I recently “rediscovered” the late Mel Tappan’s book Survival Guns. I remember reading his articles in Guns and Ammo and Soldier of Fortune back in the ’60s and ’70s, and I had a copy of Survival Guns when I was stationed in Germany as a small arms repairman in the mid ’70s. I left that copy in the unit’s common library when I PCS’d back to the world and had not thought about it until lately when I found a reprint available on Amazon.
A lot of writers have shared their thoughts about what should constitute a survival battery. JWR, for one, has suggestions in his list of lists, available on this website. His novels also present good ideas about what does and does not work for in TEOTWAWKI situations as do his nonfiction books How to Survive the End of the World As We Know It and Tools for Survival.
While I am not anywhere near the class of these writers, I still want to share my thoughts on different survival batteries, based on today’s markets and availability. Here’s a little about me. I have been a gun nut since the mid-1960s and served as a 45B small arms repairman on active duty in Germany, supporting everything from 1911s to four deuce mortars. I have been a member of various shooting teams and a competitive shooter and firearms instructor since 1975, and I am currently an NRA certified instructor. I am a combat veteran and have (depending on how the Army chooses to count it at the moment) either 18, 23, or 32 years of service. I am also a bargain hunter, which is a bad combination for a gun nut, and have accumulated far too many guns over time, I think I am finally getting to the point where I can control this and focus my “collecting” activities a bit more and have started to sell some of the guns I haven’t shot for a while (or maybe ever). Some of them have been gathering dust in my safe since I stocked up prior to Y2K.
Getting back to Mel Tappan, after re-reading Survival Guns I was pleasantly surprised to note how relevant it still is forty plus years later. I would recommend it as a great resource to anyone seriously interested in prepping. He has chapters comparing various rifles, handguns, and shotguns, plus one on accessories, and others. He also makes recommendations for the contents of several different survival batteries for different groups of preppers and includes descriptions of the survival batteries of several well-known authorities on the subject, including Col Jeff Cooper.
Now as much as I like Tappan’s recommendations, the firearms world has changed quite a bit since he wrote his book and made his suggestions for survival batteries. I’m not saying that the batteries he recommends would not serve today, but some of the guns he suggests, such as the High Standard model 10b shotgun, the Beretta BM59 battle rifle, and the Colt Python revolver, have become high priced collector’s items that are no longer manufactured. Other guns he recommends have been superseded (at least in my mind) by higher quality, more accurate, less expensive alternatives. Additionally, the availability of stainless steel firearms, corrosion resistant factory finishes, and improvements in quality of factory guns have made a number of his suggestions for such things as aftermarket finishes or custom rifles superfluous. These are not bad ideas; they are just not as high a priority as they were in the 1970s. More to the point, there are entire categories of guns, such as polymer framed pistols and highly accessorizable AR15 and AR 10 rifles, that have come into existence since the late 1960s/early 1970s.
The one place I disagree with Tappan is his recommendation of combination guns, such as the Savage 24 series. I have owned a number of these types of guns, which usually consist of a rifle barrel mounted above a shotgun barrel. I have found them clumsier to handle than a single shot shotgun and less accurate than a single shot rifle. The argument for these guns is that you have both a rifle and a shotgun available to you just by carrying one gun. Used Savage 24s sell for $500 to $600 in my area of the country, which can be three times the combined cost of both an inexpensive .22 rifle and a single shot shotgun; I just can’t justify it. That said, if it works for you and you believe the premium is worth it, then go ahead and add one to your battery. I think a good alternative is a Rossi three barrel set. I have one with.22, .243 and 20ga barrels that cost me $180 new on sale.
It would not be fair use to re-print Tappan’s lists and then post changes, so I will just suggest my ideas. I’ll split the list between an everyday battery and a more “social” battery, and will present three different cost levels– one for the thrifty person, like me, on a tight budget; a mid-price list; and a “money is no object” list. I’m not going to focus on what to carry as a limited battery during a bug out or what to keep in your car or truck as a part of a get home bag. Rather, I will focus on what should make up the battery at your retreat or wherever you choose to reside after TEOTWAWKI.
I will talk about ammunition for break in, but I will not get into amounts you should keep for TEOTWAWKI. JWR has recommended ammunition quantities, and I can’t really think of anything you would want to do differently, except buy more after the rest of your preps are taken care of. Just because of the uses they will be put to, you will probably not need as much ammunition for the everyday battery as you will for the social battery.
Both batteries will be sized for a group of four people with varying levels of skills, dedication to shooting and practice, and different builds. The everyday battery will provide basic self-defense against two- and four-legged critters and hunting capabilities. The idea is that these are the guns you will need for everyday use and will always have either with you or near at hand when you are doing chores or other activities. Can you buy a decent battery for less? Yes. However, some of the parameters I am trying to cover include reliability and interoperability.
I am also not going to specify special high powered guns for “grizzly country”, because in a post SHTF world I believe that there will be plenty of feral hogs and cattle roaming around that could be even deadlier than grizzlies, since they won’t fear humans. Powerful “grizzly guns” will be needed just as much in Iowa, which has no native bears as they will be in Alaska, Canada, or the rest of grizzly country.
Let’s start with accessories and practice. You should have at least one holster for each handgun and more if you will be using alternate forms of carry based on what your activity or on temperature and weather. All of your rifles and shotguns should have slings. This will make it less likely that you will leave them somewhere else, like in a truck or at your house, when you need them. The rifles should have shooting slings, while the shotguns should have carrying slings. Even if you use a bipod or shooting sticks for rifle shooting, you should get training and practice shooting a rifle with a sling. The Appleseed foundation offers good low cost training, including proper use of the sling. Col Jeff Cooper’s book The Art of the Rifle is also a great source on use of slings and proper techniques. As to practice, try to shoot your rifle and pistol at least once a month now with a minimum of 100 rounds. Practice now, before TEOTWAWKI, so you can replace the ammunition you use up. Your practices should be more than just launching rounds downrange as quickly as you can pull the trigger. They should be focused on specific skills. Google searches will return quite a few practice drills from reliable sources.
Other accessories you will need include magazine and ammunition pouches, cleaning kits and supplies, and gun cases. Reloading is something you should look into. If you don’t know much about it, then talk to a knowledgeable salesperson (be sure they really are knowledgeable) at a gun store or large sporting goods retailer like Cabelas, Scheels, Bass Pro, et cetera. You can also take a reloading class from an NRA certified reloading instructor or join a local gun club and learn from fellow members. We could spend a lot of time talking about accessories and reloading, but that is not really the focus of this article. One important thing that I believe most people forget about or don’t stock in sufficient quantities are spare parts. For some guns like AR15s and 1911s, you can purchase pre-packaged repair parts kits. For others, you may need to order part by part from a company like Brownells or Midway. If you do go with Brownells, then talk to one of their technicians and get their recommendations about what parts to stock.
The next installment will begin the recommendations for what should make up a battery.