Unfortunately, I have never been to Alaska. But someday, I will go. In preparation for the adventure of a lifetime, like any red blooded American man, I started perusing a list of backcountry sidearms suitable for an encounter with a grizzly. I didn’t look at maps, read travel blogs, pick out activities or even price out plane tickets. Nope, I went right to work researching big-bore handguns and proper ammunition. Priorities and all that. I’ve already discussed one of my most recent backcountry purchases – a 10 millimeter polymer pistol coupled with either Underwood or Buffalo Bore hard cast bullets. But, the lure of a .44 Magnum revolver is nearly as magnetic as the Great White North. Normally preferring semiautomatics, magazine fed rounds and threaded barrels, I jumped out of my comfort zone and embraced the six shot steel life with the Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan revolver.
To be clear, the Alaskan is not a Fudd gun, but revolvers as a whole have a greater potential of being used as everyday carry guns by those who might be labeled as Fudds. Cast aside your preconceived notions on revolvers for a moment and see the Alaskan for what it is: a tool with the specific purpose of backwoods protection. Big game hunters who need a secondary sidearm, fisherman in the northern states, backpackers or anyone else who needs a big bore handgun will be the ones who will get the most out of the Ruger Alaskan.
TFB Review: The .44 Magnum Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
First and foremost, the Ruger Alaskan is a massive handgun weighing in at 45 ounces – unloaded. Reinforcing the top strap, barrel, cylinder and other structural areas on this cannon has its penalties. However, the Alaskan is one of few revolvers capable of handling the heaviest hitting .44 Magnum loads on the market. For example, the specialty ammunition manufacturer Buffalo Bore lists the Ruger Alaskan by name as one of only a few guns that can safely handle their 340gr +P+ heavy .44 Mag ammunition.
A quick word about ammunition. Lucky Gunner and AmmoToGo were nice enough to send a variety of their heaviest .44 Mag rounds for the Alaskan review. I’d suggest grabbing some lighter loads for range practice and pre-hunt or pre-hike function checks rather than blasting away with 1500 foot-pounds of energy with each trigger pull. Even .44 Special rounds are on the Alaskan’s menu.
Specifications: The .44 Magnum Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
- Model: 5303
- Grip: Hogue® Tamer™ Monogrip®
- Front Sight: Ramp
- Capacity: 6
- Twist: 1:20″ RH
- Overall Length: 7.62″
- Rear Sight: Adjustable
- Finish: Satin Stainless
- Weight: 45 oz.
- Barrel Length: 2.50″
- Grooves: 6
- Suggested Retail: $1189.00
- Triple-locking cylinder is locked into the frame at the front, rear and bottom for more positive alignment and dependable operation shot after shot.
- Corrosion-resistant stainless steel provides durability and reliability.
- Strong, extended frame with extra metal in the top strap, sidewalls and barrel mounting areas to handle powerful, big game loads.
- Hogue Tamer Monogrip with an internal recoil cushion positioned under the web of the hand helps reduce the impact of powerful loads, while the peg-style grip frame easily accommodates custom grips.
- Dual chambering allows .44 Magnum models to accept factory .44 Special cartridges and .454 Casull models to accept factory .45 Colt cartridges.
- Transfer bar mechanism provides an unparalleled measure of security against accidental discharge.
- Fixed, replaceable insert ramp front sight and adjustable rear sight.
- Cold hammer-forged barrel results in ultra-precise rifling that provides exceptional accuracy, longevity and easy cleaning.
Let’s take a look at the build of a Super Redhawk compared to a standard Redhawk. The Alaskan has a beefy seamless top strap that gives the barrel extra support and strength. The lower barrel support is also reinforced and the frame is slightly wider. All of this extra support only adds a few ounces over the standard Ruger Redhawk chambered in .44 Magnum, although the comparison is not exact as the Alaskan has a 2.50” barrel as opposed to a 2.75” Redhawk barrel pictured below.
The double action trigger pull weight comes in at a little over 12 pounds and feels like it has an international-travel length of pull. However, once I cleared my head of my standard CCW trigger muscle memory, the double action felt completely manageable. If I decided to carry this handgun into the woods, I would definitely want to practice shooting under stress to master well placed shots. Multiple iterations of a 25-yard sprint followed by six shots at a seven-yard target should give you the confidence in the heavy, long trigger in a stressful situation. Not “grizzly bear attack” stressful, mind you, but enough to get the blood flowing, simulating a bit of tunnel vision and getting out of the target shooting mindset.
A word of caution to reloaders (full disclosure, I do not reload). Heavy hitting round with pressures like those found in Buffalo Bore and Underwood Ammo have the potential to dislodge bullets from their cases in the cylinder under recoil. This can be due to improper crimping and can render your revolver inoperable – bad news for dangerous game situations. For a tool like the Alaskan, my suggestion is to stick to proven commercially loaded rounds that you have personally tested in your gun before heading to the field. Expert and confident reloaders can proceed with caution.
The Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan isn’t a handgun you’ll be speed loading (at least I won’t). I used a six-round leather belt carrier from our friends at DeSantis to drop rounds one at a time into the cylinder. My full power loads left spent casings firmly in place in the cylinder requiring the use of the ejector. Again, I am a wheelgun novice, so practiced shooters will be much more fluid with their reloads than I was able to demonstrate.
The Alaskan’s sites are a blade/u-notch setup that are simple, functional and reliable. My range backstop is completely black and picking up the front blade quickly was challenging – I found myself hunting for a good sight picture. If this were my gun, I’d consider swapping in a high visibility front sight, especially for the dangerous game situations for which the Alaskan was designed.
The Hogue molded rubber grip that ships with this revolver is comfortable and completely functional. The superficial shooter in me would prefer a slimmer set of wood grips that won’t stick to clothing when using a belt holster. DeSantis provided a beautiful dual-angle leather holster that is available by special order (arrived in less than a week). I’ve used DeSantis leather holsters in some shape or form for over 20 years and appreciate their design and build quality.
Shooting the Ruger Alaskan in .44 Magnum
I prepared myself for the worst. Stories of wrist-breaking recoil, mile-high muzzle flips and brush fire-starting blasts from full power .44 Magnum loads seem to be all over the internet. The reality is that, while the short barreled Super Redhawk kicks hard, it’s destructive recoil is greatly overexaggerated. Even though this isn’t a gun/round combination you will spend a full range day on, shooting 20-40 rounds isn’t a traumatic event. I didn’t require any ice packs or Advil and once I got the trigger cadence down, I was able to land controlled pairs on target at 10 yards separated by less than two seconds. Make no mistake, I am not a .44 Magnum marksman by any means. But I can place shots on target at close ranges in relatively short order.
Slighter shooters lacking sufficient arm or grip strength may find heavy loads uncomfortable or even intolerance to shoot. Luckily there is a wide variety of .44 Mag ammunition to choose from.
I tried to grab some video of the Alaskan hand cannon in action. You can get a feel for the Ruger’s trigger travel as well as the recoil.
Ruger Redhawk Alaskan – Wrap Up
The Alaskan is a very well made revolver built to withstand the heaviest .44 Magnum ammunition currently available. Like any job-specific tool, this wheelgun is designed for one mission – backcountry big game defense. The Ruger Alaskan is a large handgun, yet it is still compact enough to be worn in a belt holster under a coat.
I am undecided on whether or not I’ll be purchasing this beautiful gun. While I’d love to own the Alaskan, it might be slightly depressing to know that it will sit in a safe 358 days a year. If I’m being honest, most of my beaten path adventure problems could be solved with a round that ends in millimeter. However, should that fantasy trip to Alaska ever materialize, I’d be honored to carry one of Ruger’s finest revolvers into the unknown. This Super Redhawk is certainly worthy of its 49th state moniker.
I would be interested in hearing what you think – should I keep the Alaskan?
Thanks for reading TFB.
In this sequel to “Bears versus Guns”, James revisits his earlier decision to carry a .44 magnum as a grizzly bear defense sidearm in Alaska. This was based, in part, on user comments; after a number of commenters asked James to consider 10mm in the last video, James did additional research on the 10mm handgun as a carry gun in Bear Country. On one hand, 10mm is only about two-thirds as powerful as .44 Magnum, but on the other, the Glock 20SF supplies 16 rounds of 10mm power compared to five or six rounds as in most .44 revolvers. James walks you through his thought process and tells you which gun he selected for camping in the wilderness.