There have been many articles and YouTube videos written or produced regarding this subject. Most of them just start from the 10mm and work up the Smith and Wesson 500 mentioning bottleneck options somewhere in the middle.
I want to attack the subject in a slightly different way. I have shot just about every type of handgun you would hunt with in the United States and have been doing so for a few decades now. Does that make me an expert? Heck no. I do believe I have a lot of experience though and that is what I want to share in this post.
Let’s start with you answering a few basic questions. Where are you going to hunt and at what distance plan on shooting game? Notice I didn’t ask what are you going to hunt? We will come back to that a little later. When I ask where you are going to hunt, I’m talking about which state? You may have caliber and/or barrel length restrictions. Some states only allow straight wall cartridges.
Talking about what distance a particular caliber maxes out at is a good way to start a bar fight. I certainly can’t solve that question here, but perhaps can give you information to help you make your own decision. I think of handguns like golf clubs. We can’t all hit a 7 iron the same distance, but every serious golfer knows how far he can hit any given club. You may think of a sand wedge, pitching wedge, and 9 iron as short range clubs. You could use a driver to get the same distance as a short range golf club, but it wouldn’t act the same and would be harder to control. Let’s take that thought process into the handgun world
I like to put handguns in three categories, so let’s start with the short stuff. We are talking revolver or semi-auto from 10mm to 44 magnum with a 4-6 inch barrel. To take advantage of the gun being short, the handgun hunter may want to hunt with iron sights or some type of red dot. Personally I would want to use a belt holster and may use the Camo Signature Handgun Rest with a monopod to keep the weight and footprint to a minimum. I would definitely consider this type of setup when hunting from a tree stand, stalking African game, or traipsing up and down the mountains where tight cover is going to be the norm. The obvious drawback is the handgun hunter will have to limit his distance, but that handicap may be worth it order to stay in the game.
The second category is probably where I find myself most comfortable. The handgun is probably going to be 6-10 inches in barrel length and shoot a straight wall projectile. Caliber could be anything from 357 magnum up. If we once again compare to golf clubs, this category of handguns is going to be a 7 iron. A good golfer can smack the 7 pretty good, but it’s a short enough club to control around the green if one wants to bump and run. I carry my scoped 7.5 inch Ruger Super Blackhawk in a large fanny pack so I can store other gear. A quality chest holster will work as well. I like this category of gun because I prefer my shots to be in the 50-100 yard range and set up accordingly. I also prefer a scope, but Irons or a red dot are common. I hunt with the Trifecta Signature Camo and mostly use a lightweight aluminum tripod.
The last category is the Big Bertha Driver. “Putt for dough drive for show” is what they say in golf. This gun can be a long barreled revolver with some horsepower behind it. The 45-70 government, or Smith and Wesson 460 come to mind. My personal favorite is the Thompson Center Encore chambered in 7mm-08, but there are many bottle neck cartridges that will perform well. The Thompson Center Contender or any bolt action pistol will fit into the long range/large gun category. This type of gun is obviously going to be more accurate at extended ranges, but at a price of footprint, and weight. Our Hybrid Hunter Handgun Rest is a great option for the heavier long range guns.
Okay let’s circle back to which gun you need for which animal. Everything mentioned will work on any type of game animal in North American and beyond. If you don’t believe me, watch Razor Dobbs kill a Cape buffalo with a 10mm auto. You will have to hunt at more reasonable distances with the smaller guns. What is your max distance? Well my friend that is all part of the fun. Chose which gun fits your hunting lifestyle and get out and practice.