Thinking About Weapons, by Jon W.

“Just think–it may be a new experience.”  For many of us “just thinking” may indeed be a new experience if it means making TEOTWAWKI survival choices purposefully and rationally,  We need to apply that quote and really think before deciding what and how much to buy as part of our survival plan. This is especially true when it comes to choosing firearms because they are our primary survival weapons.

Calm and logical thought processes are vital to selecting tools key to surviving in an “end of the world as we know it” scenario.  But the advice many give about selecting firearms seems to suggest shortsighted, poorly researched decision-making processes that waste resources.  Sometimes I am amazed and even dismayed by some of the choices “preppers” make about the type, quality, and quantity of their weapons.

In general, prepping for survival presents us with the worst possible dilemma:  Having to prepare for the unknown.  We don’t know exactly what a crisis is going to be, when it will happen, how serious it will be, or how long it will last.  Nevertheless we must prepare.  The old saw goes that we should “prepare for the worst and hope (pray) for the best.”

This tool, of all the of  thousands of weapons available in America today, should be the one most capable of providing a reliable, effective, general purpose weapon that will put meat on the table and prevent the survivalist–and those who depend on him from becoming . . . meat on the table.  You need a force multiplier, the one weapon you will grab when SHTF time comes to help you survive for however long and through whatever happens.  

And you must be able to feed it, clean it, and fix it, for however long the storm lasts.  

This is the gun you will grab from the ready rack when the alarm sounds that “Charlie is in the wire!”  This is not choosing what tie to wear to work today.   It is not “Oh my!  We are under attack.  Let’s see, what shall it be today, my AK has a lovely camouflage paint job that matches my Cabela’s camouflage jump suit, but my AR-7 .22 is so much lighter and convenient to carry.  Decisions, decisions.”  We are talking about having a weapon and web gear loaded and ready for instant action to defend your life. 

There is no “perfect” weapon that will do everything for everyone in every situation.  Is that Mosin-Nagant really your first choice?  If not, what are you doing with it?

It would be wonderful if someone invented a gun that can knock an elephant down every time with one shot but has no recoil.  How about a gun that has a hundred round magazine, but weighs just ounces.  A gun small enough to conceal but with thousand yard match accuracy and costing less than a hundred dollars.  It just ain’t hapnin’ any time soon.  So whatever weapon you choose is going to be a compromise. This compromise should be based upon your well thought out and researched evaluation of all of your perceived conditions of use.  

There are several factors to be considered.   They include but are not limited to the following:   Who will be using the gun?  There is no doubt that the Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum is a quality and formidable weapon, but it probably isn’t an ideal choice for the average sixteen year old girl.  Where will the weapon be used?  Your weapon choices might differ depending on locale, an urban setting versus a desert or mountainous region, and so on.     

A “lone wolf” with no dependents to worry about may make choices without considering their effect on anyone else.  If, however, you are a member of a group or family unit then there are several things to consider that may influence your decision.  

In a group situation (as pointed out in the novel “Patriots”) selecting a single weapons platform that everyone carries has distinct advantages. Having all weapons fire the same ammunition, use the same magazines, share the same operating system, and use the same spare parts simplifies logistics, training, and support functions.  So the weapon of choice should be one everyone in the group will be able to manage and accurately fire down range.  Remember, every weapon put on the line can be a force multiplier that may mean the difference between life and death for members of your group.  

The ability to carry substantial quantities of ammunition is an obvious plus, as there is no telling when you will be able to restock.  Thirty round magazines are a very good thing.  There is no greater pucker factor in combat than realizing your weapon is between “empty and walk” and you now have to disengage long enough to reload. The fewer number times you are forced to reload the better, and that means carrying more rounds.  

The .308/7.62×51 is a great round but twice the weight of a .223/5.56, so for the same weight allocation, with the former you can only carry half as many rounds. The 12 Gauge round, for example, is heavy, bulky, and decidedly short on range.  Close in the 12 Gauge is a real stopper, but if the zombies are in range, so are you!  I personally don’t plan on letting anyone get within shotgun range in a SHTF situation.   Not when there is a better choice.

The 5.56 is powerful enough for both thin-skinned game and defense and pound for pound arguably provides the best bang for your buck. I simply don’t understand how or why someone could logically choose any weapon platform over the AR for defense, at least not here in the United States.  I would no doubt choose an AK if I lived in the former U.S.S.R., but I don’t.  

More than twelve million ARs are in civilian hands in the United States.  This doesn’t count those held by law enforcement, the National Guard or Army Reserve, and the active military.  There is more .223/5.56 ammunition in this country that any other caliber except .22 Long Rifle.  There are more spare parts, more accessories and more people trained specifically on the AR platform than on any other weapon.  

Buying anything other than an AR platform weapons system in the U.S. would be like buying Nitrous Oxide-assisted powered Lamborghini while living in Alaska.  It will look cool, until the snow falls, but where are you going to get fuel, where do you find parts, and who’s going to work on it?

The concept of a “survival arsenal” completely escapes me.  I like guns, I have lots of guns, but they are not all part of my survival plans.  Most of them will go into a hole until “normal” returns.  In a SHTF situation I can’t imagine having enough time to deal with all of those guns?   If they are not already in a hole they are going to be left behind for the bad guys.  Understand that in a true SHTF, “end of the world as we know it” situation, you are going to be “married” to your survival weapon 24/7. Get caught without it and you may not get another chance.  Under what circumstances are you planning on putting down that nasty old AR or AK with the thirty round magazine and picking up your trusty Mosin-Nagant tent peg?  I believe in charity and having good trading material could provide a way of filling in holes in your prepping inventory, but is it really a good idea to trade weapons and ammunition that could be used to kill you and yours, to people who didn’t even have the common sense to buy a weapon before the SHTF? 

This concept of a “survival arsenal” seems to have started in the 1970s with [Mel Tappan,] one of the early “survivalist” writers. He was a stock broker who (to the best of my knowledge) never fired a shot in anger, retired to Oregon and then wrote a book.  I am no doubt committing some kind of sacrilege by criticizing this guy as he seems to be revered by most as some kind of Grand Poobah Guru of “survivalism,” but I just don’t think the guy had a clue.  He seems to have made this stuff up as he went along with no thought to the consequences of what he was advising.  

The lists of suggested firearms in his book are wonderful for a gun dealer’s retirement plan but a terrible waste of money, and almost unmanageable for a survivalist.  He points out (correctly) that you must store sufficient amounts of ammunition, and spare parts for each gun.  Then in his examples of “actual batteries I have helped clients to select” he recommends a survival battery for a couple (that’s two people) in their late thirties consisting of fifteen (15) different types of ammunition and thirty seven (37) different makes and models of firearms.  

The point here is that we are preparing for a worst case scenario where we may be forced to abandon everything we own except what we can carry. We are not opening a sporting goods store, and this is not a contest to see who can accumulate the most stuff.  How are you going to transport all of those guns, all of that ammunition and all of those spare parts in a “bug out”?  It would be an interesting exercise to figure out how much all those guns and the spare parts and just one thousand rounds of ammunition for each would weigh and cost in today’s dollars.  

If you really want an “extra” gun or are buying for friends or relatives who may show up, then buy another AR or whatever the rest of the group is carrying, and stock ammo and parts for it. Most of us have a limited income and are hard pressed to come up with the money for daily living costs while at the same time we try adding to our store of backup supplies   I have lots of stuff I really need to do more than trying to find and buy parts and ammunition for thirty seven different guns that I don’t need, can’t use, can’t bug out with, and don’t want to trade into the hands of morons who weren’t smart enough to buy their own when they had the chance.  Just a side note here, one of the “recommended” guns for this “survival battery” was a Perazzi over and under shotgun.  Are you kidding me?

If you had this “ideal” battery and were in the middle of a SHTF situation and decided to go hunting, would you leave your defensive gun at your retreat and take your bolt action scoped hunting rifle along?  What if you ran into a flock of Ducks? I guess we need to take along a shotgun too, just in case.  How many rounds of ammunition do you carry for these guns?  And what happens when while out hunting you are confronted by a group of aggressors?  Your force multiplier is at home in the rack and you are armed with what amounts to a single shot rifle and a shotgun with birdshot.  

Or do you pack your battle rifle and full combat load of ammunition, your scoped hunting rifle, and your shotgun along.  Then you use one of them to shoot a deer. Now you have 150 lbs of meat, three guns, and all but one round of ammunition to haul back to camp.  Sounds like fun to me.      

Everything you choose to carry with you in a bug out is a compromise.  It would be nice if we could each carry ten guns, twenty gallons of water, thousands of rounds of ammunition and food for a month, but unless you plan on bringing your pet elephant along to share the load, you are just going to have to make some, logical, tough, informed, well thought out choices.  

(Note; If I lived in big Bear country I might carry a slug or buckshot loaded shotgun. One of us will definitely be carrying a “stewpot gun”–say, a Ruger .22 pistol–for small game.)  

An example of choices to be make and another one of my unfathomables is some people’s fascination with handguns.  I have a Springfield Armory XD in .45 ACP, great gun.  However, the gun, plus forty rounds of ammunition in three magazines, magazine pouch, and a holster weighs four and one half pounds.  

Now, I can choose to carry that handgun or, for the same 4-½ pounds of weight, I can carry one hundred and seventy-five (175) extra rounds for my AR.  That’s either forty rounds of .45 ACP or 175 rounds of Green Tip Steel Core 5.56mm going down range. The same holds true for my wife’s AR, and the ARs of my two sons.  For those of you not keeping track that’s a total of seven hundred (700) extra rounds between the four of us in addition to our basic combat load in magazines versus a total of one hundred sixty rounds of pistol ammo.  Or better yet, eighteen pounds (18 lbs.) of whatever we want.  Can you say, “Duh?”

The bottom line here is to analyze your situation, research the weapons offered on the market today, read SurvivalBlog and any other legitimate source you can find, talk to “experts,” then buy the one weapon that you feel is the best tool, of the best quality, that you can afford.  Then buy all the ammunition, and spare parts you think you will ever need to keep it running, and perhaps even some lightweight accessories you might want to make your weapon truly “yours.”  

Learn to shoot it, clean it, and repair it until you know it like your own body. And then pray.

JWR’s Comments: The logic that you’ve employed is a bit fuzzy. To clarify a key point: Having different guns for different tasks does indeed make sense at home or at a fixed retreat. That is what Tappan was advocating. In his book Survival Guns, Tappan was not addressing “Bug Out ” situations. He was primarily explaining gun selection for fixed retreats. G.O.O.D. situation would give a completely different complexion , because of weight and space constraints. Only in situations where budget or transportability are overriding concerns is it crucial to simplify to just few guns or just one gun.

It is also noteworthy that Mel Tappan’s detailed “battery” recommendations in many cases were based on adjusting the lists of guns that his consulting clients already owned. Many of Tappan’s clients were wealthy. That explains the reference to the Perazzi shotgun.

There is indeed a temptation by gun enthusiasts to buy more guns than needed. And that is often at the expense of other very important preparations. (Food, fuel, commo gear, medical gear, et cetera.) That sort of over-indulgence is a mistake. But to over-simplify is also a mistake. An AR-15 is not the answer to every self defense and hunting situation and circumstance. As someone who lives in Grizzly Bear country, I can state forthrightly that reliance on just a cartridge that was originally designed for varmint hunting would be foolhardy. (This echoes a statement in your e-mail.) In sum, balance is key to preparedness.

Every family needs to tailor their firearms selections based upon their budget, their terrain, their local fauna, and the sorts of personal security risks that they envision for their locale. A family firearms battery for someone living on a rural ranch in the northern Great Plains would be substantially different than for someone living in a forested Eastern suburb. Concealability is also an issue for many folks, especially those living in areas where open carry is either restricted or where it is simply uncommon.

I will be addressing these issues in a book that I’m presently writing: Rawles on Guns and Other Tools for Self-sufficiency. I hope to complete that book in about 18 months.