Carrying a firearm while out and about in the wilderness camping, hiking, ATV riding, fishing, or exploring to see what is on the other side of the hill seems only prudent. A hunter carrying a rifle is not wrong considering bringing along a heavy-hitting sidearm, especially if in remote country. None of this is a new concept. The earliest settlers kept flintlock rifles and pistol muskets handy for peace of mind against nature’s threats—both four and two-legged—and basic survival preparedness. The same trend continued as Europeans and then Americans spread westward.
The single-action revolver with a large hole in the barrel has been a constant carry-along companion for nearly 150 years. This practice continues today with a modern rendition–the Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 Magnum (.44 Mag). It is the standard bearer for “handle anything” sidearm. Yes, other cartridges and weapons are available. However, the balancing act of terminal performance/recoil generated and the size/weight of the weapon with the Super Blackhawk .44 Mag is hard to improve on.
Ruger Super Blackhawk: The Traditional Approach
Ruger introduced the Blackhawk single-action revolver in 1955. The original chambering was .357 Magnum. Unlike now, there was a dearth of cowboy-like single-action revolvers on the market. Colt had discontinued their Single Action Army in 1940. Westerns were extremely popular TV shows post WWII. Bill Ruger correctly predicted there was a market niche here that his young company could benefit from. Ruger had not yet evolved into the firearm behemoth it is today.
Ruger was quick to offer its Blackhawk in .44 Mag when Smith & Wesson (S&W) introduced the cartridge in 1956. In fact, Ruger Blackhawk revolvers in .44 Mag were more available than S&W’s own Model 29. Though it is no longer the king in terms of pure power, the .44 Mag is the established benchmark for big-bore handgun cartridges. For nearly all but the most seasoned, cartridges developed to surpass the .44 Mag in terms of power often prove too much of a challenge in terms of managing recoil and blast.
By 1959, the Super Blackhawk was created to better handle the .44 Mag cartridge. In effect, Ruger beefed up the Blackhawk with a heavier frame and larger grip. In 1973, another upgrade took place creating the New Model Blackhawk. The New Model Blackhawk employed a transfer bar mechanism that prevented the cartridge under the hammer from being fired without the trigger being pulled. This allowed for a full cylinder of six rounds now to be carried. Up to this point, prudent single-action aficionados carried with hammer on an empty chamber.
The specific Ruger Super Blackhawk I have utilized over the years is a standard blue variant featuring a 4 5/8-inch barrel. It is so damn handy to carry. Hard to believe it weighs 45 ounces. The 4 5/8-inch barrel presents quickly out of the myriad of holsters the Blackhawk finds itself in. It is a good choice for maintaining bullet velocity, sight radius, portability, and getting deployed efficiently.
You are not always worried about a charging grizzly when in the woods. The six-shot Blackhawk cylinder facilitates the mixing of loads. For example, a couple of CCI .44Spl/.44 Mag shotshells can be staged in front of standard .44 Mag loads. This is awfully handy when encountering a snake unexpectedly or other vermin. Another use is potting a rabbit or squirrel that wanders into close range. It is much easier to hit a small target with a shot pattern than a single projectile.
My serious business .44 Mag load is the discontinued Nosler 250-grain Partition-HG in front of the 21-grains of Hodgdon H-110. The 4 5/8-inch Ruger barrel generates nearly 1200+fps. Non-handloaders do not have to accept anything sub-par. There are many fine factory loads existing for the .44 Mag from Black Hills Ammunition, Winchester, and Hornady. A plethora of bullets exist ranging from 180 grains up to 300 grains and beyond. Black Hills 240 & 300-grain JHP, Winchester 210-grain Silvertip & 250-grain PTHP and Hornady 300-grain XTP are excellent examples of .44 Mag ammunition flexibility.
Glock 40 MOS: The Different Approach
Would be hard to blindly accept there are no other contenders worthy of consideration for wilderness carry other than a design with a lineage dating back to 1873. Polymer semi-autos have proven their worth as personal defense weapons since arriving on the scene in the early 1980s. What has stymied semi-automatics from earning a spot as a wilderness weapon is caliber selection? 9MM is a little light in the ass for surly animal defense. How about a “muscled” up offering that chambers something in the 41 Magnum power range?
Well, if you are going to shake things up, you might as well go all the way. I put forth the 10mm Glock 40 MOS with Trijicon RMR red dot mounted. This is about as far away as you can get from the legacy single-action Ruger Blackhawk revolver. The Glock 40’s 6.02-inch barrel definitely gets the most out of the 10mm in terms of velocity providing big-bore handgun performance.
10mm ammunition from Federal and Buffalo Bore was accessed for use in the 10mm Glock 40 MOS. Buffalo Bore is a prime source of true 10mm ammunition offering several bullet types ranging from hard cast, JHP, to FMJ-FN. Buffalo Bore hard cast bullets are not verboten with the Glock hexagonal rifling. True hard-cast bullets (as opposed to lead-swaged bullets) that are properly lubed will not foul hexagonal barrels any more than any other type of rifled barrel. The Buffalo Bore 220 grain Hard Cast Flat Nose loads moving out of the Glock 40 at 1277fps are an excellent option for anyone contemplating using the 10mm against heavy-boned animals where deep penetration is a must.
The 10mm Federal Premium 180-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw is another load fully exploiting 10mm potential. The 10mm bullet used is based on the proven Trophy Bonded Bear Claw rifle bullet that controls expansion to ensure deep penetration. The Glock 40’s 6-inch barrel gets 1,345fps out of the Federal 180-grain load. This generates 720 foot-pounds of energy putting it roughly between the .357 Magnum and .41 Magnum for comparison purposes. This is the kind of power needed if having to face down an angry predator.
As many “maturing” shooters can attest the single focus plane with the red dot is easier to shoot accurately than coordinating front and rear sights. Point shooting with the Glock 40/RMR combo is still very possible via using the RMR window as a ghost ring—albeit a large ghost ring—if forced to react spontaneously to a threat. In short, if fur is in the glass start pulling the trigger.
Holster Selection Is Key
Holster requirements for wilderness carry are as critical as for personal defense. Your large handgun must not impact the primary task yet remain accessible at a moment’s notice. A variety of holsters were used with the Ruger Super Blackhawk and 10mm Glock 40 MOS reflecting the flexibility required to adapt weapon carry to activity afield.
DeSantis Dual Angle Hunter and Wild Hog holsters proved solid hip carry alternatives for the Glock 40 and Blackhawk respectively. Once clothing layers got problematic for digging out a handgun smoothly, chest rig designs from Galco and CrossBreed were employed. Each can be worn outside of clothing or snuggled under the outer coat layer.
The CrossBreed Chest Rig was used with the Glock 40. It employs CrossBreed’s dual construction technique of Kydex pocket with a wide perforated suede backer. Multiple points of retention kept the Glock 40 in place no matter activity—riding horses, ATV, or hiking.
Galco’s Great Alaskan chest holsters were used with both the Ruger Blackhawk and Glock 40. Premium steer hide leather is used for the holster and harnesses. A wide polymer tab that can be manipulated with a glove on keeps the weapon in place along with a snug fit in the leather holster. A 2-inch shoulder strap and adjustable harnesses with swivels allow for the Great Alaskan to be positioned exactly where needed on the body. Optional Galco ammo carriers were fitted allowing for six spare .44 Mag cartridges and an extra Glock magazine to be carried. Fastex-type buckle on the torso strap facilitates easy on/off no matter how thick the outer layer is. The Galco Great Alaskan leather chest holster is a work of art that functions as well as it looks.
The Federal 180 grain Trophy Bonded and Buffalo Bore 10mm were stout out of the Glock 40 MOS. The Glock polymer frame and overall size of the Glock 40 was appreciated for absorbing and mitigating felt recoil. The Super Blackhawk .44 Mag certainly had more raw power with recoil commensurate with this, but in no way harsh or unmanageable. Steel targets were rocked with a more substantial smack than a typical handgun round with both.
There is something wistful about the Ruger Blackhawk single-action revolver. It points like an extension of your index finger and the cocking of the hammer comes naturally and does not feel like a detriment to performance. Manually rotating the cylinder allows a selection of rounds to be carried on board in case a snake or another target of opportunity presents itself—a real asset.
While nostalgic sentiment pushes you toward the Ruger Blackhawk, it is hard to argue against 15 rounds of full-power 10mm as quickly as you can pull the trigger. Reloading the 10mm Glock 40 MOS is pretty efficient as well. Whatever path you decide to follow, the most important thing is to make sure you have a firearm accompanying you when outdoors no matter how mundane or modest the task. Proper holster selection is a must. Wilderness carry of a sidearm has one purpose–be there when you need it.
Specifications: Ruger Super Blackhawk
Caliber: .44 Magnum
Barrel Length: 4 5/8 inches
Overall Length: 10.5 inches
Weight Empty: 45 oz
Specifications: Glock 40 MOS with Trijicon RMR Sights
Caliber: 10mm Auto
Capacity: 15-round magazine
Barrel Length: 6.02 inch
Overall Length: 9.49 inches
Weight Empty: 35.45oz