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 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
Length: 16.5 in.
Weight: 4lbs., 2 oz.
Sights: Front Bead, Rear Folding
Stock: Walnut, with Black, Rubberized Coating
Misc.: Double shell extractors