29 March 2011

Practical Survival Firearms Pt 1 of 3

 This is the first of a 3-part series from a section of my book, "Dying is Not an Option!" It is information that I think should be shared now, at the threshold of the most desperate times this country has ever known.

By Cope Reynolds

In today’s troubled world, and with the threat of things becoming even more troubled, the subject of what firearms are best for particular situations comes up with monotonous regularity. In this article I will weigh the pros and cons of different weapons, ammunition, sighting devices, storage techniques, and a few miscellaneous subjects. This is not intended to be all-inclusive, or the “word of law.” My opinions and methods of doing things come from listening with an open mind, experimenting without fear of failure, and the experience of over 50 years of hunting, plinking, competition shooting, reloading, and living in the Southwest--where it is possible to do these things whenever the mood strikes. I hope to be able to save the new shooter/survivalist the expense and inconvenience of learning things the hard way, and maybe offer the experienced shooter an idea or two he hasn’t thought of.


The subject of what is the best survival weapon has created some intense debates over the years, often resulting in fist fights, best friends splitting up, divorces, sabotage, or relocation. It really doesn’t have to be that way. One of the problems is that everyone has a different definition of “survival.” To some, it means an end-of-the-world scenario (as in the movie “Mad Max”) where things just can’t get any worse. For such an unlikely event, one would want to choose a gun that never needs repairs or spare parts, and for which there is an unlimited supply of ammo available. For others, survival means constant foraging for food while having to battle foreign troops of the New World Order on a regular basis. In such a case, one would want a gun of the same caliber and type as one’s opponents. This would make it easier to “liberate” needed ammo and magazines. Still others feel that survival entails avoiding detection, gathering food, and repelling unwanted guests.
The “Mad Max” scenario is unlikely (though not impossible) in our lifetime. And by the time we get to that point, you’d probably not have the same weapon you started with anyway. The “New World Order” scenario has less to do with survival than combat. A true survival situation would, in my opinion, require a somewhat different kind of rifle than that which would be used primarily for combat. The “avoiding/foraging/repelling” scenario is not only the most likely, but is already a way of life for some.
What I’d consider to be a true survival situation might be caused by such things as getting lost or injured in the wild, car wrecks or plane crashes in remote areas, or a social and/or financial collapse that forces us to hunt for food and protect our families from predators and looters. For purposes of this article, let’s assume that these possibilities are what we’re primarily concerned with.


There’s no way we can discuss every scenario that may arise, but let’s try to cover some that are most likely, and the rifles and ammunition combinations that are best suited to them.

When someone has to survive an unscheduled stay in the wild, the three most important things that a rifle can accomplish for him (or her) are signaling, defense, and harvesting small-to-medium game for food. For food, you need to consider the areas you’ll most likely be traveling in, and what kind of game is around. A rifle chambered for the .22LR will probably do 90% of anything you will need to do in the U.S. This caliber has taken--and will continue to take--deer, though for this purpose it is a very poor choice. However, the lowly .22 is a fine choice for small game, requiring lightweight, inexpensive ammo and causing minimal damage to the meat. The sharp crack and high decibel level of the .22 also makes it fairly good for signaling.
While not the best choice for defense, the .22 makes a formidable weapon in the hands of a calm, cool, collected marksman. If you’re traveling and not really expecting trouble, but want to have something available “just in case,” you might consider one of the take-down models such as the Marlin 70SS, or a copy of the old Charter AR-7. They’re light, compact, and relatively inexpensive. Ruger, Marlin, Remington, and others all make fine .22 rifles in semi-auto, bolt, pump, lever, and single-shot actions. Another good choice that offers something for big and small game and defense is the Savage 24-F or 24-V. This combination gun offers the shooter the versatility of having a rifle and a shotgun in the same easy-to-carry package. The rifle barrel is on top and is either currently, or has been, offered in a number of different calibers, including .22LR, .22 Magnum, .22 Hornet, .222, .223 and .30-30. Depending on the model, the shotgun portion can be had in .410, 20, or 12 gauge. The newer 12 gauge version offers interchangeable choke tubes.

Another popular combination is the carbine and handgun that use the same cartridge. This is particularly appealing to those who carry both a sidearm and a rifle and wish to avoid the weight and confusion of carrying two kinds of ammunition. The semi-auto rifle versions that shoot 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP do not offer much of an advantage over their handgun counterparts in terms of velocity or energy, but do provide a longer sight radius, thus improving accuracy. However, the survivalist who is armed with one of the lever action carbines chambered for the .357, .41, or .44 Magnum, or the .45LC cartridges, paired with one of their handgun counterparts, is indeed very well armed and prepared for most anything he may get himself into. In my opinion, the .357 is the best option given the scenarios we’re considering here (unless you happen to be in big bear country) due to ammo availability, light recoil, and fairly mild muzzle blast--though a .357 Mag handgun still has an earcrushing blast. Since the .357 carbine will shoot most anything that the .357 revolver will, including .38 Special, you should never have any ammo-feed problems.

A good rifleman should rarely feel undergunned with a lever action in a firefight. It’s a very fast-handling weapon, and there are no magazines or stripper clips to lose or damage. The venerable .30-30, for example, is an outstanding rifle, though keep in mind that there is no conventional handgun chambered for that round. Unlike any of the military-style weapons, the levergun can be loaded without taking the gun out of battery. In other words, when there’s a lull in the action, or while you’re moving to another position, it’s simple to stuff more shells into the tubular magazine. If while doing this the enemy catches you by surprise, you simply drop the rounds still in your hand and resume firing. There’s no chance of dropping the magazine you were loading--thus being left with an $800 single shot.

For those of the military persuasion, or who are preparing for TEOTWAWKI, a whole new set of rules comes into play. Quite naturally, we’d still like a rifle that is easy to handle, but we also might want to consider a semi-auto built for sustained fire. The military (or military look-alike) weapons are the ones that really fill the bill. When it comes to these, there are a couple of things you need to consider before your purchase. First, of course, is ammo availability. Can you afford enough ammunition to last the duration of the hardships that may befall you? Also, if you’re forced out of your home and away from your supply cache, for whatever reason, you really don’t want to be shooting a “bastard caliber” (i.e., one that is rare and thus difficult to replenish). While you may not like to think about harming others, you need to consider choosing a caliber that is likely to be used by either looters or foreign troops. That way, you can more easily acquire additional ammo should you be fortunate enough to be the victor in a skirmish.

Another thing to think about with regard to military-style rifles is the detachable/fixed magazine dilemma. Sure, the detachable mags are faster to reload, but how many can you carry at once? Are you sure you’ll make it back to base tonight where there are more magazines awaiting you? And did you stash enough magazines to begin with to last you indefinitely in the event that manufacturing is disrupted? Also, what makes you think that, due to the stress and confusion of a real live gunfight, you’ll remember (or have time) to pick up your discarded mags? You are not in the military. There’s no resupply waiting in the rear. No air drops. This is one of the reasons I prefer the SKS over the AR-15. I know, I know. The AR-15 is what we’re all used to . . . and many of the parts will interchange with the M-16 . . . and it’s a NATO round . . . and yada, yada, yada.. But the .223 does not have the energy of the 7.62x39, the AR is not as reliable as the SKS, and although the Ruger Mini 14 is a very reliable weapon, it lacks a little in the accuracy department. The .223 runs out of energy at 300 meters or so, and the 7.62x39 generally runs out of accuracy at about the same distance. Each has virtually the same effective range. However, the 7.62x39 does have substantially more energy at longer ranges.

But back to the magazine debate. I prefer the fixed magazine of the SKS because I can't lose it. And I can also single-load it through the ejection port if I run out of stripper clips. As to size, I prefer the 20-round fixed mag over the ten-round. Now, I don't use the 20-round mag because it holds 20 rounds; I use it because it holds more than ten. That may sound stupid, but let me explain. With the standard ten-rounder, if you fire less than ten rounds, you will have a partially full mag that cannot be refilled except by loading one round at a time. This means you're either going to have a partially loaded gun, or a half-full stripper clip rattling around in your gear losing shells, or you'll have to take time to top off the mag by hand. Circumstance may only allow you to get one stripper load in the 20-round magazine to start with. If you start out with either ten or 20 rounds, you can then shoot anywhere from two to 11 rounds and still be able to easily insert a full stripper clip into it. (It is quite difficult to insert a ten-round stripper in a 20-round mag that already has ten rounds in it; they call it a 20-round magazine, but it works best with 18 or 19.) Since you will not be able to lock your bolt back to insert a stripper clip in an SKS with a partially loaded magazine, here is the procedure that works for me: place the butt of the rifle in the groin area, just below the opening of your right hand trouser pocket. Then reach across the top of the rifle with your left hand and pull the bolt handle fully to the rear. This will eject a live round out that you can either let fall or catch with your right hand (if you have time). Now let the bolt slide slightly forward to accept the clip and insert a loaded stripper clip with your right hand. Now grasp the rifle's forearm with your right hand and release the bolt handle with your left hand and you’re ready for action.

Ideally, we would all like to have either an M1A or FN-FAL (my personal favorite is the AK-47)and a couple hundred 20-round magazines, but for those who just recently started preparing, or who can’t afford the expense, that’s only a dream. Any good rifle chambered for the .30-06, .308 (7.62x51 NATO), the .223 (5.56 NATO), or the 7.62x39 will suffice. But do take the aforementioned suggestions into consideration before buying. Yet another consideration is the ability of your rifle to resist corrosion and weathering. It’s advisable to try to find a rifle with a protective finish, or that is made of stainless steel, and has either a laminated wood or synthetic stock.

There are a number of different sighting options for the survival rifle, all of which have their own calling in life. The open, iron sights that come on most commercial hunting rifles are suitable for most purposes, but are fragile and useless in low-light situations. A good quality scope, on the other hand, is no more fragile than open sights and offers far superior accuracy and low-light capabilities. A good compromise between the two is the aperture, or peep, sight. This sight is used on almost all military-style rifles and is rugged, easy to use, and highly accurate. Aperture sights are also significantly better than open sights in low light. The aperture sight is operated by centering the uppermost part of the front sight in a small aperture in the rear sight, while also holding the front sight on your target. Your eye naturally places the front sight in the center of the aperture with little or no conscious effort on your part. The rear aperture appears as a cloudy ring and is not distracting at all. Just focus on your front sight (which you should also do with open sights, of course, but it’s easier with peep sights), place it on your target, and shoot. These are also sometimes called “ghost ring” sights.

Copyright 1999 by Cope Reynolds
This article may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, as long as it remains unedited as to content (which includes the title, the author’s name, and copyright information), and this notice is attached.

Cope Reynolds (Desertscout)
Southwest Shooting Authority
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