Apr 282013
 
A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY.  Do the 'wild west' forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

A computer reconstruction of the 19th century Fort Laramie, WY. Do the ‘wild west’ forts validate or invalidate the concept of defending your retreat?

An awkward issue that preppers have to confront when planning for a possible problematic future is what to expect from other people.

Will people peacefully unite and work together effectively to create win-win examples of mutual survival?  Or will some group of society (maybe only a small minority) take advantage of a possible collapse of law-enforcement and in an anarchistic manner run amok in an orgy of looting, pillaging and plundering?

Opinions differ greatly as to what might occur.  But the simple fact that there are credible concerns about a general decay into lawlessness is enough to require prudent preppers to plan for this.  Whichever outcome might happen, a prudent prepper must necessarily consider not only the best case scenarios but also the worst case scenarios, and for sure, roving gangs of violent people who simply take anything they want by force is an unpleasant situation and some type of preparation for this must be considered and provided for.

A central part of the planning and preparing process revolves around one very big question :  Is it practical to make your retreat fully secure against determined attackers?  Is it even possible to do so?  When (or if) you find yourself confronted by an armed gang of looters, what should you do?  Shelter in your retreat?  Run away, leaving everything behind?  Fight to protect yourselves and your possessions?

There are many different opinions on how to respond to such an event, and you should form your own decision after having carefully considered all perspectives, all opinions, and – most of all – all facts.

It is certainly true that it is difficult to build a totally safe and secure retreat, especially while trying to keep the cost of construction to an affordable level.  Modern munitions have enormous power and can destroy very heavily fortified structures.  Besides which, if the first explosive device fails to blow a hole in your outside wall, an attacker may simply repeat a second and third time, progressively weakening your external fortifications until they eventually fail.

So, if any structure can potentially be defeated by a well armed and determined attacker, is there any point in spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to strengthen it, in a case where such strength will always sooner or later be insufficient?  This is clearly a very important question and concept, and one which demands consideration.

A letter was posted on the Survivalblog website recently that raised some of these often discussed issues.  It is short, so to save you clicking to the link, this is what it said

A comment on the dual ring village concept. If it is advanced as a defense tactic, I would urge remembering that the walled-town versus siegecraft dynamic is thousands of years old, and the survival of walled towns and cities is only possible if they are:

  1. Provisioned to last longer than the besieging force, which is of course free to forage and be resupplied
  2. Fireproof
  3. Relieved by a friendly force from outside.

They are also utterly obsolete since the development of artillery bombardment, still more so since the airplane and missile. Sad but true.

IMHO, safety today must rely on:

  1. Invisibility or insignificance to possible enemy
  2. Effective surveillance of a wide perimeter
  3. Mobile defense force to engage potential enemy at a distance

War is not only Hell, but quite expensive!

We don’t disagree with the writer’s first three points, although in truth there is a great deal more than just three factors that apply to considering the dynamics of siege situations and their likely outcomes.  While the walled-town vs siege dynamic is thousands of years old, it is only in the last 500 – 1000 years that the relative safety of the walled-town has diminished compared to the ability of attackers to broach the fortifications.  Furthermore, it is less than 200 years ago when fortified positions were still being used to good effect, here in the US, to protect against Indians and outlaws – a reasonable analog of the situation that might be expected WTSHTF.

Indeed, the decline of forts in the US came not due to their failure to protect the people within them, but due to the peace and stability and stronger law enforcement that made such forts no longer essential.

If we were to look at history for lessons – and this is always a valid thing to do – we’d suggest that history has actually validated rather than invalidated the concept of fortified dwellings.

But let’s put the writer’s introductory comments to one side, because that’s not the main problem we have.  Keep reading on past his first three points and the conclusion he draws from them.

Now comes the trap.  We’re sure this writer didn’t deliberately adopt this well-known technique of demagoguery, but see what is happening here, and be aware when it is used to try to persuade you of other things in other situations.

The process is simple.  First you get the person you are trying to persuade to agree with you on some points which may range from ‘obviously’ true to probably true.  In the process you establish yourself as a credible expert in the person’s mind and get them in the habit of agreeing with you.  Salesmen are taught the same thing – you ask the prospect a series of questions to which the answer is ‘Yes’ then you ask him the big question – ‘Will you buy my used car’ and before the prospect has thought fully about it, he has reflexively answered yes again.

So, after the series of obviously true statements and agreements, second, comes the ‘sucker punch’.  You use the agreements on the initial points as a launching platform to adduce the apparently incontrovertible validity of some other points which superficially seem to be related to the points you’ve agreed upon, but which in truth may be completely unrelated and not directly linked.

Now, as we said, we’re sure the writer of this letter was well-meaning rather than trying to trick us, but – in our opinion – the net result is that he offers up three uncontroversial facts about a complex topic, and then slides from that to three opinions which are far from universally accepted.

Let’s focus in on his three claims.

1.  Safety relies on being invisible or insignificant to a possible enemy

Well, for sure, if you are invisible, your problems are reduced.  But – ummm, which aisle of the local store sells invisibility cloaks?  If you don’t have an invisibility cloak – and also the ‘absorbs all smells’ cloak and the ‘blocks all noise’ cloak, and if they are not large enough to cover your entire retreat, cultivated lands, wells, driveways, fencing, etc, then you’re not going to be invisible.

So saying that safety relies on being invisible is impractical and unrealistic.  You may as well say ‘safety relies on being invulnerable’ – and that’s about as likely as becoming invisible.

We do agree that it is prudent to observe ‘opsec’ and to minimize one’s profile to the world around one.  But we believe it is wildly improbable that you’ll remain undetected, longer term, and when you are detected, you need to have plans in place for how to now resolve problems.

The other half of the writer’s first point is to be insignificant.  But is this what you want, and is it possible, and even if it were, does it guarantee you a successful outcome when being confronted by a group of bad guys?  We think not.

Firstly, insignificant opponents are easy opponents.  Who would a theoretical enemy rather engage – a strong substantial well prepared force, or an insignificant small group of unarmed survivors?

Secondly, who wants to prep to be ‘insignificant’ in a future without rule of law?  Doesn’t the very fact that we have prepared and have supplies of food, shelter, energy, and everything else automatically shift us from the ‘insignificant’ to the ‘tempting’ category?  Is he saying ‘become starving and homeless and you’ll be okay’?

We should also think about the opposite to what he is saying – when he says that insignificant groups of people are safe, is he suggesting that marauders are drawn to making kamikaze type attacks on much stronger groups of well prepared communities?  That sure sounds counter-intuitive!

We’d suggest that in a future adverse situation, roving marauders will be opportunists, and will go after the ‘low hanging fruit’ – they’ll pick fights with people they know they can dominate, while leaving stronger adversaries well alone.

There’s one more thing as well.  This being insignificant thing – were you ever bullied at school (or, perhaps, were you a bully)?  Whichever you were, who were the people bullies would most pick on?  The highly visible popular students, or the less visible loners?  The lettered sports team jocks, or the puny weaklings?

How well did being insignificant work against bullies at school?  So tell me how being insignificant would work against bullies in a future dystopian world where bullies are running amok, free of any negative consequences?

There is never safety in weakness.  Only in strength.  So, this first claim seems to be in part impractical/impossible, and in other part, completely the opposite of what is more likely to occur.

2.  Safety relies on effective surveillance of a wide perimeter

There are a lot of assumptions wrapped up into this statement.  First of all, it seems to contradict his first point – an insignificant group lacks the resources to keep effective watch on a wide perimeter.  We’re not sure how wide a perimeter he is thinking of, but let’s say he is suggesting a one-quarter mile radius from your central retreat dwelling.  That makes for an 8300 foot perimeter – more than a mile and a half of perimeter.

For another measure, let’s say you have a ten-acre roughly square-shaped block of land, and you establish your perimeter on the boundary of your ten-acre block.  That perimeter would be probably about 3000 ft (a mile is 5280 ft), but that’s not a ‘wide’ perimeter.  It means you will see your opponents more or less at the same time they see the first signs of your property and the give-away indicators of fencing, cultivation, crops, animals, or whatever else.

It may not be practical to have a forward perimeter beyond your property – if you have neighbors, do they want you running patrols and maintaining forward observation posts on their land?  But if it is possible, and you have a perimeter another 150 ft out from your boundary, then you now have a 4,000 ft perimeter to patrol.

How many people will be required to patrol somewhere between 3000 and 8300 ft of perimeter?  That depends of course on the terrain and what type of vegetation you have.  Best case scenario might be eight people (say one in each corner of the 3000 ft ‘box’ and one in the middle of each side); worst case scenario could be 28 people (one every 100 yards with an 8300 ft perimeter).  You might be able to get away with fewer people during the day, and you’d probably need more people at night.

Now, even with ‘only’ eight people on duty, and let’s say that each person works eight hours a day, seven days a week, that still means you need a total team of 24 sentries to guard your perimeter, plus some additional staff for supervisors, central headquarter coordinating, and so on.  And that’s your best case scenario.  With the larger perimeter, you could end up needing 100 people for your total sentry/observation team.

So with somewhere between 25 and 100 able-bodied members of your community who are full-time tasked with doing nothing other than effectively surveilling a wide perimeter, one has to ask – how practical is that?

But let’s wave our magic wand over this part of his statement (you know, the one we used for our invisibility cloak too) and now ponder the next thought – what happens when an enemy force is detected approaching our invisible and insignificant community?  The writer answers that question in his third and last point.

3.  A Mobile Defense Force is Required to Engage Potential Enemies at a Distance

This is another very complicated concept that is not adequately conveyed in a short statement.  While it may be good military doctrine in the normal world to engage in such actions, in a Level 3 situation in particular, very different rules apply.  In a normal (or historical) military conflict, both forces are willing to accept casualties as part of furthering their cause, because they are assured of a vast to the point of almost limitless resupply of soldiers and munitions from ‘back home’ and because the commanders who make such decisions are not the fathers, brothers, and close personal friends of the soldiers they are willingly sacrificing.

But in a Level 3 situation, you only have the people with you in your community, and no replacements.  Plus, they are not strangers.  They are your friends and family.  What father will happily send his son out on a risky mission that might simultaneously see him lose his son and also see his community lose one of their precious able-bodied members?  Keep in mind also, with a collapse in health care resources, even small battlefield wounds will become life threatening.

There’s a terrible imbalance in this, too.  Although your community will have a small and irreplaceable resource of manpower – and a similarly small and irreplaceable resource of weaponry and munitions – it will be confronting a seemingly limitless number of roving gangs of aggressors.  Sure, you might successfully fight one gang off this week, but what about next week, the week after, and so on?

As we point out in our article about gangs being your biggest security threat, there were 1.4 million gang members in the US in 2010.  Now, of course, not all 1.4 million of those people are going to singlemindedly attack you, if for no other reason than geographical distances and the sure fact that many of them will lose their lives doing other things, elsewhere.  But how many more gang members will they recruit, and how many new gangs of all types will spring up when the rule of law evaporates?

So our first point is that in a future Level 3 situation, you are going to want to do all you can to protect your people and to avoid risking their lives and wellbeing.  You’ll not want to gratuitously start any firefights that you couldn’t otherwise avoid.

There’s more to critique in the writer’s third suggestion/statement, too.  If you are going to engage potential enemies, as he recommends, you need to surprise and ambush them.  So you’re going to have to have prepared ambush locations and defensive positions all around your retreat and wherever else you might choose to initiate contacts.

This strategy also links in to his earlier comment about a wide perimeter.  If your sentry perimeter is your property line or just beyond, or only one-quarter mile from your retreat, it will be impossible to ‘engage at a distance’ when you might not detect enemies until they are almost upon you.

Remember also you need to allow time from when your sentries have sounded an alarm to when your reaction force can group together and travel to the point of encounter.  This is indeed another reason for wanting to set your perimeter out as far as you can.

But if you extend your perimeter out to, say, 1 mile, you’ll have all sorts of issues with patrolling on other people’s land, and your manpower requirements will increase enormously.  You could quickly end up needing 500 people for sentry duty, and much more sophisticated communications systems to control and coordinate them all.  So that’s not going to work very well either, is it.

There’s also the simultaneous moral and tactical issue about what do you do when encountering – to use the writer’s term – a potential enemy?  If you do as he advocates and engage them at a distance, does that mean you’re opening fire on people who may have been quite peaceful and having no intention of attacking you?  Does that mean you’re killing people who didn’t even know you were there (remember, you’re also supposed to be insignificant and invisible)?

Or, if you’re giving them warnings, haven’t you just revealed your presence, and ceased to be both insignificant and invisible?  And, having given them a warning, you’ve now lost the initiative – they can decide, after making a show of retreating away, whether they’ll stay away, or if they’ll circle around and attack you unawares from another side.  (Oh, right, yes – your effective surveillance of a wide perimeter is keeping you safe.  Maybe.)

We could go on – for example, we could wonder how mobile the mobile force the writer advocates would actually be in a Level 3 situation.

Are we talking horses, or vehicles – if the latter, just how much gas do you have to burn on roving mobile patrols, and how complete an inventory of spares for the vehicles you’re using all day every day?  What type of roading will be required?  And how invisible/insignificant are you being with motorized patrols?

Alternatively, if you’re going to use horses, they aren’t a free source of mobility.  Horses require feeding, stabling, training, medical care, and so on.  You’ve just added yet another layer of complexity and cost and overhead to your retreat community.  Not only do you now have some hundreds of people full-time on sentry duty, but you now need a mobile force of, shall we say, 50 cavalrymen, and they in turn require how many extra people to care for their 50+ horses?

Remember the concept of a ‘horse acre’ – each horse requires almost an acre of farmland to be supported.  So the first 50 acres of your retreat are required for the cavalry horses, and the first 500 adults in your retreat are all either sentries or soldiers, and if we say you need another 1000 people to do productive work to cover their own needs plus those of the 500 strong security group, and if we say that these 1500 adults have on average at least one other family member, your retreat community has now grown to 3000 people.

Is that still small and insignificant?

Actually, we are probably being conservative about the proportion of ‘support people’ and civilians that are required to underpin your security force.  It is rare to find a country with more than 5% of their population in the armed services.  Even in the gravest parts of Britain’s struggle in both World Wars One and Two, with the entire country locked in a life and death struggle and every part of the economy devoted to supporting it troops, and with the civilian population suffering rationing of everything – food, clothing, energy, you name it – the largest force that Britain could field was only about 10% of their entire population, and that was for only a brief part of the war.

With possibly less automation in your post-WTSHTF community, and with the need to have a sustainable allocation of resources to defense compared to simple food production and survival, it is unlikely you could have much more than 5% of your total retreat population tasked with defense duties, and/or no more than 10% of your adult militarily fit (generally considered to be 17 – 49) population.

So there’s a rule of thumb – multiply your defense team numbers by 10 to get the total number of 17 – 49 year olds in your group, and by 20 to get a minimum total group size of all ages.  Or, working backwards, divide the count of adult able people in your group by ten and that’s about how many you can afford to spare for defense duties.

Some Alternative Thoughts

Okay, so the three ideas proposed by the letter writer don’t really make much sense, do they.  But we do probably all agree that being besieged by an opposing force is not a good situation, either.

So what is the solution?

This brings us to another trick of demagoguery.  Are the initial three statements, the statements we agreed with, actually applicable to our situation?  As we hinted at before, we suggest not.  We’re not talking about medieval wars between states, when brightly colored knights on horses jousted in a chivalrous manner with each other, and armies mounted sieges against lovely crenelated castles surrounded by moats, located obligingly on open fields.

We are talking about a roving group of marauders, probably numbering from a low of perhaps 10 up to a high of probably less than 50.  For sure, if they encounter us, they would be keen to take whatever they wished from us, but if they can’t do that, will they devote the next many months or years of their lives to mounting a siege?  Or will they give up and move on, because for sure, some miles further on will be some other small community who perhaps truly is insignificant and easier to plunder?

If fortified settlements worked well in the wild west against similar types of bandit groups, wouldn’t they work well again in a future Level 3 situation?

Our point is this – a strong well fortified central retreat is more likely to discourage rather than to encourage attackers to press on with an attack.  Sure, they might start off by attempting to overwhelm your group, but if they fail at the easy stuff, are they then going to risk losing more of their people and sweating the hard stuff?  We suggest not.

While it is true that modern artillery and air delivered munitions are beyond what we could realistically build defenses against, how likely is it that a roving group of marauders will be towing field artillery pieces, or have an airforce at their command?  Even if they did have some military grade munitions, do you think they would have many of such things, or maybe just one or two that they were reluctant to squander?

So what level of protection do you need to build into your retreat?

Realistic Construction Standards for Your Retreat

We suggest you design a retreat that can withstand being shot at by heavier caliber rifles, and which is fireproof.

It is certainly conceivable that attackers would have rifles, and it is certainly conceivable that their rifles would be in full size calibers such as 7.62×51 (ie .308) rather than in lighter calibers such as 5.56 (ie .223) or 762.×39 (ie Soviet type AK-47 calibre).

So your retreat should be built to be able to withstand multiple hits in a single location from .308 and similar calibers, and be constructed of a material that you can readily repair at the end of any such attack.

It also has to be strong enough to resist physical assault – in other words, if attackers get to your retreat’s exterior walls, you don’t want them to be able to break windows and climb in, or to knock down doors with a battering ram.  You want to physically block them by your exterior wall while you pour defensive fire down on them from protected positions on the top of the wall.

Talking about fire, it is certainly conceivable that attackers could somehow get incendiary devices to the walls and roof of your retreat.  The strongest walls are useless to you if you have a shake roof which the bad guys set on fire.

If you have wood on your walls or roof, then you’re vulnerable to this type of attack.  But if you have stone, adobe, metal, or concrete, you are safe from the threat of fire, too.

There’s a lot more to this topic – a lot more on both sides of the discussion – and we’ll come back to it again in future articles.  But for now, can we suggest that it is possible to envisage a viable future that doesn’t involve 500 sentries and soldiers, invisibility cloaks, and contradictory and morally unsound strategies.

Summary

The question of how to optimize one’s ability to survive against attacking marauders is a key and critical issue that you need to consider.  We’re not saying that every day will see you battling afresh against new groups of attackers – such events may be very rare indeed.  But, rare as they may be, they are not unforeseeable and may occur.

The problem becomes of how much resource to invest into anticipatory defenses.  A text-book perfect solution would require an impossible amount of manpower and resource.  You will need to compromise, accordingly.  But we don’t think there is safety in weakness; surely there is only safety in strength.

We’re reminded of the story about how to survive a bear attack if you’re unarmed.  You don’t need to be able to outrun the bear.  You just need to be able to outrun the people you’re with.

In our case, to survive an attack by marauders doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be either invisible or invulnerable.  It just means you’ve got to be less tempting a target than other people in the surrounding area.

Don’t get us wrong.  The best case scenario of all would be for your neighbors to be similarly hard targets, so that word gets out that your entire region is best avoided.  But first make your own retreat community strong; and only after that, work to help your neighbors on a basis of mutual support, too.

We’ve spent much of this article critiquing the letter we quoted.  But hopefully through the critiques, you can see implied positive strategies and approaches, and we’ll write more on how best to protect your retreat in further articles.

Apr 182013
 
Is the Glock 17 the perfect prepper pistol?  Read this four part series and decide for yourself?

Is the Glock 17 the perfect prepper pistol? Read this four part series and decide for yourself?

This is the first part of a four-part article series on choosing the ideal prepper pistol.  After you’re read this first part, please do choose to click on to part two – Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol; part three – Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol; and part four – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.  Yes – we finally get around to suggesting an ideal pistol at the end of the fourth part of the series.

Is there such a thing as an ‘ideal’ pistol for preppers?

Many people think so, and at times vociferously express their opinions, but notwithstanding the apparent certainty with which some people answer the question, there is no clear consensus as to the ideal or best pistol for anything.  Different situations require different pistols – that’s part of the reason why there are so many different shapes and sizes of pistols offered for sale.

Choosing an ideal pistol is never easy, because any and all pistol designs are creatures of compromise.  No pistol offers the accuracy or stopping power that would be ideal, and all pistols have to wrestle with trade-offs such as size and weight.

So to evaluate your ideal pistol choices, you need to first identify the relevant selection criteria.  We suggest that understanding your selection criteria and how possible pistol choices stack up against those criteria is an essential part of choosing an ideal pistol.

So let’s look at the major issues that need to be considered when choosing a prepper pistol.  We’ve come up with a dozen issues, and have ranked them in our suggested order of importance (as it relates to a prepping perspective).  Certainly the issues should be ranked in different orders for different applications, and if you wish to change our order of ranking even for choosing an ideal prepper pistol, feel free to do so as you wish.

For preppers, considering an uncertain future with the possibility of an extended time period of no external support – a scenario where ‘what you’ve got is all you’ve got’, we suggest the most important considerations are longevity, ease of maintenance, and reliability.

At the other end of the scale, we suggest the least important consideration is price.

1.  Longevity

You’re wanting a pistol that can be used for years and years, and for tens of thousands of rounds.  Even if you never shoot more than a thousand rounds through the gun, and those all in a training situation on a range, you still want a gun that is a long-lived as possible, because WTSHTF you’ve no way of knowing when or if you’ll ever be able to get more spares for it.

In a Level 3 situation, it might be a very long time before you can buy a replacement pistol if the one you have on hand fails, so you want a pistol that has as long a useful life as possible.

In its ultimate sense, a pistol is like an axe.  As you know, an axe is something that will last forever – sure, you occasionally need to replace the handle and sometimes the axe head/blade, but the ‘axe’ lasts forever.  It is the same with a pistol – in theory you could replace every component as and when each part wears out, and one hundred years later still have the ‘same’ pistol, albeit with no remaining original parts and a new serial number on a new frame.  When we talk about longevity we mean the length of time each of the components will operate before failing or becoming unreliable.

For example, some springs are limited to only a few thousand cycles before needing replacement.  Others are good for more than ten thousand cycles.  Some frames are known to crack after only a limited number of full power or over-power rounds are fired, others last for very much longer.

Some traditionalists still insist on disparaging polymer framed pistols.  Maybe some ‘plastic’ guns might have had shorter lives than metal guns in the past, but these days, there is no indication at all that a high quality polymer framed pistol such as a Glock (which still has a metal slide, barrel and other stressed moving parts) has any shorter a life than any type of metal constructed pistol.  If anything, the polymer seems to be at least as reliable and sometimes better than metal, which might crack or stretch or rust.

There is a difference between longevity and ease of maintenance and reliability.  A long-lived gun is not necessarily more reliable than a shorter lived gun, and may actually be harder to maintain, although generally a long-lived gun is also reliable and because of its ‘fault tolerant’ design, easy to maintain as well.  These other two factors high priority factors need to be balanced out, but we suggest the most important feature, but only by a whisker, is longevity, although for sure the reliability issue is terribly important when you actually need to rely on the gun to function.

2.  Ease of Maintenance

In theory, anyone can ‘field strip’ a pistol because, by definition, field stripping is designed to be done, anywhere, by a gun owner/user, rather than by an armorer with special skills, and without requiring special tools either; indeed, most pistols can be field stripped with no tools at all (although sometimes you might need to use a bullet or other sure-to-be-on-hand improvised tool).

When we refer to maintenance we don’t mean field stripping.  We mean the ability to fully strip the pistol down to its 30+ individual pieces, all separated from each other – oh yes, and the ability to put it all back together again, fully functional, and with no mysterious pieces still remaining on the bench at the end of the procedure!

A related part of maintenance is the ability to troubleshoot problems.  If a pistol is ‘misbehaving’ it is important to first be able to understand what is causing the problem before, secondly, resolving the problem.

You should get an armorer’s type manual for whatever pistol you choose, and if possible, attend a class in how to fully strip, repair, and rebuild the pistol.  At the very least, search out some Youtube videos and disassemble and reassemble the pistol so you know you can.

You should also get a full set of spare parts for your pistol, and two or more of any items that wear at an accelerated rate.  Sometimes you can find suppliers that will sell a complete kit of commonly needed consumable items for a firearm – but if you buy one of these, don’t rely on it containing everything you need.  These kits can sometimes include all the cheap parts, so as to create an impressive long list of included items at an appealing low price, but they omit the more expensive but equally prone to failure parts.  Use such kits as a start towards assembling a full set of spares, but don’t consider them all you will need.

There comes a point though where it may be cheaper to simply buy a second pistol – and that’s a perfectly valid option too.

Beware of some firearm manufacturers who restrict the sale of some components to only certified dealers/armorers.  In part this is a cowardly avoidance of probably non-existent liability – their lawyers have told them that if an ‘ordinary person’ tries to do work on their pistol and makes a mistake that results in a pistol malfunction (either discharging when it shouldn’t, or not discharging when it should – both are bad!) then the gun manufacturer/part supplier might be sued.  So the gun manufacturer simply restricts the sale of such items to only certified professional gunsmiths.

What use to you, longer term, is any firearm that you don’t have a full set of spares for?  As soon as one of the items you don’t have a spare for fails, it becomes a paperweight (or, at least, a source of spares for other similar guns you might own).  And Murphy’s Law – which will be working overtime after TEOTWAWKI – almost mandates that any parts that fail will be parts you don’t have.

That issue also touches on the value in standardizing the weapons used among the members of your group.  If you all use the same weapons, that means any of you are immediately able to competently use someone else’s weapon, and you need a smaller inventory of spare parts.  This is an important topic we’ll write separately about on a future occasion.

Make sure, the first time (and, ideally, every time) you fully strip and reassemble any firearm that you either have a knowledgeable friend double-check your work to confirm the pistol has been properly reassembled before then firing it, or at least that you do so yourself.  Many pistols have a standardized set of safety/function checks you can and should do after reassembling it to help you confirm its return to safe operation prior to the first time you test fire it.  The last thing you want is a pistol exploding in your face.

Two sources of materials to teach yourself some gunsmithing capabilities are On-Target Productions (videos and printed manuals) and the American Gunsmithing Institute (a huge range of full teaching programs and videos).

3.  Reliability

Reliability means that every time you want the gun to go ‘bang’ it will indeed do exactly that, with no jams or malfunctions.  It also means that it will never discharge unexpectedly without your having pulled the trigger yourself.

No gun is 100% reliable, and we include revolvers in that statement.  Some people mistakenly believe that revolvers are 99.999% reliable, and so choose a revolver as being the most reliable pistol possible.

Maybe we’ve just spent too much of our lives shooting firearms, but we’ve seen plenty of revolvers unexpectedly fail in the field.  Pieces work loose, fall off, wear out of spec, or jam.  Parts rust and corrode.  Springs break.  And so on, almost as much for revolvers as for semi-auto pistols.

The reliability of any pistol should be considered under two categories – its ability to function without malfunctions, and its ability to function without jams.  Most people use the terms interchangeably, but strictly speaking, a malfunction is considered to be an easily solved problem that you can fix in a few seconds in the middle of a gunfight (assuming you can spare a few seconds at such a time!), whereas a jam takes the gun out of service until an armorer can take some time and tools to fix it.  A jammed gun in a gunfight is a disaster, a malfunctioning gun is less serious (but still ideally avoided).

It is true that revolvers malfunction appreciably less than semi-autos (ie almost never, ever), but they jam pretty much as often as semi-autos.  Because most people don’t choose to distinguish between jams and malfunctions, they end up mistakenly believing that revolvers are 99.999% reliable both as measured by malfunction rate (a correct assessment) and by jam rate (a very incorrect statement).

Furthermore, if you had to choose between a pistol that malfunctions rarely and almost never jams (a good semi-auto), or a pistol that almost never malfunctions but rarely jams (a good revolver) you should choose the gun that rarely malfunctions but never jams.

A well maintained semi-auto, shooting a suitable choice of cartridge load (ie bullet shape and weight and neither too much nor too little powder/charge) should run 1000 and more rounds between malfunctions.  As many as 5,000 rounds between malfunctions is not unheard of.

Note that, with all pistols, some malfunctions are the fault of the ammo (such as primers not igniting) and, with semi-auto pistols, some other malfunctions are the fault of the shooter (‘limp-wristing’ the pistol rather than holding it firmly).

In terms of jams, a well maintained semi-auto, and again with a suitable cartridge, should go more than 10,000 rounds between failures (the Beretta M9 exceeds 35,000 rounds before failure), and an occasional strip down, check, maintenance and repair of worn and soon to fail parts will extend that time still further.

Our point here is that a modern reliable semi-auto is so incredibly reliable as to make it as close to the equal of a revolver as makes no practical or measurable difference.

Bottom line?  Don’t just rely on our uncorroborated statements.  Look around you at professional gun carriers/shooters.  What do they have in their holsters?  You can – and should – join almost the entire world’s armies and police forces in trusting your life to a semi-auto.

Please Continue Reading

This is the first part of a four-part article series on choosing the ideal prepper pistol.  After you’re read this first part, please do choose to click on to part two – Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol; part three – Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol; and part four – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.  Yes – we finally get around to suggesting an ideal pistol at the end of the fourth part of the series.

Apr 182013
 
The FN5-7 is is a lovely 'super-gun' but look at all the controls on it, making it hard for normal people to become competent in its use.

The FN5-7 is is a lovely ‘super-gun’ but look at all the controls on it, making it hard for normal people to become competent in its use.

This is the second part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you’ve directly arrived at this page, may we suggest you start reading from the first part – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol.  Of course, when you’ve finished this second part, we hope you’ll move on to Part 3 – Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol and then Part 4 – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.  Your reward, at the end of the fourth part, is our suggested ideal pistol choice.

In the first part of this series we suggested the three most important considerations in choosing an ideal pistol for prepper purposes is to select a firearm that has great longevity, is easy to maintain, and reliable in operation.

Few people would disagree with the great importance of these issues.  But what else also needs to be considered?  Here are five more issues, in continuing order of decreasing priority, and – yes, we do expect some howls of protest at some of the comments we make!

Remember, you’re always free to selectively evaluate what you read, both here and elsewhere, and to then apply your own criteria to this and all other issues.  You don’t need to follow everything anyone tells you exactly, and you always should question all advice, even our own.  🙂

4.  Ease of Use – Controls, ‘Manual of Arms’

We’re giving more importance to this issue than you might expect, because in a survival situation, you want to have not just the gun enthusiasts and professionals in your group armed; you want everyone to at the very least be familiar with the basics of working a pistol (ie loading, charging, setting safety on/off, cocking/decocking, shooting, reloading, malfunction clearing, unloading) and hopefully to be comfortable, armed, whenever the situation calls for it (and, ideally, even when the situation doesn’t obviously call for it, too!).

So a gun that is easier to learn and use becomes more important in this situation than it does when an enthusiast is selecting another gun to add to their collection, and welcoming the ‘fun’ of learning its associated manual of arms.

Some pistols have seemingly dozens of levers and knobs and buttons on them.  Others have almost none.  Which do you think is the easier gun to learn to use?  Yes, the one with few or no controls.

You’ll find it very much easier to train people if you avoid pistols with safeties and cocking/decocking levers.  We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen new shooters get confused as to if their safety is on or not – with doubly tragic results.  Some people will carelessly think the gun was safe, and then discover, via a negligent discharge, that it was not safe.  Others will end up unable to shoot due to not understanding the safety was still on.

As an interesting commentary on that second point, which sounds unrealistic, an after-batter review of dead US troops on the beaches of the D-Day landings found many with unfired rifles, but with broken triggers.

Why were the triggers broken and the rifles unfired?  Because the troops forgot to take the safety off, and in their adrenalin rush, didn’t realize what the problem was and simply pulled and pulled on the trigger until it broke.

You need to realize that in high stress situations, the adrenalin dump anyone experiences will shut down their higher reasoning functions, leaving them only with muscle memory and instinctive learned actions.  If you can make the muscle memory and learned actions totally simple, you don’t need to train your fellow retreat community members so much (and remember that some of your community will not like guns and won’t want to be trained anyway) and can still expect them to be able to ‘add value’ in a deadly encounter.

One more thing about safeties.  The most important safety is the ‘human’ safety – a total adherence to the four firearm safety rules is better than any number of mechanical safeties.

For sure, revolvers are among the very simplest of guns to learn to shoot (but the very hardest to learn to reload).  The next easiest to shoot after a revolver is probably a Glock or other double action pistol with no safety/decocker.

5.  Ease of Use – Comfortable Shooter

If you’re going to have to use the pistol, you want to have as low a flinch response as possible.  Maybe you, personally, are a super-macho type who doesn’t care how much blast, flash, noise and recoil the gun generates each time you shoot it, but your non-professional comrades definitely will be affected by such things.

We’ve all seen new shooters tensing up, closing their eyes, then jerkily squeezing the trigger, with the shot going anywhere but towards the target.  They hate the experience and shoot both more slowly and less accurately than they would with an ‘easier’ gun to shoot.

The heavier the gun, the longer the barrel, and the smaller the caliber, the easier the gun will be to shoot.  Some people also think the recoil on a semi-auto is easier to manage than on a revolver – the former is a sort of spongy springy experience, the latter is a hard sudden sharp jolt.  Personally, we quite like the ‘clean’ feeling of a revolver recoil, but we understand the easier felt recoil of firing a semi-auto for many people.

Note that we’ve put ‘comfortable shooter’ higher than caliber or accuracy or number of rounds stored.  An easy shooting gun will be more effective, in the hands of an average or less than average shooter, than a larger caliber super-accurate huge capacity pistol.  The unskilled shooter will shoot more accurately, and more quickly, with a ‘comfortable’ pistol than they will with a ‘super’ pistol, meaning they are more effective overall.

As in every element of firearms skills, the key issue is almost always the person, not the gun.  Design your firearms selections around the people who will be using them, not vice versa.

6.  Ease of Use – Reloading

We’re still not getting to accuracy, because most people don’t shoot very accurately – in a real confrontation – with a pistol.  And when we say ‘most people’ we include trained professionals such as police officers, who struggle to land shots on opponents, in actual encounters, as much as a quarter of the time they shoot.

It is one thing to shoot accurately at the range with an Olympic target pistol.  But you don’t want a gun to win a gold medal at the Olympics with.  You want a gun to save your life, and that’s a very different creature entirely.

In a real encounter (especially in a lawless scenario where all usual behavior modifiers have been nullified), you want to be able to send a lot of rounds downrange, if for no other reason than to control the battlespace and keep the other guy’s head down while you decide what you want to do and how you will do it.

We know that saying this will upset many traditionalists, who have been taught that accuracy is more important than any other element in a gun battle.  Maybe – in an ideal world – accuracy is the most important, but we’re not considering ideal world scenarios, and neither are we considering perfectly trained highly skilled shooters.  Indeed, in a Level 3 situation in particular, and lesserly in Levels 2 and 1, the precious scarcity of ammunition means that you’ll never be able to regularly train your people as often and extensively as you should, so you need to understand the compromises and considerations that become necessary.

Of course, ammunition scarcity becomes a secondary issue when fighting for your life.  In such a situation, your highest priority is to ensure your survival.  Killing – or even wounding – your attackers is not as important as ensuring your survival, and conserving ammunition is hopefully the lowest consideration of all.

Plus there’s a very good chance you’ll find yourself facing multiple opponents.  Do the math :  If you’re reasonably well-trained to the same level of competence as a police officer, that still means you’re only hitting your adversaries with one out of every four or five rounds fired, and if it requires three to five hits to take a determined adversary out of the action, how many rounds will you have to fire to stop three attackers?

The answer is somewhere from a good case scenario of 36 rounds up to a bad case scenario of 75 rounds.  Yes, that’s 12 – 25 rounds needed per person.  Okay, you might get lucky and have a couple of single shot stops, but you might also get unlucky and need to pump ten rounds into a determined adversary before they break off their attack and either run away or collapse.  Oh – and moving ahead of ourselves to the caliber issue, below, as well; that ten round requirement is as true with (your choice of good caliber) as it is with (your choice of bad caliber).

Anyway, bottom line for this section should be obvious.  No matter how many rounds your gun holds, the chances are you’re going to need to reload at least once during a real life encounter.  Some guns are much easier than others to reload.  Some guns have funnel-shaped entrances to their magazine well, and tapered off tops of their magazines (ie most dual stack magazines).  Others have narrow magazine well openings, straight sided magazines, and tricky out-of-the-way magazine release levers.

If you’re stuck with a revolver, then unless you are highly trained and practice regularly, you’ll find it takes ‘too long’ to reload after your first 5 – 8 rounds have been fired.  Reloading a revolver also requires more fine motor skills than reloading a semi-auto, and the first thing you lose in a high stress adrenalin filled situation are fine motor skills.

The low capacity and slow reload time add up to a total deal-breaker for revolvers.

7.  Number of Rounds Stored

The more rounds per magazine, the fewer magazine changes you’ll need to do – that’s sort of obvious, isn’t it.  Having more rounds in your gun also enables you to consider ‘suppressive fire’ – ie simply shooting in the general direction of the bad guys to keep their heads down and to prevent them from shooting back at you.

The subject of magazine capacity is currently a matter of huge debate, with gun-control advocates seeking to limit the capacity of pistol magazines down to 10 or maybe even 8 or 7 rounds.  Some pro-gun people have said ‘a trained shooter can change magazines in a second so the capacity issue doesn’t really matter’.

It is true a trained shooter, with magazines properly indexed in magazine pouches on his belt, can indeed swap magazines in about a second or so; indeed, a super-trained revolver shooter can also reload his revolver in a similar time (but the big difference is that the revolver shooter is recharging 5 – 8 rounds whereas the semi-auto guy is recharging up to 20 rounds in the same or less time).  But in a violent encounter, you may not have your spare magazine(s) in pouches on your belt, and wouldn’t you rather be shooting a half full gun than reloading an empty one?

Plus, most people only carry one or two spare magazines.  Wouldn’t you prefer those two spare magazines to have another 30 – 40 rounds in them, than to only have 12 – 16 rounds in them?

So a gun with a larger capacity magazine capability is better than one with a lower capacity.

Please Continue Reading

This is the second part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you haven’t done so already, may we suggest you next read the first part – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol.  Of course, we hope you’ll also read  Part 3 – Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol and then Part 4 – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.

Your reward, at the end of the fourth part, is our suggested ideal pistol choice.

Apr 182013
 
Pistol calibers and cartridges come in many sizes.  L to R = .22 LR, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 5.7x28

Pistol calibers and cartridges come in many sizes. L to R = .22 LR, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 5.7×28

This is the third part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you’ve directly arrived at this page, may we suggest you start reading from the first part – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol and then the second part – Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol.  Of course, when you’ve finished this third part, we hope you’ll move on to Part 4 – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.  Your reward, at the end of the fourth part, is our suggested ideal pistol choice.

Nothing is a surer way to irrevocably change lifelong friends into forever enemies than to get into a discussion/argument with them about the ‘best’ caliber for a pistol.

Pistols themselves are creatures of compromise, and the calibers they shoot doubly so.  No pistol is as good as a rifle, and no pistol caliber is as good as a rifle caliber.  As the saying goes – a pistol is the gun you use to fight your way to your rifle.

Some people however cling to the belief that there’s a magic caliber endowed with special powers.  There isn’t.  These people are usually the people with ‘tricked out’ pistols with lots of accessories and gadgets, in an ever more desperate effort to avoid the one issue of paramount importance when it comes to effectively using any type of pistol, and of any caliber.  What is that one issue (and why isn’t it on our list of twelve issues)?  That issue is personal training.

No amount of accessories, lasers, lights, sights, no caliber choice, nor anything else will compensate for simple basic training in pistolcraft.

But, we’ve promised you a discussion on calibers, so here goes.

8a.  Caliber – Lethality

The biggest problem surrounding discussions/debates/arguments about pistol calibers is that all pistol calibers are inadequate.

None are good.  All are bad, and as for some being less bad or more bad than others, it really doesn’t matter all that much.  There is no ‘silver bullet’ caliber or cartridge that will guarantee one shot stops.  It is silly to try to find a cartridge that will provide this; it is better to accept the limitation of all pistol calibers and to simply build that into your gun-fighting strategy, with an embedded understanding that you’ll always need to land multiple shots on any adversary to be sure of taking them out of the fight.

The subject is surrounded with huge amounts of emotion, but extremely little truly meaningful scientific research.  While some people will cite ‘studies’ in an attempt to ‘prove’ their opinion, there are so many variables associated with the effects of a person being hit by a bullet as to make all of these studies statistically insignificant and their conclusions invalid.

A year or two back the FBI came out with a new study that reversed some of their earlier findings – the new study said that caliber was less important than shot placement.  At last, they were apparently ending their hopeless question for the perfect bullet, and instead recognizing that the most important thing in a gunfight is not the bullets being fired, but the person doing the shooting.

In other words, instead of going for the biggest badass bullet you can find, go for the one that is easiest to shoot.

But if you want some scientific analysis, here’s a bit of simplified explanation.

First, all pistol bullets are ballistically inadequate.  Unlike high-powered rifle bullets, they travel too slowly to impart hypersonic shock waves into the target they hit.  Hypersonic shock waves can scramble the internal organs of a person, and can even potentially travel up into the brain as well, and significantly increase the chance of a one shot stop, no matter where on the body your shot lands.

But for pistol bullets, with negligible or no hypersonic shock effect, the majority of their lethality comes from hopefully damaging vital organs as they pass through the target.

Now for the main point.  There’s almost no difference in size between most common bullet calibers.  The length of the bullets doesn’t matter much at all, the key measurement is their diameter.

To make it easy to appreciate, let’s look at the diameter measurements in millimeters.  A 9mm bullet is right around 9mm in diameter (as is, also, a .38 or a .357 cal revolver cartridge, and the .380 semi-auto cartridge too).  A .40 cal is right around 10mm and so too is a 10mm round, while the .45 cal is just over 11mm in diameter (and a .44 magnum just under 11mm).

So the biggest bullets are only 2mm – less than 1/10th of an inch – bigger in diameter than the smallest ones.  See what we mean – bullet size is not as big a differentiator of different calibers as you might think.

All pistol bullets are small, and even if they have expanding hollow-points which increase their effective diameter as they create a wound channel through a target, the respective size of the different calibers remains closely similar.  So the statistical likelihood of the biggest bullet hitting a vital organ is only maybe 20% greater than that of the smallest bullet.

A bullet’s weight and speed/energy is important if it hits solid bone – heavier bullets with more energy are more likely to break through the bone and continue traveling, lighter and slower bullets are more likely to be deflected or stopped by bone.  On the other hand, a bullet being deflected off bone and ‘ricocheting’ internally in a person’s body might still do as much harm as a bullet going through the bone and continuing on out the other side.  So it is probably fair to say that bullets with more energy are mildly better than bullets with less energy, but shot placement is always the overriding factor for effectively stopping an attacker.

But if the bullet goes right through the body without encountering any bone, its weight and energy really counts for nothing.  All you’ve done is drill a hole through soft tissue.

Back to the FBI study, and remembering the inadequacy of all pistol calibers, the chances are that you’re going to need to shoot any attacker multiple times – or, to be more precise, you are going to shoot at the attacker many times in the hope of scoring several effective hits to take them out of the fight.

You will achieve this goal – taking them out of the fight – more speedily with a caliber that you can more readily control, which has less recoil so there is less recovery time before your next shot, and more rounds landing on target, and more quickly.

To give a ‘for example’, maybe in a given time frame you can fire six ‘easy to shoot’ rounds and score two hits, or fire four ‘hard to shoot’ rounds and score one hit.  You’re getting twice as many rounds on target, and probably better placed on the target.

Some adversaries will cease their aggression when they see your pistol.  Others will cease when you shoot (even though you miss them).  Others will cease as soon as they are hit, whether it be disabling/life threatening or not.  Only a very few will continue to attack you after you’ve scored your first hit on them.

So you want a pistol that looks ‘real’ rather than a toy to get the first category of people out of the fight, one which you can quickly deploy and credibly shoot, whether the round lands on target or not, to get the second category of people out of the fight, and one which will land rounds on the target quickly to get the third category of people out of the fight.

As for the fourth category of person, you’ll want to be able to land multiple hits on the target as quickly as possible.

All four of these needs argue in favor of the most controllable caliber, not the most ‘lethal’ (a concept which we don’t believe has any meaning with pistol rounds).  If you’re looking for genuine one-shot stop capabilities, carry a rifle.

In other words, for pistols, the best choice for your group as a whole is probably 9mm.

A Very Vivid Example of Pistol Caliber Inadequacy

No matter how much one attempts to belabor the point, many people will stubbornly claim, without a shred of evidence to back up their unchangeable opinion, that their preferred caliber is the best one out there.

Can we offer a real-life example of how pistol calibers are inadequate.  A police officer shot at an assailant 33 times (he only had 37 rounds with him), and very credibly had 14 of his rounds hit the attacker.  Six of the shots were in locations normally considered as quickly fatal.  And – get this, guys – he was using a .45 caliber pistol, almost certainly with high quality hollow point ammunition.

But it was only after two head shots that the attacker stopped his attack.  And even with his 14 injuries, six certainly fatal, the attacker didn’t die until some time subsequently, in hospital.

So – 14 hits, six of them ‘high lethality’ placements, with the caliber that many people consider to be excellent at one shot stops.  The bad guy wasn’t even on drugs, but was merely a determined opponent.  Still feel good about your pistol’s ‘magical’ ability to solve problems?

Note also what the police officer (a master firearms instructor and a sniper on his department’s SWAT team) learned from the encounter.  He has replaced with .45 caliber pistol with a 9mm, so as to conveniently carry more ammunition.  His conclusion is that more rounds of any caliber is the best approach to prevailing in future gunfights.

You’d be well advised to consider a similar strategy.

8b.  Caliber – Other Issues

The alleged lethality of a cartridge is a minor issue, with controllability being a much more important issue, as we’ve just discussed.  There are other issues, too.

You want a gun that is chambered in a common caliber, one that is easy to source, likely to be sometimes offered in trade, even in a future adverse scenario, and one which is relatively inexpensive.

Ideally it should also be a caliber that can readily and safely be reloaded, and one which is easy on the gun it is fired through.  The very high pressures of the .40 cal cartridge disqualify it under these two parameters.

Lastly, although we say that no caliber is good enough to guarantee one-shot stops, we will concede that some calibers are worse than others.  Specifically, we suggest you do not consider semi-auto pistols in a .380 or smaller caliber, or revolvers in anything less than .38 caliber.

Summary of Caliber Related Issues

Both 9mm and .45 cal are common rounds and well suited for personal defense.

9mm has the added advantages of being smaller, lighter, less expensive, and with slightly less recoil.  Your gun, if chambered for 9mm, will hold many more rounds than if chambered for .45.

So we’d generally recommend this as the best compromise caliber for your prepping pistols.

But if you insist on a big caliber, we’d not stand in the way of you getting a .45 instead of a 9mm – we have both ourselves.

Please Continue Reading

This is the third part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you directly arrived at this page, may we suggest you now read the first two parts – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol and  Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol.  Of course, we hope you’ll also move on to Part 4 – Less Important Issues, and an Ideal Pistol Recommendation.

Your reward, at the end of the fourth part, is our suggested ideal pistol choice.

Apr 182013
 
Accuracy is of course important, but is mainly dependent on you, not your pistol choice.

Accuracy is of course important, but is mainly dependent on you, not your pistol choice.

This is the final part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you’ve directly arrived at this page, may we suggest you start reading from the first part – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol and then the second and third parts – Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol, and Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol.

Phew.  So far we’ve covered some obviously important issues, some moderately important issues, and we’ve tried to persuade you that something some people consider of great importance – caliber – is actually not as important as you might have thought.  What else remains?

Here are four more factors to evaluate when choosing your ideal pistol for prepper purposes, and then, finally, a suggested ideal pistol for you to adopt.

9.  Size and Weight

How big and how heavy is the pistol?  Pistols range in size and weight from tiny pieces weighing well under a pound and fitting comfortably into a regular pocket to massive monstrosities weighing well over three pounds.

In general, bigger is better than smaller.  But there comes a point where monstrously big starts to become a negative factor.  Remember the primary purpose of a pistol is convenient portability – it is the ‘take with you everywhere’ gun.  For a really effective firearm, you need to sacrifice convenience and instead choose a rifle.

A larger – that is, longer barreled – pistol is slightly more accurate than a shorter barreled pistol,  The extra barrel length allows the bullet to better stabilize and probably emerge at a slightly higher speed and with slightly greater energy.  The extra barrel length also usually allows for a longer sight radius along its top – but note that accuracy is the second least important attribute we list for pistols.

A heavier pistol has two possible advantages as well as the obvious disadvantage of extra weight meaning more hassle to carry, and we again restate that you should not try to over-engineer and over-specify what you expect in your pistol.  A pistol is merely the gun you use to fight your way to your rifle – any real gun battle should always be conducted with a rifle, not a pistol.

On the weight issue, the heavier the pistol, the less stressful the recoil will be.  The weight of the gun ‘soaks up’ the recoil better in a heavy pistol than a light one.  Many people misunderstand this and think small light guns are the easiest to shoot – that is completely wrong, but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve heard either gun buyers saying ‘I want a light easy to shoot gun’ or an advisor (often a husband or father) telling someone (ie a wife or daughter) ‘choose that one, it is nice and light and easier to shoot’.

Secondly, a heavier pistol implies a pistol that has more metal in it, meaning less stress on the components because they are ‘over-engineered’ for greater life and reliability, and probably less sensitivity to individual cartridge configurations.  This is sometimes the case, but also sometimes not (for example the Hi-Point pistols which have very heavy slides as part of their simple blowback mechanism).

There’s one more thing about size.  A ‘normal’ sized pistol (ie 4 – 5″ barrel) is intimidating and may solve a problem without needing to be fired.  When a bad guy sees you confidently present your ‘normal’ pistol at him, he is more likely to back off than if you present a tiny little ‘pocket rocket’.

A tiny 2″ barreled pistol looks much less mean and scary, and because of that, it is more likely you’ll end up needing to use it ‘for real’.  Our feeling is that the intimidation factor is greatest with ‘normal’ pistols; if you have some ridiculous ‘tricked out’ over-size pistol, you start to look slightly foolish yourself and that also detracts from the overall ability of yourself to project a credible deterrent to whoever it is you’re encountering.

So we’re suggesting pistols with a 4″ – 5″ barrel and probably weighing 1.5 – 2.5 lbs as being best all-rounders.

10.  Ease of Carry and/or Concealment

Although we ourselves live most of the time in states where open-carry is lawful, we generally choose not to visibly open-carry our pistol(s).  In the ‘normal’ world, open carrying can place the person with the pistol at a tactical disadvantage, and requires them to always be conscious of who is around them and to be ready to fight to control the retention of their pistol from unexpected attacks.

It also shows any bad guys that you have a gun and where it is; you have no surprise factor at all in an encounter.  One more thing – rather than encouraging people to be polite and well-behaved around you, it can actually incite some fools (usually drunk) to provoke a confrontation with you, and the question ‘So what are you going to do about it, Mr Tough Guy?  Shoot me?’ is one we’ve heard expressed in such situations – situations where it would be totally inappropriate to present let alone fire your weapon.

So, in the normal world, our preference is to carry concealed.  That’s a whole discussion in and of itself, and may require some modifications to your choice of firearm.

But in an extreme adverse situation in the future, maybe the need to carry concealed is no longer as strong, and instead the need to be able to quickly access both your pistol and your extra magazines is of greater importance.  Maybe also, instead of potentially provoking encounters with people who know they can safely tease you with impunity, because if you as much as touch your pistol in a threatening manner, they’ll have the police lock you up so fast your feet won’t touch the ground (true); maybe in this case, in a situation where the rule of law has been suspended, people realize that it is an ‘every man for himself’ struggle, and that provoking a fight is more likely to create a tragic consequence for the provoker, and with no police likely to respond.

So our feeling is that concealability will be much less important when TSHTF, and that instead you will want to carry your pistol in a way that you can most quickly get at it – in other words, a traditional vertical no-slope outside the waist-band holster, and ideally with an obscured retention device for the holster if you’re likely to be in areas with higher densities of people.

By obscured retention device we do not mean an obvious SERPA style lock on the outside (away from your side) of the holster, and neither do we mean a strap with a snap catch over the top of the pistol.  Instead, we suggest a lever device of some sort on the inside (close to your side) of the holster that people can’t see and don’t realize is there – a ‘Level 3’ type holster such as, for example, this Bladetech product.

11.  Accuracy

We imagine some people have already left this article, shaking their heads in disgust at our lack of respect for the ‘importance’ of accuracy.

Yes, accuracy is important, but we place it in the second last position because almost any gun can outperform the person shooting it.  The accuracy/inaccuracy of a good pistol (such as this lovely Wilson Combat) might be +/- one inch at 50 ft when fired from a bench rest (the Wilson claims one inch at 75 ft).  But, in the field, with you shooting in a stressed situation, your accuracy will be +/- one foot at a 15 ft range (or maybe even worse).  The gun is 40 times more accurate than the shooter.

All accuracy is good, but any pistol that you’re considering is likely to have good accuracy to start with, and the path to better accuracy is not to buy a fancier more expensive pistol, but rather to train yourself to better use whatever pistol you do have.

So, in case it is not obvious, we do agree that accuracy is essential, but the path to accuracy lies not so much in your choice of pistol as it does in your choice to train yourself to use it accurately.

A factor which may impact on accuracy is the ‘ergonomics’ of the pistol.  If the grip is too large (or too small) that might have a measurable impact, but in general, with standard sized name-brand pistols, they’ll all massively outshoot you when it comes to accuracy – maybe only slightly so on a range, but massively so in a combat situation.

We’ve seen some people shoot well with one pistol and poorly with another, whereas other shooters have performed exactly the opposite.  Note that such a wide and random spread of results generally occurs with inexperienced shooters – the better skilled you are, the less your personal accuracy will vary with your choice of pistol.

A pistol is not designed to be an accurate weapon.  If you want or need accuracy, use your rifle.  Instead of being accurate to an inch at 50 ft, a good rifle is accurate to an inch at over 100 yards.

12.  Price

Last, and truly least, price.

Although we linked to a $3000+ Wilson pistol in the previous section, there’s almost never any need to spend over $1000 on a pistol, and many times you’ll find that $750 or less will be plenty to buy you the best possible pistol out there.  For example, Glock 17 pistols are selling on Gunbroker.com for $600 or less, and some local discount stores may sell them for as little as $550.

On the other hand, however, you have to wonder about guns that are ‘too low’ in price.  There’s a sweet spot from about $500 – $1000 which allows a gun manufacturer to make a no-compromise pistol that will function reliably and well; if you pay less than $500, there’s a worry that some cost saving strategy might impact on the gun’s ongoing reliability; and if you pay more than $1000, well, good luck to you, but don’t assume that just because the gun costs more, it is any better than one costing less than $1000.

Do you want to save a few hundred dollars on a tool that you’ll be trusting your life on?  No, we didn’t think so!  So, within the $500 – $1000 price range, focus on the gun and how it rates under the other 11 issues we’ve discussed on this and the other pages of this article series, rather than its price tag.

And the Winner Is?

We like guns.  We own guns.  Indeed, we like guns a lot, and own a lot of guns.  We happily ‘mix and match’ our carry guns from day-to-day, depending on what we’re wearing and where we’re going.  We have revolvers and semi-autos.  We have tiny pocket pistols in .32 caliber, and long-barreled .357 magnum revolvers.  We have .22 cal plinkers, and exotic ‘super-guns’ in exotic calibers (ie 5.7×28).  We have cheap guns and expensive guns, and we have – oh, heck, you get the picture.  We like all guns.  🙂

We like Sigs, Berettas, 1911s of all flavors, Brownings, Berettas, Walthers, H&Ks, and FNs.  Rugers are great, as are S&W, Springfield, and Colt.  And so on, through the long list of gun manufacturers.  You could present us with a pistol from pretty much any manufacturer and we’d sincerely thank you for the gift.  🙂

But if we had to choose one and only one gun to take with us into a serious survival situation, a gun that we could rely on working, every time, for many thousands of times, we don’t need to think twice what our choice would be.  By all the twelve measures above, we’d happily reach for our full size 9mm Glock 17 semi-auto.  Sure, we’ve added night sights to it, and adjusted the trigger, but we loved it and won distinctions with it as a totally standard pistol with no work on it whatsoever, and we just love it all the more now that we’ve tweaked it a bit.

Glock make four pistols in 9mm, and we have all of them (models 17, 19, 26 and 34).  The 19 is slightly more concealable than the 17, and the 26 slightly more concealable again, but we’ve found that we can always conceal our 19 just as readily as our 26, so the 26 sits unloved in the safe.  The 34 is a lovely gun, but somehow we find ourselves using our 17 as our ‘workhorse’ gun.

The current model Glocks are termed the ‘Gen 4’ series (because they are, sort of, the fourth generation of Glock pistols), and when they first came out, they had reliability issues.  But those issues have been resolved, although unfortunately they gave the Gen 4 series a bad reputation to start with – so bad that Glock decided to continue making the previous Gen 3 series alongside the Gen 4 until such time as the bad reputation faded.

You’ll sometimes find people who don’t realize that the updated Gen 4 series pistols are now as ultra-extraordinarily reliable as the Gen 3 pistols, and they will try to talk you out of choosing a Gen 4 for that reason.  Ignore them.

Other people will say ‘The Gen 3 is cheaper’; and while that is true, you get an extra magazine included with the Gen 4 which helps to bridge the price gap, and it is an all-round better gun.  As we said in the previous section, do you want to save $50 or less on a tool that you’ll be relying on to save you in an emergency?  Of course not.

Summary

In this extensive article series, spanning four parts and almost 8,500 words, we’ve looked at the issues that are relevant to you as a prepper for choosing an ‘ideal’ pistol.  If you were a target shooter, you’d have different criteria, and you’d have different selection criteria again as a soldier or police officer.  Our discussion is primarily for preppers.

Realizing that there is no such thing as an ideal pistol (or caliber) and that all choices embody many compromises and limitations, we none the less end up with the conclusion and recommendation that you outfit your retreat community with Glock 17 pistols.

This is the final part of a four-part article series on how to select the ideal pistol for preppers.  If you directly arrived on this page, may we suggest you start reading from the first part – The Most Important Selection Criteria When Choosing an Ideal Pistol and then the second and third parts – Four More Selection Criteria to Choose the Ideal Pistol, and Caliber Issues When Choosing Your Pistol.

Please also see other articles in our Defense category and Firearms subcategory in particular.

Mar 242013
 
These Cobra FRS/GMRS units are typical middle-of-the-road units.

These Cobra FRS/GMRS units are typical middle-of-the-road units.

In a future ‘grid down’ situation, your normal cell phones will almost certainly not be working.  These days we’ve grown so accustomed to being always in touch with everyone, no matter where we are or where they are, that we’ll almost certainly want to recreate some form of ubiquitous communications, at least with other members of our retreat community and possibly with friendly nearby neighbors, too.

There is a wide range of different types of radios that can give you this ability, ranging from little more than $10 each and up from there to $1,000+ each.  Many of these radio transceivers (ie a radio that both transmits and receives) require some sort of official FCC license to operate.  Some types of license simply involve paying a fee to the FCC, other types of license require you to pass a skills/knowledge test about radio theory and practice.  Other types of radio require no license at all.

The good news is that the types of radio that require no license at all (there are four main types – CB, MURS, FRS and GMRS) are generally the least expensive, most readily available, and probably all that you need for most of your survival requirements.  Sure, the fancy and expensive Ham and commercial radios might be more appealing, more powerful, and more functional, but unless you’re going to go through the necessary licensing steps to qualify for operating these types of radios (anyone can buy and own these radios without having to show or prove their licensing authority to operate them, but as soon as you press the transmit key, you’re committing a moderately serious offense if you aren’t already appropriately licensed) you’re best to leave them alone.

See the next section for why we strongly recommend you follow all FCC restrictions, requirements and regulations.

Don’t Break the FCC Licensing Laws

We always urge you to conform to all laws, even in a period ‘without rule of law’, because you don’t want to create any type of vulnerability, either before, during or after any type of Level 1/2/3 situation.  You might think ‘WTSHTF no-one is going to care if my radio is licensed or not’ but you’d only be partly right.

First of all, what happens prior to when things all go wrong?  How can you practice and rehearse for such situations with your radios without breaking the law if you don’t have the appropriate licenses?  You’ll definitely want to get familiar with your radios, and the coverage areas they provide you, and which channels are most free of interference; that will require extensive use of your radios long before any type of problem scenario.

Secondly, there will be patches of semi/pseudo law and order, even in the depths of a Level 2 or 3 situation.  If you’ve ever talked to a policeman, you know they boast ‘We can always arrest you for something’.  Maybe that’s true, but don’t make it any easier than unavoidable for them to find a reason to arrest you.

If you and the interim authorities get offside of each other (and we do foresee unavoidable tensions between the unprepared majority and the well prepared minority, with the former seeking any excuse or authority at all to confiscate food and supplies from the latter), you desperately don’t want to give them any sort of reason to confiscate any of your prepped supplies, and/or to ‘fine’ you or lock you up.

Thirdly, at the end of any such situation and with the return of normalcy, anyone you may have upset during the lawless period can now attack you – hopefully not physically, but definitely legally, using any of the laws that you may have broken during the crisis situation.

Can you rely on the grey suited faceless government bureaucrats – perhaps the same people who were going hungry while you were restricting your own limited supplies for your family – saying ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, they were tough times for us all, the important thing is you survived, never mind how many laws you broke in doing so’?

The Four Types of Unlicensed Radio Services Anyone Can Use

As we mentioned above, there are four main types of radio service which you can use without needing a license.  All of these are covered by Part 95 of the FCC’s regulations.

We recommend you concentrate on the FRS and GMRS type of radios, so let’s explain the differences between the four radio services and why FRS/GMRS is probably the best choice for most people.

CB Radio

You probably remember CB radios (CB stands for ‘Citizens Band’) from the 1970s – they became very popular after movies like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and many people had them in their cars.  But after only a brief period of general popularity, they faded back into obscurity and while they are still out there, and while they are still used by many truckers, these days most ‘normal’ people never have any contact with CB radios.

CB radios can have as good or even better range than FRS/GMRS radios when outdoors but not so good indoors (and are still basically limited by line-of-sight considerations), but they require very large antennas for good range (about 9′ as a good compromise length – a quarter wavelength).  This is practical at a ‘base station’ – ie in your retreat, it is possible in a vehicle, but is very much less practical in a portable radio – a ‘walkie talkie’.

Furthermore, over the last decade or more, radio manufacturers have lost interest in CB radio (there are fewer companies making them, fewer models available, and very little in the way of new models or feature), and there are not many high-end models available as portable sets.  That’s not to say you don’t still have a reasonable selection, as you can see from Amazon’s several pages of listings.

If you only wanted communications between vehicles and base stations, maybe CB radio is still a possibility, but why would you want to limit yourself to only base and vehicle services?  Whatever you use has to be useful in all three types of applications – base, mobile, and portable.

For the sake of completeness, we’ll tell you some more about CB radio.  It was established back in the 1940s, and originally was a licensed service.  In 1983 they became unlicensed (largely because during their surge of popularity in the 1970s, many people didn’t bother licensing them and it seems the FCC gave in to the inevitable), so now anyone can operate a CB radio without needing an FCC license.  The radios can be used for both business and personal communications.

There are 40 AM channels in a range from 26.965 MHz to 27.405 MHz (channel 9 – 27.065 MHz is an emergency calling channel, and channel 19 – 27.185 MHz, is a general ‘hailing’ channel to contact other people).  The channels from 36 – 40 are often used in a SSB form which gives the signal more range and power (all channels could be used in SSB mode but by convention only the upper five channels are used that way).

CB radios can have external antennas, and are limited to 4W in power, or 12W in SSB mode.  In years gone by, it was common to see a lot of illegally modified CB radios – typically either with too much transmitting power (some would go as high as 1,000 Watts) or tweaked for non-standard frequency operation.  Even now, with only a bit of searching, you could probably find ‘linear amplifiers’ for power boosting and radios capable of transmitting on non-official frequencies.  But if that appeals, maybe you should re-read the preceding section on keeping everything legal!

Here’s an FCC summary explanation of CB service.  For full details of any of the four types of service, you should click the link to their full Part 95 regulations.

MURS

The Multi-Use Radio Service, or MURS for short, is the newest of the four services.  It was established by the FCC in 2002.  There are five VHF FM frequencies (in a range from 151.820 MHz to 154.600 MHz) and they can be used for business or personal use, but can not be patched into the normal telephone system.

MURS radios are limited in power to 2W, and can have external antennas.  Repeaters are not allowed.

MURS is an okay alternative to FRS/GMRS, although with 2W maximum power, they may have more difficulty reaching their theoretical maximum (ie line of sight) range).  Unfortunately, there are very few MURS radios out there, and they tend to be more expensive than the FRS/GMRS radios, so we prefer to focus on FRS/GMRS to the exclusion of MURS.

Here’s the Amazon page of MURS radios.  Currently it seems there’s nothing less than $80 per radio, whereas the FRS radios can be had for as little as $10 each.

Here’s an FCC summary explanation of MURS service.

FRS

The FRS (Family Radio Service) was instituted in 1996.  The rules associated with it are designed to allow for only very limited range communications, which can be for either business or personal purposes.  The radios can not have external antennas, and are limited to a maximum power of 0.5W.

There are 14 FM different frequencies, the first seven of which are shared with GMRS radios.  They range from 462.5625 MHz to 467.7125 MHz.

Manufacturers have started offering FRS radios at amazingly low prices – it is not uncommon to see a pair of them being sold for $50 or less.  As you can see, Amazon has a lot of different FRS radios, with some as inexpensive as $20 a pair.

You will also see that the radios are being advertised as having range capabilities up to 36 miles.  Do not believe this nonsense claim.  Well, to be more specific, if you were up the top of a ship’s mast on the unobstructed ocean, or if you were on the top of a mountain, and looking over to a person that you could see (through a telescope) free of obstructions on the top of another ship mast or mountain, then maybe – just possibly maybe – you could get a signal to punch through.

But for the real world, with obstructions between you and the people you’re wanting to communicate with, you’ll probably get something less than a mile, and often very much less.

One more thing about these offensively incorrect statements about range capabilities.  Don’t think that a radio with a claimed range of 36 miles is better than one with a claimed range of 24 miles, or any other range.  Typically there are the same identical radio electronics inside the different models of FRS radio; the main difference is the packaging, the marketing hype, and the price.

So the good news about FRS is that the radios are very inexpensive.  The bad news is the radios are good for only very short-range communication.  But even the lack of range is a mixture of good and bad news.  You don’t want strangers, five miles away, to be able to listen in on your communications or even to know you’re out there at all.  If low powered FRS radios give you the range you need around your retreat property, but don’t reach much further, then that is a good rather than bad thing.

Also, with low transmitting power comes longer battery life.  There’s a lot to like about FRS radios, and you need to realize that sometimes short-range is a good rather than a bad thing.

Here’s an FCC summary explanation of FRS service.

GMRS

Yes, we’ve deliberately left what we view to probably be the best radio service until last.  The General Mobile Radio Service has the same 1940s origins as CB radio, and, the same as CB radio, has evolved over the years.  Although CB’s evolution has brought us to an easily understood point today, the same is not quite as true for GMRS, which is in a period of regulatory transition at present.

The Evolving History of GMRS

The distinctive thing about GMRS is that it uses similar, and in some cases, identical frequencies to the FRS radios, but usually at greater power and with fewer restrictions.  This meant that it didn’t take too long after the release of FRS frequencies in 1996 for manufacturers to start selling dual-purpose radios – higher power for GMRS and lower power if you switched the radio to its lower power setting for FRS.

But whereas FRS has always been a license-free service, back in 1996 GMRS required a license – either a business or a family license – to be used.  So the manufacturers were being slightly naughty selling radios that combined FRS and GMRS capabilities, and selling them at retail rather than through specialty radio stores, and with only the smallest of small print somewhere telling the purchaser that to use all the frequencies, and on high power, it was necessary to now go fill out a form and pay a license fee every five years to the FCC.  The five-year license fee ($85) is often very much more than the person spent to buy two or more of the walkie-talkie radios.

You’ll be unsurprised to learn that lots of people bought the more powerful combo radios, and almost none of them bothered to get FCC licenses.  At first, the pre-existing GMRS licensees were appalled at their quiet uncongested ‘sensible’ channels suddenly getting shared with unregulated users, often young children just having fun in the back yard, and the FCC tried to enforce its licensing laws.

But it became plain to the FCC that, just like with CB radio licensing in the 1970s, this was an unwinnable fight, and what could it do, anyway?  Even the nastiest FCC official didn’t really think it fair to send a family – mom, dad, and the kids too – to federal prison for two years because they’d bought a pair of radios at Office Depot or Costco or Target or wherever, didn’t read all the pages of fine print, and were just simply having fun with them.  And the cost of trying to go after probably hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of law breakers was just impossible for even the federal government to consider.

So they unofficially gave up on enforcing the requirement for licenses, and in 2010 published a proposal to officially remove the licensing requirement for GMRS radios (and also to change power limits and some other things too).  Strangely, the proposal has languished somewhere in the FCC and is still pending, unresolved, nearly three years later, as we write this in March 2013.

So at present the theory says you need to buy an $85 five-year license to use GMRS radios, but the FCC no longer seems to be enforcing this.

The Present Situation with GMRS Radios

GMRS radios are allowed to transmit up to 50W of power, although we’re unaware of any handheld GMRS devices that do this (they’d eat through batteries tremendously quickly, and might be dangerous in terms of too-strong RF emissions too close to you).  Some of the base stations and mobile units do use this much power, though, and that really helps you punch your signal a bit further out, and through obstructions on the way.

GMRS radios can have external antennas, and can be used by either the licensee’s family or the employees of a licensed business.  We expect this will probably become ‘can be used for personal or business use’ once the requirement for licensing is removed.  You can’t connect a GMRS radio into your phone system.

We’ll talk more about range another time, but suffice it to say that while more transmitter power doesn’t always guarantee more range, if all other things are equal, more power can often help provide additional range out to the end of ‘line-of-sight’.  For a portable handheld transceiver and a short stubby antenna, with probably 1W or 2W of power, you’ll get similar or slightly better range than with an FRS unit.

Unique among these four radio types is permission to operate repeaters for GMRS radios.  This can massively extend the range of a GMRS based system, allowing it to reach out potentially 50 or more miles, depending on the topography of the area in which you live.

There are 23 FM frequencies assigned to the GMRS series.  Sixteen of these are in the form of eight frequency pairs for repeater operation, and the other seven frequencies are shared with FRS service.  Frequencies range from 462.5500 MHz to 467.7250 MHz.

There are many GMRS radios to choose from, ranging from ‘consumer’ grade units that are usually dual purpose FRS/GMRS units up to ‘prosumer’, professional and commercial grade units.  The consumer type dual purpose units cost little more than FRS-only radios, the high-end units can cost plenty more than $100 each.

There are two major points of differentiation between consumer and professional/prosumer/commercial units.  The first is the more expensive radios have better receiver circuits and can take external antennas – these capabilities will have more impact on your radio’s effective range than its power output.  The second is that the more expensive radios will be capable of operating in both ‘normal’ mode (what is termed ‘simplex’) and also in split mode, with different frequencies for sending and receiving, a mode which allows the radio to work with a repeater.

You can see Amazon’s extensive range of GMRS radios from the link.

As with the FRS radios, ignore the ludicrous claims of enormous ranges.  Remember also – don’t think that, whatever the range truly is, that because one radio costs $40 and claims a 30 mile range that it ‘must’ be better than a radio costing $30 and claiming a 20 mile range – they probably have identical circuitry inside.  More professional GMRS radios are typically sold by industrial and Ham radio manufacturers and are described as being in the 70cm band or UHF or will show the frequencies they can operate as ranging from somewhere below the start of the GMRS band to somewhere above the end of the GMRS band – sometimes as broad as 400 – 520 MHz.

Not all of these radios though are certified for use with GMRS service.  The FCC might have certified them for Ham radio service (Part 97 of their regulations) and for private land mobile radio services (Part 90) but perhaps the manufacturer didn’t request Part 95 certification too.  That may pose a slight ethical dilemma for you.

Become a Licensed Ham Radio Operator

If you want to be able to lawfully use more powerful and sophisticated radios (although, alas, they’ll be more expensive, too), if you’d like the flexibility of additional frequency bands (that fewer other people will be likely to be accessing or using too), and to have additional capabilities and longer ranges, then you probably should become a Ham radio operator.

The good news is that – these days – there’s no need to learn Morse code.  For a basic ‘Technician’ Ham license you need to learn about some aspects of radio theory, law and operation, and then sit a test with 35 multi-choice questions for which you must get 26 correct.

You can see a list of about 400 multi-choice questions from which the 35 questions will be semi-randomly chosen in advance, making it easy to prepare for the test, and easy to pass it.  There are two higher levels of Ham license you can also obtain, after passing two more exams.

We have a separate article that tells you all you need to know about how to become a licensed Ham radio operator.

Encryption, Scrambling, and Codes

The FCC forbids the use of encryption or scrambling (two words that essentially mean the same thing) or talking in code on these public access frequencies.  But it does allow people to use codes such as the popular ’10 Code’, and as you’ll see if you do some research on the 10 codes, there are an enormous number of different codes, and some numbers mean different things in different areas for different user groups.  Yes, 10-4 pretty much universally means ‘Okay, understood, agreed’ but beyond that, things get more arcane and individualized.

There are some walkie-talkies with built-in encryption capabilities.  You can legally buy these, but you can’t legally enable the encryption feature.  That might sound stupid, but – hey – you can legally buy a sports car that will do 200 mph even if you’re not allowed to drive it at that speed anywhere.

If you want to draw attention to yourself, then start using encryption.  That’s a sure way to end up with an unwelcome visit from an FCC Radio Inspector (there are legions of self-appointed ‘spies’ – Hams who monitor radio communications eagerly looking for violators they can report to the FCC for enforcement action).  But if you want a low level of security you could use your own set of 10 codes, and you could also use some obfuscations – for example, maybe you could flip any bearings you give and say a number 180 degrees different, and maybe you could change numbers in some way too.  ‘I see ten people six miles south of us’ might mean ‘I see five people three miles north of us’.

Summary

Some type of wireless communication service and strategy will be close to essential for life after TEOTWAWKI.

Ham radio gear is probably the best choice for the truly dedicated prepper, but if you have less time, less budget, and less technical skill, then GMRS radios are probably the second best choice.

Please see our detailed two-part Buyer’s Guide to Walkie Talkies for information on how to choose the most appropriate units for your needs and budget.

Mar 202013
 
A classic US military TA-312A/PT Field Phone.

A classic US military TA-312A/PT Field Phone.

As we’ve discussed in our article ‘Will there be telephone service after TSHTF?‘, it is probable that any event such as to activate your prepping survival plans will see a loss of both wired and wireless phone service.  We also predict the same failure for internet service, for similar reasons.

This will make your retreat electronically cut off from the outside world.  Oh – with the likely shortage or total disappearance of diesel and petrol supplies, you’ll become more physically removed from the nearest township too.

There will remain methods of communication, which we’ll discuss in subsequent articles in this series (particularly ham radio, and we’ve already advocated you should get a ham radio operator license) and of course other methods of transportation (or of fueling your current vehicles) too.  But this article approaches one of the alternatives you have for communications in, on and around your retreat property.  Using Wired Phones.

The Pluses and Minuses of Using Wired Phones

Apart from smoke signals, semaphore, and other ‘low bit rate’ forms of signaling, most of your communications around your retreat property would be either by wireless telephony of some sort (CB or other walkie-talkie, ham radios, Wi-Fi devices or cell phones) or by wired phones.

As we never tire of saying, you need to plan for a low-tech ultra-reliable type of communications that you can be certain will survive any initiating events that plunge you into a Level 2/3 situation, and which will continue to operate during the period of that situation.  As lovely as wireless devices are, they are less resilient.

There is another downside to wireless communications.  They are more readily detected and monitored by unfriendly people.  What is the point of being obsessive about ‘Op-Sec’ in a dozen different ways if you are chattering away on walkie-talkies regularly every day, providing a huge big electronic ‘homing beacon’ for unfriendly people to zero in on.  With scanning radios nowadays being inexpensive, readily available, and easy to use (for example, the $100 Bearcat handheld scanner listed on the many pages of scanners at Amazon, here) you have to assume that any radio transmissions you are emitting will eventually be picked up by people who may not have your best interests at heart.

Wireless devices also need batteries.  Sooner or later, you are going to run out of batteries, and/or your rechargeable batteries will wear out.

In comparison, wired phones are much more secure and harder for unwanted third parties to eavesdrop and listen in on.  They are generally lower tech and probably are more likely to be repairable if they develop a problem.  They might also require power, but they are probably much more forgiving about the type of power and the exact voltage they’ll operate with than is the case with a wireless device.

But a wired phone is not something you can have with you, all the time, everywhere you are located.  You need to have wiring run to each place a phone is placed.  And the wires are somewhat vulnerable to accidental or deliberate damage, although it is true your radio signals could also be deliberately jammed (all an enemy would have to do is to transmit on the same frequency as you any time you started a transmission, which might cause your transmission to be displaced by his).

Overall, if you are asking yourself the question ‘Should I prepare for wired or wireless communications at my retreat?’ you are probably not asking the correct question.  Ideally, you should have both.  Where possible, you’d use wired communications, but also have the ‘safety blanket’ of a wireless device with you for emergency communications.

Note that emergency communications might occur from you to other members of your retreat community, or equally likely, in the other direction from them to you.  Emergency communications don’t only involve ‘Help, we are being attacked’ type scenarios.  There are plenty of other emergencies and high priority reasons for calling someone else, and many of those scenarios won’t see either you or the person needing to contact you being at a wired phone.

So in the balance of this article, we look at issues to do with a simple type of wired phone – the field phone.  We’ll also be publishing articles on other communication options subsequently.

What is a Field Phone?

There is no formal definition for what a field phone is or is not, other than a vague expectation that it is a rugged device and probably of military origin.

When we talk about field phones, we are referring to very simple basic analog phones, although note that the latest military field phones are sophisticated digital devices.  There is nothing wrong with these at all, but they require more support and high-tech infrastructure than very low tech analog devices and from a prepping perspective, we are best advised to keep it as simple as possible.

The simplest phones of all require no power of any sort – no mains power, and no battery power either, because they are sound powered.  Slightly more sophisticated field phones are battery-powered, either from batteries inside each phone set or by batteries at a central switching location.

Field phones are connected to each other and to switching points via ordinary wire (rather than coax cable).  Some phones use two wires, others use four wires.  Two wire phones are typically a ‘simplex’ type of operation where only one person can be speaking at a time (like using walkie-talkies); four wire phones permit ‘duplex’ operation with both people speaking simultaneously.

Field phones are generally not equipped with dial pads and generally are not connected to any type of automatic switching exchange.  They certainly could be equipped with such capabilities, and be connected through an automatic exchange too, but as the sophistication of the phones and the required ‘central office’ support equipment increases, we feel we are no longer talking about ‘field phones’ which, by definition, should be thought of as very simple devices with limited capabilities.

There is no reason why you couldn’t create your own automated private exchange if you wish to do this – there are plenty of ‘off the shelf’ systems that you can buy for varying amounts of money, and with varying features, and you might validly wish to add a small private exchange to your retreat as well.

But the more sophisticated you make your communications, the greater the vulnerability they present.  They become more maintenance intensive, they become more energy intensive (requiring good quality electricity) and they become more EMP-vulnerable (phone lines will act as antennas to funnel and magnify EMP energy into the phones and other devices they are connected to, making phones and phone switching equipment very vulnerable to EMP effects).

There is also no reason why some field phones could not be connected – either directly or through your own branch exchange/switch, to the public phone network as well.  But you’re running into the danger of ‘over-engineering’ your situation and your solution.  Field phones are designed to be simple in form and simple in function.

At the other extreme to the latest multi-feature digital phone, you end up with a sound-powered phone.  Sure, it does nothing other than transmit voice to another person, but there’s almost nothing that can go wrong with it, and the few things that might go wrong can generally be repaired without any specialty high-tech tools, equipment, or parts.

Some things are common for all field phones – especially issues to do with how you wire them.  We consider these issues in this article; in another article we talk about the different types of field phones you can choose between.

Wire for Field Phones

Unlike wire for data or radio frequency circuits, field phone wire doesn’t need to be shielded, and doesn’t require any other special properties.  It just needs to be insulated and suitably strong for however you’ll be laying it.

Field phones can operate on pretty much any type of electrical wire at all.  The larger the gauge of the wire, the less the resistance and the longer the distance you can have between phone sets, especially with sound-powered rather than battery-powered phones.

The ‘entry level’ least expensive and arguably most common type of wire for military field phones is the WD-1/TT or WD-1A/TT single pair multi-strand wire.  It is lightweight and inexpensive, and you can sometimes find it for sale on quarter mile or longer reels.  There are also plenty of other types of mil-spec wire (with better conductivity, but greater weight and higher cost) and there’s no real need for the wire to be mil-spec anyway.

Four Wire vs Two Wire

If money allows, whenever you run one wire, run two or three, because you’ve no idea what you might not want to have in the future, and it is very much easier to run multiple wires at the same time than it is to redo the whole exercise and run more wires later.

In the case of  phone wiring, this means that even if you’re only planning on using a single wire pair type phone system, you should still make a point of running two pairs or four pairs of wire everywhere.  Who only knows what you might not end up using the additional pairs of wires for – you might upgrade your system to a four wire phone system, you might use the wires to run some power, or for remote metering, or who only knows what else.  Or maybe one of the wires breaks and you can then switch over to another spare wire.

Of course, it is one thing to be running multiple pairs of wire over short 100 ft distances within your retreat.  The extra cost is minimal.  But if you’re running a one mile line from one end of your property to the other, or a five mile connection to your neighbor’s retreat, then the cost of doubling up on your materials becomes more appreciable and you might have to compromise between what would be ideal and what is feasible.

Comparative Efficiencies of Different Wire Types

The length of wire you can run is limited primarily by the resistance of the wire.  Resistance is determined by the type of material, the thickness of the wire, and the length of the wire.

In general, copper is the best conductor of electricity (ie it has the lowest resistance), with aluminum as second best, then iron, then steel.  If copper has one unit of resistance, then aluminum has about 1.6, iron has about 6, and steel has about 8.5 units.

To put that another way, for every 8.5 ft of copper wire, you can only have one ft of equivalent thickness steel wire; or for every 1.6 ft of copper wire, you can have one ft of aluminum, and so on.

Another way of looking at it is that to have the same resistance, you must have a steel wire nine times thicker than a copper wire, because the larger the thickness or diameter of the wire, the better the conductivity.  On the other hand, the thicker the wire, the heavier it is, which poses problems if stringing it up between poles, and adds to its cost, no matter how you are running the wire.

Several different sources list comparable effective distances for TA-312 phones depending on the type of wire they are being connected together with.  The same concepts apply to other phones too, of course, such that if a phone’s range with one type of wire is twice as long (or twice as short) then it would be similarly twice as long/short for the other wire options presented as well.

Here’s the table for TA-312 phones (source – alas, the company that lists the phones no longer makes/sells them – I checked in March 2013).  As you can see, the practical working distance lengthens dramatically as the wire thickness increases.

WD-1/TT –  35 Km (22 miles)

Lead Covered Cable (19 Gauge) –  48 Km (30 miles)

Open Wire Line (W-2 #14 AWG copper, 0.064″ diameter) –   370 Km (230 miles)

Open Wire Line (W-74 #12 AWG copper. 0.081″ diameter) –  837 Km (520 miles)

How to Run Your Field Phone Wire Outside

Wiring for inside your retreat is a relatively trivial issue.  You’ll probably have it in the walls and ceiling and terminating in wall jacks, just like for regular phone and data wiring.  But how you run your wire outside is a more complex consideration.

The first consideration is security.  If you don’t want your wire to be obviously exposed, then you’ll almost certainly have to bury the wire to obscure and protect it.  An exposed wire poses several security threats.  First, it could be damaged/broken.  Second, it could be followed, perhaps helping an unfriendly visitor to locate any remote observation posts you might have.  Third, it could be tapped into, allowing unknown parties to listen in on your conversations.  And fourthly, a person might connect a high voltage device in series or parallel with the line, probably destroying whatever devices were connected at either end.

So, for security purposes. a buried line is better than an above-ground line.

Buried lines can be both more vulnerable and less vulnerable to accidental damage.  There is a risk of someone digging through the line, or perhaps as part of plowing a field also damaging the line.  Gophers and moles can be a problem, too.  Over time, tree roots may damage lines.  If a buried line is damaged, it can be more difficult to locate and repair the damage that with an above-ground line, unless you have a sophisticated test device that will tell you the approximate distance to where the line damage is located.

If you are running below-ground wire, you don’t need it in conduit, although that would enhance its protection appreciably, and so if budget allows, we would recommend you to do so, and particularly if you anticipate potential mole/gopher type challenges.  We suggest that one way to protect below ground wire – and to conveniently locate it again if you need to – is to run it alongside fence lines.  Usually any plowing or other working of the ground doesn’t go hard up to the fence line, so your wire is more likely to be undisturbed.

On the other hand, above ground lines are far from bullet-proof, either.  Indeed, there’s a vulnerability in that expression – there’s a danger of idiots capriciously or maliciously shooting at your lines just for the fun of it.  Depending on how you are keeping the lines above ground, if they are strung from tree to tree, you have obvious problems in the wind.

The only good thing about above ground wires is that it is easy to trouble shoot them and to repair them if (when) they break.  Generally we recommend below ground wiring.

If you have below ground wiring, we’d suggest that, where appropriate and possible, you either have inspection and access traps to allow you to easily access the wire or simply run the wire up above the ground on a post then back down below ground again.

If you run the wire in direct lines between traps or posts, that will help you follow its path if you need to dig it up to repair it in the future.

The traps or posts also provide access points where you can connect phones.

Fencing Wire for Field Phones

If you have a wire fence, why not use the fencing wire to carry a phone signal, too?  That is certainly an option.

Typical fencing wire is made out of zinc coated steel, and is 12 – 12½ gauge in diameter.  A 500 ft length of 12 gauge copper wire has a resistance of 0.77 Ω, a similar length of steel wire has a resistance of about 6.6 Ω (source).

Or, to express it another way, the resistance you’d encounter with 100 ft of WD-1/TT wire would be about the same as you’d encounter with 140 ft of fencing wire.

Using fencing wire for your field phones also has the advantage that you can tap into the circuit any time you are close to the fence line.  It is semi-secure, being ‘hidden in plain sight’.

If you were going to do this, then assuming you have a more than two wire fence, we’d recommend connecting the top wire and the third wire together for one part of the phone two wire pair, and the second and fourth wires together for the second phone wire.  Every so often, you should run wires connecting the electrically twinned/joined together fence wires.  This makes the double wiring more fault tolerant.

Doubling the wires this way not only halves the resistance (so then 280 ft of doubled fence wire would be the same as 100 ft of WD-1 wire), but also gives you some redundancy – one of the two wires can break and the other one still remains in place.  And by using only the top wires, the bottom wire (in a typical five wire fence) is left untouched, with this being the one most likely to be contacted by grass and other vegetation that might otherwise cause some of the current to ‘leak’ out.

If you only had three usable strands of wire, we’d recommend that about half the time, the third wire be linked to one of the two wires and the other half the time, it be linked to the other of the two ‘main’ wires.  That way it gives you a reasonably balanced/averaged resistance on both sides of the two wire line.

We would recommend using the middle wire as the one which alternates between sharing the signal with the wire above it and the wire below it.  That way, if you wanted to connect a field phone up to the fence wires, you always know to use the top and bottom wires and to ignore the middle wire.  It doesn’t matter if it is sharing the top or bottom wire, wherever you are.

Clearly, if you came to a gate, you’d then need to have ‘normal’ wire running down from the fence posts, under the entrance/gateway, then up the other side again.  And anywhere you had joins in the wire, you’d want to make sure the two lengths of wire had plenty of contact between them to create a good electrical connection.  In general, it would be preferable to run your fencing with as few joins as possible.

Wiring Topography and Strategy

There are several considerations and different ways to run your wiring.  In its simplest form, you have a simple single pair line running all around the place, and you can connect phones on and off this single pair line anywhere you want to, any time you want to.  Simple sound powered phones will get quieter and quieter for each extra phone currently connected (in parallel) across the wires, so that is a limitation, and there is a similar (but not so severe) type of limitation for battery-powered phones too, but for a quick and easy initial wiring layout, this works just fine.

If you have multiple phones on the one circuit, then anyone can pick up their phone and hear what other people are saying, and there has to be some sort of signaling protocol so a person calling another person can make the call request in a manner that doesn’t cause everyone to simultaneously rush to pick up their phone, only to find that the call wasn’t for them.

There is a variation on the single length of circuit concept, which is to make it into a loop.  This makes the circuit fault tolerant – you can have a break in the loop occur somewhere and the circuit will still work because the current simply flows the ‘other’ way between the devices.

This also makes a nice way of managing your circuit – you can have a test point on each of the two wires that is a break in each wire.  Normally you have the breaks joined together, but you can open up the test point and check for continuity/resistance in the circuit.  You’d get a very different value if a break in the line had occurred than if the line was still okay in both directions – although note that this value will vary depending on how many phones are also connected in parallel across the line and where they are located.  Best to do the test with as few phones across the line as possible.

A more sophisticated system has a star type of shape.  A central point – somewhere in your retreat building, probably, has multiple lines feeding out to different locations, with phones being connected on these multiple lines.  When someone calls on the remote phone, it rings at a switchboard in your retreat, and when someone answers, they can then either talk to the caller or connect them to one of the other phones if the caller wished to be switched to another person on another circuit.

The benefit of this type of system is that you can have multiple conversations simultaneously, and happening separate to each other, rather than having everyone simultaneously using the one circuit and struggling to get a word in edgewise.

In reality, you’re probably not going to have – or need – an extensive phone network.  You might have one phone in the barn, a ‘traveling’ phone that people can take with them when they are working in the fields, maybe another phone as a ‘gate phone’ that visitors can use to call to you at the retreat from your property boundary/gate and ask for permission to enter, and maybe another phone in an observation post.

Summary

Good and convenient communications simultaneously become more essential and more difficult in a future ‘grid down’ situation.  They are more essential because you need to live your life more efficiently, and good communications is an essential part of coordinating your life and your activities with those of the other people in your community.  Good communications are also an essential part of your retreat’s security program.

But the ‘grid down’ nature of a future Level 2 or 3 situation means you have to provide your own solution to your communication needs.  We recommend you adopt both wired and wireless communication services, and in this article we have given you some of the information you need to install a wired field phone type system.

Feb 192013
 
High capability remote controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less.  But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat's defensive strategies.

High capability remote-controlled drones can be purchased for civilian use and costing as little as $1000 or less. But be careful how you integrate such capabilities into your retreat’s defensive strategies.

I was reading an article on the comprehensive Survivalblog website – an impressive site that should be on your ‘must visit’ list.  It has a huge compilation of content, albeit some of it user-contributed and occasionally overlapping and repetitive in nature.

This particular article was about using radio controlled planes/helicopters (ie what are commonly now being termed ‘drones’) for reconnaissance and security purposes at one’s retreat.

The author of the article was talking about how these sorts of devices (possibly augmented by fixed wireless remote cameras too) provide excellent security and surveillance, and can even send live audio and video feeds direct to his cell phone and tablet, wherever he was.  It all sounded wonderful and appealing, and I could understand the author’s enthusiasm for the concepts he was proposing.

But.

This is the part which gave me pause, and served as the inspiration for the article you are now reading :

The other clear benefit to employing drones to keep watch, is that even if the device is spotted, and even engaged and disabled, it’s much better than risking losing a member of your team, or family. Machines are expendable, and replaceable, while people clearly are not.

A much better scenario would be to be sitting snuggly in a central command area equipped with CCTV monitors, powered perhaps by a genset, or re-chargeable solar/battery banks. Or even streaming into your laptop, I-phone or I-pad, regardless of your location relevant to the drones area of observation.

This is all great stuff, and as a high-tech gadget lover myself, music to my ears.  But there are three huge assumptions inherent in his recommendations.

The first assumption is not one to be discussed here – and that is the assumption that glorified ‘toys’ can provide an effective and secure observation/security/surveillance system, saving you from needing to have ‘boots on the ground’ out there, in observation posts and walking patrols.  That’s an assumption I’m very uncomfortable with; and so much so that it should be the subject of a separate post all on its own.

Suffice it to say that any type of security system is best with multiple layers of sensors and sensing, and that there’s still nothing out there that can entirely replace the good old Mark 1 Human Eyeball and Ear.  And whereas people and ‘human sensors’ are moderately all-weather capable and can be deployed for some hours at a time, most drones costing less than five or six figures are very limited in their weather handling, their range and their endurance.

The other two assumptions are what we wish to discuss in this article.

His second assumption – when he says that machines are expendable and replaceable, yes, that is definitely true today.  You can order spare parts or complete new machines online or over the phone today and expect them delivered a day or two later.  And probably you’d keep at least one spare for such a mission critical capability on-site, too.

The third assumption – when he talks about streaming video into a laptop, iPhone or iPad, regardless of location, that too is largely true today, as long as you are within a Wi-Fi or wireless data coverage area.  Of course, many of our retreat locations suffer from poor cell phone signals at the best of times, and very few also have good fast data service, but that is a known variable that can be factored in to one’s planning.

But – and here’s the huge, enormous, overpowering but.  What happens in a Level 2 or 3 situation (defined here)?  Even a Level 1 situation will pose problems.

What happens when the grid goes down, and society suffers a short, medium, or long-term collapse?  How do these assumptions withstand this type of adverse scenario, which is, after all, the scenario we are planning for?

You can’t then go online and order things, because the internet will be down.  Within a few days, landline phone service will become increasingly fractured too – where will the phone companies get electricity from to power their exchanges, their repeaters, and everything else needed to drive the wired phone system?  Sure, you probably understand that if you have traditional ‘POTS’ (Plain Old Telephone Service) at your home/retreat, you don’t need power for a wired phone to work – but that is because the phone company is powering the system at its end.  What happens when they lose power?

How will you then order a replacement drone?  You can’t, can you.  All of a sudden, that ‘expendable and replaceable’ item has become precious and irreplaceable.

Okay, we’re absolutely not saying you should carelessly hazard the lives of your community members instead (although a cynic might point out that replacement community members might be more readily available than replacement high-tech drones!).  We’re simply saying that basing your retreat’s defense strategy on the assumption that your main asset for observation and local intelligence gathering is conveniently available in limitless quantities and can be freely sacrificed is not a good idea.

The second of the two paragraphs we quoted above has another enormous assumption built-in to it.  While it is true that you could create your own LAN within your retreat, and you could of course use Wi-Fi routers to provide a wireless network that your portable computer devices could connect to, the range and coverage of this network will be limited and much less than the author’s expectations of being available ‘regardless of your location’.

Using omni-directional wireless hubs, you can expect a range of little more than 100 ft in the ‘best’ indoor situations, reducing substantially for every wall, floor or ceiling the signal needs to travel through.  An outside Wi-Fi antenna can radiate its signal 300 ft or maybe slightly more.

These ranges can be massively extended by using special directional antennas on both the Wi-Fi hub and the Wi-Fi device that is connecting to the hub, but an iPhone or iPad has no way of adding an external antenna to boost its range, and while a directional antenna will give you more range in its favored direction, the rest of the 360° of coverage area will have correspondingly less coverage.

Furthermore, when your device gets out of Wi-Fi coverage and switches to use the wireless phone company’s data signal instead (3G, 4G, LTE, whatever) that embodies a huge assumption – that the wireless company is still providing service, and that there is an internet connection between the device that receives the drone’s transmissions and the wireless company’s servers.  That’s just not going to happen – it only takes one link in the complex chain of dependencies between your drone’s receiver and your phone to go down for the connection as a whole to totally fail.

Don’t get us wrong.  As we said before, we love technology, and our own retreat is full of high-tech features and capabilities too.  But we’ve planned for a future where there are no external resources, and we fully expect our high-tech capabilities to degrade over time, so we have fall-back alternate approaches ready to deploy as this happens.

You must not rely upon being able to get resupply of anything.  Not food, not fuel, and definitely nothing high-tech.  You must not rely upon the continued existence of any external communications of any sort with the outside world – not data, not phone, not even snail-mail.

This is part of the differentiation between a Level 2 and a Level 3 event.  In a Level 2 event, you can plan to use your stocks and stores of ‘modern day’ conveniences (as long as they don’t require external support from sources and services outside your retreat) in the semi-confident expectation/hope that by the time you have used them all up, life will be back to normal.

But the Level 3 event – a longer term one than a Level 2 event, with a slower recovery back to ‘normal’ life – assumes that you are exhausting your accumulated inventories of everything and are having to shift to a type of sustainable life-style that you can support indefinitely, due to an extended time without the benefits of our modern world being restored.

Summary

Our point is simply this.  Examine very carefully the assumptions on which you are basing your planning and preparing.  Have you – like the writer of this article – accidentally slipped in some assumptions that the world we experience and enjoy at present will still be there to support you in an uncertain future?

If so, adapt your plan to reflect a situation where this external support resource is not available.

Jan 072013
 
Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier - this one costs $74,000.

Fun for all the family with your own M/T-114 armored personnel carrier – this one costs $74,000.

If you found yourself suddenly gifted with several million dollars, and assuming you had some left over after spending money on all the usual things, maybe you might choose to treat yourself to a really neat vehicle to stick in your retreat’s garage.

The issue of successfully defending your retreat against armed attackers post-WTSHTF is one of considerable debate.  Some people choose to ignore the issue entirely, and claim they have no need for serious preparations and defenses, either because their retreat is well hidden, or because they are in a region with plenty of like-minded folks, or because they don’t believe that people would actually come after them and attempt to steal from them by force (and – we fear – do much worse than that too).

We’re not going to re-debate those points.  We’ve discussed them before, and might again in the future, and suffice it to say for now that we feel it an essential component of the prepping mindset to consider not just best case but also worst case scenarios, and to prepare (within reason) for both.  What sort of prepper allows themselves to be caught out by something that they say weakly in excuse about ‘Oh, gosh, we didn’t think that was likely to happen’?  Isn’t prepping all about preparing for less likely things which, if they do happen, will seriously destroy our lives and our lifestyles?

This article is simply looking at some unusual types of defensive vehicles.  And, yes, clearly these ‘defensive’ vehicles could be used just as well by someone else as an offensive vehicle – to bring the battle directly to your front door.

That thought of course begs the difficult question – what would you do if a bad guy turned up on your doorstep in a tank?

Unfortunately, that’s a far from impossible scenario (depending on how close your retreat is to a base with armored vehicles on it at present).  When the rule of law crumbles, there will be many thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles on bases around the country that will be liable to being ‘repurposed’ by people with evil intent.  We can only hope they run out of fuel (or ammo and/or spare parts) for their armored vehicles before they reach your retreat.

But what about the lawful availability of armored vehicles, today?  Did you know there’s a reasonably extensive market that trades in older armored military vehicles.  Of course, the main guns have usually been ‘de-milled’ and made inoperable and close to impossible to repair back to working order, but as a secure platform that would resist small arms fire up to and probably including the .50 BMG round, they are very interesting.

Some of the older vehicles also have fully analog type engines that are probably about as sure to survive an EMP attack as anything out there.

Of course, a heavy armored vehicle is going to give very bad gas mileage, and so you don’t want to use it as a daily driver.  Tracked vehicles can also be very maintenance intensive.  But as the ultimate all-weather and all-terrain vehicle that you can use hopefully in almost any type of weather and ground condition, and with a secure protected compartment that you can either escape within or fight from, an armored vehicle gives you a new level of tactical options that hopefully the bad guys ranged against you can’t match.

Remember that not all tracked vehicles are armored, and of course, general purpose ‘military’ trucks and other vehicles are probably not armored either.  And not everything with impressive looking tracks or really big wheels will manage to proceed in deep soft snow or bottomless mud.

There are a number of different national sources of military vehicles.  Ebay Motors has a section for military vehicles.  Here’s another website that features online classified ads (and interesting magazines too).

Let’s not forget our own government – they sell off just about everything imaginable, including through this site.

Perhaps the best site for armored vehicles is this one.

In addition, who knows what you mightn’t find locally as well.  Ask around, do some Googling, and the chances are, if you want to indulge yourself in such a vehicle, there’ll be exactly what you’re looking for, somewhere in the country, and priced from the low tens of thousands up to the middling hundreds of thousands, depending of course on all the usual things such as market appeal, practicality, and condition.