Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Can of Bear Spray Just Won't Do

So I am continuing to prepare for my Alaska fishing trip and most recently I have been wrestling with the question of bear protection.   It is common knowledge that Alaska Brown Bears frequent the same areas that Salmon fisherman do since they are all after the same thing, spawning salmon.  I have been utilizing Alaska fishing forums on-line to do my research and without a doubt, all the experienced  people say that you are foolish not to be prepared for bears.  There are two common options for bear protection.  Bear spray (mace for bears) or a firearm.  In my research, many recommended the bear spray for those new to Alaska, but when pressed what they themselves use, almost everyone is packing heat.  Now I don't mean that the streams of Alaska are littered with the bodies of chewed up fisherman and dead bears, but to enter into a situation where you will be in close proximity  to feeding bears without, first, knowledge about what to do and, second, protection if that bear awareness doesn't work is crazy.  I also don't want anyone to think that I am trying to harm a bear.  On the contrary, I look forward to seeing them and hope to take pictures of the majestic creatures (from a safe distance) without disturbing them.  

I researched diligently about what and what not to do in bear country and the effectiveness of bears spray and guns as a deterrent against bears.  I weighed my options and made a decision.   I decided that I will make every effort to not put myself in a dangerous position by keeping a clean camp, making noise while traveling in the woods and being very aware of my surroundings while fishing.  I also decided if all that goes wrong and I have an 800 pound brown bear charging me, I do not want to trust my life to a can of spray.

Now that I decided I want to bring a firearm, the next decision is what kind.  Resident Alaskans tend to use a 12 gauge shot gun and although I considered this, it would mean that I would need to modify my Remington 870 with a pistol grip, sling and 18 inch barrel and I would need to check an additional bag (my third bag) which would cost me $150 to check each way.  Dang, I could buy something cool with $300!  So I decided that I would buy a pistol.  I have always wanted a 45 caliber 1911 model pistol, but when I asked on the Alaska forums, they told me that this was not nearly enough gun for a bear.  The appropriate calibers were 44 Mag, 454 Casull, and 500 S&W.

Next I did my research of these calibers and I found that they all came in revolvers and were not cheap.  I like my guns to be aesthetically pleasing and most of the double action revolvers that I saw were, well, they were just ugly.  Make that ugly and expensive.  Then I happened upon the Ruger Super Blackhawks.  Although they are single action, these revolvers are, in my opinion, beautiful.  Clean lines, and a design that looks like something Wyatt Erpe might have carried.  I have found my gun.

I purchased a 44 Magnum at Cabelas, but had to wait a week before I could get to the range.  I knew it would have a kick, but I was sure I could handle it.  I drove out to my local gun range and approached the pistol range with apprehension.  I was taken back by the sheer power and noise from the handguns being fired to my right and left.  I only had ear plugs and everyone around me had external ear muffs (note to self, get ear muffs).  After a few minutes, the range officer called for the firing line to stop to allow for people to set up targets.  I stapled up my silhouette target, not because I want to practice shooting a bad guy, but because it is so large, I may be able to tell where I am shooting.

I make my way back to the firing line, load up and shoot.  The kick of the gun is immense, but it is very accurate.  I hit a bit to the right, but my elevation was perfect.  Soon I was placing most of my shots in the 10 ring. After I had fired all six rounds, I put the gun down and noticed my hand begin to sting.  The recoil of the revolver had driven the area where the gun meets the handle deep into the web of my fingers between my thumb and index finger and caused a blister.  On the other hand I had a blood blister where the handle had thumped the palm of my hand (note to self: get shooting gloves).  I continued to shoot about 40 rounds and was happy with the accuracy of the gun, but I really tore up my hands.

After I left, I went directly to Cabelas to pick up better hearing protection and shooting gloves.  I may be slow, but I am not stupid.  For now I will let my hands heal, but I think I will go back to the range tomorrow to see if I can't improve my accuracy, but even if I didn't improve, I am already good enough to hit a bear if need be.


  1. Ruger makes great guns and you will have that one forever. You should hear the noise my LCR-357 makes wit a 2 inch barrel. My next gun will be a black hawk in .357.

  2. Those Rugers are nice pistols. A buddy of mine had one and it kicked like a mule.

  3. You have to shoot the 125gr loads out of the LCR, and it is some what tame. My hand stung after 5 shots of the 158 gr loads. Good luck with your BlackHawk!

  4. I know what you mean. I am shooting 240 grain bullets and they pack a wallop. The very next day I went and bought some Cabelas leather shooting gloves with reinforced areas between the thumb and index finger and they make it a whole lot better!