While it’s never going to be the most popular sport in America there are more handgun hunters out there every year.
I’ve been a handgun hunter since I was sixteen and have discovered what so many hunters before me have: handgun hunting is one of the best games around.
I still go out every year with shotguns and rifles, but the handgun offers an increase in sport that makes me look forward to getting out in the field more than any other hunting opportunity. The added difficulty, heightened skill requirements and bragging rights that go along with handgun hunting draws me back again and again.
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To make things even more inviting, there are many special seasons these days that only allow hunting with handguns, shotguns or muzzleloaders during the weeks before general hunting season, when you’d normally be sitting around with little to do.
Yes, handgun hunting is great fun. It also requires a lot of practice, which experience has taught me should begin in the spring. It might not be the same for everyone out there, but my handgun skills tend to fall off more quickly than my rifle skills do.
After about twenty-five years of rifle shooting I can pick up one of my old smoke poles and get back in the swing of it after a few boxes of ammo. The handgun is not the same.
After a long winter with little handgun practice, I find many of my rounds wandering off where they don’t belong. This trouble is compounded by the fact that handguns do not generate nearly as much energy as rifles, so accuracy is essential.
If you want to avoid blood trailing wounded game, you must be accurate with your handgun.
To get back into shape with my chosen sidearm I usually set up a target roughly the size of a deer’s body. This is usually a piece of brown cardboard which is close to the real color of a deer and gives me an idea of how well my sights will contrast in the field.
The target has no bullseye because deer don’t have bullseyes.
Next—and this is key—I decide which way the deer is facing. Obviously I want to place my rounds in the area of the front shoulder, not the rear hams. I pick a direction and don’t kid myself when I pull shots.
I fire at my deer target from 30, 50 and 100 yards while keeping track of my hit-to-miss ratio in the heart/lung area of the target. I try to hustle a bit more at shorter ranges, but take my time at the 100 yard line.
The more I practice, the better I get, until I can make a few realistic decisions about how far I can ethically take a shot with the handgun I’m using.
Sometimes this practice extends into almost a thousand rounds, as it did recently with a Ruger Vaquero in 44 Rem Mag. that I just couldn’t get the hang of. Other times only a few hundred rounds are required for me to become comfortable.
Last year I took a Ruger Super Redhawk chambered in 480 Ruger into the field and that revolver required only about 300 rounds to get into the swing of things.
Handgun hunting is a fine sport, but it is important to remember that we have an ethical obligation to the game we hunt. Get out, get practiced and get good with your gun before going out in the field.