survival gear in small aircraft


March 8, 2009, 12:18 AM
Hello all, please bear with me as I'm somewhat of a novice when it Comes to guns. I'm a pilot, and may be required to fly a small airplane to and from Alaska in a couple of months (this might become a regular trip, although I'm not too sure). There are plenty of lists online of things required (by alaskan / canadian law) and recommended to be onboard in case of an emergency situation. Most of these include a gun of some kind. A few people I've talked to said a 12 Ga shotgun is probably my best bet, as there is a variety of shot I could use (birdshot for small game, buckshot / slugs for defense). Does this make sense? What exactly should I get? From my limited research, it seem like a remmington 870 is a decent choice, as they're abundant, reliable, and inexpensive. I see there are probably 20 different versions listed on the website, what are the differences between all of these?

Should I look into a rifle (if so, which one?) instead? A handgun is out of the question (I believe) because I'll obviously have to go through Canada to get there.

Would all of you say a gun is necessary, period? As I said before, I'm a novice. I've shot several different thing, mostly handguns, but really don't know much about it. I'd plan on practicing with anything I bought, but maybe it's one of those things that if you're not pretty skilled it's more trouble than it's worth?

Any other (constructive) advice I gan get is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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March 8, 2009, 12:46 AM
A firearm give you choices - it can be used for signalling, defense, and to gather food. If you only want something for defense, I suggest pepper spray. For wilderness survival, I certainly prefer a weapon.

A shotgun is a good choice. You can get a short (24-26") shotgun with a few different loads for different situations. You need to figure out where and how you'll transport the weapon aboard your aircraft as well. In the event of a ditching, you want to be able to get it. I used to have mine mounted aft of the rear seats.

A stainless steel (marine) model is appropriate (corrosion resistance), particularly if you aren't going to care for it all the time. You need it to work when and if you need it.

I'd carry:

Slugs (bear, large game)
00 Buckshot (defense)
#6-7 shot (birds, rabbits, etc.)

You'll want a 12 gauge model. They come in different chamber lengths - standard is 2 3/4" which would be fine for your purpose. The Remington is a good choice, some would recommend a Benelli Nova or a Mossberg.

For defense, I would also carry bear-specific pepper spray. It is effective, and, easily carried and operated.

As you mentioned, you should become familiar with whatever you select.


March 8, 2009, 12:51 AM
What about the different choke types? Which one do I want?

I'd be comfortable carrying a big handgun, but I wouldn't be able to get it through Canada, correct?

March 8, 2009, 12:52 AM
I had a relative who was (ok he still is) a bush pilot in Alaska. He put a extra fuel tanks on his plane so he can fly from Alaska to lower 48 without stopping in Canada.
IIRC he said in Alaska you are required to have a firearm as part of your ditch kit. If you plan to go thru (without landing) but are forced to land (engine touble, headwind that limits safe range) its not a major deal.
Please do NOT take this as advice. Contact folks who KNOW>

jim in Anchorage
March 8, 2009, 01:25 AM
I believe a firearm as required Alaska survival gear has gone away due to the problems going thru Canada. you may wish to call Aero tech flight service at Merrill field,Anchorage at 1-907-279-6558. That is were I got my private license,and they would know the FARs on this. Myself-two weeks of self heating MREs,and a shotgun to keep the damn bears away.

March 8, 2009, 04:27 AM
I would suggest either a Springfield M6 (You would have to get one used) or a Henry Survival Rifle.

The M6 is nice because it has a .22LR and .410 shotgun, so you can carry several different shotgun loads, as well as have .22 for smaller game. It has a single fold point to make it more compact, then unfolds to fire.

The Henry is just small, it breaks down and fits in its own stock. It is chambered in .22lr as well.

Both are designed to be used by pilots as a survival gun.

Here is a link to Henry's website>

March 8, 2009, 04:47 AM
The thing about those weapons is that .410 bore is teenytiny, and won't be stopping a bear/moose/much of anything.

A 12 gauge sounds like your best bet OP, buckshot/birdshot/slug and you're pretty much good to go. I believe I've heard of 12g flares, but it's 5am and my mind is kaput, so don't take my word for it.

March 8, 2009, 11:14 AM
For aircraft survival use, I will go out of the box and recommend a 22" stainless, synthetic stocked .308 or .30/06 bolt action rifle.
100 rounds of ammo will weight less than 100 rounds of shotgun ammo and your ranging capability will be much improved over a short range shotgun.

You could add a scope but I would choose good apeture peep sight based iron sights.
These will take the bumps and bruises of being knocked around in a survival pack stored in an aircraft much better than even the best scope and will work well out to 400 meters.

Hungry Seagull
March 8, 2009, 11:20 AM
You will want very large game. There be Polar Bears up there. They say that when those are out, no one comes outside of their homes. If wolves are about, all the normal dogs go absolutely silent. Not good.

Rem 870 is my choice. You will want to wear gun gloves so your skin does not come off in the cold weather up there when you grab the weapon. I agree on the .30/06 rifle. Dont be caught with a wussy caliber when something big comes for you.

Ive family up there in Alaska, and they say guns = life. Totally. There be wolves, bears, elk etc up there. Nothing like freedom in Alaska.

Good luck! Be careful to match your datum line/weight charts before you go, and good safe journey!

Dont forget to equipt your airplane with a beacon locator that auto-alerts on a crash for you and possibly other things like flare guns and provisions for 5 days.

March 8, 2009, 11:34 AM
Having some experience in wilderness areas in North America not to mention a few overseas I would say for certian if you are only going to carry one gun it should be a shotgun. I would tend towards a smoothbore with rifle sights so if you need food you have decent accuracy with the improved sighting system over the standard bead. Choke tubes should probably be avoided for the sake of simplicity. If you can find one of those remington 870 slug guns with the improved cylinder choke that would probably be ideal. Marinecotes are nice but you probably wont be able to find the right gun in that configuration. Slugs and birdshot of somekind may be the only shells you need. Stay away from the folding stocks as they are a pain to use.

The only other option I would consider is maybe a 45/70 lever gun. Not as versatile as the shotgun but very good for getting food and keeping the beasies away. Honestly you probably wont have to worry too much about it bear attacks tend to be rare but it never hurts to be prepared. The Marlin guide gun is a good 45/70 platform that is also fairly compact.

Another practical necessity is an axe. I like the shorter handled Hudson Bay style bit for the ease of packing but still being able to chop like crazy. Make sure to bring a file and stone for sharpening all the blades. Remember axes are weapons too for when things get really dicey. I would never leave into the bush with out my gun and axe.

Then there are the usuals. Knife, fire starting kit, meds, space blanket, woolens. You do have a GPS transponder on your plane right?

It pretty much depends on how much space you have.

March 8, 2009, 12:29 PM
I'm no bush pilot, but i know of more than a few who carry pistols with them. mostly these real nice stainless .44 mags that any man would be proud to own. However, this is probably only good as a defensive weapon against bears and the like, and probably good for signaling but not for small game hunting.

March 8, 2009, 12:33 PM
12ga with a load of slugs and buckshot should work nicely. Get a pistol grip or folding stock version for space and your set. Id say a high power rifle would be nice but not as versatile as a 12ga.

March 8, 2009, 01:04 PM
12 ga pump shotgun (Rem 870/Moss 590) with Imp Cyl choke for slugs and 00Buck -- big game and defense.

.22LR bolt action rifle (CZ 452) -- small game.

Ed Ames
March 8, 2009, 01:21 PM
Meh. You had it right. 870. Nothing fancy.

Get some slugs and maybe some birdshot for small game.

Practice with them (try some of the clay sports...they are fun and good training).

March 8, 2009, 03:28 PM
I have several thousand hours of low level tail dragger time in the bush. I chose an 870 Express with a 20 inch bbl and 3 chokes, with a mix of ammunition including signal flare loads. I consider it second on my list of items which I just dont leave home without. This day and age, the sat phone is your best friend and we carry them in all of our aircraft. A bit spendy up front, but you will consider it the best purchase of your life should the time come that you need it.....make sure the GPS system is enabled and you have it all in one hand. Another item we are never without is a reliable fire starter kit.......a supply of road flares. These things burn hot enough for long enough that even pretty damp wood can be coerced to burn.......especially if you have access to the av gas in your tanks. In our case a simple length of gas line to siphon into a water bottle, etc. suffices. The gun and ammo kit weighs a total of 14 lbs. Depending on the time, place and situation, I may substitute the shotgun kit for a Ruger MK 2 .22 pistol which I shoot pretty well. Not a bear stopper, but I don't intend to rely on it to be. The sat phone weighs 6 lbs in its bullet proof case, and the fire starter kit weighs less than 5 lbs. Good air, bro!

March 8, 2009, 03:35 PM
Any other (constructive) advice I gan get is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
I would say keep things as simple as possible. You want something to keep you safe/alive for a short period of time. With an emergency becon with your kit, you are looking at a survival period about about 3 days - 1 to 2 week at most. If you are going to be in a situation where you can not recover your becon, then your gun will probably be with it so the point of what you carry will be moot.

So you arent going to need 100 rounds of anything. What you will need is something to keep you safe and possibly get some food with. Remember, this probably isnt going to be a "surivialist living off the land for years" scenario more so a "keep me alive until help comes" situation.

There are a lot of choices of remington 870's there, if that is what you are looking for. There are just about as many ammo choices also. With the shotgun, I recommend going with something short. So that rules out anything with a 24 in barrel or more. Also rules out most of the turkey/deer shoguns

You need to keep this in your ditch bag I assume right? A Remington 870 Marine Magnum would be my choice. It is also setup to take a sling which is important when carrying arround. It has an 18 inch barrel. The next choice would be synthetic 870 express with 18 inch barrel. But you will have to add the rings to carry a sling on this one. Round capacity wouldnt matter to much for this purpose. But go with a smooth barrel not a rifled one.

Now you have to think about ammo. A box of 25 shells will weigh a few pounds. A few slugs, a few buckshot,a few flares, and the rest turkey/bird loads. You will probably have emergency food in your bag already. If help take more than a week or so, then you will have means to get your own food. The slugs/buckshot would be for protection against wolves,bears,etc. But you will need to eat more times than you would need to fend off bad animials i think.

That being said, I would also take a .22 rifle. The reason is you can carry 200 rounds of .22 for he bulk of 25 rounds of 12gauge shells. (you will prbably miss what you are aiming for with the 12 gauge a few times).

But remember, you are waiting for help there are a lot more important things in that kit than the gun (like fire and knife).

Thats my 2 cents on it.

March 8, 2009, 04:59 PM
When I was in the USAF, the aircraft had a Savage 24 in the survival package. This was back in the 1950s. I don't know what they use now.

jim in Anchorage
March 8, 2009, 08:25 PM
Where in Alaska? If its Anchorage, you can follow the road system the whole way.

Big Daddy Grim
March 8, 2009, 08:28 PM
I hate to say it but have you seen the Marlin survival kits look into them the 590 you get in the kit is well worth it.

Hungry Seagull
March 8, 2009, 10:46 PM
Weight of a Remington Marine Magnum fully loaded is about 9 pounds give or take a little bit. A box of shells or several adds up to a few more pounds.

Call it 12 pounds. Pretty easy on your datum weight CG chart for just about anything you have with wings. I have a feeling that the real bulk of your weight will come from provisions and other items necessary to your survival.

March 8, 2009, 11:02 PM
Contact Ken at Wild West Guns, and tell him I referred you.

Add, we used to have some bush pilots and others that posted here on THR.

One used Ithaca 37s with pistol grip only stocks, loaded with slugs.
He was trained, and had plenty of trigger time with his guns.
Guns were bone stock, no mag extensions...

His tasks for his environments, dictated a shotgun that stowed easy on a bush plane, and upon exiting the plane, that shotgun was always on person.

He kept it slung, with a simple sling. He shared one does not set down a firearm to tinkle, or to fish,or...
So he kept that shotgun slung, as he had clients to keep tabs on.

His loads were 2 3/4" slugs, and if memory serves, he preferred Brenneke's, though Foster lead were used as well. He shot guns for groups and chose loads based on shooting groups.

Unload, remove sling, stow gun for bush plane.
Exit plane, attach sling, load up, good to go.

He had one of the legit reasons for using a pistol grip only shotgun.

Call Ken.


jim in Anchorage
March 8, 2009, 11:05 PM
Seagull,you seem awfully worried about the weight and balance issue considering were talking about a shotgun. I don't think he will be transporting ultra lites.

Hungry Seagull
March 8, 2009, 11:06 PM
+1 for Brennekes.

Someone knew what he was doing when he invented the stuff.

March 8, 2009, 11:34 PM
Thanks for all the help, everyone. I'll have to wait and see if things sure up a bit before I do anything.

jim in Anchorage
March 8, 2009, 11:44 PM
Just out of curiosity,what type of plane are we talking about here?

March 9, 2009, 04:48 PM
It's a bushplane, tailwheel. Usefull load / space won't be an issue, I'll easily have a couple hundred pounds to play with after everything's loaded. I'm a test pilot working on certifying it, and was asked to not say too much about it. There's a chance it'll be on display at the alaska airmen's association trade show at the beginning of May.

Incedently, i spoke with the owner of the company the other day, he said a gun was not necessary, because I'd be over roads the whole way. He's made the trip before, I'm not sure how many times.

Vern Humphrey
March 9, 2009, 05:10 PM
A few people I've talked to said a 12 Ga shotgun is probably my best bet, as there is a variety of shot I could use (birdshot for small game, buckshot / slugs for defense). Does this make sense?
Very good sense.

From my limited research, it seem like a remmington 870 is a decent choice, as they're abundant, reliable, and inexpensive.

That's exactly what I would choose. I would go with a 20-inch barrel, and perhaps screw-in chokes.

One good thing is if you decide you'd like a longer barrel later, they're inexpensive and drop-in fits.

Hungry Seagull
March 9, 2009, 06:50 PM
Consider that there are temp extremes, I will stay with the 18.5 inch barrel with it's own integral choke. No screw-in choke or extra part that will fail, get bent, froze etc.

KISS I say.

Im more than happy with my 870 Marine Magnum. However in such cold weather I would wear a type of glove so I dont leave skin stuck to it.

March 9, 2009, 07:02 PM
I guess it depends on what you consider survival to be in that environment. Here are a few good choices IMHO...

Remington 870 Marine Magnum for all around use...

Marlin 1895 SBL Guide Gun in 45-70 for all around big game...

Marlin Papoose in .22 LR for small game...

Ruger Super Redhawk .454 Casull Alaskan for close range bear defense...

Personally, I would probably go with the Papoose for putting food on the table and the Hand Cannon for self-defense.

jim in Anchorage
March 9, 2009, 08:29 PM
I go to that airman's show every year. I'll kept may eye out for a EX. taildragger.

March 9, 2009, 09:50 PM
So when you can post some pics. :) Both of the plane and what you wind up with for supplies. (never let others "opinion of what safety equipment I need decide what I actually need)
There was a chopper that went down less then 2 miles from my house. Less then 50 YARDS from the nearest road. Three days later they still had not found the chopper (or his body) They had airplanes and search parties. (IIRC the start point to where he was going was 15 miles) So his buddy who was @500 miles away flew his chopper over and found him in a hour. So in a "civilized" area with lots of movement in summer time a crash just over a stones throw from a traveled road was not found for days. Heck I drove less then half mile from it a couple times during the search time. (I did not participate in any manner with search)
If there is not one on plane (and even if) I would buy one of those "SPOT" EPERB type things. $150 at cabel's with $50 rebate and (IIRC) $10 a month and it can not only show your position online (whenever you push button) but if emergency it sends your location to rescue services. (IIRC 50' accuracy)

March 9, 2009, 11:35 PM
How about something like these Rossi matched pairs?

Two barrels, one stock saves weight.

March 10, 2009, 01:20 AM
I know little about shotguns, but came to mind is Mossberg JIC, I would think it is well suited to the occasion... if PGO is acceptable.

The plain jane cruiser JIC (not marine) is on sale for <$300 in Cabelas.

March 10, 2009, 01:57 AM
I think S&W has survival kits now. the guy who does the box of truth reviewed it i believe.

March 10, 2009, 01:58 AM
oooh, would a Saiga 12 make sense in this case or too big?

March 11, 2009, 12:44 AM
As a life long Alaskan (and 3rd generation) I can give you some advice: A pump shotgun or a large caliber hunting rifle will be sufficient. Get whatever you are familiar with and comfortable shooting/aiming. People die up here not from getting eating by bears.

Bears are large dangerous animals that should be respected, but they are not killing machines stalking around in the bush hunting for human flesh. Anyone that talks about firearms=life is grandstanding (or doesn't know what they are talking about). People love to exaggerate about Alaska and living in Alaska. People get killed by exposure. Wear warm cloths that will keep you dry (or still keep you warm when wet).

If you are a test pilot you probably already can, but be sure to know how to fly your plane/navigate without instruments. Experienced pilots with 100's (sometimes thousands) of flight hours fly their small planes into granite clouds or full throttle into the ocean when the weather goes bad. Which it will go from blue bird skies to low overcast quickly and unexpectedly. Weather reports are not reliable.

Don't be afraid to land and wait it out for a couple hours (days or weeks).

Guns and more
March 11, 2009, 09:12 AM
There be Polar Bears up there.
Flying a small plane from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest, where would you find polar bears?

Hungry Seagull
March 11, 2009, 09:21 AM

Near the north pole.

Habitat of bears

Polar Bears Alaska Assessment

Source website.

There I think that about covers the bears pretty well.

Im not afraid of bears. It's the Black Bears where Im raised that is a concern at the time. Not the large white ones at the zoo playing with a block of ice in summer.

March 11, 2009, 09:28 AM
Think about all the room a legal shotgun is going to take up in the back of your plane. There is precious little space back there, even in a 210.
If you are in a survival situation, you are not going to have the means to take care of the meat a 12ga will bring, and defending yourself against a bear attack is less important than having fire, shelter, and food. in that order.

If you bring anything, I suggest a survival .22 or a .22 that could be broken down easily and a brick of ammo. Everything else in the survival bag is a given. And if you fly a cirrus, you better only use the chute if your wings fall off.

Hungry Seagull
March 11, 2009, 09:36 AM
Ok, I will admit that I feel heat from other posters regarding bears.

Allow me to clarify.

I can only fight what I see. And in the worst case scenario. If you are prepared for such a worse case scenario, everything else is easy.

It is one thing to be flying a 152 or 172 over the mainland with a dozen strips all around to light down onto if something came up. But up there in the wilderness... it's you and the rest of the great wide world and all in it.

I posted this to help others understand how I think sometimes. Again sorry if some think Ive gone off the deep end regarding bears.

March 11, 2009, 09:44 AM
In case of mis communication,
I wasn't commenting on your posts, seagull,
just that, while a 12ga is nice, its going to be more trouble than it is worth to bring all that in the airplane around with you, not to mention municipal airport code involving firearms, they can be as strict as an international.
I tend to think towards the end that anything bigger than a .22 in that tpe of situation is going to slow you down.

Hungry Seagull
March 11, 2009, 09:48 AM
Funderb, I understand and respect what you are saying.

I think maybe APOA or some other Pilots Organization up in Alaska can provide a collective experience on what they carry onboard thier bush planes when they run that area and what wildlife to expect should they have to set down somewhere.


March 11, 2009, 03:01 PM
I'll go through the stacks of AOPA magazine here and see what I can come up with. Between my father and my best friend we probably have hoarded every issue ever like reader's digest at your grandparent's house!

March 11, 2009, 05:50 PM
CFII&G Land and Sea Ratings
Mutiple Type ratings
Single Turbine
Tailwheel Endorsement
12,000hrs flying in Canada and a few parts of AK. 15,000 TT

Get a Mossberg Mariner 12ga. (Or eqv. 870 Remington) Add a pistol-grip or folding stock. Side saddle ammo holder. You need a handfull each of #6 birdshot, 1oz slugs, and #1 buck. The only choke you need is IMP CYL. About $350

Second (and much lighter weight choice) is a Marlin 70PSS "Papoose" .22lr with 200rds of ammo. Add a cheap BSA reddot scope zeroed at 25yds. About $225

Third choice would be a 4" Ruger RedHawk in .44mag, or any similar pistol with +P Solids and a dozen rounds of CCI birdshot shells. About $550

I prefer to have the shotty in the tail section near the ELT. (check W&B) It's not much good if it's damaged. (Check to see if legal in your area) Consider yourself injured if you land out in BC or AK. Choose your gun based on what you think you can operate in less than ideal conditions (broken limb, head injury, ect)

Most of your use of a survival gun will be gathering small game and signaling for help. Bears are not as great a threat as most people believe, but it would still be nice to have a bigger bore gun than a .22lr.

Carry a good knife on your person (I like the Leatherman Surge MLT). Have a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a fire steel (Light My Fire or BlastMatch) in your pockets at all times. Good luck.


March 11, 2009, 06:23 PM
12 ga and a .22LR if you're planning to stay in the outback. But don't forget to also have a PLB such as the ACR MicroFix ( so that you don't need to pack as much ammo.

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