Confessions of a Handgun Hunter by Max Prasac
In case you haven’t yet figured it out, I’m a dyed in the wool handgun hunter. I like to get within boarbreath distance of my prey. For me, a long shot is 100 yards, but I practice out to 200 just in case, even though I will usually optto get closer if I have the opportunity. I will generally only hunt with a rifle if I have to, and then only begrudgingly (ask my editor!). I am limiting this discussion to revolvers and not the specialty, single-shot pistols that are so popular with some. Let’s look at the facts as to why hunting with a handgun is more difficult than with a scoped rifle. You have to get close to your intended game, meaning you should practice scent control and be intimately aware of wind direction at all times. It’s also harder to hit your target with a six-inch barrel and open sights than a 24-inch barrel and a scope, supported by your hands alone. Also, many of these revolvers generate abusive recoil that is not absorbed by your shoulder and body. So why hunt with a handgun with so much stacked against you? Two words: extreme satisfaction. There is nothing quite as satisfying as taking a hog with a sixshooter.
My success rate would increase substantially if I hunted with a scoped rifle. Guess I just like doing things the hard way. Revolvers come in two flavors, single-action (SA), meaning that the hammer needs to be cocked every time it is fired, and double action (DA), meaning the revolver can be fired by cocking the hammer and firing to fired and cycle the gun. Taurus, Ruger, and Smith & Wesson are the producers of some great DA revolvers, while Magnum Research (BFR line of revolvers), Ruger, and Freedom Arms produce single-action revolvers.
I generally shy away from “minimum caliber” discussions. Why? Because every individual handgun hunter has a different skill level. What may be adequate for you may not be for me. At the end of the day, there still is no replacement for placement – period. If you cannot hit the vitals, no amount of horsepower will help. A few handgun hunters I know, including myself, have successfully taken hogs with a .357 Magnum.
With the smaller calibers, placement is crucial – not saying it isn’t with the larger calibers, there simply is a smaller margin for error. Let’s face facts, even the diminutive .22 LR behind the ear of any hog will mark its demise, but that’s not a shot that I would bank on presenting itself.
I do like the .41 Magnum, but there are not a lot of good ammunition options available for it commercially. The .44 Magnum on the other hand is the polar opposite with regards to ammo availability.
Let’s take a moment to discuss recoil as it is appropriate right about here. Recoil is a very real consideration when choosing a revolver and caliber for hunting. These large calibers tend to generate a considerable kick. They are difficult to master and require some getting used to and a lot of practice to become proficient. Before running out and purchasing the latest, greatest, and most powerful handgun, it would be well worth the effort to shoot an example before plunking down your hard-earned cash. Case in point, the market is loaded with slightly-used big-bore revolvers that come with a half a box of ammo.
The .44 Magnum is a great place to start. Depending on the platform, the .44’s recoil can be relatively comfortable. The .44 is single-handedly responsible for starting the big-bore handgun craze, and has successfully taken game ranging from varmints to elephant. What’s not to like about it?
The .45 Colt is a great caliber and a personal favorite. While there doesn’t seem to be a significant size difference between the .44 and the .45, in my experience the .45 is higher up on the food chain. The next step up being what I like to call the “big .45s,” like the .454 Casull and its big brother, the .460 Smith & Wesson. They offer more of everything the .45 Colt has to offer, including more velocity, more muzzle blast, more noise, and yes, more recoil. The operating pressures of both the .454 and .460 require large beefy revolvers (not to mention the physical dimensions of the .460 cartridge). Stepping up to the .475 class of cartridges leaves two commercially loaded options: the .475 Linebaugh, and the .480 Ruger. The .480 Ruger is virtually a shortened (by 1/10th of an inch) .475 Linebaugh. I would like to use this opportunity to plead with Ruger to bring back the wonderful .480 Ruger (a 5-shot Bisley would be my ideal!). These two cartridges are a significant step p in effectiveness on game and when loaded to its full potential, the .475 Linebaugh’s recoil can best be described as harsh. Finally, the .50s. These calibersare the biggest of the big and when loaded hot, kill at both ends. Starting at ½-inch in diameter, there really is no need for expansion. The .500 JRH, .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, and .500 Linebaugh all require a special level of dedication regarding component availability and the practice necessary to master. The .500 Linebaugh (actually .511 diameter), while unavailable in a commercial platform and strictly a custom proposition, warrants mention as it started the .50 caliber craze. Those who have used the big .50s have noted a marked difference in impact effect on the largest game (1,000-lbs plus) and once bitten by the .50 caliber bug, find it hard to go back. Arguably the .50s aren’t necessary for hog hunting, but you can’t deny the cool factor!
There are a number of sighting options available for revolvers. The purist will argue for open iron sights as the only option. Aging eyes are usually reason enough for attaching a scope or red dot-type sight to your favorite revolver and can extend their effective range. I use them all depending on the revolver and the circumstances and each system has advantages and disadvantages. A scope or red dot will not allow you to carry your revolver on your belt like an iron-sighted revolver, necessitating the use of a shoulder holster. I particularly like red dot-type sights like the Ultradot 30 mounted on my .475 Super Redhawk as it has held up to an inordinate beating and just keeps working. Red dot-style sights have no equals in low-light hunting conditions.
JRH Advanced Gunsmithing
Hog Heaven Outfitters, NC