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Can You Hunt With a Handgun? Pros, Cons, & Types

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handgun hunting

Hunting remains a popular outdoor pastime in the United States, with about 15 million participants¹ taking up arms to look for game in 2020. People have assumed the role that predators served in many populated areas to manage the herd. About 4.58 million individuals¹ went bow hunting for this year. While you probably know that firearms are permitted, it may surprise you to learn it includes handguns, too.

Many states use this term to describe shotguns, rifles, and handguns collectively. About 7.63 million hunters¹ use the first type, 10.76 million for the second¹, and almost 3 million¹ for the latter. One factor affecting the figures may lie with the geography and population density of the various states. The top three¹ places for registered hunters are South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

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Seasons and Game

You must do your homework before hunting, regardless of the weapon you use. The rules and regulations are often complex, with many exceptions and special cases. Some allow hunters to take only certain game species. You may also find different seasons on federal, state, and private lands. They may vary by the particular management site.

 It’s worth noting that some also allow other types, including muzzleloaders and flintlocks. Some states have different seasons for these weapons. For example, Delaware¹ has a separate handgun deer season while others group it with other firearms. However, many areas ban possessing any gun that isn’t legally permitted for that season and game species.

For example, Illinois¹ allows handguns during the deer season. However, you cannot use it on upland game birds. The same applies to Connecticut¹, which includes waterfowl. This state also treats private land differently, requiring a completed owner’s consent form to hunt. While hunting with handguns is allowed in many places, there are many rules to follow.

hunter in the wild
Image Credit: Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

Handgun Types and Ammo

It’s par for the course for a state to regulate the type and load of firearms. Handguns are no exception. Most are quite specific with the details. You must have a gun capable of delivering at least 400 foot-pounds of energy at 50 yards in Nebraska¹. You also must carry your handgun in plain view in Michigan¹ when hunting. You must also have your hunting license in your possession.

Iowa¹ makes it quite clear about its requirements for handguns as having “a barrel length of at least four inches and firing straight wall or other centerfire ammunition propelling an expanding-type bullet with a maximum diameter of no less than .350 of an inch and no larger than .500 of an inch.” You may find different requirements depending on the game species.

Many states also prohibit carrying a handgun during bow season unless it’s for personal protection. Bear in mind that many states require non-lead ammo, too. The basic regulations that cover hunting with other firearms will apply to handguns, such as not shooting over water. Our research found that the latter often carries some extra regulations worth researching.

Nevertheless, there are several pros and cons to consider before you take the next step.

Image Credit: Brett_Hondow, Pixabay
  • Ability to hone your shooting skills
  • More lightweight than a shotgun or rifle
  • Satisfaction with the challenge
  • Lots of practice
  • Easy maneuvering
  • Lots of regulations across the board
  • Stealth: a must-have skill to get closer to game
  • Challenging to shoot
  • Handgun scope¹ recommended

hummingbird divider Final Thoughts

Many hunters say that using a handgun in the field is more challenging. It may be more lightweight, but it may not be as accurate on its own. However, you’ll likely find it’s easy to bushwhack with a gun in a holster. The other thing to remember is that you’ll have to get a lot closer to your quarry before shooting. All these things may make handgun hunting more demanding.

Nevertheless, many people will tell you that’s why they use this firearm. They enjoy how it tests them. Of course, advances in weapon and ammo technology have made it easier for the hunter. If you’re looking to step up your game, a handgun might be just the thing to get more enjoyment out of this sport.

Featured Image Credit: howliekat, Pixabay

About the Author Chris Dinesen Rogers

Chris has been writing since 2009 on a variety of topics. Her motto with all of her writing is “science-based writing nurtured by education and critical thinking.” Chris specializes in science topics and has a special love for health and environmental topics, and animals of all shapes and sizes.