Hunting deer with a .38 Special


February 6, 2007, 05:09 PM
I have been involved elsewhere in a discussion regarding hunting deer with pistol calibers. I made the statement that I knew of no state that legally allowed deer hunting with a .38 Special. Perhaps I am grossly misinformed.

Some one referred me to the following California hunting statute claiming that indeed it is was legal for a hunter to take deer with a .38 Special in CA:
From Cal Fish and Game.
(c) Pistols and revolvers using centerfire cartridges with softnose or expanding bullets may be used to take deer, bear, and wild pigs

Can anyone from CA confirm this applies to the .38 Special......and in general, are there other states that allow this practice.

Personally, notwithstanding the legal issue, I would not hunt deer with this caliber, under most circumstances. In this post I am just looking for an education regarding the statutes and the legal use of the .38 Special caliber to hunt deer.

- regards

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February 6, 2007, 05:14 PM

Perfectly legal. Here's the law:

(c) Pistols and revolvers using centerfire cartridges with softnose or expanding bullets may be used to take deer, bear, and wild pigs.

(d) Pistols and revolvers with minimum barrel lengths of 4 inches, using centerfire cartridges with softnose or expanding bullets may be used to take elk and bighorn sheep.

You can legally use a .38 Special 2" barrel to hunt deer, as long as you use expanding bullets. For Elk, you have to have a 4" barrel.

That doesn't mean anyone actually does this.:)

February 6, 2007, 05:25 PM
You can legally use a .38 Special 2" barrel to hunt deer, as long as you use expanding bullets. For Elk, you have to have a 4" barrel.

That doesn't mean anyone actually does this.Originally from NY, where the caliber allowed to hunt deer is more restricted, as it is in most Eastern states, I made an assumption that had no basis in fact what-so-ever. A man lives and learns. Thank you for that clarification, ArmedBear !

- Regards

February 6, 2007, 05:54 PM
YIKES!!! I am not criticizing the idea of using a low energy round like the .38 special as a primary hunting round...I just haven't known of anyone who has...

When I deer hunt, I wear a .357 magnum revolver as a 'secondary' or 'backup' firearm (eg: the rifle/shotgun is leaning against a tree and making a move to get it will spook the while quietly eating or taking a whiz);

with that said, I carry a Bianchi Speed Strip loaded with .38 specials (158 grain lead round nose) that I would use for a close shot to the cranium or neck to put down a suffering animal;

with that said, I live in PA and I cannot find anything in the way the regulations read that forbid using .38 special...guess anything is possible

February 6, 2007, 06:03 PM
You know...truthfuly, I believe I made an assumption about all state deer hunting laws based upon my personal experience as a hunter while residing in NY state. I just never knew anyone who hunted deer with the .38 Special. I am aware that the .22LR is a favorite of poachers for obvious reasons.

- regards

February 6, 2007, 06:10 PM
Here in Arkansas you can hunt with any handgun from 25ACP up provided that the barrel is a MIN of 4" long

In rifles NO FMJ bullets. a minimum of .22 caliber centerfire.

Don't poo poo the 38 you can load some VERY heavy cast bullets on that shorter case and still have them fit in a revolvers cylinder

February 6, 2007, 07:01 PM
Don't poo poo the 38 you can load some VERY heavy cast bullets on that shorter case and still have them fit in a revolvers cylinder
Of course you're right.....a heavy bullet loaded similar to what Buffalo Bore does with their 158gr. +p LSWCHP out of a 6" revolver or lever action carbine would be lethal on smaller deer within 0-70 yards...perhaps a bit more.

- regards

February 6, 2007, 07:15 PM
Michigans laws for Handgun hunting in the "Rifle Zone"
It is legal to hunt deer in the rifle zone with any caliber of firearm except a .22caliber or smaller rimfire (rifle or handgun).

Michigan Handgun laws for the "Shotgun Zone"
A conventional (smokeless powder) handgun must be .35 caliber or larger and loaded with straight-walled cartridges and may be single- or multiple-shot but cannot exceed a maximum capacity of nine rounds in the barrel and magazine combined.

Handgun hunting in Michigan is very popular. I have seen Black Bear killed with .357's and many White Tails killed with 38's and 9mm's very effectively.

Most people in Southern Michigan handgun hunt in their Bow Stands so distance is not a factor.

Do a search for some of Moderator Stephen A. Camp's results of hunting with a 9mm.

February 6, 2007, 10:00 PM
I wonder if anyone, in states were it's legal, go afield with their trusty 2" Dick Special loaded with the old standard pressure Nyclads stalking deer ??? It would be hard to imagine a Humphrey Bogart type character in a trench coat, fedora, and wing tips roaming the hillsides with a classic film-noir .38 snub in hand seeking a trophy buck.....somehow a blaze orange vest over a belted trench coat seems all wrong ! :)

- Best to all !

Byron Quick
February 6, 2007, 11:01 PM
There was a recent compact between a group of states where they align their hunting regulations so if you were hunting out of state and got ticketed, you could be tried in your home state.

I was told that many of the states that recently broadened the definition of legal handguns as well as crossbows for use in archery season were signatories.

I don't know for certain.

February 6, 2007, 11:06 PM
yeah, .38 special is a bit light. wish I could hunt with a handgun in CT

February 6, 2007, 11:16 PM
I am flat against it whether it's legal or not. Seen a number of deer shot and lost with some pretty heavy caliber rifles. I'm sure there are members here that could use a .38Sp and take deer on a regular basis but they are not the average hunter like most of us.

February 6, 2007, 11:28 PM
Regardless of what caliber the law will allow, you should think about what is fair to the animal. If you are going to kill it, then put it down with a weapon that will SURELY do the job. In WA, you can hunt Deer with a 9mm. :what:
That seem a little redicules, and so does the .38.

If you feel the need to take the life of an animal, at least kill it well.

February 6, 2007, 11:42 PM
In Minnesota the regs for Firearms Cases and Bullet diameters are regulated as follows
Subdivision 1. Firearms and ammunition that may be used to take big game. (a) A
person may take big game with a firearm only if:
(1) the rifle, shotgun, and handgun used is a caliber of at least .23 inches;
(2) the firearm is loaded only with single projectile ammunition;
(3) a projectile used is a caliber of at least .23 inches and has a soft point or is an expanding
bullet type;
(4) the ammunition has a case length of at least 1.285 inches;
(5) the muzzle-loader used is incapable of being loaded at the breech;
(6) the smooth-bore muzzle-loader used is a caliber of at least .45 inches; and
(7) the rifled muzzle-loader used is a caliber of at least .40 inches.
(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a), clause (4), a person may take big game with a ten
millimeter cartridge that is at least 0.95 inches in length, a .45 Winchester Magnum cartridge, or a
.50 A. E. (Action Express) handgun cartridge.

I don't have any .38 Specials to measure but I think they meet the case length .

February 7, 2007, 12:06 AM
That rules out 38 special at 1.155 more or less.

Talk about complex it looks as though a lawyer wrote your rule book.

February 7, 2007, 12:18 AM
Go here. No .38 Specials mentioned.

February 7, 2007, 12:32 AM
Note that there is another reason for allowing this.

Suppose you want to carry something like a Ruger SP101 .38Sp in 3" as a backup gun when approaching downed game in the brush, where a big bolt gun is not good for much.

There's no reason you couldn't use it to put down a wounded deer of the size common here. It would be a lot more humane than what I saw this season, when a guy was charged by his apparently dead but actually wounded deer in the brush and had to point-shoot it a few times at close range with a full-sized rifle. Shot a couple legs off before he got lucky with a neck shot. A little .38 on his belt would have been far better.

Nothing wrong with a .38 for that purpose. However, you'd get a fat fine for using it, if the regulations didn't allow it.

February 7, 2007, 09:52 AM
shot placement

February 7, 2007, 09:52 AM
It just has to be a centerfire in Texas. I often carry a light .38, especially hunting out west spot and stalk, for rabbits and a coup de gras gun. It's light and handy. I also carry .357s loaded with .38s, though, more versatile.

I think in Texas it just has to be a centerfire.

February 7, 2007, 05:38 PM
.38 special is a great hunting round for small game and has been extensivly used in medium game, such as deer, hog, etc.

February 8, 2007, 03:55 AM
Go here. No .38 Specials mentioned.

Just because something is legal, doesn't mean it's smart...
By those regs, .38 spl can be used to hunt any big game in WA. All you need is a caliber over .24 in diameter, and centerfire, fired from a 4"+ bbl. It's legal to hunt elk with a .380 if you want.

Sniper X
February 8, 2007, 04:52 PM
Good question, I will check NM because Im going feral pig hunting with 357mag in three weeks. But I thought here it had to be a magnum cartridge which included .45ACP.

February 8, 2007, 06:44 PM
Just because something is legal, doesn't mean it's smart...It's legal to hunt elk with a .380 if you you recommend ball or hollowpoint for elk ? ;) :)
- regards

Sniper X
February 8, 2007, 06:49 PM
Yeah, I would think .380 is a little uh....light for Elk around here since they weigh about a million pounds in New MExico.

February 8, 2007, 07:39 PM
In KS there are certain cartridge dimensions that must be met:

For deer:

Legal handgun for deer - centerfire handguns that are not fully automatic, fire a bullet larger than .23 inches in diameter, and use a cartridge case 1.280 inches or more in length, while using only soft point, hollow point, or other expanding bullets.

1.28 inches is about the size of a .357 magnum casing.

For small game anything goes; slingshot, bb/pellet gun, handgun/rifle, bow/crossbow.

February 14, 2007, 01:10 PM
My pistol hunting in ohio it says a caliber .357 or larger. .38 special meets that criteria

February 14, 2007, 03:29 PM
a .38 special is really .357 in diameter, and is not legal in Ohio for hunting deer

or at least wasn't

February 14, 2007, 11:03 PM
10, 12, 16, 20, 28, or .410 gauge shotgun using one ball or one rifled slug per barrel (rifled shotgun barrels are permitted when using shotgun slug ammunition); or muzzleloading rifle .38 caliber or larger; or handgun with 5-in. minimum length barrel, using straight-walled cartridges .357 caliber or larger, or longbow, crossbow (draw weight limitations same as for Archery Season).

Thats straight from the site. .357 caliber or larger. I dont see how a .38 special could be illegal in ohio. heres the link

February 16, 2007, 12:51 AM
In NH it is legal. I shot 1 deer with a 38 special using a 173 grn Keith hard cast bullet. A doe that weighed 140 dressed. She was spooked into me by my father; I doubled actioned 5 shots into her chest from about 15 feet. She fell in 2 steps.

I have also taken a fork horn with a 45acp took 4 shots and trailing for 200 yards. IMHO the 38 worked better he only weighed 120 pounds. Load was a 230 grn hard cast RN.

February 16, 2007, 01:38 AM
The size of the deer I've seen lately, a 38 is overkill! :D

February 20, 2007, 08:23 AM
.357 refers to the bullet's DIAMETER, not it's nomenclature... :banghead: .38s are perfectly legal in Ohio & Michigan.

February 20, 2007, 11:53 AM
So I was taking a walk with the wife last night and right next to my house are 3 does staring at us from about 50 ft away from a small forested area. They happened to be right behind a fire hydrant and the biggest one was about 2 x the height of the hydrant (bit short of 5 feet). I've seen dogs bigger than those and deer just sizing them up they were in the 90lb-120lb range. Now I live in a metro area in Texas (it just happens to be a nice spread out housing area with plenty of trees and big lawns). I see alot of deer at night chewing up people's lawns and just walking around. From what I'm reading it wouldn't be much to take a deer that size.

March 3, 2007, 11:43 PM
We can agree the 38 special isnt enough for a humane shot on a deer, but can we get together and decide what the bare minimum is?

March 7, 2007, 06:41 PM
I shot a little blacktail with a .38, albeit loaded to +p+ levels. Little bugger went about 40 yards and keeled over. I'll not do that again. Don't even know why I did it in the first place, except maybe to say I did it with a .38.

More to it... I was an arrogant bastard when I was younger. It took some lessons learned to calm me down. Divorce helped... so did hodgkins disease. I was out to prove it could be done. Maybe I should have understood at the time, that just because it could be done, doesn't mean it should be done.

March 7, 2007, 09:34 PM
We can agree the 38 special isnt enough for a humane shot on a deer

Huh. Where in this thread did you get that idea?! ;)

There will always be controversy over what is enough for this or that. At an appropriate range, I'd shoot one with a properly loaded .38. No question. Or 9mm. Or .45. Or .357 mag. Or 10mm. Or .223. Or .30-30. Or SKS. Or anything else.

Wouldn't deliberately go out to hunt them with my J-frame -- might put a crippled one down with it, but an M&P of at least 4" barrel? Would.

March 7, 2007, 09:54 PM
Quote: "I shot a little blacktail with a .38, albeit loaded to +p+ levels. Little bugger went about 40 yards and keeled over. I'll not do that again."

Don't feel lonesome. That's just the nature of deer getting shot sometimes, even with rifles. They are often dead and just don't know it yet. A couple years back, I put a 240 grain XTP moving at around 1900 fps from .454 SRH through the top of heart and one lung of a big doe. She turned and ran like the wind for about 100 yards before she went down. Similar thing last fall with cow elk. Broadside shot from 80 yards with 165 grainer from 30/06. She also ran about 100 yards with top of both lungs perforated ...

March 8, 2007, 04:38 PM
Hey Greybeard,
I wasn't commenting on the deer running a bit before expiring. I understand it takes a few seconds for the blood pressure to drop and the lights to go out. I shot a big doe here in NY a few years back. Double lung shot, blew the top of her heart to shreds. That deer ran almost 200 yards before nosing into the snow. I use the shoulder shot mostly now.

By saying I won't do that again, I was saying that it was silly of me to use a marginal caliber handgun, when I had bigger & badder things in the gunbag.

March 8, 2007, 08:00 PM
Comprendo there, smoke. Yep, .38 Special is way down near the bottom of my list for the right tool for the job.

March 8, 2007, 08:08 PM
From the North Carolina DWR website:

During the open hunting season for rabbits, squirrels, opossums,
raccoons, furbearing animals and legal nongame animals and
birds, these species may be taken with a pistol of .22-caliber
with a barrel not less than 5.5 inches in length.
A hunter or trapper lawfully taking wildlife by another method
may use a pistol to dispatch the animal or bird taken, except as
noted below.
Pistols may not be carried during the bow-and-arrow and
muzzleloader deer hunting seasons.
Deer, bear and wild boar may be taken with a handgun during the
established gun hunting season provided that the handgun is not
less than .24-caliber. Muzzleloading pistols are not legal for hunting.
It is unlawful to hunt or take wild turkeys with pistols.

Up until this previous season the law read that you could legally use a handgun for deer, bear, and wild boar as long as it was "minimum .357 caliber (.38 Special excluded)" and minimum 5.5 inch barrel.

Now it's minimum .24 caliber with no restrictions as to barrel length. I guess that means that the 9mm I'm wearing IWB right now is a legal hunting firearm. As a matter of fact I know it is because I called the DWR for clarification on this one once I noticed the change.

March 11, 2007, 09:48 AM
Evidently Florida allows any Centerfire handgun in any caliber, in the general rules. There may be some restrictions in the individual WMA regs.

March 21, 2007, 01:13 PM
Concerning Ohio and the 38 Special. A .357 bullet\Caliber is the dia. of the bullet. The law doesn't say 357 mag. or larger so my thoughts are a 38 Spec. is allowable. But to be sure I called the Division and they stated the 38 Spec. is allowed since it shoots a .357 dia. bullet. Would I use a 38 Spec.? probably not as my goal is to deliver a one shot stop and even a top end 38 Special is a little lacking.


March 21, 2007, 10:42 PM
Use of a 38 special is an ethical question of the following:

Will it be powerful enough to do alot of debilitating damage to the intended game?
Will I the hunter be accurate with it, and be able to put a shot into a vital area of my intended game?

If you want to use a snub nose 38 to hunt deer, DONT dream of doing so. If you intend to use a 158 grain hollowpoint or jacketed soft point on said whitetail out of a 4-6 inch barrel and you can get close enough to put a bullet through the vital organs then do so.

Honestly, I could take a 6 inch Rossi in 38 special, load it up and go outside tomorrow night when i feed my goats and get within 30-60 feet of a dozen deer, mostly large does and a few bucks. AND i could get at least 3 or 4 deer if i had the inclination to. But alas i hve no handgun or inclination.

March 21, 2007, 11:02 PM
.38 special is legal in ohio. Regs call for a "handgun with 5-in. minimum length barrel, using straight-walled cartridges .357 caliber or larger..."

Personally, I'd go bigger.

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