November 30, 2020
In an era when long-range hunting is all the rage, getting started with handgun hunting may seem absurd to some. That’s understandable, and once upon a time I felt the same way. But once I started hunting with a handgun on a regular basis and forced myself to meet to accept the unique challenges the sport presents, I gained a new appreciation for handgun hunting. It demands patience and stealth. It requires a special skill set that is only developed through hours and hours of practice. And it also requires a willingness to pass on animals that you could have easily killed with a rifle. Handgun hunting isn’t easy, but the added challenge is what makes it a lifelong obsession for some.
The truth is handgun hunting is easier than it was just a few years ago, and that’s due in large part to a wider selection of effective hunting handguns. Today’s pistols and revolvers are more accurate and more effective than ever before, and that has made the modern handgun a more versatile, efficient hunting weapon than at any time in the past, so there’s never been a better time to get started in the sport. But which handguns are best? Here’s our choice for the five top hunting handguns available today.
Ruger Super Redhawk
The Super Redhawk has long been one of the top-selling hunting handguns since it debuted in 1987. One reason for that continued popularity is the Super Redhawk is built to withstand heavy abuse. The triple-locking cylinder and extended frame with extra steel on the top strap, sidewalls and barrel mounting area all make the Super Redhawk one of the most robust guns in its class, and that added weight also makes the Ruger manageable to shoot. The peg-style grip frame allows shooters to add a custom grip, but the provided Hogue Tamer Monogrip supplied with the gun works quite well even with heavy magnum hunting loads. Other hunter-friendly features found on the Super Redhawk are the integral base mounts that are machined directly to the top rib of the gun and corrosion-resistant stainless steel construction. The Super Redhawk is available in 10mm Auto, .44 Magnum, .454 Casull and .480 Ruger, and after 33 years it remains one of the very best hunting handguns available. $1,159-$1,189 | ruger.com
Taurus Raging Hunter
The Raging Hunter deserves a top spot on this list because it’s an all-purpose hunting revolver offering a lot of features at a relatively low price. The Taurus comes with a barrel system comprised of a steel inner sleeve and an aluminum housing – a design which helps reduce weight and improve balance. Cutting weight from a revolver increases muzzle rise and recoil, so to combat this Taurus equipped their Raging Hunter revolvers with a factory-tuned porting and gas expansion chamber which significantly reduces muzzle lift. At a media event in Florida I shot a Taurus Raging Hunter in .44 Magnum on steel plates, and even after sending two boxes of full-house .44 Mag loads downrange my wrist wasn’t wringing in agony. These revolvers come with Picatinny rail on the rib which makes mounting an optic fast and easy, too. The Raging Hunter is available in either two-tone or matte black in your choice of .44 Magnum, .454 Casull or .357 Magnum. $920 | taurususa.com
Thompson Center G2 Contender/Encore Pro Hunter
Warren Center is the genius behind the original Contender, a single-shot pistol with swappable barrels which instantly become a huge hit with metallic silhouette shooters in the 1960s. Today, Thompson/Center still offers single shot handguns with interchangeable barrels in the form of the G2 Contender and the Encore Pro Hunter. They are both great options for handgun hunters because they offer excellent accuracy and the versatility of a multi-caliber platform. G2 Contender Barrels are available from .17 HMR up to .45-70 Government and Encore Pro Hunter barrels are available from .223 Rem to .460 S&W Magnum, and this allows handgun hunters to use powerful, flat-shooting rounds like the 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester that were once exclusive to rifles. You can also purchase a rimfire barrel for your Thompson/Center handgun and practice with affordable, low recoil, low cost rimfire ammo or a .223 or .204 Ruger barrel and instantly transform your big game handgun into a varmint hunting weapon. $729 (G2 Contender, complete gun), $779 (Encore Pro Hunter, complete gun) | tcarms.com
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 629 .44 Magnum Hunter
No list of the best hunting handguns would be complete without at least one Smith & Wesson revolver in the ranks. I’ve hunted with various S&W revolvers, but the Performance Center Model 629 .44 Magnum Hunter is my favorite. As the name implies, this six-shot double-action revolver comes with a Performance Center custom-tuned action. The red dot/green dot sight is mounted on the 629’s top Picatinny rail, and the standard muzzle brake significantly reduces recoil and muzzle rise. Oversized rubber grips make the gun comfortable to hold and the two-tone color scheme adds to the 629’s aesthetics. I carried one of these revolvers on a hunt in Nebraska last year and when a heavy buck with broken tines chased a doe to within 60 yards of my stand the S&W did its work. That’s pushing the range limits for some handguns, but the 629 had proven itself to be extremely accurate and the buck only traveled a few steps after the Hornady bullet struck his shoulder. That’s the kind of performance you want from a hunting revolver and what you can expect from a Performance Center revolver. $1,378 | smith-wessson.com
Dan Wesson Kodiak
Once largely forgotten by shooters and hunters, the 10mm Auto cartridge has made a major comeback. It’s quickly becoming one of the most popular handgun hunting cartridges for medium-sized game and moderate ranges, and there’s no better way to harness the 10mm’s potential than Dan Wesson’s outstanding Kodiak. This 1911-style semiauto comes with a 6.03-inch barrel, and that helps the Kodiak ring every foot-pound of energy out of your 10mm hunting load. Dan Wesson also points out that that added barrel length increases the sight radius, which is true, and the Kodiak pistol I tested was extremely accurate. Available in either tri-tone or black versions, the Kodiak looks as good as it shoots. The fit and finish of this gun is excellent, and overall build quality, which rivals that of custom 1911s, warrants the high asking price. The single action trigger is clean and crisp, and the safety is ambidextrous. This gun is a great choice for stalking whitetails or hunting from a ground blind or treestand, and it’s a hog gun par excellence. What’s more, it’ll fit neatly against your hip or on your chest and it’s the least cumbersome hunting handgun on this list. $2,299-$2,349 | danwessonfirearms.com