May 09, 2013
Hunting in Alaska: Which Rifle to Bring?
By David E. Petzal
The question is not so much what you’ll be hunting as, will you be in bear country? I have hunted caribou in Alaska with a .270, .270 WSM, and 7mm Weatherby Magnum, and all three did fine. Except that, on the hunt where I had the 7mm, I was checked out by a young boar grizzly, who seemed to find the guide, my friend, and me mildly disappointing and wandered away. If he had been a mature boar grizzly, I might have wished for a much bigger rifle.
I’ve known, personally, two guides who had to kill bears (one a brown, the other a grizzly) who were trying to do the same to them. One guide did the job himself with a .416 wildcat. The other guide had a .44 Magnum revolver, and the attack took place very suddenly over the disputed carcass of a caribou. The guide told me that if his client had not stood his ground and shot very quickly and very accurately with a .338, he might not be there to tell me the story.
So, my solution to Alaska rifle question (unless you’re way up in sheep and goat country where the chances of a bear encounter are fairly small) is to take something like a .338 loaded with 200- or 210-grain bullets for whatever you’re after, and stick a half-dozen 250-grain loads where you can get at them very quickly if you have to. This is if you’re hunting the non-dangerous stuff.
If you’re after any of the three types of bears, I would go with a .338, .340 Weatherby, .338 RUM, or .375 H&H, and use nothing lighter than 250-grain bullets in the .33-calibers, and 300s in the H&H. And strong bullets, too, like Swift A-Frames. For moose, same thing. Alaska moose are very, very big, and while you can kill them perfectly dead with a smaller rifle, bigger is better.
I’d add one other gun to that list: If you have a .45/70 lever gun like the Marlin 1895 Guide Gun, and can lay hands on the souped-up .45/70 ammo that’s available, it is an excellent choice. The odds that you’ll get a long shot are very small, and the handy length of the Guide Gun is a bonus when you’re clawing your way through the alder hells.
Bring an extra scope. You will not be near a sporting-goods store if yours breaks. Bring a rifle that doesn’t mind rain. There’s plenty of that where you’re going.