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How to Kill a Pig to Butcher

If you’re like our family and want to make homemade bacon and pork rinds chips, it must begin with raising pigs and learning how to kill a pig to butcher. When you learn how to kill a pig to butcher the right way, it pays to know basic gun safety requirements to keep everyone safe.

Pigs in the forest.

With a bit of preparation and tips on properly stunning your pig, you can proceed with knowing how to butcher a pig at home, confident that you can dispatch your pig correctly. These simple steps are not hard and will ensure a humane slaughter, meat for your family and a safe environment.

Using Guns on our Homestead

Guns are a fantastic tool for the homestead for protection from predators and harvesting our meat. We have several small children around our home, so it’s essential that we set an excellent example of handling and operating guns safely.

I always say my pigs have one bad day here on the farm (butchering day), and the males, they get two because we’ve learned how to castrate pigs ourselves. However, my goal is to ensure that every possible day from birthing our pigs to the day our pigs are ready to butcher, has been a good day for them. 

A man crouching to shoot a pig for butchering.

The bottom line is that we want to dispatch them quickly and without pain.

Many people choose to use a .22 caliber rifle to stun a pig. If you use the pig’s head for head cheese, this may be your best method. If you use the 410 shotgun and are concerned about the lead content, you can split the head and easily remove the bullet.

If you are less experienced, you may want to use a 410 shotgun. The 410 is a more powerful weapon that doesn’t require you to be as accurate. This weapon will take down your animal at the correct angle in one shot.

Either way, we always try to do what is the most humane for our animals. At this point, even my 14-year-old son can humanely kill a pig. We’ve even been fortunate to sneak up on our pigs and kill them while they’re sleeping, so they literally have no bad days on the farm. That’s the ultimate goal.

Gun Safety Basics

The NRA gun safety website shares a complete list of safety rules everyone should follow in safely handling a firearm.

Keep Gun Pointed in a Safe Direction

Common sense will help you decide which direction you should point your gun, depending on your situation. A general rule is to keep your weapon pointed at the ground until you’re ready to use it.

A .22 bullet can travel up to two miles! That’s much farther than you can see, so keeping your weapon pointed toward the ground is essential. It’s tempting to carry your firearm pointed into the air, but what goes up must come down.

Always keep other people 15 feet behind you when using a firearm.

Keep Your Finger off the Trigger

Always keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to fire the weapon. Only touch the trigger once you are in the correct position to fire. A gun will never fire itself. Watch your finger placement.

Proper Gun Handling

If you need to learn how to check for a loaded gun, ask for help from someone with that knowledge. Always assume that a firearm is loaded. Know how to load, unload and operate your weapon safely before using it.

You should know your weapon’s essential parts, how to open and close the action safely, and how to safely remove any ammunition. A gun’s operating parts are never foolproof, so always use proper gun handling.

Gun Maintenance

Like all tools, guns need proper maintenance and cleaning to operate correctly. Guns should be cleaned and appropriately stored in a cool, dry place to prevent them from becoming rusted.

If there is any question about the proper functioning of your firearm, always have a professional gunsmith look at it.

A pig eating from a dish in the woods.

Know Your Target and What Is Beyond

Always know what is beyond your target. It’s great fun to target practice but always be sure you understand what is beyond your target. If you are shooting at targets and accidentally shoot your family cow, it would be a tragedy easily preventable.

Also, if you are shooting into a hillside, be aware that you could hit a rock, and the bullet could ricochet off the rock and go in an unintended direction.

Know Your Ammunition

Each type of gun uses specially designed ammunition. Ammunition comes in BBs, pellets, cartridges and shells. You can find the ammunition information on the box it comes in, and sometimes it will also be on the ammunition.

Never shoot a gun unless you know you are using the proper ammunition. Trying to fire the wrong ammunition from a firearm is very dangerous.

Use Firearms Safely

Always wear ear and eye protection when using a firearm. Guns are very loud and can cause hearing damage. Guns can emit debris, so it’s always advisable to wear eye protection when using a firearm.

Never use drugs or drink alcohol before handling a firearm. These substances can impair your normal bodily functions, and you must always be sharp when using a weapon.

What Does It Mean to Stun a Pig?

To stun a pig means to ensure that the pig is unconscious before being bled out to slaughter.

Standard methods for stunning a pig include electrical stunning and stunning it with a firearm. Once the animal is stunned, it is bled out and remains unconscious while it dies from blood loss.

The stunning process should not make the animal distressed or feel pain if done correctly.

A man pouring feed into a pig tray, the pig eating.

Where to Stun the Pig

Always take the time to get an accurate shot because the only thing harder than shooting a pig once is shooting it twice. Be patient and take your time, even if it takes 30 minutes. Do not shoot until you have the perfect opportunity.

Your shot will only be perfect if you hit the brain. A good shot will require more than just hitting the pig’s head. To find the ideal spot, locate the eyes and then go two to three inches above them. Take your shot as close to the center as possible. 

The biggest challenge in getting a clean shot is that pigs are always moving. There are only three times a day when pigs aren’t moving, and that is when they are sleeping, urinating, and drinking. Pigs will still move some when they are eating.

For your best shot, deny them water the night before and then when you are ready to stun the pig, give them a bowl of water or milk to drink. They do not move when they drink.

The trajectory is just as important as where you shoot. You want your gun to be perpendicular to the pig. If the pig’s head is down into a bowl, you must get down on your knee perpendicular to its forehead.

If it’s a bad shot, the pig will vocalize. Usually, it’s tough to get a good second shot, so always take your time with the first shot. There will be convulsions after the pig is stunned. Do not try to restrain them. These movements are powerful and can take your feet out from under you.

Supplies Needed

  • Firearm – Always use a gun that is safe to operate and one with which you are familiar. Some people use a .22 to stun a pig, but I recommend using a 410 to dispatch your pig safely and humanely.
  • Water – Use water to keep your animal still to help ensure an accurate and clean kill.
  • Sharp Knife – You will need a sharp knife available right after the shot to bleed out the animal quickly.
Pigs in the forest.

How to Kill a Pig to Butcher Humanely

If you plan on killing more than one pig, start with the dominant pig first. Killing the dominant pig first will help to keep the rest of the pigs calmer.

  1. Isolate the animal to a clean area. Even though you will be cleaning the animal before slaughter, it helps to keep the pig from getting dirtier than it needs to be. The site should be small enough that the pig can’t run away from you.
  2. Have a pan of water or milk ready to give your pig so they stand still.
  3. Take one person with you to assist in the bleeding out and ensure that all other people are behind you at a considerable distance of at least 15 feet.
  4. Study your animal and check their eye set. You want the angle of the bullet to go down and intersect from the brain to the trachea. Stun the animal by shooting the pig in the forehead two to three inches above where the eyes meet and perpendicular to the head. The slug will go right into its brain, and the animal will drop to the ground. Taking the time to study your animal will give you a clean and humane kill. When a pig has been appropriately stunned, it will not blink, and there will be no signs of breathing.
  5. Quickly proceed with the exsanguination process and carefully cut your pig to be bled.
  6. Follow instructions on how to butcher a pig to finish the butchering process.

For even more information on butchering pigs, be sure to grab my free videos on how to kill and bleed out a pig and how to butcher a pig (3-part video series).

Pigs behind a gate.

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Hi, I'm Justin

I share from a love of teaching and the sustainable movement. Here, you’ll find exhaustive permaculture articles, plentiful photos, cinematic educational films and business tips and tricks.

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