I’ve long said that if you want to take an animal with a handgun, it’s best to leave your long gun at home. My first ever pronghorn hunt was planned as a rifle hunt, but I had two tags, a buck, and a doe. My plan on this hunt was to take a pronghorn buck with a rifle and my doe would be with a new to me custom revolver. A Gallagher Ruger Maximum converted to 500 Linebaugh Maximum. A bit of overkill for a pronghorn, but it was beautifully accurate and I wanted to take something with it and this would be my first chance.
My second pronghorn was with something much more appropriate for pronghorn, as well as the conditions and terrain. After my first pronghorn, I knew I needed to choose a bullet and caliber better suited to the intended game. My third would actually be my fifth attempt, the two previous trips would be a complete zero one year and only a mule deer the other.
Other than the first pronghorn with a handgun, all the others were bucks, but it was the first that was most memorable. A mere doe, but a trophy nonetheless. Taking it with an iron-sighted revolver after spending time practicing for an opportunity at what I consider my maximum iron sight distance.
The doe was spotted from about 1500 yards, at that distance it was impossible to know for sure it was a doe. There were two of them and no horns were visible through the spotting scope. Given only two sets of eyes to deal with, I decided to try for the pair. So here I was easing my way through the drainage trying to close the distance on a pronghorn doe. I popped up occasionally to ensure they were still where they were bedded, each time using a livestock windbreak on the horizon for reference to their location. Sure enough, both were still there, I had to get close enough to not only make the shot but identify that what I was stalking was indeed a doe and not a young buck. I was able to walk the drainage to a point downwind of the pair and about 150 yards away.
Now the hard part began, I identified the pair as does and picked out the larger as my target. Both were still bedded down, this would make my final stalk into position a little easier as some sparse sagebrush could completely hide me from their view. I was able to crawl hands and knees into the sage and close the gap by 50 yards, still a bit farther than I wanted to be. I wanted another 25 yards closer, there was a clump of sage and cactus right where I wanted to get to but there was no cover except the light grass. I would have to belly crawl 10 to 15 yards to my left in order to get the clump of cover between me and the does. I crawled using elbows and toes, elbows and toes over small hidden cactus and light grass. I stopped every now and then to verify my quarry was still unaware, and catch my breath. Once I got the cover between us I still had 25 yards to go forward, again moving elbows and toes. The does were now standing but unaware I was within 100 yards of them. I could see them feeding and would stop whenever their heads were up. I finally made the cactus sagebrush clump, only to find I couldn’t shoot over it without standing.
I was also breathing heavily and couldn’t keep my sights from bouncing all over the place. There was no way I would attempt a shot under these conditions. I moved slightly to my right and found a gap in the clump of brush where I could sit with my elbows on my knees and clear the brush, but I was still breathing heavily. While I was there unable to shoot I ranged her and the distance was 80 yards. I laid back and concentrated on controlling my breathing, having accomplished that, I raised up into a sitting position and put the sights on the doe, the hold was steady.
She was facing me a bit too much so I waited for her to quarter toward me a bit, I cocked the hammer and broke the shot. At the shot, she stumbled and started to follow the other doe, who inexplicably ran towards me. So at about 40 yards, she stopped but was still on her feet standing broadside, I fired again and this round landed 4 inches from the first but a bit higher and clipped the bottom of the spine. That shot dropped her,… I had just completed the most exciting stalk I’ve ever made and taken the first head of big game with my new hunting revolver.
Number Two was not a spectacular specimen but it was one I had seen previously and liked its qualities. The trip started with me taking a nice mule deer buck with my rifle due to lack of cover for a closer stalk. It left me with 3 full days to devote to finding and getting close enough to a nice pronghorn buck and this time I brought something more appropriate for the game and distances involved. Another Ruger Maximum but this one is still factory chambered in 357 maximum. It is also accurate, on the order of 3 shots inside 6 inches at 200 yards. The Hornady XTP 180gr. was running about 1500fps and had a good reputation on medium game. The Burris 2-7x scope has their BDC reticle in it, and the reticle distance drops work out very well for my load out to 200 yards.
Day 2 was uneventful for me, but Day 3 had me paired with one of my hunting companions. My instructions to him were if you have a shot, take it! I will do my best but my limitations should not hinder him. As luck would have it, my buddy was able to take a shot on a group that would linger at 450+ yards and he sent a Hornady 140gr ELD-X at his target. When I’d heard his shot I climbed up to a vantage point and there in the distance was a white belly amongst the sagebrush.
As he cut up his pronghorn, I decided to walk off in the direction the herd had gone. So off I went with nothing more than shooting sticks, binoculars, and my revolver. I walked along the ridgeline and way off in the distance a small group of pronghorn. They looked way too far to attempt a stalk on foot, but as I kept walking more antelope appeared on the flat where they were at. I ranged the largest group and got 900+ yards, but there were 2 drainages that I had to navigate. I took off and when I finally got back up on a level where I could see them again, some were laying down and others up and grazing. I worked my way along a line of mountain mahogany and got to within 350 yards.
I moved a bit to my left to close another 100 or so yards. When I spotted a group I hadn’t noticed before, they were much closer and bedded down. So I settled into a sitting position with my back against a small bush. The Ruger resting in the sticks was steady and I took careful aim and practiced breaking the shot over and over as I waited for the buck in the group to stand. He was ranged at 201 yards, and my Ruger was sighted 1” high at 100 yards, the BDC reticle had three drop hash marks and practice had shown that the second hash mark down was good for 200 yards. The larger group of antelope at 350yds. had started to get up and move toward me. When they did, the buck I was looking at got up and took a few steps before I could get settled. When he finally stopped and I settled in, the hash mark settled just behind his shoulder and the gun went off. I heard the bullet hit and saw through the scope where it hit and realized I’d forgotten to account for wind. The bullet landed about 6 inches farther back than I wanted, but he immediately laid down. I was able to sneak to within 150 yards, without disturbing him, get into a solid position and perform the necessary final shot. Upon field dressing him I found that the first shot had clipped the back of the nearest lung, traveled through the diaphragm and through the stomach, and exited the body. The second shot broke his neck and hit a major blood vessel and he bled out by the time I got down to him.
Number Three would be another first for a new to me handgun. This hunt almost didn’t happen due to me stepping off a trailer and rolling my ankle and breaking it, just 10 days before leaving. I was lucky in that my doctor had no issues, I assured the doctor I would do the right thing since I didn’t want any complications further down the road. My friends on the trip took great care of me and helped with getting me several opportunities on nice bucks. My first 3-4 days of the hunt were spent using a rifle simply because of my own limitations. I had also brought along a Remington XP100R, in 7mm08. I had zeroed it at 200 yards and verified the trajectory out to 250 yards. A quick trip to verify ballistic data out to 300 yards was done and the accuracy was excellent. My chosen load pushed a Nosler 140gr. Partition at 2500fps, from the 14-inch barrel.
After having spent a day stuck in our hunting cabin with 20-30 mph winds, and sleet and snow. Our next day was cold, partly cloudy but with very light winds. My companions had previously tagged out and were now helping me to get something. We glassed a group of antelope but they were at the edge of my comfort range with the XP. I was able to get prone and use my pack as a rest and the hold was stable. Looking through the 4x scope the antelope looked really small, but holding just over the back of the buck was easy and solid. As I lined up, my friends gave me a wind call and I held forward a bit and fired a shot.
At the shot, I lost the herd in my scope. One of my companions called the shot a hit and that the buck was now the last one in the group as they ran off. As I reloaded and regained sight of the herd, he stumbled and fell but still had his head up. Another shot was fired and he was down for good. The distance was beyond 350 yards, and I had just overcome all my limitations and difficulties and harvested another fine trophy with a handgun.
Choosing to go hunting with a handgun demands accuracy. Using a traditional handgun with straight wall cartridges as opposed to a specialty handgun using rifle cartridges limits you in distance. However, in my opinion, it increases the value of the trophy. Of the antelope I’ve taken, only one was beyond the distance of an accurate traditional handgun, which includes those taken with rifles.
Handgun hunting tends to make every animal a memorable trophy. Although I personally prefer to take my handgun game at more sedate or reasonable distances. Knowing that the XP is capable of making solid hits on game at rifle distances allows me to carry it as a backup for those rare instances where getting closer isn’t possible. I’ll still strive for stalking in for shots on game at 150 yards and less, for me that’s what handgun hunting is all about.