Expert Tips On Picking The Right
Tool For The Job.
By Mark Hampton
As handgun hunting continues to grow in popularity, it’s obvious a lot of hunters are looking for an added challenge. Handgun hunting definitely qualifies. Like any other alternative method, there will be a few bumps in the road but that’s all part of the game. Rest assured the challenges will eventually be compensated for tenfold by the rewards.
I’m often asked how you choose the right handgun for hunting. But before we get to specific handguns and cartridges, we should establish the goal of using a handgun you can actually shoot well — one with which you can hit a vital target area with an appropriate round. Handgun choice is quite personal, based on individual preferences. Many of us have a particular handgun style or caliber we gravitate toward.
My problem is simple. I like all types of handguns (my wife believes this is a sickness.) But at the end of the day, what you choose should be legal for the game pursued and capable of cleanly handling it. A lot of factors may influence the choice such as the type of terrain, the method of hunting and, of course, the specific game animal you’re after.
Ruger’s Super Blackhawk with 10.5″ barrel provides hunters with a dependable
hunting revolver. This .44 Mag. has been highly customized by Mag-Na-Port
International and is fitted with a 4X Leupold.
The Freedom Arms Model 2008 is a break-open single shot available
in many hunting-type calibers including .45-.70.
Revolvers have a long track record as serious tools for handgun hunters. To this day they still provide the dependability needed to successfully tackle all types of big game. Most often limited in range due to the aerodynamics of flat-nosed bullets, revolvers are best inside of 125 yards. Yes, I am aware of folks taking game at greater distances. I personally don’t feel comfortable shooting at big game at long range with a wheelgun. But sneaking up close to game is what lures many handgunners to this pursuit in the first place.
Freedom Arms manufactures some of the finest single-action revolvers available. The Model 83 is available in some mighty fine hunting calibers such as .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, and the big .500 Wyoming Express. These revolvers are made with tight tolerances and extreme attention to detail. I just returned from the Central African Republic where I took some unique big game with a 10″ .44 Mag.
The company’s Model 97 is a smaller version in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and .45 Colt to name a few examples. Numerous options for different barrel lengths, sights, and grips provide ample opportunities for discriminating shooters to personalize their sixguns.
Ruger’s Super Blackhawk is another reliable revolver found in the hunting fields for decades. I have been hunting with one for over 30 years and it has never let me down. Currently I am shooting an SBH, highly embellished by Mag-na-port International. It’s a beautiful workhorse.
Ruger also makes a double-action revolver — the Super Redhawk, in .44 Mag. and .454 Casull. You may be wondering what’s best, single-action or double-action? Some hunters prefer the plowhandle grip-frame configuration of a single-action — others don’t. Since 99.9 percent of hunting involves shooting in single-action mode, it simply boils down to which type you shoot best. Ruger provides handgun hunters many viable options.
Smith & Wesson makes a multitude of hunting revolvers — too many to list all of them. The iconic Model 29 Dirty Harry made famous is a fine choice for hunters. But this is just a starting point. Their big X-Frame in .460 S&W Magnum delivers impressive ballistics capable of handling elk or moose. If that’s not enough horsepower, you can always reach for the .500 S&W Mag.
S&W’s Performance Center provides other permutations, including a Model 629 Stealth Hunter — a 7.5″ .44 Mag. It works great on deer, bear or hogs. These fine revolvers are available in many different barrel lengths with plenty of other desirable options.
Taurus offers their Raging Bull series chambered in .44 Mag. and .454 Casull. Those cushioned grips and factory porting enhance shooter comfort. The Raging Bull is a double-action revolver making a nice hunting rig.
Magnum Research provides handgunners their BFR in some bone-crushing calibers … The BFR is a stoutly built, 5-shot, stainless steel, single-action machined to accept a proprietary scope base. These well-made, hefty revolvers are capable of digesting potent cartridges, giving handgunners power for any big-game action. Just bear in mind when you drop the hammer on some of these big-bore rounds, stiff recoil is forthcoming.
While not generally thought of as hunting guns, semi-autos with proper
ammo will suffice in close-range situations for hogs and deer.
S&W’s Performance Center provides serious hunting revolvers.
This tricked-out .44 Mag. is topped with a Leupold 4X scope.
Semi-automatics are not as well known in handgun hunting circles but with the right ammo they can get the mission accomplished. Take a .45 ACP or better yet, a 10mm Auto with the right load and you will be in business with wild boar or whitetail inside the effective range of the cartridge. I have taken several hogs with a 10mm and the hogs never had the upper hand. In reality, those 220-grain hardcast offerings from Buffalo Bore dropped them in their tracks.
Stepping up the ladder, Guncrafter Industries offers their big .50 GI in a 6″ long slide — it’s wicked medicine on big game. For those shooters involved in a love affair with 1911’s, there are many options suitable for close-range hunting. Today I’m shooting the Big Rock — a 6″ long slide in 10mm from Rock Island Armory. With the right ammo, it makes a potent package for chasing hogs and other critters.
Hunting in wide-open spaces of the west for antelope and mule deer requires a cartridge capable of reaching out beyond the effective range of revolvers and semi-autos. The single shots are ideal for extended range opportunities. They’re often chambered in bottleneck rifle cartridges like the .260 Remington, 7mm-08 or .308 Winchester to name just a few. When properly scoped, these handguns are capable of reaching out across the food plot when a big whitetail steps out at 200 yards or beyond. When scoped and set up properly, the accuracy they deliver can be impressive.
Thompson/Center Arms has long been a friend to a multitude of handgun hunters. Their G2 and beefier Encore are both fine hunting rigs. While the G2 is available in rounds like 7–30 Waters, .30-30, and .45-70, the larger Encore will handle most rifle-type cartridges such as .270 and .30-06, plus many others. The many aftermarket barrels available provide a wide list of options for almost any big-game endeavor. The break-open action design is user-friendly and simple to operate.
H-S Precision manufacturers a top-shelf pistol in their Pro-Series Model 2000P. This bolt-action handgun is extremely accurate right out of the box and available in many calibers ideally suited for hunting. Two versions of stocks are available — silhouette and varmint-style in a variety of cool-looking camo patterns. The 2000P is reliable and has accounted for many taxidermy bills thanks to its effectiveness and accuracy.
The MOA Maximum has been around for a long time but many have never heard of this unique handgun. It was popular in silhouette competition circles back in the day but hunters, for whatever reason, didn’t seem interested. This falling block design, like that of a Ruger No.1, may seem a bit quirky at first. It takes some getting accustomed to load, manipulate the transfer bar, shoot and then unload. But once you get past the funky routine, you will find a very strong action capable of digesting just about anything you are man enough to handle.
It comes with an adjustable trigger so you don’t have to shell out more Benjamin’s for a trigger job. I finished my Grand Slam of North American sheep with the MOA in .308. The 190-yard shot on a 10-year-old ram made me the happiest man in Wyoming.
Freedom Arms also manufactures a nice break-open, single-shot handgun in their Model 2008. This handgun is very accurate and available in many hunting calibers including 45-70. I tested one in .223 and .308 extensively and found the pistol to be a great addition to any handgun hunting battery.
The folks at CVA have jumped into the handgun hunting market with their recent Scout V2 — another stainless, break-open design with a budget-friendly price tag. Recently I had the pleasure of testing one in .44 Magnum and I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy with straight-wall pistol ammunition. This model is also available in .357 Mag., .223, 300 BLK and .243. The CVA makes a dandy option for single-shot fans at a price that won’t jeopardize your kid’s college fund.
The Freedom Arms Model 83 is one of the finest — if not the finest —
single-action revolver available today. This .44 Mag. topped with a
4X Leupold bagged a dandy giant forest hog recently in the Central
The MOA Maximum is a single shot with falling-block design. This .260
Remington version claimed a dandy Wyoming antelope at 300 yards.
T/C’s Encore handles bottleneck rifle cartridges painlessly. This .375
JDJ accounted for a mean-looking Nile buffalo in Uganda.
Scoping any of these hunting handguns is another personal decision. For my aging eyes, it’s really not a choice but a necessity. Again, many factors may be taken in consideration such as type of hunting, method, and specific game hunted. Do you want a fixed 2X or 4X? How about one of those red-dot sights on a revolver? Perhaps you would be better served with a variable in something like a 2X-7X or 3X-12X. Your gun/cartridge combination may dictate the best choice. If you’re hunting in dark timber where shots are likely to be inside 100 yards, a 2X or 4X will be fine. Several hunters are mounting a red-dot sight, like the UltraDot, on their revolvers. On the other side of the equation, sneaking up on an antelope in the wide-open prairie where shots are going to be extended, the variable cranked up in power makes sense. Quality optics are a good investment and just may help you fill your tag.
It is incumbent upon us to make a good, clean shot, resulting in a humane kill. The magnificent game animals we pursue deserve no less — and this my friends, is the driving force for practice.
We all have busy lives, but making time for proper practice enhances our odds when opportunity comes our way. Experienced handgun hunters I know practice emulating actual field conditions they expect to encounter on their hunt. When I’m hunting in the mountains for example, and plan on shooting off my backpack, I practice doing just that. Likewise, if I anticipate shooting from a tripod or shooting stick of some description, I use them in practice.
Whatever field conditions you expect, it behooves you to practice ahead of time. Practicing helps enhance bullet placement. Precise bullet placement results in a punched tag and happy hunter. With the right handgun, that’s what it’s all about. Regardless if you’re hunting in the woods or wide-open spaces of the west, there is a handgun just right for you. Have fun with all of this and enjoy the adventure.
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