9mm is great for CCW, .45 ACP is perfect against humans that need a little more stopping power, and hunting hogs with 10mm is almost common.
But deer? Elk? Moose?!
“What are you going to do with that?” asked my hunting partner as I stepped into the warm tipi and dropped my pack.
He was referring to the big Ruger Super Redhawk Toklat riding in a custom-built chest harness.
“I hope to punch my elk tag with it before the week is over.”, I replied.
And so began my first foray into handgun hunting for big game. After so many years of toting rifles around, I felt a bit under-equipped with no long gun.
I was making an already low percentage hunt even lower by handicapping myself with a relatively short-range firearm. However, I like guns and I like challenges.
And for some reason, I just couldn’t shake the gnawing desire to go after big game with a revolver.
Table of Contents
Big Bore Revolvers
It seems like the over the last few years we have seen more and more articles devoted to big game hunting with handguns. I received a copy of Max Prasac’s excellent book
From my reading, I knew I wanted a revolver and would likely need an optic for my aging eyes. I have always been drawn to the 45 Colt cartridges as one that is often overlooked in favor of the .44 Magnum but has so much capability, especially for handloaders. For a deep dive into the cartridge, I would suggest tracking down the writings of John Linebaugh.
I researched a lot of guns over the next few months. But then I saw a short review of the Ruger Toklat, a special distributor exclusive model Super Redhawk with a shorter, slab-side barrel. One of my favorite gun shops had one on the shelf in 454 Casull/45 Colt chambering and I took it home.
The Ruger Super Redhawk was launched in 1987 partly as a remedy to a problem with the popular Redhawk’s barrel to frame attachment. The Super Redhawk has an extended frame for more thread area and integral scope mounting cuts on the frame.
This revolver is big and heavy and is designed to handle the hottest loads available in 44 Magnum, 454 Casull, and 480 Ruger. The big revolver is all stainless and boasts Hogue Tamer Monogrip grips to help soak up the significant recoil generated by heavy loads.
Mine also included a set of Ruger one-inch steel rings, an extra brass bead front sight and an extra shallow ‘V’ rear sight.
And in case the gun is one of those that tends to get up and commit crimes on its own a handy Ruger gunlock is also included.
- Overall Weight: 47 oz. (Without optic) 60 oz. (With optic)
- Overall Length: 10.50”
- Overall Height: 6” (Without optic)
- Barrel Length: 5” Slab Sided
- Action: Double Action/Single Action
- Trigger Pull: Single Action Average = 3# 7oz
- Capacity: 6 Rounds
- Finish: Satin Stainless
- Safety: Transfer Bar Mechanism allows for safe carry of 6 cartridges
- Sights: Fixed, replaceable front; adjustable rear
Setting Up the Revolver
Knowing this gun was going to be used for big game hunting the next step was to find a suitable optic that could withstand the pounding of heavy recoil. Again, I referred to “Big Bore Revolvers” and settled on a 30mm Ultradot red dot sight.
This sight is a tube-style red dot with a 4 MOA dot at 100 yards. The Gen 1 model weights 4.1 oz. and is 5.1” long. The scope includes rings, polarizing filter, extension tube, and wrench.
The intensity of the red dot can be adjusted over 11 different brightness settings. I have never turned the dial-up beyond three, even in the brightest daylight conditions.
It even has windage and elevation adjustments in ½ MOA increments.
Opting for the 30mm tube just for the added field of view meant I needed some new rings.
I called Ruger to order replacements for the supplied one-inch rings that came with my gun. By supplying them with the serial number and date of purchase they sent new 30mm rings at no charge and I was allowed to keep the one-inch rings for future use as well.
A huge shout out to Ruger for taking care of their customers!
The principles of sighting and zeroing the Ultradot 30 scope are just like any other optic. Get a steady rest.
First zeroing shots should be at 25 yards. Shoot 5 shot groups. Adjust the scope to center the group at the point of aim.
All pretty straightforward. But for a novice big bore handgun shooter, a challenge.
When we pick up our Glock or 1911 and send rounds into a silhouette target at 7 or 10 or even 25 yards the sights just seem to line up and after a bit of practice we get pretty consistent. Shooting a big, heavy recoiling revolver is a more, shall we say, exhilarating experience.
Let’s say we shoot our Springfield Fully Loaded 1911 in 45 ACP that weighs in at 43 oz. We’re launching 230 gr. ball ammo at 850 fps. Using the calculator at Beartooth Bullets we find we are getting about 5 foot-pounds of recoil energy.
Compare that to 45 Colt revolver that weighs 60 oz. and is launching 305 gr. hard cast bullets at 1200 fps. Now you get to hold on to 14 foot-pounds of hand-jarring excellence every time you squeeze the trigger.
It does not take a lot of those kinds of loads to start anticipating the shot and developing a flinch.
Instead of abusing your hands like that all the time, it’s best to shoot some light plinkers and limit your heavy load shooting.
How Does it Shoot
I’ve settled on two different bullets and three loads to play with. First is a 255 gr.
Oregon Trail Laser Cast Flat Point bullet. One load is very tame and pretty much mimics the Cowboy Action loads at about 900 fps.
The second load and the one this revolver really seems to like is the same bullet, but scooting along at about 1200 fps. This load would certainly be adequate for any deer, elk or black bear hunting applications.
The third load and the one I will carry on elk hunts is a 305 gr. gas-checked bullet from
Matts Bullets loaded to about 1200 fps. It is very accurate and not horrible to shoot, but I tend to never shoot more than 20 or so per range session.
The 305 gr. bullets will print higher at given ranges than lighter bullets. In a revolver, heavier bullets create more recoil and the barrel of the gun begins to rise earlier than the same gun shooting lighter bullets. For my loads at 50 yards the 305 gr. bullet is about 3” high while the 255 gr. bullet impacts about 3” low. The targets below show groups fired at 50 yards from the bench.
50-yard Group with 305 gr. Keith Load
Carrying a big gun with an optic presents its own challenges. I’m primarily a backpack hunter, so a shoulder holster or belt holster is not going to be an option.
Besides, I’d need two belts and suspenders to keep my pants up with the Toklat strapped on. Ready to hunt with 6 rounds of 305 gr. loads the gun weighs in at 66 oz.!
I opted for a custom holster built by Man Gear Alaska.
This holster allows me to wear the gun on my chest, under my pack straps. It allows secure carry and easy access. The holster also has elastic loops to carry 8 extra cartridges.
With this carry option, I can cover the gun with rain gear or a jacket or I can adjust the harness and wear the holster on the outside of my clothing system depending on the weather.
I have also carried the gun in my Hill People Gear Kit Bag. I’ve had my Kit Bag since the Hill brothers launched this product many years ago.
With the Ultradot scope, it is a tight fit to get the rear compartment closed. But I have found if I streamline my normal loadout in the Kit Bag the big Toklat fits pretty well in the center section.
Preparing to Hunt
Mastering a revolver is something that is challenging. Especially one that kicks hard. Practice is critical. I’m blessed to have a range on private land that I can use whenever I want.
I try to shoot a few rounds every week through the big gun. I also practice offhand dry firing at home regularly.
You’d be surprised what you begin to hit at what seems like a long way for a handgun with regular dry fire practice.
I wear Pro-Aim shooting gloves to help absorb the recoil when shooting heavy revolvers.
Double up on ear protection! Heavy loads are incredibly loud. I also keep earplugs corded to my pack shoulder strap or the holster I am carrying so I can slip them in while hunting.
I may miss some opportunities fiddling with earplugs, but I am not going to touch off a round with no protection.
Limit your bench shooting to load development and zeroing. Then spend your time shooting offhand, from shooting sticks or off your pack. You can’t pack your bench into the wilds, so you’d best practice the way you will hunt.
By The Numbers
Ruger firearms are known for being overbuilt. The Super Redhawk is no exception. Take care of the gun with routine maintenance and you will have a lifetime hunting partner.
This gun is capable of shooting far better than this novice. With practice and determination, my goal is a first round hit on an 8” plate at any distance out to 125 yards.
The grip is large to better absorb recoil. The cylinder release functions easily and the hammer is easy to cock. The trigger could probably be lightened a touch and smoothed up a bit.
Lots of folks love the Super Redhawk and it’s tank-like appearance. Others hate the extended frame and overly large barrel. That said I really like the shorter barrel and the slab sides. The all-stainless satin finish looks very good on this gun.
Right out of the box you have options with two sets of front and rear sights and scope rings. The grips can be changed out for customs of your choice. The action on the Super Redhawk is easily tuned and customized for your needs.
Bang For the Buck: 5/5
At around $880 for the Toklat version of the Super Redhawk you can get into the handgun hunting game for about $1000 with the Ultradot 30 scope. I view the price point as manageable. You are getting a whole lot of gun that is built to take years of heavy use in the game fields.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I’m happy with my investment. The next big bore on the list for me is a 480 Ruger and it will very likely be a Super Redhawk. With the Super Redhawk series of guns, you are getting strong, reliable and accurate arms that will serve you for a lifetime.
Hopefully, this has given you a little glimpse into another arena of the shooting and hunting sports.
Handgun hunting isn’t for everyone, but neither is archery or duck hunting or long-range shooting. It’s just another avenue to pursue adventure in the backcountry and challenge yourself to develop new skills.
No, I didn’t fill my elk tag on that last trip. But you can rest assured I’ll have my Toklat strapped on when we head into the wilderness this fall in search of the wily wapiti.
Besides, as a wise handgun hunter on the forums at Handgun Hunter Magazine said, “…you can’t kill a deer with a handgun if you’re carrying a rifle.”
How about all of you? Ever hunted with a pistol? What is your big bore revolver? Let us know in the comments! More of our favorite guns and gear in Editor’s Picks.