As I waited along the ridge of beech trees, I heard the faint rustling of leaves behind me. Surely a deer was headed my way. I turned slowly toward the noise and scanned the tree line for antlers, an outline of a body or perhaps just an ear to confirm my suspicions.
Stare as I might, I could not see a deer.
I soon reasoned to myself that I had been hearing things when all of a sudden that source of the noise made its appearance.
Instead of a wide-beamed buck in rut, I was looking directly at a male ruffed grouse, puffed out and strutting toward me. With only a 180-grain .30-06 load for firepower, I turned my back on yet another game-less day.
I did, however, vow to carry a small pistol on my next trip for just such an occasion.
A sidearm carried while hunting deer can be utilized in a variety of ways. Not only can you take smaller game and birds, you can also use it as a backup weapon in case of a rifle malfunction, or as a less destructive coup de Gras for a downed animal.
Taking game and birds with a small caliber semi-automatic pistol, or revolver is also a true test of skill for hunters. Keen-eyed shooters, who are ready when an opportunity is presented, can put meat on the camp table when big game is scarce. More and more hunters are returning to the time honored tradition of carrying a sidearm in the woods. By doing so, they become a more versatile hunter.
Years ago, you couldn't pick up a copy of any of the popular sporting magazines without being bombarded with advertisements for pistols and revolvers. In those days, use of a "woods sidearm" was fairly commonplace. Over time, that tradition has ebbed due to concealed carry laws that have become more restrictive.
Today, a deer hunter wishing to carry a handgun while hunting -in most states- must not conceal the gun in any manner, on or about their person. This includes placing it in a pack or knapsack. Hunters in many states, who possess a "concealed carry permit", have the luxury of carrying it under their clothing where it is protected from the weather. For most of us, a belt holster with an ammo pouch is all that is needed to carry a sidearm legally and comfortably.
With overlapping hunting seasons common in most states, it makes sense to carry a smaller caliber gun for potting small game, varmints, or even birds. Looking at the Hunting Regulations Summary in my home state of Maine, the November deer hunter, (depending on where they are hunting) can also legally take ruffed grouse, pheasant, rabbit, gray squirrel, raccoon, fox, coyote and other less desirable species like red squirrel, skunk, porcupine and woodchuck. While the responsible hunter won't go out in the woods to blast at everything that passes their view, there are times when desirable game presents itself. It's times like these that a sidearm, really comes in handy.
Many seasons before my grouse revelation, I had just settled down in the crotch of an apple tree in the middle of an overgrown field. Tracks indicated that deer were crossing the field and feeding on apples, so I planned to sit until dark. After a few minutes, I heard that old familiar rustling in the wood line. This time, the rustler turned out to be a beautifully-maned red fox that loped across the field, pausing briefly when I whistled.
I had wanted a fox pelt to hang in my den for some time, but I was afraid that the large .30-caliber bullet I was using would destroy the pelt, so I passed up the shot. When I think back on that incident, I wonder why it took me so long to consider carrying a sidearm.
A seemingly unlimited offering of pistols and revolvers are on the market for deer hunters to carry, but the .22 caliber rimfire is, perhaps, the most versatile and useful choice. If minimal meat damage, low noise and high accuracy are your concerns, the .22 earns high marks in those categories. The small-grain .22 bullet causes minimal damage to table fare when placed properly. Its report makes little noise and is as accurate -at moderate ranges- as any firearm you could desire.
Where noise or range is a concern, hunters have a wide variety of .22 caliber shells to choose from. Aside from the standard .22 long rifle cartridge, hunters can use .22 shorts, high-power rounds and even sub-sonic loads. Remington manufacturers a round to fit each of these categories.
For those opting for an extremely light .22 load that is less-likely to spook game or destroy pelts, the Remington .22 Short Golden Bullet is just the ticket. Delivering a 29-grain lead bullet at a mere 1,095 feet-per-second (fps), this load is ideal for dispatching upland birds and fur-bearers (where legal).
For a reduced load in the standard long rifle cartridge, Remington produces their .22 Subsonic round. This load consists of a 38-grain hollow-point bullet which with a muzzle velocity of 1050 fps.
Hunters desiring a "fast" load should set their sights on Remington's .22 Yellow Jacket round. This "little" round pushes a truncated cone hollow point slug out at an impressive 1500 fps!
If you decide on a larger caliber, or a .22 with a heavy frame, you will soon discover that keeping your pants up is a problem with a belt holster. To remedy this situation, you could buy some heavy-duty suspenders, but a shoulder holster makes more sense. With a lightweight coat, you can easily wear it on the outside, if you can't legally conceal it. Another advantage to the shoulder holster is the protection it provides for your sidearm. Tucked underneath your arm, it's convenient to access and allows you to keep the gun unscathed when busting through heavy cover. There are other choices, but I've found the Triple K holster is ideal.
Just as there are a variety of rounds to choose from, the number of pistols and revolvers can be overwhelming when it comes to narrowing the options down to one. One familiar name in .22 circles is Ruger. Ruger manufacturers several .22 caliber models that are well suited to the sidearm-carrying deer hunter. For those who prefer the repetitive speed of a semi-automatic, the Ruger Mark II can't be beat. For traditionalists, Ruger makes several revolvers in a .22 caliber. The Ruger SP101 is a double-action revolver, available in 2 1/4- and 4 ½-inch barrel lengths, but keep in mind that barrels of this short length won't be very accurate beyond minimal ranges. For this reason, the SP101 should be relegated to the coup de Gras category. For single-action aficionados, the Ruger Bearcat and Ruger Bisley revolvers fit the need of any sport.
My personal choice for the most versatile sidearm would be Ruger's New Model Super Single-Six. Available in barrel lengths ranging from 4 5/8- to 9 ½-inches, this revolver comes in .22 caliber with an extra cylinder chambered for .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) cartridges. The more potent WMR is not only well-suited to shooting varmints like coyote and fox at close ranges, it is legal to shoot deer with, although I'd limit it's big game use to dispatching downed animals.
With a vast assortment of handguns and a variety of open game species available to the deer hunter, it makes sense to look into a sidearm for the upcoming season. Without one, you might regret your choice when a handsome red fox makes his appearance or that plump grouse struts his stuff in your deer woods.
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