Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .454 Revolver

By Randy D. Smith

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

I took a leap of faith recently and purchased a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull/.45 Long Colt. It is not something that I will carry regularly, but I have been in situations when I would have liked to have had something like it. Backpacking in the mountains, mountain horseback pack trips, primitive camping in isolated areas, bear country fishing trips, Texas feral hog hunting and packing out elk meat are prime examples. All are situations where I want a powerful, short range weapon that can be holstered on the hip and out of the way until I need it. The Alaskan has a barrel length of only 2 Ĺ inches so it looks like an old 19th century British Bulldog revolver on massive steroids and yet is surprisingly holster friendly in spite of a 2 ĺ pound overall weight. The Redhawk Alaskan perfectly fits my definition of what a big bore defensive revolver should be.

In forty adult years of hunting and camping, I have only had to fall back on a handgun for defense three times. The first time was on a primitive camping and photography trip in Colorado. There was a bad drought that year which forced the elk out of the high mountains into the river canyons where I was camping by myself. A ranger visited my camp and checked it out to see that I had my food stored securely and away from my tent. He said that bears had followed the elk down from the mountains and although there had been no incidents, there was concern over the possibility of bear confrontations.

My camp met his standards but I decided to take my brand new Ruger .45 Colt Vaquero with me the next morning. The Vaquero was a standard stainless steel model with rosewood grips and a 4 5/8Ē barrel. I was at least two miles back in and above camp when I walked head long into a black bear on the trail. Unlike the hasty retreats of every bear Iíve ever even seen before, this one did not. A young adult male held his ground, for what reason I will never know, and coldly stared at me. I hesitated, held my ground, and waited for him to back off. He didnít and suddenly I felt a tinge of panic growing in my gut. I slowly pulled the Vaquero, cocked it, and backed away. Once out of sight, and carrying the cocked revolver all the way, I returned to camp. I packed up my camp and left. There were other places to camp and do what I was doing. I didnít need the danger nor did I want a bear shooting incident to report to authorities. No shooting, no charge, no narrow escape, just a scary confrontation where I was damned glad I was carrying that Vaquero.

The second was on a game ranch in Missouri. There was a large 545-pound Russian sow that had treed two bow hunters the week before and the manager wanted her harvested before someone was hurt. I was field testing a .58 caliber Thompson/Center System 1 muzzleloader and wanted to take her with it. I arrived that weekend in six below zero weather. I carried a .54 caliber Thompson/Center Scout handgun to back up the rifle. My guide was unarmed. We found the sow hiding behind a fallen tree and she charged from 50 yards with jaws snapping. I put a 555-grain Maxi-Ball in her left shoulder. She turned and staggered out of sight. When I went to reload the System 1, the experimental polymer ramrod literally shattered into pieces in my hand. There was no way to reload the rifle, so I went in after her with the T/C handgun. She was down so I didnít need to use the handgun, but Iím glad I had it for backup. Things could have been very different.

The third time was on a feral hog hunt in the Palo Duro Canyon of West Texas. I shot a big sow a bit high at sixty yards with a White muzzleloader. The sow retreated several hundred yards up a box canyon leaving one of the heaviest blood trails Iíve ever encountered from hogs. It took nearly thirty minutes to trail her to a heavy stand of low brush and small cedars at the head of the canyon. Fully expecting to find her dead somewhere in the brush, I leaned the muzzleloader against the canyon wall, pulled that same Vaquero from its holster, and worked my way slowly through the tangle of brush. I moved slowly, but I was not particularly worried about stealth. I foolishly blundered right into the center of a whole sounder of young pigs and sows. Pigs broke in all directions and my wounded sow came barreling down the same trail I was following. Whether she was charging, coming to the aid of the squealing pigs, or just trying to make an escape over the only route she had, I do not know. I shot her three times as quickly as I could cock and fire before she turned away at less than ten yards and went down. I struggled to hold the revolver in my trembling hand as I approached her. As thankful as I was for the Vaquero, I decided that I wouldnít carry a single action for such service in the future. Short of fanning, something that should never be recommended, I couldnít get off repeat shots as quickly as I wanted with the Vaquero.

Iíve carried a number of handguns over the years and did quite a bit of deer hunting with a scope mounted Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 Magnum, a T/C Encore with .45 Long Colt/.50 caliber muzzleloader interchangeable barrels and a Savage Striker in .243 Winchester. Frankly, the only one of the three that I had any use for was the Super Blackhawk with a 7 ĹĒ barrel. The others were too bulky to be handguns and too short to be rifles. I also carried a Ruger SP 101 in .357 Magnum for several years in place of the Vaquero, but it was never called to defensive duty. Long ago, I came to the conclusion that I didnít want to pack any handgun with a barrel length longer than four inches. In fact, most of the time, I carry a Charter Arms Pathfinder .22 revolver for a chore gun and a Charter Arms Bulldog.38 Special for road trips.

It was only lately with some Texas and Colorado hunting trips coming up where I would be hunting alone that I decided that I wanted to seriously look at a Ruger Alaskan. I found three of them at area dealers. One dealer had Alaskans in .480 Ruger and .44 Magnum. Since I do more business with him, I went there first. He also had a couple of Taurus Judge models in .45 Long Colt /410 shot shell. I handled all of them. I donít like the balance of the Judge and see little use for the .410 option. If I see a snake, Iíll walk around it. The .480 Ruger cartridge is not commonly available and, short of handloading, there is no light load. If I wanted a .44 Magnum there are many revolvers, such as the standard Redhawk, with much less mass than the Alaskan.

The next dealer had one Super Redhawk Alaskan in .454 Casull and .45 Colt. I liked the idea of being able to shoot lighter .45 Colt rounds for most purposes and still have the .454 Casull option. That black bear from years ago kept reappearing in my mind as I considered all of these revolvers. I went home with the .454 Casull. Here are some basic specifications:

  • Catalog number - KSRH-2454
  • Model number - 5301
  • Caliber - .454 Casull
  • Capacity - 6
  • Finish - Stainless
  • Grips - Black Hogue Monogrip
  • Sights - Ramp front, adjustable rear
  • Barrel length - 2.5 inches
  • Twist - 1:24 inches, right hand
  • Grooves - 6
  • Overall length - 7.62 inches
  • Weight - 44 ounces
  • 2009 MSRP - $992

The .454 Casull cartridge can deliver a 250 grain bullet with a muzzle velocity of over 1900 feet per second, developing more than 2000 ft. lbs. of energy. The .454 Casull is nearly 1-1/2 times more powerful and operates at more than 15,000 pounds per square inch greater pressure than the .44 Magnum. I have read that the Alaskanís short barrel will reduce the muzzle velocity to around 1800 feet per second. Still, this is a serious handgun round and more than adequate for any close range North American game.

I am most impressed with two Alaskan characteristics. One is the cylinder and lock timing. It is very smooth and clicks along like a Swiss watch. The second is the Hogue Tamer Monogrip. The Alaskan feels very secure for such a big revolver and absorbs recoil very well because of that grip.

I loaded .45 Long Colt cowboy loads in the Alaskan first and proceeded to shoot four-inch, off hand, 25 yard groups on double action. Double action shooting is a bit of a stretch, but not unpleasant. A shooter with small hands would probably have difficulty. Single action shooting is very pleasant. Recoil is surprisingly manageable.

I loaded some 250-grain Winchester .454 Casull rounds and touched one off single action. I have read of ferocious .454 Casull recoil. I donít consider the Alaskan to be at all unpleasant with the Winchester load. Recoil was much less unpleasant than either of the heavy T/C muzzleloader hunting loads. I was wearing hearing protection, however, and that makes a tremendous difference in perceived big bore handgun recoil. I shot a slightly better group with the Casull loads than the .45 Colt at the same distance. I was planning a feral hog, coyote, and aoudad hunt in Texas and originally planned to take the Alaskan loaded with .45 Colt. After a couple of trips to the range, I decided Iíd just as soon have it loaded to its full potential with .454 Casull rounds.

Choosing a holster for the Alaskan was another problem. Most holsters just couldnít cut the mustard. I like to wear my handguns off my right kidney high at belt line. I believe it is normally called ďhigh and tightĒ carry. A handgun doesnít get in the way when driving or working carried in that manner. I have to be careful, because I forget that Iím carrying the light Charter Arms revolvers. A lot of holsters were simply not big enough in the right places for the Alaskan, making it top heavy and awkward. After some looking, I chose a Safariland holster designed for a 4Ē barrel big bore Smith & Wesson revolver. The holster is a shade long for the Alaskan, but it is totally secure with no snap strap or flap. It rides high and has enough support that the big Alaskan is easily managed during hunting and work. Besides, after paying nearly $800 for a revolver, what is another $50 for a good holster? One dayís carry in the back country will convince anyone of the value of a good, secure holster.

My Texas hunt lasted a week and I was out from sunup to sundown each day. Texas predator hunting is one of the stateís best kept secrets. It is much less expensive than other big game or bird hunts and can be very exciting. If you love spot and stalk hunting, as I do, it canít be beat. I habitually carried the Alaskan while I called coyotes, stand hunted feral hogs and stalked Aoudad sheep. The Alaskan was never called to duty, which is normal for self-defense handguns. It rests in a safe place at home right now, waiting for my next hunting trip, but it is loaded with .45 Long Colt cartridges for home defense.

If you believe, as I do, that a handgun is and should be a last resort defense weapon where long range accuracy is not a consideration, then you might want to look at a Ruger Alaskan. For such a robust design, it rides in a belt holster without notice. The.454 Casull/.45 Colt Alaskan is bank vault tough, comfortable to shoot, reasonably compact and very well finished. I canít think of a better defense revolver for back country expeditions.

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Copyright 2009 by Randy D. Smith. All rights reserved.

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