Hand Cannons Anyone?

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Dirty Harry, step aside. Your .44 caliber revolver is about as magnum as a 4-ounce bathroom Dixie cup. Today there’s bigger and badder. I’m talking Hand Cannons.

Founded by handgun authority and world famous handgun hunter J.D. Jones, SSK Industries of Wintersville, Ohio, specializes in manufacturing some of the hardest hitting and most accurate large caliber handguns and loads in the world. Back in 1979, Jones founded his business to produce big-game guns that could be used anywhere on this planet on the most ferocious and dangerous animals in existence.

So what is a “Hand Cannon?” J.D. defines it as at least .35 caliber and minimum case capacity of a .444 Marlin. Being a fan of the Thompson/Center Contender, and particularly one of the big bores, I had to try one out in 45-70 caliber. And, friends, it’s just like J.D. says when you squeeze one off: “You’ve got a tiger by the tail.”

If Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum was loaded with 240-grain bullets, a stiff load could have been pushed to 1450 feet per second (fps) in his revolver. Not bad. But, 50 grains of IMR 3031 powder propels my 400-grain Speer bullet at 1525 fps in J.D.’s 14-inch custom ported Shilen barrel. That’s a 67 percent increase in bullet weight traveling faster than Dirty Harry’s “most powerful” offering.

Here’s another way of comparing the effects of these two big bores. The same .44 Magnum load will produce 1116 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. The 45-70 Hand Cannon will surpass that at 150 yards and still has over 1000 foot pounds of energy at 200 yards! With a 125-yard zero the bullet is never over 3 inches high and drops to 3.44 inches low at 150 yards. With my conservative, self-imposed 6-inch kill zone for deer, my point-blank range is still an abundant 150 yards with a handgun. Yeah, but how can anyone be accurate that far with a handgun?

Good optics is a good place to start and a Bushnell HoloSight fits the bill. Although there is no magnification with the HoloSight, the 1-minute-of-angle superimposed laser dot aiming device is tailor-made for hunting. The sight permits quick target acquisition – much more so than any duplex reticle style – is very good in low light, and can take a pounding. And, believe me, a pounding it takes.

This is not the type of firearm with which Matt Dillon would be able to quick-draw from his holster and drop a bunch of bad guys; after all, it’s only a single shot. But, for stand hunting with a solid rest for deer, it’s superb. It has taken game as large as 1800-pound Asian Buffalo. Just ask J.D. Jones. And, if you are as tough as your game, the SSK barrel’s throat will accommodate bone busting 500-grain bullets. Friends, this sledgehammer round will make your .44 Magnum feel like you are back to shooting kiddie cap guns. You want penetration? How about clean through 6 Lansing phone books!

You want recoil? I doubt it, but too bad. With a white-knuckle grip, it’ll jar your fillings loose and blow your hat off. Don’t get me wrong; you had better be hanging on. But, I like to allow some flex in the wrist and arms to provide shock-absorbing relief from the Hand Cannon. That way, it’ll just blow your hat off. The porting keeps the barrel from jumping, but the torque and rearward energy transfer is still substantial in the hand’s web. For the recoil sensitive, stick with the 300-grain “varmint” loads. What these loads lack in mass, they make up in velocity and are plenty good enough for the largest of deer.

When handgun hunting was legalized in the southernmost Zone III in Michigan, T/C Contenders were against the rules. Seems some lawmakers were afraid that bottle-necked case ammunition might be used. Therefore, all single-shot pistols were outlawed, even though they were designed as serious and effective hunting tools and could have been used with the same ammunition that was legal in repeating firearms. Ironically, it was legal for some street urchin to go afield with his snub-nosed .38 Special, but disciplined, single-shot hunters were banned.

It took some time, but common sense has prevailed. Single-shot pistols are now legal in Zone III, as long as ammunition is of the straight-walled variety (no bottle-necked cases) and it is a minimum of .35 caliber. (In the traditional rifle zones, handguns using bottle-necked cases are legal.) So, go ahead and make your day the Hand Cannon way.