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The challenge of hunting with a handgun is what draws a small—but loyal—cadre of handgun hunters to the sport. Hunting with a handgun requires you to get close enough to an animal that it can hear, smell, or see you if you make a mistake. Handgun hunting also requires keen marksmanship and a level of familiarity with your firearm that hunting with other weapons don’t.
I wasn’t particularly keen on handgun hunting until I killed a deer with a Ruger .44 Magnum revolver, and since then I’ve looked for opportunities to use a handgun while hunting big game. I’m not a strict disciple of the pursuit, but I do understand what compels hunters to carry a handgun in search of game. If you have never hunted deer, hogs, bear or other big game with a handgun, it’s time to try.
You need to choose your weapon carefully. There are a variety of platforms and calibers at your disposal. Here are 10 of the best hunting handguns on the market right now.
1. Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk
Bill Ruger’s groundbreaking single-action Blackhawk was released in 1955 and a year later it was available in.44 Magnum. A modern take on the classic single-action revolver, today’s Super Blackhawk revolvers feature machined scope bases, stainless steel construction, and your choice for a traditional or Bisley-style grip contour. The Blackhawk’s action is extremely robust and accuracy is very good. MSRP: $959
2. Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 629 .44 Magnum Hunter
Smith & Wesson N-Frame Model 29 and 629 .44 Magnum revolvers have been popular with hunters for many years because these guns offer outstanding reliability and accuracy in a popular big-game caliber that most shooters can handle. I carried the Performance Center Model 629 .44 Magnum Hunter in Nebraska last year and shot a buck at 50 yards and a doe at 65 yards with this gun. Both Hornady bullets went right where they were supposed to and both deer died within 20 yards. The muzzle brake and large, molded rubber grip help tame recoil and the top rail makes mounting an optic fast and simple. MSRP: $1,398
3. Taurus Raging Hunter
Raging Hunter revolvers are available in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum and .454 Casull, and three barrel lengths: 5.12, 6.75 and 8.37 inches. These double-action wheelguns offer a top rail for mounting optics. Barrel ports and a large, cushioned grip help keep recoil manageable. Raging Hunter revolvers come in either matte black or two-tone finishes and the dual-locking cylinder ensures years of reliable use. These features along with a very reasonable price point make the Raging Hunter a great option. MSRP: $928-$938
4. Dan Wesson Kodiak
More and more hunters are turning to the 10mm auto cartridge for big game hunting because this round offers serious power and manageable recoil. The 10mm Dan Wesson Kodiak is a superb option for any hunter looking for an accurate, reliable semiauto. It’s an easy transition for anyone familiar with the 1911 platform, and the 6-inch bushing-less bull barrel gleans the most velocity and energy from high-powered 10mm hunting loads. The fiber-optic sights are adjustable and the single-action trigger is crisp and clean, making the Kodiak an extremely accurate pistol for hunting deer, hogs, and similar-sized game. What’s more, with a capacity of 8+1 it offers more rounds than most hunting revolvers. It’s available in Tri-tone and Black versions, both of which come with G10 grips. MSRP: $2,299-$2,349
5. Korth NXR .44 Magnum
Germany’s Korth Firearms builds what are arguably the best revolvers in the world, and Nighthawk Custom imports these guns into the United States. The NXR .44 Magnum is available with either a 4- or 6-inch precision hammer-forged 416R stainless barrel with a ventilated barrel shroud. The metalwork comes with a durable DLC coating and the oversized Turkish walnut target grip provides a firm grasp on the gun even when firing hot .44 Mag loads. Other features include a Picatinny top rail and an additional bottom rail for mounting barrel weights, removable side panels and front sights and adjustable rear sights. Korth revolvers are precision machines capable of incredible accuracy, and priced accordingly. MSRP: $5,299
6. Ruger Super Redhawk
The Super Redhawk is an American-made double-action revolver that’s built with the serious hunter in mind. These guns feature all stainless-steel construction and come with machined scope bases and rings for mounting an optic. The Super Redhawk’s beefy frame utilizes a lot of steel, and that makes these guns extremely strong and durable. It also adds some weight to the gun’s frame, which isn’t a bad thing considering the Super Redhawk is chambered in hot cartridges like the .454 Casull and .480 Ruger in addition to the venerable .44 Magnum. A triple-locking cylinder adds to the Super Redhawk’s reputation for rugged dependability. Expect decades of service from these double-action revolvers, even when firing hard-hitting magnum ammunition. All Super Redhawks come with Ruger’s precision cold hammer-forged barrels for maximum accuracy. Hogue Tamer grips mitigate the impact of heavy recoil. MSRP: $1,159-$1,189
7. Nosler Model 48 Independence
In the right hands a bolt-action handgun offers the same long-range capabilities as a lightweight sporting rifle, so the Nosler Model 48 Independence is a great choice for serious hunters who want to extend the maximum effective range of their firearm. The Independence mates Nosler’s popular Model 48 push-feed action with a stock that’s CNC-machined from a single billet of 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum and a 15-inch, free-floated heavy contour 416R stainless barrel. Weight is around 6.5 pounds, which is more than competing pistols here but necessary to comfortably handle big-game cartridges. Chambering options include 22 and 24 Nosler, 6mm and 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 and .308 Winchester. With a scope and bipod in place the Independence is capable of taking big game at ranges well beyond the limits of most hunting handguns. MSRP: $1,800
8. Glock G40 MOS
Austria’s Gaston Glock revolutionized handgun design when he launched his first polymer-frame striker-fired pistol in the 1980s. Today, polymer-frame semiautos dominate the self-defense market, but these guns work well for big game hunting, too. The Glock G40 MOS features a 6.02-inch barrel and boasts a magazine capacity of 15 rounds, and the MOS system allows shooters to install the optic of their choice to extend the G40′s effective range. At just 32 ounces unloaded and measuring 1.34 inches wide, the G40 MOS is relatively light and compact for a hunting handgun. It fits neatly in chest holsters like Gunfighters, Inc.’s Kenai Chest Holster, so you can keep both hands free while hunting. The durable black nitride finish on the metal and polymer frame make this gun virtually impervious to the elements and the G40 is one of the least-expensive hunting handguns on the market today. MSRP: $770
9. Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter Pistol
Thompson/Center’s single-shot handguns have been popular with hunters since the 1960s. These unique firearms offer a level of versatility not found in other guns. T/C’s various frame assemblies and barrels allow you to transform your pistol into a rifle by removing a few pins. That level of modularity is appealing to many hunters. The Encore Pro Hunter pistols are available in .223 Rem. and .308 Winchester, so they are suitable for hunting a wide variety of game, and their combination of synthetic materials and stainless-steel allow these guns to withstand the worst elements. The single-shot design is safe and reliable, and accuracy is excellent. MSRP: $779 (Complete Pistol Package .308 Win)
10. Smith & Wesson X-Frame Revolvers
Smith & Wesson’s X-Frame revolvers are not for the faint of heart, and they’re probably not the best hunting handgun for new shooters. These massive revolvers are chambered in either .460 S&W Magnum or .500 S&W Magnum, both of which produce energy that’s on-par with centerfire rifles. As you might imagine, performance is outstanding, and if you’re a serious handgun hunter and want to target elk, moose, bison and large bears, these guns are an excellent choice. Just know, the X-Frame has a prodigious muzzle blast. But if killing a big bull or boar with a pistol is on your bucket list, these revolvers are your best bet. MSRP: $1,319-$1,799