Handgun Hunting: Choosing Scopes and Sights


Hunting with a handgun scope

An Elusive Wildlife Technologies XLR 100 Kill Light mounted to the
barrel of a Ruger Bisley Hunter.


You have made the decision to hunt with your new big-bore revolver, and now you are facing the decision of choosing a sighting system for this short-barreled firearm. Or maybe you will only be punching paper and not hunting. What is the best system available? That depends. There are a number of factors that determine what is best for you.

The handgun hunter and recreational shooter should ask themselves a number of questions, in order to make an educated determination and help narrow down the hundreds of choices out there.

Are you hunting over bait from a stand? If so, how long of a shot do you expect and what is the maximum distance you could end up ultimately shooting? Will you be shooting off a rest (for maximum stability)?

Are you hunting with dogs? How good is your vision? Another thing to consider is recoil and making sure the system you choose can withstand the considerable abuse generated by a high-powered handgun.

Sighting System 1: Scopes

There are a number of quality scopes produced specifically for handguns today, such as those offered by Burris and Leupold. What sets them apart from other firearms scopes is that they will have a long eye relief, enabling their effective use on a firearm that is held at arms’ length.

A revolver set up for hunting.

An example of a revolver set up for handgun hunting with a scope. The author recommends some sort of rest or support while using a handgun scope.

Using a scope on a handgun requires some getting used to. All the shakes and wobbles we experience when shooting offhand are exaggerated when peering through a scope, particularly when using a variable scope set to a high magnification. With a handgun, you don’t have the benefit of whole-body support for the firearm. Thus, the movement of the firearm is increased.

Because of the long eye relief inherent in handgun scopes, the light gathering capability of the exit pupil is compromised. Therefore, some of the advantages gained by using a scope on a rifle don’t quite translate over to a handgun scope. These are simply physical limitations that are not the fault of design or manufacture, but rather the location of the scope relative to the shooter’s eye.

Scoped handguns are best used with a solid rest. For hunting applications, this makes them nearly optimal for use from a stand or blind over bait, where you’ll have the rail of your stand or even shooting sticks to use.

Scopes also offer, of course, the added benefit of magnification, allowing the hunter to better assess and judge the animal in their sights, and the ability to shoot at longer ranges more accurately. Likewise, the target shooter should be able to shoot more accurately with a scope on a handgun, as the sighting system is more precise from an aiming standpoint.

All that being said, personally, I don’t care for scopes on big-bore revolvers, mostly because they are difficult to use in a hurry, i.e., it’s difficult to quickly acquire a solid and thorough sight picture. Where you have the luxury of glassing an area and carefully picking your shot, scopes are fine.

But, to me, this is a very limited option that truly has specific times and places for use. If a scope is something you choose for your handgun, check with the manufacturer and make sure that the scope you’re considering is made specifically for or is compatible with handgun use and can handle the recoil from big-bores in particular.