You don't want to choose the wrong tool for your next handgun hunting adventure, and you won't with these top-notch hunting revolver options.
What Are The Best Hunting Revolvers:
- Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum
- Magnum Research BFR .44 Magnum
- Smith & Wesson Model S&W 500
- Ruger Turnbull Bisley .45 Colt (Lipsey’s)
- Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 Casull
- Magnum Research BFR .500 S&W Magnum
- Smith & Wesson Model 29 Classic
- Magnum Reserch BFR Precision Center .460 S&W Magnum
- Ruger Super Redhawk .480 Ruger
- Magnum Reserch BFR .500 JRH
For those reading my byline for the very first time, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter—actually, more narrowly, a revolver hunter—who really enjoys getting up close and personal with the game being pursued. I’m also a bit of a big-bore junky who’s somewhat impervious to heavy recoil. My wife explains this as a numbness between my ears … and she might be right.
When given this assignment, I balked at narrowing my collection of hunting revolvers down to 10 favorites. It took some real soul-searching and deliberation to slice these 10 out of the pile and really justify my choices.
You’ll notice that in some cases, I’ve included multiple revolvers of the same caliber, but the differences between/among the platforms is considerable enough to include them. I‘ve listed them here, and with each selection comes my rationalization for including said choice (I don’t let emotion cloud my judgment on this topic).
That said, here it goes in ascending order.
I know this one isn’t technically (or literally, for that matter) a big-bore revolver, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what I consider to be a first-class starter pistol for game in the whitetail-sized range. Everyone needs to start somewhere, and this is a really fine way to go, particularly with a 6-inch barrel.
The double-action GP is built on a medium-sized stainless or carbon-steel frame that’s easy and light enough to carry but heavy enough to absorb recoil—a real consideration when introducing the neophyte to hunting with a revolver (let’s not scare them off before they get hooked). I run this one with open sights, because I consciously limit the ranges I hunt when pressing a .357 Magnum into action.
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I’ve always considered the .357 Magnum as butting up to the marginal line, but placement is everything, no matter what your hunting implement is; and, loaded correctly, the .357 Magnum provides enough “oomph” (that is a technical term!) for any deer-sized animal. This is inevitably the revolver I start beginners on. My only suggestion is that the shooter (and anyone accompanying the shooter) wear hearing protection, because the .357 enjoys a well-earned reputation for ear-splitting noise.
Your options aren’t limited when seeking a .44 Magnum for hunting. This choice, Magnum Research’s BFR, is perhaps the most versatile. Simply put, every BFR revolver is equipped with an oversized five-shot cylinder. In the case of the .44 Magnum, there’s a lot of meat between the chambers, allowing for illegal levels of overboard fun if you so desire.
While I’m not suggesting over-pressure loads, this revolver will digest top-end, bona fide magnum loads that will shake lesser revolvers loose without noticing. This particular BFR is built on the short frame and has an all-stainless steel (17-4PH) construction. The five-shot cylinder is unfluted and counterbored and features a freewheeling pawl (for easy loading and unloading).
I had this one equipped with a short (4 5/8-inch) barrel and have topped it with an Ultradot L/T reflexive red-dot sight. It’s also fitted with Magnum Research’s excellent Bisley grip frame—a must when recoil levels start to soar. Don’t let the short barrel fool you into thinking this one spends more time riding in a holster as backup. I regularly use this one as a primary while hunting—such is its accuracy; and it’s really fast to press into action and good for quick follow-up shooting.
I consider the .44 Magnum a threshold cartridge, in that the recoil is heavy enough to keep a large portion of the population from laying hands upon one, but I also feel it’s a bare minimum when animals start tipping the scales in the four-figure range.
This is one of the aforementioned emotional choices. Yet, there’s no denying its lethal functionality. Of all of the available oversized X-frames from Smith & Wesson, in my humble opinion, this one sticks out as the best-looking and the best-handling.
The combination of the 6½-inch barrel and the half-underlug makes this one pleasing to the eye. It handles well and actually carries well too. The barrel is ported to aid in controlling muzzle flip, but all .500 S&W Magnums loaded to spec are afflicted with muzzle flip.
Even when loaded to proper .500 Smith levels, this one doesn’t abuse the shooter … much. If you really want a double-action .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum, I recommend this configuration.
This revolver really talks to me. It helps that Doug Turnbull performed his magic on the exterior with his legendary color case-hardening. Even so, everything about this revolver is right—from the unfluted cylinder to the rosewood Bisley grips and the 5½-inch barrel to the caliber (an old favorite: the .45 Colt). Because it’s a full-sized, single-action Ruger, you can dabble in the “Ruger-only” .45 Colt zone that hovers in the 30,000 psi range.
This is one of the few revolvers in the group that’s not equipped with an optic, because I feel it will just upset the look. To me, this is the perfect configuration for a Ruger single-action revolver. While this was part of an exclusive small run of revolvers from Lipsey’s, Ruger tends to repeat these dealer-exclusive runs—particularly if they prove popular. The .45 Colt on this level is serious big-game medicine.
This one’s a no-brainer. This is Dick Casull’s revolver design, chambered in the high-pressure wonder cartridge bearing his name: the .454 Casull. If ever the term, “premium,” applied to an out-of-the-box revolver, the FA83 is the one. This field-grade model is equipped with a 6-inch barrel and a counterbored five-shot cylinder.
Much as with Colt’s legendary Single Action Army, the FA’s hammer must be put into half-cock position for you to spin the cylinder for loading and unloading. Almost always “boringly” accurate, the FA83 is tank-like in its ability to absorb the abuse a .454 Casull can surely dish out. While the grip frame is very good for controlling the sizable recoil, it’s a significant step up and over the .44 Magnum.
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When it comes to the .454 Casull, the sky’s the limit, as far as big-game capability is concerned. It has comfortably taken virtually every game animal known to man—with aplomb.
I believe that single-action revolvers are better configured for handling cartridges that develop an abundance of pressure, recoil and power. The .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum is, by a margin, at the top of the power-production heap.
This one’s built on the stretched-frame BFR platform, and while a bit ungainly looking, it handles and balances extremely well when equipped with a 7½-inch barrel. A cartridge such as the .500 S&W necessitates a large, well-built revolver to safely handle it, and the BFR is no exception. The extra bulk is your friend when top-end loads are being used, and the Bisley grip frame helps mitigate abusive recoil.
Despite its proportions, I’ve found this one (with a bit of practice) easy to shoot offhand. In handgun terms: This one has an abundance of horsepower—a necessity when your game’s weight is measured in tons. If pachyderm is in your sights, this is your huckleberry.
This is both a nostalgic and a practical choice for me. I’ve had a number of Model 29s and 629s (stainless steel versions) throughout the course of my adult life, and I will likely always own at least one. Not only does it look right, its proportions are perfect, it feels good in the hand, and it’s generally accurate.
In addition, the factory trigger is among the best. I must reiterate here that it look great. Ergonomically, this is one of the hardest revolvers to beat—period. I wanted a currently produced revolver, which precluded buying one on the used market. So, I turned to the actual manufacturer and ordered one of its throwback “Classic” models with a 4-inch barrel.
In order to preserve my Model 29s/629s, I don’t load any of them too hot. But with midrange loads, the 29 makes for a great deer gun.
This is the most versatile revolver/cartridge combination on my list. It’s the one revolver that can literally take on any handgun hunting role you can cook up. Folks often cite the ability to shoot .45 Colt and .454 Casull from the .460 as contributing to the gun’s versatility, but I don’t really see it that way.
While it’s possible to shoot these other rounds through your .460, the real justification for having a .460 is, well, having a .460. It has the ballistic potential to actually shoot flat (in revolver terms, that’s a bit of a misnomer), and it will unequivocally put the smack-down on whatever you shoot it with—as long as you use the right bullets. The high-velocity impact capability of the .460 absolutely necessitates tough bullets.
I went a step further with mine by ordering it from Magnum Research’s Precision Center exactly the way I wanted it: with black Micarta Bisley grips, a 7½-inch barrel, silky-smooth trigger and—the most obvious difference from a standard catalog gun—a black-nitride finish. Whether you’re hunting deer at 200 yards or closing in on a grizzly at 50 yards, this is the do-it-all revolver combination—accurate and lethal.
This revolver is either loved or hated by the community, with seemingly very little middle ground. For the life of me, I don’t understand. The love-it/hate-it styling is pure function, and that, in and of itself, is very attractive.
Despite looking larger than the Redhawk, it shares many dimensions with its Redhawk sibling. The most notable differences are the frame extension to the front of the cylinder and the grip frame that’s pilfered from the GP100. The aesthetically questionable frame extension is where the beauty actually lies. Ruger felt the frame made for a better optic-mounting point than the barrel, so it developed a slick system of scallops in the frame and the corresponding scope rings, making the mount tough, stable and easy to work with.
But the real beauty is that if you utilize the factory mounts and rings, you don’t have to touch your iron sights. If your scope or red-dot goes belly up in the field, loosening two screws gets you back in the game. Pure function. My own relationship with the Super Redhawk began a couple of decades ago, and I have owned a number of them.
Chambered in .480 Ruger, this one’s my favorite. It’s the perfect combination of power, accuracy and user-friendliness, and it’s configured for real field use. This is the revolver I used to kill one very large water buffalo in Argentina. ¡Muy bueno!
This was an emotional, as well as functional, choice for me. Built on BFR’s short-framed revolver platform, this one’s equipped with a 5½-inch barrel. My buffalo gun (I call it that because I used it on a Cape buffalo in South Africa last year) is chambered in .500 JRH—the brainchild of gunsmith/builder/designer Jack Huntington.
In essence, it’s a shortened .500 S&W (from a 1.6- to a 1.4-inch case), utilizing the same bullet diameter as the parent case. This is a revolver that kills at both ends, delivers outstanding accuracy and terminal potency, and I’m able to point and hit moving targets with it without really trying.
If there’s a revolver in my battery that I’m “one with,” this is it. So, if heavy lifting is on the itinerary and you don’t want to suffer the effects of carrying a really large revolver, this is the one.
The article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.