On to the firearms batteries. I am a big fan of used guns. Most of the time, a used gun has not been shot much and you can pick it up for a significant savings over a new one. Right now is a great time to pick up trade-in police department handguns. Police trade-ins make an especially good deal for the person who is buying a gun to use rather than to show off. Even though the finish may be worn and the grips in need of replacement, they may only have been shot 100 rounds per year at annual qualification. Even in the more highly trained departments, unless the individual officer is interested in additional training, the handguns are probably shot less than 1000 rounds per year. Please see this letter I wrote to SurvivalBlog with more information about police trade-ins.
Used guns can also represent false savings, if you are not careful. A gun that is no longer manufactured or one that is a cheap import can end up costing you more over the life of your ownership than you save in initial prices, due to having to replace worn out parts (or the whole gun) when the spare parts are not readily available and may be of questionable quantity. Some guns, such as AR15s in the current market, can actually end up selling for more used than new. I can’t explain why, unless it is an example of something I vaguely remember from economics class– the concept of imperfect information.
One thing about used guns, unless you are fairly confident of the gun’s history, is that you should buy a complete spring set from someone like Wolff springs. The sets are usually around $30. If you don’t have the mechanical ability to replace them yourself, a gunsmith should be able to do so for a minimal charge. If you ask nicely, maybe he or she would even let you watch and learn how to do it.
Once you buy a firearm, you need to take it out and shoot it. I put a minimum of 200 rounds through a used semi-auto pistol (150 ball and 50 defense rounds) before I am convinced it is reliable. With a new semi-auto pistol, I up the number to 500 rounds of ball and 100 rounds of defense ammo. In a used revolver, I put 100 rounds through and a new revolver 200 rounds. I also run 500 rounds through a new or used semi-auto rifle before I would trust my life to it, and I usually run at least 100 rounds through a shotgun, new or used. If anything is going to break, I want it to happen early so that I can get it fixed right away before it can cause a situation to go south.
One more thing that I want to acknowledge but not address here is defensive handgun caliber choices. I firmly believe that there is no significant real world difference between the 9mm, the .40 S&W, and the .45 acp. While one may have a slight edge in performance, another might have an edge in shootablity and magazine capacity. Another might be the best of both worlds. I believe there is no way to prove that one caliber is better than the other. Please see this article I wrote for SurvivalBlog, if you care to see more of my opinion. The great caliber debate reminds me of one of my drill sergeants who said that opinions are like noses (he didn’t really say noses, but let’s keep this G-rated); everyone has one, no two are the same, and everyone is convinced that theirs is better than anyone else’s.
Your survival battery should be reliable both in function and for the long term. A quality firearm should last beyond your lifetime. I competed in several three-gun competitions last year, and for fun I used some of the older guns in my safe in one of them. The age of the rifle, revolver, and shotgun added up to a combined 249 years. (The semi-auto rifle alone was 108 years old.) They all worked flawlessly and although I finished lower than usual, just below the 50% mark, I still finished ahead of about 150 other shooters armed with the latest and greatest. The guns in your multi-person battery should also share a degree of commonality both for training purposes and to minimize the spare parts you need to keep in inventory.
Low Cost Everyday Battery
The low cost everyday battery should consist of a centerfire handgun that you will carry with you every day. It should be powerful enough to bag a deer or deal with something larger and aggressive. It should also have a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a centerfire rifle, and a .22 rifle. Optional guns should include a .22 semi auto pistol and an easily concealed handgun for concealed carry. The battery should be able to serve to defend yourself against two-legged aggressors, although that will not be its primary purpose.
My recommendations for the low cost everyday battery are:
- Four Ruger Super Blackhawk 44 mag (also shoots 44 special), available used for $350. You can find grip options to fit small to extra-large hands. Carry it in a cross chest holster, as it is large and heavy.
- Four 12 ga pump shotguns– Remington 870s with slug and bird barrels, new for $350 (with aftermarket slug barrel). Be sure to pick up an assortment of choke tubes, too.
- Two Remington 700 ADL in .308 or 30-06 with iron sights. These can be had new for $350. Buy a base level Leupold or Burris 3×9 power scope (both with lifetime warranties which would be good until TSHTF) for $200 (shared)
- Two Remington 597 22 rifles new $135 (shared)
Optional guns include:
- Two Ruger 22-45 .22 semi auto pistol available new for $290 (shared) Go with new, as used does not save much and a used .22 semi auto may have fired tens of thousands of rounds (back when .22 ammo was more available).
- Two Smith and Wesson 642 .38spl without lock $350 new. Used only saves you about $25, and you don’t get the warranty. (shared)
- One or two .177 or 22 caliber suppressed pellet rifles with built-in suppressors to use on small game. They, even the more famous name manufacturers, are almost all made in China. $100 new (shared). The.177 rifle has a faster pellet, the .22 rifle a slightly heavier pellet, so choosing between the two are a toss-up in my mind for headshots on small game.
This puts the total for the four person everyday battery at $4,170 or $1,043 per person for the recommended and $5,650 or $1,413 per person if you include the optional guns. You could make some substitutions depending on your preferences. For example, the Glock 21 in 45acp would be marginal for bear or feral cows; the Glock 20 in 10mm would be a better option. If you went with the large frame Glocks or similar guns, which are available used for about the same price as used Super Blackhawks, then they would also serve for the Social battery, saving money.
Comments: It may take a bit of shopping to find these guns at these prices, but it is not impossible. If you are really into bargain hunting, you can beat all these prices significantly. For example, I bought a Super Blackhawk for $225 at a pawn shop and a Stainless Blackhawk in 45 colt for $250 at an auction.
I am a big Remington 870 fan. However, the Mossberg 500 would be a good choice, too, if you prefer that brand. While you can find older 12ga pumps from second tier manufactures as low as $100 or new Turkish and Chinese import pumps for as low as $150, the Remingtons and Mossbergs are reliable. They are out there in the millions and have tons of accessories available for them. Based on personal experience, I would avoid used Mossberg 500s unless they are really inexpensive (like under $150), because most of the used 500s I have bought or looked at over the years have been shot so much that they have a number of worn out parts that need to be replaced, especially the plastic safety button which Mossberg will not sell you; they want you to ship the gun in to them.
You may ask “What about the 20ga for smaller framed shooters instead of the 12ga?” Lower powered 12ga rounds such as AA shells or reduced recoil buckshot or slugs really don’t recoil any more than a 20ga, and they have a more effective shot column. Just be sure to get a stock of an appropriate length, such as a youth stock or an aftermarket AR-15 style collapsible stock.
The Social Battery
It should be able to equip four people for defense against bad guys. I am not spec’ing out a go-to-war battery, as that gets more into the realm of the paramilitary than prepping, so keep that in mind as you read through the recommendations. Now the best option will be to avoid confrontation, but if that is impossible you need to be prepared to meet aggression with overwhelming force. Each member of the team will need a service sized handgun and a rifle in suitable calibers and of course you will need to be sure to stock spare parts.
The slug barrel equipped shotguns can pull double duty for social purposes. You may want to consider folding or collapsible stocks for moving around in tight quarters and also mounting a flashlight.
For the social additions to the budget battery, I would go with the following:
- Four used police trade Smith and Wesson M&Ps in .40 S&W available for $325 with three magazines. New M&Ps at $399 are also a good choice.
- Four new Ruger AR 5.56 rifles in 5.56mm. I would not recommend optical sights, as the ones under $200 will probably only last a year with a lot of use, and the ones over $200 take it out of the budget category and also probably will only last a year or so. Instead learn how to use iron sights and practice with them. The Ruger 556 should run you $630.
The total for the Social battery comes to $3,820 or $955 per person. Polymer guns have been around since the 1970s and are still going strong. My HK VP70 manufactured in 1975 still shoots fine (although it is an odd design). One of my Glocks is a 1984 model with over 1000 rounds per year through it. I still compete with it. A well-known gun writer has documented over 100,000 rounds in his Glock. As much as I would like to recommend Glocks as a part of this budget battery, the used ones you are most likely to find are older generation guns that do not have adjustable back straps to accommodate folks with different sizes of hand. That is why I am recommending the M&P. I suggest getting it in .40 because of the large number of police trades in the market right now. The Bosnian manufactured Springfield XD family is another option. I have owned one, and they are good guns. I just have a problem with Springfield raising the price by a couple hundred dollars years ago after they took over importing them and changed the name from the HS2000 to the XD9.
If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of polymer guns, then go with a low cost 1911 from Armscor. They are a Philippine company that has been around for 100 years and makes 1911s under their own name and for a lot of other importers’ brands, such as Rock Island Armory, STI, Cimarron, Charles Daly, and Auto Ordnance. They make huge quantiles of 1911s each year and are ISO 9001 certified, assuring quality. You can find them starting at $390. Personally, I like 1911s, but I think they require more training and practice to use than modern DAO handguns. 1911s do have the advantage of a large selection of aftermarket parts and accessories available.
As to the AR 15 MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle), today everyone makes AR15s and you can find them in the market as low as $499. Prices go up and down. Around Christmas 2014 you could snatch up a Bushmaster Carbon 15 for $350 after rebate with other decent ARs going for $400. Although the less expensive ARs will probably work fine, remember they are built with parts from whoever the lowest bidder is at the moment. I believe that spending a bit more for a quality manufacturer, like Ruger, is worth it for a gun that needs to last you for years.
In years past, I would also have suggested at least one AK47 variant or even an SKS as optional, just because of the availability of ammunition for them. I was surprised to note in Tappan’s book that Jeff Cooper even recommended a rifle in “30 Russian short”, but the days of the $300 AK and $100 SKS are over, as are the days of the $100 case of 7.62×39 or 5.45×39. The Remington 700s will work if you need to reach out and touch someone or shoot through a small tree, but I don’t believe preppers will really need tactical precision rifles. Please see my SurvivalBlog article on sniper rifles for preppers if you are interested in more on preppers and sniping.
The next installment will look at the mid-level and high end batteries.