There has been a lot written about firearms in a SHTF  scenario. Plenty of information about which firearms are the “best” and which calibers are the “best” and so on. I have no interest in proceeding on that same tack. If you have the money, you can make any firearm choices you want, and if you have the time and authority, you can coordinate with those who are likely to show up to your retreat. Neither of these is possible in our personal situation.
My wife and I have both been unemployed for well over a year. My unemployment is about to run out, and she never qualified. Despite our best attempts, neither of us is holding out much hope of getting a job before a crisis hits. Odd jobs and the occasional selling of personal items has been the only way we’ve been able to supplement our income. The bright spot in our situation is that my father-in-law owns a farm well out into the country, and well away from any major highways. When we first realized that things weren’t going to be getting better (about a year ago), we proceeded on the assumption that our family would be moving up to his farm. Before I get any comments about this, we are not just “dropping in,” my father-in-law has been aware of our plans, and approved of them from the beginning. We have food, supplies, firearms and ammunition already stored in place. My brother-in-law and his family have finally jumped into prepping with a vengeance (after almost a year of hedging) and his family now has the same plan. Since then, and with the agreement of my father-in-law, a few others have been accepted into our retreat group. I bring this up to highlight the personality clashes that will contribute to the problems within our planning.
Now we arrive at the root of our problem. Before last year we had just one firearm, a .22 rifle. My brother-in-law and our other retreat members had none. When our plans started, it was suggested that there are enough firearms at the farmhouse for our needs. They are: three hunting rifles in three different calibers, two 12-gauge shotguns, one 20-gauge, two shotguns in .410 caliber, and five or six .22 rifles. In addition there are six revolvers in four different calibers. So aside from the .22 rifles, there is essentially no cohesion between calibers. If we were to rely on those rifles, providing sufficient ammunition for all of them all would be too expensive for us to manage.
My wife and I made a decision fairly early on to standardize. We were going to stick with .223 for battle rifle purchases, only buy 12-gauge shotgun shells, and limit small arms to 9mm. There can be complete novels written about how good or bad our choices were, but that is what we decided based in part on ammunition cost. After purchasing our first AR-15, it became apparent that our group couldn’t afford the AR-15 as a standard. So after much discussion, we changed our battle rifle to 7.62×39. The ammunition cost is comparable to .223, and the rifle is affordable to the monetary-challenged. Unfortunately my brother-in-law chose to go in his own direction. He has the most disposable income of anybody in our group, and we are still encouraging him to pick up an AKM clone for standardization reasons, but his most recent purchase was a .308 caliber battle rifle.
We have three rifles in 7.62×39, still the two 12-gauge shotguns, and two 9mm pistols. So there is an attempt at standardization. But due to monetary constraints and personality conflicts, we have not had a great number of new firearms purchased, and therefore still have a plethora of calibers to attempt to store. My wife and I are trying to stick to our plan on purchasing only a few calibers, but we have agreed that even if it’s just one box of ammo per revolver, it still makes sense to have something available for them to shoot.
Despite every preppers best attempts, not everybody is going to be as well standardized as the main group in “Patriots” . We wish our retreat was as well-prepared as theirs, but unless that lucky lotto ticket comes our way, we are not likely to be able to match that level of preparations. Instead we have accepted that scrounging and trading will become part of the way of life after the SHTF . However the means by which you acquire them, you cannot count of the firearms you may come across to fall into your standard classifications. If you have the money and space, you may want to store some common-caliber ammunition for firearms you do not own. If nothing else it can be traded. But it may mean that the additional weapon for your retreat can be used as more than just a high-tech club.
There are four primary lessons here:
Lesson One: Training. Make sure that everybody in your group has at least a basic understanding of whatever your standard firearms are. In our case, we have a week-long retreat planned in a few months, and every adult member will be learning to field-strip and clean the AR-15 platform and the AKM platform. The AKM is essentially our standard battle rifle, and if something happens, the three owners can not be the only retreat members who are able to use them. The AR-15 platform is essential because if the absolute worst happens, as in Patriots, it is arguable that the two platforms most likely to be used by our opponents would be the AKM series or the AR-15 series.
Lesson Two: Logistics. While budget is the unfortunate master of all purchases, it is still a good idea to try to maintain a sufficient supply of ammunition. Even if you are reloading, you are looking at a finite supply of ammunition for your weapons. (Black powder muzzle loaders being an exception if your retreat has the powder elements nearby.) You cannot assume that you will be able to resupply your ammunition. What you have stored is it. So you should focus your efforts on the firearms which give you the best bang for your buck. 7.62×39 is by no means as good a round as 7.62×51 NATO, but it is far more affordable in the amount required. I still think buying non-standard ammunition is a good idea, but focus on the fact that ammunition cannot be replaced once used and plan your purchases accordingly.
Lesson Three: Planning. Now is the time to get your planning done with regards to firearms. Most people are familiar with the firearms they own. There are far less people familiar with firearms they don’t own. It is possible in a SHTF scenario that you will acquire weapons one way or another, and there is no guarantee that it will be a firearm anybody in your retreat group is familiar with. What we have done is downloaded the field-stripping and cleaning instructions for a variety of firearms that we don’t own. We printed them out and placed them in the same binder that has the field manuals for our own rifles. We focused primarily on those firearms that are calibers we are storing, but certain firearms were chosen based on their popularity. Former military standard rifles and handguns are a good place to start. Based on the CMP sales, we have included the M- Garand and the M1 Carbine in our binder. The M1911A1 was also an obvious choice. Will we be coming across these after the SHTF? Maybe we will, maybe not. But if we do, we have the manual that would allow us to clean and maintain them, so we can use them if the need arises.
Lesson Four: Relax. You may have people in your retreat that are obstinate. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about it, especially if you don’t have the authority or the heart to exclude them. Remember your faith and take it all with a grain of salt. We had one person who allowed his personal desire to override our attempt for everybody to have a standard battle rifle. Two others did not and purchased an AKM clone. This is not the best result, but under the circumstances it was pretty good. And in all honesty, that .308 battle rifle is going to do wonders for our ability to “reach out and touch someone.” When you are prepping on a limited budget, you have to take things as they come instead of how you wish them to be. Think of it as training for after SHTF when everybody is going to have to develop that skill.
Could our firearms preparations need better coordination? I would say yes. Are our standards the best choices? I would say overall, no. Is it the best we can do with our limited personal income and the loose cohesiveness of the retreat group? In that I would have to say yes.
If you are despairing at the inability to match the outstanding preparations that you read about so often, remember that you are not alone. Budget yourself, do what you can, and prepare. It’s better to prepare as best you can than not prepare at all.