Make My Day: Hunting with .44 Magnum, Wyoming Man Scores One-Shot Kill Of Bull Elk

Newcastle's Chris Rhodes put down his hunting rifle and picked up a handgun about 20 years ago, and has exclusively hunted with handguns ever since.

Mark Heinz

October 13, 20225 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Newcastle man who scored a clean, one-shot kill on a bull elk with his .44 Magnum revolver is generating buzz on Wyoming hunting social media sites.

Chris Rhodes put down his hunting rifle and picked up a handgun about 20 years ago, and has exclusively hunted with handguns since.

He used his Smith & Wesson Model 629 .44 Magnum revolver to bag a bull during his recent hunt in Area 36 on the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains between Sheridan and Buffalo.

“It’s way more fun to get close,” Rhodes told Cowboy State Daily about the appeal of hunting with a handgun. “When you get in close enough to smell the elk, that’s the real rush.”

It also means the hunter must get much closer to the animal to score an ethical hit, he said.

“I closed in on a bugle,” Rhodes said while describing his hunt. “Once I got close enough to get that odor of elk, I drew my gun. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by cow elk.”

He was using his own hand-loaded ammunition, with 240-grain Sierra jacketed hollow-point bullets and enough powder to generate a muzzle velocity of 1,350 feet per second.

“When I spotted the bull, he was mounting a cow over in some brush,” he said. “Then he started thrashing the brush with his antlers.”

Finally, the bull stepped into the clear about 40 yards away. Roads took aim and sent a bullet through its vitals.

“It was one-and-done,” Rhoades said about making a clean one-shot kill. “He died right away.”

Why Handgun Hunting

Rhodes said he switched to handguns for hunting to experience another challenge.

“I’d accomplished everything I could by hunting with a rifle,’ Rhodes said. “I needed a new challenge.”

He began handgun hunting for whitetail deer in his home state of Virginia. He and his wife, Jessica, have bagged mule deer, antelope and elk with handguns since moving to Wyoming.

He doesn’t plan to quit hunting anytime soon, but said this most recent bull elk hunt to fill his 2022 elk tag will probably be his last solo backcountry adventure.

“My body can’t do it anymore” because of military service-related disabilities, said Rhodes, who served four years in the Marine Corps infantry, including a combat tour in Iraq.

“I also got run over by a drunk driver while working as a law enforcement officer in Virginia, and that didn’t help,” he said.

Rhodes’ disabled veteran’s status allowed him to venture into his chosen hunt area a few days ahead of other hunters. On the evening he arrived at his camping spot, he could hear bull elk bugling and knew his chances would be good the next morning.

A Range Of Choices

Rhodes in 2005 started gunsmithing. With Bayside Custom Gunworks, he also custom-built hunting handguns.

“I sold custom-made hunting handguns to people all over the United States, and they’ve been used to take game all over the world,” he said.

However, the wear on his body from military and law enforcement service began to affect the fine motor skills in his hands, so he recently retired from gunsmithing.

He and Jessica still enjoy the wide variety of hunting handguns.

Rhodes said the ethical killing range for his .44 magnum revolver is about 70 yards for elk. But other handguns can drop big game at ranges of 200 yards or more.

“The best options are in the single-shot handguns, which are mostly either break-actions or bolt-actions,” he said. “Those can be chambered for everything from the tiny little .17-caliber rounds all the way up to the .338 Lapua Magnum and beyond.”

One might think that firing a full-sized magnum rifle cartridge through a handgun would produce wicked recoil. Rhodes said that isn’t the case if the weapon is properly designed.

“Good muzzle brakes,” proper grips and other features keep the recoil manageable, he said.

Advice For Newbies

In a world of avid rifle and archery hunters, handgun hunting remains somewhat obscure, but is growing in popularity, Rhodes said.

For those thinking of taking it up, he advises to “keep your goals realistic” in terms of the range for ethical killing shots.

And don’t expect to skimp on the ammunition budget.

“Practice, practice, practice,” he said, adding that accurate handgun shooting “is a highly perishable skill. You can’t just go out and shoot a few rounds the week before hunting season like you can with a rifle.”

Helping Others

On Thursday, Rhodes was planning to head back into the field to help some beginning handgun hunters.

He also hosts an annual handgun hunters’ competition that draws contestants from all over the country.

“It’s a nonprofit organization, and all of the proceeds go to charity,” Rhodes said.

Offering one final piece of advice, Rhodes said he recommends good electronic ear plugs. Those allow a hunter to hear ambient sounds, but then activate to block out the sound of a shot. With their shorter barrels, handguns typically produce far more noise than rifles or shotguns.

“Buying those earplugs was the best $800 I ever spent,” he said.

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter