Guns for Unobtrusive Backpack Stowage

I recently had a consulting client on the hurricane prone Gulf Coast of Texas ask me about what he should do about his firearms in the event of a natural disaster. He was concerned that in a “worst case” his family might end up as refugees at an emergency relocation center. Guns could be a contentious issue in the event that officials order that refugees be disarmed “for their protection.” (It has happened before, and it might happen again.)

In my younger days, before I had land of my own, I had considerable experience with backpack stowage of rifles. I often went plinking on a piece of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered land that was only accessible by a short trail that passes through State Park land. To avoid explaining to the park rangers where I was planning to go shoot, I stowed the whole works in a traditional (exposed tubular frame type) backpack. At the time, I had a CAR-15, a AR-7 .22, a folding stock Remington Model 870 riot shotgun, a Savage Model 24F (.223 Remington over 12 gauge), and various handguns. My pack could accommodate any of these guns. (But obviously not all at once.) I only had to make one modification to my pack to make it work. That was to cut out and re-sew part of the stitching that divides the upper from the lower compartment of the pack, leaving a tunnel between the compartments. With my pack, this provided about 22 inches of usable space.

For the guns that have barrels that are too long for the pack, I keep a handy 9 inch length of white 2″ diameter PVC pipe with a standard PVC end cap attached to place over any part of the barrel that protrudes from the top of the pack. With this sticking out of the top of the pack, it looks like you are carrying a broken-down fishing pole, rather than a broken-down long gun. Such PVC tubing is standard equipment for backpackers that carry fishing poles, so it never got more than a passing glance. (Occasionally, thinking that I’m a fisherman, folks asked where the fish are biting.) In five years of going to my favorite piece of BLM land, I was never stopped, questioned, or searched. Keeping a low profile avoids the time and trouble of answering questions posed by “officials” that may or may not have an adequate understanding of applicable local, state, and federal firearms carry and use laws. Why put yourself at risk, needlessly? Words from the wise: When transiting public lands, it is best to stow your guns in your pack and keep your mouth shut. But be sure to consult you local and State laws on concealed carry before doing so.

Notes on particular gun models and varieties:

Handguns: Soft “butterfly” cases are more compact and flexible to stow in packs than hard cases.
Armalite/Charter Arms/Survival Arms AR-7: The perfect backpacker’s plinker. Compact, lightweight, inexpensive, .22 ammo is also lightweight and cheap, quick assembly and disassembly. Spare magazines are inexpensive. It is small enough that it will even fit unobtrusively in a small backpack such as the Army issue LC-1/LC-2 series packs. BTW, the Marlin “Papoose” semi-auto takedown .22 has similar dimensions when stowed.
AR-15, M4, CAR-15: The M4 and CAR-15 stow best. Buy an after-market AR such as an Eagle Arms, Olympic Arms, or Bushmaster. These come with two quick takedown pins rather than the bogus rear-takedown pin and “two-screws-instead-of-a-front- takedown-pin” nonsense that is used on the original Colts. The Colt front takedown screw design is a monstrosity. It takes three hands and two screwdrivers used simultaneously to disassemble or reassemble the Colt-made guns. This hardly qualifies as “easy takedown.”
Savage Model 24: Relatively quick takedown into two halves that are readily stowed in a pack. These have takedown similar to most single shot, side-by-side, over-and-under shotguns and combination guns. For this type of gun, barrel length is is the most important consideration. Barrels longer than 20 inches are a problem for covert pack stowage.
Remington Model 870 and similar pump actions: Will only fit in a pack if a folding stock or pistol grip is installed. They tend to sting if shot with a pistol grip and when thus equipped they are horribly inaccurate, so I recommend that you buy a folding stock. If you insist on buying a pistol grip, buy the Pachmayr “Vindicator” grip. It is rubber coated so there less of a sting. (But still no fun with 3″ magnums.)