Buckshot For Boars
by Scott Davidson
Recently, there seems to have been an influx of discussion on the use of shotguns for hog hunting. Initially, one might ask why a person would consider using a shotgun with the myriad of adequate rifles and handguns that are available. I must admit that was my initial question.
On reflection, however, I've discovered that there are quite a few situations where a shotgun – powered by an adequate payload – might be an ideal choice for a particular hunting situation. These situations might include, but certainly not be limited to: following up a wounded hog, hunting over a feeder at close range, specifically at night, any close-range hunting encounter in thick cover, public lands hunting where only a shotgun is allowed, or any situation where the hunter found himself or herself armed primarily with a shotgun – such as turkey hunting – and a shot at a hog presented itself. With any pump-action type shotgun (or single shot) it is a fairly simple matter, with just a little practice, to open the action, replace the shell in the chamber with a suitable one, and quietly close the action.
Which would bring us full circle to the question of suitable ammo for such an occasion. Now, nobody disputes the effectiveness of a shotgun slug. Slug ammunition and slug barrels have gone through a series of refinements over the years to the degree that they can easily turn shotguns into 100-yard plus rifles, for all practical purposes. But these, for the most part, require specialized, fully rifled barrels, chokes, and ammunition. The question that seems to come up, over and over, is "What about buckshot?" Is there a buckshot load that is effective on hogs at and under practical hunting conditions?
Few would argue that a swarm of large buckshot pellets is quite effective against thin-skinned targets at close range – usually 20 yards or less. But is there a combination of buckshot that would be effective on thicker-skinned hogs at distances greater than spitting distances? The purpose of this article, and probably the next, is to attempt to answer that very question. As one who primarily hunts predators and hogs, I have a shotgun in my hands a lot of trips afield, especially when after predators. It would be great to be able to effectively hunt hogs with the same weapon.
Seldom does something "new" come along that excites me a great deal. Like the Old Testament writer of the book of Ecclesiastes writes, "There is nothing new under the sun." In my experience, "new and improved" usually turns out to mean "something different with the same results" most of the time. On occasion, however, something comes along that perks my interest. One such thing is a load called "Tri-Ball II" offered by James Gates of Dixie Slugs Ammunition. This load consists of three .600" diameter hard-cast lead balls in a 3" magnum 12-gauge hull. The Dixie Slugs' website indicated that this load would provide a 5" pattern at a measured 40-yards through a specific choke tube. On top of that, their ballistic charts revealed that the combined energy of those three balls striking simultaneously at 40 yards would be in excess of 2000-foot pounds! While the concept of this load was not new, these published results got my attention and warranted a closer look. Dixie Slugs graciously provided some Tri-Ball II ammunition for evaluation.
Another load that caught my eye was the 00 Buckshot load offered by Hevi-Shot. Hevi-Shot, as most are aware these days, is considerably heavier than lead, and has afforded me devastating performance on turkeys with Hevi-Shot #5's and predators with their Dead Coyote loads. I would expect that their buckshot would provide the same increased downrange energy and penetration their other offerings did. I had several boxes on hand, so included this ammunition in the testing.
At this point, I should state that only these two loads were evaluated for this article. I know there are many, many buckshot loads available, and limiting to these choices probably eliminated and overlooked somebody's favorite. I do not feel, as a responsible hunter, that "regular" lead, unbuffered buckshot is a good choice for hog hunting, especially at anything other than extremely short distances. I know it is considerably cheaper and is widely available, but it has not patterned well for me in previous tests and deforms badly in tight chokes, causing many fliers. Only premium-quality buckshot loads should be considered as hog ammunition, and these two selected certainly qualify for that. Hopefully, as some of the nickel-plated and buffered offerings by Remington have been ordered, they can be included at a later date. Also, only a 12-gauge was selected for evaluation. As much as I love a 20-gauge (and smaller) for other applications, a 20-gauge simply does not offer a large enough shot payload to be reasonably considered. Any 3-1/2" 12-gauge load was not tested either, simply because I do not appreciate the recoil of a 3-1/2" shell, especially out of a pump.
Now for the tests. The shotgun I used was a Remington 870 12-gauge turkey gun. An 870 is a tried-and-true warhorse of the pump gun fraternity, and both representative of pumps of that nature, and the standard by which most others are judged. They are readily available, and the Express version can be bought for just a little over $200, sometimes less. I know this for a fact because I'm buying another one this week. The choke I used was the Remington Super Full turkey choke that is marked "Hevishot, Steel, or Lead". That's very important as some tightly-constricted turkey chokes are not compatible with the use of Hevi-Shot. This choke is measured at .665", which is .005" over what Dixie Slugs recommends using for their Tri-Ball. Again, this choke is readily available at any major sporting goods or mail order outlet. This particular gun sported the addition of a set of Tru-Glo's adjustable fiber optic sights designed for shotguns. I had added a Remington R-3 (Limbsaver) recoil pad two years ago, and this shotgun has served me very well in the turkey woods and predator hunting in the deep cover where I find myself most often these days.
For targets, I used the Shoot-N-C targets that measured roughly 12" across, with a 4" diamond in the center. I stuck the targets on a 55-gallon plastic drum for each shot and fired from a measured 40 yards across a rest. I pulled each target after each shot, took measurements, and recorded the results. The results were revealing to me.
The Tri-Ball II load was simply amazing. Recoil was...'well...'.noticeable. But there was absolutely zero doubt that the balls had impacted. Even without being able to initially see the group on the target, the barrel rocked dramatically each time and fell completely over once. Obviously there had been considerable impact energy. What was even more impressive was that there was little deviation between shots. I fired three groups, and they averaged basically the same each time. On each shot, two of the .660" balls struck 2" apart directly in the center of the bulls eye, with the third not more than 5" outside, usually to the left of center. Center-to-center groups were the as-advertised 5", and certainly within what would be considered a hog's vitals. That is a pattern of 100% at that distance. That is one impressive shotgun load! Dixie Slugs' claims were right on the money.
Hevi-Shot is more of a "traditional" buckshot load in the 00 loading. The ones I had were 2-3/4" loads, which consisted of 9 00 buckshot pellets. Using the same gun, choke, and other parameters, these loads turned in respectable results as well. Again, impact was noticeable on the target barrel, though somewhat less dramatic than the Tri-Ball. Out of 9 total pellets, the Hevi-Shot would repeatedly shoot 4 into the center 4" diamond, with the others dispersed in an even pattern from 4" to 6" outside the center. One pellet missed the target slightly left and another slightly high. Overall, this buckshot load put 6 out of the 9 pellets in what I considered to be a hogs vitals – 9" max center-to-center - for a percentage of 67% at that distance.
Your mileage may vary, but these results are what my shooting tests revealed. Is buckshot a viable choice for hunting hogs? Well, for 40 yards and less, and with the proper gun/choke combination, I believe these two loads certainly are. However, WBUSA has a policy of refusing to endorse or recommend a product whole-heartedly unless we know it works. So I'm going to be spending the time between now and the next issue deadline putting at least these two loads to some real tests – on hogs.
Stay tuned for those results. In the meantime, see what your smoothbore will do with some of the ammunition that's available today. All of the products mentioned here are readily available to the "average" hunter. I think you'll be just as impressed and excited as I was.
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