First, some regulations that are sometimes confused when it comes to using handguns for deer. As long as you are using a legal handgun, you CAN carry that handgun AND another legal firearm (such as a slug gun and/or muzzleloader) during their respective legal seasons.
Straight from the rule book:
“For handguns, a bottleneck centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger with a case length not exceeding 1.4 inches, or a straight-walled centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger, both of which must be available as a factory load with the published ballistic tables of the manufacturer showing a capability of at least 500 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. There is no case length limit for straight-walled cartridges.”
“Non-expanding, military-style full metal jacket bullet cannot be used to harvest white-tailed deer; only soft point or expanding bullets (including copper/ copper-alloy rounds designed for hunting) are legal ammunition.”
I’m no handgun pro but from what I understand, a typical .45 handgun round would not be considered legal. Popular and legal guns include the .44 Mag, as well as the .454 Casull and .500 (overkill in my opinion based on having shot them), .41, and .357 although I hear the .357 is the smallest caliber you would want to use. I’m going to guess there are other options out there but from my research these appear to be the most popular.
I’ve carried a handgun on me for a total of 3 seasons along with my H&R 12 gauge heavy barrel slug gun. I’ve target shot with the Ruger .44 Super Red Hawk comfortably out to around 40 yards. That’s off hand with a red dot. Putting it on a rest I’m told proficient shooters can reach out to around 100 yards but that seems crazy to me. The first two seasons I was able to get deer within 40 yards during firearms season but the deer were either moving and I couldn’t stop them or brush was in the way so I never got off a shot. I have harvested deer with my slug gun while carrying the pistol in my Uncle Mike’s holster which fits beautifully under a heavy winter coat while hunting. Because of the need to get them in close with a handgun I liken it more to bow hunting, which is a passion of mine.
This year was my third season carrying and the second season of firearm season I was able to stop a doe running past me at about 25 yards quartering away and was able to put the red dot in the right spot and make a double lung shot. The deer went 40 yards and piled up. Upon inspection of the shot placement it blew my mind that the 240 grain soft point American Eagle rounds did that kind of damage. I likened the exit to a 12 gauge slug. There is no doubt in my mind that this setup is a deadly one for deer.
In short, give hand gunning for deer a shot—it might do for you what it did for me—made me look forward to firearm season again!