The Scenario: You’re headed to Alaska to hunt caribou with your trusty .30-06 Springfield, but you’ve heard myriad horror stories of attacks by Alaska’s big bruins on the unsuspecting hunter who just happened to prop his rifle up against a tree while skinning out game/eating his lunch/answering the call of nature/sleeping (fill in the blanks). The story goes on to mention, however conveniently, that said hunter’s rifle is just out of reach, thereby rendering it about as useless as a match stick in a sword fight. You could rely on bear spray as so many recommend for the average outdoorsmen, but you want something more decisive—and more lethal. You could pick the latest plastic wonder-pistol in a good anti-personnel defensive caliber, with capacity able to take on a hoard of bears … But no, you’ve read up on bear attacks and you know that despite the grizzly bear’s potential girth, it can cover a lot of ground at a clip a racehorse would have trouble matching. High-capacity isn’t the answer, a well-placed heavy bullet with substantial frontal area is. So you opt for the tried and true king of the revolvers, the .44 Magnum.
Alaska is a long way to travel for many of us from the Lower 48. It’s often the hunt of a lifetime for the less well-healed, and something you want to make the absolute most of when you make the long journey north and spend your hard-earned cash. You’ve chosen your primary hunting firearm carefully. It’s the rifle you’ve hunted with more than dozen years, and something you’re very familiar and comfortable with. But, you’ve succumbed to the stories perpetuated online and in the pages of numerous outdoor publications, and you make the sound decision to bring a capable sidearm that is readily available, reliable and attainable.
I referred to the .44 Magnum as the king of revolver cartridges for a few reasons; it’s what I consider a threshold cartridge, meaning that it’s the upper limit in recoil tolerance for most shooters (too much for many), it has cleanly taken every land mammal that walks Mother Earth, and it has a plethora of available factory loads from mild to heinous in nature and all levels in between. Yes, you can opt for something more powerful—and there are plenty more powerful offerings, but all of the horsepower in the world is useless if you’re incapable of successfully and accurately delivering it on target. This is why the .44 Magnum makes so much sense.
But what platform should you choose? Double-action or single-action? Double-action proponents will point out that it can be more easily manipulated and shot one-handed than a single-action, as the hammer doesn’t have to be manually cocked for each shot—definitely a positive if one finds themselves in the unfortunate position underneath said fur-baring assassin. They’ll also make the argument of the faster loads and reloads with a double-action revolver, but we covered that speed issue above, and if you think you’ll get the opportunity to reload during a bear attack, I have some beachfront property I would like to sell you in Utah. With practice—and you had better practice with the revolver you plan to utilize as a life insurance policy—a single-action revolver can be pressed into action as quickly as any double-action, and in my humble opinion, the single-action points much more naturally, thereby aiding the shooter in delivering what will hopefully be a well-placed first shot. So, Ruger’s ubiquitous Super Blackhawk (SBH) gets the nod, but its role means that it will have to be small enough to carry comfortably on your hip or chest, so the barrel length must be taken into consideration. Fortunately, Ruger makes a SBH with a 4 ⅝-inch barrel length—perfect for defensive duty.
Your holster choice is critical here. The sidearm has to be unobtrusive and not get in the way of pack carry or binocular harnesses, and it must not hinder your movement, but at the same time it must put your firearm in a position where it can be pressed into action at the drop of a hat, or rifle for that matter. We opted for the 7X Leather Chest Holster, which places the revolver in a comfortable position that’s very easy to access and comes with unlimited adjustability to make it perfect for your use and body-type. It comes with a cartridge slide attached to one of the straps, and is one of the nicest, best executed leather holsters I’ve have had the pleasure of using in a number of differing applications.
Your load must be effective, accurate and uncompromising. With that in mind, we’ve chosen a load from Doubletap Ammunition that is a proven performer on big game. It features a wide flat-nosed hardcast bullet (WFN) in a heavy-for-caliber 320 grains. This is a real magnum load as verified by my very own chronograph and the built-in recoil meter in my right hand—Doubletap doesn’t make .44 Magnum loads for wimps. It’s accurate, and penetrates straight and deep—just what the bear doctor ordered for charge stopping. If you’re to get one shot, it better count, as the stakes in a grizzly attack are extremely high.
The combination of the 4 ⅝-inch Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum, Doubletap’s 320-grain cast load and the state-of-the-art 7X Leather chest rig makes for a great companion for the hunt of a lifetime in Alaska. It’s comfortable, your hands are free for other chores and duties, and it’s a logical choice when it comes time to sleep. It is a heck-of-a-lot easier taking a revolver into your sleeping bag with you than a rifle or shotgun, and I will bet easier to use by a very wide margin in those tight confines. Let’s face reality here for a moment; the likelihood of being attacked by a bear is relatively low, but why be unprepared in the unlikely yet unfortunate event that it happens? It’s not only unnecessary, but imprudent not to take every precaution necessary, and the consequences much too great to comprehend. Now you can go about your business without your rifle, knowing you’re well protected.
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Max Prasac is the author of the Gun Digest Book of Hunting Revolvers. It’s a fresh take on a pastime that has been practiced for generations, and it’s organized into three main concepts: the principles of handgun hunting, the equipment necessary and the capabilities of several caliber offerings among the selection of hunting handguns available today. Anecdotes and pictures throughout the work detail the use of revolvers in hunting camps around the globe from North America to South America and Africa. MSRP: $25.49; gundigeststore.com.