January 21, 2023
I came late to handgun hunting, having always preferred the simplicity and familiarity of a rifle or shotgun. But when I took my first whitetail in Texas with a .44 Magnum at close range I came to understand why handgun hunting is so popular. Is it challenging? Certainly, but that’s part of the excitement of pursuing game with a revolver or a pistol—you must get close, choose your shots carefully, and know your weapon well.
We commonly associate handgun hunting with big game like whitetail and feral hogs, but there are also lots of opportunities to hunt small game with a handgun. In fact, hunting small game is a great way to start the sport and offers the same thrills and challenges of pursuing larger animals. We haven’t forgotten about handgun hunters and offer a couple new rimfire suggestions that are perfect for pursuing cottontails, squirrels, and other small stuff.
Of course, if you’re looking for a big bore handgun for big game those are here as well. It’s odd to have a roundup of hunting firearms that includes everything from .22s to .50-caliber magnums, but that’s what you’ll find here. So if you’re a seasoned handgunner or simply want to try the sport you’ll find the firearm you need here in our spotlight of the best new handguns for hunters in 2023.
Smith & Wesson Model 350
As you may have guessed, the Model 350 is chambered in .350 Legend, which Winchester designed for hunting whitetails in straight wall-only states. But the .350 is actually a very sensible handgun hunting cartridge, and Smith & Wesson paired it with their X-Frame revolver to offer an accurate, mild-recoiling big game hunting handgun. Personal testing showed that the Model 350 averages about 1,600 to 1,800 feet per second with 150 to 180-grain Legend loads from the Model 350’s 7.5-inch barrel, and that means it shooters considerably flatter than the .44 Magnum, .480 Ruger and similar rounds.
At a hefty 71.5-ounces this gun manages muzzle rise well, thanks in large part to its ported muzzle. As a bonus, the Model 350 holds seven rounds of .350 Legend and moon clips are included. Stainless steel construction promises that this gun will hold up to the worst conditions and the black synthetic grip allows for a firm hold on this gun.
Ruger Wrangler 6.5 and 7.5-inch
This cool, affordable intro to small game with a handgun is impressive. When I tested the original Wrangler pistol with a 3.75-inch barrel I was immediately impressed by its accuracy. Add a few additional inches of cold hammer-forged barrel and sight radius and the new Wranglers are suitable for hunting squirrels and other small game, even with its rather rudimentary sights. The new 6.5 and 7.5-inch Wranglers hold six rounds of .22 LR ammunition, yet with their aluminum alloy frames these guns weigh just 32.1 and 34.1 ounces (respectively) so they’re easy to carry in the woods all day. These guns are available with your choice of Black, Silver, or Burnet Bronze Cerakote finishes and have the look and feel of a classic single-action revolver. They’re fun to shoot and, with an MSRP of just $269, they’re also an incredible value.
Taurus Raging Hunter 460 and Raging Hunter 500
Taurus released the Raging Hunter 460 last year and it was met with approval from hunters because it offered reliability and accuracy along with manageable (although anything but mild) recoil. This year, the company is launching two new Raging Hunter models, the Raging Hunter 500 and Raging Hunter 460 10-inch. As the name implies, the Raging Hunter 500 is chambered for the .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, which is capable of harvesting really big animals like elk, moose, and grizzly. The 500 comes with a 6.6-inch ported barrel with aluminum alloy barrel shroud and an aluminum alloy frame.
It’s available in either black or two-tone, weighs in at just under 70 ounces and comes with a top rail for mounting optics. The stylish Raging Hunter 460 10-inch has a proprietary muzzle brake that cuts recoil up to 25% more than traditional brakes and a short barrel shroud with a top rail for optics and a bottom rail for attaching slings, bipods, and so forth. Both the 460 and 500 feature Taurus’s Double Lock System that ensures reliable function with these hard-hitting magnum cartridges.
Raging Hunter 500: $1,069-$1,089, Raging Hunter 460: $1,248.33-$1,265; taurususa.com
SIG Sauer P320-XTEN
The 10mm Auto cartridge languished after its release in the 1980s and almost faded into obscurity, but this superb all-purpose round has enjoyed renewed interest in recent years. The new P320-XTEN from SIG boasts an impressive 15-round capacity (more than even the rimfires on the list) and the optics cut on the slide makes mounting a red dot sight simple, although the included XRAY 3 night/day sights are very good. I mounted a SIG ROMEO 2 optic on my test XTEN and found that it produced exceptional accuracy at 25 yards, and with the 5-inch barrel this 10mm is legal for hunting whitetails in my home state of Ohio.
But where the XTEN will really shine is among hog hunters: with a full magazine of 10mm hunting ammunition this is the pistol you want by your side when you slip into a sounder of hogs. Two magazines come standard, there’s an underbarrel accessory rail, and the flat-face XSeries trigger is exceptionally good for a striker-fired pistol. In addition to hunting the XTEN also makes a great backup gun in big bear country.
Browning Buck Mark Hunter 5.9
The Buck Mark Hunter 5.9 checks all the boxes for a superb small-game handgun. It comes with a Vortex Crossfire red dot sight and co-witness TruGlo fiber optic adjustable sights. The muzzle brake is detachable and the ½ x 28 threaded barrel makes it easy to mount a suppressor or other muzzle device. The aluminum alloy frame with 5.9-inch bull barrel offers superb balance, and the matte finish on the metalwork prevents glare that could scare game. The gold-plated trigger offers a crisp, clean break and since this is a Buck Mark you can expect excellent reliability and superb accuracy. Cocobolo laminate target grips round out this pistol, so it looks as good as it shoots.
This is a great hunting handgun for new and experienced small game hunters alike, and the red dot sight is particularly appealing because it allows those of us who are getting older and having a hard time focusing on iron sights make the precise shots required for small game hunting.