If you’d like to know how you can successfully hunt wild hogs with an AR-15 chambered in the standard 5.56/.223, then here’s how I did it recently having no previous hog hunting experience.
I really wanted to try hog hunting and knew my dad would enjoy it so I booked us a hunt at Hog Haven in West Virginia for a Friday that was also my dad’s birthday.
Why Hog Hunting?
In recent years, feral hog populations have dramatically increased across America. As the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries writes,
“Feral hogs are four-legged ecological disasters. They cause damage to wildlife habitat wherever they exist. The only place hogs should be found is within the confines or boundaries of their owner’s property as a livestock or domestic animal, where they are cared for according to all livestock or domestic animal regulations. Anywhere outside of these physical and regulatory boundaries they are a direct threat to our natural resources, environmental quality, and agricultural interests. Any feral hog (see definition below) found should be dispatched immediately, assuming you have permission and do so in accordance with all state and local ordinances.”
Because they’re considered such a nuisance species, as far as I know, most American states allow you to hunt them all year round.
That appealed to me because I once again missed deer season this past year.
Plus, in my home state of Virginia, the minimum size for hunting deer is “.24 caliber or larger” which means I can’t use my AR-15 chambered in standard 5.56/.223 to hunt deer. But I can use it to hunt hogs.
Lastly, because you can eat wild hog meat and the type of hunt I booked with Hog Haven in WV was for “meat hogs” which are the smaller, younger hogs that–from what I hear–have more tender meat than the tougher, older boars.
In short, I wanted to bring home the bacon baby!
Choosing The Right 5.56/.223 Hunting Ammo For Hog Hunting
The truth is that the effectiveness of the AR-15 in .223 comes down to the types of bullets that you use. After all, the bullets are the part that actually do the work.
And contrary to what every anti-gun talking head on TV states, the AR-15 is not a “high-powered” rifle. In fact, among hunters it is not considered a powerful hunting rifle at all.
(It’s infuriating when you hear outright lies such as the media calling an AR-15 a “high powered” rifle and then comparing it to a “less deadly” hunting rifle that is probably twice as powerful. But I digress).
The original 5.56 ball ammo (as issued to the military) was designed to be fired at high velocity, yaw on impact and fracture at the cannellure to create massive wound channels — and while this has proven to be combat effective — for any type of hunting you typically don’t want to use regular FMJ’s (Full Metal Jacket) ball ammo.
For one, it’s illegal to take game in many states using ball ammo.
Two, you don’t want a lot of bullet fragments in the animal that you’re going to eat later (That sounds like a great way to chip a tooth!). Plus, the less meat you destroy the more you can eat!
Three, much like proper self-defense ammunition, you want good, reliable penetration (deep enough to reach vital organs, so at least 12-18″). And you want good expansion to maximize the amount of permanent tissue damage, from a bullet that holds together and retains as much of its weight as possible.
Luckily, much of the advancements in modern barrier blind bullet technology have paralleled the advancements in hunting bullet technology.
In fact, they’re darn-right similar and in some cases they’re the exact same thing.
Self-Defense Bullets Are Often Great Hunting Bullets
I’ve written an article that explains the best self-defense ammo for the AR-15 and how the primary choice is barrier blind ammunition.
An interesting fact is that the .223 Speer 62 gr Gold Dot Jacketed Soft Points (JSP’s)(one of the most highly rated barrier blind .223 loads) are identical in construction to the Federal 62 gr .223 Fusion JSP.
The 62gr .223 Federal Fusion MSR hunting bullet is an excellent barrier-blind bullet. But unlike the hard-to-find and expensive Speer Gold Dot .223 loads, the Federal Fusion .223 ammo can be found relatively easily at most places that stock hunting ammunition and even cheaper online. (NOTE: ideally, you will want an AR-15 with the Mil-Spec 1/7 twist rate in order to stabilize the heavier 62 gr bullets correctly.)
The MSR designation simply means “Modern Sporting Rifle” and is the regular fusion bullet loaded cartridge with these changes (from the Federal website):
A. Primer: Compatible with rifles that have a free floating firing pin.
B. Powder: Clean-burning, low-flash, fast-burning propellant boosts velocity through 16- to 20-inch barrels.
C. Brass: Federal® made brass case features a harder case head for exceptional primer retention.
D. Brass: Military-style colored iris gives visual confirmation of proper case metallurgy.
E. Optimized boat-tail profile: For improved accuracy.
F. Molecularly-fused jacket: Totally eliminates component separation, unlike other conventional methods. Fused around a pressure-formed core.
G. Skived tip: Internally skived bullet for consistent long-range expansion.
Is .223 Big Enough For Hog Hunting?
I think that depends …
In our case, we planned on hunting the smaller “meat pigs”. They top out at about 100lbs so I had no doubt the .223 would be enough.
But Josh, the owner of Hog Haven immediately asked me what caliber my AR-15 was in when I told him I’d be using it for hunting. Again, most hunters don’t feel a .223 is very powerful. I told him I planned on using good hunting ammo and he told me that would be a necessity because you needed a lot of penetration for hogs.
In my research leading up to the hunting trip, I found the following story posted at GunsandAmmo.com:
“Don’t think the .223 has enough oomph to take down a pig? A year ago I might have agreed, but since then I’ve done a lot of hog hunting. In my experience, a heavy, bonded .223 bullet actually works better on hogs than 12-gauge slugs. Sound crazy? I know, but on my last hunt I saw hog after hog soak up one-ounce 12-gauge slugs (one big sow took five and kept on going).
William “Hoppy” Kempfer at Osceola Outfitters in St. Cloud, Florida, who’s been guiding hog hunts for 17 years, has seen the same thing.
“I’ve never seen more ‘wounded’ animals than those hit by big, slow-moving bullets like .45-70s and .45-90s,” he told me.
I used a Benelli M4 tricked out by ATI and hit a 90-pound hog twice with slugs. Both went all the way through, but the hog acted like it hadn’t even been hit. The next day I dropped a 150-pound hog with one Federal Fusion MSR .223.
Our group of writers took 15 hogs in three days, and everybody had the same experience when it came to slugs vs. .223. I theorize that hogs are more susceptible to hydrostatic shock than they are blunt-force trauma. This is good news, for just about everybody seems to own an AR these days, and most ammo manufacturers are offering hog-specific ammo for them.”
And a quick look at the Federal ammo website, or any retailer online that sells the Fusion .223 rounds, will give you dozens of pictures of 100+ pound deer that were killed with this same bullet.
The truth is: I’ve never done it, but I’ve read multiple reports of hunters online taking over 200 pound pigs with .223 out to about 225 yards assuming their shot placement was decent.
I know that for the smaller pigs, .223 with a good bullet is plenty. I would LOVE to go hog hunting again for much bigger hogs to see the limits of this particular bullet.
Even Dr. Roberts posted a list of good .223 hog hunting rounds once (notice how these recommended loads are all on the approved .223 self-defense ammo list by Dr. Roberts too):
— Federal 55 or 62 gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bonded JSP
— Winchester 64 gr solid base bonded JSP (Q3313/RA556B)
— Remington 62 gr Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded JSP (PRC223R4)
— Swift 75 gr Scirocco bonded PT
— Speer 55 or 64 gr Gold Dot JSP (and identically constructed Federal 62 gr Fusion JSP and Federal XM223SP1 62gr Bonded JSP)
— Nosler 60 gr Partition JSP
— Barnes all copper TSX bullets, preferably the 70 gr version
Where To Shoot Hogs (That Shot Placement Thing)
Deer hunters are, by far, one of the biggest groups of hunters in the U.S. (probably the world). So most of us that have heard anything about hunting have heard mostly about deer hunting.
But Hogs have a different anatomy than deer, with the main difference being their vital organs are lower and far more forward than on deer.
It’s my suspicion that hogs get their reputation for being “hard to kill” or that you need big bullets to kill them from the fact that their vital organs are in a different location than deer and many deer hunters shoot them in the belly instead of the correct spots.
In the Youtube video below, you’ll see an excellent explanation of proper shot placement for hog hunting:
And here are a few pictures for reference, first showing the aiming points from the LoneStarBoars.com video …
And here is a “see through” that shows you the anatomy of that same hog, so you can see why aiming there makes sense because the organs are so low and forward:
The Hog Hunting Trip Was a Success!
So after a lot of travel we made it out to West Virginia to Hog Haven. Josh, the guide and owner, was extremely friendly and showed us a great time — entertaining us as we traveled around his 200 acres hunting for the right size hogs.
It truly is beautiful out there as the pictures show.
Again, we were going for the younger, supposedly better tasting “meat hogs” and not the big monsters this trip. Though we saw plenty of those like this 500+ pound beast that greeted us without fear:
The truth is we hunted around for a couple hours without seeing the smaller hogs we were looking for. We traveled all over trails through the woods and the perimeter of the property on a Polaris Mule, seeing if we locate any sign of them.
Eventually, after about an hour and a half of searching we decide to dismount and try our luck waiting at one of the hunting stands on the property.
Then out of nowhere I looked to my right, down a small hill and there were three of the perfect sized hogs about 15 yards away.
I quickly alerted my dad and our guide and turned down the power of my Burris MTAC 1.5-6 power scope all the way to 1.5 power and clicked on the illumination.
I mounted my rifle, and as luck would have it, one of the pigs turned directly to look at me face-to-face.
What’s funny is as I centered the red dot on the pigs face — and aimed slightly high on his head to account for the offset I guesstimated would come in to play at this short range — I just barely heard my dad ask “which one are you aiming for?” as I pressed the trigger and saw the pig drop like a rock in my scope.
When I looked up, my dad was already turning to lead one of the other hogs that took off. He fired one shot from his 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser bolt gun and I saw the second hog go down.
And just like that, after what seemed like a long time looking (even though it was only a couple hours), it was all over. We had our kills.
Here’s a picture of my dad and his hog:
And here’s a picture of the hog I killed:
After the hogs got field dressed and looking around for the last of the three for a little bit, we made our way back to the office and our guide made quick work of the hogs, skinning and quartering them up:
I Can’t Wait To Go Hunting With My AR-15 Again!
This was my first hunt with my AR-15 and I plan on it certainly not being my last.
It was extremely fun, I love hunting hogs now, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I think it’s a great way to have fun shooting and practice hunting while harvesting your own meat.
The next time someone tells you that “nobody hunts with an AR-15” you can correct them and let them know that plenty of people not only use AR-15’s at the range, in shooting sports, and for self-defense … but they also hunt with them too.