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By Gary Smith

The Leupold 2x EER, at 8 inches in length, fits nicely between the sights on the new Hunter. Photo Gary Smith

Today there are many cartridges that out perform the 44 Magnum but the venerable cartridge isn't any less capable now than when it was introduced by Remington and Smith & Wesson in 1955. Early handgun hunters like Elmer Keith and Robert E. Peterson used the big 44 revolver to take many large and sometimes dangerous animals. Besides Smith & Wesson's model 29, Ruger was also an early player in the 44 Magnum market with their single action Super Blackhawk.

Depending on your point of view, one of the historical drawbacks to hunting with a revolver has been the difficulty encountered when trying to mount a scope on the gun. This isn't too surprising since handgun scopes didn't really exist when these guns were designed. Over the years though the handgun scope has evolved and gained enough popularity that most manufacturers have sought a solution.

One of the most elegant solutions comes from Ruger, long recognized for firearm innovation. Some years ago they developed a dovetail scope mounting system for their rifles so it was a natural progression to apply the same system to a revolver. The Super Blackhawk Hunter differs from the standard version in that it has a heavy solid ribbed barrel, round trigger guard, and laminated wood grips. The barrel rib is machined to accept the dovetail scope rings found on other Ruger firearms. This design places the scope out over the barrel and balances out this rig nicely, also helping to tame the recoil.

In mid-2001 Ruger re-introduced the Super Blackhawk Hunter and after using one over the past several months I can tell you this is one great hunting handgun. I've owned 44s from most of the major manufacturers over the years because I simply enjoy shooting and because no self-respecting handgunner should be without at least one 44 Magnum.

At The Range
The Cast Core bullets tested grouped well at 100 yards. Photo Gary Smith
I wasn't able to get one of the new Rugers until very late in 2001, too late in Virginia's deer season to get a shot before the season closed but I was instantly pleased with the accuracy of the gun. Through the winter and early summer I practiced with the gun frequently after I installed a 2x Leupold handgun scope. While the Leupold is a bit under powered for my taste, it can be mounted without removing either the front or rear sight and balances very well on the gun. Groups at 100 yards of about three inches were common with just about any load I tried including factory hard cast loads from Federal and Garrett. The 300-grain Federal Cast Core bullet chronographed at 1275 fps and the 310-grain Garrett Hammerhead clocked in at 1375 fps. They are both hard-hitting bullets and although the Federal was slightly more accurate in my test gun, both perform well on big game as I would soon discover.

Once the grip of winter subsided I was eager to test myself and the Hunter on groundhogs. The 2x scope is limiting on some shots because of the difficulty in seeing the little critters but
This hog was shot just under the chin from about 75 yards. Photo Gary Smith
I did manage to kill the ones I shot at within the 100 yard mark. The 44 Magnum isn't normally considered a varmint cartridge but I wanted to build my confidence shooting the gun. I had a trip to Africa scheduled for July and I wanted to use the 44 on a few of the animals I was planning to hunt. I worked up a load of 22 grains of 2400 powder and the Hornady 200-grain XTP bullets as a practice load. The load was below maximum in my gun but still producing about 1400 fps and would group six shots in 3 to 3.5 inches at 100 yards.

Most of the animals I planned to hunt in Africa were quite large and I didn't want poor bullet placement to become an issue. I practiced weekly at the shooting range and by the time my safari rolled around I was able to hit a round 9 inch steel plate virtually at will from any position under 100 yards. I practiced shooting mostly from the standing position and walked the distance to reset the plate after each hit, which also helped get my walking legs in shape. Considering the size and reputation for toughness of African game I planned to limit my shots with the Hunter to 100 yards or less.

In Africa
Hunting in Africa is truly a unique experience. The trip started from Dulles airport just outside Washington DC at 4:00 A.M. Thirty-three hours later I was at base camp in Northern South Africa. I had only been there about five minutes when I drew first blood. Unfortunately, it was my own. It seems every thing over there either bites, stings, or sticks and I hadn't quite ducked low enough to clear a wait-a-bit bush. The thorn sliced my ear open, promptly leaving a good blood trail running down the side of my neck. It was quite a humbling experience. I had taken two steps into the African bush and I was already bleeding. Of course it didn't help that my PH, Bobby Hansen, was finding the whole episode rather humorous.

With the aforementioned blood ritual over, I got into the hunting groove and after a few days I was ready to switch from my Contender to the Hunter. We had spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to spot and stalk some of the animals remaining on my list. By 10 A.M. the decision was made to go to a blind in the heavy cover and watch over a water hole during mid-day in the hope that a suitable specimen would get thirsty.

A blind at a water hole in Africa is a wonderful thing to experience.
"Oh, they are such cheeky fellows!"
Photo Gary Smith

During the next few hours we watched kudu, warthog, guinea fowl, mongoose, impala, waterbuck, and other species come in to drink. Most enjoyable were the warthogs. They could entertain me all day with their territorial squabbles and air of sophistication. With a big smile and British accent, Sue Morton, the landowner's wife, best described them. She said, "Oh, they are such cheeky fellows!" Indeed they are.


It was about two o'clock when a group of seven wildebeest bulls strolled into view. The choice came down to one of two bulls that were very similar in the horn. I picked the one with the sharper inward hook and lined up the crosshairs in the crease behind his shoulder. When I fired the bull staggered sideways before regaining his composure and galloping off. We got on the track of the wounded bull but after 100 yards hadn't found any blood. I was confident the shot was good though and after another 75 yards or so Bobby found the dead bull. The shot entered right where I was holding and exited in the middle of the off-side shoulder. With the bull recovered Bobby offered to make the two mile walk back to get the truck and I enjoyed the solitude, alone with my trophy in the African bush.

Bobby Hansen and the author pose together with the "poor man's buffalo". Ugly to some, the wildebeest is a staunch symbol of Africa and one of her toughest animals to bring down quickly. A real trophy in my book. The 300-grain Federal Cast Core was used to anchor this bull.

Even though the wildebeest was only about 50 yards away when I fired, Bobby was impressed that the 300-grain Federal bullet zipped right through and dispatched the beast so quickly. Wildebeest, have a reputation for being tough to stop but like Bobby said, "speed does not kill...a big slow bullet in the right spot is deadly".

I also found out that a big slow bullet in not-quite the right spot can get exciting. We had spotted a good warthog as we drove along a ranch road. He didn't seem too concerned so we drove past him a few hundred yards and then went back to see if he had remained feeding. We soon spotted the pig and from about 40 yards I fired through the brush. A solid thump indicated a hit but he ran off and left little blood trail to follow. For the first time I wasn't sure we would find an animal. Bobby had his dog Phinda on the truck so we turned her out to help find the pig. Phinda hates pigs. Initially she seemed to be working out the track but then just disappeared. She isn't a hound so she really isn't inclined to bark much. About five minutes later Bobby and I figured out where Phinda went. She had caught the hog about 300 yards from us and the fight was on. We ran through the bush stopping every so often to get the bearing until we caught up with the pair. Amid more growling and squealing, than I've ever heard Phinda was squarely between the pig's tusks and both the dog and the pig were both covered in blood. I feared the worst, that the dog had been ripped open by the sharp tusks.
Phinda the hog dog, exhausted but unhurt after a scrap with this warthog.
They were in very thick thorn but Bobby and I waded into the melee from opposite sides to try and separate the two. As the four of us danced around a bit trying to get a better position everything went into slow motion. The dog, exhausted but unhurt, loosened her grip on the pig and just stood there. The pig, no doubt weakened also, stood looking at me like it wanted to charge but couldn't muster the energy, and Bobby drew his own 44 and finished it. Once it was over and we checked Phinda for injuries Bobby got a big smile on his face slapped me on the back and exclaimed, "damned if we haven't had some exiting hunting". It turned out that my shot had good windage but went over the lungs and under the spine into no man's land. An expanding bullet would have probably dropped the hog instantly but the hard cast bullet just didn't do much damage to the thinner skinned warthog.

One of the great things about Africa is the variety of animals that can be hunted. Consequently excellent opportunities also exists to test different bullets. I had taken two different 44 hard cast bullets to try out and with zebra next on my list I switched to the Garrett 310-grain Hammerhead. We had seen a large herd of zebra earlier in the hunt but often landowners will not allow animals to be taken from a breeding herd; a group of males or a single animal must be located. We were able to observe the zebra herd long enough to tell that there were several stallions in the group which is more than adequate to maintain active breeding. Bobby spoke with the landowner and permission was given to take a stallion from this herd; now we just had to find them.

A cheetah had been seen in the same area we were hunting and all of the animals were very much on edge. They were constantly on alert and often just took off running in every direction for no apparent reason. We suspected the zebra observed earlier had been spooked by the cat because our initial encounter was the result of a stampede that ended right in our lap. Bobby knew the general area the zebra inhabited but we didn't know how the cheetah's presence would affect their movements. We did know they would be spooky so once again we elected to sit the blind and hope they would show themselves.

About mid-day the zebra herd appeared at the edge of the clearing and as they approached the waterhole Bobby pointed out the stallion in the lead. I was waiting for a good angle when the herd wheeled around and bolted. They were unsure why they were running and the stallion, now in the rear, bounced to a stop and turned to look back. I had a couple branches to negotiate the bullet through but I picked out an opening and placed the crosshairs on the front shoulder. I had the Hunter rested on my left knee and the scope did not waver as I squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit the stallion hard and almost immediately Bobby said, "he's down". I responded, "I know", but Bobby still in disbelief exclaimed with more authority, "No, he's down!"

The bullet obviously disrupted the spine as it passed completely through the tough zebra. We approached the animal and Bobby had me put a finisher in him, which seems to be the rule in Africa when an animal hasn't quite expired by the time it's reached. As we admired the beautiful wide stripes Bobby's enthusiasm with the shot was apparent and we engaged in a little contest to see who could guess the range. With the reading of 89 yards on his Leica range finder, Bobby's guess fell a bit short and I took a measure of satisfaction in the win.

Zebra have a reputation for being difficult to bring down but good bullet placement and the right bullet at a reasonable range achieved the desired result.

I found hunting with the new Ruger Hunter to be particularly rewarding and I'm certain it will continue to provide me with shooting pleasure for many years. I am afraid I've been guilty of over looking the 44 Magnum and perhaps revolvers in general for hunting in the past few years. It's easy to do with the many options available to handgun hunters but I can't imagine anyone being disappointed with this gun and its capabilities. No, it does not have unlimited power or produce minute of angle accuracy, but with the right bullets at reasonable shooting distances it can handle quite a bit.

In addition to zebra and wildebeest, the author also killed two warthogs and this impala with the Super Blackhawk Hunter.
Hunting in Africa was a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend it to those that have an interest. I took quite a few animals with handguns during my two-week hunt and I really enjoyed the interest everyone displayed in hunting with handguns. From trackers who couldn't speak English to landowners and other professional hunters, everyone had wide eyes when it came to the handguns. Some even wanted their picture taken with the guns to show their friends.

 


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Recent Comments:

Poster: rbecker    Date: 2012-06-17    Top

Its nice having those open sights as a backup plan should something go awry with your optics. All you need is a screw driver or coin, off comes the scope you are back in the hunt. I dropped my contender once and broke the entire eyepiece off an old Redfield 2.5 scope that came with the gun. An excuse to replace it, found a used Leupold M8 4x silver at the gunshow for 200 bucks better than new. Great job Gary. I liked your story. It just inspires me to get out into the woods with my gun. Live to hunt..
Poster: FrankW    Date: 2011-07-05   Top

I have too set up just like Gary's. When m boy was in Afghanistan he bought it for me. Good kid. One prong horn antelope, one blackmail deer and many prairie dogs and ground squirrels.
Poster: Scharms    Date: 2010-08-21    Top

Great write up, I own the Bisley Hunter & work it out on the local whitetail population.
Poster: jsjmag    Date: 2009-11-03   Top

Gary thats a great article and it looks like an exciting hunt.I have a few 44's my self but I have one of those hunters on backorder at my local gun shop.Keep up the good work.
Poster: az_shooter    Date: 2009-11-02    Top

One of the few handguns that I wish I had never sold. :(
Poster: Billofrights    Date: 2009-04-23   Top

I ditto your remark Montanan. If it can't be done with a .44 Magnum used with the right bullet i.e. Garrett HammerHead's and in the right place, it can't be done any better by any other handgun cartridge. Which is to say bullet construction has reached a zenith of development for the .44 magnum and no foot pounds louden boomer can kill any quicker or deader than dead.
Poster: Montanan    Date: 2008-06-23    Top

Gary thanks for writing this up, as the more .44 Magnum write ups I read, it just re-enforces why I chose the .44 Magnum cartridge.





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