Though it missed high, my first shot got the attention of the coal-black boar feeding 125 yards from me in the field. He bolted but, unsure of the shot’s origin, came toward me. I was 15 feet up in a deer stand along a treeline. The hog cut into the trees maybe 30 yards to my right and slowed his furious pace, apparently thinking he was now safe.
He appeared between two trees at 35 yards, still moving, and I fired.
The boar reared back for a moment, snorting and screaming, pushed his snout into the dead leaves lining the ground and made several figure-eights in the dirt before flipping over onto his back and kicking the air. In less than half a minute, the wild hog went still.
Whenever people ask me, “Is the .223 Rem. a good choice for hog hunting?” I think of that boar—all 220 pounds of him—killed at the Chain Ranch in west-central Oklahoma 2 years ago. I was shooting a Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P15 rifle chambered in .223 Rem./5.56mm NATO.
So, yes, I think the .223 Rem. is a very good choice for hog hunting—provided you use the right ammunition and can put your bullet into a hog’s vitals.
The .223 Rem. did a fine job on this Oklahoma wild boar.
I hear the counter-arguments regularly. The .223 round is too light for tough old hogs. It doesn’t have enough terminal energy. The small-caliber bullet can’t expand enough for this game animal. Use a .223 and you'll be wounding all sorts of pigs.
But I also know that I’ve killed a half-dozen wild pigs in the past 2 years with rifles chambered in .223 Rem., and I've seen even more hogs taken by fellow hunters with the same round at distances out to 200 yards.
Vital Details For Pounding Pigs
I don’t dispute that those of us using .223 Rem./5.56mm NATO options for hog hunting need to pay close attention to shot placement. You need to put a bullet in the heart, lungs, middle of the neck or below, or just behind the ears.
I’ve killed a good number of hogs with .300 Blackout and .308 Win., too. Yes, these .30-caliber cartridges have more punch and power than their cousins in .223 Rem. No argument. But even with .30-caliber power, you still need to hit that pig in the right spot. With a good-sized hog, a hit in the mid-section or farther back with a .30-caliber round will send that hog sprinting for heavy cover. Oh, it will die, but you might have one heck of a time finding it ... if you find it at all.
As far as bullet placement, what can I say? If you can’t stick a bullet into one of these vital areas where your pig is standing, don't take the shot. If it’s a matter of closing the distance, do so. Hogs have eyesight that’s adequate at best, and you can usually slide in at least a little closer to them, especially if they're feeding.
If you can't confidently hit one of those admittedly smallish vital areas on a hog, then practice.
Selecting A Boar Bullet
“My guess is that people who say the .223 isn't enough to kill a hog might base that perception on old Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) loads,” said Jonathan Owen, co-founder of Special Hog Weapons and Tactics, a group of hog hunting enthusiasts who regularly kill hogs with AR-style rifles chambered in .223 Rem.
Cheap (at the time) and plentiful, the 55-grain, FMJ .223/5.56mm NATO round was widely used in AR-style rifles for years. But as AR owners started using their black rifles for hunting bigger game, the defects of this round became apparent. The metal jacket meant it didn't expand very much, plus it had a habit of tumbling. Neither are good qualities in hunting ammo.
During the past decade, ammo makers have introduced a number of .223 Rem. cartridges designed for maximum impact and impressive terminal damage. Perfect for hunting.
This 210-pound pig was taken with a 70-yard head shot.
On my Oklahoma hog, I used a 79-grain Terminal Shock .223 Rem. round made by Dynamic Research Technologies (DRT) of Grant City, Missouri. The DRT round is lead-free and frangible, manufactured from a highly compressed core of metal powder inserted into a copper jacket. That bullet punched through a solid inch of hog shield—the hard gristle covering the pig’s ribs—the ribs themselves, and then essentially exploded (as it was designed to do), delivering all the round’s terminal energy into the boar’s chest cavity.
Other good .223 Rem./5.56mm NATO rounds I've found for hog hunting include: Winchester's Razorback XT, firing a 64-grain, one-piece bullet; ASYM Precision’s Solid Defense X round with a 70-grain Barnes copper TSX bullet; and Federal’s Fusion ammunition, firing a 62-grain spitzer boattail bullet.
All of these rounds are heavier than the 45- or 50-grain bullets that are very popular with varmint hunters. Those rounds do a fine job on coyotes and similar-sized animals. With pigs, however, you need a bullet with enough heft and “oomph” to slam through thick skin, shields, tough muscle and hard bone, and then expand effectively enough to deliver its terminal energy. Lighter .223 bullets, in my experience, can’t pull that off.
One more point: If you're going to pig hunt with .223 Rem. rounds packing longer, heavier bullets, make sure your rifle barrel is designed to fire those rounds. For his Solid Defense X .223 loads, for example, Stan Chen, owner of ASYM Precision Ammunition, recommends a barrel with a 1/8 twist, and says a 1/7 twist is even better.
“With these longer bullets, you need a faster twist rate to stabilize the bullet,” said Chen. “If you use a 1/9 or an even slower twist, the accuracy just won’t be there. In fact, those bullets will probably be tumbling before they hit your intended target.”