This article is for those who live in the bush. Those who go on a guided hunt may find other guns satisfactory for their purposes, but a bush dweller’s life may depend on his guns being called on to meet every contingency, not just those of a guided hunt. Most bush dwellers have only a few guns and since these must both provide food and protection, this is no place to scrimp on quality. Having lived there, here are my observations on the subject.
The people living deep in the backcountry face threats the same as those in the city, only a bit different. Wolf and bear attacks have been increasing in recent years and wolves come in packs, dictating a semiauto for defense. No matter how deep into the wilderness you go, you still may run into people. Some of them are nice and some are not. Some treat any cabin and its contents as abandoned, even if there is a fire still going in the barrel stove. Be forewarned and be prepared.
A GOOD .22 RIFLE is a basic necessity for small game and practice. No practice, no hit anything. The old Browning semiauto .22 has the longest trouble-free life by far. That made it the mainstay of shooting galleries in years gone by.
A somewhat cheaper alternative is the Ruger 10/22 semiauto, which has earned a wide following. Rifles need to be able to handle moose and bear. The best one currently available is the semiauto version of the German G3 rifle. This was also Norway’s standard 7.62 NATO rifle, so you know that it will work in any part of Alaska at any time of the year.
The G3 has proven more reliable than any other gun in widespread use. Even Russia’s vaunted AK-47 pales in reliability comparison to the G3. New guns built on the machinery Portugal used to build the gun under license from H&K in Germany are available from PTR-91. Guns built on military surplus parts kits are available from Century Arms at about half the price. The ones made in Spain are called CETME and they were the first ones. Designed by German engineers after World War II, the CETME was adopted by Germany as the G3. These guns work perfectly with all 7.62 NATO and .308 loads, including the heavy bullet ones. Whichever one you buy, you need to send the trigger group to Williams Trigger Specialties for a trigger job, as the mil-specs on these guns call for a bad trigger in order to survive an insanely high drop test without jarring off. Some hoplophobic bureaucrat’s idea of safety.
People often want to know what is the best survival rifle to carry in their bush plane. The answer may surprise you. It is the M1 carbine. Its cartridge is basically a high-velocity .32-20 load and it kills small game cleanly without ruining the meat. It has also killed very many deer and bear, even though it is universally considered not to be the best caliber for that. Some people say they would not want to face a charging grizzly with one. Well, the grizzly’s brain is located on the centerline of the skull about halfway between the eyes and the ears when his head is down, and you have plenty of shots at it, for the carbine is almost as fast-firing as a .22.
Unlike most survival rifles, the carbine is also easy to hit with. Indeed it may well be the easiest rifle of all time to hit with. So don’t worry, the gun will do its part. In any survival scenario, hitting what you shoot at is the first priority. This gun is small and light, as is its ammunition, so you can carry a lot of ammo easily. The finest ones I have encountered are made by Inland Manufacturing. They make it to the last mil-specs, which were a big improvement over the earlier ones. Inland has been able to get 1-inch minute-of-angle groups at 100 yards with their guns.
Rifle scopes often have a problem with the fact that it rains so much in Alaska. Bushnell’s RainGuard coating on their scopes’ lens enables them to be used in the rain. For semiautos, get a German three-post reticle because crosshairs blur in aimed rapidfire. Once you have taken that careful first shot, you may need aimed rapidfire to bring a running big moose down before his noisy demise attracts bear. I do not want to deal with skinning, butchering and packing out a moose and a bear on the same day. That’s just more work than I want.
FOR PISTOLS, THE BEST choice is the M1911A1. Due to the short ranges in our part of the Alaskan interior, my wife Betty and I ended up using WWII Remington Rand M1911A1s for everything with perfect results. We were both pistol shooters, which made this easy. The M1911A1 is by far the most reliable pistol ever made and definitely the one to choose when your life depends on your pistol. It is extremely fast firing and instantly reloadable with fresh magazines. Again, in my opinion the best one in current production is the Inland Manufacturing M1911A1. This is a loose-fit gun with play in the slide but still incredibly accurate out to 300 yards.
For holsters we always used the WWII G.I. issue rig of the M1916 holster with web belt and magazine pouch. Both El Paso Saddlery and Pacific Canvas and Leather make this holster, and Pacific Canvas and Leather also makes the web belt and magazine pouch to go with it. For concealed carry, nothing beats the pancake holster and El Paso Saddlery makes a fine one for this gun that they call their Tortilla.
A .22 pistol is a necessity on a trapline. We used a Stoeger .22 Luger because it was so accurate and easy to hit with. It wasn’t the best .22, though, and it is no longer made. Today the finest .22 pistol is the Marvel Precision LLC .22 conversion unit mounted on a M1911A1 pistol. This means that you have to buy an extra M1911A1, but now you are getting cheap practice with the gun that you are depending on.
The Marvel Precision LLC units tighten down on the gun in such a way that they provide the finest accuracy, as witnessed by the fact that they are used in the .22 matches at Camp Perry. Unlike most .22 pistols, these are easy to maintain. Many fine .22 pistols are difficult and tricky to take apart and put back together, but not these. They also go on and off the gun quickly and easily.
A LOT OF PEOPLE prefer a revolver. It is a myth that revolvers are more reliable than automatics. I like to shoot at least 200 rounds a day and I have had far, far more jams and malfunctions with revolvers than I ever had with any automatic. That said, the choice is now between single- and double-action revolvers.
The M1873 Colt Single Action Army revolver in .45 Long Colt has been popular in Alaska since the gold rush. It has accounted for every type of Alaskan game many times over the years. It is an extremely easy pistol to hit with, which accounts for its popularity. On the downside, it is slow to unload the spent cartridge cases and reload the chambers. So slow that its sustained fire rate is the same as a cap-and-ball revolver with paper cartridges. Always remember to carry this gun with the hammer down on an empty chamber, as otherwise a sharp blow to the hammer can fire the gun. This is the way it has always been carried over the years, despite its being called a “six-shooter.” The Colt has a lot of screws and they all like to work loose as the gun is fired, so get a pair of fitted screwdrivers for it from Peacemaker Specialties and keep them tight. I have always found the 4¾-inch barrel the fastest and best handling length on this gun. If you go this route, get a genuine Colt. Trust me, you will be glad you did.
The finest double-action revolver is the stainless steel Ruger Redhawk 4-inch barrel in .45 Colt. It is a modern design without screws to back out and is made as rugged and indestructible as modern science can make it. It has the most perfect double action trigger pull of any revolver I have seen. You can actually shoot as good double action as you can single action with this pistol.
El Paso Saddlery has a full line of holsters for both of these revolvers.
THERE IS ALWAYS A place for a close-range backup pistol, but it must be powerful and small. The best one I have found is the American Derringer Co.’s .45 Colt/.410 double Derringer. This gun is a close-range powerhouse that does not recoil badly, so long as you keep a tight grip on it. In Alaska I would only carry .45 Colt ammo in it due to the bears it might be called upon to defend against.
You will note that I only recommend .45 ACP- and .45 Colt- caliber handguns. There are solid reasons for sticking to these two proven performers. Due to the poor ballistic shape of pistol bullets and the fact that air resistance goes up exponentially with velocity after 50 to 75 yards, your .44 Magnum’s velocity has dropped below that of the .45’s and the .44 only has a .429-inch bullet diameter compared to the larger .451-inch diameter of the .45.
Since you never want expanding bullets in a pistol used for big game, as you need penetration, this size difference is significant. The sonic boom of a bullet over the sound barrier of 1,100 feet per second, added to the muzzle blast, will quickly do permanent hearing damage to unprotected ears and how many people have their shooter’s earmuffs on all the time they are in the bush? The subsonic .45s are safer on your hearing. Recoil of the magnums slows down the second and third shots so much that it can have fatal consequences to you. Stick with a proven performer and don’t get caught up with the latest craze like a teenage bobbysoxer.
FOR SHOTGUNS, THE CHEAPEST solution is a Mossberg 500 12-gauge pump gun. With a 20-inch riot gun barrel and sights loaded with German Brenneke slugs, it will put down a bear as fast as the biggest magnum rifle. With a choked barrel made for use with steel shot, which will ruin any barrel not specifically made for it, you have a waterfowl gun. You can shoot grouse and rabbits quite well in either configuration and you don’t have to use that infernal steel shot for them.
If you are serious about your shotgunning and don’t want to waste shells by missing game, you had better invest in a side-by-side 12-bore game gun from the British Isles and have it stocked to fit you. You will have to have a gun fitting at a shooting school or a gun maker over there and have the stock made to these measurements or, in the case of a used gun, altered to fit them. Now you have a gun that points exactly where you are looking and you can hit unfailingly with.
Prices range from a new Purdey at the high end to a used Birmingham-made boxlock extractor gun at the low end. Either way you won’t wear them out like you will a mass-produced gun in hard shooting service. Having a broken gun or running out of ammunition without bringing sufficient game to bag is a lot more serious deep in the Alaskan interior in the winter than it is for the casual sportsman in the Lower 48. This is reason enough to invest in the best.
THE AFOREMENTIONED GUNS WERE recommended as the best available within the budget of the average Alaskan bush resident. There are other guns, of course, but some of the best are not readily available or are very high priced, or both. The M1941 Johnson semiautomatic rifle is a good example of this. The guns I have listed will give good service and not let you down. AmSJ
Editor’s note: Unless otherwise stated, images were provided by the manufacturers.
By Jim Dickson