By Brad Fitzpatrick

Using a pistol or revolver to take game can be exciting and challenging, but you need to understand your limitations.

Most shooters associate handguns with concealment and personal defense, but handguns are functional hunting tools that can, in the hands of an experienced shooter, bring down big game out to 100 yards or more. Handgun hunting is a special challenge, but it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to spend time in the field. There are many other advantages to hunting with handguns outside of just the challenge: 

  • Handgun hunting allows you to get up close and personal
  • Despite their limited range, handguns are also compact enough that you can carry them in a shoulder or hip holster, freeing up your hands to navigate through rough terrain.
  • In dense cover they are also more maneuverable than a long gun.

But before you purchase a handgun for hunting, remember these key points:


Range is limited: You should always know your limitations with your hunting firearm, and by and large most handgun hunters need to limit their range to just 50 or perhaps 100 yards at the beginning. Can modern handguns shoot farther? You better believe it; Paul Pluff from Smith & Wesson took an elk-sized kudu bull at 193 yards in Africa, so with a lot of practice handguns are capable of long-range shooting. For most people, though, your range with a handgun will be pretty short.

Proper practice is key: It takes longer to become proficient with a handgun than a rifle, so you’ll need to dedicate lots of range time and ammunition. When you shoot the gun, be sure to have a firm grip on the gun but don’t squeeze the grip hard. That will cause the muzzle to move in response and will reduce accuracy. Having a set of sand bags is the best way, but be sure to use some type of rest.


Caliber and firearm selection: The majority of hunting handguns are revolvers, and there are some great hunting revolvers on the market, like Smith & Wesson’s N and X Frames. But don’t think that revolvers are the only option—the powerful 10mm auto handgun is a great option for semiauto pistols, and recently I used Thompson/Center’s single shot Contender pistol to take a whitetail buck in Texas. There are a number of different calibers available, but the most effective and popular big game hunting calibers are at least .40 inches in diameter for handguns. This includes the .41 Remington Magnum, the .44 Remington Magnum, .45 Colt, and the really powerful magnums like the .454 Casull, .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum, .500 Smith & Wesson and more.

Safety is key: As always, you need to be safe when hunting or practicing. This means wearing hearing and eye protection, keeping your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, knowing what’s beyond your target and keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. With handguns, it’s also a good idea to invest in shooting gloves; these protect the hands and make gripping the firearm easier. Be sure to keep your hands clear of the slide on a semi-auto or away from the sides of the cylinder when using a revolver.