“What should I buy?” THAT is a question asked on forums and pages across the prepper-net. The answers are so numerous, and in many cases so hotly contested, that any effort to define the perfect firearm for a given set of scenarios is doomed to failure. I won’t even try it. What I will do is share with you what my family and friends have chosen to acquire, and some reasons for those choices. I’ll even write about one little cutie that I think might be a good choice, and may even add. This site is not one of those survivalist sites that focuses heavily on firearms. I don’t believe it is necessary. While firearm applications have their place in many prepper scenarios, they are not such a difficult thing to “get right”, as many screes will have you believe. The keys to selection are Philosophy, Fit and Funds.
What are Philosophy, Fit and Funds?
Funds are your cash reserves. Simply put, once you have decided on Philosophy and Fit, your budget determines how well you can fulfill the them. You need cash to do just about any significant prepping purchases. Decide how much you can afford to spend, and stay with it. Your one time expenses will be the firearm, it’s cleaning kit and any accessories you might desire, such as scopes, covers, safes and bags, and hearing and eye protection. Your recurring expenses will be ammunition, cleaning supplies, and any fees associated with range time or club membership dues.
Philosophy is the tricky item. Wrapped up in this aspect of firearms selection is the entirety of weapon types vs. scenarios. I break down a firearm inventory into three generic categories: handguns, rifles and shotguns. Each has a designed application, and secondary uses. Initially, one or the other will appeal to you. Even experienced shooters will allow their perception to engage their beliefs, and thus adapt to the possibilities presented by a new weapon on the market, or to a new twist on an old favorite. Each is a tool, and a tool is meant to make a task easier. How you apply these tools to the tasks are what you need to consider. What you expect to face and how you expect to deal with it will eventually drive your philosophy. Keep in mind that your philosophy will change over time, so don’t get to keyed up over having it carved in stone before you test and buy.
Fit is how I describe the ergonomics and operability of a particular firearm. It has to fit you in its intended role. A handgun must feel natural in your hand. A rifle or shotgun must work with your body’s build… your arms, shoulders and neck. A weapon that is uncomfortable to manipulate will create a resentment within you, and that is dangerous in a defensive situation. The controls (safety, slide, bolt, charge handle, magazine release, lever, pump, sights) should be such that your body type can work them with natural motions. As much as possible, certain functions should be easy to reach and operate. Even better, is one-handed operation. Along with ease of use is recoil. While we can be trained to handle recoil in various weapons, going with the biggest and baddest will stretch your natural ability to the point where you are fighting the firearm as much as the bad guy, or the animal you are hunting. It is a wise decision to accept that there are natural limitations to be observed. A very small woman may handle a .380 or 9mm hand gun just fine, but have a problem with a .357 or .45ACP. Your body type is absolutely the first thing to consider, and the last thing you want to fight.
I do have a driving philosophy, or set of reasons, for each weapon I own. The first characteristic for each of the three categories is caliber. I decided on caliber before configuration because I knew my selection would be limited to popularly available ammunition. Restricting my choices to the major commercial calibers was an easy decision. In scenarios where ammunition is hard to locate, there will be some willing to barter, and the more available to barter, the better.
Of the major calibers available for each weapon, I narrowed the choice down by considering these characteristics.
- selection of various bullet configurations within the caliber
- availability at any given point of sale
- recoil (in general)
- reloading ease (component availability)
For rifles, I decided that choosing a commonly available caliber with good penetration is a better decision than making a selection based on weight. I won’t be looking to carry 300 rounds and I’m not likely to be involved with door-to-door combat. If a rifle comes into it, I suspect there will be plenty of reasons to desire penetration as opposed to a light ammunition load. I decided that the best round to take advantage of the compromises I placed upon myself is the 7.62×51, whose civilian counterpart is the .308 Winchester. This round is commonly available in commercial outlets and in military surplus channels. As a hunting round, it is very capable. Penetration capabilities are well known, and most people can handle the recoil in a semi-automatic without much trouble. In a bolt-action platform, it makes for a great hunting round, and a few shots from such a rifle will not hurt you.
A second rifle caliber choice is the venerable .22 Long Rifle. “22s” are so common as to be almost a requirement of ownership among riflemen. The ammunition for it is everywhere, and comes in all manner of weights and power loads. There are even sub-sonic rounds designed for quiet hunting. The .22 fits many prepper scenario requirements, and can be a very useful tool for hunting, pest control, defense (under the right conditions) and one other important purpose – practice. With a .22 rifle configured similarly to your full-powered rifle, you can practice your aiming and shooting techniques on the cheap. Instead of spending large sums of cash on centerfire ammunition, you can save a lot by practicing with your rimfire rifle. The techniques, breathing, sight picture, trigger control, slings and positions are portable to other rifles. Using the .22 as a practice tool will also save you some of the effects of larger caliber recoil and noise. ALWAYS, use hearing and eye protection.
For a hand gun, I chose the .40 SW. This round has the well documented ability to penetrate common urban barriers, expend energy within the target by not pushing clean through it, and to do this without heavy recoil. The .45ACP is a consideration due to its recoil characteristic of “pushing” rather than “snapping”. It may replace what we use in the future. As for now, the commonly available .40 does the job. If we had to go down on the scale, we would stop at the 9mm, and go no lower. Another reason for the .40 choice is magazine capacity. It boasts more power than the 9mm, and more rounds in the mag than all but the most expensive .45 weapons. As a compromise between capacity and power, it works well.
Our shotgun choice is the Remington 870 in 12 gauge. For us, choosing was easy, since the only two shotguns we would consider were based on the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 platforms. Equally capable in our experience and reading, the choice between the two came down to a review of the safeties on each. We have a natural preference for the traditional cross bolt safety, near the trigger. Also, we read about the safety on some Mossies coming loose from bad installation or recoil. Of the available configurations, we chose an 870 in the “security” model, with an extended magazine.
Shotgun 12 gauge ammunition is so widely varied that covering it completely is a huge topic in itself. For defensive purposes, we settled on 00 buck, 15 pellets per casing. Many people promote #4 shot, but it has shown to be unpredictable in its stopping power. The argument that it won’t penetrate walls, threatening occupants of the house, has failed upon review. It will penetrate – sometimes. Rather than trying to walk a thin line between effectiveness and “safety”, we chose to go with the idea that the bad guy must lose, and in doing so, the rest of us are then safe. Penetration of 00 buck after dealing with the bad guy is not as great as #4 in a miss. So, as with anything, use the right tool and use it well. In this case, well placed and effective ammunition.
The second characteristic for the three classes of weapons is reliability. I don’t want a failure when I most need it to work. Each owner needs to qualify what “reliability” is, and in what areas. For me, it must go bang each time I pull the trigger. It must not fall apart, crack, jam or burn me. It should function with lower quality ammunition. Repair parts need to be available and affordable. If it is needed to operate without the usual maintenance having been performed, then it should do so. The warranty offered needs to reflect the manufacturer’s confidence in its product.
Boiling down the numerous offerings is not too difficult. You can visit the firearms forums and read till your eyes fall out, or you can ask owners of different weapons. Contrary to what some say, speaking with salesmen in gun shops is another good source. Don’t take one man’s word. Inquire of many. The larger shops have a greater selection, and most likely a larger set of opinions (salesmen) to consult. I’ve found that even within one large store, there are advocates of differing lines of firearms for sale.
When you have a few possibilities in which you feel confident, rent them (handguns). Try them out. Check their feel, recoil, heft and whether not the sights line up naturally for you. Your handgun can fill many different roles for you, so be sure it seems as if it is an extension of your body and eye. The easier it is for you operate, the more satisfaction you will receive from it, and the greater your confidence will be. All features need to be within reach of the finger designated to operate them. Many semi-automatics are difficult for a small hands to chamber. Working the slide against a powerful return spring, requiring a smaller shooter to manipulate it via a death grip, is not something easily overcome. The magazine release should not require both hands to depress.
Renting a rifle or shotgun is more problematic, but you can still get a feel for them by taking your time handling them at the gun shop. Check out the weight. How well does it conform to your body when lining up the sights? Forget about what Jack Hammer says about it. What does it do for you? Do the controls makes sense to you and your physical abilities? Can you carry the thing with one hand? Will reloading it require a class, or just a simple set of motions easy to memorize? How easy is it to take apart and clean? If you foresee mounting a scope on it, is that requirement easy to fulfill?
If I were to suggest semi-automatic 7.62 – .308 rifles for the reader to review, they would be:
Bolt action .308s of all the major manufacturers will do fine, but if you can afford the Remington 700, you might be surprised to know that it is the basis for most SWAT team platforms, and a few variations of military designs.
For the .22LR, the options are much shorter:
- Marlin 795, 70 or 60 (tubular magazine)
- Ruger 10-22
I mentioned earlier that I’m thinking about a new addition. The M1 Garand is an 8-shot, 30.06 caliber semi-automatic rifle of the WWII era. It is big and somewhat heavy. It is also reliable, and just plain neat to shoot. When understood properly, it can be used to great effect. I look at it as an inexpensive way to own a piece of history that can readily put food on the table. The best place to buy them is at the Civilian Marksmanship Program. CMP has certain requirements prior to purchase, but what you get in return is a rifle of certified quality, depending on grade. Each grade is clearly explained at their site.
Develop a Philosophy, check its Fit to you and your life, and stay within a reasonable budget. After all this though, you must practice. If you have no training in firearm safety, you must get it. Learn the proper way to store, carry, operate and clean your weapon. Following on this, you must practice. Without practice, regular practice, you will not be able to maintain the familiarity critical to effective operation. Remember that your weapons needs to be so familiar to you as to dispel any fear, flinching or lack of confidence. A well trained shooter is a safe shooter.
In closing, I’ll leave you with an abbreviated rule set for safe operation. This is what I start out with before instructing anyone in the use of firearms. It is a minial rule set, designed to be easy to remember, and effective in usage.
- Every gun is LOADED, even when unloaded. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
- Never point the weapon at anything or anyone you are not ready to destroy.
- No gun is safe, even with a safety. Even so, do not remove the safety until you are ready to shoot.
- Never place your finger upon the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
There are many more rules to burn into your head, but these stand as a good start, and for the new shooter, reminders that firearms are powerful tools that must be respected if they are to be used safely and responsibly.