Potent power provided in a portable package.
It has been observed that disaster insurance is a difficult sell to many people: you’re buying something that you hope you never need to use, and you probably never will. On the other hand, when you do need it, you’re going to need it in a big way. And by then, it’ll be too late to buy it. A similar argument could be made about the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan.
In 2005 Ruger introduced the Alaskan, a snub-nosed sub-model of their highly successful Super Redhawk line. The Alaskan was originally offered in .454 Casull and .480 Ruger calibers, and more recently, the .44 Magnum became the “light” cartridge of the Alaskan family. The Alaskan is appropriately named, for these guns are designed expressly as a backup sidearm when one is traveling in grizzly country.
When I first saw the Alaskan, I decided on the spot that I had to have one. No matter that I’d never been to Alaska, nor had any immediate plans to head for bear territory. In fact, the closest I’d ever come to a big bear was at the city zoo. This was not a purchase grounded in restrained thinking – one look at the polished stainless finish, the elegant lines and the huge hole in front, and I was convinced that I needed one. At least one.
I’ve owned my Alaskan (in .454 configuration) for about a year now, and have fired well over 1500 shots through it – not enough to proclaim myself as an expert, but probably more than most folks have done. You can find objective reviews of this handgun elsewhere; what follows are my thoughts on the Alaskan, based on my personal experiences with it.
First, a bit of history on the cartridge: the .454 Casull was developed in the mid 1950s by Dick Casull and Jack Fulmer. In a very real sense, the .454 is a magnumized .45 Colt, but this definition doesn’t really capture just how much disparity there is between a .45 and a .454. Consider this: the .454 cartridge will propel a bullet at over twice the velocity as a comparable bullet in a .45 Colt. It packs about 50% more energy than a 44 magnum, the cartridge from which it wrested the title of most powerful handgun cartridge in the world.
This amazing performance comes with a price, and that price is spelled R-E-C-O-I-L. This is true in any .454, but probably nowhere more so than in the Alaskan, whose 41-ounce package allows the shooter to, shall we say, fully experience the firepower of the cartridge. I would venture that, regardless of one’s proficiency with other calibers, it’s a good idea to allocate some time to getting used to this little guy. The amazing explosion, coupled with a 2 ½” barrel, makes for some interesting firing dynamics.
That said, I’m thoroughly impressed with the Alaskan. Its action and lock-up are as tight as the day I got it, and its finish has held up beautifully. (I managed to nick up the trigger guard during some gunsmithing. A few passes with an Arkansas stone rendered the nicks nearly invisible, and the work on the brushed stainless finish appears seamless.)
I’ve had quite a bit of opportunity to shoot the Alaskan over a chronograph. The detailed results of these tests can be found elsewhere in this site, but in general, you can expect about a 15% decrease in bullet velocity as a result of the very short barrel. While this may seem somewhat unfortunate, consider that 85% of a typical .454 load is better than 100% of just about anything else. Besides, if ultimate velocity is your primary goal, an Alaskan isn’t your best choice anyway (Ruger makes this gun in 7 ½” and 10 ½” barrel configurations, but prepare for even greater recoil.)
On the subject of accuracy: well, this gun will never be confused with a tack driver. Under the best of circumstances, I was able to get 2 ½” groupings of 5 shots from a rest at 25 yards, and I would not consider those results entirely repeatable. Those who would criticize this shortcoming of the Alaskan are missing the point, however: this gun is intended for one thing, and one thing only: the ultimate defense against a bear attack. Your target will (unfortunately) be much closer than 25 yards when you’re forced to use this gun, and the kill zone will (fortunately) be considerably bigger than 2 ½”. Moreover, Ruger considers the short barrel a feature that will minimize the gun’s intrusiveness while worn, which in turn will minimize the chances that the owner will be caught without it at a most inopportune time. Remember, this is a gun that you hope you’ll never use for its intended purpose.
With that last thought in mind, I find it mildly ironic that the Alaskan has become the favored firearm in my safe. It’s certainly not my only handgun (in fact, it’s not even my only .454), but it’s the one I reach for the most when I want to go make some holes at the range. Its intended purpose notwithstanding, this is one fun little gun to shoot, especially with milder loads. Now, if I could just convince Ruger to make a matching carbine rifle!