Is hunting with a single action sixgun really different than with a rifle? I quote from an article I did for the November 2004 issue of Guns Magazine: “It was one of those afternoons that can only occur in the late fall days known as Indian summer and especially only in the mountains of Southern Idaho. The type of day that one feels so lucky to be alive. Crisp cool mornings with a touch of frost, the welcoming of the sun as it rises to remove the chill in the air, and the arrival of a day that allows one to hunt in comfort wearing nothing more than regular clothes, long sleeve shirt, jeans, Stetson, and loggers, all topped off with a down vest. I'm sure others will try to tell me that such beautiful days are also found in their part of the country, and I will accept that, but I will never believe that anything, anywhere, could be better than this.
Even the down vest proved to be more than I needed as I worked my way from the creek bottom to the top of the canyon. It was time to rest and cool down. An old log, the folded up vest for a pillow, and I had a perfect resting place that no amount of money could purchase. As I lay there very close to a short nap while contemplating the joys of life, I looked across the canyon and there he was. I didn't need binoculars to see this was not just a mule deer, but a very large buck, and the sunlight glistening off his antlers caused my heart to skip a beat or two. He was a long ways off from me, and if I were careful I could slowly roll off the log, move behind it, use my down vest as a rest for the long-range scope sighted rifle that the situation demanded, and with one well placed shot I would have winter meat and a nice trophy as a bonus; all very simple except for one thing. I didn't have a rifle.
Yes, I was hunting, and yes I did have a gun, but it was the wrong gun for this situation. Years before I had replaced my scope sighted .30-06 Remington 700 with a sixgun, an iron-sighted Ruger 10” Flat-Top Blackhawk .44 Magnum sixgun, which now rode very comfortably and securely in its Goerg shoulder holster. I did not get excited when I saw the buck. I did not reach for my .44 Magnum, even though it was certainly capable of downing any mule deer. I did not try to move behind the log. I simply savored the moment like a good steak enjoying every morsel of it. I knew the muley was at least six times farther away than I would feel comfortable shooting with an iron-sighted sixgun even with a solid rest. I knew he was too far away for me to get to him by dark even if he did allow it. I did not feel cheated. I did not feel handicapped. The choice was mine and once I decided to be a handgun hunter, my attitude had to change. There would be no long shots. There would be no regrets. There would be an honest appraisal of my ability to not simply hit game, but to precisely place my bullet. There would be a lot of days such as this in which I was simply a spectator. It is part of the real picture for a handgun hunter.”
The above quote captures the essence of what it means to be a handgun hunter. Once the choice is made to leave the rifle at home, our attitude must continue to change; and the right attitude demands we are honest in what we can accomplish with a handgun. There are very few natural anythings in this world. Those that look the most natural are probably those that practice the most, and I've never heard of a musician or athlete arriving at a time when they no longer felt practice was necessary. I must admit I am somewhat bothered by the rifle hunters who never shoot during the year except to go out and sight in just prior to going hunting. Perhaps, rifle shooters can get away with this; handgun hunters cannot.
To become a good shot with a sixgun, and one does not have to be an exceptionable shot to be a handgun hunter, requires practice which in turn is required to maintain the acquired skills. It is one thing to be able to connect on an inanimate target at a known distance from a solid target shooting position with a single action sixgun. It is quite another to be able to the same thing on a live animal at an unknown distance when one is slightly out of breath and the adrenaline is pumping. An honest assessment of my ability tells me what I could do at 200 meters with everything perfect such as in a long range silhouette match would shrink to 50 yards in the not so perfect game fields.
One of the best ways to assess, really honestly assess one's abilities to connect is to practice using paper plates, or even better, proper sized Shoot-N-See targets. A simple paper plate is about the size of the kill zone on most big game animals. There are no shooting benches found in the foothills, forests, or mountains where most of us hunt; there are bushes, tree limbs, rocks, and backpacks that can be used as a rest. Sometimes even these are not available so it is necessary to also practice shooting two-handed standing on our own two legs. Practice with the makeshift rests and shooting offhand will give us a clear picture of our ability to place a bullet if we are not excited, if we are not out of breath, if our hands are not cold, if our glasses are not fogged up, and if we don't suffer from buck fever. There is no magic in the game fields. If the paper plate cannot be hit consistently, we will not somehow become magically proficient when game appears. I will pass up a shot rather than shoot when I am out of breath, and I am very fortunate in that my excitement ends once I see the intended animal target; buck fever does not exist for me.
If one plans to use iron sights, one should determine the distance at which, with 99%+ reliability, shots can be placed on that paper plate; if the scope sighted handgun is used, the same thing must be known. For myself I have determined that 50 to 75 yards is my absolute maximum distance for an iron-sighted sixgun, however I prefer 50 yards or even less, 25 yards is ideal; perhaps 50 yards farther with a scoped sixgun if all conditions are perfect.
Every state game commission sets hunting regulations independent of all other states. Some states, such as my home state of Idaho, allow any centerfire handgun for big game while others regulate both the muzzle energy and barrel length of handguns that may be used. It is therefore necessary to check with each separate game commission for any state that one plans to hunt with a single action sixgun. For most of us, deer are the number one handgun hunting quarry, but again it is necessary to check state regulations. Many states also have large populations of feral hogs, which can often be hunted at any time of the year. A check of the regulations is required here also. Hunting big mean hogs with an iron-sighted sixgun is about as exciting as it gets. I’ve been “charged” several times and the sixgun, rather a well-placed heavy hard cast slug from the sixgun, stopped them. I use charged in quotes as I’m not sure the boar was charging me or just trying to run away and came in my direction.
Any single action sixgun, no matter what the caliber or chambering, is suitable for handgun hunting if it is accurate, has good sights, and possesses a decent trigger. It is simply a matter of matching the game to the gun. Sixguns chambered in .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum, .32 Magnum, .32-20, and .38 Special are normally reserved for small game and varmints; a .357 Magnum also fits in here as well as being adequate for small deer; the .38-40, .44-40, .44 Special, and .41 Magnum, all property loaded will also do for close range shooting of deer and deer-sized game. For truly big game, we start at the .44 Magnum and go up through the Heavy .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, and .500 Linebaugh. The .44 Magnum was the first factory produced big bore handgun round for big game hunting and it is still the cartridge by which all others are judged. I have used every cartridge mentioned, however my most reached for hunting handgun continues to be a 7 ½” Freedom Arms Model 83 .44 Magnum with a 2X Leupold scope. There are those who say scopes do not belong on handguns. I agree, in a perfect world. However, this world is far from perfect, and a scope sight helps us to all the more to precisely place our bullet resulting in a quick and humane kill, which is what every hunter should strive for.
One great advantage of a single action sixgun over a rifle is the fact it is so much easier to carry a sixgun in a proper holster than an eight-pound rifle on a sling. Thad Rybka learned long ago that crossdraw holsters were very suitable for hunting use. Most of his designs are offered in crossdraw persuasion with a favorite of hunters and woodsbummers alike being the Tomahawk. Originally designed for a Mag-Na-Port Custom Predator .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk with a 4 5/8” barrel, I use Tomahawks for the Ruger as well as a short-barreled Freedom Arms .454. The 2/3 flap holds the sixgun safely and securely while at the same time allowing easy accessibility.
Von Ringler offers a modified Threepersons design known as The Linebaugh to carry the big custom sixguns of John Linebaugh as well as such others as those offered by Freedom Arms. This is a very sturdy holster, lined, with a safety strap, and the main seam, unlike the Threepersons design features a curve as it travels downward from the trigger guard to the end of the mainframe and then into the barrel profile. Ringler also offers an excellent Pancake design for the big single action sixguns as well as compact cartridge slides. All these from Ringler are designed with a handgun hunter in mind.
When the weather is really crummy and/or the going is tough I reach for a nylon shoulder holster from Idaho Leather. This is a true shoulder holster in that it rides under the armpit, and unlike other nylon holsters this one is lined with suede leather. It accepts a 6” Freedom Arms sixgun and this is the rig and revolver I used when making my way up a mountain in waist deep snow to get my mountain lion. Idaho Leather also offers an excellent leather spring clip shoulder holster, the Model 44, covering everything but the grip frame. Made of the best leather obtainable, this rig helps distribute the weight by the use of a cartridge holder on the off side strap. This wide flat piece of leather holds two vertical rows of 12 cartridge loops each.
Three of my favorite hunting handguns are all scoped 7 ½” Freedom Arms Model 83s in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .454 Casull. Which caliber I choose depends on what I'm after. In either case I grab the shoulder holster that Freedom Arms offers for their scoped revolvers. Perhaps it is not correct to call this a shoulder holster as it really rides across the front of the body. Whether walking, standing, sitting, or riding, this holster works! I wear it so my pants belt enters the loop on the back of the holster taking much of the weight off the shoulder straps. This works out very comfortably and perfectly secure.
When I first started hunting with handgun, the only suitable single action sixgun choices were the Ruger .357 and .44 Magnum Flat-Top Blackhawks. The 10” .44 Flat-Top mentioned at the beginning of this chapter was carried in an Al Goerg holster. Goerg was a true handgun hunting pioneer and offered an excellent lightweight shoulder holster for sixguns. After the Flat-Tops came the .44 Magnum Super Blackhawk, and the Colt New Frontiers in .44 Special and .45 Colt, all followed by the first real heavy duty .45 Colt sixgun, the Ruger Blackhawk in 1971. In 1983 Freedom Arms began offering the .454 Casull and now also chambers the same Model 83 in .44 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .475 Linebaugh, and .50 Action Express.
The 1980s also saw Ruger’s Bisley Model arrive chambered in .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt. Ruger further improved the Super Blackhawk in the 1990s with the Hunter Models and this excellent heavy-barreled, scope-ready 7 1/2” single action sixgun handgun hunting choice is now also offered as a Bisley Model and even a .22 Single-Six version. Magnum Research’s BFR is a proven accurate shooting and dependable single action sixgun available in .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, .500 S&W Magnum, and even .45-70 and Marlin’s .444 and .450. What all this means is today’s single action sixgunner has a veritable supermarket of single action sixguns to choose from for hunting. Whatever the choice heed carefully the words of Robert Ruark, which was “Use Enough Gun!”
Before all of these mentioned sixguns arrived on the scene there was the .44 Special. Until the .44 Magnum appeared in 1956, the handloaded Heavy .44 Special was the only game in town. My first .44 Special, an S&W 1950 Target was given to me by my wife on the occasion of our first Christmas together in 1959. In just a few short years Colt would introduce the single action .44 Special New Frontier with adjustable sights in 1962, and very few Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Targets were built in .44 Special in the late 1980s.
When it comes to hunting I have been blessed being able to hunt in many states as well as Africa. With single actions sixgun from Colt, Freedom Arms, Ruger and Texas Longhorn Arms I have taken deer, bear, buffalo, wart hog, feral pigs, and numerous exotic species using the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, .454 Casull, .475 Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, and .50 Action Express. I am neither an expert hunter nor a tremendous shot. I am a good shot, very careful, patient enough to wait for my shot, and relaxed enough to pass up bad shots; and in every case with every sixgun and load I have followed the three most important things to remember when handgun hunting: bullet placement, bullet placement, and bullet placement. .
For my latest hunt after feral hogs I chose the .44 Special loaded with a hollow point cast bullet, Lyman’s #429421 Keith, at 1,200 fps muzzle velocity from the 7 1/2” .44 Special Texas Longhorn Arms West Texas Flat-Top Target. On the first pig the bullet went in right behind the upper part of the front leg, and as we found out later came out on the other side right through the center of the upper part of the leg on the off side. Now this was a 500-pound pig and a hollow point cast bullet at 1,200 fps gave total penetration! At the shot he stumbled and looked like he was going to run. I did not hesitate but rather put a second shot in him at which he went over with all four feet in the air and preceded to tumble over and over and down the hill and accommodated us by coming to a stop on the dirt road.
That was to be the end of it is far as I was concerned. There were two pigs there; I intended to take one pig and be on my way. His big buddy would have none of that. By now he was up on his feet and using his snout moving that 500-pound pig. He was not about to leave. He gave me my perfect shot broadside. At the shot he turned around, started to run, and I put a second shot in him and down he went. The smaller pig had four-inch tusks, while this 650-pounder had tusks curling around for six inches. We would later find out the .44 Special hollow point had gone through the heart of the second boar, the second shot was only two inches away from the first shot, and the bullet was perfectly mushroomed and lodged under the hide on the far side. In both cases the .44 Special cast hollow point bullets did everything a sixgun, load, and bullet combination is supposed to do.

Did you have a scope on the

Did you have a scope on the 44 Special used for Feral Hogs?


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