AR Platform Cartridge Selection for Hogs

Hog hunting with an AR-platform rifle makes a lot of sense to a lot of folks, including me. This begs the question, what common AR-platform cartridge is suited to the task? 5.56 NATO, .300 Blackout, or .308 Winchester?

While perusing Facebook a few moments ago, I came across an interesting question posted in a hunting group.

What’s better for hogs in the AR platform? 5.56, 300 Blackout, or .308?

I found this question interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason deals with the political statement from those who are for the coined “assault weapons ban” who can be counted to inject the “nobody needs an AR to hunt” statement. While avoiding a tirade on policy politics, I’m just going to point out there are a number of folks who rely on the AR platform to hunt hogs.

The next reason I was interested in this question was because it limited the plethora cartridge choices available in AR platform rifles to what I consider to be the three most common cartridge choices. Simply put, just about every manufacturer who offers AR platform rifles in their product line produces variants chambered for these cartridges.

In similar fashion to other posts comparing cartridges, I’m going to reiterate that it’s pretty important to select an appropriate cartridge for the game. The selection process begins with verifying the cartridge load uses a projectile with sufficient sectional density (SD) and impact energy in order to penetrate deep enough to ethically dispatch the game animal. While I understand that hogs are a pest that present a significant risk of damage to livestock and agriculture, I personally don’t believe the risk justifies forgoing this part of the cartridge selection process.

Feral hogs are generally classified as medium sized big game (CXP2) since many weigh under the 300 pound upper limit of this game classification. While some hogs may weigh over 400 pounds, exceeding the upper limit of this classification, they are still on the very low end of the large sized big game (CXP3) classification and can therefore continue to be considered medium sized game. With this in mind, cartridges should be capable of delivering 800 ft-lb of impact energy. Small bore cartridges (the three cartridges I am looking at in this post fall in this small bore category as their calibers are all under .32″) should have a projectile with a minimum SD of .210.

Let’s take a look at some offerings from Hornady that I might select for this application.

Advertised Ballistics5.56 NATO.300 Blackout.308 Winchester
Bullet75 grain Interlock135 grain FTX150 grain SP Interlock
Sectional density.214.203.226
Ballistic coefficient.230 (G1).274 (G1).338 (G1)
Muzzle velocity2321 fps2085 fps2820 fps
Muzzle energy897 ft/lb1303 ft/lb2649 ft/lb
Advertised ballistics from Hornady

The projectile of 5.56 NATO cartridge is on the heavy end of the projectile spectrum for this cartridge. Lighter projectiles offered in the 5.56 NATO cartridge loads will not have a large enough sectional density to provide sufficient penetration and should be avoided for dispatching hogs. The other that should be sticking out like a sore thumb is that the muzzle energy is just north of what it needs to deliver at impact which will limit the application of this cartridge to extremely short distances.

The .300 Blackout fell short with its .203 sectional density for this application. Also, note the load selected for this comparison is supersonic. This is an important detail because I was unable to find a subsonic load with a suitable muzzle energy for dispatching medium game. I did find several subsonic loads that were marketed for medium game hunting, but the ballistic data did not support the marketing claim.

The next part of the selection process involves knowing how far the cartridges will carry and retain sufficient energy to ensure the impact energy is greater than 800 ft-lb.

Energy5.56 NATO.300 Blackout.308 Winchester
25 yards829 ft-lb1216 ft-lb2521 ft-lb
50 yards765 ft-lb1133 ft-lb2399 ft-lb
150 yards849 ft-lb1959 ft-lb
175 yards789 ft-lb1859 ft-lb
525 yards839 ft-lb
550 yards790 ft-lb
Energy at various distances

This data shows the 5.56 NATO no longer carries enough energy at 50 yards and respectively the .300 Blackout and .308 Winchester fall below the 800 ft-lb threshold at 175 yards and 550 yards.

Based on the data and CXP2 recommendations, the clear winner for me is the .308 Winchester for dispatching hogs with an AR-platform rifle. I’m certain there will be some folks who will disagree and will share anecdotal stories of times they have successfully taken CXP2 game animals with 5.56 NATO or .300 Blackout. I’ve heard many anecdotal tales with similar claims and I’m not suggesting it’s not possible, I’m just saying it’s not something I want to attempt.

From my point of view, the 5.56 NATO simply does not carry enough energy at ranges I would prefer to hunt hogs from. Definitely not with an AR-15 with a 20″ barrel (which matches the barrel length of the test rifle used to record the advertised ballistics). Given most AR-15 rifles use 16-18″ barrels, one should expect to start with an even lower muzzle velocity and muzzle energy. An SBR or a pistol chambered for 5.56 NATO would not be something I would even begin to consider.

While the test barrel used for the .300 Blackout advertised ballistics was shorter than the 5.56 NATO test barrel at 16″, the sectional density is still below the .210 threshold. I may consider using .300 Blackout for short range hog applications if I was able to find a load with a heavier projectile that exceeds the .210 SD threshold. In this case, an SBR or pistol may prove to be sufficient for this application with the right load, but will be limited to even shorter ranges.

With all that said, my cartridge choice between the cartridges explored for an AR-platform hog gun would be an AR-10 chambered for .308 Winchester.

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