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Shotguns and rifles rightfully get the call for the majority of hunting and outdoor-related tasks. Yet, American outdoorsmen and women love their sidearms, too. From rimfires to massive wheelguns to pocket pistols that’ll ride in a flyfishing vest, going heeled in the great outdoors is just the way we do things around here. And these 30 cool pistols and revolvers—some classics, some new releases—are among the best handguns ever made for packing in places without sidewalks.
1. Smith and Wesson 29
In 1971 Clint Eastwood uttered a line that became famous, and now synonymous, with the S&W Model 29 44 Magnum revolver. He called it the “most powerful handgun in the world” and forever sealed its legacy as such. The revolver has been offered with barrel lengths from 4 to more than 10 inches, making it an ideal carry piece for defense against dangerous critters or for hunting just about anything. Surprisingly, the 29 was discontinued in 1990, but, because it’s such a cool revolver, its popularity prevailed; many times since it has been offered in limited or custom configurations (the modernized stainless version is called the 629). The 29 is a two-hand gun with the recoil to prove it. There is a reason many used 29s come with a half-box of unfired ammunition. —Richard Mann
2. Ruger Single Six
Bill Ruger’s first revolver was a single-action .22 reminiscent of the Colt Single Action Army. It hit the market in 1953, during a time when a lot of television heroes rode horses and wore cowboy hats. It’s a safe bet that most of those original guns are still in good shooting shape. Over the years, the Single Six has been offered in a variety of barrel lengths, in blued and stainless finishes, and with fixed and fully adjustable sights. Many Single Sixes have interchangeable cylinders, allowing you to shoot .22 LR and .22 Magnum ammunition. Modern versions—called New Model Single Sixes—have Ruger’s transfer-bar-safety system, making them safe to carry with all six chambers loaded. —Will Brantley
3. Smith and Wesson 686
Should you need a single handgun that will work for anything, a 4-inch S&W 686 .357 Magnum would be tough to beat. This stainless-steel revolver is built on Smith’s L-frame, meaning it’s a touch smaller than an N-frame, like the Model 629 .44 Magnum, but hefty enough for a lifetime of magnum shooting. The 686 Plus comes with a seven-round cylinder. With a good holster and strong back, you could carry it concealed, but it’s at its best enjoying the American sunshine in a hip or shoulder rig. Most 686s are scary accurate, and can be used for popping small game with .38 wadcutters and whitetails with full-power .357s. If you’re looking for a foolproof defensive gun that you don’t need to hide, you can’t do much better than this. —W.B.
4. Colt Single Action Army
Possibly the most iconic handgun of all time, the Colt Single Action Army (SAA), or “Peacemaker” as it is often called, is the classic cowboy handgun. It has ridden in the holsters of movie stars from Tom Mix to John Wayne, not to mention General George S. Patton. Today, it is often looked at as nothing more than a gateway to a time long gone, but when chambered for the .38 Special/.357 Magnum or for .45 Colt, the SAA can be a viable companion to the hunter, outdoorsman, or real cowboy—if there are any of those still left. But given that the SAA usually retails for about $1,500.00, you may have to sell a few cows in order to fork out the cash. —R.M.
5. Smith and Wesson .500
Just when it seemed as though magnum revolvers had hit their power plateau on the commercial market with the .454 Casull, Smith & Wesson introduced the X-frame double-action, chambered in the new .500 S&W (and later, the .460 S&W). The mammoth round—and equally massive gun—still holds the title of the most powerful commercial handgun made (even though high-powered rifle rounds in specialized single shots technically still outclass it). Most of the earlier .500s were sold with long, ported barrels and intended for use as big-game hunting tools. Some more recent versions designed for bear protection are available with much shorter barrels. The Model 500 is a five-shot revolver weighing in at almost 4½ pounds. It kicks like hell—though many veteran shooters will tell you that a .454 from a smaller gun is worse. —W.B.
6. Freedom Arms 83
If you want a fully custom single-action revolver, Freedom Arms is the premier source. Their Model 83 is like a Swiss watch, with no detail spared. They are available in a variety of grades to suit your champagne tastes and intended application. And, the list of options is extensive and includes sling swivels, special grips, octagonal barrels, and an assortment of sight selections. All of the common revolver cartridges are available, including .22 LR. You tell Freedom Arms how you want your Model 83 built, and then apply for a new credit card. These are exquisite handguns. They are not cheap. —R.M.
7. Smith & Wesson K22/617
Revolver aficionados who wanted a finely-crafted and superbly accurate wheel gun in .22 LR were rewarded with the S&W K22, in the 1930s. Ironically, it was introduced during the heart of the Depression, which would seem like a poor time to bring a high-end rimfire to market. It wasn’t. The K22, which became known as the “Outdoorsman,” is a classic and has reigned as the premier .22 LR revolver ever since. A myriad of variations exist—including one chambered for .22 Magnum—but you won’t often find these revolvers on the tables at gun shows; their owners tend to keep them and pass ‘em down. —R.M.
8. Taurus Raging Bull
In wildcat form, the .454 Casull has been around nearly as long as the .44 Magnum, but it wasn’t popularized commercially until the late ’90s. The aptly named Taurus Raging Bull was among the first—and still most popular—double-action revolvers designed to handle this powerhouse of a cartridge, the makers of which both strengthened and slightly lengthened the old .45 Long Colt case to provide substantially more power than the .44 Mag. The .454 kicks more than most shooters can handle, but who are we to say? It remains a popular and effective hunting round. The Raging Bull has an excellent trigger, good sights, a five-round, dual-locking cylinder, and a ported barrel that tames at least a bit of that vicious recoil. —W.B.
9. Ruger Mark IV
A rendition of the Ruger Mark I pistol, the Ruger Mark II was produced from 1952 until 2005, when it was replaced with the Mark III. In 2017, the easier to disassemble Mark IV moved in as the latest rendition of the pistol, the first of which came out in 1949. Originally made to replicate a Japanese military pistol, this little semi-automatic became one of the most prolific handguns ever produced. It is one of the best handguns ever for plinking and small-game, and it’s destined to hold that spot for a long time to come. —R.M.
10. Smith & Wesson Victory
Resembling the outcome of a one-night stand between a Browning Buckmark and a Ruger Mark II, the S&W Victory might not be the coolest handgun ever made as far as looks go, but it is incredibly versatile. Sport shooters, hunters, and target marksmen will each be hard-pressed to find a handgun with more value for the money. These pistols are incredibly accurate, and the rear sight is easily replaceable with a rail for mounting a scope or red-dot optic. —R.M.
11. Browning Buck Mark
Given Browning’s history of producing fine rifles like the A-Bolt and exquisite shotguns like the Superposed, shooters often forget the company also builds some excellent handguns. Introduced in 1985, the Buck Mark is a blowback-operated pistol chambered for the .22 LR, and over its 32-year history, countless variations have been offered. Amazingly, Browning currently catalogs 21 versions of the Buck Mark, with barrels from 4 to 7.5 inches long. There is bound to be a model, from the 32-ounce Micro to the suppressor-ready Field Target, that trips your trigger. —R.M.
12. Colt Woodsman
Introduced in 1915, the Colt Woodsman was the first reliable semi-automatic rimfire pistol, and one of the last pistols John Browning worked on for Colt. Originally known as the Colt Automatic Pistol, the Woodsman name came along in 1927, and it was fitting, given this pistol is perfectly suited for most any outdoor lifestyle. Though discontinued in 1977, one will eventually turn up if you look long enough. But should you find a Woodsman in good condition, be prepared for sticker shock. Today you’re probably better served with a more modern .22 autoloader, but the legacy of the semi-auto rimfire pistol started with the Woodsman. —R.M.
13. Sig Sauer P320
Like the 1911 and Beretta 92, this pistol is destined to become a classic by virtue of its being chosen as the new sidearm of the United States Army. The P320 is a modular design that allows for different grips and even caliber conversions. The P320 is also offered in a wide array of variations, including the RX model that comes out of the box with a Sig Sauer Romeo 1 reflex sight. It may have one of the best triggers offered on a polymer pistol, and it’s available in a flat dark-earth color that will help you lose the pistol if you lay it down in the leaves. —R.M.
14. Remington R1 Enhanced
Possibly the most copied and coolest handguns of all time, the full-sized 1911 is available from many manufacturers, and in more varieties than you can count or imagine. To support the war effort, 1911s were also made by Remington. A few years ago Remington celebrated this with the introduction of their own 1911 called the R1. Their newer and enhanced version is a modernization of the original Colt design, and it features upgrades like a fiber optic front sight, match grade barrel, beavertail grip safety, and checkered mainspring housing. It’s a new millennium version of this more than 100-year-old fighting pistol. —R.M.
15. Glock 17
Destined forever to be known as the handgun that started the plastic-pistol craze, the Glock 17 is a certified classic—and it’s more than just a polymer wonder. It has an untarnished reputation for reliability and ruggedness, and it has become a favorite of law enforcement worldwide. Though not an ideal hunting handgun, the G17, now in its fifth generation, is arguably one of the best handguns ever for concealed carry or personal protection. It’s almost impervious to the elements, and an outdoorsman looking for an under-the-seat truck gun would be hard-pressed to find a better option. —R.M.
16. Ruger LCP
Why is a pocket-size, plastic .380 ACP on a list of outdoor guns? You can’t hunt with it, it’s not much fun for target shooting, and a heavy rock will do you nearly as much good in a bear attack. Yet the reality is that the LCP is exactly the type pistol a lot of outdoorsmen and women carry these days, because they aren’t in bear country or going squirrel hunting. They’re carrying because they know bad guys exist, even in the woods. The wide acceptance of legal concealed carry has created a thriving market for lightweight, ultra-compact .380s that ride as well in a fishing wader pocket as they do anywhere. The Ruger LCP is one of the most popular, proven, and affordable examples, and deserves a place on this list. —W.B.
Revolvers for Plinking, Target Shooting, and Hunting
17. Ruger Blackhawk
On the heels of the hugely successful rimfire Single Six, Ruger introduced the single-action Blackhawk, a centerfire six-shooter originally chambered in .357 Magnum. The Blackhawk came with adjustable sights, and has since been sold in a variety of calibers and configurations, including conversion models with cylinders for .357/.38 Special and 9mm, as well as .45 Colt and .45 ACP. But it’s best known as one of the original .44 Magnums, since the Super Blackhawk version was introduced just about the time that the cartridge debuted (alongside the double-action Smith & Wesson Model 29). The Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk were instantly popular among hunters and outdoorsmen when introduced—and they still are to this day. —W.B.
18. Ruger Vaquero
Initially created to satisfy the cowboy-action shooting market, the Ruger Vaquero became the poor man’s Colt. Currently available in a long list of styles and finishes, the Vaquero retails for about half the price of the Colt Single Action Army, and it may be more rugged. For the hunter, the challenge is the same as with the Colt Single Action Army and that’s low profile, fixed sights. Vaqueros, however, are known for their reliability and accuracy. We all have a little cowboy in us, and the Vaquero might be the best, and most affordable, way to celebrate that. —R.M.
19. Colt New Frontier
Colt’s New Frontier single-action revolver is a modernization of their classic Single Action Army. This revolver comes with adjustable sights that make it a bit more shooter- and hunter-friendly. It is available in three barrel lengths, from 4¾ to 7½ inches, and you can choose between either the .44 Special or .45 Colt cartridge, both of which are ideal for hunting small- to medium-sized game. The adjustable sights give it a little more outdoor utility than the SAA, while sacrificing some of the cowboy flare. —R.M.
20. Colt Frontier Scout
If the Ruger Single Six looked like the Single Action Army, Colt’s Frontier Scout was the pureblood spawn of the Peacemaker—though it was arguably, and ironically, introduced in response to the Ruger’s success. The Frontier Scout was functionally identically to the Single Action Army, right down to the “four clicks” of the hammer. Despite the crude, fixed notch-and-post fixed sights, this revolver had a reputation as a particularly good shooter. It’s been discontinued since the ’80s, but you can still find a Frontier Scout for sale on occasion for a reasonable price. —W.B.
Best Handguns for Hiking
21. Smith and Wesson Kit Gun (Model 63)
The Model 63 is the modern, stainless-steel version of Smith’s original J-Frame rimfire, known by many as the “Kit Gun.” S&W still has a revolver officially called the Kit Gun in its line (the aluminum-alloy-frame 317) and a number of J-frame rimfires, but the heft of the stainless version is undeniably appealing in a trail gun. Today’s Model 63s (when you can find them) have a transfer-bar safety, eight-round cylinders, and good adjustable sights. Though not typically tack drivers on par with larger 617s, they will hold their own as squirrel guns and general plinkers. —W.B.
22. Browning 1911-22 Black Label Grey Compact
When most people see this pistol, they say, “Well, ain’t that cute.” And, it is. The Browning 1911-22 appeals to 1911 devotees because of its authentic design. Yet it also appeals to serious outdoorsman, since it’s compact and light for easy portage. Plus, it’s accurate enough for head-shooting squirrels and reliable enough to always depend upon. Though the Browning 1911-22 may cost a bit more than some .22 pistols, you’re paying for all that weight you won’t have to carry; unloaded this pistol weighs a mere 13 ounces. —R.M.
23. Glock 20
The 10mm is enjoying a resurgence among shooters, handgun hunters, and outdoorsmen seeking sidearm protection in bear country, and there are plenty of new 10mm pistols on the market to meet demand. The Glock 20, a full-size, 15-round 10mm, has been in production for years, and it remains one of the best choices for a semi-auto hunting pistol or a general-purpose outdoors gun with big firepower. Yeah, you can get more punch from a bigger revolver, but at the expense of more recoil, a heavier gun, and less than half the capacity. Pistols for bear protection are all a compromise, and this is a pretty good one. —W.B.
24. Colt Lightweight Commander
Some consider the Colt 1911 to be the best handguns ever for fighting, and it has for sure seen action. In fact, the first American airman to win the Medal of Honor used a 1911 in a shootout with German infantry after his plane was shot down. With its aluminum frame and 4.5-inch barrel, the LW Commander weighs 6 ounces less and is ¾ of an inch shorter than a full-size 1911. After its introduction almost 50 years ago, it became a favorite of undercover and off-duty cops, and it remains one of the most popular carry guns chambered for the .45 ACP. Copied by many, the Lightweight Commander is still available in 9mm or .45 in a slightly enhanced version. —R.M.
Best Long Range Pistols
25. Remington XP-100
Possibly the ugliest handgun ever made, the Remington XP-100 was also very popular because it shot so well. One of the first long-range handguns commercially produced, the XP-100 was introduced in 1963 with a new cartridge, the .221 Fireball. Ultimately the XP-100 would be chambered for a variety of cartridges, including the .308 Winchester and .35 Remington. It is a great competition handgun for silhouette shooting and just as useful and effective for hunters. The XP-100 was finally discontinued from production in 1997, but you can still find them on the used market. And, if you like to hunt at distance with a handgun, it is one of the best ever offered. —R.M.
26. T/C Contender/Encore
In 1967 the Thompson/Center Arms Company Contender was introduced. This single-shot pistol was a break action originally offered in .22 LR, .22 Magnum, .22 Hornet, .38 Special, and .22 Remington Jet. But the handgun proved so popular that soon a plethora of chamberings became available. It was also a perfect platform for wildcat cartridges. For a time, the Contender was likely the most popular hunting handgun available, and it was used to take everything from squirrels to elephants. The ability to quickly change barrels and cartridges made it unique. It still exists today as the newer G2 version, and the Encore, which chambers higher-pressure rifle rounds. —R.M.
27. Desert Eagle
Sick, mean, and nasty might be the millennial way of describing the Magnum Research Desert Eagle. Weighing in at almost 4.5 pounds, this is a big, bad semi-auto pistol, chambered for .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .50 Action Express. Its price tag is as staggering as its heft, with some variations costing as much as two grand. That works out to about $444 per pound. The Desert Eagle comes in more than 40 different variations, and there is little a man could not do with one, except carry it in a pocket. Buy a good holster; 4.5 pounds on your hip will strain your belt. —R.M.
28. Taurus Judge
The .410 shotshell and a rifled handgun barrel are not a ballistic match made in heaven, but that’s never hurt sales of the Taurus Judge. Most of these five-shot .410/.45 Colt revolvers are probably sold for home defense, but they’re wildly popular as truck and ATV guns, too. Though your best snake defense is usually to just walk around it, the Judge is a notable reptile slayer from about 10 feet. For larger threats, you can go with a load of .410 buckshot or a 250-grain .45 Long Colt bullet (though if you’re going to do that, you might as well get a dedicated .45 LC revolver). They’re well-made guns and are the kind of cool handguns that always get attention at the range. Might as well buy one for yourself. —W.B.
29. Ruger Single Seven .327
Possibly the ultimate trail gun, Ruger’s Single Seven in .327 Federal will chamber and fire .32 Short, .32 Long, .32 ACP, .32 H&R Magnum, and .327 Federal Magnum ammunition. That’s five cartridges and five power levels in one handgun. It’s needle-threading accurate, smaller than a .38 Special or .357 Magnum, and will handle about any chore an outdoorsman needs, from shooting snakes to taking a deer. Available only from Lipsey’s with a short, medium, or long barrel, this single-action revolver will fit in any holster sized for the Single Six. —R.M.
30. CZ 75 and Kadet Kit
Why own one pistol when you can have two? The CZ 75 is one of the iconic wonder nines, having been around since 1975. These pistols are known for their reliability, and they come in more varieties than potato chips. The CZ 75 is Ideal for self-defense, and it can be tricked out with all sorts of accessories. The Cadet .22 LR conversion kit, for one, turns this 9mm into a rimfire that shoots like a match pistol. This gives the outdoorsman the option of using it as a trail and training gun, or for personal protection. —R.M.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Hunting Handgun
Handguns are used to hunt everything from squirrels to dangerous game. But one need they all have inmon is that of a good trigger. They also need to be outfitted with sights you can see. These requirements are a bit vague, so let’s get a bit more specific.
A good trigger is one with minimal take up, no creep, a clean break, and limited overtravel. Because of the inherent difficulty of shooting a handgun, combined with its short sight radius, a good rigger is critical to precision shot placement. Single-action semi-automatics or revolvers with a single-action option, offer the best triggers; strive for one with a pull weight of between 1.5 and 3 pounds.
Sights and Optics
For hunting small game with a handgun you’ll need very fine open sights or a magnified optic because your target is small. For big game you can get by with a coarser sight, However, it will need to be visible in the low light of dusk and dawn, and in the dark timber. Fiber optic front sights or red dot/reflex sights are a good idea, and so are pistol scopes. On a handgun for dangerous game the requirements are the same, but a sight that allows for fast acquisition is a good idea. A fast follow-up shot might be needed to keep you from being the hunted.
Unlike handguns used for personal protection or plinking, a hunting handgun should be compatible with a rest. You should be able to comfortably stabilize a hunting handgun on shooting sticks or even a tree limb. For this reason, bolt-action handguns like the Remington 700 CP and break-action handguns like the TC Encore are ideal.
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