Letter Re: Recommendations on a 20 Gauge Shotgun?

Dear James:
I have been searching for a good quality 20 Gauge shotgun for home/retreat defense. I very much value your opinion and would like to know what make and model you would recommend. Also do you recommend a semi-auto or double barrel? What “extras” and accessories do you feel are the best? – Dr. Sidney Zweibel, Columbia P&S

JWR’s Reply:
In general, I much recommend a 12 gauge over a 20, unless you are very small-statured. 12 gauge shells are much easier to find (both now and post-TEOTWAWKI), and they pack more of a wallop on the receiving end. There are also a lot of exotic shoyshell loadings available (such as CS tear gas) that are only available for 12 gauge.

I prefer pump actions. I would recommend a Remington Model 870 pump action. They come with 26″ or 28″ “bird” length barrels standard from the factory. OBTW, the Memsahib has owned both the Rem. 870 and Rem. 1100, both 20 gauge. Both were the “youth” models with short stocks. (The Memsahib is 5’2″ and weighs just 95 pounds.) She prefers the semi-auto action of the 1100, but it is generally agreed that they have reliability problems. John Satterwaite (the exhibition shooter) was quoted by a mutual friend as saying that he has three Model 1100s–“One to shoot, one as a spare, and one in the shop for repairs.” The Model 870 pump action, by comparison, is bomb proof. So if you opt for an 1100, get a LOT of spare parts!

In terms of accessories, I recommend that you get:
An 18 inch or 20 inch “riot” length spare barrel, threaded for choke tubes.
A full set of “Rem choke” screw-in choke tubes (including an Extra Full Choke tube for shooting rabbits or perched birds at maximum range)
An Uncle Mikes’ brand shell holder (The type with a Velcro closure flap)
An extra long sling (I prefer the M60 padded slings)
Locking quick detachable (QD) sling swivels. (The Uncle Mikes’ brand works fine.)
Sling swivels. (TOP mount a QD stud on the stock, and side mount in the swivel in the front so that the shotgun won’t flip upside down when carrying it assault style)
Choate brand magazine extension tube. (The end of a 6 or 7 round tube will be parallel with the muzzle of your gun’s riot length barrel.)
Some voluminous pouches to carry spare shells for your basic combat load. (Shotshells are very bulky.)

Letter from The Army Aviator on Biological Warfare Defense

I’ve got this on all of my computers, and printed out (several copies). I picked up on it back in 1996. I figured it was easier to give you a URL as opposed to attaching a doc. I sent this down to Fort Sam Houston [home of the U.S. Army Medical Corps] and they said it was straight and accurate. See: http://www.uhuh.com/reports/harris/book.htm It’s from 1996 but it’s very good.- The Army Aviator

Letter from David In Israel on KI Thyroid Protection

After reading about your Chernobyl experience and fears I have two tips. First first aid kit or drinking water tabs are not safe to take as a substitute for proper thyroid blocking Potassium Iodide or Iodate. If you are stuck without the proper Iodide or Iodate there is research indicating that 8 ml of 2% iodine (iodine tincture, Betadine, etc) solution painted onto the forearm or abdomen two hours before exposure will be absorbed and give a blocking initial dose. DO NOT SWALLOW IODINE SINCE IT IS POISONOUS IF INGESTED. IT MUST ONLY BE APPLIED TO SKIN!!!

You can buy crystalline KI powder if you feel that buying iodide tablets is too expensive, but the solution must then be diluted, masked, or encapsulated as it is horribly bitter when eaten/drunk straight.

A person must have a way of measuring radiation, a proper Geiger counter is best, preferably one designed to measure high level radiation as most non civil defenseor military will only measure very low dose. The CD models are available cheap and often include a low dose counter, a high dose counter and 8 dosimeter pens with a dosimeter calibrator. I personally keep a Nukalert keychain scintillator counter (always on for 10 years) and a pocket dosimeter in my bag along with some KI. If you haven’t the funds for a Geiger counter a dosimeter can be made which will allow you to seek a lower radiation area. The page http://www.ki4u.com/free_book/s60p792.htm gives instructions based on a design in the children’s science book “Build It Yourself Science Laboratory” from 1963 by Raymond Barrett. This device is a hack job to be used by the unprepared in emergencies only, it doesn’t easily give you a real read on the radiation just that it is present but is better than no detector.

Protecting food from radionuclides is best accomplished through green housing and filtering water. Water filters are cheaply available now in the micron level, a heavy metals filter would impart more protection. Ground water will be one of your lowest concern for radionuclides though.

Greenhousing is cheap and easy if you are already used to gardening. It can make your garden output explode! UV resistant plastic sheet, mounted on heavy PVC pipe frame with several poles sunk into the ground for support make an excellent greenhouse. Lay perforated hose under the rows for growing and connect to a water source. Cover the ground with plastic to minimize weeds and water loss leaving small holes for the baby plants to grow through. As your vine type plants grow, hang rope for them to climb and help them twist around these ropes. You will massively increase your season, save water the Israeli way (we feed all of Europe from desert greenhouses) and protect your food from all kinds of contamination that drops from the air. Compost all your organic waste and save it for next year before you lay your new plastic sheet onto the ground.

JWR’s Comment: The Kearney Fallout Meter (see: Nuclear War Survival Skills–available for free download) is another “quick and dirty” design. However, keep in mind that any improvised fallout meter is a poor substitute for a proper dosimeter, rate meter, and Geiger counter commercially built to NRC specifications. Buy a set! Someday you’ll be glad that you did. Guru says: “Poor Prior Planning Produces Pitifully Poor Performance” (P7) OBTW, Nukalerts are available from ReadyMadeResources.com and several other Internet vendors.

Jim’s Quote of the Day:

 “…nuclear warfare is not necessary to cause a breakdown of our society. You take a large city like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago– their water supply comes from hundreds of miles away . Any interruption of that, or food, or power for any period of time and you’re going to have riots in the streets. Our society is so fragile, so dependent on the interworking of things to provide us with goods and services, that you don’t need nuclear warfare to fragment us any more than the Romans did for their eventual downfall.” – Gene Roddenberry

Stock Up on Potassium Iodate–Pronto!

With the growing nuclear threats from China, North Korea, and assorted Muslim terrorist groups, it is important to get prepared for surviving radioactive fallout. At the minimum, I think that there is a very high likelihood that at least one sub-critical mass radioactive “dirty bomb” will be be set off within the continental U.S. sometime in the next 10 years. Near term worst case: One or more of them go off on September 11th. (Two weeks from now.) Plan accordingly. Study the prevailing wind patterns. Get a copy of Nuclear War Survival Skills. (It is available for free download from the good folks at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, so you have no excuse not to have a copy on your bookshelf!)

If you have a big budget build yourself a fully equipped blast shelter with HEPA filters. But even if you budget is austere, you should at least buy some potassium iodate (KI) tablets for thyroid protection. The thyroid gland is the most susceptible part of the human body to radiation. Thyroid damage or cancer can result even in a low level radiation event (such as what Western Europeans were exposed to when Chernobyl melted down in 1985). OBTW, I was TDY in West Germany at the time, and did not have KI available. I knew enough not to drink fresh milk, but I still felt very vulnerable.

Potassium iodate works by saturating the thyroid gland so that radioactive isotopes will not accumulate. (Thus minimizing thyroid damage.) Do not take KI until just after you have heard of a radioactive release upwind. Long term use of KI can actually cause thyroid damage! KI tablets are available from ReadyMadeResources.com and several other Internet vendors.

John & Abigail Adams on Survival Gardening

At times I hear from folks that are concerned about raising their own food during a WTSHTF situation. I have heard, it will be a tremendous amount of work, there will be no seed to put out, there will be no fertilizer to feed the plants, we’ll use up all the nutrients in the soil and will need to leave it lay fallow for a year and other concerns and worries.

If you don’t mind I’d like to address some of those issues. Abigail and I have been using our current garden since 1982. Over those 23 years we may have used a total of 200 lbs of commercial fertilizer on the garden. For instance last fall I worked in about 20 lbs of 12-12-12 before I broadcast the entire garden in wheat. Most years I do not use any commercial fertilizer at all but I thought it might help get the wheat off to a good start.

While we don’t use much commercial fertilizer we do give the garden a yearly addition of organic material. Either a couple of inches of manure or if that is not available at least 6” of leaves that we have raked from under the trees seems to do the job. This year we plowed down wheat planted in the fall to make “green manure.” All this organic material encourages and supports a nice colony of earthworms and night crawlers. These guests in turn work the organic material into the soil as they pass through, aerating the soil as they go on their merry way. As an example this year, our sweet corn is in excess of 9 feet tall, and many of the ears are 12 inches long. All this with a minimum of commercial fertilizer and never a fallow year.

Now on to the issue of finding seed. When I bought the seed wheat for our garden it came in a 50 pound bag. Half went on the garden the other half filled a sealed 5-gallon bucket. As this wheat was already covered with insecticide it should be viable for years. This fall I believe I’ll do the same but in either oats or spelt.

Another preparation that we make is to go to the different stores that sell garden seed and buy up the individual packages at 50% to 80% off. I then vacuum seal them, date and set them back for use “someday.” [JWR’s note: Store gardening seeds in your refrigerator. The germination rate will drop off with time, but old seed is better than no seed!] We live in a farming community and many of our close neighbors are grain farmers. I am sure that they would be willing to sell us either seed corn or ear corn that we could shell and plant. Now some will say that using a hybrid ear corn for seed is doomed to failure and will not produce. In my experience it may not produce as well as the original but it will indeed produce. So while we may not be able to run to the store to buy seed, there are ways to prepare or make do.

Heritage (or “Heirloom”/ open pollinated seeds) should be in everyone’s cupboard as these will produce the same plant, generation after generation, however we need to be remember that the hybrids were designed to either out produce, store better, be more insect or draught resistance or have more flavor than the original seed. My advice would be to use the hybrid seed the first generation, and then if you have open pollinated seeds plan to go 50-50 the next year. Just be certain to keep the different varieties separated so that the 2nd generation hybrids do not “pollute” the true bloods.

The point is… Go out and do it now, whatever it may be, while our failures are merely educational and our successes bring us satisfaction. Do not wait until the time has come that the difference between failure and success is a full tummy for your children and yourself.

Letter Re: Asian Avian Flu

Mr. Rawles-
Thanks for your comments on the avian flu. Just in case you missed it, there is a very interesting article in the Washington Post today about a renowned flu scientist and his thoughts on a possible pandemic. In his words, it is inevitable that one of these strains will mutate into humans and “blow up”. FYI, the current H5N1 strain has a 58% mortality rate in humans. Unfortunately registration with the Washington Post is required to view the article, but it is free.
– “Some Call Me Tim”

Two Letters Re: Sales Tax as a Criteria for Choosing Your Retreat Locale

Just saw your new blog posting on sales taxes in various states. Colorado’s overall sales tax is 2.9 percent, however our state allows locality taxes (called ‘Home Rule’), For instance: Denver city/county imposes a 3.5% tax in addition, it goes up to 4% for food/liquor that is for immediate consumption and 5.5% for rental cars. There are also special district taxes, like the Scientific and Cultural Facilities tax and the Regional Transportation tax. These taxes cross municipal boundaries as established by special election.

In Denver, for instance the overall tax rate is about 8 percent, 2.9 to the state, 3.5 to the city/county and the rest are special district taxes. A few rural areas do not have additional taxes and pay only 2.9% , but some counties bump that by a percent or two, as well as special tax districts assessments.

When buying major items for sales tax purposes, the rule is that unless they deliver it to you, you pay the rate where the store existed – no you can’t deliver it yourself. One of the few exceptions to this is your car, where you pay the rate of your address of record. I, for instance, have my retreat property in SW Colorado and use it for vehicle registration purposes.

So, it might be better to remove Colorado from the Very Low Sales Tax category as even if you do live in a 2.9 percent area, you’ll probably be paying the full rate at the store in the bigger cities.
– J. H. in Aurora, Colorado


States with no personal income taxes have begun to impose them in hidden forms, starting in Nevada. I don’t know if it is intentional or not, but the way Nevada has done it has managed to make everyone miss the fact that it now has an income tax, however hidden or indirect it may be. While there is no direct state income tax (in which the tax is withheld from individual paychecks, or personal filing is required,) the state has indirectly imposed a personal income tax in the form of a “payroll” tax, arguably imposed on employers, charged on the amount paid to all employees. However, this makes it a hidden income tax that is figured into the cost of hiring; as such, the pay rate to individual workers is lowered by that much. The effect is that workers take home the same amount of pay as if they had a “personal income tax” withheld from their checks, but without seeing any entries making the deduction visible on their pay stubs. Taxing has been described as “the art of plucking feathers from a goose without its knowledge.” For a state to put a personal income tax in place in a way that workers don’t see it directly coming from their checks is a masterful way of doing that very thing. But just because a tax is not seen doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. -“M.” in Nevada

Two Letters Re: Diesel Engine Vehicles

Hi Guys,
Even if those who are skeptical read your blog, they will come back for more. I am very impressed and moreover grateful!

Quick comment on G.O.O.D. Diesel Variants: You have pointed out the great benefits to Diesel power plants,…it is very important to know that you are looking at a SUBSTANTIAL weight increase on the front axle [versus gas engines]. This should be known not only for adjusting the way you execute a maneuver, but the huge disadvantage that you will have in soft, or bottomless soil, (i.e.- sand/mud). If not weighted sufficiently equally on both axles, you will find yourself spinning circles around the front end that has just dropped in. I recommend the widest tires you can fit on the front end to help out anyway possible. Also, diesels operate at a much lower RPM than gasoline engines. When stuck, Low Range or Low Gear will not sufficiently “clean out” the tread lugs. So [briefly] put it in High gear and let the sufficient torque spin the tires and work up a higher speed at the wheel if necessary to get “un-stuck.”

Forever Grateful, – The Wanderer

Mr. Rawles,
I would like to suggest a few links for anyone wanting to know more about Cummins engine equipped trucks. They are:




These links will give everyone a good feel for the differences in these trucks. To summarize them, the Cummins Turbo
Diesel engine placed in Dodge Ram trucks starting in the 1991 model year went through 4 phases to the present day.
Generation I engines were all 12-valve direct mechanical injection engines with a turbo charger. Generation II engines were
introduced when the body style changed in 1994. The Gen. II engines were essentially the same as the Gen I except the
injection pump was changed for higher output. Mid-way through the 1998 model year, Dodge changed to a 24-valve
electronically controlled engine (You can tell the difference by looking at the door-mounted data plates–and the distinctive sound of the engine.) These are the Gen III engines. The fuels system on the Gen III engines is weak due to a faulty transfer pump design causing premature failure of the injection pump. This is very expensive to replace. (I know from personal experience.) The engines changed once again in 2003 when the newest body style came out. These Gen IV engines are much quieter than their predecessors but they are also electronically controlled.

Transmissions in the Gen I and early Gen II trucks were mechanical, and many of the Cummins trucks had manual
transmissions. The Gen II trucks used a NV4500 5-speed manual transmission, and this tranny continued to be used
through the 2003 model year. Beginning in mid-2001 Dodge introduced the NV5600 6-speed manual behind their 24-valve high-output engines. These trannies can be retrofitted to the 12-valve trucks and offers a nice gear split with the extra gear. These manual transmissions feature a PTO access panel on the passenger side of the housing for running equipment if desired. The transfer case was a constant, the NV241HD manually-shifted transfer case. This t-case features a 2.72:1 low range, and coupled with the granny low of the transmission offers some really great [ low] crawl speeds for off-roading. The front axle in 4×4 models was typically the Dana 60 and the rear axle was the Dana 70 (single wheel 2500 models) or the Dana 80 (dual wheel 3500 models.) A limited slip rear axle was offered as an option.

Over the years, power levels steadily rose, and turbo chargers changed slightly, but all-in-all they are extremely reliable, very fuel efficient, and much sought after. Finding a 12-valve Cummins truck in decent condition is next to impossible in my area, and I imagine the same holds true elsewhere. – B.B. in Louisiana

Letter Re: Wind Generators

Hi James, First of all, chalk me up as another Patriots fan. It truly is the definitive work on preparing for just about anything. When I found out that you had started the blog, I was ecstatic!

I found this site on wind power today, and thought you might be interested. Scroll down about halfway and look for the section on home built wind power. They detail building an alternator from scratch, carving your own blades, and control circuitry. I don’t have a retreat or anything like it just yet (I’m stuck in the city with a 300-1000 mile bugout WTSHTF), but if I did [find a place] with good wind, I’d start looking here. Thanks again for all of the great information you’ve passed on through the years – Steve

Sales Tax as a Criteria for Choosing Your Retreat Locale

Sales tax is another important issue if you are setting up a retreat. This generally entails buying a lot of “big ticket” items, such as an AC/DC power generator, photovoltaics, tractors, 4WD vehicles, guns, ammunition, storage food, wood stoves, propane tanks, propane appliances, and so forth. Sales tax can be minimized if you buy via mail order, but that creates a paper trail, which IMO should be avoided. In some circumstances you can travel to an adjoining state with low (or no) sales tax to make major purchases. Keep a low profile when making major purchases–especially ammunition. Pay with cash and don’t leave your name or phone number.

NO Sales Tax:
Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon.

Very Low Sales Tax (4% or less):
Alabama, Georgia, Colorado (higher in some cities/counties), Hawaii, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Low Sales Tax (4.1% to 5%):
Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Moderate Sales tax (5.1% to 6%):
Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia.

High to Severe Sales tax (6.1% or higher):
California, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.

The State Line Game

Many folks have discovered how to play the state line jumping game: Living near a state line to take advantage of a lower tax or other advantage in one or more adjoining states.
For example, you can live in the Idaho panhandle (very low property tax, car registration, and car insurance), work in eastern Washington (no income tax), make your day-to-day purchases in Idaho (5% sales tax) and your major purchases (trucks, wood stoves, generators, gun vaults, appliances, et cetera) in Montana or Oregon–both of which have no sales tax.

Note: Many states assess a sales tax when you register a vehicle that is purchased out of state. This can often be avoided legally by keeping it registered out of state for at least one year before taking it back to your high tax state.

Another possibility is to live and work in southern Washington (no income tax and fairly low property taxes), but shop in Oregon—where there is a high property tax but no sales tax.

See: http://www.taxadmin.org/fta/rate/ind_inc.html for detailed information on the tax rates in various states.

I should add that these discussions skirt around a more core issue: the scale of government in each state. Some states have big, pretentious, intrusive governments that love to get involved in every aspect of your life. My advice is to avoid living in any of these Nanny States. As time goes on, they are only going to get worse.

The bottom line: If you live in a state with severe taxes, then vote with your feet!

Letter from Swampthing Re: Alan T. Hagan’s Prudent Food Storage Q&A Web Page

Alan T. Hagan has written for Backwoods Home magazine and a couple of other periodicals, and has written a book. He is a genuinely a nice guy who loves to spread the word about preparedness. He’s very approachable and may make a good candidate for your Profiles page.

See: http://athagan.members.atlantic.net/PFSFAQ/PFSFAQ-1.html

Just passing it on. Thanks for the mention,

– Johnny a.k.a. swampthing

JWR’s Reply: Mr. Hagan has a great reputation in preparedness circles, and deservedly so. His Q&A on food storage is a veritable standard reference.

Three Letters Re: Self Winding Watches–Reviews and Sources:

Self-winding watches–I had one of the Russian self winders and it was built like a T-34 tank. You really can’t go wrong with one. Higher-end watches, like Seiko, etc. are available from places like Sportsman’s Guide, Overstock.com, and E-Bay. Regards, – “Doug Carlton”

Another reader, Jeff, writes:
These things are built like a tank. You can find models from $79 to about $250. Here is a typical model. Excellent in every way and new production. Something to consider. – Jeff

The blog is great! and your book was a valuable purchase many years ago. I am a watch collector and seller, for many years, and have owned & used …a BUNCH!
In evaluating a long-term need, and factoring in some use in rugged circumstances, I would highly recommend a better quality timepiece. The brands you mentioned, were made cheaply and sold cheaply. They have little water resistance, cheap plastic crystals, and mechanisms not made for sustained abuse – such as exposure to elements, or certainly not a combat environment. There are some excellent alternatives, at a reasonable cost. A Swiss made movement is highly recommended, in a stainless steel case, with a sapphire crystal, and screwdown crown. Examples of personal recommendation for a “best value” would be (see these current eBay auctions) :



I have bought items from Howard and he is a class act, though several other sources are available.

Tritium hands and markers, sapphire crystal and a robust waterproof case down to 330 feet or more, all for in the $300-400 range. Readers might also consider other excellent Swiss brands such as Sandoz, Eterna, Nivada, Aquastar, Enicar, Vulcain and more, are reasonable and have most of the characteristics available for long-term rugged use. I would recommend “diver” style cases, with superior water resistance and sapphire or mineral glass crystals and tritium or super luminova.

Don’t buy….repeat do NOT buy Quartz watches…most watches require specific tools to open properly and replace a battery…a quartz is not a serious survival watch, any where, any time. Don’t be tempted by the ridiculously over-priced “special forces, commando, seal etc” junk asian watches!

Also consider a manual wind watch with some/all of the characteristics – a la a bolt action versus automatic rifles, a manual wind watch has less to go wrong. Again, Swiss only. For those who can upgrade, an Omega is probably, dollar-for-dollar, a best buy. I have owned many Rolexes, and they are great, but aren’t any tougher, or work much better than a Ollech & Wajs (O&W), as above. Rolex movements are all “chronometers”, meaning they have to be tested to run +- 2 seconds a day. The others mentioned will run +-20 seconds a day, often better. Rolex and other upscale brands, have all their movements “super tuned” and the costs reflect that.

To service every few years, an O&W, Vulcain etc would be @ $50. A full Rolex service is @$200. I wouldn’t spend a penny on the cheap Russian watches. As important as time keeping & awareness is and certainly will be in bad times, this is not an area I would trust to a brass plated case with poor water resistance, and questionable time-keeping expectations.

My personal out-the-door-with-hellhounds-on-my-trail watch, is a Swiss manual wind dive alarm, good to 1000 feet water depth, sapphire crystal, and heavy steel band. The alarm can be a valuable feature when under stress, and able to only grab bits of sleep, and other circumstances. – “Wound up in Texas”

Letter Re: G.O.O.D. Vehicle Advice

Mr. Rawles:
In this article you state that “…large crash bars in the front, a removable cable cutter post that is as tall as your truck’s cab,” Do you mean BRUSH GUARDS, because I cannot find any large crash bars! Can you help?

JWR’s Reply:
To my way of thinking, a proper “crash bar” for a truck is just a very heavy duty bumper + brush guard with the addition of an extra piece of heavy steel stock welded on vertically (parallel with the radiator) in the center of the brush guard. It should extend from the bottom of the brush guard (or grille trim, whichever is lower) to a height where its top end is parallel with the top of your truck’s hood. (BTW, I don’t recommend extending anything below your front grille trim, because it would degrade the “approach angle” of you truck. That could cause a nasty hang up when crossing narrow gullies off road.) A piece of very heavy gauge (Schedule 80) 4″ diameter pipe works fine as the actual impact-dealing/bearing “crash bar”. (So does a section of railroad track, but IMHO that is a bit too obvious for pre-TEOTWAWKI times.) Your local welding shop should be able to handle the welding mod for you. OBTW, I believe that the cable cutter should be removable (bolted on rather than welded on), because, again, they look incongruous under pre-TEOTWAWKI circumstances.)