Spotlight: Hunting Handguns


With antiquated long-gun hunting laws still persisting in certain regions, more and more shooters are turning to hunting handguns for the challenges and rewards they can offer.

What We Like:

In my experience handgun hunting is hard and for those who do it, myself included, that is the major appeal. Depending on the approach you take, it can challenge not only your shooting skills but your ability to move undetected through your environment. There is a hard-to-describe sense of satisfaction that comes with taking down your first whitetail, hog, or other critter using a pistol or revolver. Very few things in life are quite as enjoyable as putting yourself in the perfect position to take a challenging shot, and then doing so successfully.

The author’s personal favorites, a Glock 24 40 S&W and a Smith & Wesson model 57 .41 magnum.
The author’s personal favorites, a Glock 24 40 S&W and a Smith & Wesson model 57 .41 magnum.

For those who live in states that allow it, using a service pistol to hunt does more than afford someone the same enjoyment that regular handgun hunters experience. It also provides a valuable chance to boost your confidence with the gun you carry day in and day out while under stressful situations. There are immediate consequences for your errors just like in a self-defense shooting.

When hunting, you don’t have to limit yourself to standard pistol sights since many of the popular dedicated hunting revolvers and pistols have some sort of method to mount a magnified optic. The benefit of this is a greatly increased range in which the hunter is able to make an ethical shot; one which strikes the vitals and is not likely to make the animal needlessly suffer. Making an ethical shot should always be a major deciding factor before pulling the trigger.


What We Don’t Like:

Most dedicated hunting handguns are quite heavy. That, coupled with what is, in some cases, brutal recoil can make practicing regularly a literal pain. Most of the traditional hunting handgun calibers are quite expensive to feed unless you’re a dedicated reloader. My personal favorite Smith and Wesson Model 57, chambered in .41 Magnum, costs upwards of seven to thirteen dollars per full cylinder, depending on the ammunition used. Also, due to the limitations of almost all handgun cartridges, selecting premium hunting rounds that offer deep penetration and controlled expansion is crucial.

Ruger Super Blackhawk
Ruger Super Blackhawk

Many hunters seem to overestimate the effectiveness of their chosen handgun hunting cartridge. When selecting a round for game care must be taken to ensure that all factors are considered: the distances involved, the likely angles of the shot to be taken, and the game animal itself. While a broadside shot on a small to medium deer at 20 to 40 yards is well within the capabilities of even a .40 S&W, consideration must be taken as to whether or not you are as capable as the cartridge and gun you select. An honest assessment of your own skills should be the first step you take when making your selection. Be familiar with the game animal you are hunting. If you’ve never hunted a specific animal before search online, or talk to hunters who have, don’t just wing it.

Ruger Super Redhawk
Ruger Super Redhawk

The Verdict:

For those looking to further challenge themselves, handgun hunting is certainly a way to do it. It is a great way to practically apply fundamentals with the reward of immediate feedback from a reactive target. For an added bonus (if your state allows it) using your service pistol to hunt gives you real world experience of how you might do with it under stress.

I use a GLOCK 24 chambered in .40 S&W for its increased sight radius, loaded with 180-grain Speer Gold Dot ammunition for light-skinned non-dangerous game. If I am hunting larger or dangerous game I prefer my Smith and Wesson Model 57 in .41 Magnum, loaded appropriately for whatever animal I am likely to encounter.

Just make sure that before you go out that you have selected premium ammunition well-suited to the task at hand. Penetration is key, with controlled expansion being next on the list. Heavy bullet weights are preferable; lighter weight bullets are not suitable for hunting because of their lack of penetration.

Before deciding to hunt with a handgun it’s very important taken an honest assessment of your skills, and have proper target discrimination based off of your equipment and your abilities. Ensure that you are hunting safely and ethically at all times. Don’t take a shot you’re not sure of!

By John Johnston. Originally published in the October 2013 issue of GunUp the Magazine.

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