Handgun for Northern Montana and Idaho


September 27, 2011, 12:24 PM
I recently moved to the Missoula, MT area and plan on doing a lot of backcountry hiking and fishing. I have been thinking about purchasing a handgun to take with me on these excursions. I also plan on making quite a few trips to Northern Idaho as well, and I can only assume that brown bears may possibly inhabit some of these areas I plan on venturing into. What would be your ideal woods bumming gun for this area?

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September 27, 2011, 12:36 PM
With the possibility of Browns thrown in the equation, I would look at a .44 mag, +P .45 Colt at a minimum.
My preference would be a 4" (N frame obviously) S&W, probably a "Mountain Gun".

September 27, 2011, 12:40 PM
Ruger Single Six. And a can of bear spray. Just sayin'.

September 27, 2011, 03:44 PM
ruger .454 casull in super redhawk. This can fire .45 colt also. Use 300 gr. hardcast or heavier heads. This twin round capability lets you practice with weaker rounds and gradually get up to full power loads. Heavier .45 colt rounds could be used for bears too. Next I would choose ruger .45 colt redhawk filled with buffalo bore 300 gr. hardcast heads. Lastly .44 mag. in super redhawk or super blackhawk. Again heavy 300 gr. hardcast. Have fun and bangaway.

September 27, 2011, 04:05 PM
My #1 pick Ruger Super Redhawk 454 loaded with Doubletap 360 hardcast rounds. Bit of a handfull for some though.

September 27, 2011, 04:32 PM
I grew up in that part of the world, still live in Montana. Today I would carry a 22 hand gun that I used well and two(2) large cans of bear repellent spray. The 22 to shoot grouse with and the purpose of the spray is obvious.

Justin Holder
September 27, 2011, 05:19 PM
The 22 to shoot grouse with and the purpose of the spray is obvious.

To season the grouse, right?

September 27, 2011, 05:31 PM
Ruger Blackhawk in 44 mag or .45 Colt!;)


September 27, 2011, 07:43 PM
My advice -

Get a handgun with at least a 4 inch barrel. Unless you are sure that you can actually hit something with a short barrelled revolver, forget about the snub nosed handguns like the Alaskan. For me, a 4 inch barrel is the minimum and I feel much more confident with a 5-6 inch barrel.

Unless you have actually shot a 454 or 460 or 500 and are comfortable with it, forget about it and start with a 44 Magnum or 45LC.

Get a handgun that can shoot at least 300 grain hardcast bullets at 1200 fps.

If you are going to be fishing from the bank and not wading, take a shotgun with Brennekes. No handgun will stop a bear like a shotgun will.

Carry bear spray. This is a controversial subject on a gun forum, but the reality is that neither bear spray nor handguns are 100% effective in stopping bear attacks. Carry whatever makes you feel safe and whatever helps you to enjoy the outdoors.

Buffalo Bore sells a 325 grain hardcast 45LC bullet that does 1275 fps in my 4inch Redhawk. That's a good bear load in a good handgun.

September 27, 2011, 07:49 PM
I have the Ruger SRH, 454 with the 7 1/2 barrel and am very happy with it, but for a straight hi-power trail gun, I think I'd like the 454 Alaskan. It's very easy to pack and has enough punch.

September 28, 2011, 10:29 AM
Seems that a lot of the game guides in those states prefer a 4" barrel .44Magnum revolver.

Frank V
September 28, 2011, 12:41 PM
If I were going to buy a handgun specifically for bumming around in the hills I think I'd look at one of the S&W 329s. I know it has the lock & all that, but it's a good gun & easy to carry in the hills. You don't have to shoot magnums in it all the time. Check out some of the good .44 Special loads. You don't say if you handload or not, but if you do the 329 it perfect for that. Shoot lighter loads for fun & practice & heavier for serious.
Be aware of your surroundings & what's going on in your part of the MTN. watch the trails for sign of bear activity. Listen to the birds & keep aware. Bears aren't a full blown menace, but they are out there. Just be aware!
Don't forget the Bear Spray either.


September 28, 2011, 12:43 PM
Just a good little .44Spl!


Standing Wolf
September 28, 2011, 02:32 PM
The 22 to shoot grouse with and the purpose of the spray is obvious.
To season the grouse, right?

Thank you, Justin Holder! Definitely a day brightener.

Seriously: when in bear country, I carry at least a .44 magnum.

September 28, 2011, 03:15 PM
I live in Idaho up in bear country and I carry a .41 S&W model 57. My wife carries a .357 Model 66 with HOT loads. She's practiced extensively on shooting on the move. She feels secure in her capability of getting out of it's way quickly and shooting on the move if necessary. We also have a S&W Model 29 44 mag 6" barreled pistol. You'll be much more likely to cross paths with a Black bear than a Grizzly. A 357 can dispatch most black bears without too much trouble.
I prefer double action revolvers. That way if I forget to pull back the hammer I can still get a shot off. With a single action you must always remember to pull the hammer or you lose that moment of edge.

First of all, you must always be aware of your surroundings, at all times. Never let your guard down. You should also be just as concerned about Cougars in the area as well. You probably won't even know they're there, until it's too late.
41 mag and up is the recommendation. 357 mag if you're certain you can shoot & scoot at the same time. If you're going deeps woods hiking or camping, you should carry the biggest caliber gun you can handle. A 44 mag and a 357 don't cost all that much different, get a 44 mag if you can.
Start practicing with 44 Special ammo. Then move up to full house 44 mags when you're ready.

Stay safe, and have a great time in one of the best areas of this great country we call home.

September 28, 2011, 04:47 PM
Thankyou all for the responses, your information has been extremely helpful!

September 29, 2011, 01:14 AM
Taurus tracker or some other 4" 44mags would be a good choice. I carry a glock .40 when I am hiking just because my SRH 44mag is too heavy for longer hikes. I would stay with a double action for faster reloads. Could you imagine shooting all your rounds and then trying to reload a single action under pressure. 454's are a excellent choice but most people do not shoot them well, including me. Hope this helps.

September 29, 2011, 02:01 AM
.44 Mag is usually the go to gun recommended for Northern U.S.A. but I think I would go with a .500 S&W if I knew I was going to be all alone in the back country. To each his own, but as has been metioned Mt Lion are more of a worry than bears.

September 29, 2011, 12:16 PM
Ah,Missoula.Having seen some of the testing the Park Service did on bear skulls and cadaver bears back in the eighties you want something with some power and bullet mass.Since you are talking a sidearm I would go with no less than a 44mag,heavy 45 Colt loading,454 etc.The 357 is a bit light for bears IMHO,better than nothing but if you have a choice I would go the biggest round you can handle.
12 Gage slugs,Brennekes in particular were the choice of the Park Service testing.
Never ran into any Grizz in the Missoula area but they are there.Always enjoyed Dr. Charles Jonkel seminars on bears.

September 29, 2011, 12:24 PM
Good Lord, can we never venture forth into the hills without anti-bear howitzers??? :rolleyes:

Frank V
September 29, 2011, 12:37 PM
I would happily carry that gun. I'm a huge fan of the .44 Special! That is a beauty!:) Thanks for sharing.

Everyone, a good .44 Special with a good 245 SWC hard cast bullet at 900fps will penetrate an almost unbelievable distance. I've shot a lot of them & have tested them. They are easy to shoot well too, it's a load that is enjoyable to shoot, accurate, and will do about 99% of what a handgun really should be asked to do!

September 29, 2011, 12:47 PM
Thanks Frank! :)

September 29, 2011, 10:49 PM
I live a bit to the east of you. I’m retired and out every day of the year walking the dogs, hunting, fishing, or just woods bumming. I have a choice of handguns to choose from (including .454 and .475 Linebaugh), but my all day everyday carry gun is a S&W Model 329 PD in .44 Magnum. I’ve found that, for me anyway, weight makes a huge difference – if it’s too heavy, it stays home. Like anything else, the 329/.44 Mag is a compromise, but it’s one I can live with.

Frank said it best– sight it in and practice with .44 Special level loads (although 250gr Bullets at 900 fps in the 329 are still a handful) and carry real .44 Mag ammo (hard cast lead 250gr-300gr) in the field. At the ranges you will engage a bear the point of impact of the “REAL” .44 Mag ammo (vs .44 special sight in) will not be a factor. Under stress, the recoil difference will also go unnoticed.

September 30, 2011, 12:48 AM
I'd say a 4 inch D/A 44 mag is optimum, with a 44 mag single action as 2nd choice.

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