Alternatives to Firearms for Defense and Hunting in a Survival Situation, by Bill H.

While in a modern setting there is no replacement for a well maintained firearm, individuals who read Survival Blog are well aware that the terms “Modern”, “Optimal” and “Best Case” are unlikely to apply in the not so distant future. Most tools can serve more than one purpose. A large Crescent wrench can be used as an impromptu hammer for example. Likewise your .308 battle rifle could be used to hunt rabbits, but it has several drawbacks to be being used in such a way. However just as a proper tool kit has a hammer as well as a Crescent wrench, a well-stocked retreat has a .308 (or similar rifle) as well as an alternative way to hunt small game. Keeping that in mind a bit of research into alternative weapons coupled with some practice would be advisable for those who wish to provide for and protect their families.

This article is in no way meant to be a comprehensive study of these alternatives but rather a starting point or overview of some of these possibilities. We will discuss modern versions of ancient weapons as well as an improvised archaic weapon. The important thing is to look at the possibilities and outside what is accepted. These tools may not be as efficient as a modern firearm or as easy to learn as a single shot rifle, but are well worth your consideration.

Air guns
We often think of these tools as a kid’s toy, yet the truth is that the technologies of sending a projectile down range by using compressed air has been around since the 15th Century and at one time were made as sniper rifles and even big game rifles for Boar and Bear. Admittedly the air guns available to us are a far cry from those antique products of great craftsman, but they are still worth consideration. The benefits of these tools is that they are as simple to use as a single shot rifle and, depending on the quality, very capable of taking small game. The drawback is that they require specialized maintenance and can be difficult to repair due to the nature of specialized parts.

Air guns are commonly available in three calibers, .177, .20 and .22. Of these three calibers the two most common and in my opinion the 2 worth consideration is the .177 and the .22.
When choosing a caliber keep in mind that the velocity of the projectile plus its mass will translate to its power on impact. For this reason the .22 caliber tends to be, at first glance the best choice. Keep in mind however that the projectiles in this case are lead pellets and a healthy argument can be made for the variety of the .177. BB’s are reusable and when moving at high velocity capable of killing or deterring a variety of pests. Often the addition of a small magnet must be used to enable a quality pellet gun to fire a BBs.

For the purposes of this article the three types of air guns available are CO2, Pump, and Spring Piston. Of the three I suggest that CO2 air guns be discarded immediately. The need for [commercially filled] CO2 cartridges and the relatively low power of these tools make them useful only as training aids and of limited practical use to the survivalist.

Pump guns use a piston to compress a gas and store it in a cylinder. These often are less expensive and are available at a variety of big chain stores. The drawback of these tools I that they must be pumped multiple times to build up a charge and even at their greatest charge are still underpowered.

Spring piston guns use a lever to compress a spring which drives a piston, which in turn provides the compressed air that drives the projectile. This is an efficient and practical tool and is the design that I suggest Research the air guns available to you and make your decision accordingly. RWS and Beeman are the two top manufacturers and both sell rifles capable of over 1,100 fps. Cost for one of these tools can run over $300 but careful shopping can get you a good quality air gun for around $200.

Regardless of your choice make sure that you purchase the proper maintenance equipment and read the owners manual to get the best use from these tools. Treating them like a firearm for anything but safety will quickly lead to disappointment and potentially catastrophic failure. For example the compressed gas from a spring piston air gun can ignite gun oil and the resulting discharge will destroy the gun.

[JWR Adds: It is important that every family have at least one high-power spring-piston air rifle. They are ideal for pest shooting and for low cost indoor target practice. One Internet mail order dealer that I recommend is Pyramid Air. They have a good selection and competitive prices. They are also one of our Affiliate advertisers. We get a little piece of the action when your place an order with any of our affiliates.]

Often romanticized by movies the crossbow seldom performs the way the purchaser had hoped. The nature of the short prod or bow offers a very powerful but short lived energy source. They do not have the accurate range of a bow, yet have the benefit of being able to be left cocked and fired from a prone position. The crossbow is capable of taking large game and has the additional benefit of being able to reuse its ammo. However it is clearly recognized by any observer and as such if seen garner the same attention as a firearm. It is however quiet compared to a firearm and as such for survival hunting can be a good choice.

There are three basic types of crossbows available. The Standard crossbow, the Compound Crossbow and the pistol crossbow. Of these three I find that the pistol crossbow is most commonly a novelty item with very little practical use. Arguments have been made that at up to a 75 lb prod that they are capable of taking small game and have the benefit of being highly portable. I disagree with this reasoning but encourage readers to make up there own mind. At a cost of as little as $20 I found that purchasing one to test then trading it away when I had confirmed my suspicions to be well worth an afternoons diversion.

The compound Crossbow looks quite impressive and the mechanical advantage of the wheels does make the bolt travel faster. The cost for these tools however tends to be quite a bit greater than that of a standard crossbow and the decision on whether the extra cost is worth it depends on your budget. It has the disadvantage of being more difficult to repair than a standard crossbow with more failure points.

The standard Crossbow comes in a variety of designs both modern and archaic. The average poundage is about 150 lbs which is more than enough to hunt medium sized game. Heavier prods, or bows, are available and can increase its capabilities. Repairs to the mechanical aspects are fairly simple and strings can be made just like making a bow string. If the Prod is damaged another can be fabricated using T6 aluminum, fiberglass or even a leaf spring from a small car. Crossbows are available on line for as little as $50 and well worth the investment Repairs

Regardless of the design and strength you choose make sure that you purchase additional strings and a cocking lever to use with it. The cocking lever uses the mechanical advantage of a lever to make cocking the crossbow easier. It also has the added advantage of making the pressure on and provided by the prod evenly on both arms. This is important to increasing the accuracy of the tool. Practice with it and know its limitations. If you work within its limits the crossbow can be a useful addition to your survival tools. [JWR Adds: If you plan to buy a crossbow, do plenty of research before you buy. Many models have inferior designs that exert excessive friction on their bowstrings, leading to their early failure. Some have been known to “eat” their bowstrings in as little as 200 shots!]

Other Bows
There are many books on the subjects of bows and more information than is practical to go over here. Personally I have a compound bow that I use for Hunting, a recurve bow that I use for primitive archery shoots and a couple of fiberglass bows that have been purchased at garage sales. The later are 35 lb bows that I have on hand as trade goods and training tools.

Compound bows are very fast and have the benefit of incorporating a “let off” which allows a heavy poundage bow to be held at full draw for a more accurate aiming. While superior to older style bows they are difficult to repair and replacement parts can be very difficult if not impossible to fabricate.

Traditional bows come in a wide variety of styles including longbows, recurve bows reflex deflex bows and many more. Traditional bows can range in poundage from 15 lbs to well over 100 lbs. When considering a traditional bow consult a local expert. There are many clubs that practice primitive archery and skills from making your own strings to making longbows from scratch are often available for the asking.

No matter what design of bow you choose, make sure to purchase a good supply of arrows and learn the requirements of making your own arrows out of local materials. Practice with this tool and it can help you feed your family.


A modern slingshot uses surgical tubing to propel a projectile down range. These tools are often seen as children’s toys and are overlooked by adults when planning their emergency equipment. The truth is that these tools are extremely useful and capable of devastating force and accuracy. They are capable of taking small game quite readily and with luck can take medium sized game.

As a kid around 14 years old, I often used a “Wrist Rocket” to hunt for squirrel and rabbit. One summer I was out hunting and saw a deer. I decided to practice my stalking and stealthily approached to within 10-15 feet of the deer, who in truth had probably seen me and was unconcerned. In a move typical of a thoughtless adolescent I placed a large glass marble in my slingshot, drew to my cheek and released. The marble struck the deer in the head and it fell to the ground as if poll axed. I ran home and told dad who promptly kicked my sorry rear end all the way back to the deer, made me dress it out, cut it up and pack it out by myself. All the time offering criticisms on my judgment, technique and general intelligence. I learned powerful lessons that day about responsibility and consequences. And while I would not care to have to reproduce taking a deer with a slingshot I learned that it is much more capable than most give it credit for.

I suggest that several of these be acquired and one kept with G.O.O.D. kits. Store each with a bag of marbles and some lead or steel shot. A bit of practice will make this tool an excellent game getter and while not what I would prefer, I would not hesitate to use it as a deterrent against two-legged predator if a firearm option was not available.

[JWR Adds: Used slingshots are often available at garage sales and eBay. Older ones will usually need replacement surgical tubing. This tubing is best bought in bulk. (Again, most reasonably priced on eBay.) Buy a 50+ foot long roll of it. It has umpteen uses, and any excess will be great for barter. It can be used as spring material for various projects, a binding clamp for gluing woodworking projects, Scuba diving spear guns, et cetera.]

The Sling
The sling is an ancient weapon which uses centrifugal force to propel a projectile down range. While this tool takes far more practice than any than those mentioned above it also has the benefit of easily being fabricated, literally from the cloths off ones back. A Google search on “Sling” will provide a large number of web pages to help familiarize the reader with making and employing a sling.

While I do not suggest the sling as a primary alternative weapon I do highly suggest that a bit of experimentation and familiarization would be very useful if the balloon were to go up when you were away from your retreat or G.O.O.D. bag. Besides, it can be a great deal of fun [and a means of exercise].

[JWR Adds: Because traditional slings require a large swinging arc, they are only suitable for use in large open areas. Overhead tree branches or ceilings render slings useless. A slingshot powered by surgical rubber tubing is far more practical for a typical suburban user.]

While far from a comprehensive list I hope that this article has given you food for thought. Any of the above tools can be partnered with a firearm to make an excellent hunting combination and have the benefits of allowing you to harvest game without the tell tale noise of a gun shot.

A side note

As a resident of California, the potential use of these tools are especially important. I live under the constant possibility of firearms confiscation. This need not be the statewide confiscation that most of us fear. Rather it could be an individual situation that stems from a simple misunderstanding. An example of this was demonstrated in a rural area of Los Angeles County recently when a man used a .22 [rimfire] rifle to kill a crow that was destroying his garden, this was admittedly illegal. The man owns five acres and his nearest neighbor is several hundred yards away. A neighbor heard him talking about having dispatched the animal and reported it to the local Sheriff. When officers arrived to investigate the issue they asked him if he had any firearms. He admitted he had and allowed them to accompany him to get the .22 rifle in question, which was secured in a small gun safe. The officers confiscated all of the firearms as part of the investigation. All were legally owned and obtained by the man, and the seizure was not legal–facts that his lawyer proved in court. He won the court case at great personal cost and the Sheriff was ordered to return his firearms. However, when he went to collect these firearms he was informed by the Sheriff’s department that the weapons had been mistakenly destroyed with the firearms from a recent gun “Buy Back”. He continues to wait for reimbursement. Had he used an air gun or slingshot to dispatch the animal then he would have never went through this situation. Admittedly in another state or indeed another county it probably would have not happened at all. However no matter where you are there are times when not drawing attention to the fact that you have firearms can be beneficial.

Do your research and experiment with these tools to find the best one, or combination of them for your family.

JWR Adds: Be sure to research your state and local laws–including fish and game laws–before buying any of these weapons. Some of the Nanny State jurisdictions now have laws on the books that have made their use, and in some cases even mere possession, illegal. The context in which they are seen by authorities is often crucial in justifying the legal possession of weapons or “dual use” items. A spear gun by itself in the trunk of your car would probably be seen as a “weapon”, but one that i stowed in a dive bag, along with a mask, snorkel, fins, diving flag, a current fishing license, and a copy of the current year’s fishing regulations would be seen as innocuous. Ditto for a baseball bat, that by itself could be misconstrued. But if stowed in a dufflebag bag with balls, gloves, and a batting helmet would look quite different. A flare gun by itself in the glove box of your car would be a major no-no in many jurisdictions, but one that is stowed in box or bag in your car trunk along with an air horn, nautical charts, current tide tables, and a GPS receiver could easily be explained.