Hunting With Handguns: 3 Keys to Better Accuracy

Photos by John Hafner

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A century ago, handguns had no place afield. In 1935, Smith & Wesson's .357 Magnum revolver prompted hunters to reconsider. A decade later, S&W added the .44 Magnum, developed by Remington at the urging of Elmer Keith. A "stretched" .44 Special (as the .357 is a lengthened .38 Special), the .44 Magnum preceded Dick Casull's .454, born of handloads in the .45 Colt. The .41 Magnum appeared in 1964; then Thompson-Center put rifle rounds in handgun frames. The .500 and .460 S&W now top the power charts. Accuracy, however, trumps power in hunting. I once steadied an S&W over a backpack and killed a deer at 95 yards. Then I watched Bill Booth rest his revolver on his knee while sitting and down a buck at 200, shooting double-action. But accuracy with a handgun does not come easy. With no stock to shoulder, a pistol is held far from your torso, in hands with small muscles and many joints, on arms you can't hold steady even when they are empty. Even your heartbeat will rock your aim. The right setup, coupled with practice, however, will help your bullet find its mark.

1. Sight Options
A scope is a good option. Keep magnification low, for a wide field of view and to manage apparent wobble. Red-dot sights are lighter, more compact, and very fast. Like scopes, they're a boon for old eyes because there's no need to align open iron sights. If you opt for open sights, zero so that the bullet strikes just over the front sight. That way you don't need to cover the target with the sight to hit it.

2. Grip and Trigger Squeeze
A former firearms instructor for the LAPD, Larry Mudgett trained SWAT and patrol officers. Now a teacher at Gunsite Academy, he insists the grip and trigger must both fit the hand correctly. He prefers narrow triggers, adjusted or honed for an easy, clean let-off for better accuracy. Regarding grip placement, Mudgett says to hold your hands firmly around the stock, with the web between your thumb and index finger high on the backstrap. "Place the support-hand thumb on top of the other one. Shooting single-action, press the trigger with your first pad; for a double-action, use the first joint of your finger." He advocates dry-firing to practice. "When you can't use a pistol, refine your trigger technique by pressing the button on a ballpoint pen, moving your finger in a straight line when making the pen 'click,' " he says.

3. Stock Selection
Stocks on a hunting handgun help position your trigger finger, align the sights, steady the barrel, and absorb recoil. Go with simple, smooth stocks. Sharp checkering is a bad idea because it prevents you from shifting your hand for a better grip, and recoil will drive those diamonds into your flesh. Soft, "sticky" materials reduce shock but don't let the pistol rotate in your hand during recoil. Colt SAA handles are famously comfortable and their shape lets the gun rotate easily. What about stocks with finger grooves and thumb rests? Famous pistolero Ed McGivern performed his feats with standard S&W stocks. And revolver wizard Jerry Miculek favors smooth, simple stocks.