Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Epic Smart Shield Water Filter: Truly Epic!

Call me paranoid, but I’ve used my MSR backpacking water filter in homes and hotels on three continents. That’s not when camping, but in actual cities where I’m absolutely sure the water passes all industry standards…on paper. Anyone who ventures closer to the equator than not knows the perils of drinking local water, using ice made of the local water, and even bathing in so-called clean local water. Unless there is a riot outside your door, or a terror threat in progress, there is no greater challenge to your health than what’s in the water you drink.

The explosion of micro filtration devices like LifeStraw, Sawyer, and others is evidence that 1) there is a need, and 2) we care enough to use them. We are the lucky ones who have a choice. Given the endless supply of contaminated water on this planet and the mindboggeling number of ways water can make you sick or kill you, leaving the purity of your drinking water supply up to the local government or hourly-wage workers checking monthly that all’s well is foolish from every perspective. Even bottled water is questionable given that the standards for bottling water are no better than those same rules that regulate the water in every major US city.

Jumping off the Brita Wagon
Gravity filtered pitchers were all the rage when they appeared on grocery store shelves. The Brita movement was most people’s first taste of what filtered city water was like. Of course the trend caught fire and became the household standard for decades. Unfortunately, the Brita concept is based more on looks than quality. Brita filters do remove some contaminants, but no where near what’s necessary to actually raise the quality of the water to reasonably high standards.

But over those decades, we have learned more about the bad stuff in our water, and even the stuff we don’t measure. And also the fact that the Brits filter won’t remove much of the bad stuff, and even less of the other bad stuff. Luckily there are choices today. I’ve been running a Culligan Reverse Osmosis system in my house since last century. But dropping a grand on a multi-stage under sink self-fauceted system is not for everyone. So when it came to equipping my mountain home with a filtration system, I turned to Epic Water, a Boulder, CO based company that cares more about clean water than any other company.

Epic makes an affordable, effective, and simple to install under sink system along with its line of filtering bottles and pitchers. I’ve had an Epic Water Pitcher for a year now and it never fails to impress. Here’s a video showing how it removes the colored dye from Gatorade compared to a Brita…which doesn’t.


For under a hundred bucks, the Epic Water Epic Smart Shield is a single canister multi-stage water filter than can be inserted directly into your cold water line. Using the bypass coupler, the cold water line is diverted through the filter, and back into the existing line. It really is that simple. The press-fit couplers are an industry standard that I’ve used for decades with no issues whatsoever.

The replaceable canister can be swapped out in a quarter turn, and the cost of all that clean pure safe water is often less than what many pay for a month of water service. Often half or a third! So while you throw a wad of cash at the local water company each month, do the smart thing and purify your water supply with a solid filter system like Epic Water.

And don’t even get me started if you have kids. I honestly believe that there is no better start in life for a child than fresh clean water. The stressed on the earth’s fresh water supply has never been greater, and it seem each month there is a new threat. From arsenic to lead to pharmaceuticals to mercury to biological agents, water is the source of life, but also a constant threat. There’s not much you can do about most world problems, but there is a solution for clean water: its called Epic Water.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Designated Marksman Carbine (DMC)

The concept for the Designated Marksman Carbine or DMC has been around for awhile now, but not in the pure DMC form. Instead it was either hopping up a 5.56mm to maximums, or dumbing down a larger cartridge so it could be shot effectively off-hand. To really capitalize on the Designated Marksman Carbine concept, I had to do it myself to ensure the spirit of the DMC was in play for my imagined needs.

The Designated Marksman Rifle or DMR is a middle ground between a battle rifle and a sniper rifle. It is usually a semiautomatic in the pattern of the M16 or AR15 rather than a bolt action hardstock version that could be mistaken for grandad’s hunt’n rifle. Almost. The removable box magazine options of the DMR allow a larger capacity than bolts, and the manual of arms is often nearly identical to the battle rifle like the M4A.

The DMR is an accurate long distance shooter when compared to a battle rifle built with a 16-inch or shorter barrel. But compared to the 24-inch barreled sniper rifle, the DMR is a medium distance shooter with near-MOA accuracy out to 500 meters any day of the week and 800 meters on Sunday. But the DMR is not without it’s issues. First and foremost, it is yet another rifle to ruck around the battlefield. And second, it requires a DM or designated marksman to operate with it. A third issue that may or may not be of concern is that the DMR usually takes a different larger cartridge compared to the battle rifle with accompanying need for different mags, different bore brushes, and it is likely mounted with a heavy optic that prevents fast operation in close quarters.

Just as the DMR ran interference between the carbine and the sniper rifle, I saw a need in my personal preparation for something that closed the gap between the AR15 carbine, and the bolt action hunting (think sniper) rifle capable of reaching half a mile with enough energy to make the trip worthwhile. While the 55 grain .223 round can reliably touch targets at 700 yards, it won’t make much of a statement when it’s get there. Even if the 5.56mm bullet extracts its pound of flesh, its effectiveness is limited to flesh and not hide, leather, canvas, plastic, glass, wood, sheet metal, and especially not sheet metal. At 800 meters, the .223 bullet drops into double digit energy. That’s almost a 90% drop compared to the energy the .223 has at 100 yards and might even be less than a traditional .22 long rifle at 100 yards!

Contradiction as Opportunity
So while the need for a Designated Marksman Carbine seems obvious, I’ve found many of the off-the-shelf AR10 (.308 in an AR pattern) carbine rifles to be less reliable than I’ll tolerate. I don’t live on the gun range, and don’t imagine that a dark future will have covered bays or sunny days on the square range. Therefore, any AR10 in my preps will need to be above average and with hand-picked Designated Marksman Carbine components.

In a nutshell, the AR10 I built up started with a matched pair of Mega Arms upper and lower receivers with the Mega Arms nickel-boron finish. The receivers are named the Maten presumably for “Mega Arms Ten” instead of AR10. Umm. Whatever. I was hoping the Maten was some exotic jungle dwelling apex predator that captured prey at long distance.

The parts that matter include a single stage CMC drop-in flat-shoe trigger set at 3.5 pounds, and locked in place with anti-roll pins. An Aero Precision stainless steel 16”  barrel with matching Aero Precision bolt with phosphate finish. The handguard is a smooth round aluminium beauty from Unique AR, an McCall, Idaho based ARtisan company that makes CNC artwork where a boring quad rail used to live. For a build like this Designated Marksman Carbine I wanted a smooth round handguard to allow for an unobstructed rest when on rough or non-level surfaces.

Level Headed
A rifle is only sighted in as well as it’s leveled. A perfect vertical alignment between optic, barrel and gravity is imperative if you want to know with certainty if the bullet will hit is mark. Since the optic is not affected by the pull of the earth, but the bullet it, sighting in a long gun means dialing in the intersection between crosshairs and bullet drop (or rise). Like shooting a basketball towards a distant hoop, the arc of the projectile’s flight whether ball or bullet is only as precise as it’s vertical alignment with gravity. If a rifle is tilted, the arc is different so the accuracy is compromised. For close shots, the difference is minimal but still, the offset iron sights should be on target for a 45 degree counter-clockwise rifle rotation.

Back to the round handguard, when a railed handguard is places on a compromising surface, it either tugs the rifle in a rotational direction as it searches for stability, or balances precariously on a point causing the rifle to teeter back and forth. A round handguard can sit still on many for surface shapes.

For those shots where a bipod is preferred, a bipod is available. Sitting out near the muzzle, it usually won’t interfere when not active, but the free-floating barrel allows the bipod to be at the furthest point away from the stock providing a rock-solid platform on such a short marksman sight radius.

Welding Flesh
Rounding out the other end of the Designated Marksman Carbine is a Magpul UBR or Utility Battle Rifle stock. What makes this an Unusual Buttstock Replacement (UBR?) is that the cheek weld remains fixed and only the shoulder pad section moves. The two benefits of this design are, first the position of face to sight (cheek weld) remains constant regardless of the position of the stock. And second, the lockup of the stock in any position absolutely rivals a fixed stock in solidity and quietness. Of course that does come with a bit of a weight increase, but it’s not as bad as it seems given that the UBR comes with its own buffer tube.

In the middle of muzzle and stock is a Leupold 3x-9x tactical scope on a Mark 2 integrated mount. The premise behind integrated or single stage mounts is that the scope has only one large point of contact with the rifle rather that dual scope rings. Dual rings can work great and are the staple of hunting rifles, but in that case the scope was not to be removed unless another sight-in session was possible. Integrated mounts like this Leupold maintain zero much better, and can cross rail lines between receiver and handguard if necessary without much if any loss in accuracy. In the case of this Designated Marksman Carbine, the Leupold mount resides completely on the upper receiver rail. If you scope has long eye relief you might have push it further down the barrel crossing real estate lines that can introduce alignment disputes.

Since the point of the Designated Marksman Carbine is to manage the territory between 300 and 800 meters with enough dignity to bother with, the .308 Winchester seems a perfect round. It's almost as common as the 7.62 NATO, and just as good. Plus it’s one of the most common rounds available surpassed only by the 9mm, .223/5.56, and perhaps the 12 gauge. In other words, don’t worry about availability. But if you want something smaller like a 6.5 whatever, or larger like a .33x, I won’t be able to share ammo with you. And likely nobody else will either. That said, I appreciate the finer nuances of the recent calibers and cartridges for long range shooting, but there is no room in the Designated Marksman Carbine concept for nuances.

Magpul is THE source for magazines, providing a mild choice of capacity and color for the AR10 platform. With cartridges as large at the .308, weight adds up literally twice as fast compared to the .223. A boxmag of twenty .308 rounds is about the same as a box of forty .223s. Further, the size of a container holding noticeable and anything longer will mess up the rifle’s ability to move freely when bipod or resting low. This is the reason that hunting rifles and most sniper pipes don’t use or even have so-called high cap mags. Accuracy trumps volume every time. However, the Designated Marksman Carbine is not a ridiculous choice for CQB and janitorial work, but it is near the threshold of overkill and awkwardness. So considering a more-than-20 .308 mag is not foolish, just not as practical as it might seem.

Can It
Cans, suppressors, silencers, regardless of what you call them, they are an excellent idea for many reasons. With a noticeable reduction in the loudness of a rifle shot, there is also a reduction in stresses on the trigger pull from flinching and apprehension. Setting off a 60,000 PSI explosion inches from your face is bad enough, but a literally defining concussion is something to be avoided. The can on this Designated Marksman Carbine has a muzzle brake built in that really does noticeably reduce recoil to a pleasant level. With a recoil impulse up to four times more than a .223, while not scary for most shooters, it certainly is not enjoyable. Recoil is just a fact of life so lessening that fact is always a welcome change.

Home on the Range
Mobility is a key to Designated Marksman Carbine success so building a go kit for the Designated Marksman Carbine was the next logical step. As a carbine with collapsible stock, the entire rifle and bipod minus the can easily fits into a 36-inch gun case, the 5.11 Vtac MK II Double Rifle Case in particular for this project. Thirty-six inches is just a yardstick. It’s barely noticeable in the big picture.

Rather than a tube or pouch-type gun case, the 5.11 Vtac MK II Double Rifle Case completely unzips along three of the four sides turning it into a 36” by 24” range mat. Not as good a as a dedicated mat, but far better than nothing and much better than a tarp.

Other additions to the Designated Marksman Carbine Go-Kit include a Leatherman MUT multitool for the AR platform, a wind speed meter, A Sig KILO2400 Ballistic Rangefinder (with Applied Ballistics/SIG app on iPhone), a flashlight that can turn on in lowest mode (non-tactical), a camo baseball cap, and ear protection. And on the ear pro side, if possible I carry electronic ear muffs that can amplify the local sounds and take a radio input if needed. Regular earplugs/earmuffs block all sounds to a degree so it easy to miss things like someone sneaking up on you. Amplifying the sounds through electronic earmuffs is truly a bionic upgrade. They ate also a go-to for inhouse personal protection when you really want to hear those bumps in the night.

Another addition to the go package is a tarp of 3-D camo material. Behaving as a ghillie suit for a prone shooting position, the tarp is a quick and versatile concealment option that runs double duty as a hunting blind as well.

Gearing up for when it matters is never inexpensive or flawless. Choices have to be made, and money must be spent. Moving forward on your preparation plan ends in action. All the best intents will be meaningless if there is no action before the deadline.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Gear Review: Fiskars X7 Hatchet

Fiskars is a village in Finland that gave it’s name to a company back in 1649 owned by Dutch guy named Peter Thorwöste. Mr. Thorwöste started a blast furnace and forging operation that went from ironwork to copperwork and ultimately in 1832 cutlery in 1832. 


Cut to today. Fiskars is a household name for inexpensive and innovative cutting and chopping tools that often contain plastic components and bright orange colored accents. Oddly, or perhaps more a contradiction, the plastic-handled Fiskars hatchets and axes have a near rabid following on the scale of the all-steel Estwing choppers. I guess that’s proof that function trumps form.

For a $25 plus or minus hatchet, the Fiskars X7 Hatchet is surprisingly effective. In fact, the hollow-handled X7 does something that almost no other hatchet can do: place a vast majority of the weight of the tool on the cutting head, yet be strong enough for real chopping.
Hatchets are designed for one-handed operation, and as a chopping tool, the there are two simple machines at work, but only one that requires mass. The handle is a lever that moves the rotational energy into a larger diameter circle of motion. That leverage is consolidated onto a weighted head in the shape of a wedge (two inclined planes base to base). The weighted momentum of the hatchet head is where the action is. When the blade (known as a bit) hits wood, the sharp end of the triangular head burrows into cellulose spreading apart the grain. If the wood wins, the bit stops. If the bit wins, the wood splits apart forever.

The shape of a hatchet head has a couple traits that tell the story of how well the tool will do particular jobs. Splitting hatchets like the Stihl go from narrow to wide very quickly. While the modern tomahawks like the Estwing and the CRKT remain quite thin. A deep wedge will split rapidly, but loose speed into the workpiece almost immediately. The narrower the wedge, the deeper it cuts, so if your workpieces include things like animal carcass and human skulls, you might want some deeper penetration. In the middle are the camp-style hatchet and axe heads that run general duty but are limited in their splitting and battle qualities.

The Fiskars X7 Hatchet is a solid performer for basic camp woodworking tasks especially when weight is at a premium. Its weight-forward design chops above its pay grade, and that with a total weight of only 22.75 ounces. The balance point on the Fiskars X7 Hatchet’s handle is about one inch south of the head. For reference, the balance point on a classic Estwing solid steel hatchet is about two inches south. The Estwing, by the way, has a handle about an inch shorter than the Fiskars X7 Hatchet, and weighs about seven ounces more.

One of the most unique features of the Fiskars X7 Hatchet is that its hollow plastic handle can be used for a mild survival kit. Just north of the excessive swelling at the base of the handle is a lanyard hole. The palm-side of the handle base is called a heel, with the finger side named the toe. The X7 has a very pronounced toe. So pronounced that I can hang the hatchet by the toe on the web of my hand (between thumb and index finger). 

Back to the lanyard holes. There are actually a pair of them, one on each side of the emptiness. With 11 inches of emptiness filled with survive (I’ve taken to use the word “survive” as a noun lately), a bolt with wingnut or some other fastener can secure the tools within the grip. I’ve played around with different kit stuffed into the Fiskars X7 Hatchet handle including a half-dozen feet of paracord, a CRKT Pazoda folding knife, and a Swedish Fire Steel minus the cord and striker. The Fire Steel fits rather snugly so I first inserted most of the paracord, then the knife, and then tied a loop of paracord on the Fire Steel with a small section of paracord sticking out the bottom of the handle. A bolt and wingnut secure the kit. When extracting the kit, once the bolt is removed, the paracord is pulled popping out the Fire Steel and the rest comes tumbling out. The paracord is also an effective noise dampener for rattling objects since the hollow plastic tube of a handle resonates sound quite well.

Another option for fun is to drop a trio of orange Bic lighters into the handle followed by a little tinder to snug things up. Add the bolt, and you’ve got a fire kit. Of course this route is more orange than function.

While I’ve not had personal experience with a Fiskars handle shattering in the cold, I have heard such tales. I’ve also see pictures of broken Fiskars hatchets and axes. Fiskars is known for great warranty service, but ideally you shouldn’t have to use it. Another concern is that if the handle does become useless, the design of the Fiskars X7 Hatchet head is more like the primitive stone axe heads that contained no eye (hole through which a handle is inserted). Instead, to reclaim the cutting prowess of the hatchet, any handle remnants still attached to the head would need to be removed, and the head could then be lashed onto a branch or wedged into a split stick and tied in place.

The chance of handle breakage increases as the temperature drops and the handle length increases. The “FiberComp®” plastic material is surprisingly durable and the tube design is probably stronger than a solid plastic or fiberglass handle. Further, solid handles of steel and fiberglass are known for effectively transmitting the shock of a wood strike directly to the nerves in your hands and arms. 

The bit is coated with a non-stick film somewhat like a frying pan. This allows the hatchet head to penetrate further into the workpiece, and slide out backwards with less effort. The factory edge is plenty sharp to use right out of the box, but I did manage to chip it with less effort than usual. The Fiskars X7 Hatchet has a traditional compound bevel edge meaning the approach to the edge is smooth but just before reaching the edge, there is a sharper drop angle  to the edge proper. This double bevel is fairly easy to sharpen second only to the flat bevel where there is only one angle.

I also felt the edge dulled faster than some of the convex and traditional bit grinds, but that could also be the steel. However, when I used an axe sharpening puck to clean up the damage, it took much longer than my carbon steel axes and hatchets. But the Fiskars X7 Hatchet was back in service in no time since we are only talking a few minutes.

The widest metal on the head of the Fiskars X7 Hatchet is only five-eighths of an inch. While the narrowness reduces this tool’s splitting capabilities, it does boost its knife-like fine motor skill duties. With a hand wrapped around the head, it's easy to feather sticks for fire starting, and process fish and game.

Although the Fiskars X7 Hatchet is not anywhere near what I would consider an heirloom hatchet, it is a workhorse, and an inexpensive one at that.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Gear Review: The Camillus Carnivore

There is a reason that knives are lumped into named categories, and that is because the knife profile of that particular category has been honed (pardon the pun) over decades or even hundreds of years. 

Whether cutlass or cleaver, Bowie or barlow, choice of shape, thickness, blade steel, edge, and hardness have all been chosen to support the mission of the knife. But what happens when a knife design crosses between categories? Well, compromises have to be made, and the user of such a tool must work within the constraints of those limitations. An such is the case with the Camillus Carnivore.

The Camillus Knife Company has been in business, in name anyway, since 1896. It has been a supplier of many military contracts including the famous four-blade folder used by U.S. Forces. Basically is it a metallic version of the iconic Boy Scout pocket knife.

While Camillus might push the All American Company image, it cannot claim all American made. Most of the product line seems to be made in China now, with a few high dollar blades forged in upstate New York. 

The Acme United Corporation, an even older conglomerate, bought Camillus in 2009 rolling it into their portfolio of “innovative cutting, first aid, and sharpening products.” So much so was the innovation that in 2011 Camillis signed up with world famous survivalist Les Stroud, aka Survivorman, to design and market survival tools. However the Camillus Carnivore, as yet, is not one of them.

By combining the traits of a large machete-like blade with that of a diverse survival knife, the Camillus Carnivore can run double duty as long as you abide by the rules of limitation. Most machete-sized edged tools utilize a spring steel of moderate hardness (or softer hardness to use an oxymoron) that gives great physical flexibility and ease of sharpening. Stainless steels, on the other hand, don’t like to be bent, and resist the sharpening stone more aggressively than carbon steels. In the case of the Camillus Carnivore, a “Titanium bonded” stainless steel, presumably a 440 Chinese variety. The bonded property presumably is an inexpensive way of hardening the very edge of the blade. It is common among disposable edges like razor blades, but presents issues with actual hand knives in that the resharpenability of the blade is more difficult. But that might not really be an issue with a knife like the Camillus Carnivore since it seem to be more of a here-and-now survival tool that might have limited use in the long term. But it was never designed as such, nor should you expect it too. That’s the difference between a $25 knife and a $250 knife. Both work as advertised.

For a large blade that sells for between $20 and $30, one should not have high expectations for the handle. And with the Camillus Carnivore, you might be surprised...or not. The grip of the Carnivore is hard plastic covering with an exposed tail section that ensures that all accurate pounding will skip the grip and focus the force completely on the blade. That’s a good thing, and something I’ve stressed with expensive knives like most of the Fallkniven variety.

The featured-filled blade has multiple tools from it’s long sharp edge, to the gut hook/cord cutter, to the tanto-esk blade end, to the serrated saw section, to the prybar tip. But it that very tip that has created some of the issues that has given the Camillus Carnivore more than its share of negative reviews in the past. Remember that difference between spring steel and stainless? Well a blade of stainless does not like to be used in a prying fashion and tends to snap rather than bend. A spring steel blade might go up to a 90 degree bend before giving up. So some users of the Camillus Carnivore bent the prybar, which is easy given the foot between the handle and wedged tip, thus snapping the blade and then lopping a whole pile of stars off their review.

Another defect that isn’t is the inability of the tip to penetrate. I figured the case, but in the field I repeatedly tried to puncture a rusty tin can. No go. But you could say it more of a feature than a bug. By providing a solid prying surface, in order to avoid tip breakage, there best not be a tip to break. And thus had the Camillus Carnivore. A blunt-nosed long-beaked cutting/chopping tool.

My field tests of two versions of the Camillus Carnivore, the X and the XZ, in two different lengths, has proved them worth their price. As choppers they both excel and the blade-forward weight provides a great platform for aggressive and precision wood striking. Of course, the blade works well for blade stuff like cutting and slicing as long as it's sharp.

Surprisingly, the sawback of the Camillus Carnivore really does work well as a saw. I've tried many other saw-back blades including Gerber, SOG and others, but most fail spectacularly. They cut no better than a serrated knife, and mostly just scrape the wood and clog their teeth.

As a survival tool, the Camillus Carnivore is worthy of bug out bag carry. Not everything has to be heirloom quality and serve the next generation with the same vigor as a decade ago. So for a unique edged chopping hand tool that you will use within its limitations, then the Camillus Carnivore is one to consider. Seriously.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Ruger Alaskan: Bring Enough Handgun

There has been an explosion of carry pistols and what I call “city variants” of guns over the past couple decades. From a Glock in every home, to more concealed carry permits that ever, to a wide choice of magazines about the topic in the grocery store. It’s no wonder that notable wheel guns seem a bit of an oddity these days. Especially the larger caliber “hand cannons.”

Mr. Callahan
While I won’t completely dismiss the “Dirty Harry effect” on big muzzle wheel guns, I do find the .44 magnum a proper load when follow up shots might not be an option. Like with bears for instance. Now I’ll admit I am a fan of bear spray. I hear endless city folk and even plenty of suburbanites complain that pepper spray is ineffective, full of drawbacks, and nowhere near as good as a firearm. Basically that tells me that there are some holes in their knowledge about bears, bear spray, and firearms.

First of all, pepper spray is effective on bears. I find it a little funny that there seems to be plenty of survivors (mauled maybe, but living to tell the story) who sing the praises of pepper spray, and plenty that don’t. The one thing they all have in common is they lived. I’ve drawn down on bears with both pepper spray and rifle. Luckily I never had to fire the pepper spray, but I have the gun. One black bear took two 30-06 shots to the gut, and three more 30-30s to its midsection and hindquarter before I got a clear view to put a fourth 30-30 into its head. Bear and moose hunting is probably the closest to African dangerous big game hunting as you can get in North America. Hogs might fit there too in the cheetah/lion category.

Bear spray is a deterrent to an attack. I might not thwart it entirely, but the painful sting of cayenne in the bear’s eyes and nostrils is a pretty good start. And accuracy, while helpful, is not required. Just aim in the general direction and let the cloud do the talking. However, wind, distance, expiration date, and duration of the spray all set limits on the experience for the bear. And, of course, when the spray can in empty, it might be game over unless you have a backup plan.

A Little Big
Enter the Ruger Alaskan. A massive handgun stuffed into a small package. The Alaskan, or Super Redhawk “Alaskan” as its billboarded on the right side of the barrel, is an overbuilt stainless steel six-shot revolver of excessive proportions except in barrel length. At only two-a-half inches, the barrel is frightening from the shooter’s side. When Dirty Harry was bragging about the power of his magnum, he had about six inches more out in front to weigh down the recoil and keep the muzzle somewhat in the same direction as the target after the bang. But surprisingly, the Ruger Alaskan is quite manageable, and due to its weight, balance, and heavy rubber Hogue grip, the Alaskan is nowhere near the squirreliness of snub nosed .357’s.

When shooting .44 shorts, you can double-action all six cylinders in a row grinning all the way. .44 magnum rounds certainly remind you that they are not for the weak or fainthearted, but again nothing to be scared of. However, the +P+ Buffalo Bore heavy loads do send a tingle up your arm. It’s not that the muzzle flips, but more like swinging an aluminium baseball bat into a brick wall. It takes a second or two for the recoil jolt to transform into a sharp sting. But if you ever do “need” to fire the Alaskan, you won’t notice the recoil. I guarantee it.

When talking blunt force trauma, the .44 is an ideal cartridge. But unlike hollow point bullets popular for those unfriendly human encounters where you want to disrupt organs and bleed out the foe, the idea behind a hard cast flat nosed bullet is pure bone-breaking concussion. If a bullet fragments early in its journey through an angry bear, it will have little to no effect in any time frame that matters.

As Isaac Newton penned 300 years ago, force equals mass times acceleration. That means that the force of a .44 magnum can approach that of a 30-06 rifle bullet if the .44 bullet weighs twice as much, say 340 grains compared to 165 grains, but only traveling half as fast, say 1400 fps compared to 2700 fps. So when playing at the upper tiers of pistol power, you are treading far into the realm of rifles.

And More
The Ruger Alaskan is more overbuilt than the other Redhawks in a couple ways. One of the most beautiful aspects of the Ruger Alaskan is that the entire main frame is one solid piece of stainless steel that completely surrounds the cylinder and extends to the muzzle. Traditional revolver designs have the barrel screwed into the main frame. Not the Ruger Alaskan. Another visible feature is the thickness of the top strap that runs from rear sight to barrel. So beefy is the top strap, among other parts, that it is one of the very few listed handguns that Buffalo Bore suggests can handle it’s most powerful solid cast bullet +P+ cartridges. Don’t bother looking for a Smith & Wesson on the list. There isn’t one.

Packing the Heat
For Alaskan carry in bear country, I have three solutions. The first is the standard Galco Dual Action Outdoorsman belt holster made specifically for the Ruger Alaskan. It is a beautiful piece of gunleather and the first choice of most Ruger Alaskan owners. 

My second carry solution is for more specific activities including hunting, backpacking, and fly fishing. It is the Galco Great Alaskan Shoulder System chest holster right for the Ruger Alaskan. A nearly identical holster to the belt version but with a trio of straps that snug the holster to your chest, belly or sternum depending on need. 

Often the belt space is hidden inside waders or under a backpack waistbelt, or occupied with other kit. And there is risk that you might not be able to reach your belt area depending on the turn of events. Plus with a belt holster you have to commit to a carry side, in my case on the right hip. Drawing the Ruger Alaskan with the left hand from a right hip is not easy under the best of circumstances, and if you “need” to do it, the circumstances are certainly not best.

Drawing from a chest holster with support hand is still not the quickest but much easier. The final solution I use is to plop the pistol into the Hill People Gear Recon Kit Bag. This critter is like a thin fanny pack that rides securely on your chest. I prefer this method of carry when on cross-country skis, snowshoes, or mountain biking.

For extra ammo (being optimistic) I use the Galco 2x2x2 ammo pouch
when carrying in leather, and orange Tuff stripper clips with the Recon Kit Bag. Unlike auto pistols, carrying a handy 18 rounds of .44 magnum is quite a bit. Of course if out in the sticks for  more than a week, I would up the round count to at least a couple dozen bangs depending on my other guns. If rifle hunting, not so much. If my only carry, then very much yes.

Home on the Range
Once you get the hang of the sights, the Ruger Alaskan will shoot all day long making a hockey puck-sized group. That’s from a rest, of course. On a bench or table, anything works. But for the open field, I prefer the Primos Gen 2 Bipod Trigger Stick. It allows me to hold the Ruger Alaskan at eye level, and I can quickly put all six rounds into a five dollar bill at 25 yards which is plenty good for hunting. Of course if I take my time, I can keep those shots around Abe. With a little work, you could probably feel comfortable deer hunting out to 50 yards with the Ruger Alaskan. And in a survival situation the ethics of fair chase take a back seat allowing you to push your luck. There are plenty of reports of Ruger Alaskan owners keeping everything inside a dinner plate at 150 feet.

For bears, however, there is a different equation at work. But first a joke: Do you know how to tell if a bear is really charging you or bluffing? Answer: If it's a bluff, the bear will stop. And within that joke lies the problem. You have very little time to decide if how you will respond. If the bear gets too close, it won’t matter how many shots you get off. If the bear is bluffing, or just curious but not an immediate threat, well then you can quickly mess that up. And having an injured bear running around is all kinds of bad.

Looking for Action
The trigger on the Ruger Alaskan is fine. Quite fine, in fact. In single action the trigger trips around five pounds. Expect a dozen or more pounds of pull to snap off a round in double action. But if you can hold this gun safely, you can pull a 12 pound trigger.

The cylinder on the Ruger Alaskan spins counter-clockwise so keep that in mind if you need to load one more round. I also played around with three different Ruger Alaskans in .44 before deciding on the one I liked. The cylinder play was a hair too much for my taste in the first two. Well one was quite a few hairs off. But the third locked up like a rock. When dropping almost a grand on a narrow use pistol, perfection is part of the deal.

Should the need arise to have a handgun with this kind of power be needed for chores other than dispatching pesky four-leggers, the Ruger Alaskan is up to the job. The list of guns for survival is as deep as it is wide. But there is a popular convergence around those calibers of the .22 variety and millimeters in the nine to ten range. Most lists would put the Ruger Alaskan outside the top ten so I would have suggest that this particular gun is more on the experienced preparation list, or for those living in the proper geography. 

Ruger’s naming this the Alaskan is no accident. But it works fine in Montana, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming. For those states whose bears are smaller than my dog, I would suggest something else. A 10mm perhaps. But when it comes to sheer firepower for close quarters combat in the wilderness, the Alaskan is in a class by itself.