Which Sidearm When Hunting in Alaska ?
It’s Autumn and that means most of North America is preparing for hunting season of some sort. Here in Alaska it means moose, caribou, bear, wolf, and even wolverine are all being stalking by hunters in an attempt to get meat and possible hides for their collections. I was discussing fall hunts with a friend of mine who is a seasoned hunter here in Alaska and posed him the question “What do you carry for a sidearm on your hunts ?” he looked at me and said “I only carry my rifle, I don’t need to carry more weight” A few minutes later after discussing close calls with bears and moose in the middle of the night when the 2AM nature calls happen he said he most likely would take a pistol with him on his next hunt.
SIDEARMS ARE THEY NECESSARY OR JUST WEIGHT
The conversation with my friend is one that I am sure could start an unfriendly debate with some people but with us it started a nice dialogue on what caliber and type of side arm should someone carry into the woods for personal protection. When choosing or discussing a sidearm during hunting we have to first answer a few questions to narrow down our selection and thought process. The first question is Who are we protecting ourselves from ? Animal or Man ? Let’s assume we are protecting ourselves from the beasts we are hunting or things that are hunting them.
Here in Alaska most of the people I have talked to seem to focus into two very distinct camps, the first is the 10mm fanboys who almost exclusively tout the prowess of the Glock Model 20 or the Springfield XdM. The other side of that coin is the .44 Magnum affectionados who claim nothing but a wheel gun shooting 300 grains of hardcast is the only thing to save you if Fozzie Bear decides to try to eat you at night when you go out for a nature call. But is it really that cut and dry ? Nothing in firearms is ever that easy.
SO MANY CHOICES
I’ve lived in Alaska 27 years and I have seen a wide range of sidearms on hunters and outdoor folk from .22 magnum derringers to .500 Smith & Wessons and all caliber in between. I personally would never trust a .22 magnum to protect myself from a bear or large game but I suppose any firearm is better than a stick or a rock. Below is a list of the more popular hunting sidearms I have routinely come across, in no particular order.
SMITH & WESSON Model 629 “Mountain Gun” & Others
This pistol has been in production in some form since 1955 (as the model 29) and seems to keep on trucking along. Usually chambered in .44 Magnum this hand cannon has been a maintain in Alaska since the day it was introduced. Proven reliability and guaranteed to slow down any animal you hit with it.
Ruger Super Redhawk “Alaskan”
This double action revolver sporting a stout little 2.5″ barrel launches fireballs and lead and is a sight to behold. Usually chambered in .480 Ruger or 45 Casull it’s gained alot of followers here in the last few years. Compact and powerful makes it a favorite of pilots of fishermen.
Taurus Ragging Bull in 454 Casull
Most of the time I have seen the Ragging Bull is has been on the Kenai River when brown bears are present. It’s not a gun I would choose based on my dealing with Taurus but to it’s fans it can’t be beat, and they trust their lives with it.
Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum
Designed in 2003 this stubby hand cannon can launch 325 grain bullets nearly 2000 feet per second. If you want heavier loads Hornady offers a 500 grain hardcast that pushes 1100 feet per second. What this offers is outdoorsmen the protection that 1 hit if placed well could certainly stop any big game or large bear if they need to in self defense.
The Authors Choice ?
I don’t choose to use any of the above calibers or models, and there is a reason. I carry a Smith & Wesson Model 66 Combat Magnum chambered in .357 Magnum. This K frame revolver in .357 Magnum is easier for me to use and have successful follow up shots with. At 46 years old my dominant wrist has been rebuilt and is arthritic and the left one needs a rebuilt as well. Honestly I have no issue saying that shooting a .44 Magnum is not something I want to have to do. To me a gun used for any defensive purpose you have to train with it and become comfortable doing it. If you hate doing it you wont do it, plain and simple.
Now knowing that I am shooting a significantly smaller round I make sure I choose my anti animal rounds carefully. So far the Buffalo Bore 180 grain hardcast has been my carry round. It’s pushing just over 1300 feet per second and almost 1600 ft lbs of energy at the muzzle. It’s not something to be taken lightly at all.
We want to hear from our readers, what do you take for a sidearm on your hunts or do you just rely on your rifle? Are you more worried about predators or people during your hunts ? Have a favorite hunting pistol or custom bear load ? send us some pics or specs on your gear.
Be safe out there and hope you all fill your game tags and freezers with tasty free range meat. If do harvest an animal let us know.