Apr 25, 2014

Five Considerations When Choosing a Survival Rifle

Wild Boar shot with 5.56mm
Survival manuals are available in abundance, but the ones I recommend are the military manuals published by the US Armed Forces that have been tested under actual conditions as well as covering all climate situations wherever you may be. There are, of course, civilian survival manuals that extensively cover wilderness survival that can be a valuable addition to your library.

Theories and choices of what weapon to have handy for survival situations is also in abundance with many videos at YouTube to choose from. I would prefer those that either trained in survival conditions in the military or actual woodsmen who help retain wilderness survival methods and situations that date back to the earliest days in North America by the French trappers and mountain men of the colonial period in US history. Methods from both can be useful and an overall knowledge of how to meet survival needs in various situations, terrain and climatic conditions.

There are five basic principles in order to determine what firearm is suitable in a survival and/or tactical situation. But before I list the principles, I would like to say that the initial weapon in your inventory besides a good survival knife that can be used in defense or skinning game is the age-old crossbow that has been modernized complete with a scope. Firearms, even black powder rifles need to be replenished when hunting. The crossbow or compound bow, whichever you prefer, uses bolts or arrows; which can be retrieved. And if the bolts/arrows become too damaged to reuse, you can make your own like Native Americans did for centuries. I do not suggest that the bow take the place of a rifle in the survival and bug-out kit, but it should be included. Now for those five principles:
  1. Reliability – While this is obvious, it may be something one may overlook when shopping in the vast market of type and caliber of rifles to have in your survival bug-out inventory. Sometimes people make their choices because of the looks or their friends recommended it, which may be against the first principle of reliability. When you pull the trigger it should fire, whether in the cold winter of the North or the hot deserts in the West or the drop-dead humidity of climates like Florida, Louisiana, and the swamps of Georgia. When I performed jungle training in Panama, where the vegetation is so thick in places daylight looks green and when night falls it seems your in a cave (no moonlight makes it through). In addition, the humidity is always high and rainfall plentiful. Our arms room had no windows, so before putting my rifle away for the night, I would coat it liberally (not the action) with CLP (Break-Free). The next day when I drew out my M16, the oil was there with a film of watery rust beneath it. Wiping it off with a rag, the rust came off with the oil. That is the problems one runs up against in highly humid climates, along with constant wetness. Deserts, mountains and cold north climates present different problems, but something one should be aware. As far as the importance of reliability, in a survival situation, where are you going to fix it beyond spare parts you may carry with you? Gunsmiths are hard to find in the wilderness, and you want your firearm to work when dangerous people are surrounding your family or homestead.
  2. Ruggedness – Your firearm (rifle, pistol, or shotgun) needs to be able to take a beating and “keep ticking”, like the Timex watch. This is especially important if you are forced to travel. They need to hold up with little or no maintenance conditions; because like in some military campaigns, your supply will be limited in spare parts and maintenance materials (like gunsmithing tools).
  3. Portability – The M1 Garand and M14 rifles are popular for collectors and sports-shooting gun owners. The M14 was replaced with the M16 because the latter was lighter (as well as more dependable in tough conditions and easier to maintain). The M16 and its civilian counterpart, the AR-15, have been improved as time went on – but its basic toughness, reliability, and ease of maintenance remains so famously that it is used all over the world. A survival weapon must be light. While the M1 Garand is no doubt beautiful in its black walnut stock and reliable action parts, shooting .30-caliber ammunition, it is NOT light. The average weight of my combat pack and that did not include what I carried on my web support gear and grenadier vest complete with 40mm grenade rounds of various types including signal flare grenades; was about 50 pounds that included sleeping bag, shelter half, spare clothing, rations, individual 1st Aid, sewing kit, two hand grenades, survival kit, spare mags - and one bandoleer of extra 5.56mm ammunition (120 rounds). I was young and fit, but my shoulders would be bruised from the weight. The average hunter who is tromping around the brush carries a pack that weighs about 10-15 pounds, not including a vest with ammo supply or pistol. Portability also includes maneuverability, where a long rifle just doesn't make it. Before the M16 came along, personnel that had to operate vehicles found even the carbine to be a bit awkward, so the M3 sub-machine gun was created, affectionately known as the “Grease Gun” because that is what it looked like and had an oil reservoir in the butt to keep the fast action oiled. It fired heavy .45-caliber ammunition fed by a stick like that used in the Thompson .45 MG in World War II that was convenient if an M1911 was also carried. The last ones in inventory was in Korea, early 1980s; and I had a chance to carry one when going to and fro from base camp to DMV guard post with weapons and night-vision equipment. The M1911 was still in use, so I could get ammo from those ammo cans.
  4. Simplicity – The survival firearm must be simple to operate, which includes the pistol chosen for survival as well. Semi-autos have come a long way, but the M1911 still remains a weapon of mechanical simplicity; and could be a good survival firearm with a choice of either .45-caliber or .9mm; some even in .380. Of course, there are those who prefer the reliability and simplicity of the revolver, from the .22 Mag to the .45 colt or .44 Mag. Having a .50-caliber pistol is a bit overkill – and super expensive. Simplicity in terms of loading, clearing, safety mechanisms, and firing are all part of it. The electronic sights systems, like the Sightmark optics and others are great, but what happens when the batteries run dead? Of course, there are recharging systems that work off of solar energy, so with extra expense this would not be a problem – if the batteries of the system come in the rechargeable version. However, even the tough varieties of electronic systems will eventually fail under extreme conditions. Is the benefit of electronic devices worth the hassle/cost? This is where personal choice comes in.
  5. Effectiveness – Last, but not least, the survival weapon must be effective in completing a task at variable ranges. An AR-15 that fires the standard 5.56mm ammunition works well in various scenarios; but for only dealing with aggressors within 300 meters. However, if one needs to hunt big game for winter meat, or defense against a Grizzly or Kodiak bear, charging moose or buffalo - that caliber is NOT recommended. The idea of a survival weapon is its varied capabilities in variable conditions and circumstances. True, one could unload a magazine at the charging brute – but ammunition conservation is extremely important when one does not know where or when any more will be available.
Now that the five principles are covered, I will make suggestions for ammunition. The 5.56mm has proven itself in combat. Ball ammunition (full-metal jacket, no lead) is also highly recommended and there is a reason it is used by military in various calibers.
Maxed-out AR rifle
The AR is available in 5.56mm/.223, 7.62mm/.308 and heavier models in bigger calibers than that. The 7.62 NATO or the 7.62x39mm (AK-round) is the best. The later is a recent addition in answer to those who like the cheapness of Russian AK-47 ammo, but would rather have an AR model. The ammo is good enough to hunt game and has more range than the 5.56mm. If only the survival rifle was to be used for hunting for food, one could go to a bolt-action, high-caliber carbine or the 1873 lever-action in 45.70 government caliber – the buffalo round. But survival or preparing for unexpected conditions against human predators, more dangerous (when armed) and more in number than say the Grizzly predator or even a wolf pack preempts the use of a bolt-action rifle for an all-round survival rifle.
Henry US-AR-7 Survival Rifle - caliber too small, but lightweight, fits in backpack
Ball ammunition is easier to acquire in bulk, has greater penetration. Defense ammo was developed long after any weapon design. I should mention that if your choice is an AR, ensure the barrel is 1-in9 inch twist rate, so whether you fire 55 grain or military 62 grain – it will be accurate. The ball ammunition recommendation also includes your survival pistol. If you decide to have a lever-action rifle as a survival rifle, it is recommended that the rifle and pistol use the same ammunition. For example, .45 Long Colt rifle and pistol. Another possible combination would be the Thompson carbine and M1911 – both in .45ACP, both magazine fed. Range would be shorter than higher calibers (carbine), but is acceptable for defense and will stop a Grizzly. The .45-70 rifle dropped buffalo on the western prairies in 1870s, but I have not found a revolver made for that caliber.
Once again, personal choice. 
1892 Cimarron
It is a difficult decision for people like me who like the military weapons and the American heritage Old West firearms like the 1892 lever-action rifle, the 1887 lever-action shotgun or stagecoach shotgun, and the Schofield or Old/New Army .38 caliber or .45-caliber (respectively) revolvers. 

Schofield 1874
Of course, the modern pump and semi-auto shotguns are usually the pick for survival weapon, used for sport or hunting. A 12-gauge slug would definitely stop a Grizzly. My personal favorite high-caliber ammo is the old reliable 30-06. 
Winchester 1887 12-Gauge Lever-Action Shotgun
Word of caution concerning ammo: forget purchasing the “Zombie ” ammunition, especially for defensive purposes, not that there is noting physically wrong with it other than just a sales gimmick. It's popular, and every sports center has some of it on their shelves - but ...
My reason (and that of law enforcement veteran, Scott Wagner): If you have to use a firearm, shotgun in self defense; would it not be embarrassing to make your case in front of a judge concerning self-defense (like a hearing) possibly making yourself look like a person who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality by having as “Exhibit A” a box of Zombie Killer ammo? If you want to buy a box as a gag to make the guys at the range chuckle, fine; but do not put it with your defense ammo or loaded into your defense firearm. That is healthy advice from a person who knows – Scott Wagner. They have a Walking Dead survival kit now also. It is just a commercial way to make more products and get on the bandwagon of zombie novelty merchandise. I find it childish when considering survival options, but could be fun at the range. Almost every ammo company is producing them with recommended calibers. Some of these people make me concerned whether they distinguish between science fiction and real life. 
Recommended "Zombie" Calibers, distinguished by green tips

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