If they're good enough shots, Missouri hunters can legally use handguns to take deer, including during the "alternative methods" season, when rifles and shotguns are not allowed.

But as gun manufacturers create new weapons, like shortened versions of AR-15-style rifles, the Missouri Department of Conservation decided it needed to update its definition of what a "handgun" actually is. 

With large-capacity removable magazines, Velcro forearm stabilizers and black metal barrel forearms, these AR pistols aren't your grandad's hunting revolver.

"There's a lot less recoil with one of these," said Nick Newman, owner of Cherokee firearms in Springfield, as he showed one of his best-selling AR-style pistols. "It's easier to shoot this gun well than this one.

"And there's the cost," Newman added. "The AR pistol is $800, versus $1,300 for this Smith and Wesson model 629 revolver."

He pointed to a long-barreled .44 Magnum revolver that many folks more typically consider to be a hunting handgun. The powerful caliber is well known for its heavy recoil but exceptional accuracy in the hands of a skilled shooter.

The conservation department found it needed to update its definition of "handgun" as more hunters started showing up afield with AR-style pistols.

The Conservation Commission initially approved the new definition, written in a way to include AR-style pistols, but is taking public comments on the change until May 1 athttps://short.mdc.mo.gov/Z49.

The commission will consider input received and conduct a final vote on the recommendations at its May meeting.

Newman said the short-barreled AR-style pistols come in a range of calibers that are legal for deer hunting. He said AR-style pistols are accurate up to 150 yards, and some of the calibers, like the .300 Blackout round, are comparable to the old standby deer cartridge, the .30-30.

Accuracy can be enhanced with an arm brace that's Velcroed around a shooter's forearm.

"An arm brace helps stabilize the gun to make you a better shot," Newman said. 

But a hunter can't use an arm brace up against the shoulder or the firearm would technically violate both federal law and MDC's proposed new definition of a handgun.

Joe Jerek, spokesman for MDC, said the new definition was written to accommodate hunters using pistols during the "alternative methods" portion of Missouri's deer season, where rifles and shotguns are not allowed.

MDC's previous definition of a handgun was "a firearm with a barrel length less than 16 inches and designed to be held and fired by the use of a single hand. The essential distinguishing characteristic of a handgun is its ability to be operated with one hand; although, a second hand can be used as a brace. Any firearm with a total length of over 26 inches will be considered a rifle."

"The new definition provides more specificity," Jerek said in an email.

"Handgun: Any firearm originally designed, made, and intended to fire a projectile (bullet) from one (1) or more barrels when held in one (1) hand, and having a short stock designed to be gripped by one (1) hand at an angle to and extending below the line of the bore(s), with a barrel less than sixteen inches (16”) in length, measured from the face of the bolt or standing breech, and an overall length of less than twenty-six inches (26”); excluding any firearm designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder."                                

"There was not a specific issue or incident that prompted this new definition," Jerek said. "We have had some questions over recent alternative methods portions of deer season on what defines a handgun versus different types of firearms. Therefore, we want to provide better clarity for staff and the public to understand what type of firearm is allowed during the alternative methods portion of deer season." 

Unlike a revolver, which typically holds 6 to 8 rounds in its cylinder, an AR-style pistol uses detachable magazines that can carry 10, 20, 30 or more rounds, depending on the magazine's size and design.

Jerek noted that for deer-hunting purposes, MDC's regulations are very specific.

"There is a limit to the magazine capacity for AR platforms for firearms deer hunting (and some other species during the November and Antlerless portions)," Jerek said.

"Self-loading firearms may not have a capacity of more than 11 cartridges in the magazine and chamber combined when firearms deer hunting. There is not a magazine capacity limit for hunting during other times of the year."