David E. Petzal Reviews Five Handguns for Hunting

THE TEST: All guns were shot with a two-hand grip, over a rest, at 50 yards. I'm a fair handgunner and Joe is a true expert, but we agree that the maximum range for most big revolvers is 50 yards (the T/C's is double that). For revolvers, Joe recommends firing two strings of three shots. With iron sights, you're set if you can keep your shots in a 6-inch circle at 50 yards. With a scope, it should be 4 inches. The T/C Contender, with a long barrel and a scope, should put three shots in an inch at 100 yards.

RUGER MARK III HUNTER .22 ($567)

THE LOWDOWN The original Ruger .22 auto cost $37.50 when it was introduced in 1953 and held that price for years and years. It was a simple gun and it worked. The Mark III Hunter has the same guts as the original but comes in stainless steel with a heavy, fluted 6 7/8-inch barrel, adjustable sights and a scope-mount adapter, a 10-round magazine, and half-checkered cocobolo grips.

HITS Very accurate and ultrareliable, it retains the virtues of the original model--fine balance (even with the heavy barrel) and simplicity. The all-stainless-steel construction means minimum maintenance.

MISSES The triggers can be heavy and gritty; a gunsmith can fix them.

WHO SHOULD BUY Whether you intend to hunt small game or not, this is your gun. Even if you have a centerfire, you'll practice with your .22.

CONTACT 203-256-3860; ruger.com

RUGER SUPER RED-HAWK .480 RUGER ($900)

THE LOWDOWN The .480 Ruger cartridge is something of a work of genius; it provides substantially more power than the .44 magnum but is not a hand-cracker like the .454 Casull. And the Super Redhawk is the ideal revolver for it. Big, strong, and heavy (52 ounces with a 7½-inch barrel), it is an all-stainless-steel double action with a handsome pewter-gray finish. Adjustable sights and scope rings are included. It is a superlative hunting arm.

HITS It's rugged and unfussy, and not much maintenance is needed. Mine is very accurate.

MISSES The trigger could use the healing hand of a good gunsmith.

WHO SHOULD BUY Experienced shooters only, please: It is a handful, and you can't buy milder-kicking ammo as you can for the .44 magnum. It's an even better backup bear gun than the .44 but more of a load to carry around.

CONTACT 203-256-3860; ruger.com

FREEDOM ARMS MODEL 83 FIELD GRADE .44 MAGNUM ($1,575)

THE LOWDOWN Freedom Arms revolvers are among the finest firearms of any kind, built anywhere. They are single actions and are therefore very simple. The .44 magnum is our most versatile handgun round for big game. It can take almost any beast, with manageable recoil. Model 83 Field Grades differ from costlier FA models in that they have a flat finish as opposed to a high polish, and Pachmayr grips in place of traditional hardwood ones. These are semi-custom guns with an endless list of options, made with extreme precision.

HITS Very accurate, very durable. If yours starts to shoot loose, you're shooting too much.

MISSES Get real.

WHO SHOULD BUY Only serious hunters would want a .44 magnum that costs this much, but whether it's this .44 or another, the cartridge will do just about anything. Load it with .44 Specials to get used to it, and you can hunt anything from whitetails to elk. This is also an excellent backup gun in bear country.

CONTACT 307-883-2468; freedomarms.com

SMITH & WESSON MODEL 629 .44 MAGNUM ($916)

THE LOWDOWN If you don't like the idea of hunting with a single action, or the price is a bit stiff for you, here is the lineal descendant of Dirty Harry's Model 29, done in all stainless instead of blued steel, and with rubber grips instead of tropical hardwood. You can get a highly customized 629 from S&W's custom shop (for a lot more money) or you can get a copy of the original Model 29 for a reasonable price. For a hunting gun, however, the standard 629 is the best use of your money. There is an 8 3/8-inch barreled version available whose added weight and longer sighting radius make accurate shooting easier, but it's a pain to carry.

HITS It's a true classic in the most useful hunting caliber.

MISSES Based on the authors' personal experiences, it's probably not the most durable gun out there.

WHO SHOULD BUY See the comments for the Freedom Arms Model 83. Other factors: Some people simply like to shoot double-action revolvers. You may be one of them.

CONTACT 800-331-0852; smith-wesson.com

THOMPSON/CENTER G2 CONTENDER .375 JDJ ($570)

THE LOWDOWN Begun as a wildcat, the .375 JDJ cartridge is now loaded by Hornady. It is based on the .444 Marlin case, shoots a 220-grain flat-point Interlok bullet, and has taken everything from prairie dogs to elephants. The G2 Contender that is chambered for the round is the latest refinement of the original Contender, which has been around for 40 years. It's stainless steel, with a 15-inch barrel and rubber grips. Considering the gun's effective range, a scope is pretty much mandatory.

HITS It's extremely accurate. You can make 200-yard shots if you're good enough, and if you hand-load, you can hunt literally anything with it.

MISSES The rubber grips help, but the recoil is definitely not for the beginner.

WHO SHOULD BUY The serious big-game hunter, who is willing to put in the time and ammo to master a gun like this, will find its capabilities awesome.

CONTACT 603-330-5659; tcarms.com