Handgun Hunting: Medium-Sized Game

Tools And Talents Needed To Take This Exciting Class Of Game.

There are a lot of handgun hunters who anxiously await fall big-game hunting seasons, and I’m one of them. Whether it’s a local deer hunt, a trip out west for antelope or mule deer or an African plains game safari, handgunning for medium-sized game is just plain exciting. Perhaps it’s the challenge, or the pure mystic surrounding pursuit with a short barrel. Whatever drives us to pack our favorite handgun afield, it can be a memorable and rewarding experience. Most definitely it will add an exciting dimension to your hunting endeavors.

Medium-sized game is not that difficult to bring down compared to larger game like moose, or dangerous game like Cape buffalo or the big bear. Shot placement still maintains top priority. I honestly don’t think I can overstate the importance of precise bullet placement. Choosing the correct bullet for the intended purpose is essential too. And placing that bullet in the vitals to ensure a quick, humane demise is what all ethical hunters strive to accomplish. So whatever handgun we choose to hunt with, proficiency with that particular firearm should be first and foremost.


Regardless of what handgun you choose, getting a solid rest helps ensure a
well-placed shot. This BFR from Magnum Research is resting on a bipod.


There are not a lot of hunters using semi-autos, at least for medium to big game. They are simply not as popular with handgun hunters as revolvers or single shots, but they do have a place if you’re inclined. There would be no problem tackling a boar or whitetail deer with a properly loaded .45 ACP, or especially the 10mm. Range would obviously be a factor, but there are many occasions where hogs and deer are encountered inside the realm of these cartridge’s capabilities. In the months ahead I have every intention to put meat in the freezer with a 10mm. Both DoubleTap Ammunition and Buffalo Bore make some mighty fine hunting ammo for the overlooked ten. You might take a hard look at it if you favor semi-autos.


The Freedom Arms single-shot pistol is a break-open design that’s exceptionally
accurate. This is a fine example of the accuracy provided by a single shot
topped with Burris optics shooting Black Hills ammo.


Revolvers have a huge following. Lucky for us there are many good choices, including Freedom Arms, Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Magnum Research to name just a few. Then we have many custom builders producing other options. Some hunters prefer the plow-handle configuration of single actions, while others lean toward the double-action-style grip. Since most hunting shots will be in the single-action mode, choose whatever wheelgun and grip design you shoot most accurately.

The .41 Magnum is a good starting point for medium-sized critters. The .45 Colt is a classic revolver cartridge, well proven in the field. I have always favored the .44 Magnum as an effective round for big game. I’m not alone, and many hunters take to the field every year with the double four. There’s a wide variety of factory ammunition, with bullets designed to tackle almost any game, anywhere, and that makes it easy to pick just what you need.

Handloaders have even greater options. The .454 Casull, .460 S&W, .500 S&W and other big-bore cartridges obviously work fine. With shot placement critical in any hunting situation, make sure you can handle stiff recoil before laying your hard-earned cash on the table for one of those rhino-clobbering rounds. They certainly are effective when you place the bullet in the strike zone. Revolvers account for many whitetails, black bear, wild hogs and other medium and big game all over the world every year.


Antelope present a unique challenge to handgun hunters. They often are taken
at long range in wide-open spaces of the west. Single shots like this custom
XP-100 with a scope make a wise choice for this type of hunting.

Barrels And Optics

Barrel length for pure hunting guns varies, but I lean toward at least 6″ just to have a good sighting radius. For those of us on the downhill side of 50, optics is a good thing. A straight 2X or 4X scope might be a welcome addition. Bushnell’s 2X-6X, a Burris 2X-7X or Leupold’s 2.5X-8X are all fine variable scopes.

Recently I’ve been using an Ultra Dot on a custom Ruger Super Blackhawk. This Match Dot II offers no magnification but the red dot is easily found and works well inside revolver ranges. The intensity of the dot can be adjusted, and two reticle patterns are available. Plus, hunters can choose up to four dot sizes: 2-, 4-, 6- and 8-MOA. There are other reflex-type red-dot sights available from Leupold, Burris and Meopta for example. Your particular hunting conditions, personal preference and method of hunting may dictate which optic is most effective.


Bolt actions like this H-S Precision are extremely accurate.

Single Shots

There are certain species, such as antelope, which wander around in the wide-open spaces of the west, often requiring shooting at distances beyond 100 yards. Situations involving long-range shooting lend themselves to single shots. T/C Contender, Encore, Freedom Arms, H-S Precision, MOA Maximum, even discontinued Remington XP-100s and Savage Strikers can all be practical.

These single shots fall into the categories of break-open, falling block and bolt actions. They take advantage of bottlenecked cartridges, and many are sufficient for medium-sized game. Some of the calibers you’ll often encounter in deer camp may include 7mm-30 Waters, .30-30 Winchester, 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester, along with many other possibilities. Almost any rifle cartridge is workable.

Single-shot handguns can be extremely accurate when mounted with a quality scope. Leupold’s 2.5-8x and the Burris 3x-12x are but two examples of handgun scopes regularly found.


Getting a solid rest is vitally important for handgun hunters.
T/C’s Encore is resting on a tripod rest from Bog-Pod.


This dandy blackbuck antelope was taken in Argentina with an H-S Precision pistol.
The Leupold scope enhances long range shooting opportunities for any handgun.

Shooting Skills

Regardless what game animal you’re hunting or what handgun you choose, practice is important. Experienced handgun hunters try to emulate field conditions with the same ammunition they’ll be using on the hunt. If they anticipate shooting from a backpack, then they practice shooting from a backpack. Once the gun is sighted-in from the bench, it’s always a good move to leave the sandbags and shoot from actual field situations. A lot of quality trigger time is a wise investment, especially when that big buck steps out in the food plot just before dark.

Over the years I’ve watched many proficient handgun hunters use a variety of rests. Actually these hunters frequently get creative, by necessity, finding whatever they can to help steady the crosshairs. A number of aids can be useful. Things like tree limbs, fence posts, stumps, shooting sticks, backpacks, bipods, tripods — you name it —can all help to steady those crosshairs.

In open or mountainous terrain, a backpack is often ideal for providing a good rest. However, where there is a lot of underbrush — like I recently encountered in Uganda — a tripod rest from Bog-Pod worked well. Tripods or shooting sticks can usually be adjusted to allow you to shoot from a sitting or standing position. Regardless of what you use to help steady the sights, one well-placed shot will ensure a quick, humane kill. The game we pursue deserves no less.

Want to spice up your hunting adventure? Handgun hunting for deer-sized game can be rewarding and fun. Regardless if you’re hunting plains game in Africa or whitetail on the back 40, the overall experience will be memorable and rewarding. Take lots of pictures and share your success. It’s an epic journey, but be prepared with the right equipment and training.
By Mark Hampton

Read More Features


Order Your Printed Copy Of American Handgunner March/April 2014 Issue Today!

Download A PDF Of The American Handgunner March/April 2014 Issue Now!