By Dick Williams
Snake shot won’t take down a big boar, but it sure is comforting to have when busting brush in snake country.
At the risk of enraging millions of American deer hunters, I will boldly state my favorite big-game quarry is wild boar. Without debating all the “why’s” and “wherefore’s,” I would simply point out deer have a limited hunting season while pigs are open year round. Another feature appealing to me as a handgun hunter is pigs are physically much tougher than deer, which means you need a powerful, large caliber handgun to be successful. If you venture out under-gunned, any pigs you find will be underwhelmed, sometimes even when hit with a “proven” big-bore load.
I’ve made solid chest hits on medium-sized boars with large caliber, expanding jacketed bullets (the latest was a 480 Ruger) and never found the pig or a sustained blood trail. Even sows, who lack the boar’s gristle plate armor, are densely packed creatures and seem capable of “sealing” a wound that is not immediately fatal and making their escape. Strike the gristle plate on any boar weighing at least 175 pounds with a fast expanding bullet and it’s unlikely you’ll be eating pork chops for dinner. As always, shot placement is key. But with wild pigs, you must have enough penetration to reach the vitals, and even better, create an exit hole to expedite the loss of bodily fluids and facilitate a blood trail.
The consensus, but not unanimous, opinion seems to be “large bore handguns” begin with .40 calibers. That’s good news to me because I have a couple of 1911’s chambered in 10mm and just recently completed a pig hunt with one of these guns yielding the biggest pig I’ve ever taken, a 400-pound sow at the Fort Rock Ranch near Kingman, Ariz. I was hunting with Mike McNett, owner of DoubleTap Ammunition and a fellow devotee of 10mm handguns. Mike’s 1911 was a Kimber with standard size 5″ barrel while I was using a custom 1911 built by Dave Williams, head of Springfield’s custom shop. My gun’s most obvious features are a 6″ barrel and slide (designed to milk maximum performance from the 10mm), a gold bead installed in the front sight blade (to facilitate any encounters in the reduced light of early morning or late afternoon) and an adjustable rear sight (so the pistol can be sighted in for whatever load I want to use.) On this hunt, we had a mix of DoubleTap ammo to compare results, and as is frequently the case with “well-laid plans,” we wandered slightly astray.
I had Mike’s lead-free load, featuring Barnes 155-grain copper bullets, since I was looking for a smaller, eating pig for the freezer and figured I could use more expansion and less penetration. I was slightly hesitant when I first saw the large black and white sow. She was sleeping in some brush lying on her right side diagonally facing away from me with her back end hidden under a bush, so I couldn’t identify her sex initially. I put the first round into her side just behind the shoulder angling up toward where I thought the heart should be. She exploded out of the bush on a dead run away from me. Nice thing about using a defensive pistol hunting, you’ve trained with it for fast follow-up shots. My second shot hit the spine about midway in the body as the pig accelerated in search of a friendlier country. We found her piled up by some rocks about 10 yards left of where she had exited the brush, already dead. Neither round completely penetrated the body, but both had hit killing spots in her anatomy. Would the results have been the same had she been a heavily armored boar? Hard to say whether or not the first shot would have penetrated the gristle plate and reached the heart, but the second shot would have broken the spine. The result was much more meat in the freezer than I expected and without a long hike trailing a wounded pig.
Mike was using his 200-grain bonded defense bullet load with which he nailed a 300-pound boar. The pig was standing broadside when we spotted him. He seemed aware of our presence and was trying to decide on a course of action. Before he could make up his mind, Mike’s first shot entered high in the shoulder through the gristle plate breaking the boar’s back and dropping him where he stood. The bullet didn’t exit the body, but it penetrated the armor going deep enough to break the spine.
A pair of Smith & Wesson Model 657’s in .41 Magnum paired up with a Randall knife
provide a complete big boar hunting kit. The long-barreled Smith is “as issued” by
the factory while the shorter barrel has received the full Mag-na-port treatment
from Ken Kelly at Mag-na-port.
Dick took this 400-pound sow with a custom Springfield 1911 chambered in
10mm at the Dunton Ranch in Northern Arizona.
Moving up a step in bore diameter brings us to the .41 Magnum, a caliber never living up to the sales expectations of its designers. However, has developed a devoted following among handgun hunters. In fact, there are a greater variety of .41 Magnum loads available today — the most in the caliber’s 50-year history. Sadly, Remington has long ago discontinued their “milder” police load with lead bullet. This was a great factory load perfect for practice time.
Big-game handgun hunters need not fret since both Cor-Bon, Federal and Buffalo Bore offer an abundance of loads featuring jacketed hollow point bullets from 170 to 210 grains for soft skinned animals (like deer) along with some hard cast bullets from 230 to 265 grains (for pigs, elk, and other big, tough game animals.)
I have a couple of .41 Magnums including a modern version of the 4″ barreled S&W Model 58 “police revolver” and an older 3-screw model Ruger with 4 ¾” barrel. Recoil from heavy .41 Mag. loads is quite manageable in all the handguns except the Model 58, which was designed with the milder “police” load in mind. Handgun hunters received a bonus when Freedom Arms offered .41 Magnum revolvers in both the larger frame Model 83 and smaller frame Model 97. Either scoped or with factory iron sights, these incredibly accurate revolvers are great hunting handguns with the larger Model 83 utilizing the long 265-grain cast bullet loads and the Model 97 handling the shorter 250-grain hard cast bullets. Despite the .41’s ability to nearly duplicate the .44 Magnum’s power, it offers a small but noticeable reduction in felt recoil.
The next power level up the scale brings us to perhaps the most popular hunting handgun caliber of all time — the .44 Magnum. There aren’t many critters on planet earth the .44 can’t harvest given the proper load. Some of my favorite all-time hunts involved pursuing Arizona rabbits with either a Model 29 or Ruger Blackhawk stoked with mild shooting .44 Specials. During numerous fall hunts for deer-sized animals I used the same guns successfully with various jacketed hollow or soft points.
My .44 magnum-hunting career culminated in taking an Asian buffalo in Australia (along with some large wild boars) with an 8 3/8″ barreled S&W 629 loaded with Cor-Bon’s 320-grain hard cast bullet traveling at slightly less than 1,200 fps. The heavy slugs didn’t completely penetrate the buffalo but went clean through the pigs dropping them in their tracks. Cor-Bon is one of three ammo companies (along with Buffalo Bore and Garrett Cartridges) offering maximum performance, heavy-weight loads for the .44 Magnum. Range of bullet weights and velocities vary for each company, but I’ve used them all with excellent results.
Garrett makes perhaps the hardest cast bullets, and while they don’t have a large variety of .44 Magnum loads, they offer a “downloaded” round consisting of an extremely hard, 310-grain cast bullet with a properly sized meplat, it leaves the muzzle of a 4″ revolver at 1,020 fps (same load gives 1,100 fps from a 7.5″ barrel) and will adequately penetrate anything I hunt. With its reduced recoil, this has become my “go-to” load when hunting with any of the smaller, lighter weight .44-Mag revolvers.
For taking bigger game with bigger .44 Magnum revolvers, Garrett also offers the same 310-grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of 1,325 fps, and a 330-grain super hard cast bullet at 1,400 fps. Both these velocities are from a 7.5″ barrel. If you don’t think one of these loads will work for you, you may have booked the wrong safari.
For semi-auto lovers with large hands, the Desert Eagle in .44 Mag. makes a dandy
hunting handgun. The use of a magazine may limit the use of the heaviest/longest
bullets, but the heavier weight does a nice job soaking up recoil.
There’s something to be said about hunting with the same big-bore self-defense
pistol you’ve used in practice. Cindy Smith’s husband is a Gunsite Instructor,
and they are both avid hunters and shooters.
Moving on up to .45 caliber, we find two calibers dominate the scene. First was Freedom Arms .454 Casull introduced in the 1980’s. With a case about 1/10″ longer than the .44 Magnum, the .454 achieved incredible performance increases due to much higher operating pressures and, being chambered in a new Freedom Arms 5-shot revolver built to much tighter tolerances than previously seen in production revolvers. Reducing the cylinder capacity to five shots provided additional strength and allowed the higher operating pressures while the tight tolerances provided enhanced accuracy.
The .454 captured the fancy of handgun hunters (at least those who could handle the recoil) and Freedom Arms revolvers dominated the upper classes in metallic handgun silhouette shooting. Being a new cartridge, Freedom Arms began manufacturing ammo for their revolvers concentrating on lighter weight jacketed bullets at high velocities. The company’s 260- and 300-grain jacketed rounds were extremely hard designed to totally penetrate the largest animals. Later, both Buffalo Bore and Cor-Bon began making ammo for the .454 and offered even heavier bullets (from 335 to 360 grains) moving at 1,550 and 1425 fps respectively. For those who could control/survive the recoil, the .454 was the new king of hunting handguns.
.460 S&W Magnum
When S&W introduced the .460 S&W Magnum chambered in their 5-shot “X” frame revolver, it became the new king-of-velocity handgun launching lightweight 200-grain bullets at well over 2,000 fps. While the press touted the velocity capability of the new revolver, Buffalo Bore and Cor-Bon started looking at heavier weight bullets with Cor-Bon loading a hard cast 395-grain at 1,525 fps and Buffalo Bore a 360-grain hard cast at 1,900 fps. The 395-grain Cor-Bon load was with me in Australia and accounted for a second Asian buffalo and a good-sized boar.
Back home in California, I used the high-velocity 200-grain bullet on a couple of pigs (both under 150 lbs.) and while the high velocity rounds proved instantly successful, I’d still opt for the enhanced penetration of heavier bullets when hunting pigs. One very nice feature of the big “X” frame Smith is its ability to absorb recoil even when shooting the hottest loads. However, if the .460 is still a bit much for you, take a look at the .45 Colt ammo available from both ammo companies, because the extra-large frame S&W handles both .460 and .45 Colt. Buffalo Bore makes a standard pressure .45 Colt load with a 255-grain hard cast bullet at 1,000 fps while Cor-Bon offers an extra heavy weight 335-grain hard cast +P load at 1,050 fps. I’ve been wanting to try some of the Buffalo Bore 255-grain loads in my dual cylinder Colt New Frontier revolver but like too many things in my life, it’s still on the “to-do” list.
Using his Trijicon-equipped S&W Model 460, Miles Waterman dropped this nice
pig at Tejon Ranch, one of California’s premier hunting ranches.
Handguns larger than .45 caliber take you into super bore country, and it’s a great place to venture if you can handle recoil. Bullet diameters in super bore territory are .475 and .50, and the entry-level factory round is Ruger’s .480, which launches .475 diameter bullets from a case the same length as the .44 Magnum. The .480 is actually a shortened .475 Linebaugh, which was a wildcat cartridge chambered in custom single-action Rugers built by such renowned pistolsmiths as John Linebaugh, Hamilton Bowen and John Gallagher.
Freedom Arms chambered their large frame Model 83 single action revolver in .475 Linebaugh and when Ruger began building commercial revolvers in the shorter .480 Ruger, Freedom offered an extra cylinder for the Ruger cartridge. Hornady loads factory rounds in both calibers with 325- and 400-grain JHP bullets, and while these JHP’s are tougher than most hollowpoints (I took an eland with the .475 using some early Hornady production ammo,) heavy cast bullet factory loads for more heavily armored critters are only available from Buffalo Bore.
The now Idaho-based ammo company’s .480 Ruger loads feature 370- and 410-grain hard cast bullets at 1,200 to 1,300 fps. Their .475 Linebaugh ammo uses cast bullets from 400- to 440-grains producing up to 1,350 fps. Truthfully I’m getting a little too old and beat up for the biggest loads, but I love Buffalo Bore’s 440-grain cast bullet loaded to 950 fps, and it tends to punch clear through wild boars.
Dick rests his Ruger dual cylinder Blackhawk (.45 Colt and .45 ACP) across a Yamaha Grizzly
for a longer-range practice shot on steel at Gunsite Academy. The shorter cylinder on the older
tyle Blackhawk limits overall round length, but there are plenty of heavy weight, hard cast
bullets in both calibers from Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon and DoubleTap that will do the job on boars.
If you think the .480 Ruger and .475 Linebaugh are merely stimulating, you should be absolutely thrilled with the .500 S&W. Buffalo Bore’s 440-grain hard cast bullet generates 1,625 fps while Cor-Bon’s 500-grain cast gets 1,500 fps. I had to chronograph some of the heavier loads a few years ago before taking the S&W .500 on an Alaskan brown bear hunt, but these heavy loads are beyond my tolerance level today.
For the bear hunt, I selected Cor-Bon’s 275-grain DPX load, which worked on the underweight spring bear taken near Juneau, Ala. with guide and handgun hunting enthusiast Joe Polanco. The story of that hunt appeared in an issue of American Handgunner some time ago. Cor-Bon does load some lighter weight jacketed bullets at 1,200 + fps in their 500 Special, but the online catalog no longer shows any cast bullet loads available in this performance range. No problem for you manly men; simply place an order with either Buffalo Bore or Cor-Bon for one of their heavy weight loads in .475 or .50 caliber and go in search of the mystical 1,000-pound wild boar. You won’t be under gunned! If you’re willing to settle for something smaller, more realistic, and better eating, like maybe a 200- or 400-pound pig, try one of the lesser calibers discussed above with heavy, deep penetrating bullets. While you do need an adequate caliber and load to hunt wild boar, your success in the field will be more dependent on time spent developing your shooting skill rather than building your tolerance for recoil.
Footnote: I didn’t ignore the 50 Action Express in this review, nor do I have anything against the caliber. I hunted Africa with a Freedom Arms chambered in 50 AE using both factory ammo and handloads with hard cast bullets. I simply couldn’t find any factory ammo featuring heavy cast bullets. Also, the other 50 AE factory handgun, the Desert Eagle, is a gas-operated semi-auto, and I don’t believe cast bullets are recommended for it. Speer makes a 350-grain FMJ FP that looks like a good design for deep penetration and might be suitable for large boar, but I have no experience with it. Hmm, perhaps another entry for my bucket list!