Challenging myself to master tougher weapons has always brought my deer hunting to new and exciting levels. Just as I switched from crossbows to longbows and recurves, last year I did the same with my firearms — and tried out handgun hunting.
I quickly learned that handgun hunting is nearly as tough as bowhunting. Last year I had many makeable rifle shots on deer that I were just too tough to line with the pistol, so I had to pass.
Without a stable rest like a monopod, it’s tough for me make ethical groupings beyond traditional bow range. Heck, many rifle hunters won’t even take a freehanded shot. To get a shot from my climber, I need to stand up for many angles to be able to use my monopod.
With practice, shooting gets better, but I’m not firing my handgun any significant distance without a rest — much like I wouldn’t take a lengthy rifle shot without a rest. It’s up to the hunter to see in practice how far they can make ethical groupings with and without a rest.
One benefit of using magnum pistols is not having to range an animal in the wooded areas I hunt. Many of the magnum pistols shoot flat and powerful enough to take animals out to 150 or even 200 yards, but 70 yards is as far as I practiced so far.
Also, making close-range rifle shots don’t require much practice, but the same can’t be said with handguns. Just like archery, a lot of practice is needed because just the slightest movements or imperfections in shooting will cause the bullet to miss by a lot — but practice is fun.
I started hunting last season with a big-scoped Ruger .454 Casull revolver. However, on Louisiana public land we have limited modern firearms days and I wanted to pistol hunt more.
Magically, I reread the hunting pamphlet in December and noticed Louisiana’s primitive weapons started allowing single shot .35 caliber and larger pistols and muzzleloading handguns — I just needed to have one.
So I went online and found an old .44 mag Thompson/Center Contender for bid on Gunbroker.com and got the gun as a Christmas present to myself. I won the bid for $350 and was now equipped to handgun hunt any firearm season in Louisiana.
The Contender has several legal primitive calibers offered including .35 Remington, .357 mag, .375 Win, .45-70, Colt .45 and .44 mag. The heavier Encore single shot pistols offer more powerful calibers like the .454 Casull, .460 S&W and .500 S&W. Shorter barrels are no longer made, but can be found used.
The shotgun style barrel with open sites on my weapon was quite an adjustment. It made seeing targets tough and the back site kept getting moved due to a loose screw. The gun had a 10-inch barrel that made it more sleek and compact, and it weighed 1.5 pounds less than my bigger revolver.
After one shot, I realized I would never shoot that gun without gloves again. Even with thin gloves my hands were getting cut, but after shooting several boxes of ammo that left me with bloody hands I was ready to go.
Finally after a long week of primitive hunting on R. K. Yancey Wildlife Management Area, I was able to take a deer stalking on a windy day using my trigger-stick monopod as a rest on the 50-yard shot. Yep, just like bowhunting, I was hooked on this handgun action.
Later last January, for the Select Buck’s season, I missed a hog with it at 40 yards trying to shoot with a badly injured hand. I don’t like to miss. The recoil was so stiff that the rubber stock under the barrel broke loose while shooting at the pig.
This year, I left the rubber stock off the bottom of the barrel because it was adding extra weight. I upgraded my sites to a Burris Fast Fire 3 red dot which weighs less than 1 ounce. I started with a cheaper red dot, but on the third shot the glass shattered. The Burris is a very nice and durable site.
After several dozen hunts with the gun this season, I finally got to unleash it on an animal. A pair of coyotes came cruising by one morning in the hills of J. C. Gilbert WMA.
Those coyotes move quickly. I made a deer noise getting the first one to stop briefly at 35 yards, but it was behind a tree then hurried along. The second ‘yote was on the other hillside, and I figured it would cruise through fast like the first.
I had to stand up to get my pistol on the monopod. My efforts to call and stop it failed, so I set up looking at a gap ahead with my monopod. As soon as I saw the head on my head dot I fired and dropped the animal with a neck shot.
The only problem was my attached camera broke off and fell to the ground with the shot — that gun has quite the recoil.
That’s one less fawn and bunny killer, and a nice pelt for the camp.
A week later, I finally got a chance at a deer when two does walked the hillside across from me on Christmas Day.
The second doe walked broadside right in front of my trail camera 45 yards away, and jumped several feet high when the bullet hit. The footage can be found here.
Shooting a doe with a typical rifle may not give the awesome rush shooting a buck does, but try harvesting a doe with a primitive handgun on public land and that excitement will ramp back up!