You know, in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth American hunters killed millions of head of medium game with rifles chambered for pistol cartridges. They made excellent repeaters because the cartridge length was short and they could hold a lot of them. It was said of the Henry repeater that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week.
Most of these were chambered for .25-20, 32-20, .38-40, and .44-40. The first two were considered to be too light for deer-sized game but they accounted for an awful lot of venison in farmer’s barns. The other two are more powerful and were considered to be entirely acceptable within reasonable ranges; out to 100 yards or a little more.
They were all handicapped because of their lead bullets. Today pistol rounds are available with jacketed soft point and hollow-point bullets as well as lead. The lead doesn’t expand as well or as reliably as the jacketed bullets. Today, also we have a better selection of chamberings. You can still get rifles and carbines chambered for the old .44-40 but you can also get them in .357 and .44 magnum as well as the .45 long Colt.
There are a few single-shot rifles made in pistol calibers as well as some bolt guns. Sturm Ruger offers their Model 77 rifle in .357 Magnum and in .44 Magnum. They are both stainless teel, synthetic stocked offerings.
My copy of Gun Digest lists these comparisons:
.357 158 grain Magnum from a rifle at 1830 fps for 1175 ft/lbs energy at the muzzle
.44-40 200 grain from a rifle at 1190 fps for 629 ft/lbs energy at the muzzle
.44 magnum 240 grain from a rifle at 1760 fps for 1650 ft/lbs energy at the muzzle
So, it would seem that either of the more modern calibers, according to parameters set down when people were hunting to eat, are entirely sufficient for that use today. And, the still provide the same advantages of compact firearm, compact ammunition, and less expensive ammunition that they did a century ago.
I have found that if I shop a little I can get .357 ammunition for about $20 for 50 rounds. That’s about what we pay for twenty rounds of rifle ammo. Here are some evaluations of some pistol caliber rifles:
Ruger 77-357 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed5eGUXLpOg
Marlin 1984 .44 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyKDGxaOZTM