Friday, March 27, 2015

Surviving the Adventure - the Alaskan Guns Question

Part 2 - Continued from "Homesteadin' Ain't Easy"

The Ruger Alaskan, a .454 Casull 2.5" barrel version of the Super Redhawk.
The Ruger Alaskan, a .454 Casull 2.5" barrel version
of the Super Redhawk.
Asking a Southerner about the guns needed in Alaska for homesteading may not be the best idea. There is a different type of wilderness there. The best advice will come from someone who lives in the wilds of Alaska or nearby in Canada. They should certainly know what is needed. But people have differing views and preferences for an Alabama deer rifle, so I'm sure it's the same for the weaponry used in Alaska. Perhaps others with a more intimate knowledge on the subject will chime-in under the comments sections.

Assuming one avoids choosing a bear-prone location for homesteading, here are this Southern boy's suggestions and thoughts for what a person might want to have:

I suggest having a sidearm capable of killing a bear to be kept on your person anytime you’re outside at your remote homestead and at other places where it seems prudent. The .44 Mag is a starting point, with heavier calibers available to choose from. (Jeremy and Mr. Bane make excellent suggestions regarding those.)  Since the excitement of a bear attack might cause one’s brain to freeze-up, the double-action variety of handguns seems the way to go, though single-action revolvers in the same calibers are just as powerful and cost significantly less. That cost factor (and how it looks and feels) was why I bought a Super Blackhawk. But I don’t live or often go where a bear might kill and eat me.

Many brands and sizes of Bear Spray are on the market.
Most range from about $30-70 per can, such as this "Magnum"
sized canister that comes with a holster for $65.
I also suggest having bear-repellent spray handy, since some wildlife experts claim it is more effective at warding off bear attacks than a gun. (See link under comments on my article about the .44 Mag) Perhaps the spray could be kept in various places that you frequent, such as your house and outhouse, sheds, a feeding or milking stall for livestock, a chicken pen, etc.

Also of high importance is that the spray is something a little old lady can use. If you have a wife or children or parent there, they should be taught to use the spray as well as a firearm that’s within their capability to shoot accurately. And they should be taught where to aim for various critters, especially for bear. That firearm may have to be something simple and intuitive. That’s why my wife grabbed my break-action, exposed hammer .410 during the rattlesnake crisis. Her child was endangered and she knew she could handle that little .410 without thinking – without having to remember how to load it or how to make it shoot. And I had her practice using it before the incident. It was simply apparent; intuitive. IMO, that pretty much rules out pumps and semi-autos for this group of people – the gun-shy, young, or frail people. They may someday need to defend themselves or the kids, alone.

The best choice for a powerful and intuitive weapon is a

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Homesteadin' Ain't Easy

Part 1 of 2 - Dave discusses Jason's hypothetical of Homesteading in Alaska, and what guns to take.

Before discussing the arsenal, I’ll give you some background that affects my thinking on this question. Or just jump to “Surviving the Venture” (Part 2) for my thoughts on Alaska weaponry:

Deciding to Go
It was once my dream, like Jason’s hypothetical scenario, to move to the wilderness – somewhere like Alaska. So I gave it quite a lot of thought. But as time passed my more practical senses kicked-in and I was content to live and work in the modern world we knew. Having a wife and children has a great influence on thoughts like moving to Alaska. Now, at my age and physical condition, a move like that would be akin to living out “Death Wish 13 – The Final Episode.”

But at one point in my life, in my mid-thirties, I left my job in Birmingham and moved to a rural community to work for a fledgling log home manufacturing company. My job was going sour for me and Birmingham had, at that time, evolved into a high-crime, gangs and drugs area that we felt was not a good place for our children to grow up. Besides, my wife had grown up in the country and I was a country boy at heart. I never liked cities, which I view as the human version of anthills.

Property Off-the-Grid

Dave's place, nestled in the middle of timberland.
This is where Jeremy learned how to not die in the woods.
Finding remote, homestead-size acreage to buy is difficult. Our best leads came from personal
networking with the locals, including realtors. Large paper and lumber companies own most of it – and they never sell small parcels. And family-owned timberland parcels bring in extra income with no effort. But sometimes folks just need extra money for something. So we eventually found 80-acres of land for sale that was located at the edge of a National Forest. It was totally surrounded by more timberland. To make it fit our budgets, we divided it, 40/40, with my wife’s cousin, Tommy, who also had just moved there to work. Having two compatible families involved offered something our wives especially wanted: To not be totally alone in a remote location.

Our land was a place remote enough that it might allow us all to “homestead,” if necessary. And it offered a chance to survive, long-term, after a nuclear attack and the chaos that would surly follow; a potential hanging over us since we were kids. And there were other advantages: It was inhabited with deer, turkey, and all sorts of game animals and birds, and had a small, year-round flowing creek along one side.

Tommy was first to learn of the property. Consequently, by prior agreement, he had first choice to select his half. Since it was so difficult to access and evaluate by walking, he got someone to fly him over it in a small airplane so he could look it over. I was out of town at the time. He chose the East-40, which I later learned from him was because, during the plane ride, he saw what he thought was a fair-sized lake. Unfortunately for him, as we were able to get into the property better, we discovered that his “lake” was part of a very large swamp which would rise and fall, depending upon the rainfall – sometimes a marsh, sometimes a grassy area with trees.

Our place had been a family farm back in the early 1900’s and continued into the 1950’s. An old chimney base of rock, now grown over with weeds and vines, marked the original home place. I later learned that it was damaged by a tornado during the mid-1930’ and finally destroyed by another tornado during the 1950’s. A hand-dug well was near the old home site. It was covered with gray boards that were rotten to the core. Nearby there were terrace rows among the trees and evidence of old fencing here and there, probably used for pasturing the family cow. The once often-used dirt road through the property and beyond had morphed into a dead-end logging road that was only doctored every 12-15 years, solely to accommodate logging trucks. A timber bridge across the small creek at our property line had fallen-in, making the road impassable from there.

Much of the property was so dense in undergrowth that it was virtually impossible to determine where the boundaries were before having it surveyed – which we did after purchasing it. A tornado, just 4-years earlier, had crossed the land, laying down many trees and allowing the undergrowth to flourish into a jungle in several places. We knew the county was sometimes called “tornado alley” but we didn’t want that to influence our dream, so we ignored it and moved forward with our plans.

Our chosen building spot was 1-1/2 miles away from pavement and power lines. The power company advised us that since it was not a public road, our cost to run power there was going to be nearly half the amount that we had paid for the land, but could be put on a payment plan. Plus, we would likely have to pay other property owners to sign for allowing a power right-of-way across their land. That payment amounted to the loss of income from timber not grown in that right-of-way for, say, the next 100 years. Oh, crap! And, by the way, there was a year’s wait for a 9-party line telephone, and cell phones didn’t exist back then.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gun Store Blues

Why is it that 80% of gun store workers have such bad customer service skills? I can't count the number of times that I've been to a shop to research or buy my next gun only to be dismissed, ignored, talked-down-to, or thoroughly disgusted by the time I walked out the door. What, if any, other retail environment has such an exclusive group of counter jockeys? Why does having limited knowledge about guns make you such a target of scorn?

As someone who's livelihood depends on people, well-versed or not, buying guns, you'd think they'd have more incentive to make you feel comfortable and at ease instead of making you feel inadequate and stupid. Not everyone spends every waking moment thinking about, using, buying, or selling firearms and ammo, but most shops only seem to cater to the guys that do, or the ones who drop large chunks of cash on the biggest most expensive and shiny boomstick they can find. 

Refer to a magazine as a "clip" or use some other misnomer and click, there goes their attention and general level of respect.  Don't get me wrong, there are good clerks out there too; ones willing to talk with you respectfully and give you advice and take your budget and other concerns into consideration. I've found one or two in my day. But in today's big box store world of cheap unknowledgeable sales associates they are few and far between. 

My other current gripe is shopping around and going to all these different gun shops only to find the bulk of their inventory is a rack full of Remington 700s and Ruger Americans with only AR parts on the walls and all the handguns in the case look exactly the same, bearing some resemblance to a glock. I go to a physical shop to lay my hands on different guns and see how they feel and which one fits me better in hopes of refining the research I've only looked at online, and to hopefully find a good, comparable deal and walk out with my own new or new to me firearm. 

"No I'm not interested in the Remington 700 or 770 or whatever... Yes, I really asked you if you have that gun in stock..." And my trials and tribulations go on, lol. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Off-the-Grid Arsenal (re: Jason's Alaskan Guns Question)

"Kodiak bear in germany" by S. Taheri - zoo, own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
"My, don't you look tasty! Oh, good, you're pre-seasoned with
that hot pepper stuff!"

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:

S&W Model 69 - a "compact" 44mag
Smith and Wesson Model 69
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.

Smith and Wesson Model 629
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.

Ruger Redhawk
One of the toughest guns on the planet. The Ruger Redhawk.

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)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Alaskan Guns? What would you take?

So, hypothetically say you were going to finally live your dream and quit your job, sell most of your worldly possessions, pack up and head to the "frontier wilderness" in Alaska. Before you left, or when you got there, what firearms would you make sure you added to your collection?

A high-powered rifle? A large caliber handgun? A suped-up 12 gauge pump? And what specific brands, styles and models? Are some guns better designed for cold, punishing weather?

Chime in please! I'm curious what and why you'd take!

I would think a handgun large enough to deter a bear attack, and a rifle large enough to take down big game at a long distance but rugged enough for the conditions. And a shotgun for all life's unknowns and for all around utility. But which?!


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