I’ve been thinking on the question posed in Jason’s last post, and a few things have occurred to me. One, I’ve never been to Alaska, so all of my knowledge on what’s needed is based on reading, watching documentaries and reality shows, and personal accounts of friends and customers who have been there or lived there for a time. Two, preparing a small scale arsenal for your family to survive in remote wilderness is very much like prepping a gaggle of guns for the apocalypse, with or without zombies.
Consider what the Alaskan DNR says about it: “Select a gun that will stop a bear (12-gauge shotgun or .300 mag rifle) and practice firing it at a rifle range.” When the people who don’t want you to shoot a brown bear tell you to bring a big gun, you’d better listen. Let’s not forget that the Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska are the four legged apex predator of North America. Ranging 800-1,400 pounds for grown males, which is bigger than a Rocky Mountain (inland) Grizzly by a good bit. They can and will kill anything they find appropriate in the moment. And they are meat eaters. People are made of meat. You don’t want to find yourself looking eye level at a brown bear that’s standing on all fours and then wish you had brought a bigger gun. That’s like swimming in the ocean and then wishing you had a boat when a Great White swims past you.
So what are my answers? What would I take? Everyone has their own set of variables. Do you have a wife and children, and if so how many? What are the specific predators and game animals in the area you will be living – are you taking enough gun for those? What is your budget (as always, varies for everyone)? Regardless of these personal variables, there are a few that will hold true for anyone, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll break my thoughts down into categories:
Big bore, big boom, for the big animals that want to eat you. It’s pretty simple here. Don’t bother with anything smaller than a .44 Magnum. You no longer have only two legged predators to deal with, though they are always a factor. Consider always the question, “Will this make me seem less tasty to a large Brown Bear that’s charging?” To get a yes answer I could be confident in, I have to move up the scale all the way to .44mag. If all I had in an emergency of that sort was my trusty Smith and Wesson Model 60 .357mag 5-shot, you can bet I’d unload it into that big fuzzy mug and pray he dropped from a lucky shot that found its way into his brain. But I would rather just be sure that was five or six shots of .44mag I was throwing at him. And I’d want it to be double-action, so I could throw them quicker. That’s why I would have one of these on my person at all times in the big wild:
As a “compact” 5-shot .44mag double action revolver, this rates up there to me as one of the best carry guns in brown bear country. It’s the size of a mid-frame, six shot .357, but is packing full Dirty Harry heat with a 5″ barrel. Who am I kidding? I want one of these regardless. Moving to Alaska would just give me an excuse to the wife. “But honey, don’t you think our safety is worth $800?” Yeah, it’s not cheap. Plus, that excuse will wear out quick as the dollar signs add up on this list.
Alternately, if you’re a big guy (like Jason, for example) you might not have a problem concealing or comfortably carrying a full sized, six-shot Model 929 with a 4″ barrel. They no longer make the 44 Mountain Gun that I drooled over once years ago and have always regretted not putting on my credit card since I had no cash at the time, but the standard 629 with 4″ snout is similar. If you spend another $100 to get that extra shot, you also get extra weight on your gun belt, so consider that, too. But you can never go wrong with this line of handguns. There are also countless used 629’s in pawnshops for very reasonable numbers of greenbacks. It’s a great option that gives it a real price advantage in this category.
Want to shoot hot rod 44’s? Get a Ruger. The Redhawk has been around forever, and is tough as a tank. It weighs as much as one, too, though. The smallest and “lightest” Redhawk .44mag is 47 ounces, five more than the 4″ model 629 above, and ten more than the relatively demure model 69 five-shot. Oh, and it also costs more. But you will never break it. Ever. Oh, and it costs more, yet again.
There are other options worth betting your mortality on, such as the Raging Bull line from Taurus in .44mag or .454 Casull. Or even the X-Frame Smiths in .460S&W. These can also fire both .454 Casull and .45 Colt, handily. There’s even the .500 S&W (need a big hole in … anything at all?), but these guns are all either heavier without merit (as a carry defense gun) or cost more or cost more to shoot and practice with, which you must do. Mainly, for this purpose, they’re all just tons bigger and heavier. That’s why my top choice for a daily sidearm in the Alaskan scenario is the S&W Model 69, at only 37 ounces. It’s one ounce less than a standard full size 1911.
Carbine (the dubious category of in-betweeners)
I’m not talking about a hunting rifle here. I’m talking defensive carbine. A door-propper, as we say around here. It’s what you grab when you hear something trying to eat one of your cows in the middle of the night. You need some distance, precision so as not to kill the cow, and repeat firing quickly in case you miss or don’t take it down with one shot. In the lower 48 I would mostly stick with my trusty AR-15. And that would work fine for most things in Alaska, too. But then there’s that 1,000 pound bear issue again. Hmm… Carbines are in between rifles and handguns. They aren’t powerful enough to be the primary hunting weapon; they aren’t small enough to be the primary carry gun; yet they do so many things well that everyone should own one, even in Alaska or after the robot-ebola-mageddon apocalypse. Here are a few good options with some punch:
Match ammo with your sidearm, old west style, and keep this .44mag 10-shot sweetheart with you all the time. Coming down the 20″ barrel, the .44mag delivers considerably more velocity and terminal energy than it does from the 4″-5″ revolvers above. It’ll fix what ails you, out to a couple hundred yards. Realistically though, beyond about 50 yards it’s still not going to handle an Alaskan Brown. But maybe ten quick shots from it will. It’ll darn sure handle most other medium sized game nicely, as well as two legged critters. Be sure to break it in well at the range before trusting it to not ball up on you while working the lever in a panic situation. These guns are rugged and tough, but also need some smoothing by shooting, to be as sweet as they really are.
There are a variety of AR-10 to choose from that would make a nice door-propper. The AR-10 is a .308win (a.k.a. 7.62x51mm or 7.62 NATO) version of the AR-15 (which is .223rem or 5.56x45mm). It isn’t listed by Alaska DNR as acceptable for Brown Bears, but, technically it’s more powerful than the .44mag. Just still don’t expect it to drop a bear in one shot unless you hit it just right. The AR-10 makes an excellent defensive carbine that can reach out a little farther than most (it’s the standard sniper round for many years now, even thought because of armor and increased tactical distance many military applications call for more powerful cartridges now). Put five rounds of .308 in a bear’s chest and it’ll probably drop. It might even penetrate the skull, if the angle of impact doesn’t cause a deflection. It will darn sure take down anything lesser of brown bears that you run across. DPMS is as usual the cheapest variety of AR-10’s you will find, with several models under $1,200 street.
I know, I know … the 7.62x39mm round (same as the AK-47 and SKS) will never manage to take down a brown bear unless you put so much lead in him he gives up. But again, like the .308, this one is good for anything short of browns, and would be way better than its lesser cousin, the Mini-14 (.223rem) in an emergency with a big fuzzy Fozzy. And, since you have the option of 20, 30, or more rounds in one magazine, you have plenty of chances. Just squeeze that trigger fast as you can. New Mini-Thirty’s can be quite pricey, and used ones can be relatively rare. But when you can get a 30 round mag for under 15 bucks, have Ruger toughness and reliability in a semi-auto .30 caliber carbine, and pay under $550 used, that’s a good buy. Or just $750 for a new Stainless Steel model? Yes, please.
A few years ago I likely would’ve listed the SKS here instead, or even the AK. But prices for those have steadily risen, while people continue to forget that the Mini-Thirty exists. So even though, yes, you can get an AK for under $600, or a SKS for under $400 (Remember 25 years ago when they were in a barrel at the pawn shop marked “$79” or was that just in Alabama?), the value of the Ruger being better made makes it my pick here. It’s just better. That said, if buying used beware of the first generation guns. The tooling was not as nice and they weren’t as accurate as a result.
Dang it. Now I’ve made myself want a stainless Mini-Thirty. Oh well. On to the next category.
Here’s the deal: brown bears. Yes, I keep saying it. But the fact is, they do occasionally attack people (though I find there have been no reported fatalities since 1999), and you might even want to hunt one on purpose, too. If you bring enough gun for it, you’ve brought enough gun for anything on the continent. Alaska DNR cites the .300Win-Mag (Winchester Magnum) as the minimum for Coastal Brown Bears. On that logic, I say .338WinMag shall be called my minimum. Hit harder. Get it done.
When I first thought about this, I had in my head that a .30-06 with heavy projectile should be enough. Perhaps even on a cheap route consider a Mosin Nagant M91/30 Sniper version in that thumper cartridge 7.62x54R as all Nagants are? That should handle whatever up there, right? Nope. Nowhere close. At least not reliably so in a manner that won’t endanger your life if you take a shot at a 1,200 lb. meat eating bear and only piss it off. You need more oomph. Lots more. Sure, you might could take one down with that cartridge. But do you want to go to the middle of nowhere with a “might” floating around in your head? I don’t. Same goes for the .30-06. I love the .30-06, yet I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of Coastal Brown Bear territory with only a .30-06.
So, considering this revelation, should I consider .375H&H also? No. You might, but I’m not, because I don’t like spending $4 every time I pull the trigger at the range. The $2 of .338WinMag is bad enough! What about .416 Rigby or .375 Ruger or .416 Ruger you ask? Good grief, do you hear yourself? I said reasonably priced weapons and ammo, darn it! And what happens when you can’t find .416 Ruger at the local shop in the middle of nowhere, Alaska? Your fancy rifle just became a shovel to dig your grave with, that’s what. But, now, Ruger … back to them again.
This may be the stuff. This puppy could solve all the problems. Every issue I’ve had in trying to sort out the confounding question of “if you can only take one gun to Alaska.” Yeah, I know that’s not what Jason asked, but that’s what’s been in my head this whole time writing. Well, if you can only take one, this is it. The Ruger Guide Gun gives you three rounds of whomping .338WinMag in the bomb-proof reliable Ruger 77 Mauser type action, with all stainless steel everything, a laminated wood stock (my goodness that’s pretty, and feels so much better than synthetics of any sort) which makes is less vulnerable to moisture and cold than solid wood stocks which could be a liability in the Alaskan frontier. Plus, it has iron sights for backup or quick target acquisition, like if you’re startled by a startled bear and have 1.5 seconds to get a shot off before you’re dead! That’s kind of important, as is one shot drop capability in that situation. This one has it all. And it’s price at cheaperthandirt.com is only $899. I say “only” because guns this great are usually at least twice that, and you can’t just walk in a store anymore and find a high powered rifle with iron sights on it. Why? I’ve been wondering that for years, and it’s a topic for another article, but trust me, you’d want iron sights in the Alaskan bush, even with a nice Leupold scope atop the receiver. Scopes break when they land on rocks hard. And even not broken, they’re hard to see through quickly at close distances, if they’re magnified.
Short of forgoing the carbine and pooling the money for both a cheap hunting rifle and a cheap carbine together in order to get this one mid priced rifle (which really is an option when you have a primary hunting rifle with iron sights, but you lose quick shot followup by moving from semi-auto or lever to bolt action, and you also lose lots of number of shots but gain lots of power … ugh what a decision), the best bet if you can’t afford a Ruger Guide Gun is to find a used Weatherby Vanguard or Ruger M77 of some type that is chambered in .338WinMag and put it along side a cheap SKS door propper. But would you want that to be all that’s guarding your place in the middle of nowhere? A bolt action and a SKS? Hardly.
The only other satisfying option to me is the Marlin 1895. Nine rounds of .45-70 that will surely thump a bear all to pieces at short ranges, and it’s relatively quick lever action and has iron sights. The sights aren’t very good, but they’re there, and the 26″ barrel gives it some range to reach out and tap something with that 350 grain chunk of lead and copper. It’s a real option, as is the shorter, compensated barrel 1895 Guide Gun in Stainless Steel. But its short barrel makes it less useful at distance. The drastic drop of the .45-70 at distance makes the 1895 beg for a tang sight, old school Quigley style. But if you’re serious about gathering meat for a long Alaskan winter, get a scope with BDC (bullet drop compensation) or practice like crazy with that tang sight.
I’ve written about the “one gun to rule them all” scenario before, touting the 12ga pump with multiple barrels as the best all around long gun for people who can or choose to only have one. I stand by that. “But, wait, you just said if you can only take one gun to Alaska it’s the Ruger Guide Gun…” yes but don’t do that. Take a 12 ga. pump as well. I’ll refer you to my previous article on my reasoning and barrel choices, but definitely have a short defensive barrel, a rifled slug barrel, and a mag tube extension. Try starting with a used Remington 870 Wingmaster. They’re built a little tougher than the Express models of the last 15 years, and can be found reasonably cheap, under or about $300 in decent shape. That gives you a bird barrel and a solid foundation. Add a short cylinder bore barrel for defense, which is good for not only buckshot on people, but big, shoulder-breaking rifled slugs that the Alaska DNR says are proven to be the most reliable at putting old Brownie on his butt.
One thing I would never do is buy a “Tactical” model shotgun new, though. They’re horribly overpriced, and easy to build one just like it for cheaper. Just shop the used stores for a good donor gun and buy new accessory parts. Have it your way, like a grilled burger. Besides, it’s more fun that way, too.
So here it is. If I was going to Alaska to live off-grid and away from most people contact, in an area where I might run into coastal brown bears, and had a need not only to hunt but also to protect my family and myself from those bears and wolves and zombies and crazed, machete-wielding porcupines … these are the guns I would be sure to take:
- Smith and Wesson Model 69
- Marlin 1894 (or the Mini-Thirty? Argh! I’m torn.)
- Ruger M77 Guide Gun
- Remington 870 12ga, custom modified
I realize the options for this list go on and on and on, and many of you will try to correct me by commenting that I’m wrong. I’m not wrong, but I acknowledge there is more than one correct answer. Let us know your answers, either below here or on Jason’s article, posted previous to this one.
Oh and sorry, Drew, I couldn’t find a source on the 40 Watt Phased Plasma Rifles. 😉