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Thread: The right gun for Alaska

  1. #1

    Default The right gun for Alaska

    I am planning a stay in Alaska next year for 6 months to a year. I want to do a lot of backpacking, snowshoeing, and some archery while I am there. I have been shopping for a handgun to carry with me. I get very mixed stories on what I need. Do I need the new S&W 500 or will a 45 do? I would not be able to use the 500 again which would be a drawback because I would never really need that gun. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you

  2. #2
    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    It depends on your ability with a handgun. My first question to anyone that asks about packing a handgun for defensive purposes is, what is your ability with a handgun? Unless you are an experienced handgunner, you aren't going to be able to shoot a handgun well enough to rely on it to save your life. All one has to do is look at police shootings to see what happens in a life or death situation when one isn't an expert with a handgun. No offense to police officers, but most of them don't practice enough to be competent with a handgun.

    So, provided you have sufficient skills with a handgun, and keep them honed by practice, the question then comes down to is the power of the 500 S&W worth the weight, recoil, muzzle blast and expense? If you can handle the gun, and aren't put off by those factors, than yes it is undoubtedly a very poweful handgun in the hands of someone who can apply that power.

    That said, I'd say not everyone can handle that much gun. Personally I find the 44 mag, 45 colt (in modern sixgun and power same as 44 mag) 454 casull and 480 ruger as reasonably powerful and shootable guns. They still have notable recoil and require practice to master.

    It ultimately comes down to shot placement, and so long as you launch a bullet capable of penetrating sufficiently to hit the brain, it'll work. To me that starts at 300 gr @ 1200 fps and goes up from there.

  3. #3

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    I would say whatever you can shoot accurately. Having something is better than nothing. Personally I have a .44 super redhawk. It is a little heavy, but I can load up good bear protection rounds with it. Having a revolver means that it will never jam when I need it to work. That being said...I have never encountered a bear unless I was actually hunting or hunting one. Guess I have been lucky. You spend enough time outdoors and you will encounter one eventually.

  4. #4
    Member AKBighorn's Avatar
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    I have to agree with the above posts. I would recommend that if you know someone that has a 454 casual or a 500 to go shoot it first. You may never want to shoot one again. Call me a wimp but I'll never shoot one again! For protection in the woods I am happy taking a .45 revolver or my shotgun with the short barrel and some slugs maybe both if I'm on the wheeler.

  5. #5

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    duc, the new Ruger Alaskan in 44 mag. would fit your purposes just right.
    You don't want to have to carry a shotgun around for the type of activities you want to do. And a firearm left at camp or left leaning up against a tree isn't going to do you any good. Learn how to shoot it, but most important pay attention to your surroundings and what's going on.
    Good luck, have fun and enjoy yourself.

  6. #6

    Default Cheap alternative

    You might just consider carrying a 12 ga flare pistol. Theyr'e inexpensive and probably just as effective at short range. I know a guide that actually shot a grizz with one and that bear headed for the next drainage PDQ. You'd also avoid the DLP (defense of life/property) issues with the LEOs.

    I'm sure I'll catch some flak for this suggestion, but wouldn't mind hearing what others might have to say about it anyway.

  7. #7
    Moderator Paul H's Avatar
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    IMHO, there is absolutely no reason to "scare" a bear. There are some instances where F&G will haze a bear with bean bags and rubber bullets, but that's best left to them. A flair gun is also a good way to burn down the forest, and our forests get tinder dry with only a few days of a nearly 24 hour sunlight, so I would highly recomend against a flair gun in the woods! Don't carry anything that will only mame a bear, as that will put others in danger, and lead to a bear suffering a long and painful death.

    My personaly thought is, if a bear is close enough to be a threat, then it needs to be shot, and killed. Pepper spray is an alternative, but when a bear is close enough for it to be effective, it is too close IMHO, and if the pepper spray doesn't work, then you're in real trouble. Also if you happen to be facing the wind, the pepper spray ends up back in your face, and your range is diminshed.

    Learn how bears act in the woods, don't do stupid things in the woods, respect bears when they are feeding and taking care of their young. True bear attacks are extremely rare, and most DLP's are not needed, merely an example of armed bearanoia gone awry.

  8. #8
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    personal protection that comes to mind is the .44 magnum. Look into the Smith & Wesson model 29 with a 4" bbl. You have like 6 months to have that pistol become like one with you. I believe that any firearm must be a part of you. Buy cheap ammo and shoot, shoot, shoot and shoot. If I were you I would concern myself with shooting at very close range perhaps like 15ft and do a 8" target maybe even closer - depends on you. Once you have established some relative skills with a shooting pistol at close range then go out to some other further range like maybe 20yds and do the same again until you can place most shots in that 8" target.

    I do not or am not dependant on shooting much further that 10-20ft in front of me with any handgun. Rifles are generally close at hand. That does not mean I am not skilled to shoot at further ranges it just means I use a handguns for in my face situations. I use to carry a Casull but the darn thing all but crippled me to where they called me "gimpy". It was a horse pistol for sure.

    I would think that once you are somewhat proffecient at shooting that pistol to load up with some 300 grn. hardcast bullets -- they will penetrate. Don't even question it -- it will.

    The mixed stories will always be a confusing thought as you have no experience at all it seems. I think the .44 magnum is ideal especially for you. I would not buy a Ruger unless it feels good and balanced in your hands. You never know depends again on your grip. I like the Smith. I do have a Bisley .45 Colt with heavy 345grn hardcast that handles and shoots quite nicely. Done quite a bit of work in that to get it to where I feel like we are a match made.

    Check out various pistols and bbl lengths, optimum length is 4" and dbl. action, grips can purchased to fit your hand or you can work one over to tailor to your need as I have done.

    I think once you have acquainted yourself with one you will never be the same if you have gained anything at all in your practice. Be serious in your pursuit in shooting and mental awareness of your potential. Once you start --endure until you have accomplished this. Some never do and shoot worth spit. Why they even carry them and not being consistent bewilders me. There is a big responsibility once you have one.

    Let us know what you decide and how you are doing/

    Good luck and good shooting

  9. #9

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    I am from Texas, and I have never even seen Alaska, except on a map. Would it be feasible to carry some type of open-sighted carbine for your purposes. Even those that we consider to be of lesser power, such as a 30-30, or a 35 remington, with handloads using properly constructed bullets for this purpose, would be adequate for the job.In a stressfull (terrifying) situation, I think I could manage a short, quick-handling rifle, better than I could a pistol. Is it feasible to carry a rifle for what you will be doing?

  10. #10

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    I appreciate the help. From what I can tell this is a very controversial subject. It just goes to show that no one has the best answer and that what is good for one may not be good for another. My local gun shop has smith and wesson days comming up soon where I can shoot any gun they have. If the .50 is too much and I won't be able to shoot it then I will be going with the .44 magnum. I am leaning more towards the .44 now anyway because I can shoot light load in it and use it around here. Thank you everyone

  11. #11

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    I appreciate the help. From what I can tell this is a very controversial subject. It just goes to show that no one has the best answer and that what is good for one may not be good for another. My local gun shop has smith and wesson days comming up soon where I can shoot any gun they have. If the .50 is too much and I won't be able to shoot it then I will be going with the .44 magnum. I am leaning more towards the .44 now anyway because I can shoot light load in it and use it around here. Thank you everyone

  12. #12

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    I bought a 44 for bears while in Wyoming. It was a S&W 629 with a 6" bbl. I was hoping to shoot a deer with it so opted for the longer barrel. This gun was much smoother and felt better than the Ruger Super Redhawk. I loaded up some hard cast 300 grain bullets and went out to shoot some trees. I was extremely impressed with the trees I was shooting through. I then shot some downed logs in order to dig up the bullets. After shooting through an 18" log and digging the bullet out of the dirt, it looked almost as if you could reload it again. Very good penetration and no bullet deformation. I suppose if you hit a bone it would deform or at least cause the bullet to tumble. The loads weren't tough to shoot, but there was some recoil. I don't know how many inches of bear to equal an inch of log, but I think these rounds would do very well on a bear. Luckily none of the bears I saw were very interested in me.

    One note is to lubricate these bullets and use ones with a gas check. I was getting lead fouling at velocities over 1100 fps.

  13. #13
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    .44 is always a good choice. Not the most powerfull but a practiced shooter can also bring it back on target much faster than a .454, .460 etc.. I'm still partial in fact to my old S&W .41 6". I don't hand cast so I'm limited to 220 grain store bought but with handloads I've gotten up to 1570 fps without anviling the primers.

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    Default Hey JDE

    Hey JDE ,,you can buy 250 grain cast core loaded cartridges.They sell them at Sportsmens Warehouse and a few other places.Federal is the manafacturer.The advertised velocity is I believe 1250 fps.......If you try them out ,ley me no what you think of these...Thanks

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    Danthedewman1

    Hey thanks I hadn't checked around recently (stuck in the office so much). I'll run over this week and take a look.

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    Exclamation Think before you buy!!

    Here are two suggestions you might consider. 1. A 12ga shot gun with 18-20" smooth bore barrell with a modified choke. Load this with 00 buckshot and 3" slugs every other round. Do not use a full or improved choke as the slugs will damage the tighter barrells. The reason I suggest the shotgun is it delivers a nasty punch to a bear at close range when your nerves are jumping. The shotgun can be carried on you pack with the use of a rifle holder, or you can simply use a sling on the shotgun. 2. I would consider a Smith and Wesson 460. The reason I sugest this is that you have the option of shooting .460, 454 Casull, or .45 long Colt. All of which will deliver a punch if aimed right. the 4" model of the S&W 460 is ideal for a hip holster or shoulder holster. As others have said. Practice, Practice, Practice. But do it with the loads you will be shooting. This way you condition your body to the recoil of the loads you will be depending on. Hope this helps.

  17. #17

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    Please don't ask about the Desert Eagles.... :\ Aaaarrg!

  18. #18
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    Danthedewman1

    Yep, nice rounds. A little "crisper" firing than my handloads (I use bluedot) but overall nice. Looks like the .41 is making a small comback again, since new ammo is finally out for it. I need to get out more (and fish more, and reload more.... can't wait to sell out and retire).

  19. #19
    Member WinMag_300's Avatar
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    Interesting thread. I live in Michigan and hunt MI and several other states but I'm planning a hunting trip to Alaska. My experience with brown bears is minimal, but I have seen a couple while hiking and camping the western states and I would always choose to avoid a brown bear if possible, regardless of the weapon at my disposal. Of course, feel free to discount my thoughts if they don't make sense. I will apologize in advance for the long post. I think the best thing is to make noise to let them know you are there and likely they want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. I decided to purchase a Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter in .44 magnum to use as a hunting handgun and sidearm. I immediately replaced the sorry grips with Hogue rubber and it is a beautiful and functional match.

    I thought about the larger calibers (.454, .45-70, .460, .500) and I shot some of them at a local gun range and I have a few observations.
    1. The 4" S&W .460 is a nice idea since it has versatility with .454 Casull and .45 LC, but it weighs 59.5 ounces (3.7 lbs) unloaded. Price is about $1300.
    2. Once the .460 is loaded and put in a holster, the rig would weigh at least 5 pounds not including extra ammo.
    3. Smith & Wesson does not make a 4" model without compensation.
    4. The recoil is tolerable for me, but with barrel compensation, the muzzle blast makes this gun unbearable to shoot, even with the best ear plugs and muffs used together.
    5. A barrel shorter than 4" will be a hindrance in a fast-paced, panic-prone situation where you are actually fighting for your life. The extra sight radius and accuracy of a longer barrel is well worth the extra few ounces it will add if you are going to carry a big revolver.
    6. I would opt for 6" or 7-1/2" in .44 mag. I bought the 7-1/2" SBH for simplicity and it points and shoots like a rifle with rifle-like accuracy out past 50 yards. Cost was about $600. But it would only be used for protection at closer range.
    7. .460 Smith & Wesson ammo costs about $52 for 20 rounds plus tax.
    8. I don't think it is worth the damage to my hearing to practice with that hand cannon. It could render you unable to hear anything in the woods, not to mention the bear you are concerned about.
    9. The heavy weight makes it uncomfortable to carry and the muzzle blast and expensive ammo makes it unlikely for most people to get enough serious practice with that gun.
    Smith & Wesson has sealed their position as the foremost manufacturer of revolvers. It was a good business and marketing decision to produce the.460 and .500 before Ruger or Magnum Research beat them to it. However, I don't see how those handguns can be considered practical for use as a sidearm to be actually carried for protection. Tie a 5 lb weight to your belt or chest and see how long you last before you take it off. If you are not carrying it, it won't do any good.

    I found that buying a handgun to use for hunting deer provided extra experience carrying it and motivated me to practice a lot. I have taken deer with the Ruger SBH out to 45 yards using open sights and I know I will hit what I aim at with that gun. Ammo cost is very reasonable at about $15 for 50 rounds and I can use 300 grain cast core ammo for serious protection. The .44 mag is about as heavy a handgun as I am willing to hang off my belt. It weighs 3.3 lbs unloaded with 7.5" barrel. For comparison, the 6.5" S&W .460 weighs 4.5 lbs unloaded.

    It seems like if you want to carry a 5 pound rig, you might as well carry a lightweight rifle for better protection. In a survival situation, it is important to be able to move quickly and that would be hard to do with a 5 lb. handgun strapped on. Chances are when you need to use the gun, you will be too tired to draw it.

    Just my 2 cents worth and I hope neither of us ever has to draw on a bear unless we are hunting it.
    Last edited by WinMag_300; 12-04-2006 at 12:34.

  20. #20

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    You make some good points Winmag, especially if a handgun is selected over a rifle or shotgun.

    I've got a houseful of the darned things, but only one makes the grade for daily carry, as it has done for almost 20 years now. It's a S&W 629 with Pachmyer grips, a 4" barrel and magnaporting. Because it's light, it's easy to carry. Because it's cheaper to shoot, I also shoot it enough to do very well with it double action. There are bigger and badder blazers in my racks, but they're mostly for entertainment. When I really feel the need for carry, they don't hold a candle to this one.

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