Hunting with a Handgun

By Travis Pike
Posted in #Hunting
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Hunting with a Handgun

May 9th, 2019

2:59 runtime

Hunting is a proud American tradition that millions partake in every year with rifles, bows, shotguns, muzzleloaders, and handguns. Yep, handguns too. Handgun hunting and stalking, in general, has grown in popularity across the country with more states opening up their general gun season to handgun hunters. What’s the deal with handgun hunting?

Why a Handgun?

I would say it’s for the thrill of it. Hunting with a handgun and stalking your prey is a real challenge. It’s visceral and thrilling. The first time I went handgun hunting I was teenager armed with a heavy .44 Magnum revolver. We stumbled across some hogs in a clearing and settled in the tree line.

We sat in silence waiting to see if they would move in a little closer to us. Unfortunately, they never did and it was a bust for the day. However, that thrill has never left me.

The challenge is another reason. You are using a weapon with a shorter effective range that’s just plain difficult to shoot well. You have to be closer to your chosen game which is a challenge unto itself. Then you need to hit your animal with an effective, life-ending shot. It’s a thrilling endeavor.

What Kind of Handgun?

It depends on what you are hunting. Squirrel and deer are two very different animals and require different calibers. However, we’ll focus today on medium-game animals like deer and hogs. These are the most common animals hunted in the United States.

For these animals, you want a powerful and capable handgun, typically something different from a standard EDC caliber. Most of these guns are revolvers in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum, and up. One of the few cartridges designed for automatics that is an excellent handgun hunter is the 10mm.

The round needs to have some punch to it and be a flat shooting cartridge with excellent performance beyond 50 yards. The gun should be manageable and easy to handle in the field.

The ability to mount an optic, be it a long eye relief scope or a red dot, is also nice but not a necessity. Good iron sights, preferable adjustable and easy to see sights are great to have to.

Obviously, reliability is a must. If the handgun goes click when it should go bang, you may have just played yourself.

Ammo Considerations

We already mentioned calibers and we know our choice, the 10mm, needs to have some punch. The cartridge you choose matters as well. You want a round that deeply penetrates and as a projectile and it needs to be able to expand as well.

It should be able to cause sufficient damage to the animal that it stops in its tracks and dies very quickly. It should be noted that there are rounds specifically designed for hunting and they differ from self-defense ammo in many ways.

A few of my favorites are the Underwood Xtreme Hunter loads, Hornady’s XTP hunting loads, as well as Federal’s Trophy Bonded JSP 10mm loads. Any of these will fair well against medium-game animals.


A holster is certainly a wise choice for any hunter. This allows you the same freedom a sling gives when using a long gun. You can carry your handgun and have both hands free. This may be important for climbing and navigating as you stalk an animal, or for carrying the animal out.

Any standard high-quality holster will work, but chest holsters are a very popular choice. When hiking through the brush a standard waist holster adds an inch or two to your bulk and might catch on any low bushes or debris.

Hunting handguns are typically very heavy and a chest rig distributes the weight better and doesn’t stress your belt, or set you off balance as you move. Plus a chest rig is quick and quiet to draw from without a ton of extra movement.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Shooting a pistol is a lot harder than shooting a rifle or shotgun. You need lots of practice. Tons of it. You need to be an ethical hunter and be capable of putting down your prey quickly and humanely. I despise the idea of an animal suffering because I suck at shooting.

Get out there and practice, practice, practice. Practice with your hunting ammo as well so that you know how it flies and where it will land.

Inherent Danger

Always remember that wild animals are dangerous and especially so when you are on the ground with them carrying a handgun. You best be well equipped with a good gun, good ammo, and the skills to use it all together. I like my TRP 10mm with a six-inch barrel with Hornady 180 Grain XTP rounds. [Editor’s Note: Check out Scott Conditt’s review of the Springfield TRP.]

What’s your chosen loadout?

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

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Travis Pike

Travis Pike

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms based hobbies.

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