Aug 172014
 
This spread of shot shows the shotgun to be at the outer limit of its B zone range.

This spread of shot shows the shotgun to be approaching the outer limit of its B zone range.

A key consideration when evaluating the suitability of a shotgun for any particular purpose is to understand its range.

Unlike rifles and pistols, where range is a simple concept (closer is better, further away is worse), shotguns have three different ‘zones’ with three different sets of considerations applying.  Few people understand this.  Let’s explain these three zones and what they mean.

First, it is important to understand that the length and distance of each zone varies depending on the type of shotshell you are using, the shotgun barrel length, and its barrel profile or ‘choke’.  It is helpful to appreciate the interplay of these factors before moving on to consider the specifics of shotgun range issues.

In general terms, a shotgun’s range is a function of the likely target coverage by the pellets or shot balls that you are firing – ie, the spread of the shot.  Once the shot has spread to the point where insufficient of the individual shot balls/pellets will land on the target, then the shotgun’s range can be considered to have been exceeded.  Note that this distance is probably shorter than the range from the perspective of accuracy or from the perspective of the remaining kinetic energy and stop-power of the load you’ve just fired.

Shot Spread Issues

The spread of the shot can be influenced by three main factors.  The first relates to the specific cartridge you are firing, and what type of cupping and wadding is inside it.  Some shells are designed to maximize the spread of the shot within them, others act to hold the balls more closely together for longer.

The other two factors relate to the shotgun itself – the length of the barrel and its choke.

In general terms it is fair to say that the longer the barrel, the less spread there will be.

As for a barrel’s ‘choke’, this relates to whether there is a taper inside the barrel or not.  Some shotguns have no taper – they are the same diameter at the breech end of the barrel as at the muzzle end.  This is said to be a ‘cylinder’ bore, and is well suited if you are shooting solid slugs.  We have also read about some barrels offering ‘reverse’ or ‘negative’ chokes – where the muzzle is wider than the breech (think of a blunderbus as an extreme example).  We’ve never seen one of these, but believe they might exist.

All other tapers are of the type where the barrel diameter gets narrower from the breech to the muzzle.  This tends to slightly funnel the shot elements together and make for less dispersal of shot subsequent to it emerging out of the muzzle.

In addition to barrels with a choke built-in to them, some barrels also have a variable choke adapter at the end, so you can simply rotate the choke setting to quickly give yourself more or less choke depending on the dynamics of the target, the range, and what you are shooting at it.

There are a number of different standard chokes, all with rather non-intuitive names.  Perhaps the most complete list we’ve seen is this, in order from the least amount of choke to the most amount of choke :

 

Choke Name Constriction       Net Diameter for 12 ga  
Negative -0.005″    0.735″
Cylinder   0.000    0.730
Skeet   0.005    0.725
Improved Cylinder   0.010    0.720
Light Modified   0.015    0.715
Modified   0.020    0.710
Improved Modified   0.025    0.705
Light Full   0.030    0.700
Full   0.035    0.695
Extra Full   0.045    0.685
Super Full   0.055 +    0.675

Most shotguns with chokes are intended for sporting or bird shooting.  Self defense purposes usually sees cylinder bores only.  For that reason, our discussion of the three zones assumes a moderately shot barrel length and no choke (ie a cylinder bore).

Are Nine Shot Balls Better or Worse than a Single Rifle/Pistol Round?

This is an interesting issue, with points both for and against.

On the one hand, you’ve all seen the movies, where a single shotgun blast takes a huge solid circle out of a door or something else.  Now, of course, that is what you see in the movies rather than real life, but the concept of having nine 00 balls (the typical load of a 00 buck shot shell), each similar in size, weight, velocity (and therefore energy) to a .32 pistol round, hitting the target close to each other is obviously an exciting thought.

But a .32 cal pistol round isn’t exactly a highly lethal round.  And this energy calculation is at the shotgun muzzle.  The 00 buckshot balls quickly lose speed (and their energy drops off with the square of the speed, so a 25% reduction in speed means a 63% reduction in energy).

The lethality of the shotgun round rapidly diminishes with distance.  Furthermore, its lethality is spread over nine individual balls.  When those balls strike more or less as one, they also deliver their energy more or less than once.  But by the time you are 10 yards or less away from the shotgun, you are now delivering nine individual balls, each with their own 1/9th share of energy, and already diminished appreciably by the 10 yards of distance.

To put this in context we’re aware of one situation where a ‘low recoil’ shotshell’s load of 00 buck wasn’t even able to penetrate a bad guy’s jacket at 40 yards!  A round obviously needs to be able to penetrate through clothing, and then potentially through skin, flesh, bones, and so on if it is to have any noticeable effect on a target you are trying to stop.

Think again to movies.  We now they are a terrible source of bad information, but just think of all the movies you’ve seen where a person was shot by a shotgun, and the net result is the doctor picking out pieces of shot from the guy’s butt.  That’s probably more realistic than the sudden total destruction of the door images seen in other movies!

So quite apart from accuracy issues, there is an ‘ability to stop’ issue which is massively more limited than many people consider.

Now let’s look at the three different ‘zones’ of coverage offered by a shotgun and their tactical implications.

Zone A – Very Close In

A shotgun’s A Zone is considered to be the distance from the shotgun where the pellets or balls are all traveling together, in a bunch, with very little spread between them.

This is typically about five to seven yards.

Within this range, you need to aim your shot much as you would need to aim a rifle or pistol shot, although of course, at this distance, many people can instinctively point-shoot with acceptable accuracy, when shooting at man-sized targets.

In other words, in the A Zone, a shotgun is no more or no less accurate/easy to aim than any other type of firearm, while being at least as lethal as most rifles and much more lethal than a single pistol round.

Note that there’s no clear transition point between where the A zone ends and the B zone begins.

Zone B – Medium Close

The B Zone for a shotgun is from the vague point where the balls/pellets start to separate and out to the point where they have spread so much they will no longer all hit the target.

Clearly this zone depends to an extent on the size of the target.  But generally, it is thought to be about 20 – 25 yards.  At 20 yards, 00 buckshot  has probably spread slightly more than a one foot circle.  Think about that – this means that some of the balls will go 6″ to the left and some 6″ to the right, etc, of your aiming point.  That means you have to aim accurately to within 6″ of the ideal aiming point so as to be sure of getting at least half the balls onto the target area.

That is hardly a ‘magic’ spread of shot that avoids the need for careful aiming, is it.  Furthermore, the less accurate you are, the fewer projectiles that will land on your target.

There’s nothing wrong with having one or two of perhaps nine 00 buck shot balls miss your target.  The remaining half dozen or more may still create an effective stop, although see our comments above about if nine balls are better than one bullet.  When you combine a reduced number of balls landing on the target with the ballistic fact that shot balls lose their energy much more rapidly than pistol and rifle bullets, and as you move out in the B zone, the shotgun’s effectiveness starts to massively decline compared to a rifle, and by the end of the B zone, is probably no better than a pistol, but without a pistol’s ability to be fired rapidly and to have a magazine holding 15 or more rounds.

Zone C

The C Zone for a shotgun is from the point where the projectiles have dispersed so much that they won’t all land on the target, and from there out to a practical limit to the shotgun’s effective range, a point defined either by accuracy or ballistic effectiveness, and probably somewhere in the 50 – 100 yard range for most people and most shotguns and their loads.

But, there’s an important consideration in the C Zone.  Because you’ve now passed the point where all the individual projectiles will land on the target, it increasingly becomes sensible – and, the further out you go, essential – to switch from shotshells to solid slugs, at which point, you’re now shooting single rounds and need all the accuracy of a regular rifle.

So in the C Zone, if you’re shooting multiple projectiles from a shotshell, you’re rapidly losing effectiveness, and if you’re shooting single slugs, you need the same accuracy as a rifle, while probably lacking the same quality of aiming system.

It is possible to hit targets with a shotgun, even at 50 – 75 hard ranges, if you are sufficiently skilled and practiced with your shotgun.  But it is greatly easier to do this with a rifle, and causes us to ask you ‘why bother with a shotgun when a rifle is so much easier in this scenario’.

The Three Zones, Summarized

Now think about what we’ve analyzed for all three zones.  In the A zone, the shot dispersal is minimal, so there’s no benefit in terms of ‘not needing to aim’.  In the B zone, the shot dispersal is still fairly small and because the range is opening up and the target getting effectively ‘smaller’, you still need to aim a shotgun almost as well as you would a regular rifle or pistol.  By the time you get to the C zone (which is still actually very close range in rifle terms – only about 20-25 yards out) you should consider switching from multi-pellet shotshells to solid slugs, and unless you have something like a dual barreled Keltec KSG, you probably have the wrong load in your shotgun, while not having a tactical opportunity to empty it out and reload.

So – and without considering any of the other factors/issues associated with shotguns, let me ask you – at what particular range do you feel the shotgun to be superior to either a rifle or pistol?  It seems, to us, that there’s no clear advantage at any range.  Sure, there’s some extra stopping power in the A zone, compared to a pistol, but nowhere is there any need for less accuracy, and always a shotgun is more unwieldy, has massively greater muzzle blast and recoil, is slower to bring back on target for a second shot, and carries fewer rounds than most pistols and rifles.

The Mythical ‘No Need to Aim’ Claim about Shotguns

Have you picked up on something else?  One of the urban legends about shotguns is that their spread of shot is such as to make it unnecessary to aim.  Just point the shotgun in the general direction of the bad guys, pull the trigger, and try not to flinch too much while tightly closing your eyes, and according to this legend, by the time you open your eyes again, all the bad guys will be down and dead.

But carefully look at our analysis of accuracy needs in each of the three zones.  In the A zone, the shot travels in a single solid group, giving you no real benefit at all compared to a rifle or pistol.  In the C zone, you really need to switch from shot to single solid slugs, and a shotgun is harder to aim than a rifle.  As for the only zone that might bring a benefit – the B zone, the spread of shot is hardly enough to balance out the growing distance and the need to carefully aim at an ever smaller target.

These considerations are very different when you’re shooting at clay targets or at ducks.  In those cases, the C zone is still a lethal zone, because the clay or bird only needs to be hit by a very few of the perhaps 100+ pellets in order to be effectively shot down.  But when you’re defending against attacking people, you need to get most and ideally all your balls onto the target, bringing you back to an effective range closer to the end of the B zone.

The Implied Maximum Defensive Range of a Shotgun

There’s one more consideration as well, and in this case, we’re focusing on the key word ‘defensive’.

When you transition from the A zone to the B zone, you start to move out of the ‘legal self-defense’ range.  A person at 5 – 7 yards is a deadly threat, even if they ‘only’ have a knife (and possibly if they only have a hammer, or even just their bare hands).  Somewhere past that point however, unless the person is also armed and is actively shooting at you, it becomes hard to plead essential self defense if you end up shooting an adversary.

Bottom Line :  The Effective Range of a Shotgun

If we were in a defended place inside a house or somewhere else where the lines of sight and shot were very short, we’d love to have a shotgun with us.  Because we’d not be moving ourselves, we’d have no need to be concerned about weapon retention issues, and we’d love the awesome firepower of a shotgun with 00 buck shotshells.  But if we were having to sweep a building ourselves, we might prefer a pistol or maybe a rifle, especially if we were concerned about possibly multiple adversaries such that we could not be sure that a single tube full of shotshells would be enough to deal with the problem.  Having to do an emergency reload of a shotgun is no fun.

The effective range of a shotgun – considering accuracy and lethality – is very short, and probably no more than 25 – 40 yards.

Jul 202014
 
Shotgun shotshells come in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Shotgun shotshells come in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors.

Unlike shotguns, once you’ve chosen a rifle or pistol, you have few choices for the type of ammunition you shoot.

Okay, maybe you can choose between hollow point and solid, and a few other tweaks like that, and maybe you have a few choices of bullet weight, and (at least in theory – in practice most cartridges are loaded at close to standard maximum all the time) the amount of powder used in the cartridge, but you’re almost certainly going to end up with one or two ‘favorites’ – a cheap round for plinking and practicing, a hunting round, and perhaps a third round for self-defense.

It is very different with shotguns.  Even after selecting a particular caliber shotgun (and we hope you’ll choose 12 gauge) you now find yourself with an enormous variety of ammunition choices.

It could be said that one of the ‘fun’ things about shotguns is the variety of different types of loads you can shoot through them.  You can choose from a dozen or more different sizes of pellet/ball, and even after choosing the size pellet/ball, you can then get to choose the quantity.  That’s not all – you can change completely to solid slugs, or you can get some of the more exotic loads, ranging from flechettes and bolos to explosive rounds and ‘Dragon’s Breath’ type miniature flame thrower devices.

Note that, as ‘fun’ as these novelty loads may be, and as lethal sounding as their descriptions read, generally they are less effective than good old-fashioned lead shot.  There’s a reason these are rare and ‘exotic’ – because ‘real’ experienced shooters have found them to be not as useful and effective as regular rounds.

It isn’t just a case of getting ‘nastier and nastier’ loads, either.  You can also get ‘nicer’ loads – less-than-lethal loads – bean bags and rubber balls, for example.

One of the considerations few preppers think about is having an ability to have a graded level of responses to situations.  Having some non-lethal ways to assertively respond to and control a threatening situation can often be very useful and avoid minor confrontations escalating way too far on both sides.

On the other hand, these less than lethal loads can be dangerous, potentially crippling, and possibly even lethal.  If fired at an adversary at too close a range, or if hitting them in an unlucky place, you might create as many problems as if you’d used a regular round.

Furthermore, in a curious twist in most states’ criminal law codes, while it may be lawful to use lethal force in self-defense when you are in immediate fear of your life and have no other realistic choices/responses, it is seldom legal to do anything such as ‘fire a warning shot’ or ‘shoot to wound, not to kill’, and this would also apply to these less than lethal rounds.  From the law’s point of view, there are only two scenarios – when you’re in fear of your life and authorized to use deadly force, or, when you’re not, and in such a case, you are not authorized to use lesser force.

This is perhaps not good law, but it is the reality in most of the country, and assuming you’re in a situation where the rule of law applies or can be expected to retroactively subsequently apply (and as you’ll know if you read through more of our site, we urge you to observe all laws at all times, no matter what is going on around you), you need to keep that in mind.  Yes, this means that it is more lawful to kill a person than to wound or scare them, and that’s truly stupid, but the law is the law.

Talking about legal issues, note that not all these exotic types of loads are legal in all states.  Be sure to check.

Anyway, with that as a lengthy introduction to the topic, let’s look at some of the factors surrounding shotshells and which ones you should choose.

Shotshell Length

12 gauge shotshells come in different lengths – most commonly 2¾” and 3″, and less commonly in giant-sized 3½” size.

Which is the best length of shell?  It is fair to say that generally the longer the shell, the more powder and shot inside it.  But more is not always better – more powder also means more recoil, and if you’re in a situation where the power and payload of a 2¾” shell is inadequate, something is very wrong.  Maybe the best alternative is switching to a rifle or simply running away, rather than pulling out your 3″ or 3½” shells!

The larger and more powerful shells are not only more expensive, they also have appreciably greater recoil, and this makes them harder to shoot.  You’re more likely to flinch when shooting, and it will take you longer to bring the shotgun back on target for follow-up shots.

Generally we shoot regular 2¾” shells, and don’t feel the need for larger shells and greater loads of powder and shot.  There’s also another consideration – it is common that if you go over the ‘standard’ 2¾” length shell, then the capacity of your magazine tube might reduce down by one – perhaps from six to five rounds, or whatever.  Sometimes growing the shell size still further to 3½” might see you lose one more round, and now you’re down to only four rounds.  I’d rather have six rounds of 2¾” shells than four rounds of 3½” shells – wouldn’t you?

Shotshell Load

Just like, with regular rifle/pistol cartridges, there are variations within a caliber, with varying amounts of powder and varying weights of bullet, the same is true of shotshells.

Of course, there will probably be more powder and more weight of shot in a longer shotshell than in a shorter shotshell, but beyond that, there can be quite substantial variations in the amount of powder and the weight of the shot in shells of the same size.

This is usually explained on each box – telling you the weight in ounces of the load, and sometimes also the amount of powder, or, if not, it can at least hint at the amount of charge by indicating the muzzle velocity of the load when it exits your shotgun barrel.

The load weight is usually from slightly less than 1 ounce up to about 2 ounces of shot.

If you have a higher load of shot, you also need more powder so as to still be sending the shot out the end of the barrel at a decent speed.  So look also at the weight of powder or the muzzle velocity to make sure that the load is a balanced mix between shot weight and powder weight.

There’s an interesting concept to keep in mind.  Although the total force of a shotgun blast is awesome, that power gets split and shared by all the separate pieces of shot now flying towards the target.  If each individual piece doesn’t have sufficient power to penetrate sufficiently, it becomes useless.  So the more shot in a shell, the more powder you need to ensure each separate piece of shot still has its ‘fair share’ of energy.

Note that the amount of powder is sometimes described in terms of drams.  A dram is 1/16th of an ounce, or 27.3 grains.  But – and here’s the tricky thing.  The dram weight of powder in a shotshell is not a measurement of the actual exact weight of powder.  It instead relates to the equivalent theoretical weight of old-fashioned black powder.

Different equivalences apply for steel instead of lead shot, and for different calibers.  So while more drams implies more powder, you can’t really use it as an absolute measurement of the powder in the shell.

‘Low-Recoil’

In the last some years, there has been a growing popularity for ‘low-recoil’ loads.  We all know that a shotgun can have a fearsome kick when fired, so low-recoil seems like a great innovation, and its popularity is understandable.

But what is ‘low-recoil’?  Expressed in the simplest terms, it simply means that the shell has less powder in it.  There’s nothing magic about low-recoil, and the underlying physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction) can’t be overturned.

Low recoil shells typically have less powder, less weight of shot, lower muzzle velocity and less energy.  How much less?  Well, because there’s no standard weight/charge amount/velocity, it is impossible to answer, but some examples we’ve seen suggest that in total there’s as much as a 50% reduction in the energy exiting your barrel.

On the other hand, at very close range, a full charge shotshell is arguably ‘overkill’ (if there is such a thing), so losing up to half the energy might be thought acceptable by some people, and still represents more energy that from a single pistol bullet.  This justification for low-recoil applies to short-range scenarios only.

There can be other possibly valid reasons to consider using low-recoil ammunition.  If you have less of a flinch response to the lowered recoil, and if that means your first shot is more accurate and your second shot follows more quickly, then that probably is plenty of justification.  Plus, if it means that instead of getting a mix of 20 gauge and 12 gauge shotguns for the men and women in your group, you can instead get all 12 gauge guns and merely adjust the ammo being used, that keeps things simpler, too.

So while – for many of us – we instinctively feel that more is better and less is worse, and are focused more on getting super double ultra magnum 3.5″ shells, perhaps we should be more in tune with the ‘zen’ of shotgun practice and discover that sometimes less can be more effective than more!

Shot Size

Shotshells can contain individual pieces of shot that vary in size enormously, from large balls as much as a third of an inch or more in diameter to tiny little pellets very much smaller.  A single shell might hold as few as six or seven large-sized balls, or the better part of 1,000 or more tiny pellets.

There are two categories of shot that go into a shotshell.  Smaller sized pellets are called ‘birdshot’ and larger sized pellets are called ‘buckshot’.  They each have numbered sizes, and the lower the number, the bigger the size of each piece of shot.

Confusingly, a #1 piece of buckshot is not the same as a #1 piece of birdshot.  For #1 buckshot, you are looking at a ball 0.30″ in diameter, and weighing 0.1 ounces each.  For #1 birdshot, you are looking at a pellet 0.16″ in diameter, and weighing seven times less – 0.0139 ounces.

If you are shooting birds, you should use birdshot, and usually somewhere between number 2 to number 8.  The bigger the bird, the bigger the size shot.

If you are shooting rabbits and squirrels, you’ll also use fairly small birdshot.  But for larger animals, you should switch to buckshot (ie ‘buck’ as in deer), and particularly for defensive purposes, the most commonly used round is the 00 (‘double ought’) buck round.

Don’t think you can effectively use birdshot against a person.  Okay, you’ll hurt them some, especially on exposed skin, at short-range, but you’re unlikely to disable them or take them out of the fight.  While we’ve read some interesting studies that argue in favor of smaller sized balls than 00 size (ie maybe 1 or even 4 size buckshot) there seems close to universal agreement that birdshot is, well, for birds, and only for birds and other tiny critters, not for defensive use.

Solid Slugs

In addition to traditional shotshells that contain many small pieces of shot, you can also get solid slug type shotshells.  These, as their name implies, have a single solid slug in them, the same diameter as the barrel.

Slugs typically have external rifling on them.  But this is not so much to put a spin on them as they travel down the smooth bored shotgun barrel as it is simply to reduce the friction between the slug and the barrel.

Slugs come in different weights.  The lowest weight commonly found slug is about 7/8 oz, or 383 grains.  Compare that to the typical weight of a .308 bullet – 150 – 175 grains.  A slug is more than twice the weight, and, of course, more than twice the diameter too (a .308 caliber bullet is .308 inches in diameter, a shotgun slug is about 0.7″ in diameter).

Other slug weights are commonly found up to 1.25 oz, and less commonly, heavier still.

Some people feel that a shotgun slug tends to generate a bit more recoil than the equivalent weight of shot.

Shotgun slugs leave the barrel at velocities in the order of about 1800 feet per second (depending on their weight and the amount of powder charge), but because they are not aerodynamically efficient, they quickly lose their weight and energy.  They probably have a maximum range of about 400 yards, but a maximum effective range of 75 – 100 yards.

The Best Shotgun Ammo for a Prepper

If you plan to use your shotgun for hunting birds, get the appropriate sized birdshot shells for the types of birds you expect to be shooting.

If you plan to use your shotgun for defensive purposes, we first suggest you think twice about that decision!  But if you insist on using a shotgun for defensive work, then for close in work, you should use 00 buck, and for longer range, solid slugs.

Generally, we suggest the best shotshell for defensive use is the 00 buck.

Jul 092012
 

There’s a bewildering variety of choice of rifles out there. Which one(s) is/are best for preppers?

One of the more polarizing aspects of prepping is that of firearms and their use, not just for hunting game but potentially for self-defense as well.

Some avid preppers prefer to have no involvement with firearms at all, and concentrate more on eco-sensitive sustainable living.  Others seem to devote most of their attentions to weapons and little to anything else.  We suspect, and gently suggest, that the best approach lies somewhere in the middle between these two extremes.

Like it or not, one of the preconditions for a Level 2/3 scenario is the failure of the rule of law, and if there is no-one else we can rely on to protect ourselves, our retreats, our stores and our families, we must be willing and able to do so ourselves.  While there are plenty of pejorative terms that are used to describe the gun-enthusiasts, there’s also a term that can accurately be used to describe the people who prefer to have no contact with firearms at all – they can also be known as, alas, victims.

In the lawlessness that will accompany a collapse of society, you must be prepared to protect and defend yourself, your loved ones, and your property, or else you’ll surely lose everything, having it taken from you by force.

We wrote before on why preppers usually own multiple firearms, and a reader subsequently wrote in to list the firearms he owned himself and why.

The reader referred to, more in passing than as a main part of his interesting commentary, owning some guns mainly due to the relative ease of finding ammunition for them as much as for any other reason.  This is a key point which we felt deserved its own article, so – some months later – here it is.

Choose Your Gun Calibers Based on Ammo Supply

In an extended period of social disruption, it probably goes without saying that people will run out of ammunition.  At the start of any period of social disruption, or just an increase in social anxiety and tension, you can expect to see ammo very quickly sell out in retail stores.

Indeed, even now, ammunition is in somewhat short supply – there have been ammunition shortages for much of the last four years; sometimes extreme in nature and sometimes patchy – both due to greater levels of buying domestically and also due to all the ammo being consumed in our various foreign wars which have been making it hard for the manufacturers to keep up with demand.  At present, ammo is getting in shorter supply again as people buy up prior to the November 2012 election – not due to any concerns about there being battles in the streets, but more due to concerns that if the present President is re-elected, he may act to restrict ammo sales.

Need we spell out that ammunition is definitely something you should stockpile?  It lasts a very long time (if stored in a cool dry environment, you’re probably looking at 50 years or more), and doesn’t take a lot of space.

Ammunition will skyrocket in value as soon as social disorder strikes.  It will become a valuable currency, although be careful who you sell bullets to, for fear of them being subsequently used against you!

The chances are that sooner or later, no matter how much ammo you start off with, you’ll end up running low yourself; or alternatively, you might come across some good value way of acquiring more ammo.  Other than to trade and resell on at a profit, ammo in a caliber that you don’t have any firearms chambered for is not very useful.  So for that reason, it makes sense to have firearms chambered for the most popular types of ammo.  That way, if you should come across a chance to pick up some more ammo on favorable terms, you can respond to the opportunity.

Similarly, if you run out of ammo, then if your guns use a common sort of ammo, you’re more likely to be able to buy some more than if they use a really strange uncommon type of ammo.

So, whether you want to have guns in common calibers to be able to use extra ammo if you have a chance to acquire some, or whether you want to have guns in common calibers to be able to get extra ammo if you need some, either which way, it makes sense to have a mix of different calibers among your firearms.

Here’s what we recommend.  And note that while we are talking about multiple rifles/pistols, we are not suggesting that you – as an individual – necessarily need to build up a huge arsenal yourself.  Instead, we use the term ‘you’ to refer, in the plural, to yourself and the other members of your group/community.

Rimfire

You should stock up on tens of thousands of rounds of .22 LR ammo, and have a range of rifles and pistols to shoot it.  The stuff is extremely cheap, as are the guns that use it, and .22 LR ammo takes up close to no space at all.  You can have ten times as many .22 rounds in the same space as you would ‘normal’ pistol/rifle ammo.

You’ll use your rimfire guns and ammo for training, possibly for ‘warning shot’ type self-defense, and for controlling small varmints.  You’ll not use these underpowered guns and ammo for ‘real’ self-defense however.

Revolvers

There is only one caliber of type of revolver to have – ones chambered for .357 Magnum ammo.  These will work perfectly well with both .357 MAG and .38 SPL ammo, which between them are far and away the most common/popular revolver ammo choice.

The .357 chambered revolver gives you ‘two for one’ because it works with both types of ammo.  We’re not suggesting you should stock .357 ammo in preference to .38 (most of the time we shoot .38 ourselves – it is cheaper and easier – less recoil – to shoot); we’re just saying to make sure you have revolvers that can accept either type of ammo.

Sure, a .44 Magnum or larger handgun comes with a higher dose of testosterone, but the ammo is scarce and expensive to start with, and will only get worse in a situation where ammo is hard to find at the best of times, and the gun isn’t very comfortable to shoot.  Furthermore, the .44 round isn’t really all that more lethal than a .357, and you can probably fire a .357 more accurately, definitely more comfortably, and more quickly than you can a .44 – in other words, you’ll get better results with the .357 than the .44.

And while there are also many other calibers – both bigger and smaller than .38/.357, none of them are worth considering due to their relative rarities and lack of special benefits.

Semi-auto Pistols

Here you have more choices to consider than with revolvers.  There are three main calibers in terms of popularity, which we’ll assess, more or less from most popular to least popular, as being 9mm, .45 ACP and .40 S&W.

Our suggestion – concentrate on the 9mm pistols and ammo for them, but also keep a small supply of .45 ACP and .40 S&W ammo, and pistols to use them too.  If you never need to use the .45 and .40 ammo, you can also use it as trade goods.

We don’t want to get into a debate about which is the ‘best’ caliber and cartridge.  You might believe that .40 or .45 cal pistols have more ‘stopping power’ and you might or might not be correct about that, although the most recent FBI studies are downplaying the importance of caliber entirely.  They have found that the most important factor in stopping power is not bullet caliber but the rapid placement of multiple accurate shots.  This is because all pistol calibers are ballistically ‘inadequate’, unlike most rifle rounds, they will stop an attacker only with a ‘lucky’ or a very well-placed shot.

We’re simply saying that in terms of a pistol caliber when prepping for a troubled future, 9mm is the best choice, not only because of its ubiquity but also because it is smaller and cheaper than the .40 and .45 calibers, and has less recoil, making it more easily controlled and handled by all shooters.

One more thing about these three calibers.  By all means, get reloaded 9mm or .45 ammo, but be careful with .40 reloads.  There is very little spare space inside the casing between the top of the powder and the base of the bullet, and if the bullet should be seated slightly too far, the pressures when the round is fired will be dangerously well in excess of what your pistol is rated to handle.

The other large size caliber of note is 10 mm, but it has never become very common or popular.  Ignore it.  There are many other uncommon calibers too – ignore them all.

Smaller sized calibers also exist, but most are too small/weak to be of practical use.  The one debatable exception is .380 ACP, and over the last five years or so there has been a huge increase in the number of pistols being made in this caliber, due to people wanting smaller sized concealable carry pistols.

You might want a smaller sized concealable carry pistol, in which case perhaps stock up with some .380 ammo as well as a pistol or two to use with it.  But this isn’t a caliber that is ever likely to be a major caliber that you’ll use in great quantities – if you ever have to use your .380 it will be only to fight your way to safety or to a larger caliber gun.

Rifles

You’ll probably need more rifle caliber ammo than any other type of ammo (except perhaps .22 plinking ammo).  This is because you’ll use your rifles for hunting and as your primary self-defense weapon.

The number of rounds of ammo you’ll use for hunting won’t ever be too huge because hopefully you’ll typically be felling game at a rate of one animal per each well-aimed shot.  But if you find yourself having to fight off repeated attacks from gangs of well-armed marauders, you could quickly go through hundreds or even thousands of rounds of rifle ammo in a single session – not because you’re being attacked by that many opponents, but because your shooting is now a mix of ‘suppressive’ fire (keeping the other guys away) as well as more careful aimed fire to actually score hits on the bad guys.

There are three major military calibers – .223, also known as 5.56, .308 also known as 7.62×51, and 7.62×39.  There actually is a slight difference between .223 and 5.56, and between .308 and 7.62×51, but for our purposes and with modern weapons, they can be considered more or less interchangeably.

The 7.62×39 is the caliber that is used by the AK-47 and many other ‘communist’ bloc weapons (we use the quotes because most of these countries are no longer communist).  It is hard to find US manufactured 7.62×39 ammo – all the stuff we’ve knowingly encountered ourselves has been imported, so our guess is that in a major breakdown of society, there’ll be little more 7.62×39 ammo coming in.

For this reason alone we consider it the least favored of the three calibers; but having said that, there’s a huge inventory of this caliber ammo ‘out there’ at present.  People buy it in quantities of thousands of rounds at a time, and many people have AK (and the earlier SKS) type rifles to use it with, so as a trading good, it would be sensible to have some ammo, and it would also make sense to have some rifles that can shoot it too.  It seems that AK rifles are more tolerant of wear, damage, and dirt than are rifles chambered for .223 or .308.

One other consideration with 7.62×39 ammo.  Sometimes this ammo uses corrosive rather than non-corrosive primers, and we’ve heard, anecdotally rather than in our direct personal experience, that sometimes some of the ammo that is labeled as non-corrosive actually is corrosive.  Just about all other modern ammo out there, these days, uses non-corrosive primers, and it is easy to get ‘spoiled’ and not be as diligent with cleaning as is essential when using corrosive ammo.  If you are using 7.62×39 ammo, you will need to check to see if it is corrosive or not, and be more obsessive at cleaning your rifles.

The .308 round is a great dual purpose hunting/self-defense round, and we recommend this become your prime hunting caliber, and that you get some ultra-reliable very accurate bolt-action hunting rifles that are chambered for .308 accordingly.  The Remington 700 seems to be a well regarded rifle and is not unreasonably expensive.

The .308 round is larger, heavier, and more expensive than the other two of these three calibers.  It is also generally more lethal, and possibly superior in self-defense situations.  So if you have a semi-auto magazine fed rifle or two in this caliber, that would be a good thing too.

However, the same issues that saw the US Army and most other armed forces switch from a large-caliber round to a smaller caliber round apply with equal impact to you in your own self-defense requirements.  Smaller lighter rounds are easier to carry and store (and less expensive to buy), and rifles chambered for this round are easier to shoot (lighter and less recoil).  In most cases, the .223/5.56 is more than adequate for self-defense, although it is a less suitable round for hunting game.

We recommend that the major part of your rifle ammo be .223/5.56 accordingly, and that you have a number of AR-15 type semi-auto rifles to use with this ammo.

Now for a fourth caliber.  Until 1957 the main rifle used by the US Army was the M1 Garand, and chambered for the .30-06 cartridge, a cartridge first released back in 1906 for the Springfield M1903 rifle, and in use pretty much continually ever since.

Of all the ‘other’ hunting rounds (ie other than the .308) the .30-06 is far and away the next most common, due to its former military role.  While the ammunition isn’t quite as common as the other three types, it is the next most common, and it would be wise to consider adding some type of bolt-action sporting/hunting rifle to your collection in this caliber, and keeping some .30-06 ammunition in your inventory as well.

There are dozens of other hunting round calibers, but none of them are very common, and the same is true for the rifles in these other calibers.  Sure, they are often excellent calibers/cartridges/rifles for hunting and self-defense, but you’ll find the calibers/cartridges/rifles you have in these ‘big four’ calibers are more than sufficient for all needs, with one possible exception – see the next section.

Heavy Rifle

There is one important caliber and rifle family that you might wish to consider if you feel you may need to protect yourself against para-military groups deploying lightly armored vehicles against you.  That is the .50 BMG caliber, and some sort of rifle in that caliber to shoot it.

A .50 BMG Barrett or other rifle is very expensive, and the ammunition is very expensive too – both will cost you about ten times the cost of an AR-15 clone and ammo to go with it.  But having even a single rifle in this caliber and a few hundred rounds of ammo would give you a long-range stand-off weapon of stunning power and accuracy that could be used to keep bad people a long way away from you, and to punch through many types of cover to reach the bad guys sheltered behind.

Barrett and the other specialty heavy-caliber rifle manufacturers also make rifles in other calibers too, but these calibers are very unusual and hard to come by.  The .50 BMG is the most common of the heavy caliber cartridges out there, due to it being a military caliber cartridge used in various full auto military weapons.

Shotgun

Everyone is familiar with the classic 12 gauge shotgun.  There are other gauges available – usually smaller caliber gauges such as 16 gauge and 20 gauge and .410, and there are also larger calibers too – 10 gauge and 8 gauge.

But we suggest you don’t get distracted, and stick to 12 gauge only.  The smaller gauges (with the bigger numbers) are of little practical use, and the larger gauges (with the smaller numbers!) while being undoubtedly more powerful don’t really add much practical extra benefit in most normal situations.  The 12 gauge is close to universal in application and ammunition for a 12 gauge is the very most common type of shotshells you’ll find.

You’ll want to get some 00 buck shells and maybe some solid slugs for self-defense purposes, and birdshot shells in several different sizes for hunting birds (the smaller the bird, the smaller the size of shot needed, with – confusingly – the bigger the number of the shot type, the smaller the size of the pellets).

Shotshells come in different lengths – longer shotshells have more space in them both for more shot and for more explosive charge.  The 2 3/4″ length shell is the most common, but you should get shotguns that are chambered to accept 3″ shells too, so as to have more universal compatibility.  If you really wanted to, it would be appropriate to get shotguns chambered to accept the rare 3.5″ shotshells – they will still work perfectly well with the shorter shotshells too, and gives you even greater compatibility with all types of loads you might come across.

Most of the time, your self-defense weapon of choice will be your 5.56mm/.223 AR-15 style rifle, so you don’t need a lot of buckshot ammo for your shotguns.  Get more birdshot for bird hunting than buckshot for self-defense.

Summary

Your most important firearm in any Level 2/3 situation will be your rifle(s) – this is the best weapon for hunting with, and also for self-defense.  Shotguns can be useful for shooting birds, and in very limited situations, for self-defense too.

Pistols are of little or no value when hunting either game or birds, and are of minimal value as a self-defense weapon also, but they do have the benefit of being conveniently portable, so you’ll probably always have one with you, using it merely as a way to enable you to safely fight your way back into your retreat or to your rifle.

In addition to the guns you know you’ll need and use, if money allows, it would be prudent to buy some spare guns in other calibers, just in case you should subsequently have a chance to buy ammunition in a caliber that you wouldn’t otherwise have any use for.

If you were to buy only one gun, we’d recommend it to be a semi-auto .308 caliber rifle.  But hopefully, just like you don’t only have one knife in your kitchen or one screwdriver in your toolbox, you’ll choose to get a broader mix of firearms to serve a broader mix of purposes.

Because ammunition keeps a very long time, we recommend you keep a plentiful supply.

Apr 292012
 

How much ammunition - and how many guns - are enough?

We received an interesting response from a reader on the subject of how many guns a prepper should own, and when does it become excessive.

Here it is, slightly edited for form.


Thanks for your article on why preppers usually include firearms in their preparations.

I guess I’m a prepper of sorts myself (is there any definition of who/what a prepper is?) and wanted to share with you why I have more guns than you suggested.  Here’s a general sort of list of what I have and why :

Rifles

1.  A .22 cal for plinking, training my children, practicing, and for small varmint shooting

2 & 3.  Two .223 cal for self-defense

4.  A 7.62×39 also for self-defense (in case I come across some 7.62×39 ammo and am low on .223 ammo)

5.  A .308 semi-auto for hunting or self-defense

6.  A bolt action .308 for hunting (commonality of ammo with #5 above)

7.  A .30-06 bolt action for hunting (due to the ubiquity of the .30-06 round)

Shotguns

1.  A long barreled multi-choke pump action 12 ga for shooting birds

2 & 3.  Short barreled 12 ga pump actions for self-defense

Pistols

1 & 2.  Full size 9mm semi-autos

3.  Full size .45 cal semi-auto (as a spare, in case of running low on 9mm ammo and finding some .45 cal)

4.  Medium barreled .357 revolver (can take .38 too of course, another spare for ammo reasons)

5.  Sub-compact .380 semi-auto for concealed carry

6.  .22 cal for plinking and training and fun

Add all that up, and you’re looking at a total of not four or eight, but 16 firearms (and I’m not saying that is all I have, either).  But does that make me a ‘gun nut’?  I’m not even sure what or who a gun nut is, but I do know that some people would consider having this many guns to be seriously threatening.  It isn’t seriously threatening, it is just prudently preparing for a wide range of possible futures, especially to do with ammunition shortages.

I also read your comment about duplicate guns in case of failures.  That’s a good point – maybe I need to double up?  And as for how much ammo to store, that’s a good question too!

Anyway, thanks for the article.  I hope my comments add further to the discussion.

Apr 202012
 

The media love using pictures of seized 'gun caches' (which, by the way, are usually completely legal to own) such as this to vilify preppers and 'survivalists'. Note also how the shotgun on the right has been broken down to look like three different guns to the uninitiated.

Being a prepper often attracts unfair negative media attention.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the concept of preparing for disasters attracts so much automatic negativity is because non-preppers feel a semi-conscious mix of guilt and envy at seeing other people prudently preparing for emergencies.

But rather than admit this truth, non-preppers seek ways to sneer at and denigrate their more prudent fellow citizens, and one thing which they love to attack is the fact that the preparations many people undertake involve – along with hundreds/thousands of other things – purchasing a number of firearms and a quantity of ammunition.

Why do preppers usually own guns (and sometimes what seems like a ridiculous number of them)?  Are they all gun freaks?  Or is there a more logical reason?

We suggest there are two reasons why preppers have guns.  The first is to secure food by hunting, and the second is self-defense.

If one is in some sort of circumstance where there is no food coming in to the supermarkets, what does one do?  One does one of three things.

The first option is the least appealing – one simply starves.  And – yes, it is true one doesn’t need any firearms in such a case.  To be blunt, this is the option that, like it or not, non-preppers risk if there is a major disruption to our food supply (although see the third option below for their other alternative).

The second option is the most positive – one goes out hunting and fishing.  For sure, fishing doesn’t require a gun, and again, for sure, growing fruit and vegetables doesn’t require a gun either, but raising fruit and vegetables is not something that you can instantly start any time you wish, and start harvesting food the very next day.  Most crops are seasonal, and some trees take years to mature.  Getting fruit and vegetables might take a year or more to come on-stream.

Although fishing and growing crops does not require any firearms, hunting does.  So, people who are anticipating the possibility of running out of food, or who wish to augment and extend the supplies they have stored, need firearms – and ammunition for their guns – to go hunting.

Which brings us to the third option people have when they find themselves without food.  This is one that, alas, many people will have no choice but to adopt.  If they don’t have food, and if they have no way to hunt or otherwise gather food, and if they don’t want to just sit down and die, what will they have to do?

Yes, they’ll attempt to take food from other people.  And, in fairness, there’s no time for morality when a person’s life is on the line, is there, so one can understand why they would do this.  Not only can one understand why people would do this, prudent people will also anticipate such occurrences and plan and prepare for them.

Which puts the people who prudently prepared for food shortages in a difficult position.  They probably barely have enough food for themselves – why should they have to share their food with the same people who formerly would jeer and sneer at them, and who refused to similarly stock up and prepare for future problems?  This question is even more relevant and hard to answer if, by sharing their food, they then risk their own ability to survive in the process.

Even in cases where people aren’t risking death by starvation and attempting to beg or take food by force, other ugly encounters are likely to arise.  In any type of social disruption, looters quickly appear and seek to pillage and destroy property.

Preppers become prime targets for looters as well as for starving people seeking food wherever they can find it.

And – guess what.  Most preppers probably don’t want to be victimized and to passively allow all their time, effort, energy and money invested in their preparations be destroyed or stolen from them.

So – why do preppers have guns?  Simple.  For survival – both in the form of hunting for food, and in the form of self-defense.

How Many Guns Are Enough

If you are preparing for such challenges yourself, you will quickly determine that you need to have more than one gun.  You need two rifles for hunting – a small-caliber rifle for small game and varmints, and a larger caliber one for full size animals such as deer.  You also might want a shotgun for ducks and other birds, and a pistol for convenient ever-present self-defense.  Your shotgun and your larger caliber rifle would also be used for self-defense purposes too.

So that is four guns for one person, as a minimum – and if you’re preparing for an extended period of emergency, you might want to double up in case a gun fails and needs to be replaced.  So now we are looking at eight firearms for one person, and remember this is still a  minimum quantity (even though it sounds like a huge number to some people).

That sure sounds like a lot, until you understand the reasoning behind it.  Guns are tools, with different guns being better for some tasks than others.  For a comparison, how many knives do you have in your kitchen?  All knives cut, just like all guns shoot.  But different knives are better or not so good for different tasks, so a professional cook typically has a ‘set’ of many different knives, from tiny boning knives up to huge meat cleavers.  Plus he has a few old knives that still stay in the drawer, even though they are no longer used, and he probably has a couple of other knives he bought but never uses because they weren’t as good as he thought they might be.

It is the same with guns – indeed, it is safer to have multiple guns, because then you can best select the most appropriate gun for each task and use it most appropriately.

So, if one person has eight guns (four main guns and four spares), how many for two people?  Two people would want to have eight guns plus maybe just one (rather than two) sets of four spares – 12 guns for two people.  Three people might call for 16 guns, and so on.  Happily there is no law against owning multiple firearms and no restriction on how many guns anyone can own, so why not get as many as are prudently needed for a range of different future tasks.

Next of course is the question of ammunition.  Ammunition is small and compact so doesn’t take up much storage space, and lasts a long time (definitely in excess of ten years, usually in excess of twenty years if stored reasonably well) and is reasonably inexpensive.

Ammunition is also an excellent trading good.  If two people meet during an emergency, they might decide to swap things that they each respectively either have spares of and need some of in return, and ammunition in common calibers is definitely something that has huge value as a trading item in troubled times.  So how much to store?

That is one of the big questions preppers have to confront with everything they choose to stock up on, of course.  In the case of ammunition, one single bullet might represent the ability to fell a deer, providing enough food for everyone present for a week, or to save a life in a confrontation, and by the same token, the lack of a bullet might mean starving or being overrun and subjugated by lawless marauding hordes of looters.

Each of the four guns will require a different caliber of ammunition, and within that caliber, there will be a range of different bullet shapes, weights, and styles.

It seems prudent to lay in a stock of some thousands of rounds of ammunition accordingly, in a mix of the four different calibers, and with a range of different bullet types (and shot shell types).  Ammunition isn’t a large cost item, doesn’t take up too much space, won’t need to be thrown away unused due to short storage life, and is a key component of assuring the ongoing safety and survival of the group of people owning it.

Are Too Many Guns Dangerous or Threatening?

The media love to talk about ‘survivalists’ having huge caches of weapons and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition as if this implies some degree of crazed intent on the part of the person owning the guns and ammo.

There is an unspoken implication that a person with two guns is twice as dangerous as a person with one, and that a person with ten guns is ten times as dangerous.  The same strange math is applied to ammunition – a person with 1000 rounds of ammo is ‘obviously’ more dangerous than a person with 500 rounds, and a person with 5,000 rounds is even more dangerous again.

This is nonsense.  The reality is simple :

A person can only shoot one gun at a time, and the gun they are using can only shoot one bullet at a time.

Having two or ten guns doesn’t make a person any more dangerous than having only one gun.  If it did, our professional soldiers would be equipped with dozens of guns.  Professional soldiers only have one or sometimes two guns (ie rifle and pistol); the same is true of most police officers too.  If owning more guns did truly make a person more dangerous, maybe there would be laws against it.

It is the same as cars and petrol, perhaps.  A person can only drive one car at a time, and the one car he is driving only goes at a certain speed with a certain amount of power, no matter if the tank is full of gas or nearly empty.

Summary

While guns hopefully and happily play a small part of our ordinary day to day lives, if there should be a disruption to our lives and the society in which we live, we may need to return to the ways of our forefathers and rely on guns more than we need to at present.

Prudent people, preparing for possible problems in the future, will include guns in their preparations both for the ability to hunt food and for prudent self-protection.

If you’re not a prepper, you have nothing to fear from preppers with guns.  They won’t need to use them against you, because you, as a non-prepper, by definition, will have nothing they want or need.  You should instead be concerned about other non-preppers with weapons, who might believe you have something they want or need, whether it be something essential for survival such as food and shelter, or something as irrelevant as a big screen television.