The Handgun Hunters Competition – Report

The HHC is a shooting match that stresses practical handgun hunting scenarios. The match took place in Newcastle, Wyoming on June 18 and 19; the practice day was June 18 and the event took place on the 19th. 2021 was the inaugural event, but with the interest it garnered from participants it should be around for many more years. There are two main divisions, traditional handguns and single shot guns. The traditional handgun division is further separated into iron sights and optics. The traditional guns will engage targets out to 200+ yards, this is typical and in standing with the old International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Assoc. distance for the ram target. The single shot guns will engage targets out to 400 yards. Since I will be competing, I am not able to cover the division dealing with specialty handguns adequately so my primary focus is going to be on the traditional handgun portion.  

The iron sight group is not allowed to use “target type” sights like aperture and globe type sights. The optic sight group will have both 1x red dot and magnified scopes competing directly against each other. Any autoloader or revolver is capable of competing if it utilizes a cartridge with a .358 bore or larger. The single shots are able to use any caliber 6mm or larger and are safe in the original T/C Contender frame and were available from a major manufacturer. Single shots are also limited to a maximum weight of less than 7.5# including bipods, optics, or any other attached accouterments.

The use of hunting type ammunition is stressed over target type or FMJ type projectiles due to potential target damage, especially in the single shot division. I checked to make sure my choice of bullet would be authorized before loading up for the match. Another attempt to keep equipment from being a deciding factor in performance is in limiting the use of shooting rests to a maximum weight of 3.5#, and not allowing any rest to hold a firearm without human contact, Hog Saddles, ARCA rails, or any clamping type of rest.

Animal shape targets were realistic in size, and like in nature, the competitor only got one chance at a hit.

Targets will be reactive steel of various sizes and shapes as well as animal shapes. The scuttlebutt says that the “bunny” target is the toughest. It appears to be a small cottontail cut out that might have 3.5” of centralized steel. There is also a coyote target that is facing you and it has what appears to be a 3”-4” reactive kill zone. Target distance will be known, but competitors are encouraged to bring a rangefinder and verify distances. Target sizes are 4 MOA and larger for all divisions. Scoring will be 2 points for first round hits on steel and 1 point for a hit with the second shot. Only one hit is allowed on each target, and all animal targets are only allowed to be shot at once. Other target shapes can be fired at twice, but only one hit scores.

The rabbit target and its little brother the “bunny” target.

The toughest target for me and others in my squad would prove to be the triangles. Special scoring would be implemented for special targets. The animal shapes that had special kill zones would only score 2 points if you hit the special zone, and the charging bear target had scoring areas of 3pts., 2pts., and 1pt. Competitors would be allowed 3 minutes to engage all of the targets, and there are 7-8 targets on every stage. Any reloading of your revolver or autoloader would be done off the clock. The competitor was required to notify the timekeeper when reloading so that time could be halted and restarted appropriately.

The coyote was one of two special kill zone targets, a hit in the zone received 2 points, anywhere else on target got you 1 point.

Squads would be assembled with all divisions jumbled up. However, an order was decided that would place iron sight shooters going first in rotation, optically sighted revolvers and autos going second, and specialty handguns shooting last in the rotation. This I find nice because it allows competitors to see both aspects of the handgun hunting fraternity. Some competitors are able to utilize loaner guns and ammunition as well as special considerations given for handicapped shooters to compete. Several competitors would be shooting all three divisions and competing for an “all-around” award.

My preparations started with trying to decide which division I would compete in. I am traditionally an iron sight shooter but age has recently affected my eyesight and proper corrective lenses have not been pursued yet. So one of my scoped revolvers would be chosen, and my current favorite for shooting at the distances I would be facing is my 10.5”  Ruger 357 Maximum.  

Moderately tweaked with a 30oz. trigger spring, the 357 maximum provides plenty of accuracy.

The Ruger had already proven itself to be accurate, delivering groups at 200m that measured 5 shots in 3”x5” groups, as well as groups at 100 measuring 2”x 3.5”. Despite being nothing more than a moderately tweaked factory gun, it simply shoots. It wears a Burris 2-7x pistol scope that spends 90% of its time on 4x. My chosen load for the match would be some old Sierra 170gr. FMJ bullets loaded to 1500fps, the load will be zeroed 2” hi at 50yds. The scope has a BDC reticle that works well with the caliber and when on 4x the drops on the BDC work out to zero @ 120yds, first drop @ 150yds, and second drop @ 210yds. Everything else is Kentucky windage, the bullet doesn’t rise any higher than 3 inches inside 120 yards.  

My other shooting gear consisted of knee pads and elbow pads, a short folding stool, and a gear bag packed full of foam for my shooting rest. My laser rangefinding binoculars, a small notepad, and pencil for jotting down ranges and wind holds. A day pack for carrying water, snacks, spare ammo, and other small necessities. Since guns will not be holstered, a short scabbard for carrying my pistol will be used as well, and considering it will be summer, prescription sunglasses, and a good full brim hat.   

The black bag is stuffed with foam and served as my shooting rest, total weight was less than 2 pounds. The knee pads were indispensable since almost every shot was taken from a kneeling position.

The match director stated that 100 rounds may be needed for the match, and recommended 50 rounds for use on the practice day. Practice day is the day before the main event and should give the competitor a good idea of what to expect for match day. Competitors will be allowed to walk all the stages and get an idea of target presentation and shooting positions. The day after the match has been set aside for a more relaxed shooting experience. Several landowners have granted access to prairie dogs on their property, as well as some excellent public land, and guests are welcome. There is also no requirement to only use handguns, although I expect them to be the predominant weapon of choice.

Guest of Honor for the match, Brad, enjoying after match festivities with a Prairie Dog down from a custom XP100.

All of the proceeds of the match are going to a disabled hunters support organization, Outdoor Adventures for the Physically Challenged. The prize table will allow the winners of each division to choose a prize and then the rest of the prizes will be done by random draw. Prizes will consist of guided hunts, firearms, leather gear, packs, and optics as well as other items. Bayside Custom Gunworks is paying for dinner and refreshments for the awards banquet and a portion of the practice day event. 

The drive to Newcastle Wyoming from central Texas was long and relatively uneventful. I arrived with enough time to unwind and get a good night’s sleep. Past experience has shown that getting to an event early pays dividends for personal performance. It also helps get acclimated when you’re a flatlander and suddenly find yourself 4000-5000 feet above sea level.

Plugging in new data in my ballistic program, after discovering I was hitting 3” high at 50yds. Allowed me to draw up a new data card for holdovers and holdunders.

The practice day was a good learning experience, it gave me a good idea of what conditions I’d be facing on match day. It also allowed me to see what type of target presentations and shooting positions I’d be facing. I took the time to write down notes about targets from each stage as well as shooting positions. Using the target info I was able to draw a range card so that my holdovers and target locations would be easy to adjust while I was on the clock. I was also allowed to check the sights on my gun. This proved important because instead of 2” high at 50yds like I was back home, my Ruger was printing 3” high at 50yds. A quick recalculation while drawing up my range card allowed for the difference in trajectory, and all was well. There were 6 stages and each would have 7-8 targets for each division.

One of the targets from the charging bear stage, a raccoon at 152yds.

The next morning promised higher winds than we had on the practice day, ten to fifteen miles an hour faster and inconsistent. This would make things interesting and would ultimately affect me on a couple of targets. My first stage, Stage 5, presented targets from 41yds. to 195yds., our shooting position was a fallen tree. I was able to hit the first five targets with my first six shots, the furthest being 157yds, but the last three targets were beyond 170yds. and the wind was full value across a meadow and inconsistent, so I tried one of them and could get no feedback from spotters and chose not to engage the remaining two.

In the cross-post fence shooting position for stage 6, winds are blowing right to left across the meadow. There is a target directly across next to the brush pile at 152 yds.

My second stage Stage 6, was another that was shot with high winds, but only one target would present with full value wind direction. The shooting position would have us utilizing a cross-post type fence, targets were from 19yds. to 247yds. It was also one that would require movement in order to engage all the targets. I was able to hit seven of the eight targets and was able to hit the long shot of the match with my first shot at 247yds. The target missed was 152yds. and was the one that was most affected by the wind. 

A perfectly timed photo catches the fire ring from the XP100.

Stage 1 would also utilize fallen trees as a primary shooting position, targets were presented from 63yds. to 184yds.  There was a bonus target that utilized a special kill zone area and would be valued at 2 points for a hit or 1 point for a hit anywhere else. This target was located at 150yds. and I was able to hit the special kill zone. The one target I was unable to hit was a raccoon at 119yds. 

The other special kill zone target closely represents an 80-100 pound feral pig in size.

Stage 2 utilized a combination of fallen tree trunks and large rocks as a primary shooting position, targets were presented from 40yds. to 170yds. I was only able to hit four of the eight available targets, from 40yds. to 143yds. and was left wondering why and what had changed?

Stage 2’s shooting position was fallen trees and large rocks.

Stage 3 also utilized a combination of fallen tree trunks and large rocks as the primary shooting position. It also would require moving to a different position in order to engage all of the targets. Targets were presented from 64yds. to 135yds. This stage would prove to be my worst, with me only able to hit three of the seven available targets. My hits were at 66yds., 102yds., and 135yds. My determination on my poor performance was that I had not maintained adequate body hydration, this would be rectified immediately. I had one stage left and was determined to end the day on a high note.

A small portion of the shooting area for stage 3, there were more and larger rocks to the right for about 10 yards.

My last stage of the match was one that had originally been set up to utilize a charging bear target. However, circumstances would only allow the target presentation to feature a short fixed time to engage the bear target. Starting from standing with the gun at low ready, from about 25 yards, you had 3 seconds to acquire the target and place a single shot in a CNS (Central Nervous System) area of the facing bear, basically a brain shot. Then you would proceed to the primary shooting area and engage the normal targets. The shooting area consisted of large rocks and light shrubbery. One to two targets were placed so that taking them offhand would be almost mandatory. This stage would also require the most movement in order to engage all the targets. I was able to score 3 points on the bear target, I was also able to score hits on the two offhand targets at 15yds. and 42yds. Targets were set from 15yds to 158yds. and I was able to hit all but two. All my hits would be first round hits and would make this stage my best.

The charging bear target that was initially going to be charging the shooter, circumstances caused it to change to a short fixed time target.

I would finish in fourth place with 62 points, the winner of the division would finish with 85 points. Considering there was a possible 95 points total, that is excellent shooting for the winner. First and second place would be using 357magnums, third-place shot a 44 magnum and I of course shot my 357 maximum. First-place finisher Jason Ford, used a very unlikely revolver, a SW model 13 with a 4” barrel and Leupold 4x scope mounted on it. His bullet and load information are unknown to me. Second place was Mark Hampton, a well-respected handgun writer with global experience at hand gunning games. He used a Freedom Arms 83 with a Burris 2-7x. Third place finisher Joe Sandrini a Wyoming state employee, shot a cobbled together SW 29/629 that had parts from 3 different guns. I do not recall what scope he had mounted. I was pleased with my result, and at the same time knew I should have hit at least 6-8 more targets throughout the match.

The first place finishers gun from the revolver/auto optics division, a S&W 13 with a 4” barrel.

Match director Chris Rhodes’s goal is to introduce more shooters to handgun hunting. His idea is that this event can be used to show others the challenge and pleasure of hitting targets with a weapon that many feels is useless beyond 25 yards. Next year’s event is already being planned, with an additional division utilizing rimfire guns. My feeling is that this will be the division to introduce new and younger shooters to the sport. I personally would like to see this new division limited to first-time attendees of the match, to eliminate newer shooters becoming discouraged from comparing results to more seasoned and experienced competitors.

Overall the match was fun, challenging, and an excellent test of one’s ability to quickly assume a solid shooting position. It also allowed shooters to push their personal range limits, and try new shooting positions, as well as see how other shooters would attempt a shot. My only regret was in needing to leave the next day and miss out on the prairie dog shooting. Contact Chris Rhodes at Bayside Custom Gunworks or check out his website for information on the 2022 HHC match, the tentative dates are June 17-19, 2022.

Photos courtesy of A1 Realty, Jim Garrett, Chris Rhodes, and the author.

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