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.