"I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

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JimT
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"I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by JimT »

(This is an old article I wrote 20-some years ago. The basic premise is still true.)

"I'm gonna hunt deer this year with my handgun!".... have you ever made that statement... or one similar, but have yet to follow through with it? Are you one of those who is thinking about hunting something with a handgun but have not yet actually done it? When thinking about it, do you suddenly have a myriad of questions, worries, thoughts and ideas whirling around in your head? If so you are not alone.

A week hardly goes by that we do not get questions from readers dealing with this very subject. It seems the idea of hunting with a handgun is very appealing to many hunters. But actually doing it is another thing. The concerns run from "will my gun work for this?" to "does my load have enough power?" to "will it be humane?" and everything in between. Very few question their own ability though that is proper place to start.

Some would-be handgun hunters worry about the power level of their handgun. I receive e-mail asking "Does my "_____________" (fill in the blank with your particular sixgun) have enough power to kill a deer?" Let me answer by saying this: This short article is not intended as a do-all be-all "how to properly hunt with handguns" article. Therefore I do not intend to get into bullets, load data, trajectories and power levels. A short answer would be, "For most deer-sized game and smaller, the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, & .45 Colt with the correct ammo will work just fine." Using the right cartridges, within certain distances, and hitting the animal in the proper place they will take deer cleanly and humanely. So will a number of other handgun calibers.

So, assuming you have a handgun with sufficient power and the proper bullets to take the type of animal you will be hunting, your own skill level is the place to begin when undertaking to hunt with handgun.

MISTAKES

Many novice handgun hunters (who may be experienced rifle hunters) often make the mistake of taking both a rifle and pistol. The idea seems to be something like this, "If it's too long a shot I can use the rifle" It is a commendable idea in theory but it rarely works in real life.

Don't misunderstand me. It is never wrong to have a backup gun. Mechanical things do break at the worst time. But I have found that if you are hunting, carrying both a rifle and a pistol, and you happen to jump some game you will use what you have in your hand at the moment. Even hunting from a blind does not often allow a person the time to choose which gun they are going to use.

My suggestion is: Make a commitment and stick with it. If you are going to Handgun Hunt, go for it 100%.

PRACTICE

Some hunter's confidence problems are simply a lack of practical experience. They have no idea as to how to judge distances or where the vitals are located in the animals body and the shot placement needed to reach them from different angles. Some have never learned how to stalk game.

I know that not everyone can afford to hunt big game all the time. But you can hunt squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, foxes, and other varmints. You can practice on targets at unknown distances. Get out in the woods and hills as much as possible where you can follow some of the critters, look them over, observe them and learn. Study photographs of different animals. Learn to visualize where the heart/lungs lay and the angles required to reach them. Practice shooting on small targets. Practice shooting on targets while standing up on your hind legs. Don't practice from a bench rest. Shoot in the positions that you will use in the field.

When I first started hunting Javelina my success ratio was poor.... about the State average. (then it was around 25%). I began practicing by jogging up a mountainside until I was huffing pretty hard (it would not take much now to make me do that!) then shooting a 14" car rim at 150 yards offhand. My shooting was miserable at first, but as I kept on I found I was improving. In addition I began going out in the hills and finding Javelina, then following them around to see what they do and where they go. Since that time I never failed to bag a Javelina.

I practiced estimating ranges to various objects and visualizing the sight picture I needed. And I practiced shooting at unknown distances. It all helped. By the way... I find that I normally estimate distances further than they are. I have rarely missed a shot by shooting too low. Most of my misses have been "over" instead of "under". It is good to know your own weaknesses.

I also practiced on targets much smaller than what I was going to be shooting. Learn to hit the little ones and the big ones seem easy!

SUGGESTIONS

I would stick with one gun and one load. Find an accurate load with enough power for what you are going to hunt. Learn where it hits at all the distances you will be using it, from the muzzle to your maximum range. Your maximum range should be the distance at which you can put your shots into the kill zone when winded, excited or scared. For some shooters that is further than for others. Know your limitations and stay within them! For most people I would suggest staying inside 50 yards, at least until you have quite a bit of experience under your belt. I try to get as close as I can.

Practice stalking game. Go out when it's not deer season armed with a camera. See how close you can get to that Whitetail and snap his picture. Try to sneak up on a Coyote. Learn to use the wind and the sun. Muzzle energy is rated AT THE MUZZLE. Get them as close to the muzzle as practical. It's much easier to place your shot at close distances.

Bullet placement is EVERYTHING. Target shooting is not a waste of time. Shooting paper will tell you whether you have good control, a good load, a good trigger let-off.... and it don't lie. It is embarrassing sometimes though.........

Know your limitations and stay within them. There is nothing wrong with passing up a shot that you do not feel comfortable about. It is the honorable thing to do.

FINALLY

Know your particular State laws as to what handguns and loads you can hunt with. Each State can be different. Get in touch with your Game & Fish Dept. and find out for sure.

One of these days you may surprise yourself. The first time you bag that deer, or coyote, or groundhog... with your sixgun... you will know a sense of accomplishment. And you will be on your way to becoming a Handgun Hunter.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by AmBraCol »

That article takes me back a ways... reminds me of '06, the year a certain preacher told me of an abandoned farm we could hunt on. While scouting for deer I carried the Ruger Single Six and cleaned up on fox squirrels with a gray or two thrown in for variety. I also carried a Mossberg 42 (C) (If I recall the model designation correctly) but didn't do nearly as well with the scoped rifle as I did with the pistol. Somehow I've never gotten up the nerve to go handgun only for deer. The Ruger Vaquero got left in the car in '18, or I'd have taken my first deer with it. As it was the doe that showed up on the right side forced me to do the shot from my left shoulder, sighting with my blown retina eye. Got venison but ended up wishing I'd left the '06 in the car as the Vaquero on the belt would have made getting in and out of the woods much easier.

Image



Image

The one on the bottom was headshot at about 35 yards. The weird thing is that I missed a couple that were closer. Go figure.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Bill in Oregon »

Oh, sure Jim. Just go ahead and re-light an old fire. 8)
I actually hunted deer four seasons with a handgun. The first, with a Ruger .41 Magnum, I almost had a shot at a blacktail buck ghosting through the lodgepoles near Crater Lake National Park, but he vanished before I could get a sight picture. In muley country in Eastern Oregon, I hunted three seasons with handguns -- one with a T/C Contender in .30 Herrett fitted out exactly like Bob Milek's rig, and two with a scoped Ruger SBH 10 1/2, with sling. I never got a shot those three hunts -- the last one the buck broke out of the other side of the aspens and my brother dumped him with a 6.5 Swede. Even if I never had a shot, I greatly enjoyed the hunts -- and the luxury of having both hands free. Maybe I will try again if the good Lord gives me another season or two. Always thought it would be good fun to handgun hunt for Texas hogs.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by piller »

Good advice from my limited experience. I have hunted hogs with a handgun just a couple of times. I am certain that more practice would help. The fun factor sure goes up when you connect.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Grizz »

That's good sound information. I 'specially like "hunt with one gun and one load". worked for me.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by gamekeeper »

Hunting with handguns was illegal even before they banned our handguns, I did however scare a few Squirrels with my DA .22 and did take a fox with one shot DRT. After our modern guns were no more I carried on with cap n ball and a flintlock, small game only.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by JimT »

gamekeeper wrote:
Wed Apr 21, 2021 12:18 pm
Hunting with handguns was illegal even before they banned our handguns, I did however scare a few Squirrels with my DA .22 and did take a fox with one shot DRT. After our modern guns were no more I carried on with cap n ball and a flintlock, small game only.
Cap n Ball and Flintlocks work just fine!
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Scott Tschirhart »

Good tips. Especially to leave the rifle at home. Carry a pistol all the time when you are in the brush and you will have more opportunities.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Scott Tschirhart »

Just targets of opportunity.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Blaine »

Once upon a time in the Olympic mountains....
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Bill in Oregon »

Blaine, don't have my specs on. Is that a Dan Wesson?
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by marlinman93 »

I said I was going to take a mule deer with a handgun for many years. But even when I owned my Contender with a dozen barrels, I didn't do so. It finally happened one year when I'd taken a buck during regular buck season, and I had gotten lucky and drew a doe tag for the same unit. Knowing how many doe we'd seen, and how likely it would be to get a close enough shot if I worked hard, I took my S&W Model 25-2 in .45 Colt for doe season.
My 25 is an 8 3/8" barrel, and I'd never owned a holster for it. So first thing I did was buy a Michael's across the chest nylon holster. Then some practice shooting out to 100 yds. and a few weeks later we headed out for doe season. My brother and nephew took their deer rifles, and I took the S&W. The area we hunt is tough to get within 100 yds. of deer, as there are zero trees or bushes, so tall grass is the only cover. I split off from the others, as I knew they'd have better luck with the ability to take longer shots. I found a seasonal ravine that likely had water running in it during heavy rains, and used that to work my way up to the top of the ridge. As I got closer to the top I spotted a herd of about 35-40 does, and a couple bucks. They were moving from my left across open grass, but headed towards an opening above me where there was a gate. I got down in the ditch and worked my way within 50 yds. of the gate, and took my pack off to make a pistol rest. Laid there for about 10-15 minutes and soon the first does arrived to pass through the gate. As soon as one came through alone I took my shot, and she dropped. The rest stampeded through the gate and over the top of the ridge.
That was my only handgun hunting experience for large game. The doe weighed in just over 200 lbs., and luckily it was all downhill to the truck. My brother heard my shot, and arrived just as I finished field dressing the doe, and helped me drag it down the access road to the truck.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by piller »

Sounds like it was a good time.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Buck Elliott »

I "hunted" with a handgun for about 4 decades, taking suitable game with .22 CB, .22 Short, .22 LR, .22 WRF, .22 WMR, .357 MAG, .44-40, .45 COLT, and .454 Casull.. All in revolvers with fixed sights. Some "hunts were inciddental, some "accidental", and others, very much on purpose. I managed to bag a variety of critters, from grass hoppers, snakes and mice, to mule deer and wapiti. I've put down cattle, and even a few horses over the years, as well.
It's a great way for a man to learn his limitations, and a great incentive to learn to expand rhem.
Sadly, my eyes are now failing me, and I'm no longer effective, much beyond 20 yards, but I have fond and vivid memories to last a lifetime..
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Blaine »

Bill in Oregon wrote:
Thu Apr 22, 2021 7:24 am
Blaine, don't have my specs on. Is that a Dan Wesson?
I had about three kinds in those days....I believe this was a 629PP....
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Bearskinner »

Jim, The only way to only hunt with a handgun is only carry a handgun. Riding around with a handy revolver of opportunity, is a great way to start. I’ve flown out on many trips in Alaska, with a scoped revolver, ( or maybe a single shot) and a back pack. The pilots always looked at me crosswise, until they picked me up, with a pile of meat. My PH on the recent Africa trip had never taken out a handgunner, and as a long range rifle shooter, he was skeptical, to say the least. I Had a great time, all with a handgun, and changed his mind too.
It helps to carry a handful of overkill. As I always say “Overkill is Under Rated”
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Scott Tschirhart »

Bearskinner wrote:
Thu Apr 22, 2021 2:17 pm
Jim, The only way to only hunt with a handgun is only carry a handgun. Riding around with a handy revolver of opportunity, is a great way to start.
I totally agree. I carry a good sized revolver whenever I am on the ranch. And I shoot targets of opportunity frequently. But I don’t shoot heavy loads much these days. I’m always working on accuracy. New prickly pear leafs are coming out now.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by piller »

Scott, you might have some of the locals get upset that you are shooting up all their breakfast food. :lol:
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Scott Tschirhart »

piller wrote:
Thu Apr 22, 2021 7:58 pm
Scott, you might have some of the locals get upset that you are shooting up all their breakfast food. :lol:
Sometimes I wish something would eat prickly pear. We don't see Javelinas anymore as the hogs have taken over their territory. So, pretty much nothing eats prickly pear around here anymore.

When I was a kid, we used to burn the needles off with a pear burner and the cows enjoyed them in the winter. We don't really do that anymore, so it grows like crazy. All of the damage done by the freeze seems like it never happened. I'm about to start chopping it and hauling it to the burn pile. A long handled Cold Steel machete and a pitchfork are the perfect tools for this work.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by marlinman93 »

Bearskinner wrote:
Thu Apr 22, 2021 2:17 pm
Jim, The only way to only hunt with a handgun is only carry a handgun. Riding around with a handy revolver of opportunity, is a great way to start. I’ve flown out on many trips in Alaska, with a scoped revolver, ( or maybe a single shot) and a back pack. The pilots always looked at me crosswise, until they picked me up, with a pile of meat. My PH on the recent Africa trip had never taken out a handgunner, and as a long range rifle shooter, he was skeptical, to say the least. I Had a great time, all with a handgun, and changed his mind too.
It helps to carry a handful of overkill. As I always say “Overkill is Under Rated”
Here in Oregon you have to make a dedicated decision to hunt with a handgun. You can't legally hunt with one unless you indicate on your tag that you've applied to handgun hunt with state F&G. I had to simply got to F&G when I bought my tag and get it marked to indicate I was handgun hunting. It's not a separate season, and you do so during regular rifle season, but with the stamp added. So you can't rifle hunt if it's stamped for handgun, and can't handgun hunt unless you get it stamped.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by AmBraCol »

marlinman93 wrote:
Fri Apr 23, 2021 11:15 am
Bearskinner wrote:
Thu Apr 22, 2021 2:17 pm
Jim, The only way to only hunt with a handgun is only carry a handgun. Riding around with a handy revolver of opportunity, is a great way to start. I’ve flown out on many trips in Alaska, with a scoped revolver, ( or maybe a single shot) and a back pack. The pilots always looked at me crosswise, until they picked me up, with a pile of meat. My PH on the recent Africa trip had never taken out a handgunner, and as a long range rifle shooter, he was skeptical, to say the least. I Had a great time, all with a handgun, and changed his mind too.
It helps to carry a handful of overkill. As I always say “Overkill is Under Rated”
Here in Oregon you have to make a dedicated decision to hunt with a handgun. You can't legally hunt with one unless you indicate on your tag that you've applied to handgun hunt with state F&G. I had to simply got to F&G when I bought my tag and get it marked to indicate I was handgun hunting. It's not a separate season, and you do so during regular rifle season, but with the stamp added. So you can't rifle hunt if it's stamped for handgun, and can't handgun hunt unless you get it stamped.
Huh? Must make sense to someone. In MO a handgun may be used (within certain parameters) during the regular firearms season, and if I recall correctly certain ones can be used during the blackpowder season. Don't see why you'd need to run it by F&G, but it must make sense to someone.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by marlinman93 »

Oregon F&G laws are somewhat restrictive compared to many states. I don't understand the thinking always, and this handgun thing is one that simply seems illogical. Our traditional muzzleloader season is extremely restrictive, and guns that are OK to use for blackpowder season in most states can only be used during regular rifle season here!
For the muzzleloader season here Oregon requires the gun to be percussion or flintlock, with exposed priming system. No inlines, and no enclosed caps, or primers. They also only allow iron sights, so no scopes, or other sighting devices.
And for regular hunting here, no electronic scopes allowed at all. So red dots, lasers, or anything that takes a battery is illegal here on your hunting firearm. You can use all sorts of electronic range finders, GPS, etc., just not attached to your gun.
And of course unlike some states, we can only shoot one buck, and no does unless you apply for and get lucky drawing a doe tag. Then it's one buck and one doe, IF you also got lucky and drew a buck tag for the area you applied for too!
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Scott Tschirhart »

Sounds like the state owns the wildlife in that state. That’s not a good situation
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by piller »

I prefer the States where wild game is considered to be a natural happening which is to be managed for all to use. No one owns the wild game in Texas. You can own the land, but the game is not owned. Introduced species are different. The laws in Texas are not perfect, but they are not bad. Perfect laws are not going to happen when humans set them up. It appears to me that Oregon's laws were set up to favor a few. I could be wrong.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by marlinman93 »

Scott Tschirhart wrote:
Sun Apr 25, 2021 8:03 am
Sounds like the state owns the wildlife in that state. That’s not a good situation
They do indeed act like they do Scott!
I was talking with a state trooper last fall, and in Oregon they are the folks who actually enforce game laws, while F&G simply "oversees" the game management. He was very irritated with our state because he attends their meetings and said some of what they want to do it just plain silly. He said in the unit we were hunting in F&G said they wanted it to be a "deer only unit" and that "elk didn't belong in this unit". When he asked how they were going to stop the natural migration, and contain elk from coming into the unit, F&G people said they'd round the elk up, or drive them out, or in some cases kill elk.
This struck him, and me too of F&G playing God with wildlife. I do understand trying to gather up game where there's an over abundance, and move them to areas with little game, in an attempt to allow them to later repopulate an area. But to totally control a species, and attempt to restrict their natural inclination to want to be in an area seems a step too far.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by Gutshot »

Last Deer I killed with my Super Blackhawk was in December of 1980 it was the last of 12 that I took with that gun. From there I moved to a Redhawk and have been lucky enough to take 3 Moose, 2 Black Bear, a couple of Antelope and a few more Deer. I love hunting with a handgun belonged to HHI and remember reading many Paco Kelly articles that he wrote for that outfit. Now that I am older and don't have the same abilities to get around the mountain that I use to {I still shoot pretty good} I mostly carry a rifle and stay within eye shot of the truck. Thank you for bringing back some great memories.
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Re: "I'm Gonna...." dedicated to all those who are thinking of hunting with a handgun

Post by jmiller »

I only hunted with a handgun for around forty years. Starting in 1980 till a few years back it’s all I used. During that time I shot over fifty deer with just the handgun during gun season. Most were shot with a couple of different 357mag revolvers. Mixed in were another dozen or so with 44mag, 7tcu, and 30-30 Contender. In all that time I lost just one deer with the handgun and that was with the 44mag.....just made a bad hit. It can happen and it proves that it really isn’t the caliber/cartridge, it’s where you put the bullet. I’d still be using just handguns but I developed an interest in single shot rifles and started playing around with High Walls, Low Walls, Sharps, and now a couple of Encores. I’m actually starting to get the urge to go back to handguns again. You never know...
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