By Larry Weishuhn
Taking a mature whitetail with a handgun is quite an accomplishment.
As a youngster, I watched my cowboy heroes on TV and the silver screen use pistols for noble causes. These characters were honest, dependable and never failed to help those in need. I wanted to be just like them, right down to carrying and shooting pistols. Later in life, I eagerly read articles by Afred Georg, Elmer Keith, Hal Swiggett and others who hunted with handguns as their primary firearm of choice.
With all of the fantastic long guns available then and now, why would anyone hunt with a handgun?
Hunting with a pistol is challenging. Not only is marksmanship more difficult to attain with a handgun, but you also must be able to get closer to game than when hunting with a modern rifle or even a muzzleloader.
Not long ago, at a whitetail camp in Kansas, I ran into a friend of long standing. He pointed at my .30-06 T/C Encore handgun topped with a 2x-7x scope. “Ain’t nothing to killing a deer with a pistol these days,” he said. “That’s nothing but an extremely short-barreled rifle the way I look at it.”
Using a .30-06 Encore pistol, the author harvested this wide 9-point Bownan Ranch management buck in South Texas.
I grinned and offered to let him use a .308 Win Encore handgun I had with me as a backup. “Why not?” came his quick reply. “After all, there isn’t anything to shooting pistols. Like you’ve often told me, the bullet goes where the barrel is pointed.”
I produced a box of 165-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip handloads and pointed him to the rifle range right behind the camp. I started to follow, but then heard him say, “I know about shooting pistols. No need to come with me. I’ll just make certain it’s sighted-in, and then go shoot a sizeable buck.”
A few minutes later, I heard him load, shoot; load, shoot; load and shoot again, followed by a few choice expletives. I snickered. I knew exactly where the gun was shooting and the size groups it was capable of producing.
“Can’t get this thing to shoot worth a darn,” I heard him say as he walked back into the kitchen.
“Mind if I take a shot or two?” Together, we walked back to the range, where, from a sandbag rest, I put three shots within an inch at 100 yards. You could have covered the group with a quarter and gotten some change.
“How’d you do that?” he asked.
I grinned. “Like you said, ain’t nothing to shooting one of these new pistols!”
I knew the gun was inherently accurate, but I also understood the importance of “holding her steady” when tugging gently at the trigger. I also knew better than to shoot unless my aim was rock-solid steady.
Well, that’s not exactly true. Only a week earlier, I jerked the trigger on an 8-point Texas buck I’d hunted for two years. The big whitetail had appeared at the end of a long opening. I was set up with shooting sticks and had a solid rest. As the buck strode toward me, my heart rate increased tremendously, and the .308 Win Pro Hunter pistol started shaking.
The buck kept coming my way, and the closer he got, the more I shook. When the buck finally stopped and turned broadside at 75 yards, buck fever got the best of me, and I horribly yanked the trigger.
I saw dirt and dust erupt halfway between the buck and me. The last I saw of him, he was headed back into the South Texas chaparral.
I could not believe it. Had I hunted with a rifle, there’s no doubt I would have shot and killed the buck. But with the handgun, it was a different matter. There’s a lot more room for error when using a pistol.
That’s not to say a handgun can’t be effective at long range. From a solid rest, I’ve taken critters out to 300 yards and farther with my T/C Encores and occasionally revolvers. These guns have dropped moose, elk, caribou, pronghorn, black bear, mule deer and a great number of whitetails. Some of them have fallen far beyond the 300-yard mark, but most were considerably closer.
The two basic forms of hunting handguns are the revolver and the single shot. Because I like the challenge of making the first shot count, I much prefer the single shots.
Hunting deer with a pistol is especially rewarding. True, I don’t need to get as close to them as I did when I bowhunted, but it’s not as easy as hunting them with a modern rifle. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I take a mature buck with a pistol, others “oooh and aaah” a bit more than if I’d taken it with a modern rifle or muzzleloader.
Regardless, there is no finer hunting challenge than to head into the woods with a handgun. Are you ready for the challenge?
Reprinted from the July 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine