Bucks From the Hip: 4 Great Handguns for Deer Hunting

Photos by Adam Voorhes In the sport of hunting deer with handguns dwells the spirit of the cowboy who lived … Continued

Photos by Adam Voorhes

In the sport of hunting deer with handguns dwells the spirit of the cowboy who lived by his six-shooter. Today’s handgun options include long-barreled quasi-rifles chambered for ­super-magnum rounds. We know, though, that true handgun hunting means revolvers and semiauto pistols, optical sights optional: The challenge is getting close enough (about bow range) and finding the proper rest for a solid hit. Special handgun seasons can add days afield, but hunting with a pistol is a thrill anytime—particularly with any of these four excellent models.

Chiappa Firearms Revolver Rhino 60DS

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$1,099; chiappafirearms.com
SPECS .357** magnum single/double-action, six-shot revolver • 33.1 oz. • 6″ barrel • Adjustable fiber-optic sights • 71⁄8″ sight radius
****THE LOWDOWN** With its barrel at the bottom of the cylinder, this innovative Italian gun directs recoil straight back, reducing muzzle jump. Buffalo Bore Heavy .357 Mag 180-grain lead flat-noses averaged 1436 fps and produced adequate hunting accuracy, with some groups out to 9 inches. The trigger pull ranged from 6 to 10 pounds.
****HITS**** A very tame magnum, with a slick double action.
****MISSES
**Single-action cocking and trigger proved somewhat erratic, about like trying to shoot a gun in a bad dream.
****WHO SHOULD BUY**** Anyone who wants a mild-shooting .357 that looks as if it came out of Blade Runner.

****Nighthawk Custom Heinie Long Slide Auto****

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$3,595; nighthawkcustom.com
SPECS 10mm single-action semiauto (eight-shot magazine) • 43.1 oz. • 6″ barrel • Adjustable Trijicon tritium rear sight and front dot • 63⁄4″ sight radius
****THE LOWDOWN
The Long Slide 10mm Auto gets the most out of Jeff Cooper’s rival to the .41 mag, producing 1350-fps average velocity with 180-grain Federal Premium Trophy Bonded loads. It comes with sticker shock, but it’s a superb piece of craftsmanship, with a skeleton hammer and trigger, fine checkering, and a satin-smooth 4-pound trigger.
****HITS
Most accurate pistol tested; best group was 4 inches.
****MISSES**** Very expensive. Some minor feeding problems with soft-nosed hunting ammunition.
****WHO SHOULD BUY
**The deer hunter who wants custom quality on his hip—and can pay for it.

****Ruger Super Redhawk****

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$1,079; ruger.com
SPECS**** .480 Ruger single/double-action, six-shot revolver • 53.4 oz. • 71⁄2″ barrel • Adjustable white-outline Patridge rear sight with orange front ramp • 91⁄8″ sight radius
****THE LOWDOWN
Discontinued in the late 2000s, the Super Redhawk in Ruger’s own .480 caliber is now back, in satin-stainless-steel style with a top strap machined to accept included Ruger rings. The .480 recoils just above the .44 mag. Shooting 370-grain Buffalo Bore Heavy bullets, it averaged 1259 fps—without mega-magnum torque. With a crisp 6-pound trigger, it produced 6- to 8-inch groups.
****HITS******** Bigger than .44s and .45s with manageable recoil.
****MISSES
Actions not as finely tuned as the Smith & Wesson.
****WHO SHOULD BUY
**The deer hunter wanting rugged Ruger strength, who might also have bigger game in mind.

****Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 629 .44 Magnum Hunter****

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$1,369; smith-wesson.com
SPECS .44 magnum single/double-action, six-shot revolver • 54.6 oz. • 71⁄2″ barrel • Adjustable Patridge rear sight with orange front ramp and included red/green-dot reflex sight • 101⁄4″ sight radius
****THE LOWDOWN
Synonymous with deer hunting (and in time Dirty Harry), this classic continues to evolve, as seen in this stainless-steel model. Hornady Custom 240-grain XTP rounds averaged 1527 fps, and recoil with a compensator was substantial yet tolerable. Very clean 4-pound trigger pull, with accuracy on par with the Ruger.
****HITS**** Clean, tuned double action, and excellent single action.
****MISSES
The black-and-chrome finish isn’t for everyone.
****WHO SHOULD BUY
**A hunter who wants a handgun with a long tradition and proven reliability on deer.

****The Test****

Fellow shooter Leroy Van Buggenum and I shot each gun at a 33-yard target on a cool, overcast day at 5,000 feet of elevation in northern Wyoming. To test velocity, we shot five bullets from each gun through a Chrony Alpha chronograph and averaged their speeds. For accuracy, we fired five-shot groups, using iron sights and a rest (plus a bunch of other rounds just to goof about). We weighed each gun, unloaded, on an electronic scale, measured length with a steel tape, and checked trigger pulls with a Lyman digital gauge. ** **

Photographs by Adam Voorhes. Prop styling by Robin Finlay.