Hound-Hunting Firepower

The firearm you pack while hunting with the aid of hounds can improve enjoyment and efficiency — or handcuff you if you make the wrong choice.

Hound-Hunting Firepower

The union of man and canine in the quest for hunting success is as ancient as hunting itself. Stone-age man harnessed the superior olfactory senses and endurance of the dog, the dog benefitting from the superior cognitive powers of man so both might stave off hunger and the ever-present reality of potential starvation. In the modern age, many question the necessity of this continued partnership, insisting hunters are only stealing the glory that should rightfully belong to the dog. This is pure nonsense, of course, because the hound still requires man to succeed. They darn sure expect you to show up after they have treed game, providing the reward for all the hard work they would not enjoy without human assistance. 

I owned hounds for many years as an outfitter, guiding black bear, bobcat and mountain lion clients in the rough-and-tumble Gila region of western New Mexico. Since those days I’ve been part of many wild hog hunts centered around hounds, and even a successful hound hunt for African leopard. Chasing hounds in the pursuit of game is a highly unique and adventurous mode of operation, in many cases the only avenue to assure even semi-regular success on some of North America’s most elusive animals, particularly the big cats. 

This highly specialized approach to hunting is unlike any other form of pursuit, typically involving ATVs, snowmobiles, horses and mules or merely a lot of shank’s mare to first cover ground while seeking spoor for hounds to trail, and then while tearing hell-bent for leather to reach treed or bayed quarry. After many years guiding hunters in these pursuits and having since participated in many guided hound hunts, I can assure that while your favorite deer rifle will certainly suffice during these forays, the hound-hunting ideal, the weapon that makes your hunt most enjoyable, will prove to be something entirely different.


Hound-Hunting Realities

Hound hunting starts first with finding spoor for hounds to pursue, most often in remote, trackless terrain, which is particularly true while targeting Western mountain lions. It is common to spend several days straight in the saddle, or atop an ATV or snowmobile, with occasional jaunts afoot into rougher swatches of terrain elusive apex predators often inhabit. Once a hot track is struck and the race begins, it is then your obligation to the hounds to arrive at the tree they have sent your prize into, the bluff where your prey has bayed or just keep pace of a walking fight. This can involve seemingly endless miles scrambling through grabbing, thorny brush, up and down steep mountainsides or across icy, snow-covered forests. Dress accordingly, including sturdy boots and thorn-turning and moisture-protective layers, according to prevailing weather — spring bear or hog hunts vs. winter cat hunts. 

Maximum comfort while traversing rough topography and busting brush also means choosing a streamlined weapon that is easily toted but also accurate enough to deliver sure vital hits. The very nature of hound hunting dictates that shot distances are rarely taken at more than 50 yards. Your long-range deer or elk rifle just isn’t necessary in these circumstances, and in fact, can become a hindrance when the going gets tough.

Any lightweight, compact carbine rifle is well-suited to a hound chase. This includes AR-15 carbines with16.5 to 18.5-inch barrels chambered for cartridges such as the 6.5 Grendel, .300 AAC Blackout or .300 Ham'R.
Any lightweight, compact carbine rifle is well-suited to a hound chase. This includes AR-15 carbines with16.5 to 18.5-inch barrels chambered for cartridges such as the 6.5 Grendel, .300 AAC Blackout or .300 Ham'R.

Saddle Rifle vs. Handgun

For the vast majority of hound hunts (unless your outfitter indicates otherwise), from on-the-ground wild hog hunts to tree-perched bears and cats, a handy carbine rifle or magnum handgun is what is needed to make successful shots on treed or bayed game. 

For most hunters, a compact and easily toted carbine rifle is likely the best choice. The advantages of a carbine rifle are apparent, as most of us shoot even a short-barreled, fast-handling carbine holding iron sights much better than any type of handgun. For the most part, I’m thinking in terms of a lever rifle. However, the market has also began to bring us compact bolt and autoloading carbines with similar weight and packable properties. The ideal hound-hunt carbine is easily carried in a comfortable saddle scabbard while riding horses or mules, or in a soft gun case while atop an ATV or snow machine. Adding a sling allows hands-free travel afoot, an abbreviated barrel less likely to snag on thick brush or become a burden while climbing through rocky terrain when both hands are needed to push aside brush or break inevitable tumbles.      

Pistols include the obvious advantage of being easier to carry, whether in a hip or shoulder holster (make sure that holster offers secure toting so you won’t lose your weapon on the trail!), or better, stuffed into a daypack. This leaves hands completely free, which is more important than might first appear while fighting thick brush or climbing treacherous or slippery terrain. The obvious downside is shooting any handgun well requires concerted practice to develop requisite skill, especially when chambered in cartridges powerful enough to assure clean kills on large predators. 

A .44 Magnum might sound Dirty Harry sexy, but shooting one well requires developing a tolerance for recoil developed only through extensive shooting. This is especially true when shooting a handgun that is more easily packed, say a Taurus Tracker 44 (2.19 pounds, 4-inch barrel) vs. a Taurus Raging Bull 444 (3.94 pounds, 8.37-inch barrel). The Raging Bull would prove much easier to shoot well on the range, providing a longer sight radius and the extra mass absorbing some recoil, but proves a real bear to carry on a prolonged chase. Lack of practice is something I often witnessed while outfitting, sports showing up with a shiny-new handgun they couldn’t hit a thing with. When I was guiding, and my treasured hounds’ lives might depend on my straight-shooting, I practiced shooting handguns obsessively.   

Another primary consideration is cartridge legality in the state where you will be hunting, because some regulations are somewhat arbitrary, involving case length and/or caliber, for example, without actual killing ability factored into the equation. A .40 Smith and Wesson or .45 ACP loaded to +P velocities and with quality bullets, provide all the killing potential needed to cleanly dispatch close-range bears and mountain lions, but lack the overall case length to meet legal requirements in most states. Consult with your outfitter or pore over regulations thoroughly before making a handgun choice. 


Carbine Options

Classic lever-gun chamberings, such as .44 Mag., .45 Long Colt, .30-30 Win., .35 Rem. or .45-70 Govt., just as quick examples, make welcomed large-predator medicine. There are many more obscure but no less lethal lever-rifle options as well, including the .250 and .300 Savage in the venerable Savage 99 (its rotary magazine allowing the use of pointed bullets), 7-30 Waters chambered in some Marlins, or .307, .33, .348, .356, .375 Winchesters in various lever-rifle models. Some Browning BLRs and Savage 99s are also chambered in mainstream deer cartridges such as the .308 Winchester. Ruger’s 96/44 .44 Magnum Lever-Action Rifle (now a collector’s item) would make an idea hound-hunting outfit. If forced to choose just one, Marlin’s recently introduced Dark Series lever in .30-30 Win. or .45-70 Govt. with a beat-around black stock, included woven paracord sling and ghost-ring sights would be my choice.        

Modern turn bolts and even semi-autos are also viable, CZ-USA, for instance, chambering their 5.87-pound “Mini-Mauser” Model 527 bolt actions in hard-hitting rounds such as the 6.5 Grendel, .300 AAC Blackout (with appropriate bullets) and 7.62x39mm Soviet. Ruger’s 5.21-pound 77/44 Carbine bolt rifle in .44 Mag. is a handy, featherweight rifle perfect for hound hunting. At the same time, Ruger’s Model 44 offers auto-loading cycling. Even a lightweight, short-barreled AR carbine in 6.5 Grendel or .300 Ham’R, just as examples, wouldn’t be out of the question while chasing hounds. The common denominator of any useful hound-hunt carbine is physical weight of no more than 7 pounds, overall length around 34.5 to 36.5 inches and a barrel length of 16.5 to 18.5 inches.


Hand Canons

Revolvers chambered in something such as the .45 Long Colt (loaded +P), .41 Mag., .44 Rem. Mag., .454 Casull or .480 Ruger are popular as hound-hunting pistols, given enough practice to gain proficiency. These rounds are also likely legal in most states (always check regulations carefully). Such handguns come in many variations, from proverbial boat anchors to those pleasant enough to be carried on the hip all day, though including increased shooting demands already touched on. Overall, mass really depends on how you plan to carry your handgun. A lighter pistol is best when employing a hip holster, a shoulder rig allowing comfortably carrying a bit more weight. The heaviest hand canons are easily stashed in a daypack until you reach the tree. 

I certainly won’t recommend specific brands here because if working behind a gun counter a couple years taught me anything, it is that true pistol aficionados have strong biases. I trust Taurus pistols, for instance. I have owned several without complaint or issues, but I’ve encountered customers who seemed appalled when handed that brand. If asked to make a recommendation, I would shoot for a mass weight of not much more than 3 pounds and a barrel length in the neighborhood of 4 to 6 inches. This describes revolvers such as Taurus’ 4-inch/1.75-pound Tracker 44 and 5.5-inch/2.19-pound Raging Bull 444 Multi; Ruger’s Hogue Monogrip 5.5-inch/3.06-pound Redhawk and 5.5-inch/2.81-pound Super Blackhawk or Smith & Wesson’s 5-inch/2.79-pound Model 629 and 6-inch/2.98-pound Model 57 Classic — all in .44 Magnum. 

Regarding semi-auto pistols, a 10mm chambering is the only option that proves potentially legal and offers plenty of big-predator punch (again, check regulations). My first choice would be Remington’s 1911 R1 10mm Hunter; though, other viable options include Glock’s G20 Gen4 and SF and Springfield Armory’s XD-M 5.25-inch Competition Series, 1911 Range Officer Elite or 1911 TRP.

Other options that might not have occurred to you are single-shot/break-action Thompson/Center’s (T/C) Contender or Encore or compact AR pistols. Contender G2 and Encore pistols are offered in a wide variety of cartridge options, trading in vintage Contender barrels (found on places such as eBay) opening up nearly unlimited options, including 7mm TCU, 7-30 Waters, .30-30 Win., .30 and .357 Herrett, .35 Rem., .41 and .44 Rem. Mag. and .45-70 Govt. Encores are commonly chambered in classic deer-hunting rounds such as the .243 and .270 Winchester. The only AR Pistol I’ve direct experience with is Alexander Arms’ Highlander Pistol in .300 AAC Blackout with a 10-inch barrel and simple shoulder brace. With this auto-loading pistol, I bagged literally dozens of 100- to 300-pound wild hogs using 125- to 150-grain bullets. Adding a compact red-dot optic would make it a deadly hound-hunt weapon. 

Hunting behind hounds in the quest for a trophy bobcat, black bear, mountain lion or wild hog is an authentic experience full of fun and adventure. Don’t let your weapon of choice subtract from that enjoyment, choosing something that won’t weigh you down during the commonly challenging physical chase, but that allows you to get the job done once the hounds have done their part.


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