When it comes to practicing with your defensive carbine, one way to truly test your skill and gear is to face off against the elusive feral hog. It’s an adversary that can smell you up close, hear you walking toward it and can run faster than you can. To have a successful hog hunt, you need to have utmost confidence in your gear, complete knowledge of how to run everything and both patience and nerve. In short, it’s a great way to put your skill with a rifle to the test, all while helping rid areas of an invasive pest. And, one that provides tasty morsels, too.
I recently had the opportunity to rid the south/central Texas area of a few feral hogs with Fusion Thermal thermal scopes and Sons of Liberty Gun Works AR-15-style rifles. Two nights in a row saw our group of editors and gunwriters chasing our elusive prey, with some long-range work in between. Carbines in 5.56 NATO were provided on the first night, with targets ranging from 50 to 150 yards, while bolt-action rifles in the new 6 mm Max round were available for longer distances on the second night. And, oh, what learning experiences both nights would prove to be!
First, there’s no getting around the basic fact you need to know your rifle. In a situation where the slightest bit of light might spook the pigs, you need to be able to load, make ready and present the rifle in a solid shooting position with nothing more than the light of the moon and stars. If you’re unfamiliar with the gear, you’re likely to fumble, making noise that might very well mean you scare off the hogs. It’s the hunting equivalent to giving away your position in a tactical situation: make more noise than a herd of elephants when there are bad actors around, it may not go well for the defender. When chasing feral hogs, all that happens is you go home empty-handed; far better than the alternative in a defensive situation.
Next, knowing your rifle’s zero and point-of-impact is critical. Much like in a defensive situation, a miss when hunting hogs is a bad thing. Now, granted, on the plains of Texas the worst thing that might happen should you miss is a little gentle ribbing from your fellow hunters. Again, much better than a miss in a defensive scenario. On the first night, engagement distances were kept well within the SOLGW carbines’ 100-yard zero, and we met with significant success. On the second day, we practiced out to 500 yards with the Fusion Thermal Avenger XR optics, which have 10 different profiles that can be configured as needed. We confirmed zero at each 100-yard interval out to 500 yards, and even went as far as 1,000 yards to test the equipment thoroughly. While we had no intentions of targeting hogs that far out, being able to hit a steel target the size of a pig at 1,000 yards gave invaluable confidence at closer ranges.
Here, again, is where knowing your gear and having top-shelf components can help. The Fusion Thermal optics with which we were hunting have multi-color displays, plentiful reticle options and simple operation. Most of the changes we would be making were controlled by one of three top-mounted buttons, with the middle button elevated to differentiate the three by feel—very smart indeed. To toggle between pre-set zeros, a quick push of the middle button brought up a menu, navigated by the front and rear buttons, that allowed rapid changes in the scope’s zero. Standard magnification is at 2.5X, with a quick push of the front button toggling 5- and 10X-settings. On the second night, with targets at 200 yards, changing the scope to the 200-yard zero was quick and efficient, even in very low light conditions.
As for the Sons of Liberty Gun Works rifles? I’ll bestow my highest praise on them: they were boring. They just plain worked. One of the most surprising aspects was the ease with which the rifles handled soft-point .223 Rem. ammunition—in my experience, many AR-15-style rifles have problems feeding soft-points. Not the SOLGW rifles, though. Five different shooters experienced zero failures of any kind in two nights and one long day of shooting, and that’s impressive. At some point, the rifles faded into the background; you accepted without thinking about it that they were just going to work. I can’t think of higher praise. SOLGW rifles have a near-cult-like following among those in the know, and after this experience I can see why.
So, with gear sorted, tested and dependable, all that’s left is actually going after the hogs. This is, despite all the video footage on YouTube and Facebook reels would suggest, harder than it seems. While, yes, feral pigs are a dreadful nuisance, consuming resources that native fauna rely upon and wreaking havoc on the landscape, and while there are many of them in abundance, when it comes time to reduce their numbers, they’re wily and resilient. Firing blindly will only spook them and send them away; even direct hits in solid areas aren’t 100-percent certain to bring down a larger hog. Precise shot placement with quality ammunition is the pathway to success. Kinda like what we preach in defensive situations, right?
In short, if you have the opportunity to reduce the feral hog population, I heartily endorse doing so as a skill-building practice if nothing else. There’s little more you can do to test your skill level with your rifle, as well as your ability to deliver precise shots under significant pressure, all while in the dark, than when on a feral hog hunt. And, you might just bring home the bacon, literally. [editor’s note: you’re better off with a shoulder or back strap, given that feral hogs generally don’t have the fat needed for proper bacon…]