Gunsite Goes Handgun Hunting

posted on August 23, 2010
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One of Gunsite’s most popular courses is Defensive Pistol for revolvers. And as there are a growing number of handgun hunters in America, it made sense to tailor this curriculum for handgun hunting. Thus, Gunsite’s first Handgun Hunter’s Prep launched in February 2009, sponsored by Smith & Wesson, SureFire and Hornady.

A group of gunwriters, myself included, were invited. Also participating was former NRA President Sandy Froman and Dr. Paula White, director of the Zambia Lion Project, who was being introduced to handgun hunting as well as to shooting for the first time. She became a crack shot by the end of the course.

Bill Booth from Blue Heron Communications, S&W’s public relations firm, brought a variety of .357 Mag. and .44 Mag. stainless double-actions. While others were grappling over the stainless guns, I grabbed the only blued, 6½-inch-barreled Model 29 Classic. Galco Gunleather supplied Dual Position Phoenix and Dual Action Outdoorsman (DOA) holsters. On the range, we used Hornady 180-grain JHP .44 Spl. and 125-grain JHP .357 Mag. ammunition

Hunter’s Prep incorporates notable changes from the defense course, as techniques differ when your adversary is an animal—not an armed human. The Defensive Pistol class teaches double-action shooting, the object being multiple hits. With Hunter’s Prep, shooting is done single-action, the emphasis on making one well-aimed killing shot, as you only have one target and, in this case, you don’t want to wound it.

“Unless you’re pursuing dangerous game,” said Gunsite’s Ed Head, “there isn’t as much pressure with hunting as in a defensive situation, where someone may be just feet away trying to kill you. It’s rare to fire all six shots at a game animal, so we place more emphasis on tactical reloading rather than speed loading. Plus, you’re not going to be shooting on the move, as in defensive shooting. Instead, we teach standing, kneeling, and sitting positions with a handgun, as well as shooting off a rest.”

Another difference is distance. Defense courses teach close-contact shooting, starting at 3 yards and extending to 15 yards. In handgun hunting, ranges start at 7 yards and go out to 50 yards. Shooting stick techniques are also taught. And targets are bullseyes and animal outlines, rather than “bad guy” silhouettes. However, many of Gunsite’s Live Fire Outdoor Tactical Simulators are used, including “The African Trail,” in which life-sized animal targets are rigged with a flag that pops up when a killing shot is made.

Normally this is a three-day exercise, but because Javelina season was opening on the third day of our inaugural class, some of us played hooky and went hunting, where I—along with many of our group, including White—bagged pigs. (Note: a hunt is not part of Gunsite’s class; we just lucked out with Javelina season coinciding with the Gunsite dates.) I should note that while my pig wasn’t the biggest (“I’m impressed with your shooting, Rick,” White told me, “I didn’t think you could hit anything that small!”) I did drop it with a single shot taken from a kneeling position, using a two-handed hold, and remembering to cant my handgun slightly as I cocked it with my left thumb—techniques I learned in Gunsite’s Hunter’s Prep.

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