By Larry Weishuhn
Weishuhn with a really nice, big whitetail taken with a .44 Mag revolver and shooting Hornady's 240-grain XTP ammo.
“You here to play cowboy or hunt?” Snicker, snicker, followed by, “Pray tell what do you intend to do with that play toy?” Laughing now, said the grizzled guide when I pulled a .44 Mag revolver, topped with a Trijicon SRO sight out of my carry bag. Those gathered around the ranch’s shooting bench to make certain their rifles were properly laughed as well.
“I plan on taking the biggest buck shot on hunt with this six-shooter.” I replied, smiling.
I was last of eight hunters to shoot, planned it that way. I made a big deal of loading six Hornady 240-grain XTP rounds into the revolver’s cylinder. Then resting the handgun on a sandbag for a rest, I cocked the hammer, got solid and fired at the 100-yard target. My first shot hit a half-inch high of the “X-ring”. I cocked the hammer, shot a second time. It printed a figure “8” with the first shot, cutting the “bullseye”. In rapid succession I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger a third time. All three bullet holes touched each other. The best three-shot groups by those using long guns was 3-inches.
I watched the guide looking at my 3-shot group through his spotting scope. Turning toward me with a raised eyebrow, “Maybe I misspoke a bit about you and your handgun.” I smiled!
“The bullet goes where the barrel is pointed when you pull the trigger!” Said I placing my revolver into my travel bag.
Last evening of the hunt I shot a really nice 20-inch wide, massive beamed 10-point, the biggest buck taken during that hunt. Love it when a plan comes together! “If you can do it, it’s not braggin’!” as my dad used to say.
Ruger’s Blackhawks (single action), and Redhawks (double action) as well as Taurus’ Raging Hunter (double action) chambered in .44 Mag with bullets and ammo, especially those produced by Hornady are indeed extremely accurate and worthy of use for hunting big game species.
Handguns shooting "proper" ammo are capable of extremely since accuracy even out to 100 yards and beyond.
If you are just getting started hunting with a handgun, or simply thinking about doing so, I would suggest starting out with a single-action revolver, meaning the hammer must be cocked before the trigger can be pulled and the firing pin strike the cartridge (in the case of a .22 rimfire) or primer on centerfire rounds. I usually suggest starting down the handgun hunting road shooting a .22 rimfire revolver. Ammunition is normally readily available and not very costly compared to larger rounds. This allows for and encourages a lot of shooting and practice to become familiar with a handgun and learning how to shoot it accurately, while having fun.
My suggestion for a .22 rimfire revolver? There are numerous available. The Ruger Wrangler, is one of my personal favorites, is reasonably priced, accurate, fun to shoot, and one that simply has “iron or open sights” meaning a notch in the receiver and a bladed front sight. Such an open-sight handgun is a great way to learn how to shoot a handgun. Recoil and muzzle blast from a .22 LR rimfire is very “tame”.
I started seriously hunting with handguns back in the mid-1960’s, using single-action .22 rimfires produced by Harrington & Richardson, this for small game like squirrels and rabbits, but also coyotes and bobcats. I “moved” from there to .357 Mag and .44 Mag single-action revolvers, and from there to the single-shot Thompson/Center Contender using a variety of calibers and rounds, all the way up to the .375 JDJ and .45/70, then back to primarily revolvers in .44 Mag and .454 Casull, big enough to take anything in North America. I occasional run into hunters using semi-auto pistols chambered for 10mm or 11mm.
Me? I prefer revolvers over semi-autos. This is a personal preference. I love the looks and feel of single-action and some double action revolvers. I, personally have more control over a revolver compared to a semi-auto. Semi-autos are great shooting numerous times quick… Too, I prefer single-action revolvers chambered in larger caliber/rounds over double action because of the single-action’s grip design allows the handgun when shot “to roll back into my hand”, lessening felt recoil. Double actions have a “swell” on the back grip right at the web on the shooter’s hand. This helps with pulling the trigger more smoothly when shooting double action. But unfortunately, the swell makes the felt recoil more substantial.
The frame of a single-action revolver's curved grip allows the gun to roll in the hand when shooting heavy recoiling rounds.
I have handgun hunted a variety of big game species both here in North America from Alaskan brown bear and moose, elk, caribou, black bear, pronghorn antelope, mule and whitetail deer down to javelina, and a variety of plains game in South Africa. I have used revolvers, mostly single-action but also some double actions; single-shots in a great variety of calibers and rounds; and some bolt actions as well. I do own three semi-auto Model 1911s, but I personally really do not consider these to be hunting guns, although during my early years I on occasions used a Remington Model 1911, .45 ACP to hunt deer. It was the only handgun I had at the time.
The .44 Mag is fully capable of bringing down elk, using the "right" loads, in this instance Hornady's 240-grain XTP, and shot placement
If you are just now getting into handgun hunting, or simply thinking about it. No doubt you have questions.
Let us start with what type of handgun you should consider to use for hunting. We have already briefly discussed single-action and double action revolvers, but there are also as mentioned single-shot handguns such as the Thompson/Center (T/C) Contender (designed primarily for lesser pressure rifle type rounds, like the .30-30 Winchester and traditional handgun rounds like the .44 Mag) and the T/C Encore, which is designed to be able to shoot such traditional rifle rounds as .270 Win, .308 Win, .30-06 and the like (medium pressure rounds). Available too, if you can find them are some bolt action handguns, which unfortunately no longer in production, like the Savage Striker, Remington XP-100 and a few others. These too, were chambered in the medium pressure cartridges. Bolt action handguns are generally available on the used gun market or can be built by custom-maker gunsmiths.
What’s right for you? That is really a personal decision! Questions to consider are what big game species do you plan on hunting? What terrain will you be hunting in and how far will you be shooting? Do you like the look of a revolver or a break-open single-shot or possibly bolt action?
For starters, let us say you primarily want to hunt whitetails in relatively thick cover, but someday may consider hunting black bear or an elk with your handgun. Let us further say, you earlier bought a .22 rimfire revolver and shot it open/iron sights. You plinked with it quite a bit, can consistently hit a tin can at 20 yards, and have used it to successfully hunt squirrels and rabbits. Now you are ready for a bigger caliber handgun with which to hunt deer and possibly bigger game. And you really like the look and feel of a revolver. Once we get into hunting techniques with handguns later in this series, we will there take a look single-shot and bolt action handguns.
Single-action or double-action? Personally, regardless of whether I shoot a single or double-action, I always cock the hammer between shots, even though with a double-action I could simply pull the trigger for a quick second shot and beyond. It is simply how I have always done things, cock the hammer before each shot. Probably goes back to my early years when I shot single-action revolvers exclusively.
I mentioned recoil briefly. I have learned over the years most shooters are more afraid of the loud “bang!” than the “kick” although with some handguns it can be “a bit”. One of the many reasons why it’s important to wear hearing protection, hearing protectors inserted into your ears or in the form of earmuffs.
To me, double-action revolver, caliber/round/load being the same tend to have more felt recoil that do single-actions. As explained earlier this is because of for a better reason the “swell” on the grip behind the hammer, there primarily to help to squeeze off a quick second shot. This design tends to create more felt recoil.
Single-action, such as most of the “Old West” style revolvers such as the Ruger Blackhawk, Freedom Arms, and a few others have a smooth curved back grip. When you shoot a recoiling revolver, this design tends to roll into your hand. Wearing a shooting or simply a leather gloves, seems to allow more roll than shooting “bare-hand”.
With a single-action there are essentially two grip styles the Standard and the Bisley. The latter’s grip is curved downward at a more acute angle. Since my hands are rather larger, I am not a huge Bisley grip fan, because when I shoot a Bisley grip revolver, I smash the knuckle of my middle-finger. With the standard grip, there is more room between the back of the trigger guard and grip. Before you decide on a grip style, I suggest going to a gun store and holding each one to see which one “fits” your hand a bit better!
As to the material the grips are made of, there are all sorts from wood, to bone, to antler, to various synthetics. I prefer wood or antler on single-actions. With double actions there are factory and after-market grips that will help absorb some of the recoil. The Taurus Raging Hunter double-actions I shoot have grips made of a softer, rubber-like material that truly helps reduce felt recoil.
Addressing recoil, quite a few years ago Larry Kelly with Mag-na-port started porting revolvers and single shot handguns to greatly reduce recoil, particularly those barrels produced by J.D. Jones and his SSK Industries. These include such powerhouse rounds as the .375 JDJ, based on the .444 Marlin and necked to a .375. These rounds produced a substantial amount of recoil, to the point where they were often referred to as “Hand Cannons”, and rightfully so. But when the barrels are ported they are fun to shoot. I long hunted with a .309 JDJ, ballistics like the .308 Winchester. Ported it was pleasant to shoot. Too, for many years I shot a .30-06 chambered in a T/C Encore. With a 15-inch ported barrel its ballistics were a bit superior to a .308 Win. I shot it mostly in non-ported barrels and loved doing so. I used my .30-06 to take several moose and lesser sized big game species.
Porting handgun barrels, such as were done at the factory by Taurus on their Raging Hunter revolvers, greatly reduce felt recoil.
In shooting .44 Mag and up say to the .454 Casull or .460 S&W Magnum there can be a bit of recoil, depending upon the loads shot, barrel length, gun design and other factors. For years I have hunted with a single-action Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter chambered in .44 Mag, I loved that gun, still do. More recently I have been shooting, and hunting with and loving Taurus’s Raging Hunter, which has a fabulous porting system that greatly reduces felt recoil in the three round aforementioned. Although I will admit the .460 S&W Mag is a handful! I prefer shooting my Taurus Raging Hunter in both .44 Mag and .454 Casull. If you are a bit recoil sensitive, for starters begin hunting serious big game with the .44 Mag rather than the .454 Casull, although with the latter you can also shoot a .45 Long Colt, making it fun to shoot especially with commercially available ammo.
We have gravitated toward a choice of caliber/rounds. To me when addressing revolver rounds when it comes to hunting, I think in terms of .44 Mag, .454 Casull, .460 S&W and .480 Ruger. Those presented, I will tell you the .41 Mag is an excellent round, but it has never achieved the popularity of the .44 Mag. That in part is due to Elmer Keith essentially developing the .44 Rem. Mag, and Clint Eastwood years ago proclaiming it the world’s most powerful handgun, (which it is NOT) in the numerous “Dirty Harry” movies.
The 44 Remington Magnum is one of the author’s top choices for a handgun hunting cartridge due to its versatility and ammunition choices.
There are those who have taken essentially everything from Cape buffalo down to rabbits with a .44 Mag handgun, using proper bullets and knowing animal anatomy. Certainly, it should be a favorite, and in my opinion the top of the list, when it comes to a caliber to use on deer to bear-sized animals. I have taken many deer with a .44 Mag, several black bear, a few elk and several animals in between.
Too, I really like the .454 Casull, and will remind you once again, you can also shoot a .45 Long Colt in a .454 Casull, which has considerably less recoil. Most .45 Colt (this as opposed to the .45 ACP) ammo is loaded down considerably and not really designed for hunting. This in part is because the .45 Colt handguns of years ago were not designed for the pressure created by loads ideal for hunting. If you handload the .45 Colt can be an excellent handgun hunting round! I have a couple of .45 Colt (again often referred to as a .45 Long Colt, as opposed to the round shot in .45 ACP, semi-autos like the old Model 1911s) revolvers. I love hunting with them, but with handloads designed for hunting.
I have long been a fan of the .454 Casull and used it to shoot my first Alaskan Brown Bear years ago, a Freedom Arms revolver. The round killed the bear as quickly as any large magnum rifle round!
With the .44 Mag I feel comfortable shooting a deer out to 100 or so yards. I shoot 240-grain Hornady XTP commercial loads exclusively in my .44 Mags. I know there are other ammo, but I use it for good reason. This load has never let me down in terms of accuracy and down-range performance. With my .454 Casull Taurus Raging Hunter revolver as with others I use I feel comfortable shooting at deer out to 125 or just beyond, when I’m shooting Hornady’s 250-grain XTP ammo and shooting from a solid rest.
I am not, here, going to discuss hunting with rounds such as the .460 S&W Mag, .480 Ruger, .475 Linebaugh and/or .500 S&W Mag. These rounds produce substantial recoil, to the point most people do not shoot them accurately, because they tend to develop a flinch due to their “loudness” and their “kick”!
I have also not addressed caliber/rounds less than .40. There are some who hunt regularly with a .357 Mag. In my opinion, based on years of hunting and being around some extremely adept and successful handgun hunters, the .357 Mag is an “expert’s handgun round”. True, it produces mild recoil. True it shoots extremely accurately. But it is minimally (in my opinion) capable of killing a deer. It is an expert’s round. Expert in terms of being able to precisely place the bullet in the deer’s vitals while avoiding major bones. To me the .357 Mag simply lacks the needed down-range energy to, beyond close range, cleanly and quickly kill a deer. I know there those who will strongly disagree and have taken numerous deer with a .357 Mag. More power to them. But it is not a round a beginning handgun hunter should consider, if looking for a “deer gun.
Over the next weeks we will be taking a look at other handgun styles, sights, ammo, taking a solid rest, handgun hunting techniques, and tell a few handgun hunting stories!