Close Encounter Wheelguns

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handgun hunting smith & Wesson

S&W Model 686 with a 6" barrel topped with Leupold’s 4x scope. Altamont grips add beauty and comfort and the package is great for close-in woods shots.

Hunting with a handgun can certainly spice up your outdoor experience. The variety of circumstances you may stumble onto in the field is always uncertain — but highly anticipated. Many handgunners hunting the wide, open spaces in western states prepare for long-range opportunities normally found while pursuing antelope and mule deer. Even on my farm here in south Missouri, hunting over food plots for whitetail will often yield shooting opportunities beyond 100 yards. But not all hunts involve long-range pokes on big game. If you really want to get the heart pumping, close-range encounters with whitetail, bear, or wild boar will definitely elevate the old heart rate!

I’m in the process of preparing for our upcoming whitetail season. It’s fun but involves a lot of work too tidying things up. Many of our elevated deer blinds are situated where a 300-yard shot is possible. Normally I pack one of the single-shots for these stands. We also have several ground blinds where 75 yards is the maximum shot. This is a prime time opportunity for revolvers, and the fun is choosing the particular model for the season.

Hunting Smith & Wesson

A pair of S&W 657’s in .41 Mag. The 6.5" model (L) wears a Trijicon RMR reflex sight. The 7.5" is fitted with a Leupold 4x scope. Both are ready for close encounters.

Revolvers Work Fine

For years I’ve had an older S&W Model 686 resting under the bed serving as a home protection piece. I haven’t shot it much lately so I decided to change things up a bit. A good friend sent me a Leupold base and rings so a scope could be fitted. I had a Leupold 4x scope on-hand and it made a nice fit on the 6" barrel. The original grips were swapped for a pair of attractive Altamont Bateleur grips. These grips are eye-pleasing, also providing a comfortable, secure grip. Our good friends at Mag-na-port gave this 686 a quality trigger job and suddenly — we have a really nice .357 Mag for hunting.

This S&W 686 is a real pleasure to shoot. It’s very accurate with a variety of factory loads, including Hornady’s 158-gr. XTP. One of our ground blinds allows for only a 60-yard poke and I plan on taking the 686 to this spot when conditions are right. While I consider the .357 Mag. a tad on the light side for whitetail, the cartridge will work fine with proper shot placement. I’ll be careful and hold off on shooting until a broadside shot presents itself. With careful, well-executed shot placement, venison will be forthcoming.

For some unknown reason — a syndrome we all experience at times — I picked up a couple of S&W 657’s in .41 Mag. A Classic Hunter with 6.5" barrel was first to seemingly magically appear in my safe. Then shortly after, a 7.5" model became available and I succumbed — not sleeping well until it was home. Both of these models feature full under-lugs, unfluted cylinders and really good triggers.

I mounted a Trijicon RMR reflex sight on the 6.5" and this 2.5 MOA dot is ideal for hunting in the woods. I fitted a Leupold 4x scope on the 7.5" version thanks to Jack Weigand’s base and rings. So we have two .41 Mags with different optics capable of handling a variety of close-range encounters. Now here comes the dilemma — which one gets to hunt? Hey, this is all part of the fun.

Too Many Choices!

I figured a trip to the range to see just how they would perform would help me make a decision. The .357 Mag shot really well with Hornady’s 158-gr. XTP. With the gun now sighted-in at 50 yards, I felt confident this revolver would get to see some action. It’s often intriguing to see what changing grips, making slight modifications, and switching sighting options can do to enhance the performance of a handgun. I hadn’t shot this 686 much over the last few years but suddenly it was like I got a new toy.

Both S&W 657’s were too much fun to shoot. I couldn’t decide which one I liked best. Both guns received a diet of Remington factory 210-gr. loads, Vor-TX 180-gr. XPB, Federal 180-gr. Barnes Expander, HSM 210-gr. JHC and Buffalo Bore’s 180-gr. Barnes. Then I just had to shoot some of my friend Dick Thompson’s powder-coated cast bullets. Lots of good choices and any of them will deck a whitetail or hog with a thump.

Optics play an important role on any hunting handgun. Certain situations lend itself to the 4x scope. The RMR red dot is also a great option. If I enjoyed young eyes there’s no doubt iron sights would come into play. These aging peepers need some help so the reflex sight with the red dot is beneficial. Straight 2x or 4x scopes also work well for close-range chances. Now I just need to make a decision or two!

Are you ready for your next close encounter?

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