 250 yards/metres. After that, something with a bit more clout is needed if you must take the shot.
Once we move away from the set shot situation the lines of what is acceptable become blurred simply because of the huge possible situations that might occur when stalking/walking up on game, particularly in a swamp situation. My preferred rifle/cartridge combination to cover these eventualities is either a .45-70 or a .30-30 Winchester, as both have done good work at short ranges.
To cover the eventuality of a pig breaking out onto the plains, another shooter can be paired up with a lever-actioned hunter, who is equipped with a rifle such as a 6.5x55mm/.270 Winchester or perhaps a .30-06. The ‘system’ has worked well for many years.
Normally the .45-70 shoots 300gr projectiles and the .30-30 Winchester those that weigh 170 grains. Both have accounted for many pigs within the swamps, either wet or dry. Under such circumstances the lever-actioned rifle is hard to beat, with the ability to take a quick second shot if required.
Cartridges either side of the .270 Winchester are also acceptable. I’ve had good outcomes with a Tikka chambered in the 6.5x55mm cartridge using both 140- and 160-grain protector point projectiles. It is difficult to tell which is the more effective. The same applies to that old warhorse, the .30-06 using either 220- or 165-grain projectiles and its offspring the .25-06 usually with 115/117gr projectiles. Not forgetting of course, the 30-06’s younger brother, the .308 Winchester. From observation it does good work on pigs with 150/165gr projectiles.
There are a couple of further calibres that although perhaps not as popular as others, are also effective. For some years I shot a 7×57 rimmed cartridge with 175gr projectiles. It was a bit odd in that the action was a straight British Lee Enfield, 10-shot magazine and all. This was an unusual combination The other calibre was more modern, a 7mm-08 in a light bolt-action. All were effective on pigs of any sizes.
In reality, there is probably no need for a calibre greater than .308 in size. Yes, I am well aware that large animals will carry a lot of lead. It really comes down to placing the projectile in the place to do the most damage. Admittedly, this is sometimes difficult to achieve. Perhaps the exception to this statement is the use of a .45-70 in swamps.
The other issue that has moved the goalposts significantly in the past decade or so is that of projectiles. The range has quickly expanded, mainly in the availability of heavier projectiles in relation to calibre ‑ just ensure that the barrel twist will handle them.
In addition, there are better designs available and older formats in more calibres. As an example, there are now 60gr Nosler Partition projectiles in .224 diameter. Certainly, such a projectile increases the effectiveness of the .22-250 Remington and the .220 Swift to name but two well-used cartridges. In my opinion this raises the .22-250 Remington into the .243 Winchester class.
Not only has the number of projectiles increased but so has the same tally in particular classes, ie, those projectiles with plastic tips to name one. They have mushroomed in the amounts. I would suggest that some might work better than others.
One projectile I have yet to use on live game is the RWS Cone-Point. Similar to others the jacket material is thicker at the rear, so this should promote expansion.
It will pay to load develop the projectiles and cases carefully and when a suitable load is found, test it on game. I suggest that a certain amount of research is required to obtain the best result.