I promise you that taking a handgun hunting will get your blood rushing again. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal. If you like this topic see our related article: Can You Hunt With A Handgun? Heck Yeah to Handgun Hunting!
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- Hunting has evolved over the centuries, it started off as a necessity for our early ancestors who lived or died on how the hunt went.
They used spears, bows and other weapons we would call primitive to say the least.
Over time those tools turned more efficient. Bow string gave way to black powder, crossbows to matchlocks and so on to the future. Our latest rifles and shotguns have entered the digital age, they are designed on computers, have tolerances down to the smallest detail and are made of some of the most durable materials designed.
So are there any challenges left, any tests for hunters to make the game more worthwhile? The answer might be handgun hunting.
Handguns have been around for a long time, as far back as someone decided that carrying a musket wasn’t a practical idea, but they were designed for personal defense at short range, some for dueling purposes but little more than that. Whatever hunting was done with a handgun in those days would have been more likely because that was all that was available to the shooter.
Following the American Civil War, cartridge revolvers started to appear, and the ranges and the power of the rounds fired from them started to improve. Camp pots could be filled with a rabbit or grouse by someone who was fairly competent with some of the smaller caliber revolvers like the .32 and .38 WCF while larger rounds like the .45 Colt could put down an ailing horse or even a deer and close range. While centuries may have advanced, hunting even in the late 1800’s was still a lot like it was for early mankind, for necessity, and you used what tools you had on hand, whether it was a rifle, a shotgun, or a handgun.
For those familiar with his writings, there was probably no bigger advocate and handgun hunter than Elmer Keith.
Elmer helped create the .357 Magnum, the .44 Magnum, and the .41 Magnum and fired countless rounds of .44 Special, high velocity .38 Special loads known as the .38-44 High Velocity in between.
In some of his earlier writings, Elmer detailed hunting jackrabbits with a revolver at distances well past one hundred yards, no scopes, just trigger control and sight alignment. He would go on to hunt large game with is favorite creation, his .44 Magnum.
Later writers would take up the mantle and the challenge. Skeeter Skelton was particularly fond of his .357 Magnum but he also had a soft spot for the .32-20 and the .22 Long Rifle when it came to handguns. Over the last couple decades there seem to have been fewer and fewer handgun hunters even though there are so many choices out there to hunt with.
But why would anyone want to hunt with a handgun in the first place?
I can tell you the person who probably stoked my interest with handgun hunting was my grandfather who carried a Colt Woodsman .22 LR since he bought it new in 1950. He often told me that he killed more game with it than he had any of his other guns combined. I didn’t know about his prowess with a handgun until I ran into one of his former competitors who used to compete with him in some pistol matches years before. I was told that others would come in with expensive target pistols and revolvers and my grandfather would clean house with nothing more than that Colt Woodsman.
The terrain where you hunt also makes the difference in wanting to hunt with one. Where I live the brush is thick [New York state] and it’s not uncommon to have shots even with a rifle that rarely stretch past one hundred yards. In the twenty plus years I have been in the woods and even more open pastures I have yet to shoot anything farther than a hundred and fifty yards away.
I started hunting with a handgun about the time I decided that I enjoyed shooting one. During one hot summer my grandfather who was getting to the point he couldn’t keep up with the local beaver population at his pond, tasked me with getting rid of a few of them. Trapping was out of the question, so I went with a .22 rifle. One evening, I had his Colt Woodsman pistol that I had recently inherited when a small beaver came by along the shoreline of his pond. A quick shot to the head from about thirty yards ended his dam building. Later that hunting season I would carry that Colt during deer season, and I found that when the weather was warm and an occasional grey squirrel would come by, it wasn’t a bad day after all to go home with something for the pot.
Over the years I took quite a few grey squirrels, with everything from that Colt to a Ruger Single Six. I picked one off with a snub nosed .38 Smith & Wesson with a load of shot at close range. The secret to hunting with a handgun, any handgun, is to know the range and to learn what the gun can do.
There has been a common misconception over the years that handguns are only good out to a few yards and that’s about it. Legendary sharpshooter Ed McGivern would take a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum out to 600 yards and consistently hit a target over and over again, done with nothing but a stock revolver and open sights. His protégé and legendary shooter in his own right Jerry Miculek has done similar feats with revolvers out to 1,000 yards. Handguns can be shot out to distances much farther than most think, but you have to also weigh it against the practicality of the animals you plan on trying to hunt.
The .357 Magnum was for many years the king of the hill, and early handgun hunters took everything with it up to and including moose and it is capable, but there are better rounds out there. Still, the .357 with correct bullets can easily take a whitetail deer out to ranges of about 75 yards, anything after that is too risky for the shooter to make a clean kill.
Stepping up to the big bores like the .41 and .44 Magnum also step up your odds, but again, keep your ranges close. Personally I wouldn’t shoot at anything past the 50 yard mark and 75 is as far as I would be willing to take and only with a perfectly ideal shot. Either get closer or go with a rifle.
VIDEO : AmmoLand News' friend Keith Warren goes Handgun Hunting for Hogs:
Then you step up again to even bigger rounds like the .460 Smith & Wesson and the .500 Magnum. The only problem with these guns is that you are starting to get to handguns that are certainly not for beginners. While the recoil is controllable with practice, the muzzle blast from either of these guns is enough to make more than a few quit after just a couple of cylinders full.
Tactics for hunting deer and big game with a handgun is very much like those who hunt with a bow. You need to be able to get close without being able to spook the animal and you need to practice accordingly. Shoot from not only the bench, but also sitting unsupported and standing because you need to be able to get that shot off even in the most undesirable of circumstances.
The true challenge and I would say the most rewarding when it comes to handgun hunting is small game. I often walk through the woods with nothing more than that same old Colt .22 Woodsman and have had the chance at a squirrel or a grouse. Having a smaller target though means you need to practice more. I found that the ideal target for small game hunting is nothing more than a playing card. If you can consistently drill them out to 25 yards with a handgun then you’re ready to go after those little critters.
Over the years I have used a variety of rounds on small game animals, everything from .22 up to .357 Magnum. While I like .22 Long Rifle rounds, .32 caliber rounds like the old .32-20 still has a place although they are tough to find in both guns and ammunition. If one was so inclined, a really good use for those surplus Nagant revolvers would be as a halfway decent trail gun, more so in single action though as their double action trigger pull can be best described as atrocious.
I have only ever had one handgun I would say was dedicated to handgun hunting per se and that was a Smith & Wesson Model 22A that I mounted a BSA 2x scope to. It was accurate enough, but there was no way to comfortably carry it out in the woods. I do recall one fine ruffed grouse I got with it with a clean head shot, not an easy feat because the one part of their body that never seems to stop moving is the grouse’s head as it’s always looking around.
Woodchucks have also been a favorite, and I have killed more with handguns than I have with rifles in my life. I got one with a Smith & Wesson Model 649 revolver one day when I was out for a walk on my property. It had been going back and forth to the garden and wherever his hole was, and I caught him out in the open, a 145 grain cast hollowpoint cut short his fondness for my fresh greens.
Another groundhog I shot was one hanging around a cornfield one day while hunting deer. It had warmed up quite a lot and I think this one’s hibernation was disturbed. Nonetheless being around a farm there was no need to have a critter digging holes, and I happened to have my .357 Ruger Blackhawk that day. A quick hollowpoint at 20 yards or so caught him unawares.
Handgun hunting shouldn’t be viewed as a lost art, it should be viewed as not only a challenge, but a way to maybe bring in some small game that might otherwise not be taken.
If you’re day of deer hunting turns too warm and you have a small caliber handgun on you (providing your game laws allow it), and a grey squirrel comes by, or you see a grouse on the trail, you can take them cleanly where as the rifle would probably do too much damage. Even taking a walk in the woods after deer season ends with just a handgun for company means you could still fill your pot and add to the winter larder. Don’t forget that you could even try to take a deer with a handgun when the proper season comes around.
When you get too bored simply taking game with the most advanced rifles and hunting loses its allure, I promise you that taking a handgun out will get your blood rushing again. There’s nothing like getting up close and personal, and nothing does that like hunting with a handgun.
About David LaPell
David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.