Bowhunting is becoming increasingly popular. The hunting season is longer than firearm season in many states and offers an entirely different kind of hunting challenge. Sometimes you see more wildlife during bow season because the shots haven’t gotten your prey spooked yet.
Up until recently, many laws didn’t allow hunters to carry during bow season. The thought behind this was that hunters would use their pistols to hunt illegally. But the vast majority of hunters are responsible, law-abiding citizens who just want to carry for protection.
After time and legislation, that trend has reversed. Now, there are 37 states that allow hunters to also carry handguns when you’re out during bow season.
With this knowledge in mind, which compact pistols work well with bowhunting? Gun Goals has done the research for you. We searched the internet for recommendations, read reviews, spoke to hunters, and compiled all the information into one easy-to-read list for you.
Read on for 4 excellent compact pistols to carry while bowhunting.
WHAT DOES THE COMPACT PISTOL NEED TO DO
Before we can dig into our recommendations, we need to look at what our compact pistol needs to do while bowhunting. These features may affect what you are looking for in a gun, so keep these ideas in mind when reading the list below.
LONG AND SHORT RANGE
When you’re out in the woods and you feel threatened by something, imagine how you would react and what you would do. Picture a predator, such as a wolf, running towards you. You pull your gun and sight in at the creature 50 yards away.
Can your pistol make this shot? Sure, bullets can travel far if they don’t hit anything, but can yours hit a small moving target?
When looking at pistols for the woods, you may want to consider the gun’s sights and effective range. We don’t want a charging animal to get any closer than it has to, but if your pistol’s sighting mechanism doesn’t work well at longer distances, you may have to.
When reading about the guns on our list or deciding to use your own, keep that in mind. Read about the sights on a gun. Is it designed for close quarters or medium distance?
Look into a gun’s grouping at different distances. Most handguns when firing at 25 yards will have a shot grouping that falls into a 4-5 inch circle. Is your potential handgun better or worse than this range?
In the city, you’re more likely to use a handgun in self-defense at this range, but the woods it could be much farther. This doesn’t have to be your top feature to consider, but balance it with the other considerations to find the best choice for you.
A shot to the head will stop any animal coming at you even if it’s a large bear, but in an emergency situation, can you make that shot? Any gun will hurt or injure an animal, but if you want to stop it instantly no matter where you hit, you may have to opt for something with more stopping power.
In an ideal world, you would pick the biggest caliber handgun you possibly could. Then, you may have to sacrifice portability and accuracy at range. While this may not seem like much of a trade off to you, you are more likely to use your pistol as a finishing blow or to defend from smaller animals than anything that needs a large caliber.
If you’re in bear country, you may want to consider the biggest pistol possible. Check out what predators and threats are in your hunting area, and make your decision from there.
A 9mm is the smallest caliber I would recommend. In an area with no large predators, this would do the trick against small critters and almost any problem you came across that a pistol could handle.
If bears and large predators are a concern, going for a larger caliber—such as a .40 S&W or even 10mm—is recommended. The stopping power with these can make even the biggest bear back down if placed correctly.
While the caliber plays a big role in the power of a gun, don’t forget to check out each pistol’s review for information on its stopping power. As we all know, not all guns are made equally even when they’re the same caliber.
Naturally, stopping power is great, but if you can’t place the shot, none of this will mean anything. Be sure to put in the time to go and practice.
LIGHT AND UNNOTICED
On reading this feature I bet you’re thinking, “What? Why would the animals care if they can see my weapon?” Well, it’s not for their sake I suggest your pistol is light and unnoticed when bowhunting.
Whether you’re in a tree stand or on the ground, you are going to be carrying a decent amount of gear. At the very least, you’re likely to have your bow, quiver, knife, water, and camouflage. To get to your favorite spot you’re also going to trudge or climb through the wilderness to get there.
The last thing you need is a huge pistol getting caught on everything or weighing you down. Even though handguns, in general, are light, those extra pounds add up over time.
You don’t have to sacrifice power or accuracy for size, but you do want to take into account where you can carry your pistol so that it doesn’t impede your movement or other gear. Keep in mind, if you’re carrying the pistol, you still always want it easily accessible in emergency situations.
A light and unnoticed pistol can meet all those needs. As always, balance this feature with the others to make your best choice.
5 EXCELLENT COMPACT PISTOLS TO CARRY WHILE BOWHUNTING
1) SPRINGFIELD XDM COMPACT .40 S&W
The Springfield XDm Compact .40 S&W is similar to Glocks, but this model comes with its own pros and cons. It has a dual-recoil spring set-up which makes using the slide very easy.
Coming in 28 ounces with a 3.8-inch barrel, the Springfield XDm is light and unobtrusive when holstered. You may not even know it’s there.
Despite its short barrel, the pistol is still accurate at 25 yards. It comes with three dot sights. Some people don’t like that style, but ultimately, it’s up to you.
- Light and easy to carry
- Easy to use
- Accurate at 25 yards
- .40 caliber gives great stopping power
- 11-round magazine
- Some people don’t like the 3 dot sights
- Accumulates rust easier
Related Reading: Best holster for Springfield XD 9mm.
2) SMITH AND WESSON M&P 40C 9MM
Smith and Wesson’s M&P series sought to break Glock’s control of the law enforcement market. This series does the trick by providing reliable and easy-to-use handguns.
The M&P 40c Compact 9mm may be the pistol you want to have with you when bowhunting. The steel slide and frame provide durability and dependability.
At 3.5 inches, the compact’s barrel is small enough to stay out of your way while hunting, but the small size doesn’t stop the 40c from still holding a 12-round magazine. While the 9mm variety is weaker than its .40 counterpart, you can hold more ammo and have less recoil to help improve your overall accuracy.
- Light and small
- Fits hand well
- 12-round magazine
- Reliable and durable
- 9mm variety isn’t as powerful
- Some customers report that it isn’t as accurate at longer distances (>25 yards)
3) SMITH AND WESSON M&P SHIELD .40 S&W
The M&P Shield .40 S&W is an even smaller edition of the standard M&P reviewed just above. The barrel comes in at 3.1-inch long barrel and the entire gun is only 1 inch wide. This gun is the sleekest on this list.
The Shield model still comes in .40 caliber, so it makes up for the small size and low capacity magazines (7 or 8) by giving quite a punch. The adjustable dovetailed three dot sights are some of the best you may find.
Like all M&P, these were designed for maximum durability and reliability.
- Small size
- Good handle
- Very reliable
- Good stopping power
- Sights are easy to use
- Some customers say the smaller size impacts accuracy at longer distances
4) GLOCK 26 9MM
The “Baby Glock” is a compact 9mm that has the capacity and benefits of a full-sized pistol. The 26 is basically the same as the Glock 17 except smaller. With 5.5 pounds of trigger pull, this gun is easy to pull and fire in emergency situations.
9mm pistols are considered weaker than their larger cousins, but the 26 makes up for it by packing a 10-round, double-stacked magazine. The barrel length is 3.2 inches and is 1.18 inches wide, making this one of the smaller pistols on the list.
When buying a Glock, you know it’s going to be made to a high quality. The company has built a strong reputation for manufacturing reliable guns.
- Extremely easy to use
- Full-size power and capacity in a small package
- Smaller grip makes it harder to hold
- Accuracy is considered mediocre
Related Reading: Best IWB holsters for Glock 26.
WHY USE A COMPACT PISTOL WHILE BOWHUNTING
People who don’t hunt—and maybe some of those who do—might not understand why you want to carry a compact pistol when you are out bowhunting. It may be irritating to have to justify why you choose to do something that is your right, but they also have the right to ask those questions.
Instead of getting upset, open their minds and explain your reasons. Who knows? You may get a new hunting buddy out of the conversation.
PROTECTION FROM ANIMALS
While animal attacks while hunting is rare, they do happen. Depending on where you are, you could potentially see bears, coyotes, wolves, and other different kinds of predators.
You never know what you may run into while hunting. Do you really want to risk being able to take the time to nock your arrow, sight on the moving animal, and hit accurately enough to kill instantly with a bow?
Carrying one of these compact pistols gives you security in these situations and protects you just in case. We all hope we never have to use it, but we are prepared if we need it.
Related Reading: Best Predator Scope.
PROTECTION FROM CRIMINALS
Unless you’re hunting spot is near a prison or an illegal den for drug smugglers and growers, you aren’t likely to need a gun to defend yourself from criminals. That being said, isn’t it better to prepared?
There have been several reported incidents of hunters stumbling on illegal marijuana farms and being shot at. Make sure you know where you’re hunting and protect yourself. A bow won’t be of much help if you need to defend yourself from a drug cartel.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What does the law say about carrying while bowhunting? – 37 states now allow carrying a firearm while bowhunting. Local and state laws vary, so be sure to do your homework before you carry. If your state requires a permit for carrying, you will need a permit to carry while bowhunting too.
Related reading: Gun Laws by State
Where/how should I carry the pistol? – I suggest carrying your pistol in a sturdy holster on the side of your hip. This lets you have easy access to the gun no matter what you have on your back or if you are knocked down by an animal. Be sure your holster also had great retention, so the gun doesn’t slip when getting to your spot.
We hope you enjoyed these 4 excellent compact pistols to carry while bowhunting. It doesn’t matter your reason, in most states you have the right to carry and should if you want to.
The pistol you want needs to be accurate at short and long ranges, have enough stopping power, and be light and unnoticed by you while you’re hunting. You may never need it, but you can relax knowing you’re covered if you do.
Compare the features on the pistols listed above and decide which one fits your needs. Stay safe, and happy shooting!
If you liked this article, you may also like Our 4 Favorite Glocks on the Market.