Photos: Larry Weishuhn Outdoors
“And pray tell, what are you planning on doing with THAT?” Asked the outfitter when I approached the shooting bench where fellow hunters had made certain their rifles were properly sighted-in and so the outfitter and guides could see how each hunter handled their rifles.
“I intend to shoot my elk with it, Sir!” said I pulling my .44 Mag revolver, topped with a 2-7x long eye-relief scope out of my I glanced at the outfitter and the guide to whom I had been assigned. Both outfitter and guide wagged their heads negatively while rolling their eyes as in “Where did this idiot come from??”.
Using the same rest as the rifle hunters, I settled the single-action revolver against the sand bag and reached with my thumb to cock the hammer. As I did, the guide asked, “You shooting at the 25-yard target, right? Because I doubt you can even hit the backboard at hundred-yards!”
I nodded then continued cocking the hammer. I let out all my breath then gently squeezed the trigger. I lost my sight picture with the recoil, then immediately cocked the hammer a second time shot, and then quickly again a third time. Behind me I could hear, “I’m not believing this. Your three shots are touching. They took out the “X” in the bullseye.” Perhaps they had misjudged the capabilities of a short-barrel firearm.
“I’m ready. Still shooting where it had been before I left home.” Continuing, “I’m comfortable taking shots out to one-twenty-five, after that my 240-grain XTP Hornady Custom loads starts losing downrange energy.” I knew my handgun and what it was capable of, and my capabilities with it. I loved it when someone questioned the accuracy of the Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter I shot at the time.
Two days later having crawled up and down mountains, over downed dark timber and passing several rag-horns, plus a tempting 6 by 5, we spotted a massive, long main-beamed, long-tined 6 by 6 bull. He was squiring seventeen cows trying to keep two younger bulls from stealing part or all of his harem.
Crawling on hands and knees I was able to cut the distance to a hundred yards. There I found a downed pine with limbs that allowed me to not only rest my revolver but also my elbows, like shooting from a bench rest. When the bull turned broadside, I quickly cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. At the shot the bull hunched up. When he did, I quickly shot him twice more. I placed each shot six-inches from the previous purposely creating three different wound channels.
After the third shot the bull slumped to the ground. My handgun had taken another regally bedecked antlered bull. One that too would provide many fine meals for my family as well as a several others.
Hunting with a handgun be it a single-shot break- open Thompson/Center Contender or Encore (designed for using sharp-shouldered cartridges), or a single-action revolver, which requires cocking the hammer before firing, or, a double-action revolver which can be shot by cocking the hammer and pulling the trigger or simply pulling the trigger, is great fun and rewarding!
Over the years I have hunted with a Ruger Blackhawk single-action revovler in .41 Mag, .44 Mag, .45 Colt. I have used these accurate and fun to shoot single-actions to take elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, whitetail deer, black bears, numerous exotics species as well as African plains game. Several years ago shot my first Alaskan brown bear with a Freedom Arms single-action in .454 Casull. This back when I was the hunting editor for “Shooting Times” and “Handgunning” magazines.
On a limited basis I have taken javelina, wild hogs and a few whitetails with a .357 Mag. But, this caliber/round should only be used by those who are truly expert shots. The .357 Mag is in my opinion a marginal round for hunting big game species.
In double-action revolvers I have used various models manufactured by Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger and few others. These were chambered in .41 Mag, .44 Mag, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Mag and .480 Ruger. With these I shot the same animals previously mentioned.
Recently I have been hunting with Taurus’ Raging Hunter double-action revolvers chambered in .44 Mag, .454 Casull and .460 S&W Mag. Each is topped with a Trijicon SRO red-dot sight with a 2.5 MOA dot. At 100 yards the dot covers 2 1/2-inches. Using Hornady’s various handguns loads, and specifically those loaded with their accurate and excellent terminal performance XTP bullets, I can shoot extremely tight groups at 100-yards, as in far less than 2-inch, 5 or 6-shot groups.
In the past I hunted a LOT with the single-shot, break- open T/C Contenders and Encores. These were topped with long-eye relief variable scope in the 1.5-5x or 2-7x formats. I used a wide variety of rounds from .45 -70 and .450 Marlin, to .375 JDJ, to .30-06, to .308, to .223 and numerous calibers and rounds in between. I used the bigger calibers to shoot numerous moose, caribou, elk, pronghorn, mule and whitetail deer, black bear, wild hogs, predators, as well as plains game in Africa. I too, frequently used the larger caliber single-shots to shoot prairie dogs helping ranchers thin out these often bubonic plague harboring critters. By doing so it also prevented the landowners from poisoning them and killing them in mass. With these various single-shots I often shot prairie dogs out to 500-yards. Great fun, but also great learning opportunities regarding shooting handguns.
While there are some who hunt with semi-autos such as 10mm or 11mm, which certainly with proper bullets and ammunition are capable of taking even the biggest of game, I am personally am not a fan of hunting with semi-autos pistols. That said, my first “real” deer hunting handgun was a World War II era Remington Model 1911 chambered in .45 Auto Colt Pistol, which I borrowed from my father-in-law who for many years was a law enforcement officer. But as soon as I could afford a revolver I relegated that .45 ACP to self-protection.
My initial fascination with revolvers goes back to when I was a mere tyke watching movies starring such old time silver screen greats as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, Rex Allen and others. I dreamed of someday carrying a “six-shooter” and using it to hunt deer. A bit later I read the stories of early handgun hunters as Al Georg, Hal Swiggett (who later became a good friend), Skeeter Skelton, Bill Jordan (with whom I later served on staff with at Shooting Times), Bob Milek (who was a good friend), Larry Kelly with Mag- na-port, J. D. Jones with SSK Industries and creator of the JDJ handcannons (I used numerous of his creations including among other his 6.5 JDJ, .309 JDJ and .375 JDJ to hunt both here in North America and in Africa). All were writers of yore were heroes of mine. I learned all I could about hunting handguns from them and others such as John Wootters and J. Wayne Fears, both mentors, personal heroes and friends with whom I shared several hunting camps.
Some my fascination came from the fact that short-barrel guns, meaning those with 6 to 8-inches in revolvers and 12 to 14-inches in break-open single- shots, were extremely accurate rivaling most rifles out to 100-yards. I loved and still do often “outshooting” rifle hunters with my handguns!
I have long believed hunting means getting as close as possible before pulling the trigger, handguns essentially require this. I too love not everyone hunts with handguns. Maybe that is being a big snobbish. If that is the case, I humbly apologize. Although..I primarily hunt with handguns because I love doing so, and their challenge of getting close before shooting.
While I have hunted with recurve and compound bows I have never been a huge archery fan. To me, the most alluring aroma in the world is freshly burnt gunpowder shot at a game animal that would provide sustenance for my family and me while creating memories that will last beyond a lifetime.
For the past three years when not hunting with a rifle, I have hunted with my double-action Taurus Raging Hunters chambered in either .44 Mag or .454 Casull. Recently I have been leaning more and more to the .454 Casull because of its down-range energy. Using Hornady’s Custom 240-grain or 300-grain XTP loads, from a solid rest I can shoot 1 ½-inch groups at 100-yards and 4-inch or less groups at 200-yards. At 200-yards those .454 Casull loads are still producing sufficient down-range energy to cleanly and quickly kill an elk- sized animal. Another thing I like about the .454 Casull is I can also shoot .45 Colt (sometimes called Long Colt) shells in the same chamber. Hornady’s .45 Colt 225-grain FTX bullets in their Leverevolution line, which produce little recoil, is still producing sufficient energy to bring down a deer at 50-yards. Hornady’s XTP Custom loads in the .454 Casull using both 240 and 300-grain loads are still producing 1,200-footpounds of energy at one hundred yards.
Hornady’s 240-grain loads in the .44 Mag at 100-yards produce nearly 700-footpounds of energy. More than sufficient to kill a deer.
I hunt with rifles and handguns and love both. With my rifles I occasionally shoot long-range, meaning ranges from 400 to 1000-yards. While I enjoy shooting at steel at those ranges, and am reasonably proficient, I do not shoot at animals at those distances. At the FTW Ranch where they teach their Sportsman All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship training (www.ftwsaam. com) I have with my Taurus Raging Hunter .44 Mag and .454 Casull handguns shot at targets as distant as 500-yards, and I have hit steel at those ranges. BUT, I would never even consider taking shots at an animal at those distances. As previously mentioned I am a firm believer in trying to get a close as earthly possible before shooting at game.
When a first-time potential handgun hunter decides to procure a handgun to hunt with, I would suggest going to the range with someone who has both single-action and double-action revolvers and shooting those in several calibers and rounds to see which ones he or she likes best. A consideration if a big game hunt in the future, he or she might consider buying a Taurus Raging Hunter chambered in .460 S&W Mag, which is capable of bringing down even Africa’s or North America’s largest game (meaning a bison, which can be at least a couple of hundred pounds heavier than Africa’s Cape buffalo). The beauty of the .460 S&W Mag is that one can shoot .45 Colt, .454 Casull and .460 S&W Mag ammo in the same chamber/handgun.
Learn how to shoot with the mild-recoiling .45 Colt. When first hunting limit your shots to 50-yards or less. Once you have mastered shooting and hunting with the .45 Colt, consider moving up to the powerful .454 Casull for serious hunting. Later you can shoot .460 S&W Mag, but do not start there.
For years I shot long eye relief scopes. But these days I much prefer the red dot sights produced by Trijicon, the SRO or RMR. These are easier to find your target and work well when shooting out to 200-yards.
When shooting a revolver, remember NEVER place your hand or fingers around any part of the cylinder, particularly the forward part of the cylinder where it meets the barrel. Gas, extremely hot gas, can escape here and do terrible damage to your hand and fingers.
I first became enamored and fascinated with handgun hunting during the latter half of the past century. That fascination continues today and I suspect will last into the future.