Letter Re: The Firearms Battery and Ballistic Wampum–Shallow and Wide, or Narrow and Deep?

Hi Jim,
You may have answered this question before, but I haven’t seen it addressed specifically. Over a significant period of time reading about (including the Profiles of people on your blog) and talking with people about preparing for the future, I’ve noticed two schools of thought regarding establishing a firearms battery for use in the event of societal breakdown. (Although the concept could be applied to most areas of preparation.) The two are:
1. Maintaining a broad range of firearm types and calibers, but in a shallow depth of supply. The idea here seems to be that of maintaining the flexibility of moving to another system/caliber if something should break or a logistics stream should dry up. It also allows different styles of tools to be available to meet the needs of differing sizes and physiques among the team members.
2. Maintaining a narrow range of firearm types and calibers, but in greater depth of supply. The idea here seems to be that of maintaining familiarity with the given system and simplifying the logistical stream.
How does one determine the correct approach and, if the second, narrow down the list of possibilities from all of the choices available (even excluding the obvious rare or unusual choices)?
I have an idea of how you will answer, but thought it might be a good discussion to which others can contribute their rationale. – Jim H.

JWR Replies: I am definitely in the “narrow but deep” logistics camp. Commonality of calibers, magazines, spare parts, and weapons familiarity all have their advantages. In general, I recommend buying duplicate modern firearms chambered in common calibers such as .308, .30-06, .223, .7.62×39, .50 BMG, 12 Gauge, .22 Long Rifle (rimfire) .45 ACP, .40 S&W, and 9mm Parabellum.

My “generic” guidance for North America is as follows, but your mileage may vary, depending on your locale and your preferences:

Main Battle Rifles: M1A, AR-10 or FAL variants (Including the L1A1.)

Secondary (Intermediate Cartridge) Carbines: AR-15, M4gery, or AK-47

Shotguns: Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 series, 12 Gauge

Long Range Counter-Sniper/Hunting Rifles: Remington Model 700 or Savage Model 10-series .308 Winchester (or possibly .30-06 in Canada–see note below on M1 Garands.)

Ultra-Long Range Counter-Sniper/Hunting Rifles: Wind Runner .50 BMG, or a Spider Firearms Ferret .50 if you are on a tight budget.

Primary Defensive Handguns: Colt, SIG, Kimber or Glock .45 ACPs or possibly .40 S&Ws (See below.)

Secondary/Concealment Defensive Handguns: Smaller Capacity Colt, SIG, Kimber or Glock, with cartridge and magazine commonality with your primary handguns. Good choices include the Colt Officer’s Model, the Kimber Ultra Carry II, and Glock Model 30.

For all of the above, buy ammunition, spare magazines, spare parts, spare optics, and cleaning equipment/supplies in depth. That means a bare minimum of six spare magazines per handgun, and 8 magazines per rifle. Also, be sure to acquire a full set of load-carrying “web gear” for each long gun. And if you have the option to buy stainless steel for any particular model, then I advise that you buy the stainless! (Someday your great-grandchildren may thank you for doing so.)

Boston T. Party’s excellent book “Boston’s Gun Bible” is an outstanding guide the subject or firearms selection. Coming from the same generation, Boston’s views are quite similar to my own. (Although he is a Glockophile, while I’m more of a M1911 Dinosaur.)

The only exception to the preceding general guidance would be for specialized firearms, that are added to a battery because of A.) regional peculiarities, B.) legal loopholes, or C.) exceptional logistical circumstances.

Regional peculiarities could include:

1.) Proximity to a national border. If you live close to Canada, for example, then it might be wise to own L1A1 rifles (which have parts and magazine commonality with the obsolete but still warehoused Canadian C1 service rifles). Other possibilities include Lee-Metford or SMLE rifles chambered in .303 British.

2.) Plentiful big game such as Elk, Moose, and Caribou, which would necessitate adding a belted magnum caliber. If this is true of your region, then make inquiries to determine which caliber is the most popular in your particular region.

3.) The presence of dangerous predators, particularly brown bears and grizzly bears. This might mean adding a handgun in a potent caliber such as .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, .45 Winchester Magnum, or .500 S&W.

4.) Caliber commonality with the local gendarmes. If the local police or sheriff’s department issues an unusual caliber such as 10mm or .357 SIG, then it might behoove you to add a couple of pistols and plenty of spare magazines and ammo to match. Or, if you are dyed-in-he-wool .45 shooter, but your local PD issues .40 S&Ws, then it might be wise to add a couple of the same model to your battery, funds permitting. If nothing else, having the extra ammo and magazines on hand might earn you a few Brownie points when the balloon goes up.

5.) Especially draconian gun laws or strong local social stigma on open carry that might push you toward purchasing very compact/more concealable handguns. If this is the case, then who knows? Perhaps an AMT Backup .45 ACP or even a Kel-Tec .380 ACP might be a better handgun for you to buy.

Legal loopholes could include:

1.) Owning an oddball caliber in a state where a particular caliber is banned. For example, California banned .50 BMG rifles, but wildcat .49 caliber cartridges based on the same cartridge case are legal. (At least for now. Just give those Nanny-staters time. They’ll eventually ban everything except butter knives.)

2.) Some countries such as France and Mexico restrict ownership firearms in “military” chamberings such as .223/5.56mm NATO, or .308/7.62mm NATO. So in those locales it would be illegal to own a Mini-14 chambered in .223 Remington, but it might be legal to own one in .222 Remington. And likewise you can’t own an M1A chambered in 7.62mm NATO, but it might be legal to have one chambered in .243 Winchester. In Mexico, you can’t own a .45 ACP, but you can own a .38 Super or a 10mm. (The details on these laws go beyond the scope of this post. Consult you local laws and a local attorney.)

3.) Pre-1899 guns in the U.S. (and pre-1898 guns in Canada) provide a special opportunity to acquire some guns without a “paper trail.” Laws on antique guns vary widely between countries. See the new Wikipedia page on Antique Guns and my FAQ on pre-1899 guns for details. Antique guns are available from a number of vendors including The Pre-1899 Specialist (one of our advertisers), Empire Arms, and Wholesale Guns.

4.) In Canada, nearly all centerfire semi-auto rifles have magazine restrictions, limiting them to five round magazines. But there is a specific exception made for M1 Garands, which use an 8 round en bloc clip. So Canadian preppers might consider making M1 Garands their main battle rifles, and buying bolt action counter-sniper rifles chambered in the same cartridge, for the sake of commonality.

5.) In Australia, nearly all semi-automatic rifles are restricted, but bolt actions can still be purchased. (Albeit with registration.) This makes SMLE bolt actions–including the Ishapore 7.62mm NATO variants particularly attractive.

Exceptional logistical circumstances might include:

1.) The importation of large quantities of military surplus ammunition in an unusual caliber. For example, in the past decade, milsurp 8×57 Mauser has been cheap and plentiful. And more recently, large quantities of 7.62 x 54 R (the Mosin -Nagant and Dragunov high power ammo) have been imported into the U.S., at prices far below the prevailing prices for most modern centerfire caliber ammunition. This makes it advantageous to buy a rifle in one of these calibers–particularly a pre-1899 specimen–to take advantage of cheap, plentiful ammo, for target practice. Similar opportunities might arise in the future. For example, if a boatload of 7.5 Swiss ever comes to our shores, I can assure you that I will buy a lot of it, and couple of Schmidt-Rubin straight-pull rifles to use that cheap fodder.[The Memsahib Adds: Dream on, Jim! It’s not like we don’t already own enough ammo.]

2.) Acute shortages of particular calibers might necessitate buying alternate arms, or in exceptional circumstances even re-barreling some of the guns in your battery. The current wars in the Middle East have created some spot shortages. Only time will tell whether or not these will turn into chronic shortages. One historical side note: During World War II, virtually all of America’s gun makers transitioned to almost exclusively filing military contract orders. During the war, civilian hunters were eager to buy almost any gun in almost any caliber that they could lay their hands on. There were plenty of buyers, but precious few willing sellers, and new guns were very scarce.