By Chuck Nottingham
Last month's column on taking handguns hunting prompted questions about sidearms strictly for Montana big game. The best handguns for hunting antelope through moose are in two general categories "cut-down" rifles or revolvers.
The "cut-down" is only technically a pistol because its barrel is 16 inches or less, and it's designed to be fired with one hand. But it's most often chambered for cartridges created for short-action rifles, such as bottle-necked 7MM-'08 and .308 Winchester cartridges.
Popular actions are break-open, falling-block, or bolt actions like many rifles. A break-open example is the Thompson Center "Encore" with interchangeable barrels to shoot most any cartridge desired. MOA Corporation produced an excellent falling block pistol in the '80s called the "Maximum." Kimber's "Predator Hunter" is one of the many bolt-action handguns.
Although the shorter barrels reduced velocity slightly, the bullet is essentially that of a high-powered rifle designed to produce a shock channel to put down big game quickly.
Revolvers are the second general category. Despite their larger calibers, revolver slugs do not deliver a rifle bullet's tremendous force way out there. Past fifty yards or so, think of handgun bullets as instantaneous hole-drillers, not shock producers.
With a few exceptions, auto-loading pistol cartridges are less powerful than revolver cartridges of the same size. Hunters shouldn't be misled by the term "fire-power," as it doesn't mean knock-down power. It means capability to shoot many more rounds at a loading using high-capacity magazines. Spray 'n' pray is not the most effective hunting tactic.
The best advice I can offer revolver hunters is to shoot the heaviest slug you can find through the biggest bore.
Several big boomers are at custom gunsmiths and out-of-the-box at sports shops, including the .500 Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, and .454 Casulls. They are indeed massive enough to put down any game or predator in this state at distances quite a bit past 100 yards.
However, in my opinion the .45 Colt one of the first center-fire revolver cartridges ever developed way back in the 1870s in modern revolvers with modern components is sufficient gun for any hunting purpose.
After that, the .44 Remington Magnum is considered minimum by most ethical handgun hunters. Some consider the .357 Remington Magnum adequate if the hunter can stalk close and place shots well but certainly not the .357's same-gun sister, the .38 Special.
Some liking the latest and priciest in handguns will argue an opinion or two given so far. Many will loudly dispute what's coming up next.
Telescopes on big game handguns seem like a great idea, but they've never worked best for me.
Long eye-relief 'scopes are terrific on bench ranges for stationary bull's eyes and standing steel silhouettes. Maybe if you sit-hunt with a .270 Winchester hand-held cannon propped on your knees, a 'scope will be the better sight.
But for fastest, surest target acquisition on white-tails whipping through willows, elk ghosting away from beds in morning fog, or black bear dissolving like shadows between lodgepole pines, Patridge sights the square front post in the squared rear notch standard on most modern handguns remain handgun hunting's best all-around sights.