Hunting With Handguns

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by Dan Bowers a.k.a. Dan B.     Last updated: 2009-11-17 20:20:15

My wife has learned a few things in our ten years of marriage. The first thing she learned was that for two weeks after Thanksgiving I am about useless during daylight hours. Thatís the PA deer season and spend as many daylight hours as possible devoted to filling my tags and helping others get their deer. The second thing she learned was that during the month of May I am about useless from daylight until noon. That the PA Spring Turkey season and I spend most morning trying to kill a lovesick gobbler. And most recently she has learned a third quirk to my hunting habits. Starting late in October and running for two weeks is the fall turkey season and I take any possible free time and sneak out after these feathered ghosts.

This fall I just got home from work and had about 60 minutes of daylight remaining. I glanced at the clock, looked out the window at the slowly setting sun and turned to Cindy. She just knew. As I scurried down the steps to grab my gear, still wearing bluejeans and Columbia boots, I announced that Iíd be back after dark. A short ten minute drive and hurried ten minute hike had me in position to overlook a staging area where the turkey often hang out before flying up to roost. Sneaking the last 100yds and glassing the field edge gave me time to calm my breathing. When reaching my shooting position, I quickly checked some spots with the rangefinder, checked the average wind speed and started glassing again. It only took about five minutes when the first bowling pin shaped body materialized from the wood edge. Then another and another and another and anotherÖ.soon there were eight birds in the field. Not wanting to waste any daylight, I double checked the range on the closest bird. It was 181yds which required a .75 MOA scope adjustment and a light 2mph wind. Since the adjustments were so slight, I opted not to touch the scope and just compensate with my aiming point. As soon as the turkey turned straight away, I centered the Burris reticle between the wing butts, raised up about four inches (two inches for the range and two inches for the intended impact point), and started the squeeze. Seconds later a 50gr V-Max from the XP-100 .222 Remington Magnum Improved streaked across the open space. The shot landed dead on and the hen was rendered motionless while the other birds were gettin-outta-Dodge!

Typically turkey hunters use shotguns and itís a close range venture. During the spring season I hunt that way since I usually take folks along and have had to make some fast and long follow up shots to anchor wounded birds. My tool of choice is the Mossberg 835 with Federal Flite Control Wad 3.5Ē #5 loadsÖitís a hammer!! I was never a fall turkey hunterÖuntil recently when I realized a new way to hunt. Since Iím usually by myself this time of year I adapted my deer hunting strategy to turkeys. This involves all the same gear, optics and handguns; the only difference is the cartridge used.

I am fortunate to live in an area of PA that has a decent turkey population. This allows me to hunt them similar to deer by patterning them according to sleeping and eating habits. And in doing this I can set up for shots accordingly. I supposed that if I wanted to set up nearby and shoot one close that would be entirely possible. But since my interests are more on distance shooting, this makes the perfect opportunity to test my deer hunting gear. My set ups are located in a fence row, on hilltops or against a large tree and overlook harvested fields. The possible shooting distances are usually from 150 yards to 400 yards. In the last five years I have taken four fall hens using this strategy.

When choosing a cartridge for fall turkey it would be tempting to reach for a .22LR or .22 WMR since after all, they are just a big bird with feathers. Wild turkey are a very tough animal and can be hard to anchor. Several years ago I shot one with the Mossberg at 35 yards. It fell over, flopped for a minute then took off running. I ended up blood trailing that bird for over 500 yards and never did find it. So when going afield after fall birds, the smallest cartridge I reach for is my ultra accurate .222 Remington. Iím sure that a .22 Hornet or .218 Bee would also work well if ranges were close and shot selection was limited to high neck and head. But just like deer hunting, I like to know that I can take a shot from about any angle or range and use a cartridge that will accomplish the just that. When using the .222 Remington, I load it with the Hornady 50 grain V-Max. With this combo I can confidently take a bird out to 300yds without hesitation. For longer range shooting Iíll bump up to a .22-250 and still use the 50gr V-Max. If the wind is kicking around then Iíll use a .243 Winchester with 70gr Nosler BTs, .250 Savage Improved with 100gr Sierra MatchKings or, in extreme cases, my 7mm-270WSM with 162gr Hornady A-Maxs. Yes, I get serious about fall turkey hunting!! All of these are chambered in either a Savage Striker or XP-100, topped with Burris 3-12x32 LER optics and rested on Harris bipods.

But what about meat damage? Youíd think a bird shot with the 7m-270WSM would just be a pile of feathers and turkey burger. Not so. The breasts on a turkey are very low on the body and IMO these are the only decent parts of a wild turkey to eat. The legs and wings are super tough! By keeping the shot placement in the upper half of the body any meat damage can be kept at a minimum. In fact, Iíve never ruined even one single bite of turkey meat using a centerfire rifle style cartridge from a specialty pistol. My favorite shot angle is to have the turkey facing straight to or away, this presents a straight on shot to break the spine from the front or back side. Iíll center the reticle on the wing butts and move up about two inches or aim about two inches below the highest feathers on the neck. On three fall hens I used the 50gr V-Max and the spine shot placement combo. Two of those birds had copper jacket material at the entrance hole and none of the three had an exit hole. Ranges on those three were from 181yds out to 229yds. The fourth bird was shot using the 162gr A-Max at 396yds. Obviously it had an exit hole. None of the birds even took a step or even flopped a wing once on the ground.

Taking aim at a target that may be three inches across requires an ultra accurate field rig. On many occasions in my earlier years of fall turkey hunting Iíve used T/C Contenders in .22 Hornet or .222 Remington. Though I was comfortable shooting these, anytime a shot was presented it just seemed that getting a rock solid field rest was a problem. With such a small target and its habit of constantly moving, minimizing any shooter motion is critical. My preferred platform for a turkey hunting gun, if youíve not guessed by now, is the bolt action style specialty pistols. Not only are they more inherently accurate, the floated forearm allows easier use of a bipod and more possible ways of getting steady. This allows for better shot placement and increased effective range.

I admit that my methods of turkey hunting may be a little different when compared against the norm, but I sure do have fun!!! There is nothing like sitting along a hedgerow as a sniper with shooting gear ready to rockíníroll and glassing for targets. Then like ghosts, the dark grey and brown bodies start to materialize against the field edge. As they feed along, Iím taking range readings and checking wind. Then when the time is right, adjust accordingly for the conditions and make the shot count.


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Recent Comments:

Poster: gemihur    Date: 2014-04-10    Top

Still a great read! I'm taking my contender carbine in 6.8 SPC out with me on opening day in less than 48 hrs. So I was just boning up on some pointers. Thanks for the insights.
Poster: sixgunner454    Date: 2013-02-07   Top

Please tell me who made the stock on your XP100. I'm shopping for a new one to replace the factory plastic stock. Still unsure what I want but, I do want something tasteful and "sexy"!! Thanks! - Matt
Poster: grey owl    Date: 2012-11-28    Top

I wish Missouri would let us use handguns.....maybe one of these days!
Poster: gemihur    Date: 2011-10-12   Top

Way to go! Great story. Thanks for sharing. Excellent shooting! Jimmy
Poster: SChunter    Date: 2009-12-30    Top

Dan, No wonder you're proficient at long ranges on big game! An antelope must seem like a tank compared to a turkey! Congratulations...
Poster: Dan B.    Date: 2009-11-19   Top HAVE to try it. It's a blast. Shooting a turkey is more challenging than a whitetail. Shot placement is extremely critical...deer may run but can still be tracked, a poorly placed shot on a bird may result in it flying away and never be seen again.
Poster: Russell    Date: 2009-11-19    Top

Enjoyed the article!! Okla does allow handguns during its fall season. May hafta try it.
Poster: KRal    Date: 2009-11-17   Top

Great article, Dan! Spring turkey hunting is my favorite hunting sport and I love chasing them with my 45/410 Contender or my new 20ga Encore pistol. But, don't think I wouldn't love to take one "sniper style". Unfortunantly, is illegal in my home state to us anything other than bow or shotgun....but, maybe one of these days.....

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