Your survival is limited by what firearms you can carry, so always try to choose lightweight and versatile gear.
“With lighter loads, shotguns can be extremely lethal against an assailant while minimizing collateral damage…”
A rifle chambered in 5.56mm/.223 provides great home defense without overpenetration.
There are lots of rifle, handgun and shotgun cartridges to choose from. Make sure that you are choosing the right ammo for your needs.
A handgun is far from ideal when in the wilderness. Its only real advantage is its small, convenient size.
Anyone who is interested in personal protection has a plan. Usually these plans are not very good, and even people who have good plans seldom fully implement them. Part of the problem is that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. All of us have our own lives and needs and a survival/self-defense plan has to be custom tailored or it either won’t work well or won’t be implemented.
I won’t get into checking the batteries on your smoke alarm on a regular basis or having a central gathering location for your family in case of emergency. Instead, my focus is on guns. Lots of guns.
For the vast majority of us, a concealed carry handgun is the first line of defense. It is there when you need it, and it is perfectly well suited for most of the unwelcome encounters you are likely to face. The one thing I always include is spare ammunition. This is not so much an issue of facing down multiple assailants and having to reload mid-fight. My concern is rather the more realistic scenario of a dropped or malfunctioning magazine. That will put you out of the fight very quickly. The limited capacity of a revolver also makes carrying at least a spare speed-strip quite valuable.
If you happen to live in a more isolated area where defense against a large animal is a reality of life, then a larger and more powerful handgun is certainly more suitable. Even a large handgun can be easily stored and carried in a backpack when hiking or camping in the wilderness. Ultimately, however, a handgun is far from ideal. Its only real advantage is its small, convenient size.
A shotgun provides a huge degree of versatility, more than any other firearm available. Simply by switching out the barrel and the load you can go from survival hunting for birds and small game to accurately killing large animals at 100 yards. In the wilderness, the shotgun can be your best friend. For boating emergencies or other water-based survival situations, you can also get flares for your shotgun that can be used for emergency signaling. In the wild, a shotgun will keep you fed, safe from predators and possibly help you get rescued as well.
In more developed surroundings, the shotgun can be just as invaluable. Here there is little need for long-range effectiveness. For close-in work, the shotgun is king. Different shotgun loads can be used to penetrate barriers in heavy brush or against a barricade. They can also be used against an assailant while minimizing collateral damage from stray pellets and over-penetration.
Don’t fall victim to the myth that birdshot is not effective against an assailant. Within 20 feet, the pattern will stay tight enough to cause lethal damage, and that is with an open choke. Another very important advantage for the survivalist is that shotgun ammunition is widely available and plentiful. Even during the worst ammunition shortages of the past few years, I was always able to find shotgun ammunition at reasonable prices.
Sure, a shotgun has a limited capacity in terms of shell count, but the efficacy of each shot makes up for it. A pump-action shotgun with a side-saddle shell holder and an extended magazine tube can put up to 15 rounds at your fingertips. If you are going to store it in your vehicle, you can also get a folding stock to save space. If you travel frequently, a pump-action shotgun, unloaded and locked in the trunk, is the one gun that is least likely to get you in trouble in most places, especially those areas with restrictive concealed-carry laws.
Sometimes you need both precision and long-range effectiveness, and in this case your only option is a rifle. For convenience, there are pistol-caliber carbines that will use the same magazine as some handguns. This magazine interchangeability means that you need less gear to maintain your handgun and rifle, and you don’t have to store or transport two different kinds of ammunition. You are still firing a pistol round, but the longer barrel allows more time for the powder to burn, producing significantly higher velocities and energy. The longer barrel and shoulder stock, as well as any optic you may have mounted, will dramatically increase the bullet’s accuracy as well.
Pistol-caliber carbines will also produce a lot less recoil than shotguns, a comparably chambered handgun and other rifles. This makes it easier to keep shots on target during fast shooting, and these carbines are often light, short and handy for anyone to use, regardless of stature. If you are looking for a suitable firearm for the whole family this may be it.
In a wilderness survival situation, the pistol-caliber carbine will be effective against smaller-sized game but will not have the reach of a full-power rifle. Of course, there are handguns, revolvers in particular, that are chambered in very large calibers, such as .44 Magnum, and have corresponding lever-action rifles chambered for the same round. If being in the deep woods with proximity to large predators is a concern, a larger caliber may be a good option. In a more urban setting, a pistol/carbine combo chambered in 9mm may be a better choice.
My own preference is for the ever-popular AR-style carbine chambered in .223/ 5.56mm. The platform is compact, lightweight, handy and easily accessorized with lights, lasers, optics and bipods. It offers standard 30-round magazines and is quickly reloaded. In a rural or wilderness setting, the AR makes for a light hiking gun that can be broken down and stored in a backpack, and the .223/5.56mm cartridge is effective against deer-sized game. It is also very accurate. Anyone who feels they need a bigger gun can opt for an AR chambered in .308/ 7.62mm.
In a wilderness setting, a long-range shot may be necessary, while in an urban setting a very precise shot may be what is called for in a given situation. Against multiple armed assailants, an AR is the best medicine, and it allows you to keep distance between you and your assailants while returning very effective fire. In a more urban setting, an AR also offers many of the same advantages as a pistol-caliber carbine, including that the .223/5.56mm round, like the 9mm, is less likely to overpenetrate. It seems counterintuitive, but the smaller dimensions, lower weight and higher velocity of the .223/5.56mm round are the causes.
If you do much driving, there are some areas that frown upon AR-platform and similar rifles, but you can get pump-action and bolt-action rifles that use AR-style magazines. Be aware, however, that many of the same areas that dislike the AR-platform rifle also tend to place limits on magazine capacity.
When you keep a gun in your vehicle full time there is always a danger that someone could break into your car and steal your guns, or steal the entire car. Accordingly, these “trunk guns” should be replaceable parts of your firearms inventory. Better yet, only have them in your vehicle while you are driving rather than all the time.
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE ™ Spring 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.
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