A Primer on Guns for Survival, by The Last New Jersey Conservative

Before his untimely demise, survivalist author Mel Tappan wrote his book Survival Guns some four decades ago, yet it still remains the authoritative source on the topic.  Mel also wrote columns for various magazines, expanding upon his previous writings and clarifying some concepts.  It is those columns and articles which formed the basis of not only this essay, but also leaving what is now an indelible impression upon my thought process for the same subject.  Mel Tappan had a rifle as his first acquisition and a shotgun as his third acquisition; I flip flopped it for this piece due to the fact he lived in the wilderness – where I live in the jungle; an asphalt jungle.  That being the case, here goes:

First and foremost, a decisive firearm capable of ending any fight should be your initial purchase.  It is here the shotgun excels.  The shotgun is the most versatile firearm there is.  Based upon the hundreds of loadings, it can take small, medium, and large game as well as zombies in all shapes and sizes.  There is no more devastating impact upon an evil doer in and around your home.  The 12 gauge pump action shotgun with a short, 18 inch barrel fits this bill nicely.  Get a model with “ghost ring sights” and an attached flashlight and you can identify close in targets from contact distances out to engage long range targets with slugs over 100 yards away.  At close encounters of the worst kind, “#4” buckshot serves up a multiple pellet rat wound.  In law enforcement circles, this round is referred to sarcastically as a ‘crowd pleaser’.  As the range extends, fewer yet larger pellets may be the answer, all the way up the high end of the scale at “OOO” buckshot.  “OO” buckshot is the law enforcement and military standard loading for anti-personnel use.  The exact middle of the scale size is “#1” buckshot, probably the best round to utilize when usage is not defined as to target types and distances.  I keep “#4” buckshot in warm months and “OOO” buckshot in cold months in my home protection shotgun – it is a matter of penetrating coats and jackets and vests and whatever else a bad guy may be wearing in the winter versus a likely t-shirt in the summer.  The shotgun slug is an awesome round.  You should practice head shots on a full size silhouette target at 50 yards with only a bead front sight – then you can rest assuredly hit effectively out to 150 yards and sometimes more with slugs and a “ghost ring sights” setup.  Have a spare 28” barrel for hunting birds and fowl with birdshot loads and you’ll expand the utility of the shotgun exponentially.  There are also numerous special loadings available in shotshells including: flares, flechettes, gas (riot control agents such as CS or CN or OC), incendiary, etc.  Another special loading is the door breaching round, and it is phenomenal when employed correctly to forcibly enter through a secured door.  The 12 gauge is the most common caliber for law enforcement and military applications, as well as a majority of hunting uses.  However, a 20 gauge shotgun might be better for use by smaller statured adults and younger shooters.  The pump or slide action is better because you can use the most diverse types of ammunition without a hiccup, plus there are less moving parts to break.  With the shotshell tube attached under the barrel, one has about half a dozen rounds readily available and no fear of losing any detachable magazines.  If you can’t end the fight with half a dozen well placed 12 gauge rounds, you probably need some help.  Regardless of caliber (gauge) selected, get the 3” chamber so both 3” and 2 & ¾” shotshells can be used.

Second, you need a handgun.  Many firearms aficionados state a true defensive pistol must be at least .40 caliber or larger to effectively end a gunfight.  The handgun is usually worn holstered on your belt (but can easily be adapted to ankle or shoulder holsters as well) and it is thus there, on your person, when you need it.  The handgun gives you the ability to shoot your way back to your shotgun at those most inopportune times when you put it down and don’t have it with you at the moment in need as well as being a last ditch effort to stave off that close encounter of the worst kind.  In keeping with the survival mindset, I recommend a revolver of large caliber/capability.  Prior to the autoloading pistol revolution, the .357 magnum revolver was king of the hill for everyday use and adaptability.  Sure, you could go much more powerful with a .41 magnum or even a .44 magnum – but utility is the key here.  A 4 or 6 inch barreled revolver with the 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow point round was the #1 cartridge for one shot stops against human aggressors.  Perhaps it isn’t so anymore, I’m not really sure, but probably only because law enforcement has almost entirely has transitioned to the semi-automatic pistol in the last two decades into other calibers.  Nevertheless, it is an awesome round when properly employed.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Navy’s SEAL (SEa, Air, and Land commandos) Team 6 was formed for counter terrorism employment, their duty handgun of choice for hostage rescue use was a 4 inch barreled .357 magnum revolver.  One should never feel ‘out gunned’ when having a .357 magnum revolver.  There are 7 and 8 shot models available as well, but even the 6 round standard models should suffice to get you back to your primary long arm.  Remember, it is shot placement that counts for hits, not spraying and praying with a semi-automatic pistol.  An 8 inch barrel would be best for strictly hunting purposes, a 4 inch barrel for daily belt carriage, a 2 inch barrel for concealment – perhaps a 5 shot model offering even more concealment.  I would venture to state the 6 inch barrel is probably best all around performer.  It can be used for hunting and is not unnecessarily bulky for daily wear with proper holsters, and this sidearm is not being used as a backup gun so being small and concealable is not an issue here.  Get yourself half a dozen speed loaders for whatever model you choose, and the pouches to carry them and you’ll be set.  Also, the .357 magnum chambering allows for a .38 special sub loading to be fired for practice and small game.  (The .38 special cartridge is actually the same .357 diameter bullet and about a quarter inch shorter case length than the .357 magnum round).  The .38 special is a very accurate round and has had very considerable handloading variations and commercially produced variations throughout its history.  This all equals great availability as well as versatility.

Third is a rifle.  The shotgun can do the job reliably out to about 50 yards with shotshells and approximately 150 yards with slugs.  Anything more distant than that and you will need a rifle for routine or repetitive interdiction.  The rifle should be bolt action, have a capacity for follow up shots – whether a detachable box magazine or integral type is up to your personal preference.  It would be an excellent idea for a fixed power telescope or rifle scope to ride on top.  And a good sling is a must.  You should select a caliber both common and having capability to take any game in the country side.  The .308 Winchester/7.62x51mm NATO round would be my choice (with the .30-06 Springfield round a very close second place here).  It is common to the military and law enforcement communities.  It is prevalent in hunting.  With well placed shots, it can take any game in North America.  I can hear the cries out there already.  I know, I know, there are much better calibers for hunting polar bears and elk and elephants and – probably anything conceivable to your imagination.  But, commonality and capability is what we are talking here.  The military and police don’t stock .30-06 or .270 or .243 or 7mm or 8mm or whatever other caliber tickles your fancy.  If you are that concerned about caliber rather than shot placement, why not go all the way up to the .50 caliber Browning cartridge?  But, I digress.  The 7.62x51mm NATO / .308 Winchester will and does do the job nicely regardless of other counter claims.  And, it can be had in ‘short’ action rifles which are lighter and more compact thus handier for our envisioned use.  I like a ‘full sized’ short action bolt rifle with an integral magazine and 10x scope.  But, the Jeff Cooper “Scout” rifle concept is intriguing and definitely fills the bill as well.  A forward mounted 2x scope, detachable box magazine, Chino sling, short barrel, and .308 caliber would carry very nicely, be quick to operate in the field, and capable of both close in snap shooting and longer range deliberate engagements.  Either rifle at the ends of that spectrum can fill this requirement nicely, it will come down to personal preference.  Remember that it is better to engage threats farther away from you so you don’t need the shotgun to be used at close quarters.

Fourth is a rimfire.  The .22 long rifle cartridge is very versatile, fun to shoot, accurate, and can also be had in numerous loadings (target, hunting, plinking, even in small shotshells).  The .22 rimfire rifle could be used against vermin and small game.  It can be used for training.  It is an extremely accurate round out to 100 yards with target model click adjustable “iron” or “metallic” sights (as opposed to ‘scopes’ or ‘optical’ sights) able to move the impact of the bullet 1/8” at a time at that distance!  The uses of the .22 rimfire are endless.  Alligator/crocodile hunters use the .22 rimfire for ‘fishing’ these reptiles.  One shot to the brain accurately placed behind the eyes to the rear of the head instantly kills even the largest (greater than 12 feet weighing more than 700 pounds) crocodile or alligator.  Besides .22 rimfire ammunition becoming ballistic wampum in an “The End Of The World As We Know It” or “TEOTWAWKI” situation, you can carry or store a case of 5,000 rounds in about the area approximate to the size of two .50 caliber ammo cans.  In a pinch, the .22 rimfire could be used defensively against humans – just remember it is shot placement that is critical and with such a small statured round it will be absolutely critical here.  An eye, ear, or nose shot will take a bad guy out of the game; as would a good neck shot, or under the armpits, etc.  It wouldn’t be my first choice going to a fight, but sometimes you have to use what you have.  The .22 rimfire has taken ‘game’ as large as a whale.  Some 20 plus years ago a whale was found dead in a New England harbor – the cause of death was six (6) .22 rimfire rounds to the spine which ultimately caused its death through central nervous system shutdown.  So never let anyone kid you about the ‘small’ little round not being effective against anything but small game.  Additionally, the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan was with a .22 rimfire handgun and look at all the problems it caused him with one mid torso shot (which was a glance off the door frame by the way – not even a direct hit).

I’ll summarize for you to make a quick reference list:
            1. Shotgun: Pump Action, 18” interchangeable ‘riot’ barrel, ghost ring sights if available, flashlight forend if available, 28” interchangeable hunting barrel, 4 to 6 round tubular magazine, synthetic speedfeed stock usually holds an additional four (4) shotshells in the buttstock, sidesaddle shotshell carrier typically holds 3 to 6 additional shotshells on the side of the receiver, and sling for carrying.  I would keep a minimum of 100 shotshells available (they come in 25 round boxes).  I would store 25 shotshells in “#4” buckshot, 25 shotshells in “OOO” buckshot, 25 shotshells in one ounce rifled slugs, and 25 shotshells in birdshot – probably #7½ or “BB” size (.177 diameter) being good choices.  12 gauge with 3” chambering for men or 20 gauge with 3” chambering for women and children.
            2. Handgun: 6” barrel revolver, .357 magnum caliber, 5 to 8 round rotary magazine, 3 dot sighting system, half a dozen speed loaders, duty type belt holster and at least one dual speed loader pouch.  I would keep 100 rounds minimum available.  (They come in 50 round boxes for the most part.)  50 rounds of 125 grain semi-jacketed hollow points in .357 magnum for medium game and 50 rounds in 148 grain lead semi-wadcutter for target shooting or small game.
            3. Rifle: .308 Winchester / 7.62x51mm NATO caliber, bolt action, 10x fixed rifle scope for a full sized rifle or 2½X fixed forward mounted rifle scope for a ‘Scout’ rifle, 3 to 5 round magazine (integral preferred over a detachable box type), synthetic stock for durability, and a sling.  I would have 100 rounds minimum for use.  150 grain hollow points or pointed soft points in .308 Winchester would be my selection for ammunition.  (These typically come in 20 round boxes).  Barrels for a Scout size range from 16 to 20 inches.  Barrels for a standard size range from 18 to 24 inches.
            4. Rimfire: If you want a handgun, choose a revolver.  I’d make it a 6” or 8” barrel with holster and speed loaders.  If you’d rather a rifle, make it bolt action with a 16” or 18” barrel and a fixed power scope – probably a 2 to 6 power being fine, and a sling.  A magazine of some sort would be nice (tubular, integral, detachable, etc.) but not necessary.  Regardless of handgun or rifle, I would keep a minimum of a 500 round “brick” available.  These come in 50 round boxes and ten boxes are the size of a brick – hence the name.  Chose the high or hyper velocity 40 grain hollow point ammunition and any vermin and small game can easily be bagged.

Those four firearms should form the basis for each individual’s personal battery.  Then you can expand upon it for whatever specific or unique threat or purpose you may face.

For my own immediate family’s use, I have taken the liberty to somewhat bastardize Mel Tappan’s above concepts to be more aligned to the reality in my suburban neighborhood setting today; which unfortunately is way too close to other urban jungles from my viewpoint.  Every member of my nuclear family has either a civilian legalized  version Main Battle Rifle in 7.62x51mm NATO / .308 Winchester caliber or a civilian legalized version ‘Assault’ Rifle in 5.56x45mm NATO / .223 Remington caliber.  Both types have up to 15 round detachable box magazines, but 10 round magazines are most prevalent, and slings.  Every member of my nuclear family has a Defensive auto loading pistol in .45 ACP or 9mm Parabellum calibers with between 7 and 15 round magazines and a duty type belt holster.  Every member of my nuclear family has a pump action Riot Shotgun in 12 gauge with a 3” chambering with 5 to 8 round tubular magazines.  Every member of my nuclear family has a rimfire of some sort (pistol or rifle adapter or a rifle or pistol itself) in .22 Long Rifle caliber with up to 10 round magazines.

In accordance with Mel Tappan’s original concept, I have also to add one more firearm type to each person’s battery.  Every member of my nuclear family also has what is known as a Backup or Hideout Pistol and an ankle holster.  They are of the same caliber as their Defensive Pistol, and in most cases with same magazine capability, having magazine capacities of 5 to 15 rounds.

While perhaps on first glance this may appear somewhat of an overkill in concept, when one takes into consideration that Mel Tappan was concerned with surviving in a rural farm region far from even a suburban town with good hunting and like minded indigenous personnel around him; when the manure hits the fan we will have to deal with severe security issues in a populous nanny state and probably would have to literally shoot our way out or remain buttoned up while turning our home into a small built up fighting position.

Either way it more than likely will be a target rich environment with lots of zombies!  Better to be properly prepared and not need all this hardware then to need the hardware and not have it available.

I would never want this “Get Out Of Dodge” (G.O.O.D.) scenario to ever develop, but if it there is a catastrophic event I feel confident my immediate family could (if necessary) shoot our way out to safety at our bug out location and restart our lives from there.  However it is such an extreme situation, I don’t see anything ‘GOOD’ coming out of it other than perhaps we would be able to survive the initial scrape.

Firearms are only one part of the overall survival equation.  Water harvesting is important.  Food storage is important.  Power generation is important.  Overall security is important.  Safety is important; especially firearms safety.  Health and physical fitness is important.  Tactics and outdoor living are important.  There are many, many pieces to the puzzle which are all equally important in their own ways.

I follow a very simple supposition based upon the ‘rules of three in death’.  Death is only 3 seconds away in a security situation in which someone is trying to kill you and you cannot adequately protect yourself (hence the need for firearms).  Death is only 3 minutes away in a situation where you cannot breath (drowning, fire/smoke condition, structural collapse, etc.).  Death is only 3 hours away in a situation where you are exposed to the elements of mother nature without adequate protection (need for clothing and shelter).  Death is only 3 days away without potable water (dehydration).  Death is only 3 weeks away without an adequate food supply (malnourishment).  Death is only 3 months away without a support network of family, friends, and like minded neighbors.  Death is only 3 years away without order and common defenses involving the community or a government of the people.

This is a very, very serious matter which will require thorough planning on your part, dedication to acquire the tools and equipment and skills and developing the necessary mindset you deem appropriate for your planned actions.  The will to not only follow through with you preparedness planning – but to implement and execute your plan when your set trip wire activation points occur and the thin veneer of society is rolled back in a catastrophic event or natural disaster or failure of government.  Whatever the cause, will you be ready?