Home >> Handguns >> Setting Up a Pistol for Big Game Hunting – Part I

Setting Up a Pistol for Big Game Hunting – Part I

This is my first installment in what I’m planning to be a 3 or 4 part series on what is, and has been, my choice for big game pistol hunting. My primary target is the whitetail deer. I’m going to start off with why I like to use a hand gun, what you may want to consider if you’re interested in hunting with a pistol and finally the gun itself, which in my case was pretty easy as I already had a perfect handgun for the job…a Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 mag. I’m then going to discuss some good factory ammo, and what I’ve used and what I will be using for handloads. Finally, live-fire and sight in. So before diving into my setup, let’s first explore my reasoning for going down the pistol hunting route.

Why Use a Pistol for Hunting?

I’ve been hunting deer since I was a 15 year old kid in Pennsylvania. The first gun that was put into my hands for the purpose of bagging a deer was a Marlin 1894 lever action 30-30 from the 1940’s. A beautiful piece, by the way, with a peep site that my grandfather had given to my father. For the next several years, I had used that rifle and other center fire and muzzle loading long guns to hunt on my family farm. I was fortunate and pretty much always walked away with a buck, doe or both. Now that’s mostly because the land had a good deer population, but it didn’t hurt that I’m a pretty good shot with a rifle. For the most part, and this goes for much of the east coast woods ,you’re lucky to get a 100 yard shot. I think my best was at about 125 yards, give or take, and that’s because a field was involved. So I was

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having a good gun season pretty much every year, how do I make it more challenging? Ah, by adding a pistol to the equation! Enter my Ruger Super Redhawk.

The challenge was the main catalyst for me, not to mention that I’ve always loved shooting pistol. I’ve found it to be the same with many others that have turned to pistol; they want a change and like the challenge. It’s pretty plain that longer range pistol shooting presents more challenge than the long gun.

What to Look for in a Hunting Pistol

I already had a pistol that could fit the bill for a solid 100 yard game gun, all I needed to do is figure out how I wanted it set up. For anyone else considering pistol hunting, you can really go with whatever you like, provided that you’re following the appropriate laws and regulations for your state. Let’s start by dividing your choices into two categories: 1) revolvers and, 2) single shot pistols. No, I’m not going to cover the more obscure bolt actions or the many fine semi-autos out there. We’ll stick with the more common choices.

Revolvers

For the most part you’ll find the more common hunting revolver calibers to be either 44 or 357 mag. 44 bullet weights typically range from 185 grains to 300 grains with muzzle velocities ranging from 1000fps, to say 1800 fps out of a revolver. For the 357, your bullets mostly range from 110 grains to 180 grains with velocities generally in the 1300 – 2000 fps range. You’ve got plenty of energy to put down a dear with either round at 100 yards and beyond.

Beyond the 44 and 357, you’ve certainly got other choices… most more expensive, and some just plain hand-cannons. Again the choice is yours, but I tend to not “use a cannon to kill a mosquito”. In other words, consider your target. As I mentioned earlier, I’m primarily targeting deer. As for those other choices, some of the more common options are the 45 Long Colt, the 454 casull, the 460 Smith & Wesson mag and the 500 Smith & Wesson mag, to name a few.

Revolvers come with several different barrel lengths and most commonly increase in 2 inch increments from 2 – 10 inches. If you’re making a choice for your hunting revolver, it’s most important to go with what fits you best and what best fits your intended use. That being said, I would recommend something from 6 to 10 inches. That range will provide you with more stability and bullet speed.

Other features are up to you and almost anything can be modified by you or a gunsmith. One thing you’re going to want to consider is whether or no you’re going to want optics on the gun. This isn’t trivial as some revolvers have top mounts for optics and some don’t. It’s not a deal breaker though since there are other site mount options available such as getting the gun tapped for screwing on a mount. It’s just going to run up your costs. Another potential consideration, depending on what you’re looking at, is porting. Porting, generically, is drilling or cutting the top of the barrel towards the muzzle. This forces the gasses from the powder up and out of the ports, reducing muzzle flip (or lift) and reducing felt recoil. There are a few revolvers out there that come ported out of the box. The porting and barrel length are also important if you intend to have your revolver at the range often. As for the porting, an hour long range session with magnum loads is more pleasant with the reduced recoil it provides. Barrel length is also important as longer barrels add more weight to the gun over all, and usually cause the gun to be front-heavy. A six inch barrel is usually the preferred choice for six-gun target shooters as it provides better balance. From experience, my Redhawk with it’s 9 3/8 inch barrel is a bear to keep steady off hand. The trade-off will generally be larger shot groups at distance with the shorter barrel.

 

Single Shot Pistols

By no means am I an expert on single shot pistols. Full disclosure….I don’t even own one. I have had a few sessions behind a Thompson Center Contender in 30-30 Winchester and have enjoyed shooting that from a bench. If I were going to buy a single shot pistol, the Thompson would be my choice given it’s reputation and given the chambering options ranging from some of the magnum pistol calibers we had discussed above, to rifle calibers like the 30-30 and the 45-70 government. They are accurate and you can “reach out” and touch a deer with the current barrel length offerings of 12 or 14 inches. So, with that, I pause. A single shot pistol, with a 12 or 14 inch barrel….that’s fine on the bench, and great if you have something for support when scoping that prize buck, but that’s where it ends for me. If I had one, I’d get my hunting load figured out, sight it in, and grab it when I’m ready for my hunt. The next time the gun would see the range would be if I was changing loads, or for a session before the next season to make sure my optics are still on. It’s all good, if that’s all

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My Gun – The Ruger Super Redhawk

So, a little disclaimer here…I’m just getting back into hunting after a several year hiatus. Now that I’m back into everything, I can’t believe I ever walked away: Moral – don’t let life get in the way of the things you love! Also, I’m no longer in Pensylvania. Now, North Carolina is where I call home, so I have a few things to learn and brush up on. Which is making this story all the more fun.

I have a stainless steel Ruger Super Redhawk with a 9 3/8 inch barrel in 44 mag that was bought new in the early 90’s. Today, the Super Redhawk is available in 44 mag with a 7 1/2 or a 9 1/2 inch barrel or in 454 casull with a 7 1/2 inch barrel. A few of the pro’s for this model are:

  1. price – at about $750 for the 9 1/2 inch new, it’s not cheap, but good for what you get.
  2. quality – this gun has a very heavy frame to help meet the demands of higher pressure magnum loads and is near bullet proof. (I’ve never had a single issue with it).
  3. Optics – it comes with built-in mounts and free scope rings.
Now here are a few of the cons….it’s not incredibly accurate. By that I mean out of the box and after trying a few different loads I remember pulling about 8 inch 6 shot groups at 100 yards from a rest. That’s from memory, but we’ll get back to this in a bit. It also has a pretty stiff trigger pull out of the box. I can’t quote the weight, but I remember it being heavy in single action and unbearable in double action. It’s also a heavy gun at 58 ounces. So after deciding I wanted to invest in a hunting pistol, I started by going to a gunsmith to see if I could improve the results of my Ruger to meet my standards, or to see if I would have to start looking at another gun.

I was fortunate to have a world class pistol smith about 20 minutes from my house, Jack Weigand in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. Jack assured me he could make the gun more accurate and more pleasant to shoot. Now, if memory serves me right, after about 3 months back in 1995, and about $400 bucks, I ended up with the following:

Ported Barrel

  • barrel porting
  • a honed and polished trigger
  • a lightened trigger and polished internals
  • bead blasted exterior for reduced glare

To that, I had mounted a Bushnell 2 – 7x by 32 millimeter scope with the rings that came with the Ruger and, more recently, a hogue tamer grip. It was the first gun that I had ever had customized. Since then, I have done a trigger job on my Ruger SP101, 9MM revolver, but I’ll save that for another story.

This gun has served me very well as a hunting gun. I have harvested a few deer with the pistol before taking some time off for hunting. The .44 mag is a great cartridge for hunting. The modifications above have made a world of difference in the in the feel and handling of the Super Redhawk.

Honed Trigger

The Hogue Tamer grip is infinitely better than the factory grip on the older Super Redhawks, which was composed of a harder rubber with wooden inserts. This is a must at about $25 fo taking a big bite out of heavy loads.The barrel porting really helps with recoil as well, and it helps with follow-up shots. For hunting, I would say this is not a must-have. You usually don’t get a chance at a second shot, so make your first one count. Honing and polishing the trigger is definitely something to consider. It is very comfortable and really helps with smooth trigger pull. The bead blasted matte finish is a nice touch, and I imagine it will help prevent sun glare from giving me away in my stand. Last, but on least the “trigger job”. Of all of the customizations, this one has the most significant impact. The lightened trigger makes it much easier to keep your pull smooth. Should you do this you’ll usually have a few options in the weight of the trigger spring and hammer spring. You’ll have to figure out what you like best. The other part to the “trigger job” is the polished internals. What a smith will do is polish the pieces of the trigger assembly and hammer that come in contact with other metal. It’s amazing the difference that this makes! It’s as smooth as glass in both single and double action.

So, on to the optics. There are tons of options here. I opted for a standard scope setup as I like the ability to “dial in the power” for

Hogue Tamer

those 75 yard plus shots. For some, this is the better and traditional choice. For others, a red dot or a reflex may be preferred given that, for most, these sights provide quicker target acquisition. That’s completely up to your preference.

The current version of my Bushnell pistol scope is the Elite 2-6 x 32, which can be had for about $265. I have not had a single problem with the scope since I purchased it in the 1990’s and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Bushnell Elite to anyone.

That sums up my hunting wheel gun. There are many options to consider and tons of online resources for research and for purchasing upgrades for you hunting pistol. Hopefully, I’ve provided you with a few things to consider if your thinking about upping the challenge on your big game hunts. In the next part of this series, I’ll be discussing hunting loads for the 44 magnum and I will talk about factory loads, hand loads I’ve used in the past, and the new load I’ll be using for the foreseeable future.

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