Guns for Small Game Hunting
There’s more than just a Scoped .22 Rifle that will bag bunnies, bushytails and more for the pot. ‘Hare’ is a look at alternatives.
For rabbits and squirrels, the most efficient and humane gun is a 12-gauge shotgun with number 6 shot. This provides the quickest and cleanest kills with the least chance of a wounded animal escaping to die a lingering death. It is by far the surest way to bring home dinner.
I prefer a double-barreled shotgun choked improved cylinder and full. My favorite load is 3 drams of powder behind 1 ounce of number 6 shot. This once was the most popular load in America, back when many men hunted with light single-barrel shotguns.
It patterns most perfectly and kills reliably at all normal shotgun ranges. I have used this on wild turkey and it was devastating on them, even at long range. Recoil is very light, making the gun extremely pleasant to shoot.
My second choice would be the old farmer’s standard, the hammer single barrel shotgun. This is solely because of its good handling qualities, which exceed those of the over-and-under, the pump, and the semiautomatic shotgun. The O/U is an aberration that is popular only because it is fashionable. It lacks the splendid handling qualities of the side-by-side and you always have to worry about the fact that the dominant eye sees only a narrow rib, while the other eye sees the great mass of both barrels and may fight for dominance as a result.
If it wins, and it will at odd times, you miss to the side. Remember, the O/U was the first double gun made and its shortcomings quickly led to it being abandoned in favor of the superior side-by-side configuration.
The semiautomatic shotgun is popular, as it tends to mitigate recoil, while the pump shotgun can be had at very reasonable prices. While they
hold more shells than a double, their rate of sustained fire is actually less than the fast-reloading double.
WHILE .22 LONG RIFLE is the most popular small game rifle caliber, it requires absolutely perfect shot placement for quick humane kills. Ever since it was first used on game, there have been hunters condemning it as inhumane on game due to the large number of wounded game that escapes to slowly die from their wound.
The .32-20 in the M1873 and M1892 Winchester, as well as in the
Remington Rolling Block and other rifles, was considered the ultimate
small game round, as it was the perfect balance between clean fast kills and not ruining too much meat.
The .38-40 (which is really a .40-caliber and by all rights should be called the .40-40) and the .44-40 did excellent service as well.
The bigger bullet made a larger hole, but the amount of extra meat missing was inconsequential. All of these calibers could be and were used on anything else that came along. They were the true all purpose
cartridges, able to take both small and large game. Of course hunters exclusively after big game generally chose a heavier caliber more
appropriate for big game, but for those just hunting for their dinner, the smaller calibers were the best answer.
The .32-20 high-velocity load for rifles was a far cry from the dinky cowboy action load of today, as it was basically a .30 carbine equivalent. Firing these in a revolver was a bad idea due to the
tremendous deafening muzzle blast when fired in a pistol. There is an old saying from those days that every .32-20 revolver has been dropped
once when the owner first shot it and grabbed his ears in pain. The same
thing happened when Kimball came out with their automatic pistol in .30 carbine and Ruger chambered his single-action revolver for the .30
You will note that you don’t see many of those for the good reason that they were so rough on the ears to fire. Army Ordnance found that out quickly in World War II when they experimented with a .30 carbine pistol. That project came to an abrupt end upon firing it.
THIS BRINGS US to the Army M1 carbine. While the case of the M1 carbine cartridge bears no resemblance to the .32-20, ballistically they are equivalent. Anything the .32-20 high-velocity load will do in a M1873 Winchester, the .30 carbine will do in the M1 carbine.
These rounds are as fast as you can go without ruining a lot of meat. If
you don’t believe me, try shooting a squirrel with your 5.56 or .30-06 and see how much is left. While some The bigger bullet made a larger hole, but the amount of extra meat missing was inconsequential.
All of these calibers could be and were used on anything else that came along. They were the true all purpose cartridges, able to take both small and large game. Of course hunters exclusively after big game
generally chose a heavier caliber more appropriate for big game, but for
those just hunting for their dinner, the smaller calibers were the best answer.
The .32-20 high-velocity load for rifles was a far cry from the dinky cowboy action load of today, as it was basically a .30 carbine equivalent. Firing these in a revolver was a bad idea due to the tremendous deafening muzzle blast when fired in a pistol. There is an old saying from those days that every .32-20 revolver has been dropped
once when the owner first shot it and grabbed his ears in pain. The same
thing happened when Kimball came like to call the .30-06 an all-round
cartridge, it cannot qualify because it is too destructive to small game.
The M1 carbine is just as superior to the Winchester lever-action as
a hunting rifle as it is as a military weapon. At 5½ pounds, it is as light as a .22 but it is far livelier in the hands and its military wood stock seems to fit everyone so well that the gun always seems to have its sights aligned on the target as fast as it is shouldered.
On top of all this, the little M1 carbine is one of the steadiest guns to hold on target ever made. The reasons for this are deep and those depths have still not been fully plumbed.
When Bill Ruger made his .44 Magnum semiauto carbine and its .22-caliber companion the 10/22, he copied the M1 carbine’s overall length, weight, balance, stock length of pull and drop at heel and comb, yet these guns are no more steady than any other gun.
The M1 carbine really shines at instinct shooting. The late Lucky
McDaniel invented the method of teaching instinct shooting using a BB
gun and he taught the Army how to do it during the Vietnam War. The
Army called it the “Quick Kill” instinct shooting. The M1 carbine is a natural at this and that is important because instinct shooting is the fastest and most accurate method of shooting that there is.
When you have only a fleeting shot at a fast-moving squirrel or a darting, maneuvering rabbit on the run, instinct shooting is often the
only sure method to bring them into the game bag. All these wonderful
attributes helped make the M1 carbine the weapon that had the most
hits on enemy soldiers per rounds fired of any U.S. rifle before or since. It can do the same on the hunting field for you today.
With the M1 carbine you also have a flatter-shooting round than the .22
LR, though small game is usually a close-range shot, as they are hard to
find at long range due to their small size and the thick cover that they are found in.
For those enamored of the romance of the Old West, Rossi makes their
version of the 92 Winchester in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt.
All of these are fine small game rifles.
They are light, well balanced, and easy to hit with. Lever-action rifles are an American tradition and a lot of people just like the way working one feels.
Ruger’s .44 Magnum semiauto carbine was a wonderful all-around gun that should never have been discontinued. It is light, accurate and powerful. My Betty used hers on everything. She thought they had made that rifle just for her, it was so perfectly suited to her. It works just fine on rabbits and squirrels and anything else in North America. It does not ruin too much meat when used on small game.
PISTOLS HAVE TAKEN a vast amount of small game over the years because they are there when the game is encountered. The old Colt Single Action Army probably brought more game to bag than any other pistol in America because of its widespread use on the frontier, where a ready meal was not to be wasted.
A very easy gun to hit with, it proved a ready provider of meals to many a hungry frontiersman. You cannot have a rifle handy at all times when you are working, but the pistol can always be in its holster at your side. The need for skill with it to protect yourself in areas beyond the
law led many men to master it, and shooting small game for the pot was
a useful and lifesaving practice. Today most hunters still shoot their revolvers single action at game, even if they have a double-action revolver, as few truly master double-action shooting.
Instinct shooting with the pistol is the best method of hitting with it
and indeed the only method to always connect with a fast-maneuvering rabbit at close range. You don’t need adjustable sights on a hunting pistol.
You don’t really even need sights at all. They are just a crutch to help
you zoom in on where the pistol is pointing. The real accuracy comes
from instinct shooting. With instinct shooting you can hit accurately with the gun in just one hand, the way the pistol was meant to be fired. Using two hands is slower and particularly so when you have to move the pistol from side to side. That’s a big deal when a rabbit flushes close to you and starts zigzagging away.
To learn to instinct shoot with a pistol, begin with strict form until you master it. Then you can shoot from any position, but you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk. Set out a row of matchsticks or empty .22 cases as far away as you can easily see them, keeping them far enough apart that your shot won’t knock out more than one of them.
Now assume the classic duelist stance with your body sideways to the
target and your arm fully extended, holding both elbow and wrist rigid.
Look intently at the target, ignoring the gun. Now squeeze off a round at each target in turn. If you miss one, go on to the next or you will just miss again in the same place. You will soon get the hang of it and start hitting.
THE BEST DOUBLE-ACTION hunting revolver I have encountered is the 4-inch-barrel .45 Colt Ruger Redhawk. This gun can be fired single action, but its double-action trigger pull is so superb that it can be fired just as accurately double action with practice. I certainly can’t say that about every revolver. This gun has virtually no felt recoil thanks to its weight and well shaped rubber grips.
It is extremely pleasant to shoot. That’s important, as it lets you shoot a lot at one time while watching your hitting improve after the first few boxes of shells. If you have ever watched a man shoot a box of .44 Magnums in a revolver, you have watched his accuracy go down as
he fired instead of up because of the muzzle blast and recoil. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. You need a pistol that is not punishing to shoot if you want to attain a high level of accuracy with it quickly and easily.
Another gun that has brought a lot of small game to bag is the German
Luger. The most accurate and easy to hit with military pistol ever made,
it is no wonder that it was a success as a hunting weapon. I even know of at least two grizzly bears killed with Lugers. A good man with a Luger will not go hungry where game abounds.
An often overlooked hunting pistol is the .45 ACP M1911A1. When Betty and I were living in a one-room trapper’s cabin deep in the Alaskan interior, our World War II Remington Rand M1911A1 pistols with government surplus G.I. Ball ammo were our do-everything guns.
They never failed us. Remington Rand is no more, but Inland Manufacturing is making a fine Mil-Spec M1911A1 today.
Small game hunting is the most widely available game shooting in this country, affording both sport and serious challenges to your shooting
skills. It is an American tradition and a lot of fun as well. Plus it can still provide dinner for you and your family. The seasons are long and bag limits generous. The best guns for it are pleasant to shoot and easy to hit with. What more can you ask for?
Story by Jim Dickson