If you could only have one gun for the Alaskan bush what would it be?

This interesting question brings many more questions to mind.

I examine the question of the one gun survival tool for Alaska.


Recently my good friend, outdoor writer for Buck Publishing and outdoor adventurer Bruce “Buck” Nelson decided to pick my brain on an interesting question. Buck is not your average outdoorsman. He lives in Alaska, has traveled solo all over that state by boots and inflatable kayak, along with all of his other adventures in extremely wild places in the lower 48 states. His question got me really thinking is there a correct answer? Well let’s look at the full question quoted from Buck himself:

If you were going to do a real-world survival trip in Interior Alaska, where you needed to carry everything on your back at certain times so light weight and low bulk were very important, what would you take for the minimal amount of firearm(s) that would do everything you needed to do?
In such a situation I’d want to be able to take ducks, geese, ptarmigan, grouse, squirrels and hares, also moose or caribou or sheep and kill an angry grizzly if needed.
Personally, I wouldn’t need a long-range gun, just something that could reach a carefully stalked moose, caribou or sheep. The ability to shoot at least two rounds at game birds seems important, more important to me than two or more shots for big game.
This question would be so much easier to answer if more than one gun could be carried. Maybe a hard hitting lever action rifle in .45/70 with some really stout loads for big bears or moose, and something like the Henry Arms AR-7 takedown .22 in the pack for small game if needed.
Maybe one of those vintage Savage 24 combo rifles in .22 long rifle and 20 gauge slung over the shoulder while a big bore rifle is carried in hand ready for action. What about a small caliber handgun for small game along with your big game rifle or a big bore handgun on the hip and a quick firing shotgun for small game in hand? No, that is not the question.  Scratch all the above. One gun only.
Getting back to my favorite big bore caliber the .45/70. When chambered in a fast firing short barreled lever action rifle it is an absolute king of the big woods. On small game, light loads can be handloaded with care but watch the change in impact compared to the hard hitting loads. You are still firing a big slow moving .45 caliber slug though. Some have used 2.5 inch length .410 bore shotgun shells with some close range success. That however is not recommended by most gun manufacturers and the rifling will spin the shot into a donut pattern. That ptarmigan or squirrel you just fired at might be right in the middle of the no pellet zone. The perfect solution? Not exactly.
How about a combination gun such as a Drilling? With full bore double shotgun barrels usually in 12 gauge or 16 gauge small game and birds are hunted just like any standard double barreled shotgun. A flip of the switch pops up a concealed rear sight for the usually large caliber rifle barrel in a European 9.3mm variety or the easier to get .30/06 cartridge. They truly are works of art. Perfect for the Alaska bush right? Well if the price tag was not in the multiple K’s it certainly would be with a quality cleaning kit to keep it maintained. It sadly is out of the reach of most when other gear must also be purchased. It is certainly on my personal bucket list though. We can all dream right?
What about a big bore AR-15 platform like the .450 Bushmaster and a separate .22 long rifle adapter or upper assembly? Certainly feasible but be sure they function well. Sometimes the .22 conversions can be a bit finicky with some brands of ammo.
This brings us back to the old 12 gauge shotgun. Affordable? Yes. Tough? Incredibly tough in all environments. Ammo weight? Well better have a good shell belt or bandoleer for easy carry. From birds to bears they all fall to the 12 gauge shotgun. Pack both birdshot and hard hitting slugs such as Brenneke loads that penetrate deep into large beasts and have a proven track record against dangerous game. Pump action shotguns, smooth bores, removable choke tubes and equipped with rifle sights in a short length would be one of my top picks. Stay away from rifled barrels if you wish to have better game killing patterns when using bird shot.
There is another 12 gauge option too. What about a single shot shotgun or a double barreled variety? They can also use any size shot and will fire life saving shotgun slugs for close up power. Chamber adapters are available that will quickly convert them to many other small gauges. There are even rifled adapters that will accurately fire .22 long rifle ammunition or a number of other cartridges. My favorites are from Short Lane Gun Adapters. For the single shot variety though I would rather have at least one follow up shot from a double barrel or a true repeating shotgun in big bear country.
After reading all of the above what would you pack? Of all the options for power, cost and ease of maintenance the pump action 12 gauge shotgun is hard to beat in my personal opinion. Be sure what ever you pack you bring enough ammo for and have plenty of practice that you can even load in the dark in a split second.

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