Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Handgun Hunting 101 - Pistols

It was about an hour before sunset; we had been following a herd of Cape Buffalo for over four hours and were not getting any closer to the big bulls in the middle of the herd.  John said to me “we have one chance, we will run at them and the Bulls might come to the back to protect the herd.  They will stand in a defensive line and you will have about 20 seconds to pick out the big Bull and shoot.”  I said okay and looked at my .500 Linebaugh revolver in my hand and thought to myself, “This gun isn’t big enough”. 

Big Game hunting with a Handgun takes a lot of discipline and practice; you don’t just head out and start shooting trophy animals.  You can mount a scope on a rifle and do a pretty good job of hitting what you are shooting at with little practice, but don’t expect to do the same when mounting a scope on your favorite Handgun!  First, there are different scopes for Handguns; you have to use a scope that has a long eye-relief.  A normal rifle scope has about 4 inches of eye-relief; however, the eye relief for a Handgun scope is as long as your arm.  If you were to mount a normal rifle scope on a large caliber Handgun, the first shot would make you feel like you’ve just been hit by Joe Lewis.  The recoil from the Handgun would bring the scope right back into your eye.  Most hunters will over scope their handguns.  You can put a 3-10 scope on a rifle, but a smaller 2 or 4 power scope is preferable for a Handgun.  Using a scope on a Handgun is hard.  Just finding the target with a Handgun scope and your eye is hard, and using a magnification too high will make it even harder.  This is where good hand and eye coordination come into play and it can only be achieved with practice.

Picking the right caliber for a Handgun has become tougher than it use to be.  When I started hunting with a handgun, I had the choice of a .357 Mag., a .44 Mag., or a 45 Colt.  With all the different big hunting calibers available today, picking the right caliber is tough!  However, you don’t need a .500 Smith to be able to kill a trophy animal.  In fact, the .500 Smith is not the caliber for everyday handgun hunting.  The big Smith calibers can kill any game animal on earth, but the recoil of these guns is also tremendous on the other end for the shooter.  If I had to pick one caliber for Handgun hunting in North America, it would be the .44 Magnum.  One of my heroes, Larry Kelly, has hunted all the trophy game animals in the world and has shot most of them with a .44 Mag.  With the right bullet and lots of practice, the .44 Mag. will do a great job on any North American game.  Now picking a caliber for a single shot Handgun is tougher than it is for a revolver.  In most cases, Hunters are trying to have a Handgun that is accurate at longer ranges, but the problem is that most cartridges are designed to work in long barreled rifles.  So when you put them in a short barreled Handgun, things don’t work well.  The velocity in a Handgun is much slower and bullets don’t open up reliably.  A .308 rifle will shoot 2800 feet per second; in a 14 inch Handgun you will be very lucky to get 2300 feet per second.  Loosing 500 feet in velocity does a lot of damage to a 308 bullet.  I remember when the 7mm TCU came out for metallic silhouette shooting; it was thought to be the answer for serious Handgun hunters.  This caliber was the key for hitting long range (200 yard) targets.  The 7mm TCU shot flat, had low recoil, and would knock over the 200 yard silhouette rams.  The problem was when you took it hunting; the results were bad with lots of wounded animals.  The bullets would act like a pencil and just go through the animal without expanding or doing very much damage.  There would be little, if any, blood trail when you hit the animals.  

I have always believed that you need a large frontal diameter bullet to work well with a Handgun.  A .35 caliber or larger work best in my educated opinion.  A .44 Mag. in a single shot pistol is a great Hunting Handgun! The .44 Mag. in a 10 or 14 inch single shot Contender will shoot a bullet about 400 feet per second faster than it will in a revolver.  The extra velocity will make the .44 Mag. a good 100 to 150 yard hunting handgun and will give you better penetration with more punch for killing ability. Another of my favorite calibers for single shot Handguns is the 35 Remington.  This round will shoot 180 grain or 200 grain bullets at about 2000 feet per second.  The frontal diameter is large enough so it doesn’t have to expand, the bullet will leave a large wound canal. Most 7mm bullets after they expand don’t end up as large as a 35 caliber.  Larry Weishuhn shoots a 30-06 which is a great caliber when you use the right bullet.  Remember, rifle bullets are made to expand at higher velocities; you have to shoot a more fragile or thin skinned bullet with a Handgun.  The Nosler Ballistic-Tip in 125 or 150 grain work well.  A jacketed hollow-point bullet like the Speer 130 grainer will also do the trick.  Just don’t expect a Handgun to work like your rifle does.  You have to take the time to experiment and practice.  If you are a hand-loader, this will help you also.  If not, find someone who is willing to take the time to work up loads using lighter than normal bullets.  You may want to try faster burning powders which burn up in the shorter barrels and not in the air.  This will help with keeping the muzzle flash down and the noise to a minimum.
So, the six of us took off running and screaming toward the herd of buffalo.  We were doing our best to impersonate a pride of lions.  Well, I guess we did a better job than anticipated because all we saw were Buffalo rumps and lots of dust. “Well that’s hunting” John said and we all had a good laugh and headed into the sunset, back to camp.  I did get my 44 inch Bull two days later with one well placed shot at 30 yards.  He ran about 60 yards and collapsed no charges or fan fair. This was a great day, for not only did I get my Cape Buffalo; it was my 20th Wedding Anniversary!  It was a great time to be in Africa hunting with my family.  A time and day I will never forget.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A 9mm Is A 9mm OR Is It?

The 9 mm Parabellum pistol is the most common pistol caliber in the world.  Most governments and many police agencies use the 9mm Parabellum as their official sidearm.  Whether you call it a 9mm Parabellum, 9mm Luger or a 9x19, it’s all the same caliber. The original 9mm’s were built for WWI hence the name Parabellum (for war).  However, the first gun chambered for this caliber was the Luger so you get that name and last the metric name is 9x18mm, so you can have that name as well.  Most shooters just call it a 9mm.  Now I hate to say it, but I don’t care for the 9mm!  I have owned several, an old Smith model 39, a Browning Hi-Power, a Colt 1911 and a Sig.  All of these guns shot well, but I wanted more stopping power and I figured why use 2 or 3 bullets when one good 45 slug would do.  But now, I do own several 9mm’s, just not any 9mm!  What did I just say?  

I own several handguns chambered in 380 ACP, two chambered in 9mm Makarov, one chambered in 38 Super and one in 9mm Steyr, so how could I like one 9mm and not the other?  First, I like the size and conceal-ability of the smaller 380 caliber guns.  Second, I like the nostalgia the older 380 guns have.  I must have watched too many James Bond movies when I was a kid because I have 3 Walther PPKs in the 380 caliber.  Two of the pistols were built during World War II.  One is a PPK with all the German and Nazi proof marks.  The other is a PP with the same markings.  The PP is a slightly larger pistol with a longer grip and longer barrel.  This gun is a joy to shoot and very accurate, but it is a little too large to carry in a pocket or covered by my pant leg in an ankle holster, so most of the time it lays in my safe, waiting to be taken out to the range.  I also have a new Walther in the PPKS series.  This pistol is stainless steel and falls in between the size of the PP and the PPK.  This PPKS goes most places with me.  I don’t worry about sweat getting on the finish or if it gets dropped, I’m not ruining a WWII collector’s item.  I also have a beautiful old pocket model Remington in 380 caliber.  I had to save this pistol from a customer who wanted to have the gun refinished in a camo Teflon.  I offered her enough money for the pistol so she could go buy a new gun that didn’t need refinishing.  Remington is best known as a rifle company but for awhile in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Remington built many different pistols.  This old pocket model was built during the Roaring Twenties and I’m sure it was carried by one of the famous gangsters of the day.  The truth is, it is a great shooting pistol and is the most accurate .380 I own.  

Back in the day when I was shooting ISPC competition, I wanted to use a caliber that was different from what most of the other shooters were using, so I picked the 38 Super.  This caliber is just a 380 ACP loaded with more powder to higher pressure and higher velocity.  I built myself a custom pistol based on the 1911 Colt, with custom sights and all of the other things shooters think they need to compete.  The pistol shot incredible and had very little recoil.  If I had been a better shooter and spent more time practicing than I did hunting, I could have won some of the matches. If you watch a pistol match these days, you will find more 38 Supers shooting than you will 45 ACPs.   Most shooters don’t know that the first Colt Semi-Auto pistols chambered in this caliber came out in 1920.  Thompson also made the sub-machine gun in this chambering. A few years back, I noticed several distributors were importing the 9mm Makarov pistols.  Now this is a neat gun and caliber combination.  It’s the size of a 380 pistol but loaded to nearly the velocity of a 9mm Luger.  A shooter can have the best of both worlds, a small carry gun with enough power to stop any bad threat and the capacity to hold nearly twice as much ammo as the Walther PPKS.  So it would make a great all-around carry gun!  The last 9mm pistol I have is the 9mm Steyr.  This is a very unusual handgun.  It was made around 1912 and uses a stripper clip instead of a magazine.  The cartridge is similar to a 380 ACP loaded to a very low pressure and velocity.  I have shot this old gun but it stays around because it is so unique and ugly, that it is actually pretty.   

If you are looking for a pistol to carry for personal protection I would recommend the biggest caliber you can handle.  That doesn’t always make sense!  There are times when carrying a 45 ACP is not an option.  The 380 ACP pistols make great carry guns.  They are small enough to hide inside your pocket or the leg of your pants, yet there are few people in this world that can stand up to the punch of a 90 grain hollow-point bullet.  There are many new 380’s on the market now which are very concealable and reliable.  Ruger and Sig are both making some great 380 ACP carry guns.  The Ruger even has a laser grip on it so you don’t have to use the sights.  I have shot the Ruger and it handles like a dream.  It’s very light and when inside your pocket, you don’t even know its there.  I hope to be shooting one of the Sig 380’s soon.  It looks like the perfect little carry pistol.  As far as 9mm Lugers go, there are so many different pistols on the market that a shooter needs to pick up one and feel them in order to determine which one fits your hand and which one fits your needs.  Many gun companies are building 9mm pistols smaller all the time and some custom companies have 9mm pistols the size of a 380.  A shooter needs to decide what they really want to do with the pistol.  If you want to carry it all the time, a smaller 380 or one of the Makarov pistols makes more sense.  But, if the pistol is going to be used for home defense and having fun at the range, a full sized 9mm Sig or Beretta would be a better choice.  The sights are much better on the bigger pistols and they will fit your hand better.  I decided to shoot and 380 acp 90 grain fmj bullet, a 9mm Makarov 100 grain fmj bullet and a 9mm Luger 115 grain fmj bullet, in to a 2250 page wet  phone book.  I checked for both penetration and expansion of the bullets.  Both the 380 and the Makarov bullets stayed in the phone book and both penetrated nearly 4 inches.  The 380 bullet didn’t expand at all it looked like you could reload it.  The Makarov bullet did expand about 20 % and tore a much bigger hole in the phone book.  The 115 grain 9mm Luger bullet went all the way through the phone book and tore a much bigger hole in the pages.  The extra velocity of the 9 mm Luger makes it a much better hand gun for stopping an intruder so it might be a better choice for home defense. The 9mm ammo is inexpensive to buy, so going to the range to practice is not going to break the bank.  If you can find one of the Makarov pistols, they are quite inexpensive and are well made.  The ammo is just as inexpensive as any 9mm and easy to find.  When the ammo shortage hit last year, I couldn’t find 380 ammo or even 9mm ammo, but there was 9mm Makarov ammo on the shelves.  

The nice thing is if you want a 9mm, you have several choices, in caliber and hundreds of choices in handgun styles.  The problem is choosing just one that fits your needs.