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Hunting with handgun cartriges

5713 Views 27 Replies 19 Participants Last post by  miestro_jerry
I'm fascinated by handgun hunting (probably the whole "forbidden fruit" thing) and I got thinking, what can you take with various handgun rounds? There are some VERY powerful handguns out there, like the .500 S&W, but I'm curious about the other staples. Rounds you may not think about when you think handgun hunting. Are there any hunting applications the following cartridges could be used for? What would they be good for and at what ranges? Would it make a difference if it was from a pistol/revolver/contender/carbine?

9mm Luger
.40 S&W
10mm Auto
.45 ACP
.357 SIG
.45 GAP
.45 Colt
.357 Magnum
.44 Magnum
.41 Magnum
.50 AE
.454 Casul
.327 Federal Magnum

There's others that I am forgetting for sure. A bunch of .32 or .38 caliber rounds for example. I expect that rounds like the 9mm would not be used for hunting at all, and rounds like .45 ACP only from close range, but if I knew, I wouldn't be asking. :p

What can you tell me?
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The key to hunting with most traditional handgun rounds is to consider the velocity, distance and the critter being hunted. For example, a 9mm is perfectly adequate for squirrels at almost any distance you can hit them, but inappropriate for deer at all but the shortest ranges, imho. The 454 Casull is, of course, powerful enough for virtually any game animal, but the distance must be kept within reason.

As a general rule, even the most powerful straight-walled handgun loads are only good out to around 125 yards, largely because their bullet shape does not retain velocity well and they run out of energy. A longer barrel or a stronger action can give higher MV, but even still, when you get out around 150 yards, my 44 Remington Magnum is dropping quickly, both in trajectory and energy.

In general, for straight-walled cases, I would consider 35 caliber and under appropriate for small game, at short distances. Larger bullets are better for big game, as long as the yardage is kept under 150 yards, for the best of them, and a maximum of 75, for the shorter cases. This does present a self-imposed limit and challenges the shooter to get closer, but I would say many of the pistol rounds should be enjoyed for plinking and employed for their primary purpose of self-defense. With the exception of the more powerful rounds, in specialized guns, there are many tools better suited to the harvesting of game.

The 357Magnum is unique, in that it is sufficient out to around 75 yards on big game and with 38 Special loads, would be good for small game, plinking, etc. It is very useful for self-defense, of course, and overall, it's probably the most versatile handgun chambering available.

Now, when you bring bottle-necked cartridges and single-shot actions into the equation, things change very quickly, since these are frequently smaller caliber rounds, offering much higher velocity. Powerful actions like the Encore and XP-100 offer rifle-like performance out of "pistol" configurations...but these are really not pistol cartridges, in the sense you were referring to them.
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I find it curious broom_jm that you would rate the 357 good out to 75 yds, but don't even think the 9mm, 40S&W, 45ACP, 10mm, etc are capable at 40 yds or less. The 9mm 115grain HP at 1300fps is a 93% one shot stop ender on people and I know it will kill a deer at bowranges. It blows 3" exit holes in 'raccoons, so it will scramble lungs in any deer in a hurry.
I wrote the following:

"In general, for straight-walled cases, I would consider 35 caliber and under appropriate for small game, at short distances. Larger bullets are better for big game, as long as the yardage is kept under 150 yards, for the best of them, and a maximum of 75, for the shorter cases."

If you were to analyze the data involved, and not just offer an anecdotal reference to the size of exit wounds in an animal that is perhaps one tenth the weight of a mature whitetail, you might not be as curious. For the record, I stated that the shorter-cased cartridges, shooting bullets larger than 35 caliber, were effective out to as much as 75 yards.

I agree that a 9mm would get the job done at the same distance one might use a bow, but would you really recommend it for deer hunting, especially if larger rounds are readily available? Are you debating that a 9mm is just as suitable for short-range deer hunting as it is for small game?

The OP asked a fair question and I will not turn this into a debate about what each handgun cartridge is capable of doing. I offered my opinion and expressed it clearly. Frankly, the limit of most handguns for hunting is determined by how consistently lethal shots can be placed where they need to go, as we all know it is shot placement that seals the deal, not caliber or velocity alone.
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I guess when it comes to using a handgun to hunt with, these two cartridges are the most commonly debated, largely because they are both very effective. I find it interesting that sometimes it requires a comparison of two quite similar items to generate heated discussion, where the most logical conclusion is simply to give each option its due and move on. The 44 Rem Mag and 45 Long Colt will both get the job done, at virtually identical ranges, and for virtually identical reasons. The 44 being a little faster and the 45 being a little bigger: I wonder if there has ever been a case where a properly placed bullet from one failed, where the same from the other cartridge would have been successful? I tend to doubt it.

You can't even give either a nod of superiority based on their ability to be loaded down, since both have excellent options for doing so, although in the case of the 45LC, it's more a case of NOT loading it "up". Regardless, both are at the top of the heap for traditional straight-walled cases, used for handgun hunting. About the only thing I can think of that might make the 44Mag "better", is that pretty much any gun chambered for such will handle the hottest factory loads, and that is not at all true for the 45LC. That one caveat aside, they're too close for me to call.
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