Letter Re: Sport Shooting for Preppers

As C.K.’s article points out almost all of the publications that cover prepping acknowledge the need for self-defense, but very little ink gets spent on developing or maintaining real proficiency.  His suggestion that readers consider either practical shooting (USPSA) or defensive pistol shooting (IDPA) really hits the target.  The follow-up letter by Sean from COS advocating hunting as another way to develop and maintain skills also hit the mark.

Many articles and even most of the survival fiction stories provide descriptions and explanations for the “right” guns to buy.  “Survival Gun Selection” on the left side of survivalblog.com is an excellent overview of the equipment and rationale, but even this article avoids two other gun issues that are critical, especially for those of us with a wife who carefully monitors our combined survival investing.

Those two issues are:

1.) How many rounds should be put aside for each type of weapon for self-defense or hunting assuming TSHTF and ammo is no longer readily available?

2.) On some kind of rolling forecast, how many rounds should be budgeted for maintaining proficiency for each year between now and when TSHTF?

My wife knows that I would rather buy an extra 500 rounds of 40 S&W than another two cases of Mountain House Chicken a la King.  But seriously, how would you make the argument for the number of rounds to keep on hand?

For example, we have four hunting rifles in .223, .243, 7mm-08, and .308 for most North American hunting plus a .375 H&H mostly for bear.  Following the same reasoning as in Sean’s letter, we draw for resident permits each year and usually get a deer and an antelope and occasionally an elk.  Even with pre-season practice and testing my own hand loads, it is really hard to justify more than 40 to 50 rounds per year for each of the bigger calibers.  The .223 with a big NightForce scope sees a lot more action since it is used for varmint hunting throughout the year.

Our primary carry pistols are all in .40 S&W.  Without participating in regular matches as C.K. suggests, we do extended shooting sessions about twice a month with 40 to 50 rounds per gun.  Just for skill maintenance, we go through 600 or more rounds per year per pistol.  We also have several 1911s that have been displaced by the high capacity polymer pistols, and they probably see no more than 100 rounds per year apiece.  At those same practice sessions, we also shoot at least two 30-round magazines of 5.56 through our M4rgeries.  For the pistols and the ARs, we use the drills we learned at Front Sight at the 4-Day Defensive [handgun and rifle] courses.  (Very inexpensive course certificates, thanks to eBay, and highly recommended.)

In your novel “Patriots”, shortly after most of The Group gets to the retreat in Idaho, the characters perform an inventory of their supplies (food, tools, supplies, clothing, guns, and ammo):   “As for ammunition, we are in excellent shape – in all nearly 300,000 rounds, almost half of which is .22 rimfire.   …Joe Schmo on the street probably only has a couple of hundred rounds on hand, on average.”

On my first reading of the book several years ago, I thought this was a bit excessive.  Now, I am not so sure. 

Take out the .22 LR (150,000 rounds) and divide the remaining 150,000 rounds by 12 or 15 people.  That leaves 10,000 to 12,500 per person.  Split that number between hunting (maybe 10% – 1,000 rounds across all hunting guns), defensive pistol (say 30% or 3,000 rounds) and defensive rifle (the remaining 60% or 6,000 rounds).  If half of the defensive pistol ammo was intended for skill maintenance, those 1,500 rounds would last for only 4 or 5 years of practice.

When my son and I attended the 4-Day Defensive Handgun Class at Front Sight earlier this year, we each went through 720 rounds in four days.  A year ago and prior to the classes, it would never have occurred to me that the two of us would chew through almost 1,500 rounds in just four days – in practice!.  Then, I got on the phone with my oldest boy who had served with the 1st Marines in Fallujah.  I was stunned to learn how many rounds went through the average rifleman’s M4 in a single firefight.  He told me that he usually felt under-equipped with only eight 30-round magazines on his gear.

My next thought is that we are talking some serious money.  Let’s say 3,000 rounds of 5.56 primarily for practice at $350 to $400 per thousand plus 3,000 rounds of higher quality 5.56 at $500 to $600 per thousand.  The AR-15 ammo could set you back $2,500 to $3,000.  Assume roughly the same cost per round for .40 S&W (9mm a little less and .45 ACP a bit more) for practice and for high quality defense rounds for your carry pistol, and we can add $1,250 to $1,500 for your primary handgun.  The hunting ammo will likely run $20 to $30 per box of 20 except for the .223 which in a pinch could also use the ammo for your AR.  The 1,000 rounds of good quality hunting ammo could set you back another $1,400 to $1,600.  Enough ammo to feed the whole battery can easily nudge into $5,000 or $6,000.

My wife’s reaction was that much money could buy a whole lot of beans and band-aids!

How about the benefit of your wisdom for all of us in that same predicament?  How many rounds is a reasonable budget for skill maintenance?  Assuming as I do that ammo will be one of the very first things to disappear from stores, how many rounds of quality defensive ammo is enough?

Your current thoughts would be greatly appreciated. – Don M.

JWR Replies: I’ve always made a distinction between ammo for target practice, and ammo for TEOTWAWKI. The latter is always kept in reserve. Aside from target practice ammo, I consider 1,000 rounds per handgun and 2,000 rounds per battle rifle a bare minimum. Here at the ranch, one entire wall of JASBORR is lined with heavy duty ammo can shelves, but much of that ammo is for training or is intended for eventual barter.