Handguns are for deer
By Larry S. Moore
I recently enjoyed an opportunity to film several segments for the ODNR Division of Wildlife “Wild Ohio” television show. The show appears on PBS stations across Ohio. The segments were filmed at the Spring Valley Wildlife Area Range in southern Greene County. Division of Wildlife District 5 Manager Todd Haines was the host for the segments. The topic was handgun hunting for deer in Ohio.
I was invited because Haines knew that I am an enthusiastic promoter of handgun hunting for deer. I switched to using a handgun during the deer gun week several years ago. I’ve been fortunate to take a couple of bucks, including one 10-point, and several doe with the handgun.
All except one deer went down with 1 shot. I’ve only shot twice at one deer. That occurred as the doe was slowly walking and I killed a nice 4” tree in the process of shooting at the deer! The gun of my choice is a Ruger Super Redhawk in .44 magnum with a 7.5 inch barrel and a red-dot scope.
The transition to handgun hunting was fairly easy since I also archery hunt my stand locations are set for getting closer shots on the deer. While the handgun will certainly have a longer range capability than a bow, my personal accuracy range is much less than what the handgun is capable of producing. Outdoor writers seem to hype the long range capability of all deer hunting firearms (inline muzzleloaders, handguns, rifled slug guns in the case of Ohio). My practical experience in the woods is that the range of the gun may far exceed the shooter’s capabilities or the distance that an ethical shot may be taken due to conditions in the field.
For the show we concentrated on the legal requirements for handgun hunting in Ohio. The handgun must be caliber .357 magnum or larger with at least a 5” barrel. The legal cartridges are straight-walled cartridges, caliber .357 magnum or larger. That provides a wide variety of calibers and handguns for use. [Click here to download the Ohio Div. of Wildlife's "Allowable Deer Handgun Cartridges" (.pdf)]
The show examined the various types of sights that might be used and some advantages or disadvantages of each. The open iron sights are the basic sights. I think most readers understand the disadvantages in low light conditions. My choice is the red-dot scope with varying degrees of light intensity. That is a real aid for my old eyes. However, I always put in fresh batteries at the start of deer season, have extra batteries in my back pack and yet another set back at my truck in the gun case. I’ve had the scope die on me in the field once. Regular scopes offer the advantage of better sighting and some help in low light conditions without the risk of the batteries dying at an inopportune moment.
Perhaps the most important point stressed about handgun hunting is the amount of practice needed to be proficient with the handgun. In this session we pointed out that it is not simply a matter of shooting at the range in good light and good weather. Hunting will involve low light conditions, in fact, I prefer overcast days. I don’t let a little rain or snow get in the way of my deer season either. It is important to practice with the clothes that will be worn while hunting. I’ve generated more than one strange look at the range in the fall with a heavy coat, hat and gloves. I prefer very thin gloves or the mittens that allow me to flip them open and expose my hand for gripping the gun and being able to feel the trigger. I always take some time to practice my off hand shooting and my weak hand shooting. The deer never quite seem to approach or stop right in front of me.
During the taping of the show we shot .357 magnum Ruger Blackhawk, the .44 magnum Ruger Super Redhawk, the S&W .460 and S&W .500 handguns. The .44 mag is perhaps the overall most popular for stopping power plus the many gun and cartridge combinations that are on the market. Sometimes the .41 magnum or the 45 Long Colt may be overlooked but are excellent choices for those folks who may be more sensitive to the larger caliber recoil. I do a lot of my practice sessions using .44 Special ammunition in my gun just to reduce the cost and the recoil.
I had the opportunity to fire the .460 and .500 handguns following the show. I have wanted a .460 since reading about them several years ago when the cartridge was introduced. In my mind, this is still the ultimate deer gun and cartridge combination. The ballistic data is far more impressive than the .44 mag but the recoil, in a long barreled version with a factory muzzle break, is quite manageable. The .500 S&W however is just too much gun for me to fire comfortably more than 3 or maybe 4 shots. After 4 shots, my wrists were tired and, quite frankly, somewhat hurting. While it is impressive and a massive, perhaps ultimate, handgun it was no fun for me. The .500 is simply a hand cannon!
Handgun hunting for deer is increasing in popularity. The 2007 season saw about 8% of the deer killed were taken with handguns. That is approximately 2000 deer. Handgun hunting offers the opportunity to carry less weight into the woods. A quality holster that encloses the handgun leaves both hands free and easier movement in the woods than with a long gun. I enjoy all the possible deer hunting seasons starting with archery, into deer gun week with my handgun, the primitive muzzleloading season and back into late archery season.
Deer gun week became more exciting for me once I switched to the challenge of taking my deer with a handgun.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Association and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award and 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year.
Ohio Division of Wildlife law book and regulations