Many hunters take to the woods each year in pursuit of wild boars (hogs). This is a good thing - it's nice to stay in practice when it's not deer season, the meat is nice in the freezer, and wild boars can be a real nuisance in many areas. Many of the folks running around the woods after hogs are primarily deer hunters, and don't really know just where to shoot a hog to get its vitals. Where are its vitals? We're about to answer that question.
Take a look at the image of the hog on this page. It may be a little too small for you to read; if so, try this link. Here, the deer hunter will notice that a hog's lungs are well forward, and if he were to place a shot as he would for a lung shot on a deer, the result would almost certainly be a gut shot. Not good!
Ideally, a shot on a broadside boar should be placed in the shoulder area, and lower is preferable. Just be careful not to aim so low that you shoot under the swine. If the animal is quartering towards or away from you, you'll want to place the shot so the bullet will end up in the vitals between the shoulders. Naturally, this requires a bullet that will penetrate well.
Much talk has been put forth about shooting hogs in the head, and that can definitely be a killing shot, provided you hit the brain. Make note of the fact that a hog's brain is a small target, and is well protected by its thick skull. Here again, a tough bullet with good penetration is key.
The old "behind-the-ear-with-a-22" story is one that I believe has been talked about much more than it has been successfully practiced. In a slaughter situation where the shooter is close to the boar, there's no doubt that it can work, but it's certainly not foolproof, and shouldn't be tried at a distance. Bullets used in rimfire cartridges, especially 22 long rifle, are usually quite soft, and don't penetrate well. Such a bullet will flatten out on the bone of the skull and won't get the job done.
Break it Down
A broken shoulder will put a hog down on the spot, just as it will with a deer or other game animal. This can be a great help, allowing for a fast follow-up shot if it's necessary. Ideally, you don't want to have to trail your animal - you want to kill it quickly and efficiently, and in the case of a mature hog, you don't want it coming after you with those nasty sharp tusks.
Use Enough Gun
How much gun is enough? Hmmm. That depends on the hog and bullet placement, mainly. As a rule, I would start with any cartridge in the class of the old reliable 30-30 Winchester. This offers plenty of oomph for most hogs, especially with 170-grain bullets of suitable construction. Smaller hogs can be killed with lesser cartridges, and larger boars would be best approached with something heavier. I would not hunt hogs with any rimfire cartridge, unless I were dealing with very small young pigs.
As far as how much gun is too much, there's pretty much no such thing, in my opinion. You can't kill a critter deader than dead, so claims of "overkill" are usually just so much BS, and should be ignored. No matter what gun you choose, ammo selection is just as important.
You want a bullet that's tough enough to penetrate, with enough diameter to deliver plenty of knockdown power. I prefer heavy bullets, but not necessarily the very heaviest available for a given cartridge. For instance, in 30-06, I like 180-grain bullets. For 270 Win, which is about the smallest diameter I would be comfortable with, make it a 150. In my 45-70 I generally load 300-grain jacketed bullets moving at a respectable velocity. In 44 mag, a 240-grain jacketed bullet is the best all-around hunting slug I've found, but if I were hunting big ol' boars with it I might go with something heavier.
Think of a boar as being tougher and more dangerous than a deer, because they can certainly be both, and usually are. Their differently-constructed bodies call for different approaches than deer. The fat and gristle that exists on the outside of even domesticated hogs can cause trouble.
A friend of mine once shot a smallish hog in the shoulder with his 30-06 using 150-grain bullets, which he had often used successfully on deer. It was not a straight-on shoulder shot, and actually removed a large chunk of fat and hide from the shoulder, but the hog neither went down nor left a blood trail. We lucked into it while searching and I was able to finish it with a 44 mag to the shoulder. No contest, at a range of a few feet.
There have also been numerous tales of soft bullets actually flattening against the tough shield of gristle and fat that lies outside the shoulders of "sure-nuff" mature wild boars. I believe this is very possible, and it should be considered when choosing your ammo. The shield can also prevent a good blood trail even when the bullet penetrates well in this area.
So what's the overall synopsis here? Mainly, that you want to use enough gun to do the job (and hopefully allow for a margin of error, because we're not perfect) and you want to hit the critter in the right place. If the hog is nice and close and calm and you have a steady rest, you might go for a brain shot, aiming towards the rear of the head... but the shoulder shot is the best meat-getter of them all.
Never forget that it's better to lose a little meat around the shoulder than to lose the entire animal because you took a risky shot to "save meat."
If you're hunting from an elevated stand, then placing the shot between the shoulders might be the best choice. Always remember where the vitals are - between those shoulders - and aim accordingly. Use ammo that will penetrate with enough diameter to do the job efficiently. And enjoy the barbecue when the hunt is over!
- Russ Chastain