Skip to main content

Handgun Hunting: Meat In The Pot

This article first appeared in the October 1968 issue of Shooting Times.

I can remember very few men who actually hunted with handguns, except when it was necessary to hunt for food or to kill a predator and a handgun was the only gun available. Albeit, my compadres have taken a trainload of game with the six-shooter, and I've brought home a generous share myself.

The distinction is a matter of semantics, and of the intent and purpose of the pistol packer when he leaves the hearth and takes to the field. The best men at the art of handgun game shooting are outdoorsmen, but not necessarily hunters as we think of hunters today.


Gun-toting cowboys largely belonged to the past even back when I was a boy. Some waddies, though, carried along a little ballast in their britches during their strenuous day's toil, and they brought home meat. When the bosses' bacon and beans got tiresome, it wasn't too much of a chore to bush them up with grain-fat mallards or Canada honkers, a Canadian River turkey, or the backstraps from a mulie buck. If these delicacies didn't make an appearance during a day's ride, the hired hand on horseback could always use a hogleg, generally carried in a chap's pocket rather than a holster, to gather a brace of cottontails or even a neighbor's Rhode Island Red.


I remember rural mail carriers, forest rangers, truckdrivers, farm hands, and telephone linemen who carried sideguns. And pistol-toting country doctors and seismograph crewmen and bulldozer operators and cattle magnates. These were not swivel-chair, once-a-year deer hunters but outdoorsmen who made intimate contact with game every day. Many were only so-so pistol shots, but free from the ravages of buck fever, they could Indian up close enough to an unwary deer to hit him with a rock, let alone a handgun.

Their guns were pretty sorry by today's standards. There were a lot of World War I Lugers, worth about five bucks during the Depression. Single-action Colts abounded in every caliber. Some of the better-paid invested in new Colt or Smith & Wesson double actions, and the real gun nuts were seen to carry the crisply made .22 Colt Woodsman semiautomatics. One self-sufficient country boy I knew left Texas and spent more than 10 years in the back country of Alaska, loading his Dodge Power Wagon with cooking utensils, several hundred pounds of books, a gasoline-powered washing machine, and a Colt Police Positive .32-20. He never passed a day there without eating meat.


It behooves the handgunner to take advantage of the excellent selection of hunting guns that are now offered. No serious hunter, when contemplating the acquisition of a new centerfire handgun, should consider anything but a Magnum.


To narrow it even further, I choose the .44 Magnum over the .41 Magnum for hunting, although the latter is extremely close to the .44 in potency. It is doubtful that a heavy animal would know the difference when hit with a factory or heavy handload from either of these calibers.

I pick the .44 simply because it does have a slight edge in bullet weight and diameter. The recoil-shy will also find that it kicks somewhat more strongly.

Barrel Length Matters
The matter of barrel length is important in several ways. The least noteworthy of these is the increase in velocity gained by a longer barrel. Approximately 100 fps difference exists between the performance of full Magnum loads in 5-inch and 8…œ-inch barrels. This is not sufficient to be a deciding factor in the choice of the length of your sixgun's barrel.

More vital are the enhancement of the holding qualities of your revolver when it gains muzzle weight with a longer barrel and the reduction in sighting error resulting from the longer distance between rear and front sights.

A Magnum to be used solely for hunting should carry a minimum barrel length of 6 inches. Longer tubes, up to 8…œ inches, are better. Anything longer than that is too unwieldy for normal use, negating what practical advantage it may have gained in power and accuracy. In 1958 I did considerable shooting with a 12-inch Colt Buntline .45. The old long Tom, even though mounted with fixed sights, shot beautifully, and I made some excellent groups with it. Most of my shooting had to be done from or near my car, since the only way to carry the Buntline was to carry it in the hand.

Other faults of the freakishly long barrel are that it tires the arm so rapidly in offhand shooting, and it is rather slow in aligning for a snap shot. Although these two shots will rarely be essayed at game, the barrel's length should not be so extreme as to handicap the shooter seriously.

Shooting Position Makes A Big Difference
The real sportsman always takes advantage of the best result available and shoots two-handed. When an offhand shot is absolutely necessary, the heel of the shooting hand should be rested in the cupped palm of the off hand. Lateral barrel movement can be dampened somewhat by extending the first two fingers of the lower hand to support the trigger guard.

Some hikers carry a staff and steady their handguns against it or the staff-holding hand. I have never found this comfortable, since the staff hand, if it takes a full grasp of the stick, leaves nothing but a couple of knuckles on which to rest the revolver. If the thumb is opened to allow the gun hand to rest on its web, there is never enough room, and unwanted side pressure is exerted against the gun.

When shooting from a rest, such as a fence post, remember not to permit any part of the gun itself to touch the surface of the rest. To do so will affect the point of impact of the bullet at the target, due to the revolver not being allowed to recoil naturally. The off hand should support the gun hand, as described earlier, and should itself rest on the hard surface to act as a cushion. Those with small or bony hands may find it desirable to wear a leather glove to protect their support hand.

When no rest is available, various positions other than standing may be employed for two-handed sixgun work. By far the steadiest is the back rest. If something solid, such as a tree or large rock, is handy, the shooter sits down, resting his back against the anchor object. Both knees are drawn up, and the forearms are rested on the insides of the thighs, just behind the knee joints. The handgun is grasped in the usual, two-handed manner, and the hold can be made rock steady by the application of a little inward pressure by the legs.

Sitting without a back rest is not so good. As the shooter lowers his head to see the sights, his body tends to rock backward, and it is necessary to hook the elbows in front of the knees on the shins to remain balanced. This is a strained position, and I do about as well standing.

The belly-flopping prone position is not as beneficial to handgunners as it is to riflemen unless an artificial rest--such as sandbags--or a pad are on hand to make a base for the gun. Without this support, the hands are extended too far forward and are held up by a framework of trembling muscles instead of bone. Another bad feature of the prone position is that the gunner's head must be held back unnaturally far to look down the sights. Also, the line of sight is extremely close to the ground, and view of the target is likely to be obscured by weeds, brush, and small rocks.

Better than going completely prone is to sit down, extending your legs in front of you. Then lean back, resting the weight of your upper body on your off elbow. Draw up the knees of your shooting side and rest the wrist and inner forearm against it. Although it looks rather strange, this is a very good position in lieu of a rest.

Given the proper gun and loads, anyone who has the desire and is physically capable can master the techniques necessary to take game with the handgun. Equally important as proficiency is attitude and conduct in the field. Handgun hunting needs the quiet, competent gent who obeys the rules of good sportsmanship, who picks his shots with care, and who can come home feeling rewarded on the day he didn't get a shot.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

A unique load for the .450 Bushmaster is Hornady's new Subsonic offering. It's loaded with the company's 395-grain Sub-X (Subsonic–eXpanding) bullet that is designed to expand and penetrate but not break up.Hornady .450 Bushmaster Subsonic Ammo Ammo

Hornady .450 Bushmaster Subsonic Ammo

Steve Gash - August 13, 2020

A unique load for the .450 Bushmaster is Hornady's new Subsonic offering. It's loaded with the...

The Winchester .350 Legend is a no-nonsense whitetail thumper tailored for rifle hunters in the Heartland.Winchester .350 Legend Rifles and Ammo Available Right Now Ammo

Winchester .350 Legend Rifles and Ammo Available Right Now

Payton Miller - August 21, 2020

The Winchester .350 Legend is a no-nonsense whitetail thumper tailored for rifle hunters in...

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm Optics

Review: Bushnell FORGE 4.5-27X 50mm

Sam Wolfenberger - May 01, 2019

The new Bushnell FORGE riflescope is “the only choice for long-range hunting enthusiasts.”

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.Accuracy: It's All Relative How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

See More Trending Articles

More Handguns

It took a long time for Glock to bring out a .22 LR pistol, but it was worth the wait.Glock G44 Rimfire Pistol Review Handguns

Glock G44 Rimfire Pistol Review

Paul Scarlata - August 31, 2020

It took a long time for Glock to bring out a .22 LR pistol, but it was worth the wait.

We like the name of the new Taurus handgun-hunting revolver. It's called the Raging Hunter. We like the way the revolver handles and shoots, too.Taurus Raging Hunter Review Handguns

Taurus Raging Hunter Review

Joel J. Hutchcroft - April 08, 2020

We like the name of the new Taurus handgun-hunting revolver. It's called the Raging Hunter. We...

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go out of style.Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum Review Handguns

Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum Review

Payton Miller - May 20, 2020

The Smith & Wesson Model 57 N-Frame .41 Magnum—a favorite of sixgun superstars—refuses to go...

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being excellent, the Taurus TX22 .22 LR autoloader rates a 10.Taurus TX22 Review Handguns

Taurus TX22 Review

Layne Simpson - May 11, 2020

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being excellent, the Taurus TX22 .22 LR autoloader rates a 10.

See More Handguns

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now