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Ruger Alaskan .454 Casull

In my search for a back-up handgun to carry on my adventure to Kodiak Island, Alaska, I searched for a revolver that would have the punch needed to stop an attack from the apex predator in this area – the Kodiak brown bear.

These creators can grow to five feet tall at the shoulders, weigh in excess of 1,400 pounds and stand upright to 12 feet tall. With this in mind, my goal was to find the most powerful handgun I could that could also get off several shots accurately. The key word being accurately – because when a big bear is charging down on you, I am pretty sure you would want to get off as many shots as you could quickly and accurately.

I am going to Kodiak to hunt deer and fish (not to hunt bears), but after talking to a few local guides and the Alaska Game and Fish Department, I was left with the concern that I was hunting in an area that could make me “the hunted” instead of “the hunter.”

This will be a new experience for me, as I have always been the apex predator where I have hunted. On Kodiak Island I will no longer be the biggest, baddest thing in the woods, as all hunters in Florida and Georgia are when they are packing a firearm.

This gives me a bit of pause and caused me to step back and think that I will be hunting in an area where I could be on the menu. The closer I get to this adventure, the more I think about being in an area where the worlds’ largest carnivore lives and hunts.

I will be carrying a .300 Winchester Magnum rifle, but my guide asked me to bring a big handgun as a back-up – so big it will be. I knew if I were to need to use this handgun to fend off a bear I was going to need to be able to accurately get off several rounds quickly. I have a BFR in .454 Casull (single action) and a BFR in .460 (single action), that with the right factory or hand-loaded ammo, would be powerful enough to stop a charging bear. I HOPE. So I was off to the range to shoot this as fast as I could squeeze off several rounds accurately.

I started by hand-loading some heavy bullets at the upper safe limits of these cartridges. I was not that concerned about working on loads that would be able to hit the dot in the “i” at some distance, but more concerned about getting the heaviest, best-penetrating bullet I could find that I could load to come out of the barrel as fast as it would safely.

I wanted to be sure I was loading the best bear-stopping bullet I could get. I am pretty sure if I have to use this gun to stop an angry bear, I need to get it right the first time because there will not be any do-overs.

Rather than shooting a pile of different bullet types into phone books, I thought I would look at the type of bullets that companies who produce bear-stopping ammo use. This part of the task was probably the easiest and least painful.

After a little research, I was pretty sure I wanted a hard cast, lead, flat-nose bullet that was the heaviest I could load in these calibers. I read several articles from hunters and guides that have hunted Africa for dangerous game and every mention of bullets included the words “deep penetration,” “thick-skinned” and “bone crushing.”

Right away I knew this eliminated any kind of hollow point, as I was after penetration on a thick-skinned animal, and hollow points are designed for big holes and controlled penetration.

I have been hand loading and performing bullet tests for over 40 years with thousands of bullets shot into different types of media, and I was pretty sure I was going to get the best penetration from a flat-nose, hard-cast lead bullet.

I was advised by the Alaskan Fish and Game Department that If I did have to defend myself from a bear, I better be pretty close and acting like I was going to be on the menu. Based on this information, I would not have to work on a load for accuracy, but rather one that left the barrel very fast and would be able to shoot 4-inch groups at 20 yards.

I took both BFR’s to the range with some hot loads and tried to shoot as fast as I could while hitting the target from a standing position. After a few rounds I had a concern about the single-action gun when trying to get off multiple rounds quickly. Right away I knew I was going to be more comfortable with a double-action, but that was going to cost me more money, as I did not have a double-action handgun larger than a .44 Magnum.

Before I went out and spent a pile of money on something I was not going to be happy with, I was needed to find a place that would rent me a gun to test. I knew just the one I wanted to test first – the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull. This pistol has a 2-inch barrel, is double- or single-action, and Ruger has a reputation of making guns that are made to stand up to anything you can toss at them.

I had shot a few handguns that were ported, but with the noise being directed back toward the shooter, I was sure this was not the way to go. After a long search in this area, I was not able to find a place that would rent me a Ruger Alaskan, but was able to find a few that I could handle. The first thing I noticed about this gun in my hand was the very large, soft grip and that it was heavy enough to be comfortable to shoot.

I went ahead and purchased the Ruger and headed back to the range for some more shooting.

I loaded four different loads, using Rim Rock hard-cast, flat-nose, 360-grain gas-checked bullets over four different powders. I loaded all of them to the maximum charge as listed in the handload books and Hodgdons website.

These loads were advertised with a muzzle velocity of around 1,550 fps out of an 8-inch barrel, so my velocity would be around 1,300 fps. Looking at a chart that showed energy in foot pounds for this bullet for this velocity, I determined my load would be generating around 1,350 foot pounds.

I was now ready for testing on phone books. At the range I first wanted to see how fast I could get off four rounds and still hit my 4-inch target, so with four rounds loaded in the cylinder, I took a solid stance, raised the gun and fired four rather fast rounds at a target 20 feet away.

Before I went to the range, I had painted the front sight with bright yellow paint to give me a quicker target acquisition. I went through the fast shooting exercise nine times before I was able to get all four rounds inside of my 4-inch target.

I was now ready for the phone book test for penetration. I taped 12 phone books together and shot four rounds into the books. My penetration at 20 feet was 22 inches. That will work!

Now I only needed to shoot a couple hundred more rounds at a target to get comfortable with this fine handgun. By the time I had shot about 200 more rounds at the 4-inch target, I felt I was ready for my trip to Kodiak Island.

I was surprised that the recoil was manageable – probably due to the large, soft Hogue grip. This gun only weighs 50 ounces when loaded. Now that I had the gun and the loads, I needed a holster. I wanted one I could wear on my side with a large release for the retention strap. My first search showed me the Galco D.A.O. – a fine holster that fit my Ruger Alaskan perfectly.

My overall take on this handgun:

It fits my hand as if it were designed for me. Is extremely well made, as all Rugers are, and shoots very accurately. My groups, shot from a rest with 26.0 grains of Hodgdon H-110 with a CCI 350 primer, under the Rim Rock 360-grain bullet, produced groups of 1 inch at 15 yards and produced 3-inch groups when fast firing, free hand from a standing position.

If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings. Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe!


Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”