“I killed an 8-point buck with my pistol,” Wayne told me several years ago, a few days after participating in the Missouri firearms deer season.

“I shot him at 125 yards,” he added. “That’s a long shot with a pistol!”

The following season, Wayne harvested another antlered buck with the same hardware, and the next year a mature doe.

Wayne’s passion for pursuing whitetails with a firearm other than a rifle or shotgun tickled my fancy, so much so that I eventually purchased a pistol at a Joplin gun shop. At more than $700, it cost more than many new centerfire rifles.

All these years later, I still can’t believe my wife agreed to the purchase. Playing it smart, I bought the handgun before she had a chance to change her mind.

Not taking my purchase lightly, I spent hours researching handguns designed specifically for big game hunting. My goal was to make an educated decision, one with no regrets.

I accomplished that by purchasing a Thompson Center Arms Encore in a .270 package — a hard-kicking big bore. The break-action, single-shot handgun arrived ready for field use with a 15-inch barrel without iron sights (not needed when a scope is used), Weaver-style base and rings, 2.5X recoil-proof scope and an attractive, well-padded carrying case that holds extra barrels in a variety of calibers.

An attractive handgun, indeed, both frame and barrel are beautifully blued, and the ambidextrous grip and forend are made of ultra-soft rubber.

The Encore’s barrel is significantly shorter than tubes on standard rifles, but fear not, the loss of projectile velocity doesn’t matter as far as harvesting deer and other big game is concerned. Speed doesn’t kill; proper bullet placement does.

Experienced shooters acknowledge that it’s significantly more difficult to shoot a pistol as accurately as a rifle at long ranges.

Although some marksman are consistent at making harvest shots 100 yards and beyond with a handgun, I’m not because I don’t practice enough. It takes many hours of practice to be proficient with a handgun. Powerful short-barrel pistols kick like a mule, and muzzle blasts are excessively loud. One or both are uncomfortable for some shooters to tolerate.

Accuracy is paramount in ensuring a clean, ethical kill. And for many who don’t put in a lot of time at the range, that means requiring a willingness to pass on animals that you could’ve easily taken with a rifle. Handgun hunting, which is short on advantages and long on disadvantages, demands patience and stealth.

Although today’s pistols and revolvers are more accurate than ever, hunters must know their limitations to harvest an animal ethically. The maximum shooting range with any firearm varies from hunter to hunter; however, pistol hunting is much like bow hunting in that most shots are taken at short distances.

My in-laws use to own 40 acres of prime deer habitat south of Carl Junction near Turkey Creek. They lived in a charming log home and one fall Bill and Virginia patterned deer crossing some 75 to 100 yards in front of their kitchen window in the hardwood timber. A week or two before the firearms deer season that year, I pitched a blind near that location and brushed it in.

After hunting in northern Missouri for the opening three days of the firearms deer season, I arrived at the blind the following day 45 minutes before dawn. At daybreak, I heard a deer at close range crossing behind my blind before turning east.

The buck, sporting a small basket rack with a big body, stopped broadside just 10 yards north of the blind. Baffled, I didn’t anticipate such a close encounter, nor did I prepare for one.

Even with the scope set at it’s lowest magnification, all I could see was an out-of-focus deer hide. For several seconds, I frantically searched for the vitals. The crosshairs eventually located the right shoulder. After squeezing the trigger, the buck dashed 50 yards in front of the blind and collapsed into a soft bed of crunchy leaves.

And just like that, I was successful in bagging a deer on my first handgun hunt. How could I not? The animal was all but in my lap. Although a little close for comfort, I managed to seal the deal.

If you’ve never hunted big game with a handgun and would like an extra challenge, give it a try.

A harvest is extremely rewarding.

Keith Costley lives in Baxter Springs, Kansas, and is an avid fisherman and hunter.

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