Use Lead Free Ammo To Hunt Pigs in CA

To not cause potential harm to the California Condor, California requires that all hunting be done with lead-free ammo. The hypothesis is that a squirrel shot with a lead bullet might get consumed by a condor, leading to lead poisoning.

I’m unsure of how often this happens if at all, but if true, I can see the validity in the argument. Hunters shoot very few rounds when hunting, so I’m not too keen on believing the intent of the legislation, but we’re not here to argue the law today.

lead free ammo

Wild Boar Hunt

I was recently invited to hunt wild boar at a 10,000-acre ranch in Central California near Santa Margarita. I’ve gone on guided hunts before run by outfitters in this area, but it turns out that my nephew runs two large ranches up there.

Since I put Rapid Reticle scopes on his and his father’s rifles, I often get invites to hunt the properties. I accepted an invitation this year and planned to make my own bacon!

Loading Lead-Free Ammo

I recently purchased a Savage Model 10 tactical. And here was an opportunity to use it!

I have loaded plenty of .308 Win before and lots of 300 Blackout but never any lead-free ammo, so I jumped on the computer and logged onto Midway USA to check out the options.

I chose the Barnes .308 168-grain TSX solid-copper triple shock bullets for the .308 Win and the 130-grain TSX bullets for the .300 Blackout.

After receiving my order, I broke out my single-stage loading machine and dies for .300 Blackout and .308 Winchester. When I load .308 Win, I use my RCBS full-length sizing and loading dies. I prefer full-length to prevent jams out of my Remington R25 AR10 rifle.

To start, I lube the cases with “Unique Case Lube,” which makes for a smooth full-length size on the .308 Win case. The resizing stage de-primes the old case after I tumble all the brass in my large tub vibrator filled with walnut grains and brass polish for 3-4 hours. The tumbling cleans the brass up really well. 

All of my once-fired factory FC cases are trimmed to the proper length. I use a hand primer to re-prime the case and charge it with 44.0 grains of H380. I first seat the bullet without a crimp. Once seated, I use a different seating die to put a slight taper crimp on the bullet once seated. I always do this if there is a chance that I decide to use my semi-auto to prevent jams.

I finish off by hand cleaning the bullets with a clean cloth to remove the case lube. Finally, I ensure a perfect fit by measuring each round with a Wilson case gauge. Always be proactive to prevent jams in your rifle. This process has consistently given me 2550 fps from a 22” barrel.

For my .300 Blackout AAC rifle, I purchased factory-made once-fired brass. I use the RCBS 300 blackout dies to load this ammunition. I repeat the same process as with my .308 Win using the case lube.

I hand-prime and load 17.4 grains of H110 powder. Note that this is a pistol powder. It is generally a no-no to use pistol powder in a rifle cartridge, but that’s what is called for in this case.

I seat the bullet first and change to a taper crimp die for the final process.  Afterward, I clean the loaded bullets and run them through the Wilson size gauge to ensure the cartridge fits perfectly. This is especially important for AR platforms.

FYI, the .300 Blackout case is a shortened 5.56 case that is necked open to .308. This allows the .300 Blackout bullet to fit and function in a 5.56 AR magazine.

I purposely mark my 5.56 rifles “556 only” and .300 Blackout rifle “300 BLK only”.  You don’t want ever to mix them up. The eventuality is a catastrophic failure.

I’ve checked to see if a .300 Blackout cartridge would chamber into a 5.56 gun, and the good news is that it won’t fully chamber. Shorter loads might chamber, so do whatever it takes to make sure you can differentiate your guns. The 130gr lead-free bullet pushes out at about 2250fps from my 16” AAC rifle.

Pig Hunting in Santa Margarita

I made two trips to Santa Margarita to hunt the pigs. My friend from the 101st, Joe Estrada, accompanied me for the first trip. We were both in Vietnam together in 1968 and went through the Tet Offensive. He was awarded the Combat Rifleman’s Badge, the Silver Star, and two Bronze Stars with Valor during conflict. My kind of guy to go hunting with!

When we arrived at Santa Margarita, we set up the targets at 100 yards to zero the guns in. First, I sighted in the .300 BLK using lead bullets. Once a good zero was achieved, I fine-tuned the rifle with the 130gr Barnes bullets. The lead-free rounds impacted within an inch of the lead bullets.

Next, I put 168gr Sierra Match King rounds through my Savage .308 and dialed in at 100 yards with our new Pride Fowler Industries RR-Evolution-5.56 /7.62 v2.0. We’ve been testing our new and improved 3-12x42mm scopes featuring ballistic holds to 1100 yards.

Then, I fired the 168gr Barnes bullets. The copper bullets hit 3” high at 100, so I clicked down and fired a few more to confirm and get a solid zero at 100 yards.

The first hunt with Joe went very well using the .300 Blackout ammunition. It was about dusk when we spotted a group of wild boars about 300 yards uphill. We were on foot, so the pigs didn’t notice us.

They moved slowly from right to left, and my nephew gave me a range of 325 yards. I took to the kneeling position. The optic’s illumination on low green lit up the reticle nicely. I could see the boar and the reticle perfectly on 4x magnification.

Joe Estrada wanted a meat pig, so I picked out the 80-pounder in the middle and squeezed off the shot. It hit the pig just under the heart. It went down but jumped up and ran back to the right at full throttle.

I stood up, took aim, and led the animal a few inches in front of its nose. I fired, and the beast tumbled forward, coming to a stop. When we checked out the wounds caused by the copper bullets, we noticed that perfect entry and exit holes showed little to no expansion.

The exit hole had a string of meat that looked like spaghetti. We got 45 pounds of perfect pork from this pig.  In California, we are required to purchase tags and report the harvest. The pig tags are around $50, and the annual hunting licenses are $55. Veterans can get a better deal through the Fish and Game Department. These wild boars eat mostly barley and hay.

Pig Hunting with Savage .308

Another farmer invited me to get some pigs off his land, so a week later, I returned to the ranch and took Joe Estrada and Art Gonzales, a former Army Special Forces member from the 1970s. For the second hunt, I wanted to try out the Savage rifle using the copper Barnes bullets to see if there was a difference in the wounds caused by them.

Art had my Savage .308 and set up where we believed the pigs would travel through. We had the high ground and a beautiful view of the ranch. Just before dusk, Art turned on the green illumination on low and set the scope on 12x magnification. He loaded the lead-free bullet and waited.

The hogs walked 250 yards out from right to left with zero wind. We could hear the grunting as they moved through the field.

I whispered to Art, “Squeeze the trigger…,” and he fired the shot a moment later. We could hear the unforgettable “smack” as the bullet hit the hog in the side. It went down, got up, and moved a few feet and then fell for the last time.

We got a bigger pig this time. Being a former ballistics and firearms examiner, I was interested in the wound channels. There was a clean entry wound. The bullet passed through the heart and exited the other side, causing a slightly larger exit hole. The bullet did expand slightly, probably because of the higher velocity at 2500fps.

In previous years, I had gone fishing with Art and Joe once and remembered Art saying he had a dream to go hunting on the large ranches we were driving by. Well, about three years later, his dream came true!

We all had a wonderful time at the ranches and returned with some nice hogs. The copper rounds worked out nicely, but their performance wasn’t as good as our traditional lead rounds. Sometimes, we have to work with the constraints dealt to us and make the best of it.

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