By Dan Shea
I have some serious reservations about recommending firearms for “Y2K” scenarios, because no one really knows what is coming. Yet, that has been the subject of conversation for many months, and people keep expecting some type of commentary from SAR. The following is my essay on the subject- simply my take on the situation. – Dan Shea
No one has the Crystal Ball. I keep asking, and can’t get a positive answer as to “What” is going to happen in “Y2K”. The answers vary from “Nothing at all” to “As the systems totally collapse, Bill Clinton will declare martial law and suspend elections, effectively ending the American system as we know it”. Some go so far as to say we are going to lose all of our modern civilization.
Well, that’s quite a spread there. Not to be flip, but how does a nineties kind of guy choose the proper suit and shoes for Armageddon, let alone the appropriate weaponry? It is totally beyond me.
The computer programmers I know vary from the ones who bailed out over the last few years, moved to Idaho or northern New Hampshire, got four miles up a dirt road and around a corner, are stockpiling guns and food…. to the ones who are still at their jobs, not worried in the least about anything but minor disruptions. Who is right? I really haven’t got a clue, and the knowledgeable people that I know are roughly divided in half on what they expect.
Are we about to face blood in the streets, massive political turmoil, and TEOWAWKI (The End Of the World As We Know It)? Or, are we about to lose power in some areas, for perhaps a week, and then it will all be just peachy. Again- this writer hasn’t got a clue.
What I do know is a little of what history teaches me, and just a little bit about firearms.
From that vantage point, I would like to totally erase the “Y2K” scenario from the rest of the article, because I think a prudent person is one who is prepared for most situations anyway.
I don’t want to be no refugee…
Historically, the lesson of human history is change, and it is seldom pretty. Usually violence is involved, and many times starvation, relocation, and other unpleasant situations are present. The Age of Aquarius is the only major change I can think of that was totally non-violent, and it only happened in the minds of some few assorted flower people. The Bible, which among other things is one of the best historical documents that we possess in the Western World, has many admonitions against not being prepared for adversity. For every comment about how the “Lilies do not toil” there is a story of how the very nasty Seven Years of Lean followed those nice Seven Years of Fat, and those who are prepared survived quite well. Most civilizations that lasted more than a few minutes have lore surrounding preparedness. The old “Ant and the Grasshopper” fable is one good example. The Ant toils and survives, the Grasshopper plays away irresponsibly and dies. (Then there is the modern version where the government comes and takes Ant’s stores of food and gives them to grasshopper, and neither have enough to survive.)
In the light of preparedness thinking, I would like to urge the following.
1- Do not drastically change your lifestyle, or get stressed out about it- you can only do what you are willing to do- If you were willing to live on a mountain top and fetch water from the creek, you would have been giving it consideration anyway. If that’s what you want, go do it.
2- Buy only things that you will use anyway. Don’t buy canned bacon if you don’t EAT canned bacon.
3- Buy those things privately, and store them quietly.
4- You need safe shelter, heat, food, water, and clothing. Make a list of what you need, and make sure you have enough for the foreseeable future- plus a little.
5- Plan your life efficiently around the things you use and need- define need carefully, no one needs a Porsche.
Many people put away things they can never use. If you switch from white bread, you know that spongy stuff that condenses into a little tiny ball of paste, to a whole grain stone ground bread, without working your system up to it, you will not only be facing digestive problems, but you can hurt yourself. Think about that with all of the items you use for preparedness.
Any good scout can give you a list of things you should have around the house for emergencies, and anyone who’s lived through a bad ice storm, hurricane, or civil unrest can suggest a list as well. Get with them, and fill out your list. That’s not what SAR is about.
In another section of this issue, SAR Suppressor Technology Editor Al Paulson makes a few choice takes on suppressors for your “Kit”. I would now like to make a couple of suggestions on regular firearms.
If you believe that you may have to hunt for food for the pot, in a survival situation, I would urge you to get a good 22 caliber rifle. Yes, 22 Long Rifle. You can comfortably afford a LOT of ammunition, and you can easily carry quite a bit as well. This might not be a popular thing to say, but I can tell you from many years experience that a couple of boxes of 22 LR equals a potload of partridge, squirrel, and other small, delicious game. The signature of the 22 is quite low in the woods as well, and almost non-directional from a distance. (Of course, if you have to hunt game on the prairie with 300 yard shots, or defend yourself against BIG game, this isn’t practical). Put a good scope on it- accuracy counts on small game, and a neck shot on a partridge keeps from ruining the meat.
Three other points about that little 22. First- no one worries too much about them, because they are almost warm and fuzzy- kid’s plinking guns. It’s almost the accepted second part of the sentence when someone tries to ban guns- “Well, except for the 22’s”. Second, if you are at all handy, you can devise ways to muffle the signature. In the case of today’s society, file a Form 1 or purchase a current manufactured suppressor, pay a tax, put on a legally registered muzzle suppressor. In a situation where all bets are off, you can be field expedient. Third, in the event that you are in dire straits…. Well, ask anyone with real time experience and they will tell you a stealthy person with a 22 can get just about anything they need, including superior weaponry.
The best part of the 22 is that you will always use it, emergency situations or not. You don’t have too much invested in the gun or in the ammunition. I highly recommend a couple of hours of 22 cal plinking to anyone, and take some kids along to show them the safe handling and enjoyment of firearms. You should be practicing anyway, just for proficiency. If you get a little paranoid and go buy 5 cases (25,000 rounds) because some article trips your trigger, well, heck, that’s a lot of trips to the sandpit, and it’s short money to boot.
You can’t lose with a 22 in your kit. Add a nice pistol or revolver in the same caliber, and you have some better concealment and mobility. Add unusual ammunition for diversity- subsonic, ratshot, Vipers, tracers, all have their use. I stick with plain old Hi Velocity 22 Long Rifle, and it has always served me well. Your personal political call on whether you want to give Bill Ruger any of your money- his 10-22 is a fine, reliable gun. I personally drift towards a bolt action, good scope, nice trigger, exhale slowly, light finger pressure on the trigger, and pretty soon there’s a nice little partridge ready for the pot. The 77-22 has always been a good gun, if a little pricey. Marlin offers some nice guns in the bolt configuration, with a reasonable price. Again, put good glass on it- I would suggest that the glass will probably cost close to what the host gun does.
Your interests are a little more intense
I guess this is somewhat more involved. In the back of your mind is combat. Real survival. What kind of rifle should someone choose for survival in a possible worst case scenario? This depends on your location, the terrain, and what, exactly you consider to be a “Worst case scenario”.
Paraphrasing Master Sun Tzu in the Art of War: “It is best to win without fighting”. Get serious here- you’re not going to sit in the woods and have a firefight with a modern army. The Warthog will sit back out of range and thoroughly mess up the area you are in. Modern munitions will ruin your day. It is also a difficult task to face down thousands of rioters with one single M16. Who the hell wants to do either? People can point out that Mr. Charles did a fine job of guerrilla fighting and holding our army at bay, but there was a lot more to it than that. The Viet Cong were a fighting force within the population- armed and trained by an outside army, with supply routes, and long term goals and objectives. Odds are, if a worst case scenario starts in your neighborhood, Uncle Ho won’t be sending you more rice and nuoc mam.
Learn to back up and regroup. I am talking about, before you think about weaponry, start thinking about exit strategies. If you live in a city, near an area that has a history of violent rioting, it’s more important to have a plan to get out and save your life and the lives of those you care about than to worry about the paintings Aunt Doris sent you. A man’s home may be his castle, but if you are standing alone, it can easily be your funeral pyre. Work with your neighbors on neighborhood defense if things start looking hairy, and if it gets real bad, have your way out pre-planned and well thought out.
A good survival rifle should be reliable. Accurate. Hard hitting with repeatable results. You should know your rifle’s good points, and it’s bad points. Parts should be readily accessible, as should ammunition. Put a scope on it. It should be light enough to carry for long distances, and it should be of the type to handle the jobs you choose for it in the area you live in, or may be operating in. One of my favorite rifles is a Steyr SSG with a kick-ass Leupold scope- it hits hard, and with someone who shoots better than me it would probably light a match at 300 yards. In the case of Hard Times, I would leave it in the vault. It weighs too much, and ammunition is not common up here.
I live in rural Maine. Almost every farmhouse has a twelve gauge, or a 30-30 Winchester or Marlin. If you really want to be a survival oriented person, having a firearm that is common to your area is a must. Parts are around, and so is the ammunition. 257 Roberts might be a screamer, but the Barkleys around the corner up by the old schoolhouse don’t have any of it for trading. I would suggest that anyone who is serious about a “Survival” rifle pick a common caliber for their area, and a common firearm as well.
At the distances encountered in the area that I live in, a 30-30 Winchester (Model 94) is devastating, and will drop a deer flat. It’s light, easy to carry, and handy to the shoulder. Might not drop a bear right off, but a well placed shot would damn sure give that bear pause for thought. I prefer a bolt action rifle, but the lever action is quick to the touch and handy as well.
Well, what about the impolite subject of arms for citizens, arms that are intended for use against other people? I am going to be frank about this. I pray fervently that we never see this on our soil again, and hope that peace can prevail around the world. That said, I do not expect this to be the case and combat comes to the discussion.
Forget your exotics. Keep it simple. If you want full or semi auto, your reasonable choices are pretty slim. AK-47 variant, or M16 variant. The HK’s are out of my consideration because of the parts availability- but if you have a good store of spares, go for it. People continually ask me what submachine gun I would grab if I had to. Well, if I HAD to grab a submachine gun, it would probably be an Uzi, but if I HAD a choice, it would not be a pistol caliber weapon. (The ergonomics of shooting the Uzi on the run, offhand, are superior to the MP5- for me. That’s my experience with them. I advocate the MP5 for police work, but would strongly recommend an Uzi over it for regular military forces). Forget the pistol calibers- the intermediate calibers are the most effective, and extend your range significantly. Wounding power, stopping power, lethality, whatever you want to call it- much more significant from 5.56 NATO or 7.62 x 39mm. Either caliber is getting pretty common today.
My choice would be an AR-15 variant. Semi-automatic. Flat top upper with a good optical scope, probably fixed 3x. 16 inch barrel with the M4 type of configuration. Fixed stock- that’s a personal preference. Tactical sling. This would be a Non-NFA firearm. No need to have it registered. If I wanted to go with an NFA item as my personal rifle, I would go with a registered receiver M16, dressed as an A2 with the 14.5 inch M4 configuration barrel. A suppressor would definitely be in the kit. Let Al Paulson test them out further, I personally liked and felt comfortable with quite a few different systems- including the old two point mount styles. The budget might prevail on this, but buy the best you can. Quality does make a difference.
Other than many years of owning full and semi automatic weapons, having handled tens of thousands of them, my choice above comes from three basic factors:
One: in the United States, parts and ammunition are commonly available for the M16/AR15 system. Parts are not readily available for the Kalashnikov series of firearms, and ammunition is available, but not common- if you contest that, name five police departments that use AK’s and 7.62 x39 mm. Now name five that use M16 variants and 5.56 NATO. Ammunition in the private sector follows a similar curve. This relatively common civilian ownership of the AR style guns means that parts and ammunition will probably be available trade goods in the private sector in the case of societal collapse.
Two: M16/AR15 variants are reliable, trustworthy systems. They are battle tested, battle proven, and have been updated by many improvements over the years. Take advantage of the newest technology, and your survival rifle can be almost Murphy-proof.
Three: Deadly effects of the Small Caliber High Velocity projectile, combined with volume of fire. If you need more convincing on this subject, read We Were Soldiers Once, and Young about the fighting in the Ia Drang valley in 1965. The overwhelmed US battalion fought its way through two days of incredible assaults. Some of the soldiers cursed the AR15’s that malfunctioned. Lt Colonel Hal Moore, the ass-in-the-grass commanding officer who was in the whole fight from the ground- not directing from up in a bird, credited the new “Black Rifle” along with the fighting spirit of his men as the reason they made it out of the valley. He spoke of the extra ammunition they were able to carry, and the withering barrage of fire they could lay out to break the backs of the NVA assaults. The unit suffered terrible losses facing those overwhelming odds, but still, in fact, they persevered. That the Commanding Officer credits the AR15 system as part of that success is a good recommendation. That type of combat experience has been repeated over and over in the last thirty odd years. Enough said.
Your new AR15 type rifle can be readily equipped with a 22 caliber subcal unit. Game-getting at it’s best. Keep it clean, because the 22 ammo will foul the gas system. Learn the scope on the 22 ammo, and you will enjoy many an hours inexpensive plinking, as well as the best the forest can offer in survival situations.
Spare parts? Relatively inexpensive, and easy to obtain. Spend about half of what you have in the rifle on spares, with 10 of each spring, and 3 or so or each small internal component, spare bolts, carrier, barrel, gas tubes, etc, and you should be well prepared.
Please don’t misconstrue this as SAR casting aspersions on any type of firearms. I took a specific location, as in the United States, and tried to choose what I would look for in an all around survival rifle. I hope you can apply my logic to your own area. There are places where an FAL variant would be the best choice, and certainly parts of the planet where an AK would be the best.
Money was also not considered. An SKS and a case of good ammo can go a long way as a survival weapon. These were devastating in combat, and I remember a short while ago we shot a whitetail deer with one- dropped flat and dead- one shot, with impressive terminal effects. However, the admonition regarding replacement parts is definitely in effect- try calling your neighbors for SKS parts or ammunition. Odds are you will come up empty. The same might happen with the AR15, but the odds are better here.
If you follow the above ideas, you should be well prepared for any eventuality. Best of all, you have purchased guns you wanted anyway. If all goes the way we want, and 2 January 1999 is just another piece of cake… you can go plinking on the weekends, then bring all the extra cases of ammunition that you hoarded up down to the Spring Knob Creek and rock and roll for a serious good time! But, a prudent person would leave a couple of cases in the back room, just in case…
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N1 (October 1999)|