HANDGUN HUNTING – Benefits & Limitations

The decoy was placed in front of the elevated blind approximately 45 yards away.  As we climbed up the ladder under overcast skies, the gobbler sounded off.  He wasn’t 200 yards in front of us, hidden by the timber.  As we got situated in the blind, he gobbled again.  I told Karen, my wife, we could very well call this bird in to range. 

After the first call, the gobbler answered.  I had faith and immediately began watching the tree line for movement.  A few moments later Karen jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow and pointed to our immediate left.  Sneaking up from behind without making a sound, a big gobbler was strutting not 20 steps away.  He was strutting his stuff slowly toward the decoy.

Being raised and still living in south Missouri, turkey hunting was and remains a way of life.  I’ve been in this same circumstance many times over but this time was different.  In Missouri we can only use shotguns or archery. 

The big gobbler strutting only a few steps away from the blind was a Rio Grande in Texas and I was using a handgun, which is legal in the Lone Star state.  The bird approached the decoy all puffed up as I slowly cocked the hammer on the Freedom Arms .44 Magnum.  As the gobbler stopped momentarily to stare at the decoy, I steadied the crosshairs of the Leupold scope and was trying to figure out exactly where to hold.

 You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter to enjoy this alternative method.  Perhaps you just want to invoke an added challenge to your next hunt. Heck, there are some hunts that scream handgun hunting.  Take black bear for example. They can be hunted over bait or with hounds. 

A handgun is ideal for this type of experience with close range shooting opportunities.  Mountain lion is another prime example where a handgun works perfectly for the application.  Wild boar can be found in many states today and taking a big, mean hog with a handgun is very rewarding – and fun! 

With whitetail deer thriving in many states, taking one with a handgun will add spice to the encounter.  Now, if you really want to add a new dimension to your hunting opportunity, take a handgun after pronghorn antelope, mule deer, elk or moose.  Regardless whether you’re an experienced handgunner or just want to intensify the challenge to your hunt, handgun hunting will be both stimulating and gratifying.   

For many, the pure challenge motivates us.  Joshua J. Marine once said, “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” Every year, many SCI members take to the field with some form of alternative method.  I appreciate the fact this organization recognizes game taken by these alternative methods in the SCI Record Book. 

If the pursuit is too easy, it may not be fun or as rewarding.  Challenge can be correlated with difficulty and shooting a handgun accurately is not as easy as it may seem.  As a matter of fact, it’s not easy at all.  Without the shoulder support of a buttstock, precise bullet placement can be elusive unless one becomes proficient.  Just like archery or muzzleloaders, shooting a handgun accurately takes practice to become competent.  But if I can do it, anyone can.

Semi-autos may suffice in some hunting applications, but revolvers and single-shots pretty much dominate the handgun hunting arena.  While roaming the SCI Convention recently, I stopped by to visit the Freedom Arms booth.  They make the finest single-action revolver available, in my opinion.  I ordered their Model 83 in .44 Magnum and must confess its one fine hunting revolver.  When shots are within a football field or so, revolvers make excellent hunting rigs.  Many revolver aficionados lean toward .41 and .44 Mag. or the 454 Casull.  With premium ammunition, you can tackle most any big game on the planet.

A good hunting revolver is only as good as the ammunition it’s fed.  As I continued strolling down the aisles at SCI, stops were made at ammunition manufacturers such as Hornady, Swift and Nosler.  Handgun hunters can find just about any load for a variety of hunting situations from these exhibitors – and the folks behind these booths know what they’re talking about.  Choosing the proper bullet for the intended quarry is essential.  If you’re not certain, someone will be glad to point you in the right direction.

Choosing sights on the revolver is also an important consideration.  Some shooters can still enjoy iron sights, which work in close range encounters.  My aging eyes and iron sights don’t play well together so I lean toward optics. 

Red dot or reflex sights are fairly common on revolvers.  The optic doesn’t provide any magnification but placing the red dot on the intended target gets the job done.  These sights work well, especially in low light conditions when iron sights may hinder proper shot placement.  The beauty of these sights feature adjustments capable of changing the intensity of the red dot to different lighting situations.  Inside the effective range of revolvers, red dots may be your new best friend.  If not, traditional handgun scopes such as Leupold and Burris work well.  For revolver work, a straight 2x or 4x is plenty of magnification.

Hunting is supposed to be fun – and if that is true, pursuing antelope in the wide open spaces of the West with a handgun truly fits the definition!  When our pursuit finds us chasing critters, often leading to extended range opportunities, single-shot handguns fit the bill.  Nosler’s new NCH (Nosler Custom Handgun) and T/C’s Encore are two prime examples of quality single-shots.  Both can be found in a variety of hunting rounds, including 6.5 Creedmoor, 7-08 Remington or .308 Winchester, for example. 

I’ve been around folks who first look at these handguns and make some comment like, “That’s like shooting a rifle.”  Have you ever tried holding one of these handguns steady?  It’s not that easy!  Quite frankly, you need a good steady rest such as a tripod, backpack or some form of support to steady the crosshairs.  I’ll confess, these handguns are capable of rifle-like accuracy when set-up properly.  With a Nosler handgun chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, one-inch or less groups at 100 yards are common. 

Last fall while hunting antelope in Wyoming, I found myself crawling along a ditch-line, trying to close the distance on a nice pronghorn.  In this environment, I was only able to get within 336 yards and not a step closer.  With a good solid rest, one well-placed shot from the Nosler downed the prairie goat and I was elated. 

It was so gratifying to accomplish this mission with a handgun.  Later in the month I was fortunate to hunt mule deer on a large ranch in Utah.  On the fourth day I crawled up behind some sage brush and peered through the binoculars at a 30-inch mule deer.  I thought my heart was beating out of my chest.  A tripod rest was utilized to steady the Leupold crosshairs as the big mule deer was 220 yards away.  I can’t remember a hunt so fulfilling and taking this dandy buck with a handgun was most memorable. 

Frequently I hear some claim they don’t like single-shots as they don’t provide the means for quick follow-up shots.  After hunting with these handguns for over 40 years, all over this planet, I’ve never had concern in this regard.  If absolutely necessary, you can load quickly with a little practice.  Your first shot will be your best opportunity and precise bullet placement will dissipate the need for any follow-up.  And these scoped single-shot handguns are remarkably accurate and perfectly capable of punching your tag whether you’re hunting javelina or Marco Polo sheep. 

I should probably warn you. Handgun hunting can be very addictive.  Once you experience the challenge and rewarding nature, you may be hooked.  As an added benefit, handgun hunting delivers a lot excitement and fun. 

The meaning of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” may not recognize handgun hunting as an unalienable right – but the founding principles could very well apply.  Happiness and fun, the true pursuit of our human nature, could possibly be attained with handgun hunting.  Probably a bit profound but I personally have found this to be true in my hunting career.

That big gobbler finally strutted his way to the decoy.  I was sitting between Karen and L-Ray Calhoun of L and L Adventures.  This exciting, heart-pounding moment was possible after discussing the hunt with L-Ray during the SCI Convention.  Karen and I had enjoyed hunting on L-Ray’s ranch days before and I was hoping to end our hunt on a positive note. 

After telling both of my hunting companions in the blind to hold their ears, I leveled the crosshairs on the big tom and tugged the trigger.  Hornady’s factory 240-grain XTP downed the bird with authority and I had just tagged my first Rio Grande turkey with a revolver.  During the past 50 years, I’ve been fortunate to take many gobblers but taking this bird with a handgun was special.  That’s what handgun hunting is all about – enhancing the level of satisfaction.–Mark Hampton

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