Top Hunting Handguns: Our Expert Shares His Favorites
October 26, 2017
Hunting with a handgun challenges you as a deer hunter. These sidearms are your best bet to get the job done.
I enjoy the challenge of getting close to game,'¨but honestly, bow hunting isn't my thing. I'm just'¨too much of a gun guy. So, for years, I've scratched'¨this itch by hunting with'¨a handgun. Yes, there are'¨ "hunting handguns" that'¨resemble tiny sniper rifles, but what I'm talking about is honest-to-goodness sidearms.
Hitting the vitals on a deer, hog, or elk with a handgun isn't as easy as one might think — particularly under stress. I've shot handguns on a very regular basis for 30 years, and using iron sights or red dots on six-guns or semiautomatics, I have about the same effective range as a hunter with a compound or crossbow.
Handgun hunting for deer and other medium game is legal almost everywhere, though some states are finicky regarding certain cartridges and the use of semiautomatics. Indiana's restrictive laws relative to cartridges for deer hunting actually encourage the use of handgun rounds for deer. Delaware has an eight-day season for handguns (and archery) only, and it's the only one of its kind that I'm aware of. I wish more states would follow suit. Here are four of my favorite hunting handguns for deer and medium-size game, plus a few tips on loads.
Choose The Right Caliber
Caliber choice is important because the velocity of even the most powerful handgun rounds pales in comparison to most rifle cartridges. I consider the 10mm Auto and .357 Magnum the absolute minimum for whitetail, and I'm not crazy about the latter for use on deer. Even more important is bullet choice.
Many factory-loaded expanding handgun bullets are made for defensive use on humans and lack the penetrating qualities necessary for effective use on game. Companies such as Federal Premium, Cor-Bon, DoubleTap, and Buffalo Bore all load effective hunting bullets in multiple chamberings. Treat a handgun bullet as if it were a broadhead and choose your shots accordingly.
SMITH & WESSON PERFORMANCE CENTER MODEL 460XVR
This is a big revolver — big enough that it comes with a sling for toting it — for dedicated hunting use. With a 10 1â„2-inch barrel launching the powerful .460 S&W Magnum cartridge, this five-round revolver blurs the lines between handgun and carbine. I know of at least one hunter who has taken an elephant with it.
Made of stainless steel with adjustable sights, the 460XVR also has an integrated rail for mounting optics. An eight-port compensator tops of the muzzle, and the action has been tuned by the Smith & Wesson Performance Center. The best thing about the Model 460XVR is that it can chamber not only .460 S&W cartridges but also .454 Casull and .45 Colt cartridges.
KIMBER SUPER JÃ„GARE'¨
I drooled when Kimber announced this handgun for 2017. (They had me at the name.) A six-inch-barreled 10mm 1911 with a red dot optic is a handgun hunter's dream. The barrel is ported to tame recoil and muzzle rise, and the butt and mainspring housing are rounded.
The JÃ¤gare has been given Kimber's "Carry Melt" treatment, which removes all the sharp edges that can dig into skin and clothing, and with scalloped cocking serrations and a two-tone finish, the whole package just looks downright cool. The included optic is a Delta Point Pro from Leupold, which alone is a $520 item.
THOMPSON/CENTER'S PRO HUNTER PISTOL
Thompson/Center's single-shot handguns have been the go-to choice for handgun hunters for decades, going back to the original T/C Contender introduced in 1967. The key to T/C's guns is the versatility offered by their removable barrels — in minutes a single frame can be converted to shoot anything from .204 Ruger to .30-06. Factory and custom aftermarket barrels are available in every conceivable cartridge. The Pro Hunter can also be fitted with a stock and used as a rifle, shotgun, or muzzleloader.
SIG SAUER P220 HUNTER'¨
You don't traditionally think of SIG as a maker of hunting handguns. That changed a couple of years ago, however, with the introduction of the P220 Hunter chambered in 10mm Auto. This single-action-only semiautomatic has a great trigger, is constructed almost entirely of stainless steel, and comes coated in Kryptek camo. The front sight uses both fiber-optic and tritium illumination, so it is visible in any light condition. The steel rear sight is fully adjustable and can be removed for mounting one of SIG's own red-dot optics. Grips are black G10 and provide plenty of purchase.