Tested: The Multi-Purpose Howdah Alaskan from Pedersoli and the Italian Firearms Group

Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what to do with the Pedersoli Howdah Alaskan sent to me by the Italian Firearms Group, the sole US importer of Pedersoli firearms (and several other Italian gun makers).  

The firearm certainly had a historical feel to it, and no wonder given that it’s based on the Auto & Burglar pistol produced in the 1920s. It looked cool, too, and felt good in my hands.

But what exactly, I asked myself, does one do with a Howdah Alaskan to justify the expense? Or, do we just call it cool and fun, write the check and leave it at that?

After a good deal of shooting and some input from other shooters, I concluded that the Howdah Alaskan does have several uses, home defense being the top one. Truck gun. Survival gun. Snake gun.

And, yes, the Howdah Alaskan is a cool looker and it is a lot of fun to shoot.

The Pedersoli Howdah Alaskan: cool-looking and multi-functional.

The Howdah is based on the flintlock Howdah pistols carried by hunters in Africa and India in the early 19th century. Fitted with two or four barrels, these muzzleloaders were used for close-in defense against dangerous game. A Howdah appears in the film, The Ghost and the Darkness, and is carried by the Michael Douglas character, Charles Remington. (The movie is a fictionalized account of two Kenyan lions that attacked and killed workers building the Uganda-Mombasa Railway, East Africa, in 1898.)

Italian gunmaker Pedersoli builds historically-based firearms, like this Howdah 45/410 Vintage pistol.

In 1922, the Ithaca Gun Company introduced the Ithaca Auto & Burglar, a side-by-side pistol clearly influenced by the Howdah flintlock. But instead of black powder, the Auto & Burglar used 20-gauge shotshells. It also sported 10-inch double-barrels and was made to ride in a car or truck in case of dangerous encounters with highwaymen (a very real possibility in those days) or as a nightstand gun for home defense.

Established in 1957, Italian gunmaker Davide Pedersoli specializes in making historically-based firearms and offers dueling pistols and revolvers, target and hunting rifles, and infantry muskets. Also included in the Pedersoli line up are some of the most icon firearms in American history, like the 1874 Sharps Silhouette rifle.

One of Pedersoli’s most popular firearms, the 1874 Sharps Silhouette rifle.

Several years ago, Pedersoli introduced two versions of the Howdah and more recently added an Auto & Burglar version of the firearm with the Howdah Alaskan.

The break-action Howdah Alaskan is chambered in 45 Colt, with lengthened chambers to handle three-inch .410 shotshells, too. The pistol features twin barrels that are 10.25-inches long and rifled, and twin triggers. The front trigger works the right barrel, the rear the left.  

The Howdah Alaskan is hammerless, so it deploys fast with nothing to hang up, features extractors for quick unloading/reloading, and sports a beaded ramp front sight and folding, rear leaf sight.

The sights on the Howdah Alaskan are nothing fancy, but they worked well for McCombie.

My range time with the Howdah Alaskan first had me determining the best way to aim and shoot the pistol: from the waist or actually held at eye level? Turned out, the eye-level approach worked very well, especially as the recoil in both the .410 and 45 Colt was very manageable.  

McCombie found that holding the Alaskan at eye level was quite effective.  

Waist-level worked but was never as accurate as holding up the pistol so my eyes could get behind the sights.

I started my shooting with .410 shells, specifically Rio Ammunition’s Top Target 2 ¾-inch shells with #6 and #7.5 shot, each carrying a half-ounce of their respective loads.

I shot the Rio .410 shells at targets placed five, seven, and ten-yards away. Of course, the five-yard patterns were the tightest, but the seven yarders looked to be very effective on snakes and garden pests, too. Ten yards? The pellet placement was just too scattered to be really useful.

Patterns with Rio Ammunition’s Top Target .410 shells fired at, from Left to Right, 5 Yards, 7 Yards, and 10 Yards.

Then, I switched to Winchester Super X 3-inch .410 shells loaded with ¾-ounces of #7.5 shot, shooting from the same distances. Same results as the Rio: yes on the five and seven-yard patterns for varmints, but not recommend for ten yards and beyond.

Patterns with Winchester Super X .410 shells fired at, from Left to Right, 5 Yards, 7 Yards, and 10 Yards.

As I was shooting for snake killing info, I couldn’t help but think of self-defense, especially in the home…and using the Alaskan loaded with .410 shells?

Only as a last resort, I concluded.

No one with a functioning brain wants to get shot with a .410 in the face, including the mock zombies I tried out the Howdah Alaskan on. But would it stop or disable a thug bent on murder? A double tap of .410 would hurt like hell and could halt an attack.

A .410 double tap will no doubt hurt and may disable…but will it stop a thug bent on murder?

But if I kept a Howdah Alaskan for self-defense? I would load it with the fairly powerful but often neglected 45 Colt.

For my testing, I used Remington Ammunition’s Performance Wheelgun 45 Colt, firing a 250-grain round nose lead bullet. Launching out of the barrel at approximately 830 feet per second, this load generated 382-foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. Close range, that’s a thug stopper.

McCombie felt the 45 Colt option was the best load for the Howdah Alaskan in-home and self-defense scenarios.

Short-range accuracy with the 45 Colt loads was pretty impressive, too. I had no problem pointing two shots at an inch or under, firing offhand at ten yards. More than once, I had both shots touching.

At ten yards and firing offhand, the Howdah Alaskan was very accurate using Remington’s Wheelgun 45 Colt load.

The Howdah Alaskan also has another use I never would’ve considered but for my friend Dylan Saunders. Saunders grew up in the Alaskan Bush, still lives there and is a hunter, outdoor writer, and all-around survivalist—he has to be the latter, given where he lives. 

Saunders thought the Howdah would work great as a survival gun, the kind an Alaskan bush pilot would carry during trips.

“Often in small planes up here, weight is calculated to the ounce, and you have to carefully choose what is important enough to justify taking it,” Saunders said.

With the Howdah Alaskan, he added, someone could take small animals for food with .410 shells, while a 45 Colt loading could offer bear protection, especially if 45 Colt +P  loads were used.

Several ammunition makers offer 45 Colt +P loads including Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap Ammunition. These rounds drive the 45 Colt bullets at 1,000 to 1,200 fps and pack twice or more the energy of standard loads.

And, the Howdah Alaskan is rated for these +P 45 Colt loads.

The front trigger on the Alaskan fires the right barrel, the rear trigger the left barrel.

My Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge measured the Howdah’s front trigger at 1-pound, 14 ounces of pull, the rear one at 1-pound, 10-ounces. Both snap off very cleanly, too. The tang safety is reset every time the Howdah is broken open for loading. The twin ejectors offer up the spent shells and brass, though by no means do the empties pop up or out.

The Howdah Alaskan features double ejectors.

The downside of the Howdah Alaskan is the two-rounds it holds. That’s not a lot of firepower for home defense. Also, when the Alaskan gets relatively dirty, the pistol can be harder to break open and may require some real effort. Cleaning of the hinge area requires disassembly of the Howdah, which is relatively easy to accomplish.

The pistol disassembles easily for cleaning.

The good news is the federal government considers the Howdah Alaskan a handgun, so no tax stamp is required despite the short barrel, though these are pricey little guns with a suggested retail of over $1,400.

The Howdah Alaskan’s safety sits on the tang and sets itself into the “SAFE” position when the break-action pistol is loaded.

Italy, where the Howdah Alaskan is manufactured, was pretty much closed down for much of early 2020 thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, including Pedersoli. But the gunmaker is open and rolling out product now; the people at the Italian Firearms Group tell me Alaskan orders should take no longer than 90 days to be filled.

Bush gun, plinker, zombie hunter: the Howdah Alaskan has many potential roles!

Snake gun, truck gun, survival gun, anti-bear gun, and zombie killer. That’s a lot of gun in a small package.

SPECIFICATIONS: Pedersoli Howdah Alaskan

Caliber: 45 Colt/.410 Gauge

Barrels: 10.25,” Hard Chromed Steel

Rifling: 6 Groove, RH 1:48

Receiver: Hard Chromed Steel

Finish: Matte Stainless

Triggers: Double, Front fires Right Barrel, Rear the Left

Safety: Tang

Length: 16.5 in.

Weight: 4lbs., 2 oz.

Sights: Front Bead, Rear Folding

Stock: Walnut, with Black, Rubberized Coating

Misc.: Double shell extractors

MSRP:  $1.425.00.

www.italianfirearmsgroup.com

For more information visit Italian Firearms Group website.

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About the author: Brian McCombie writes about hunting and firearms, people and places, for a variety of publications including American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, and SHOT Business. He loves hog hunting, 1911’s chambered in 10MM and .45 ACP, and the Chicago Bears.

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Kevin Berry June 19, 2020, 9:24 am

    The price is Rediculous! My mounted shooter friends use a full size 410 vintage style shotgun from Cimarron which are Italian made and that little short Howdah gun is more than twice the price!!
    Just another novelty gun! Way overpriced for the normal people that could use it.

    • Fred Ward June 28, 2020, 2:57 pm

      The word is “ridiculous.” Pedersoli makes fine quality firearms, commensurate with their price. If you want a less expensive gun, a Mossberg Shockwave will serve your for around 300 bucks, 41, 20 or 12 ga.

  • Frank Manzo June 19, 2020, 9:17 am

    I’m a fan of “doubles” of all descriptions, and I admit this is nitpicking… but I would call those “extractors”, not “ejectors”. Ejectors have one clear purpose… to cleanly eject the spent cartridges allowing for quicker reloads. The fine Dangerous Game Double Rifles of yesteryear were commonly fitted with ejectors… not exclusively, but commonly. Thanks for the review!

  • Steven Keirstead June 16, 2020, 3:38 am

    I am shocked that you didn’t test the Howdah with 410 slugs, they should out perform any 45 Colt load. Should have tried them and used a chronograph. What an oversight.

  • Torn June 15, 2020, 8:53 pm

    Had the pleasure of shooting the original this was based of. The Ithaca Home, Auto,and Burglar gun, and yes it had a “saw” handled grip. being that it was in 20ga. the best option I found was to put my left hand on top of the bbls. and fire from the hip. I believe it had a slight choke, probably Imp. Cylinder. Pretty effective at 20 yds.

  • Beachhawk June 15, 2020, 7:57 pm

    I would like to have one of these guns for my RV, but not for the price of a high-end 1911. They should cut that price in half, otherwise they’ll only have a few customers who want to buy a conversation piece to pull out of the safe when they have company.

  • Joel Warthen June 15, 2020, 12:05 pm

    No mention was made of 410 defensive loads. There are several defensive loads on the market (federal comes to mind) that would absolutely stop an attacker much more quickly than a 45 load. 410 slugs are another option. Please, if you are going to do a review don’t be so lazy.

  • Tom June 15, 2020, 10:09 am

    Make one in 20ga and I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    • srsquidizen June 15, 2020, 2:11 pm

      Since there is no pistol cartridge that size, I believe a 20 gauge version would have all the NFA red tape required for a short-barreled shotgun. Like the Taurus Judge, this Howdah is just a handgun that happens to fire .410 shot shells so it should only require the usual 4473/NICS at your local FFL. IF you want bigger shot capacity you can get a black powder Diablo in 12 gauge that requires no gub’ment BS at all unless your state requires it.

      • Robert Smith June 15, 2020, 4:50 pm

        Or, Pedersoli could use the same “loop hole” as the Mossberg Shockwave and the Rem TAC 14. Make the barrels long enough to get the OAL to greater than 26″. Then it’s classified as a “Firearm” and not subject to NFA rules on short-barreled shotguns.

        • srsquidizen June 19, 2020, 8:21 am

          Could but possible issues. Just a birdshead grip looks like it would fall short of 26″ overall, and if barrel length is extended on this “pistol” (has a rifled barrel) it could become a “rifle”. Not an issue with smooth bore Shockwave type guns due to pump-action receiver adding length allowing a barrel under 16″. No way do those meet “rifle” specs. This one however might end up having to be outfitted from the factory with something that allows shoulder-firing.

  • Rex June 15, 2020, 9:30 am

    Looks like a fun gun to have in the stable but the steep price took the fun out of me owning one.

  • RONBO June 15, 2020, 9:12 am

    Looks like fun but this thing doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of being sold in California.
    Be sure to vote for President Trump. Don’t let them Californicate the state you live in.

  • Lar45 June 15, 2020, 8:36 am

    I think it’s a great place to start, but I would prefer one in 50-70. They could cut the barrels back to 6.5-7.5″ to make it easier to draw from a holster. I have an original in 70 Caliber that shoots 1oz 12ga slugs out of 1.6″ 16ga hulls. The 12 ga slugs are made to load into a wad so their undersized at almost exactly .700″.

  • F June 15, 2020, 6:46 am

    So weight is an issue? You can afford a Tarus judge AND a backup in case it fails, which would weigh less and have 10x the ammo. 10” barrels help but this is a nostalgia gun, not a practical one.

  • Robert V Martin June 15, 2020, 5:38 am

    Friends,
    A pistol like this should have a Plow-Handled Grip, not a Saw-Handled Grip! It isn’t a damned S&W Russian or a Damned Bisley. Look at a Shotgun. Picture what that Pistol grip would look like if you turned your Shotgun into a Roadwarrior. THAT is what a Howdah grip SHOULD look like. I was thrilled when I heard that someone was making a Modern Howdah and then they RUINED it with that Damned Saw-Handle Grip! Also, a Howdah SHOULD be in .45-70; .5OO S&W Magnum or AT LEAST .45 Linebaum. .50-140 Would also be Awesome because of the large case capacity for shotshell loads…
    …..RVM45

  • John Bryan June 14, 2020, 10:32 am

    Hmmm… guess this could be a fun range toy but with a list price HIGHER than a Magnum Research BFR (which can be had in about any useful configuration from .45/.410 to .45/70, 30/30 through .50AE!) I know which one I’d choose. 5 of a kind beats 2 pair every time.

  • Bill June 14, 2020, 8:00 am

    Taurus.454 mag revolver has 6 shots of .410/.45colt/454 casul! Much better for Bush/self-defense to me! Weight is more, but when you need more than 2 shots, the weight seems a non-issue!

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