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Hunting with a Handgun

5D Tactical - 7th Dec 2022

Hunting is a huge part of conservation all over the globe. For millennia humans have hunted for food and for sport. Nowadays so many options for hunting weapons exist. From black powder muzzleloaders to AR-15s to bows and even handguns!

Hunting with a handgun provides its own set of unique challenges and requires a level of skill not possessed by most people. Getting within range of the animal without spooking it, disguising scents and moving in to take the animal are not easy feats! So what are the basics of handgun hunting for larger game? Let’s take a look at some of these together and dive in. Read on!

Scoped revolver

Photo Credit: Petersens Hunting

What Does Wildlife Conservation actually do?

Let’s begin with conservation and why that is so important. Many people view hunting as a brutal sport filled with bloodthirsty killers just aching for the chance to blow away Bambi and while there may indeed be some trophy hunters that do kill the animal specifically for the horns or to hand the head on the wall somewhere and waste the meat, for the vast majority nothing could be further from the truth.

This writer remembers every hunt I’ve been on, from early snowy mornings in the mountains with my father as a youngster, to hunting with my buddies to fill our family freezers for the year. I grew up in a small ranching town in Colorado and hunting was how we ate when we couldn’t afford much of anything. “But”, screams the outraged vegan in the corner, “How do you conserve something by killing it?”

Wildlife conservation refers to “the practice of protecting wild species and their habitats in order to maintain healthy wildlife species or populations and to restore, protect and enhance natural ecosystems.” Let’s look into how responsible hunting helps that mission.

What is the Hunter’s Role in Wildlife Conservation?

Hunters play a vital role in conservation efforts. Sportsmen in the early 19th century organized conservation groups and advocated for hunting regulations, as well as working to pass long-term protection acts with Congress.

Every year hunters also support these federal and state fish and wildlife agencies too by buying tags etc. The vast majority of funding for wildlife conservation is paid for by hunters. Hunting also supports wildlife management - helping to manage the size of animal populations. If some of these species populations are left to their own devices, overpopulation will happen, causing a lack of natural resources to support the size of the population.

Can You Use Handguns for Hunting?

So, can you use handguns for hunting? The short answer is absolutely! Most states have regulations in place in regards to minimum caliber sizes, ammunition capacity etc. It is always imperative to check local regulations before going out to hunt. The last thing anyone needs is to inadvertently break the law! As a side note - many of these regulations prevent unnecessary suffering to the animals being hunted (such as not allowing calibers with much takedown power) as well as the safety of the hunters in the field. While many hunters embrace the challenge of the rifle, a handgun is a far greater challenge! Some of the appeal and challenges of hunting with handguns include:

  • Less Range means more skill to get close to the prey
  • Lightweight weapons compared to rifles
  • Requires excellent marksmanship
  • More takedown power at short ranges than archery

Smith and Wesson Pistol

Photo Credit: Top Teny

Hunting Pistol Calibers

As we’ve stated above, it’s important to find out our local regulations when it comes to choosing the proper caliber for handgun hunting. We must first determine what we’ll be hunting. The size of the animal must be taken into consideration. From 10mm to Smith & Wesson 460, many handgun rounds may be used for hunting pistols for big game. Let’s take a quick look at a few of them and what weight animal they might be used for for the handgun hunter. Keep in mind we’ll want to find the hottest loads we can to deliver maximum stopping power.

  • 10mm - useful up to 250 or so pounds
  • .357 Magnum - useful up to around 400 pounds
  • .44 Remington Magnum - Useful up to 700 pounds
  • .454 Casull - hard hitting up to 1,300 pounds
  • Smith & Wesson 460 - Dangerous game up to 600-700 pounds

All that being said, there are several records of 9mm killing bears just fine with an extremely high success rate.

Handgun Hunting - Rules and Regulations

Even though we've touched on it earlier, it’s incredibly important to research the laws of the area we’ll be hunting in so we keep well within the law. A side note that might often be overlooked however, it the moral obligation we have as hunters to think about the animal. Moral hunters never want the animal to suffer. Choosing the proper ammunition within the law and understanding the energy being delivered at the maximum useful range is important.

Remember that hunting with a handgun takes a lot of skill because we must get to close range to the target. Taking a shot at a longer distance than is effective by our weapon or ammunition when handgun hunting deer or any other animal is irresponsible. Always make sure the knowledge and skill is there to take the animal painlessly - starting with handgun hunting calibers.

Semi-Automatic or Revolver for Handgun Hunting?

So what are the best hunting pistols to choose from on the market? What is the best semi auto pistol for hunting? Should we choose semi-auto or a revolver? The answers to these questions truly come down to personal preference. Both types of handguns may have scopes and optics mounted easily usually. So what are some pros and cons of semi-automatic hunting pistols for big game:

Semi Automatic Pros:

  • Higher ammunition capacity
  • Faster follow up shots
  • Lighter weight

Semi Automatic Cons:

  • Not as many handgun hunting calibers to choose from

Revolvers Pros:

  • Plethora of handgun hunting calibers available for all types of big game
  • Mor barrel lengths available that can assist with longer effective ranges

Revolver cons:

  • Limited capacity compared to semi-automatics
  • Usually heavier weights

Scoped revolver

Photo Credit: Gun Digest

Gear Up with 5D Tactical!

We hope this helped determine where to start when beginning to look into the wonderful sport of handgun hunting. While there are certainly downsides to being a handgun hunter, it takes a lot of skill and can be very rewarding!

Ready to start using hunting pistols for big game? Check out our optics and accessories to help get that handgun ready for the field!