A little practice and good hunting technique is enough.
Deer hunting with a handgun has come a long way since I took my first whitetail deer with an S&W .357 Magnum 6-inch revolver in 1979.
Then anyone who went out after a deer with a revolver, or even a single-shot .44 Magnum Thompson/Center, was considered mildly disturbed. Major hunting writers have commonly referred to big game hunting with a stunt handgun.
Today, top brass handgun manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Taurus, and Thompson/Center offer extensive lines of products specifically designed and configured for deer hunting – the S&W .460 XVR, the Ruger Super RedHawk and the Thompson/Center Encore, to name a few.
A full line of purpose-loaded hunting handgun ammunition is available from companies such as Federal Premium, and hunting handgun optical sights are an important part of most major brand catalogs. Buckmasters has a pistol category in its record books, and the list of states that allow handguns for deer hunting continues to grow.
Yet for many hunters who have never tried it, or those who aren’t active handgun shooters by vocation, the whole notion of whitetail deer hunting with a handgun still seems extreme – and intimidating. Many who might otherwise be interested mistakenly believe that gun hunting requires skill, discipline, and equipment beyond their means.
There is really no difference between deer hunting with a handgun and any other type of deer hunting. No higher degree of shooting skill is required, and no complex or specialized equipment is needed. The amount of practice and discipline required is no greater than what is needed to become an effective and responsible hunter carrying a rifle, shotgun, or bow.
I have always described deer hunting with a revolver as “bowhunting with gunpowder”. Both disciplines require close proximity to the deer, the same particular attention to good hunting technique and practice of marksmanship with a precise tool.
In many ways, whitetail deer hunting with a handgun requires the same skill as successful slug gun hunting, which is the main reason so many hunters in Illinois got into it when their state added pistol hunting to its smoothbore slug hunting seasons a few years ago.
The handgun for whitetails falls into two basic categories: traditionally shaped conventional revolvers or autoloaders (of any legal caliber); or single-shot or bolt-action handguns of greater range and higher power firing rifle-level cartridges. Each presents its own type of challenge.
If you’re hunting with a conventional handgun – say a .44 Magnum revolver, scoped or not – you’re essentially talking about a close effort. You need to be able to get close enough for a deer to smell you before you can reliably take a productive shot. Virtually all hunting encounters will take place within 100 yards and require the hunter to be cautious in the woods.
For the vast majority of hunters who live in the eastern half of the country, it’s white-tailed deer hunting with a handgun.
The other form involves guns like a scoped 14-inch Remington 7mm-08 Encore T/C. Such platforms are common in the western plains and prairie states.
Some say that hunting with such long-barreled tools chambered for high-powered rifle cartridges is not really pistol hunting. I say if it doesn’t have a shoulder stock and can only be held in the hands, it’s a handgun.
In any case, marksmanship comes first. Power is no crutch for a bad shot.
It is impossible to discuss suitable cartridges or pistols without reference to the shooter’s ability to place his shots. The main reason that ever more powerful hunting cartridges have grown in popularity over the past 70 years is that, overall, American hunters have less time available to invest in marksmanship practice.
A growing number of hunters prefer to shoot a load that does high damage with a marginal hit rather than spend the time and practice needed to make a well-placed shot with a less powerful cartridge. This is despite the fact that high recoil guns are actually harder to shoot accurately.
In pre-Magnum America, when putting food on the pioneer family’s dinner table required almost every male to hunt, success required familiarity with less powerful weapons and ammunition, as well as better hunting techniques. hunt.
Handgun deer hunting is a step back into that bygone era, as even the most powerful modern handgun cartridges cannot match the energy of popular centerfire rifles. Put a Winchester .308 in a bolt-action shotgun and you still won’t have the power of a .308 shotgun. Even the much-vaunted .44 Magnum fired from a revolver has far less power at 50 yards than a .30-30 from a traditional lever-action rifle.
Simply put, the absolute key to success in gun hunting is a well-placed shot.
That said, you don’t have to be Jerry Miculek or Ed McGivern (look them up on the internet). If you want to shoot up to 50 yards at a whitetail and use a .44 Magnum 6-inch revolver with metal sights, all you have to do is be able to hit a plate at that distance.
The degree of accuracy you will need with your gun and load should be entirely determined by the size of the vital area of the game you plan to hunt and the distance you allow yourself to attempt a shot.
The heart/lung area of an average sized Midwestern Whitetail Deer is about 10-12 inches in diameter. If you can keep five shots inside an 8-inch circle 50 yards from your chosen hunting revolver, you’ll have no problem shooting down a whitetail deer cleanly and ethically.
Going for White Tails is actually one of the easiest forms of handgun hunting. Targeting squirrels or rabbits is much more difficult. If you want to hunt squirrels with a .22 rimfire pistol, you need to be able to keep your shots grouped together inside a 2 inch circle at 30 to 40 yards. It’s hard !
When I conduct handgun hunting clinics for my fellow deer hunters in Illinois, I have them practice on an 8-inch Shoot ‘n C target at 50 yards from a standing, unsupported position with both hands.
When hunting in the field, they use the most stable shooting position possible and use any available rest. But rests aren’t always available, and it won’t do any good just to be able to put five shots into a kill zone diameter target from a sandbag rest if the actual hunting situation calls for a firing from an unsupported position after a quarter-mile shoot.
Once my students have practiced until they think they’ve licked the freehand shot, I have them jog 100 yards briskly to the shooting line and then try to get five shots in that same target. It puts a different perspective on things and simulates how their hearts are likely to beat when a monster comes out.
Handgun hunting also has advantages that long gun hunting does not, such as the weight and maneuverability of your hunting tool and the increased mobility it provides. Handgun hunters travel light. They can carry a scoped primary gun, capable of pinpoint accuracy up to 200 yards, as well as a belted, iron-sighted companion gun for close encounters, and still weigh less than a hunter. shotgun with a single gun.
You can also carry a hunting handgun in a holster, leaving both hands free. You must carry a long gun in your hand or slung over your shoulder. If you’re throwing a long gun with the strap across your chest, it’s pretty unreachable. If you wear it on one shoulder, you have to hold the strap to keep it from slipping.
This is not a problem when moving over open ground. Have you ever needed both hands to climb a rocky slope or up a tree?
How many times have you had a rifle slip off your shoulder and down your arm to hit rocks or branches when you took your hand off the sling to negotiate particular, difficult terrain?
How many times have you had a protruding barrel hit or snag on obstacles like tree branches when you slung it over your back so both hands were free?
As for sights, any iron sight handgun intended for hunting requires adjustable sights. There is no other way to ensure that you will have the desired point of impact at a desired distance with the chosen load. When faced with the sudden demands of the game on the field, you don’t need the added complication of trying to compensate for fixed sights. Determining the trajectory to the target distance will be enough of a challenge. The real question is whether to use an optical sight instead of metal sights.
Generally speaking, most hunting handguns should come with optics for the same reason a shotgun should generally come with a scope. An optical sight is valuable not because its magnification will allow you to achieve very extended effective ranges (a scope will not turn a handgun into a rifle), but because the clarity of an optical sight image allows you to Easier to accurately place your shot, even at closer ranges.
This is especially important for those of us whose aging eyes struggle to resolve the short aiming radius of iron sights typical of arm’s length handguns. This also explains why non-magnifying reflex-type dot sights are so often seen on conventional hunting handguns today, even on 6-inch revolvers.
I hunt whitetail deer with a handgun, and I prefer to hunt with a handgun over any other type of firearm. I find it more challenging and rewarding, and I know from 35 years of experience that being a deer hunter with a handgun isn’t as difficult as many make it out to be. You just have to be as serious as any hunter should be.
Read recent articles:
• Feeding Frenzy: The pitfalls and benefits of providing supplemental feed to white-tailed deer.
• Should we fear EHD? Epidemics seem to be more frequent and devastating.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.