After several years of hunting with firearms using conventional long guns, I started to drift more towards handguns using them for deer and hog hunting in my native Californian deserts and coastal hills. I like the fact that these guns upped the challenge; shooting a handgun accurately takes a lot more practice and demands that you hunt closer. In some situations, such as backpacking, toting a handgun is logistically easier as well.
When I started hunting more with airguns, some years almost to the exclusion of firearms, I was struck with the urge to use handguns again. When I started looking around for airpowered handguns however, I found that there were not many options. Most were low powered CO2 guns not appropriate for hunting (with a couple exceptions) and some multi-pump models that could be used at close range on small light bodied pest species.
The first hunting handgun that I had success with was the CO2 powered Crosman 2240, that I had modified to increase the power and accept a scope. These guns started out as the standard off the shelf 2240, but I’d increase the chamber volume of the valve, open up the transfer port, and in some cases add a new barrel/breech in .25 caliber. I also found a guy going by the handle of Biohazard on the Crosman forum that was building some bulked up valves. These guns were producing up to 14 fpe, and could be used for taking small game such as ground squirrels or pest birds out to 25 yards. Though with the .25 caliber at 25 yards, dealing with the trajectory was more of an effort.
The next step in the evolution in my hunting handguns was to convert them to high pressure air rather than the temperature sensitive, velocity challenged CO2 power plants started out with. I found a couple of guys that would built high pressure air reservoirs that could easily be adapted to the 2240 configuration, and as a matter of fact it was right about this time that a number hobbyist started small scale production of tubes, barrels, breeches and other components for building some really nice custom pistols off this very inexpensive platform….. it was not unusual to find guys putting $400 or more into what started out as a $60 pistol bought at a big box store. I had a couple of 2240’s in .32 and 9mm, which I believe were about the finest airpowered hunting pistols to be found at the time.
I built up a really nice handgun in .25 caliber that utilized a lower (air reservoir and valve) built by Walter Glover in Canada, a .25 caliber barrel and breech made by Dennis Quackenbush, custom laminate grips, trigger shoe, power adjuster from several others, that I reckoned added up to about $700 in parts plus my time to assemble and optimize, but that gun would smack rabbits and squirrels at 35 yards all day long, and gave me about 10 shoots per fill. I sent one of these guns in 9mm to the Crosman engineering group to look at a bit before they started working on their ground breaking intro of the Marauder Pistol.
Around the same time, Quackenbush was building some very powerful big bore hand cannons as well. I normally used mine (a .308) in a carbine configuration, but took a couple of hogs with it as a handgun. This gun was generating about 140 fpe, which was plenty of power for the sub 50 yard range I applied it at, and provided about 3-4 full powered shots per fill. The gun was a handful and it barked, but there was nothing around that touched it for power.
I’d been shooting the Korean Evanix hunting rifles, and the AR6 model was a revolver action model that generated quite a lot of power in a standard .22 caliber rifle. A pistol version of this gun was released, which was the first multi-shot pistol I’d used. Over the course of a couple squirrel seasons I took many bushytails out to 40 yards with this gun. The only downside was that this gun generated a lot of noise, so between the loudness and power it was not a gun for pest control in built up areas, which is actually one of the environments I really like to use a handgun.
About this time Crosman came out with their new PCP air pistol called the Marauder Pistol, and I was lucky enough to get the first one out as a prototype, and have used this gun for a great deal of small game and pest control shooting ever since. The gun generates about 14 fpe (adjustable power setting) and is feature rich; eight shot magazine, shrouded barrel, built in manometer. This Marauder Pistol provides great medium power gun for the field or for trapping/pest control duty inside of 30 yards.
A couple years ago I was getting ready to do a prairie dog shoot in Kansas and mentioned to my friends at Airguns of Arizona that I wanted to take a handgun along, and they sent me the Brocock Grand Prix. This single shot pistol was generating about 12 fpe, and blew my mind with the inherent accuracy; I was killing pigeons in the barns and prairie dogs around the fence rows at 25-30 yards with consistent head shots.
On a recent trip out to Arizona I was shooting with Kip Perow of AoA, and saw him headshooting pdogs at very long ranges with his FX Ranchero! The eight shot rotary magazine coupled with really outstanding accuracy makes this the fastest action high power hunting handgun I’ve used to date. A lot of these guns are shipped as carbines, and as a rule if a pistol can function as a rifle, it says something about the intrinsic accuracy!
A feature I think is very important in my hunting handguns is that it can be quickly and easily converted into a carbine. This will allow you to reach out further, while still being compact and easy to transport/carry. The Marauder is shipped with a skeletonized stock that replaces the grips to convert to a carbine, which makes 30-35 yard headshots on squirrels much more doable. Another gun that I’ve been using that is a pistol/carbine conversion is the .25 caliber AirForce Talon P. Although this gun can be used as a pistol I prefer as a carbine. This compact little gem is a 50 fpe hammer that is the only production pistol that can be used to take 25-30 yard headshots on coyote.
Whether you want a pistol to increase the challenge, need something more compact and discreet for urban hunting, or simply like shooting handguns, there are several available to choose from…. And you don’t have to build your own anymore!