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"Most people wouldn't have taken that shot, let alone made it!"
Big Game hunting is always a series of challenges. Meeting and surpassing each challenge is a growth ring on the tree of hunting experience. It is the very nature of hunters to raise the bar of self-imposed limitations as they mature in skill and personal knowledge. Usually this is done in one of two ways, committing to taking only trophy quality animals or restricting the means or equipment with which you hunt. Hand gunning for big game is one such restriction that is gaining in popularity for seasoned hunters and even a few novices.
Many firearm manufacturers are recognizing this growing interest among hunters and adding handgun models to their product line which lend themselves more satisfactorily to hunting applications. Long range performance, manageable recoil, extensive caliber selections, more barrels length choices are only a few of the areas of attention gun makers focus on when designing a handgun specifically for hunting purposes. Fiber optic sights or scopes are the preferred sighting devices and many are even studded for attaching shoulder slings. The muzzleloader industry is also noticing a surged interest in short barreled, hand held, front-stuffers in larger, big game calibers.
For many, the word handguns immediately bring to mind cops and robbers or old west shootouts. Perhaps the hunting efficiency of handheld firearms has never been extensively publicized. RedHead ProHunting Team member, Larry Weishuhn from Uvalde, TX, has been enjoying the challenge of hunting with a handgun for many seasons. He has successfully taken most North American big game species in this manner. Although Larry has field tested and hunted with most makes and models of handguns, these are his preferred short arms. For deer, moose, elk, black bear, hogs and similar animals, Larry uses the Thompson Center Encore in a 30.06 caliber. His ammunition choice is 150 -165 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets. For grizzly and other really big bears, he packs a .450 Marlin in the T.C. Encore with 300-gr. Hornady ammo.
One of the best kept secrets among the hunting fraternity is the growing congregation of hawg-leg-packing purist who gather regularly to hunt, shoot, and compare ideas and experiences. The novice to this sport can quickly gain a wealth of first-hand knowledge and information by joining such a group on an actual hunt. White Oak Plantation in Tuskeegee, AL ( 334-727-9258) has been host to one of the handgun-only whitetail hunt for the past 13 years. Owner, Robert Pittman says this is his most popular hunt and the one, which always books first. "I'm always amazed at the accuracy of these guns in the hands of a skilled shooter", says Pittman. It is the challenge of getting closer to the animal and executing a perfect shot that this group strives for. It is very much like bowhunting but attainable for those whose physical limitations do not allow them to draw and hold a bow.
Surprisingly, one of the fastest growing segments of the hunting community to take up this method of pursuing big game is women. I believe there are a variety of reasons responsible for this movement. Basically, there are more women hunters than ever before in recent history. It only stands to reason that handguns would appeal to a portion of them. Perhaps another realistic reason for the appeal is the CONCEAL CARRY Law now in effect in many states. Women have flocked to attend the mandatory classes to obtain permits to carry handguns for protection. Thanks to the knowledge and instruction received during the training sessions, many have become more comfortable and confident handling firearms. Exposure to handguns in this manner has manifested itself in increased numbers of gun owners at target ranges and in hunting camps. A quick check of the subject matter of a few hunting website chatrooms revealed several discussions by women of handguns for hunting purposes. As a woman hunter, I feel the portability and mass weight plays into the equation. The difference between carrying a 4-pound pistol compared to an 8-pound long gun is appreciable at the end of a day.
After several sporadic bouts afield with hand-me-down, iron sighted revolvers, I hunted with a real made-for-the-purpose handgun during the 2001 deer season. Armed with a Thompson Center Contender with a 4X scope, chambered in a 7-30 Waters loaded with 120 GR. Boat-Tail Premium cartridge by Federal Ammunition, I took a quite respectable 10 point buck in Tennessee. Here are my tips and advice for others who are considering short gunning for big game.
Practice, surely this goes without saying, however my form of effectively practicing included shooting lots of .22 caliber cartridges. Thanks to interchangeable barrels I was able to get the same feel of the grip, trigger and basic balance with the lighter rimfire ammunition yet spared the additional recoil and noise level of the much larger hunting caliber centerfire cartridges. I worked on perfecting shot groups at close ranges of 15- 20 yards before tackling longer distances. I strongly recommend the use of shooting sticks or a solid rest for muzzle stability. A mono-pod by Stoney Point proved to be the perfect partner for the Contender to increase my accuracy at longer ranges. Since the gun I used was a single-shot model, a wrist band shell holder came in handy for easy accessibility of ammo for reloading. The unloaded handgun fit nicely into my daypack for transporting to and from the treestand, which left both hands free. A lazer rangefinder such as the compact, Bushnell Sport model confirmed the exact distance to targets.
Handgunning will not replace my affection for hunting big game with bow and arrow, muzzeloading or center-fire rifles but it does add variety and a distinct challenge to my hunting adventures.
For more information about handguns for hunting purposes visit the following websites or the gun counter of your nearest Bass Pro Shops' Outdoor World retail store.
Alaska and the Yukon
North Alabama, Mississippi p
and North Georgia
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