Thursday, November 27, 2008

Handgunning For Deer Offers Many Challenges

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The mood crept up on me like a thief in the night. All of a sudden, there it was. A new and different way to hunt deer.

Handgunning for whitetails isn’t all that different except you must be, within reason, close enough to kill the animal with a bullet large enough to effectively do the job.

At the time I had two handguns that would do the job. One was a Thompson/Center Contender with two different barrels that offered a choice. One barrel was a .30-30 and the other was a .44 Magnum.

I also had a .44 Magnum revolver, and I was a pretty good shot with it. I thought about putting a scope on it, and decided I’d rather use iron sights and keep my shots within 50 yards.

The T/C Contender was a single-shot pistol. The hammer had to be cocked, and it’s true I could have used a scope on it but doing so didn’t make me feel good. I had time to practice shooting at 50 yards but chose not to try a scope on either handgun.

A .44 Magnum is a powerful handgun, and with a 240-grain hollow-point bullet, it would do the job. The recoil when shooting this revolver is substantial but I’d had it ported by Mag-na-Port, and that tamed it down considerably.

I could shoot a dozen rounds a day, and eventually got to where I could put five rounds into a two-inch circle with iron sights. It was plenty good enough if I had time to cock the hammer, aim and squeeze off a controlled shot.

The .30-30 was a different story. Shooting it was a far sight different than shooting the .44 Mag. The revolver had been ported, which helped reduce felt recoil and eliminate some of the muzzle jump.

The .30-30 was a different story. The recoil from this rifle cartridge came back more into the palm of my hand rather than back and up, and 10 shots of practice each day was all I wanted to handle.

I found myself much more accurate with the .30-30 at 50 yards although the felt recoil seemed much more punishing. It was taking some getting used to.

The practice continued through the summer, and the more I shot, the better I became. My eyes were good back in those days, and if I could spot a buck at 50 yards, I knew that killing the animal would be easy.

Shooting the T/C Contender for three months enabled me to condition myself to the felt recoil, which still seemed to be much more than with the .44 Magnum. Nov. 15 should be a snap if everything went as planned.

Opening day came that year with some snow on the ground and partly cloudy skies. My stand was well positioned 40 yards downwind of where three active deer trails came through a tag alder swale, spread out, and gradually came back together to neck down into a funnel between two heavy patches of cover.

There was a coin flip, and I chose the T/C Contender with the .30-30 barrel. I had two extra cartridges in my pocket, but a single-shot handgun doesn’t offer fast reloading. One shot means taking enough time to get the right shot.

I’d been setting on stand for two hours. It wasn’t a cold day, and dozens of does had trickled past but I wanted a buck with the handgun. It didn’t have to be a wall-hanger because the area I was hunting didn’t produce many big deer.

Soon a young buck could be seen easing through the cover. He came down one of the deer trails, and it gradually merged with the other two at 40 yards. It stopped where all three deer trails came together, turned broadside and looked back over his off-side shoulder.

Satisfied, he turned and took one step. The sight picture looked perfect, and I took up the last ounce or two of trigger pressure with the sights behind his front shoulder and shot.

The shot seemed excessively loud that morning but my eyes continued to track the animal. I could see the red stain behind his front shoulder, and after 50 yards he crashed to the ground.

Later, I shot another buck with the .44 magnum, and also shot a wild boar with the T/C and the .30-30 barrel, and a javelina with a 9 mm. It’s not that I don’t enjoy hunting with a handgun, but now I basically just shoot paper holes to maintain some form of consistent practice.

Can handgun hunting be a challenge for you? Of course it can, and I know a number of people who hunt all the time with a handgun. Who knows, I may go back to it again.

But, for now, I’m still locked into hunting with a bow and a muzzleloader. And, although handguns are fully capable of killing game far beyond my 50-yard range, long-range handgun shooting is not for me.

It may be your cup of tea, and if so I know you enjoy it, but after a lifetime of bow hunting, it gives me a bigger kick to have game within 20 yards when a shot is taken. Up close and personal is what bow hunting means to me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/27 at 07:19 PM
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