Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The perfect pig rifle

I was part of a discussion yesterday about the "perfect pig rifle". Lots of opinions. Lots of personal anecdotes. Having hunted pigs in varied habitats across NSW and QLD over the past 20 years, I've formed a bit of an opinion on the topic. 
I don't mind a bit of fiberglass, bit of Kevlar or carbon fiber and I'm quite partial to stainless steel, but fundamentally I'm a bit of a traditionalist. So if it were 1995, I would flatly state that the Browning BAR chambered in .308 Winchester with a low power scope is the perfect pig rifle. I've hunted with one of these chambered in .30/06 and it was a great rifle in the field. A tad heavy when it's 40º C plus in southwest QLD and you're leggin' it across the baked earth, but fire power, fast follow up and more than acceptable accuracy were a fair compromise.

As we can't be trusted with a self-loading rifle, the long-winded version follows…

As far as calibre is concerned, I'd go with the .308 Winchester. Old reliable should be chambered in a lightweight bolt action with a flush fitting magazine and low-power variable scope and a sling. That's it. In 1993, I settled on the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight with Leupold 1.5-5x20mm optics; the perfect rifle for all-round pig hunting in Australia. Why?

We hunted north QLD for a week some time ago and smashed a heap of big pigs. It was a fair contest. We were often standing side by side shooting at the same pigs at the same range in the same habitat. We had a guide and after the second day all three of us agreed that the .243 Winchester was lacking authority on anything that wasn't hit almost perfectly broadside. 

Under the same circumstances, the .308 was whacking pigs quartering away and towards the guns, standing broadside and straight going-away shots as well as climbing embankments or coming out of billabongs. Regardless of body size, distance or which way the boar was heading, the .308 only left one in need of a coup de grâce from 50-odd hogs. 

Both rifles were being fed Nosler bullets - the .308 with 150 grainers made the .243 with 90 grain pills look silly every time. So the .308 gets you into the right range of projectile weights. You could use a .223 or a .270 with success, people do it every day - but my experience with the .308 does not leave me wanting.

I occasionally use my .300 Weatherby or .450 Ackley on pigs. The Weatherby allows me to take long shots across floodplains that I wouldn't have the confidence to take with the .308; very handy when paddocks turn to lakes and getting a bit closer requires a swim! The .450 is perfect for that budget safari experience a day's drive from home with unsurpassed pointability and tremendous bang-factor; loads of fun. 

But the magnum length action on these two rifles definitely slows you down when you get onto a mob of pigs.  Kick a pig out of bed and by the time you skip over the gal burr and sidestep the turpentine you're lucky if you have one second to get a shot off. If there's a couple more than one pig you need to be twice as fast! In lignum, water and sucking mud make the opportunities even more challenging. So the short action is another tick for the .308 Winchester. 

A bit of firepower doesn't hurt and I've found rifles with three in the magazine lacking for chasing pigs. These days I can stuff five in the magazine of my .308 and one up the spout; six is pretty much perfect, especially when they're contained within the depth of the stock. A flush fitting magazine means you can carry the rifle in one hand when moving quickly across open country or weaving through thick lignum, budda or turpentine. My Model 70 has an internal magazine with a hinged floor plate, but I see the merits of a detachable box - as long as it’s flush fitting.   
I don't get the 10-round mag on the Ruger Scout. Surely Jeff Cooper's vision of the Scout rifle concept - the general-purpose rifle - included the innate ability to be easily carried? 

As Cooper said, “The natural habitat of the general-purpose rifle is the field, the forest, the desert and the mountain - not the shooting shed with its bench rest. To be really useful a rifle must be as short, light and quick to use as is technically compatible with adequate power and useful accuracy. What matters is not what the equipment can do, but rather what it will do in the hands of its operator under field, rather than laboratory, conditions.”

Throw your rifle over a handy field rest with a tacticool magazine hanging down from that natural point of balance and it's a bit difficult for a hunter to make the most out of the rifle under field conditions. And try carrying it...
Most of my pig hunting requires a lot of walking, often at the ready as the abundant cover makes bumping a pig likely no matter where I am.  The ol' Featherweight tips the scales at a dainty 3.062kg (6lbs 12oz). The compact Leupold adds 264 grams - add mounts, sling swivels and broad leather sling and I have a handy rifle with a whippy 22" barrel that comes in at 7lbs 11oz. 

Shaving the weight down makes the carry that much easier and you do a lot more carrying than you do shooting - switching to a sporter after carrying a trimmed down rifle for a while is a drag. To this end, the not-too-long barrel also helps with weight reduction and certainly makes shouldering the popper a non-issue in tight spaces. 

Finally, a low-power variable scope is the go; with the right glass you should be able to line up on a pig at spitting distance. At its lower settings I can see the barrel through the Leupold 1.5-5x20mm. I shoot with both eyes open and I find pigs real quick whether they’re at 2, 20 or 200 metres!

I've been hunting pig with this rig and bringing home the bacon for the past 19 years; from wheat stubble to lignum swamp and flood plains to scrubby sand hills - it gets the job done.


  1. You wait until I get those polymer Ruger magazines... The three rounder is flush but the 5 rounder only sticks out a bit.

    So far I've found that the gun balances well with the 10 round magazine in and with a sling you don't even notice the magazine is there. If anything it helps stop the gun swinging around.

    You can also hold the gun by the magazine but you know I'm bloody long limbed so maybe that isn't for everyone!

  2. It'll be great to see the Ruger in action. The 10-round box Is a lot of ammo but will be great if you find youself in hog heaven as long as the rifle points fast enough for to get that many well aimed shots off - perhaps in open country?

    What's it weigh? The American with 16.5" barrel was 7lb but I think our mosel had an 18" or 20" barrel?

  3. 18" barrel and its sporting a VX-3 1.75-6x32mm. It's not the lightest gun but it's not super heavy either - I reckon the loaded magazine is probably the heaviest part of the whole thing!

    The barrel is actually quite thick. It's surprising how little it heats up with 5 shot strings. The feed ramp/magazine does chew up the end of lead tip rounds a bit, so ballistic tips might be the order of the day.

    Now to find some pigs...

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