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.

Sighting In – Tips and Techniques

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Here are some tips to get sighted in properly. As mentioned in previous writings, a six-inch kill zone will be the standard from any shooting position in the field for deer-sized targets. For target shooting, however, smaller targets help with precision. The orange squares with the black outlines are my favorites for scoped guns and plain black circles are best for iron sights, red dot sights and HoloSights.

Caution: start with a clean gun with no oil or grease in the barrel. Make sure everything is tight – especially scope bases and rings. Wear good hearing protection and protective glasses. Start at 25 yards and make sure you have a good, solid rest at the fore end and butt stock. Sandbags work well but there are store-bought shooting rests that work very well, too. This is not the time to use your elbows for a rest; you can do that in the field, but not when testing ammo. The idea when sighting in is to minimize human error.

Shoot three shots and find the middle of the group. (If you are missing the paper completely, move in to about 10 feet. A single shot will usually be enough to let you know which direction to go.) Remember, at 25 yards to make adjustments at four times what you would at 100 yards. For most guns, you are ready to move the target to 100 yards, if you are dead on at 25 yards. Don’t change anything and shoot another 3-shot group at 100 yards, find the center of the group and adjust to your chosen elevation at 100 yards. Even with our conservative 6-inch kill zone target, we can maximize “Point-Blank Range” by having the bullet or slug impact somewhat high at 100 yards. A few examples follow.

The Point-Blank Range of any gun is the distance out to which a hunter can hold right on the center of the kill zone and be able to hit within the vital zone. This means, if you set up your gun properly, you won’t have to guess whether to hold high or low on the deer. Just go right for the center of the vitals. A lot of hunters make the mistake of sighting in dead on at 100 yards. A 30-06 with a 180-grain spire point bullet going 2700 Feet Per Second (FPS) at the muzzle, with a 100-yard zero puts the bullet 3 inches low at 175 yards. Using the 6-inch kill zone, 175 yards becomes your limit, because the bullet is at the bottom of the vitals.

However, if the same cartridge is set for a 215 yard zero, the bullet reaches its peak of 3 inches high at 130 yards and is 3 inches low at 255 yards. As long as you know the deer is no farther than 255 yards, you can aim dead center and take him out cleanly. Just by changing the zero, you gain 80 additional yards.

Shotguns are relatively slow in comparison – even the hottest sabot offerings of today. Federal, Winchester, and Remington all have high-priced loads costing $12 to $20 per box of 5 rounds boasting 1900 FPS and these can be good using the 6-inch bulls eye philosophy out to 175 yards. Remington’s Premier Core-Lokt Ultra uses a 385-grain bullet and sighted in at 150 yards, will be 6.2 inches low at 200 yards. As fast as these are, you can see that the bullet drops some 6.2 inches in the 50 yards from 150 to 200 yards. The typical ¾ inch, 1-ounce shotgun slugs are heavier and some 500 FPS slower. The best bet is to get to the range and test with your gun and loads, because there are just too many variables to rely exclusively on charts. Whatever you choose to shoot, just make sure the bullet/slug never gets higher or lower than 3 inches when holding dead on.

Once you get sighted in, you can try shooting from various positions and with rests you may use in the field. As long as you can keep 9 out of 10 in the six-inch circle, you are shooting within ethical standards. When finished, don’t clean the gun’s barrel, because a clean barrel may change your point of impact. Just unload the gun, wipe off the exterior, and put it safely away and it will be hunter-ready when needed. Clean it after the season.
Of course, muzzleloaders being stoked with black powder or Pyrodex must be cleaned immediately because of sulfur content, or you run the risk of corrosion within a day! I prefer Hodgon’s Triple Seven for extreme velocity and lack of corrosion concerns. More on this subject later.

The Disciplined Shot Afield

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

Since deer season is already upon us, I will focus on a means to determine what your effective range is. It doesn’t matter whether you are shooting arrows above 300 feet per second (fps) or recurve-propelled shafts at less than half that. During firearms season, it won’t even matter if you choose a powerful handgun, the slowest muzzleloader, or a center fire rifle with horsepower to spare.

I believe it was the late local icon, Jack Eddy, that wanted us to use a six-inch bulls eye when practicing for deer. This means our practice target is some 3 inches less in diameter than an actual kill zone of a deer; however, using the conservative approach gives us humans a built-in margin for error. Now, here’s the test: If you can put 9 out of 10 shots in the six-inch circle, you are within your range. Be honest with yourself and find out how good you really are. If you are getting any less than 9 out of 10 in the circle, get closer until you are able to do it. This is what a sportsman does. Remember, above all else, we must all do our part to minimize less than perfect shots. It’s our duty.

Set up your six-inch target farther and farther away and keep testing with the 9 out of 10 barometer. If you are going to hunt from an elevated platform, do your testing from a similar platform height at known ranges. When you determine your effective range, you only need to translate your knowledge to the field.

If you are hunting from particular set areas, such as tree stands, or a certain ground blinds, the set up becomes easier. Use a rangefinder or step off natural markers such as trees and identify them by memory or by visible means. When deer come into your setup, you will have figured out the actual range in advance and will be able to take your shot confidently.

There are many methods to increase your effective range, but the best one is practice. Once you have done your sighting in, begin to shoot offhand, kneeling, or prone. If you will use a handgun, practice with a good rest. Find out how difficult it is to hit that 6-inch circle, while using a makeshift rest such as the side of the tree. It’s not usually going to be as easy as it was under practice conditions once you get in the field, but that’s why we use the six-inch target. Stick with it and hunt within your particular capabilities and you will be doing your part to display sportsmanship to the game and everyone that hears your stories.

Development of a Sportsman

By Glen Wunderlich
Outdoor Columnist
Professional Outdoor Media Association

As a lifelong adult hunter, my purpose is to develop sportsmen’s knowledge in an effort to promote hunting for those that choose to hunt. Because the true sportsman engenders good will, one can help his own cause by adhering to certain guiding precepts. But, before getting into those, just what is a sportsman? According to a Mr. Webster, “A person who can take loss or defeat without complaint, victory without gloating, and who treats his opponents with fairness.” Relative to hunting, a sportsman, it follows, is a person who can go home empty handed and be satisfied. The sportsman, therefore, chooses only shots that he has a very high likelihood of making. Adopting certain principles leads to discipline in the field, which translates into fairness to the quarry. If you have had your share of missed shots, or just want to have as much as possible going for you when you do take a shot, read on.

If the goal in hunting is to bag game, then one may become a failure at sportsmanship. When a hunter becomes undisciplined…taking shots that are beyond one’s capability, taking shots at running deer, bad angle shots, a little too dark, etc, he crosses the line. If we choose to be sportsmen, we must pass on all but the best opportunities. And, as a result, we will have less wounded game hobbling about. If ever we sportsmen will be able to bridge the gap between hunters and those against hunting, being disciplined in the field is the best place to start.

Nobody wants to see injured animals. Granted, it happens sometimes, but we should constantly strive to minimize bad shots. Crippled deer can be seen by anyone and some people, reacting to what they see, may attempt to limit every hunter’s rights through the legislative process. So, a sportsman must develop the single-shot mentality, knowing that some situations permit the prey to live another day. He knows there can be no wild shots and that bullet or arrow placement is the key – not firepower.

So, if the goal in the field were not necessarily to bag game, what would it be? I am not suggesting that bagging game is not good; however, if the hunter becomes obsessed with a kill to brag about, then he very well may become the type of hunter that gives those opposed to hunting a valid reason to oppose hunting for everyone. I say let’s not give the “antis” any more fuel for such a fire.

A sportsman can be content as he witnesses the wild world waking up or going to sleep. He is content being one with nature before the sun comes up. He marvels at the sight of a coyote, a wood duck or even a squirrel as they go about their daily business of survival. And, at the same time he is totally prepared to take home his prize. But, if luck doesn’t go his way, he believes his patience will be rewarded another day. Make your goal to be satisfied with the outdoor experience that you have no matter what the day may bring, and by definition, you will become a true sportsman.

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