Handguns For Hogs
June 12, 2013
Not all that long ago, I think it was Neil, one of the elite… a “regular reader”… suggested that I take a run at back-up handguns for hog hunting. So I will, but with a video caveat…
I’m not an expert handgunner.
I’m not even very good (compared to many handgun marksmen I’ve known). But I do like to shoot anything that goes, “bang,” so while I may not know a ton about the latest and greatest in pistols and revolvers, I’ve got enough knowledge to be dangerous.
But first off, let me say this. A “back-up” handgun really isn’t something most hog hunters require. If you need a finishing shot, your rifle is usually perfectly adequate for the job. I know a lot of guys (including me) who started out carrying some sort of small ordnance as “insurance” or to administer that “coup de grace”. After a while, the majority of us stopped. For hunting the back country in places like CA, every extra ounce of weight counts. And truth be told, I can’t think of anyone who has had the need to switch from their primary weapon to a handgun on a hunt. I know we all have theoretical scenarios, but trust me… they just don’t happen very often.
As a guide, on the other hand, I almost always carried a handgun. In fact, while working at Native Hunt we were required to carry. It made no sense not to be prepared for the worst, since guides are responsible for the clients’ safety. Even then, the only time we generally had to use our sidearms was during dog hunts, and then it was usually at powderburn range (exchange your handgun for the hunter’s rifle and let him do the “honors”). Despite the potential and mythical power of a wild boar’s charge, it simply doesn’t happen all that often… and when it does, it is very seldom life threatening.
On the other hand, hogs are tough… even the little ones… and if you want to go handgunning for them, I recommend that you follow the oft-abused-but-generally-faithful aphorism… Use Enough Gun.
What is “enough gun” for hogs? That’s a question guaranteed to spark a lively debate among hog hunters, but I’d also argue that it’s a good way to weed out the guys with experience vs. the guys who have read too many ballistics tables or magazine articles. In almost every circle, there’s going to be some guy who swears you can kill them with something like a .22magnum. “It’s all about shot placement,” this person will say. And I’d say that person has probably never killed a hog with a handgun, unless he was standing in a pen.
Right here, let me make a relatively brief aside and bring up the subject of action types. For the most part, you’ve got semi-automatics and you’ve got revolvers. While I tend to side with old-school thinking and believe that you can’t beat a revolver for reliability and simplicity, I have to concede that there’s really nothing wrong with a quality semi-automatic. A lot of guys are intimately familiar with their semi-autos, and that means they’re going to shoot them better.
For the most part, semi-automatic handguns are not chambered in suitable hunting rounds. To the layman, it may seem like the .45acp, the .40S&W, or the 10mm is a cannon and should be good for anything short of T-Rex. But it’s just not so. They just don’t deliver the penetration and energy to reliably drop a large hog (unless you’re hunting with dogs, and shooting bayed or caught pigs).
“But you get multiple follow-up shots,” you might argue. True, but unless you’re an expert handgunner, the odds of sinking a kill shot in a panicked, running hog are slim. Spray and pray is great in video games, but not so much in real life… especially if you plan to eat what you just shot full of holes. That said, some guys do still choose to hunt with their .40s or even their .45s, and they will probably kill some hogs under the right conditions. Nevertheless, I keep hearing tales from these same guys about having to shoot four or five times to drop a hog. That tells me that there are better options. And most of those better options come in the form of revolvers.
In my limited experience, and in the wider experience of fellow guides and hunters, the .357 magnum is a bare minimum for hog hunting. Truthfully, it lacks much in the way of outright killing power, but it is a round that most people can manage fairly well. There’s a tradeoff there, but it’s worth consideration. A well-placed .357 with a good bullet (e.g. Barnes XPB) will bring down most hogs reasonably quickly. However, a poorly placed shot will likely result in an extended, and often fruitless, trailing job. Not to mention that I’ve seen head shots from the .357 bounce right off.
If you follow incrementally, the next caliber to look at would be the .41 Remington Magnum. It’s unfortunate that I just don’t know many people who use this caliber, and those I do know use it on deer. Ballistics suggest that this would be a reasonable caliber for hogs, at an appropriate range and with a good bullet. However, when you look closely, it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than the .357 at close ranges. The real benefit of this round comes at longer ranges, however; it doesn’t carry a lot of energy when it gets out there.
Next up is the .44 Remington Magnum. Now we’re getting somewhere. If someone asked me to recommend a hog hunting handgun, this is probably where I’d point them. A full-powered .44mag has enough oomph to put the hurt on almost any hog at ranges inside 50 yards or so (although you shouldn’t expect dramatic, instant knock-downs). My go-to handgun for hogs has always been my Ruger Super Blackhawk, a sweet, single-action revolver with a 7 1/2″ stainless barrel. While I am personally partial to my choice, there are a variety of quality handcannons chambered for this load, and available in single or double action conformations.
I think it’s critical to mention here, however, that even though the .44mag is a powerful round and well-suited for hogs, it’s still a handgun round. It loses energy quickly at longer ranges, and while a skilled marksman can shoot this thing accurately at 100 yards, it’s not going to do a lot of damage way out there. On something like a hog that doesn’t usually leave a good blood trail, you still need to consider keeping your shots in close.
Once you get past the .44magnum, you’re into the realm of serious hog killing handguns. However, I do want to make a note about the .45 Colt. This round is widely used by antique firearms shooters, and as a result, most factory loads are relatively meek so they don’t blow those old guns to pieces. Modern .45s are much stronger and able to handle much heavier charges. I recommend doing the research and selecting a more powerful factory load (such as those produced by Cor-Bon) for hog hunting. Another good option is handloading. The .45 is a very capable hog gun, but it needs a stout load to realize that capability.
After this, you start to get into the real cannons… the .454 Casull, the .460 S&W, .480 Ruger, and a slew of .50 calibers. Any of these will certainly be “enough gun” for hogs. However, you really need to understand that some of these are simply too much gun for hog hunters. It’s a common mistake, often driven by testosterone and machismo, to get the biggest-baddest thing you can find. The problem is, unless you’re an experienced handgunner, all these monsters are going to do is generate bad habits (flinching, closing your eyes), and possibly hurt you. They’re not for everybody.
Most handgun instructors strongly recommend starting out with something small. A .22lr revolver is an excellent trainer, and you can learn the mechanics of handgun shooting, hone your accuracy, and perfect your form without concern about recoil or muzzle blast. And even after you move up to the bigger guns, you should practice often with lighter loads. For example, the .357mag can be used with .38 Special amm for less expensive, lower recoil practice. The .44mag handles .44 Special ammo perfectly well, or for even lighter loads you can use some of the “Cowboy” loads which have extremely low recoil and muzzle flash. Same goes for the .45 Colt.
In my personal experience with handgunning, I have found that it more closely resembles archery than rifle shooting. You have to practice until you establish muscle memory. You want to work on perfecting your shooting form, and then be conscious of it all the time. A slight lean, a twist, torquing the grips… any of these minor flaws will cause your accuracy to suffer. Even if you decide to put a scope on your handgun, all of these things apply. There’s just much less gun there to forgive your minor mistakes.
So no matter what gun you choose, or whether it’s a primary or a back-up weapon, there’s one word that will mean more than anything else… and that’s practice.