Jan 202015
This 7.62mm rifle will 'automatically' sight and shoot accurately out to 900 yards.  No skill required.

This 7.62mm rifle will ‘automatically’ sight and shoot accurately out to 900 yards. No skill required.

We have written before about the problems we have protecting our retreats – see for example ‘How Many Acres Do You Need for Your Retreat – Defense Considerations‘ and our broader category of Retreat Defense in general.

A new development, announced at the Consumer Electronic Show in January this year, adds a new factor and concern to the mix.

Until now, it has been realistic to assume that in most cases, a ‘reasonable distance’ kept clear between your retreat and where attackers could shelter was sufficient as to give you reasonable protection.  We’ve always been a bit vague about how much that distance should be, because in truth, there’s no single magic answer and instead, it is more a case of having to make a compromise between what is practical and possible in the real world and what would be desirable in a perfect world.

We sort of suggested that you should try to achieve a 200 yard clear zone between where your retreat and farmed land would be and where attackers could shelter and attack you from.  That type of range would give you a little warning – note the emphasis on little – if attackers attempted to overrun your retreat, and you could buy yourself a bit more time by having some disruptive landscaping to prevent attackers from coming directly to you on a good surface well suited for vehicles, horses, or even just plain sprinting on foot.

But the really big problem is long-range sniping.  In skilled hands, even a .22LR rifle might remain reasonably accurate and definitely dangerous at 200 yards, and in a Level 2/3 situation, what should be simple survivable wounds become much more life-threatening than they do today when the local Emergency Room and state of the art medicine and antibiotics and painkillers is probably no more than 15 – 30 minutes drive away.

Being able to accurately get rounds on man-sized targets at ranges of 200+ yards starts to become a fairly demanding skill.  Hitting – well, let’s be polite and talk about, perhaps, 8″ or 12″ plates, at 100 yards is something that most adult shooters can readily master, particularly when firing from a supported/prone position.  But once ranges start to go the high side of 200 yards, you’re more into ‘precision shooting’ than regular shooting, and from our perspective as potential targets, our chances of suffering a first round hit/kill start to measurably decline.

Unfortunately, a new device looks to replace skill with technology, and promises (threatens!) to give even unskilled shooters an almost super-human ability to get rounds on target at long-range.

A weapons technology company, TrackingPoint, demonstrated two new sniper-type rifles at the Consumer Electronic Show.  It is very rare to see weapons technology at the CES – not only because of the slightly off-topic concept, but also because just a couple of weeks after CES is the annual SHOT Show which is the typical venue for new weapons technology.  But perhaps because the TrackingPoint product was more a technological solution than a weapon solution per se, they decided to release their products at CES.

They offer two new weapon systems with computerized targeting and fire control.  One is on a 5.56mm rifle platform, and claims to give accurate shots out to 0.3 miles (528 yards) and with the target moving at speeds of up to 10 mph.  The other is on a .338 Lapua Magnum rifle platform, and claims to give accurate shots out to 1.0 miles (1760 yards) and with the target moving at speeds of up to 20 mph.

To be fair, TrackingPoint define ‘effective’ differently for the two products.  For the 5.56 rifle, they say it means being able to consistently hit a 5″ target, and for the .338, they refer to an 18″ target.

So, their one mile range claim can be considered optimistic rather than realistic, and also the moving target concept requires the target’s movement to be consistent.  If you’re semi-randomly zigging and zagging, the computer fire-control would not be able to predict that, and with it taking two or more seconds for a round to travel from rifle to target, if you’re not staying still during that time period, you’re probably in fairly good shape.  (But, remember, it isn’t a case of hearing the shot and then ducking – the round, traveling at supersonic speed, will arrive on target before the sound of the shot does.)

The good news is that you’re not very likely to find yourself staring down one of their .338 caliber systems.  Why?  The price is $50,000 (and each round costs $8).  On the other hand, the 5.56 system is a more reasonable $7,500, and for sure, this price is likely to drop as other companies start to adapt similar technology to their rifles, too.

Here’s a rather terrifying review of how easy it is for a non-shooter to land rounds on target with the 5.56mm system, and here’s a review of the .338 system.

If we were looking at deploying the technology as a defensive measure for our retreat, we’d probably choose their $15,000 system, based on a 7.62mm rifle.  At longer ranges, we much prefer the extra stopping power of the 7.62 round compared to the light 5.56 round.  Oh yes – their claim that it is good for out to half a mile (with an 8″ target as the objective) is another point in its favor, too!

To come back to the actual point of this article, the ugly bottom line is that the long-range accuracy and capabilities of attackers is likely to improve over time.  We’d guess that within a decade, the cost of these super-sniper-rifles will reduce almost ten-fold.  Well, the $7500 5.56 system might drop to $1500 – $2500, the $15,000 7.62 system might go down to $2500 – $3500, and the .338 system might reduce to $7500 or so.  Or, to put it another way, ‘intelligent’ fire-control systems will replace ‘unintelligent’ telescopic sights and cost no more than today’s best telescopic sights.

There was a time when any type of telescopic sight was rare and exotic and expensive, and most people did most shooting with open iron sights.  Nowadays, telescopic sights are abundant and on just about every rifle that its owner plans to use at any sort of range at all; our prediction is that the expensive rarity of these fire control systems will evolve and we’ll see them as common on rifles in ten years time as telescopic sights are today.

What to do about this?  We suggest two things, because in selecting and developing your retreat, you need to have an eye to the future as well as the present.

It further reinforces the value/need to cluster together with other retreat owners, having a central core where you all live and farm, and then an extended safe zone outside your core – perhaps for cattle grazing, or perhaps not.

And, secondly, the topography around your retreat and its perimeter becomes more relevant.  If there are natural features that obscure/block your retreat or limit the longer range threats, whereas previously they might have also acted as cover for shorter range attacks, now they might be considered more desirable, particularly if you incorporate responses to such features into your defensive plan.  Remote monitoring of such locations and the ability to surreptitiously and/or safely move people around your retreat become helpful considerations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shot Spread Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zone A – Very Close In

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

This is typically about five to seven yards.

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

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

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

Zone B – Medium Close

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

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

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

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

Zone C

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

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

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

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

The Three Zones, Summarized

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

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

The Mythical ‘No Need to Aim’ Claim about Shotguns

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

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

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

The Implied Maximum Defensive Range of a Shotgun

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

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

Bottom Line :  The Effective Range of a Shotgun

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

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

Aug 032014
The new L131A1 standard sidearm of the British Armed Forces (aka a 9mm Glock 17).  Are the FBI likely to also adopt the G17 next year, too?

The new L131A1 standard sidearm of the British Armed Forces (aka the 32 yr old 9mm Glock 17). Are the FBI likely to also adopt the G17 next year, too?

This week saw a watershed event in the never-ending debate about pistol calibers.

But first, let’s put this week’s development into historical context and perspective.  Until the 1980s, most police departments were issued with six round revolvers, usually chambered in .38 Spl or possibly .357 magnum.  A few police departments were cautiously – indeed, hesitantly – experimenting with semi-auto pistols; in particular, early model Smith & Wesson semi-autos, chambered in 9mm.  And, overlaying it all, particularly in departments where officers could choose their own handgun, there were .45 M1911 type semi-autos as well.

The hesitancy on the part of police departments to shift from revolvers was due to several reasons.  One of the more prominent reasons were a concern about reliability – it was felt that a revolver was close to 100% for-sure guaranteed to always shoot when called upon, whereas some of the early model semi-auto pistols were significantly less reliable, and in a typical close-range police encounter, the officer seldom/never has time to safely do a clearance drill if his weapon malfunctions at a critical point.  Another prominent concern was a need for more hours of training for officers to become proficient with a semi-auto, and a related point was of safety – both for the officer and for the general public.

All these pistols held relatively few cartridges, by modern standards.  Early S&W Model 39 pistols held eight rounds, a standard M1911 magazine held seven, and of course a revolver typically had six (and some departments had a policy restricting officers to only having five rounds loaded, with the hammer resting on an empty chamber).

The FBI mirrored the practice of most police departments and generally issued its agents with similar revolvers and occasionally semi-autos as well.

In 1982 the winds of change were starting to blow, with Glock’s totally revolutionary design first appearing, although it took a while for this to start to have an effect in the US.  Not only did the Glock have a new type of cocking mechanism and carry condition, but it also offered 17 round magazines.  Prior to then, the highest capacity magazines were on Browning Hi-Power pistols, with 13 rounds.  Both the first Glocks and the Hi-Powers were chambered for 9mm cartridges.

It was not until 1986 that this slow-moving evolution of sorts switched to obvious and sudden change.  This was the year of the infamous FBI Miami shootout, which saw two FBI agents killed and five wounded in an extended gun battle with two bank robbers.  The two robbers also eventually died, but they each absorbed multiple hits and remained in the fight, continuing to effectively continue exchanging fire with the eight FBI agents, until finally succumbing to their wounds.

This was a shocking outcome and caused a colossal re-think on the part of the FBI and law-enforcement in general – a re-think that was of course echoed by private shooters as well.  New focus was given to ‘stopping power’ and the desire of ‘one shot stops’, as well as greater consideration attached to larger magazine capacities.

After studies and stopgap temporary fixes, the FBI first settled on a 10mm cartridge as being the ‘ideal’ cartridge for their agents, and then after finding that the 10mm was ‘too powerful’ (ie too difficult to shoot well) they eased back a bit and determined the .40 S&W cartridge (which is basically a lower-powered 10mm cartridge) to be the ideal compromise, and designated the Glock 22 and 23 as the two official carry-pistols for their agents, in 1997.

Police departments also started to rethink their standard sidearm issue, which both saw the end of revolvers, being phased out in favor of higher capacity semi-autos, and a shift up in calibers.  While 9mm remained common, it was no longer as dominant as it once was.  It was quickly decided that the earlier concerns were less important or could be resolved, as of course they could be and were.  These days you almost never see any law enforcement officer with a revolver.

While this was all happening, a surprising opposite transition was occurring in the US military, which after a lengthy evaluation decided in 1985 to replace their venerable M1911A1 pistols with the new M9 – a Beretta 92S-1 model double action semi-auto pistol chambered in 9mm, and with a 15 round magazine.

This was a very controversial decision in every respect – the decision to go ‘down’ from a heavy big .45 round to a smaller lightweight 9mm round, and spurning the M1911A1 design and all American gunmakers in favor of an Italian made pistol.

While gun owners might agree on many things, the one thing guaranteed to always cause an argument would be a discussion of what is the best handgun caliber.  People would quote semi-scientific studies that could be selectively found to ‘prove’ just about any preference, and the conflicting moves of the military down-sizing to the 9mm while police departments were upsizing to larger calibers gave everyone plenty of ‘facts’ to prove whatever their personal preference was.

But, and although it took decades to occur, a new perspective slowly emerged, and we’re now seeing a reversal of what has happened to date.  As background to this, it is necessary to explain one very important fact.  All pistol rounds are inadequate and unable to guarantee a significantly high level of one shot stops.  The only difference between them might be shades of inadequacy, and the choices are not involved with finding the best caliber but instead with finding the least worst caliber.

Recent FBI testing – well, a couple of years old now – has shown that the most important factor that corresponds to the effectiveness of any caliber is not the caliber itself, but the ability of the person using the firearm to shoot the pistol ‘well’ – ie, accurately (and, to a lesser extent, quickly, with second shots quickly delivered, also in a controlled well-aimed manner).

This ‘discovery’ should astonish no-one, except the semi-skilled shooters who hoped they could find a ‘magic’ caliber cartridge that would excuse them the need to develop decent skills.  Unfortunately, there is no such magic cartridge, and the bottom line shows that really there’s not much difference at all between any of the main pistol cartridges – the big difference is in the shooter, not in what he is shooting.  That’s something that we’ve always agreed with ourselves.

So, if the issue becomes one of shooting proficiency rather than cartridge effectiveness, which cartridge is easiest to master, and which cartridge can be carried in greatest quantity in any given size of pistol?

The answer to that, as determined by the FBI research, is 9mm.  The 9mm has the least amount of recoil and is the smallest ‘full size’ pistol cartridge.  Typically a modern double-stacked pistol will carry two more rounds of 9mm in a given size magazine than it would .40 S&W.

Some two years later, the FBI are finally putting their money where their mouth is, and this is reflected in their preliminary notice of an upcoming tender for 9mm pistols, published just this week.  It is expected the formal tender will be officially announced probably during the first quarter of next year – clearly this is not something the FBI are rushing into!

A move back to 9mm has already been occurring in police departments around the country.  The .40 S&W round might have more energy and maybe even more stopping power, but it is harder to shoot well, and untrained shooters are more likely to flinch due to the greater muzzle blast and recoil, meaning that fewer of their shots land effectively on target.

The appalling accuracy of police officers is the thing of legend throughout the firearms training industry (generally quoted as being around about 25%, depending on if you include such things as guaranteed single shot hits in police officer suicides), and part of the reason for this is that many police officers are not gun enthusiasts, and never use their firearms for recreation, and dread their annual or more frequent qualifications in their .40 caliber semi-auto.  So if/when they ever need to use their firearm ‘for real’ they are poorly trained and their shooting reflects this.

It is better public policy for police officers to shoot fewer bullets and more accurately.  Here are just two examples (one two) where innocent bystanders have been hit by police fire – nine pedestrians in the first case and two in the second.  With only one ‘bad guy’ in each case, it is beyond bad that an exchange of fire with a single gunman saw the police wound nine innocent civilians.

This is where better training with the 9mm might really pay dividends.  If the police only fired eight instead of 16 rounds in the first of the two preceding examples, then clearly there’d be no way they could injure nine innocent civilians, and if indeed the 9mm round is less ‘lethal’ than a .40 caliber, the chances of fatal injuries on innocent bystanders also drops.

The same issues apply equally to ourselves.  Even if we train more rigorously than police officers, the additional overlay of adrenalin and fear will destroy much of the ‘skill’ we have calmly obtained in a relaxed safe training class at the local range, and we too may be wildly firing rounds everywhere except on target.

Just like police officers and federal agents, we not only need good training but we also need a firearm that is easily controlled and operated.  And, for 99% of people, no matter how well they say they can shoot a .40 caliber pistol, the chances are they can shoot the same pistol in a 9mm chambering even better and more effectively.

The really amusing part of this story?  At the same time that the FBI and many police departments are returning back ‘down’ to 9mm, the military is once more having another look at its M9 and considering a shift back to a larger caliber.  Some special military units still use (or have returned to) .45 caliber pistols, but these units tend to be very highly trained, where the abilities of their personnel and their training more than compensate for any extra difficulty in controlling the higher powered pistols.  But for your average infantryman who also seldom turns to a pistol, it remains unclear if the military will switch back to .45 or some other caliber, or stick with 9mm.

Bottom Line Summary

We’re not saying that any pistol caliber is better than any other pistol caliber.  Indeed, if we had to be pinned down to a statement, we’d say that all pistol calibers are bad, and we’d definitely say that you should spend your energy in training, not in seeking a pistol caliber that will spare you the need for training.

But, having made that comment, we do agree with the new FBI finding that a larger number of well placed 9mm rounds will always be more effective than a smaller number of poorly placed larger caliber rounds, and we agree with their decision to return to the more easily handled 9mm caliber.

Our favorite pistol is a 9mm Glock 17.  We also have Glock 19, 26 and 34 pistols, so we have all four of the double stacked Glock 9mm pistols.  We do have other caliber pistols too – .40, .45, revolver calibers, and smaller semi-auto calibers too, all the way down to .22 and .32.  We love our M1911 .45 semi-auto and sometimes carry it, but most of the time, our Glock 17 is our first choice.

Our .40 (a Glock 22) stays in the gun safe and is never touched, other than for when demonstrating to friends why the 9mm is so much nicer and easier to control than the .40!

We own other brands of 9mm pistol also, and have shot just about every major style of 9mm pistol.  Some are nice and some are nasty, but no matter what else we sometimes trial, we always come back to our Glocks.

As preppers, you want to have an ultra-reliable, easy-to-maintain pistol that uses a standard caliber of cartridge.  Glock pistols chambered in 9mm come close to max on all three of those scales.  Others might get close, but we feel that overall the Glock 9mm remains a prepper’s best choice.

Please see our four part series on choosing a prepper pistol for a detailed discussion on the entire topic of how to find a suitable pistol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shotshell Length

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

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

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

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

Shotshell Load

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Shot Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solid Slugs

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best Shotgun Ammo for a Prepper

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

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

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

Jul 192014
This fortunate retreat owner has a walk in safe full of rifles, supplies, and much more.

This fortunate retreat owner has a walk-in safe full of rifles, supplies, and much more.

Rifles are perhaps the least glamorous of the three major categories of firearms (the other two categories being handguns and shotguns).

Many people over-inflate the value of both pistols (in terms of range, accuracy and lethality) and shotguns (again in the same three categories) and many people overlook rifles, or consider them too specialized.

But, in reality, if you were to have only one firearm at your retreat, it should be a rifle, which is probably the best multi/general purpose firearm of all.  Another rifle might be your second weapon, and perhaps then a pistol would be your third.  There are very few uses for a shotgun, which is why you don’t often see shotguns in any normal military organization.

Rifles are essential for two purposes.  They are of course ideal for hunting anything except birds and fish, and they are excellent self-defense weapons.  The only main limitation on a rifle’s value as a self-defense weapon is your ability to carry it everywhere and deploy it quickly.

This is why those people in the know refer to their pistol as the weapon they only use to fight their way to their rifle.

We suggest you should have at least two rifles in your retreat.  One for big game and longer range defense, and the other for smaller game and shorter range defense.

1.  A Long Range Precision Large Caliber Rifle

The longer range rifle should probably be chambered for either the .308 or the .30-06 cartridge (these being the two most common calibers of larger sized rounds).  There are a dozen or more other excellent calibers for long-range precision shooting and big game hunting, too, but we suggest you limit your choice to either the .308 or .30-06 because these two calibers are the most common, and if there is a negative situation in the future, will probably remain the easiest calibers to find and get additional supplies of.

Furthermore, because these two calibers are so common, there are lots of rifles chambered for them, too.  Some of the other calibers, which might have better ballistics on paper, have only one or two or three rifles chambered for them, and all of them are extremely expensive.  Rifles for .308 and .30-06 can also be very esoteric, high-end and expensive too, but they can also be found for under $500.

We’d suggest the rifle you choose for this purpose does not need to be semi-automatic and it does not need a high-capacity magazine.  It does, however, need to be of the highest possible accuracy (ie being able to group less than 1″ at 100 yards and less than 2.5″ at 250 yards) and to have the necessary optics on it to help you get close to the theoretical accuracy offered by the rifle and the ammunition you’re feeding through it.

Oh – one related point.  When you’re looking at long-range ultra-accuracy, your choice of ammunition becomes almost as important as your choice of rifle.  Once you’ve become comfortable with the rifle, you should then research (ie online and in reviews) and experiment with different types of ammunition until you find the one that works best for you and your rifle.

This rifle is not intended for squirting off dozens of shots in rapid succession.  It is intended for long-range precision, hopefully on the basis of ‘one shot one kill’.  Oh yes, the ‘one kill’ part of that concept is a function not just of its accuracy and being able to deliver rounds where you wish them to go, but also of having a highly effective round that has single shot stopping power.

The last thing you want is a wounded animal running off, or possibly a hostile intruder who is not taken out of the fight with the first round you send his way.

Because this rifle is all about precise aimed fire, we see no need for a 20 round magazine or anything like that, and neither do we feel the need for a semi-auto action.  If anything, quite the opposite.  A semi-auto is always more complex than a bolt-action type rifle, with more to potentially go wrong, and more to clean and maintain.

In terms of an ideal rifle for this purpose, maybe you couldn’t do better than a Remington 700, the civilian version of the popular Army and Marine (and Police) sniper rifle.

The Remington 700 was first released in 1962 – over 50 years ago – and has become the best-selling bolt-action rifle of all time.  More than 5 million have been sold, in an astonishing variety of 40 different calibers.  They typically have a four round capacity in their magazine plus potentially one extra round chambered.  If five rounds isn’t enough to bag a deer or improve a tactical situation, then probably your problem isn’t so much the rifle as it is the shooter.

We’d choose the best bolt-action rifle we could afford, and with at least a 22″ barrel, 24″ being better, and possibly 26″ being better still (if not now becoming too heavy to carry reasonable distances).

You’ll note we’re carefully not talking in detail about the ideal caliber for this rifle.  We like .308 due to its ubiquity (and that’s our primary caliber we use ourselves for this type of purpose), but we also accept that beyond about 250 – 300 yards, it is not as good a choice as some other calibers – see for example, this webpage.  On the other hand, as this webpage points out, while there might be better calibers for longer range work, the .308 can still ‘get the job done’ out to maybe even 800 yards, in good conditions.

If circumstances allow, maybe you might add a third rifle to your collection as well for ultra-long range and ‘specialty’ work.  See our suggested third rifle choice, below.  Maybe it is acceptable to have the .308 for ranges from about 100 – 400 yards, and a different rifle for ranges further out than that.

If your target is within 100 yards, you might want to consider a rifle that can deliver rounds more rapidly – especially if it is the type of target that can shoot back.  A person can sprint 100 yards in 10 seconds – you’re at the point where ‘quantity of fire’ starts to become as important to you than ‘quality of fire’.

You’ll have an idea for the maximum ranges you are likely to need based on the topography of your area.  Thick bush and uneven ground of course mean you won’t have the visibility and unobstructed opportunities for longer range work; open prairies mean that longer range considerations become more relevant.

2.  A Shorter Range Tactical Rifle

If you’re seeking smaller game, or if you’re anticipating a closer range problem with attacking marauders, your requirements change and the first rifle is possibly no longer your best choice.

You no longer need perfect accuracy, and you probably want a rifle that is lighter, easier to carry and deploy (this also implies a shorter barrel) and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire.

On the other hand, it is easy to get carried away with these considerations.  Maybe you’re imagining yourself having to single-handedly fight off a zombie horde of hundreds of attackers – if this is the scenario you are planning for, then you just need a pistol and one round.  You’re going to lose, and you may as well save everyone a bunch of trouble and simply shoot yourself!

Look for example at the main battle rifles that the US has deployed up to the Vietnam War (and consider also how disliked the M-16 and its derivatives have been ever since their introduction).  Until the Vietnam war, most troops were equipped with bolt-action heavy caliber rifles or relatively low capacity semi-auto and equally heavy caliber rifles.

The solution to whatever your need is under this category is not only to increase your ability to shoot more rounds downrange in less time.  Aimed and effective fire still remains a high priority.

However, having said that, we recommend you should have a semi-auto AR-15 type rifle chambered in 5.56mm, and with 20 or 30 round magazines, and a bayonet if at all possible too.

There are other potential calibers and rifle designs too – most notably the AK47/SKS family of weapons chambered in 7.62×39.  These are fine weapons, and can perform reliably in adverse conditions.  We don’t dislike them, but we opted for the AR-15 family due primarily to what we anticipate may potentially be a more readily available ongoing supply of ammunition for the AR-15.

You will also find ‘carbines’ – a concept which we’ll define as relating to fairly short-barreled rifles that fire pistol rounds.  The good news is you only need to carry one caliber of ammo, and you can feed both your rifle and your pistol with the same ammo.  The bad news is that you’ve almost certainly ended up with a massively underpowered cartridge for your rifle, and we feel that’s too much sacrifice for the small improvement in reliability.

One possible exception to this would be the 5.7x28mm cartridge, but this is an ‘exotic’ and rare cartridge and there’s really only one manufacturer of pistols and rifles for this cartridge.  We like the FN firearms chambered for this amazing cartridge, but we’d never base our retreat on this rare cartridge, and (based on personal experience) we’re unconvinced how robust the firearms are that feed it.

In terms of barrel length, then our first choice is around 18″ of barrel.  Below that and the muzzle blast starts to increase perceptibly, above that and the weapon starts to become less portable and more unwieldy.  But we know people who prefer longer barrels, and others who prefer shorter ones.  This isn’t an essential parameter.

This is a weapon you’d typically use for ranges from zero to perhaps 200 yards.  Sure, it remains accurate further out, but it starts to lose appreciable energy and ‘one shot stop’ effectiveness, and when you are considering targets more than 200 yards away, many times you can enjoy the luxury of careful slow aimed fire rather than needing the ability of a semi-auto AR-15 type rifle to shoot many rounds quickly.

The main benefits of an AR-15 style rifle are that it is light, the ammunition is also small and light, and you can shoot many rounds quickly.  It is a great ‘take anywhere/everywhere’ rifle.

That is not to say that they are not also potentially very accurate, particularly at relatively short ranges (ie under 200 yards).   Good sights for such rifles would have low rather than high magnification, and a wide-angle of view making it easy for quick target identification and acquisition.

Many different companies make AR-15 clones, and most of them are good.  There are two basic design styles – those that use gas blowback to cycle the action, and those that use a piston to cycle the action.  The piston operated rifles tend to be ‘cleaner’ and slightly more reliable, but are also slightly more expensive.

Barrels are available either with a chrome lining or not.  Chrome lined barrels are probably not quite as accurate, but are more resistant to heat.  Regular steel barrels are more accurate, but will wear out more quickly, particularly when they get hot.  We’ve seen some incredible claims for barrel life, but realistically we suggest you try and limit yourself to under 20 rounds a minute if firing for an extended period of time.

And maybe keep an extra barrel or two in your spares.

3.  A High Powered Specialty Rifle

If you anticipate confronting threats at long ranges, or threats that are well protected, then for sure your AR-15 becomes useless, and the value of your .308 starts to diminish as well.

For the rare occasions when you need to ‘reach out and touch someone’ who is half a mile away and wearing body armor, or when you need to disable an armored vehicle charging towards you, it is time to turn to a very specialized type of rifle – probably something chambered for either .50 BMG or .338 Lapua rounds.

No reasonably common and modern rifle legal for civilian ownership can deliver more energy a longer distance than a .50 cal.  There are some esoteric cartridges out there, and larger diameter cartridges (such as a 0.700 cartridge that costs $100 a round, but which delivers less power than the 0.50 cartridge!) but none of them are as useful or effective or appropriate as the 0.50 BMG.

Note that a rifle chambered for 0.50 cal rounds is not a portable rifle to take with you hunting.  It is a huge and heavy rifle (perhaps weighing 30 lbs) that is not really ‘man portable’ – it is okay if you are traveling in a vehicle, and perfectly fine to deploy in/around your retreat, but it is not a field weapon that you’d carry with you ‘on maneuvers’.

A rifle in either .50 or .338 will give you a solution capable of accurate fire out to almost a mile.  Our preference is slightly weighted in favor of the .50 BMG chambering – the ammunition is slightly more common, and while the extra range is not significant, the extra power (in terms of ft lbs of force) is enormous.  There is also a .416 Barrett caliber, and that is good too, but .50 remains the most common and usually least expensive.  It is also by far the most powerful.

This is a weapon you’d only deploy against armored targets and ordinary targets outside the effective range of your .308; ie, perhaps from about 300 yards and further out.

A Barrett is the classic .50 cal rifle, but there are others that are nearly as good.  All are, of course, very expensive.  But they are worth it.  In 2001, a Barrett M99 set a world record when it shot a 4.09″ group at 1,000 yards.

Additional Rifles

If you feel the need for additional rifles to fill up your gun safe, what else should you get?

Perhaps the most notable omission from our two or three rifle list, above, is a .22 cal rifle.  But we’re not sure what you’d ever use it for, apart from fun/plinking.  It might have some use as a training rifle to introduce youngsters to the principles of proper techniques and marksmanship, but that would be all.

We like .22 rifles.  They’re a great deal of fun, can be very straight shooters, and are great for small game.  In skilled hands, a well placed .22 round can be surprising effective, even on bigger game and for self defense.  But, please note the two things we emphasized in the previous sentence.  While a .22 is easy to shoot, it needs to be shot very well in order to get the critical placement of rounds on target that is necessary to ensure effective results.

A .22 delivers about 120 ft lbf of energy when leaving the muzzle.  That is not very much.  Compare this to even a 9mm pistol round, with over three times the energy, or a .223 round with more than ten times the energy or a .308 with twenty times the energy.

Our point is simple.  Unless you’re a great shot, and with easy targets, a .22 might not be a good choice.

Getting more rifles beyond the three listed above (and maybe a .22) should be done while keeping two things in mind.  Unfortunately, the two concepts are opposites, but you need to balance them out.

The first concept is keeping as much the same as possible.  You don’t want to end up with a terrible mess of different rifles and different calibers.

Each different rifle has a slightly different ‘manual of arms’, with slightly different quirks and techniques and requirements for mastery and maintenance.  It is much better to have two rifles the same, so you only need to learn one set of skills, and only need to keep one set of spares, than it is to have two different rifles.

You also don’t want to have too many different calibers of ammo.  It is much easier to keep an adequate supply of only one or two calibers than it is to have enough rounds for each and every different caliber.

So, if it were us, and using these concepts, each extra rifle we buy would be identical to the first two rifles we already have – more AR-15 clones (ideally from the same manufacturer because not all parts are totally interchangeable between manufacturers) and more .308 bolt-action rifles.  We might eventually buy a second .50 Barrett, but that would mainly be as a spare; we can’t think of any likely scenarios where we’d ever need more than two.

The second concept is, as we said, the opposite of the first.  If you are getting some more rifles, why not get them chambered in other common calibers that you don’t already have?  The ‘logic’ of this is to anticipate that possibly in the future you might come across an opportunity to acquire some ammo in a caliber for which you have no firearms.

It is reasonable to assume, in an extended Level 2 or 3 situation, that ammunition will become extremely scarce, and you’ll want to get any you can obtain, so maybe it makes sense then to keep some inexpensive additional rifles in some ‘just in case’ additional calibers.  We’d probably choose to add an inexpensive AK-47/SKS rifle so we had something that could shoot 7.62x39mm cartridges, and some sort of bolt or lever action .30-06 in case we came across some of that ammunition too.  These are two other very common rifle calibers.

So now we have perhaps two .308 rifles, two AR-15s, a .50 Barrett, and an AK and a .30-06.  Possibly a .22 as well.  Seven or eight rifles!  This begs the next question :

How Many Rifles Do You Need?

Well, we opened this article suggesting you have one or two rifles at your retreat, and somehow we’ve talked ourselves (and possibly you too) now up to six, seven, eight or more.  Many people will be rolling their eyes at the thought of any one person owning seven or eight rifles.  But there’s a logic trap in that thought – your retreat is probably not just for one person.

Your retreat – and therefore your rifles – will be for you, your family, and maybe some additional friends and relations, too.  Beyond that, it is conceivable that you might even accept in some additional people WTSHTF, growing the total community even more.

You should plan on having at least one rifle per adult member of your retreat community.  It is true that in an all-out defensive situation, you probably would not have every adult ‘manning the ramparts’ and actively defending your retreat, because you’d have some people doing duty coordinating and controlling, bringing ammo, tending for wounded, and so on, but as a rule of thumb, it makes great sense to have at least one rifle per adult.

We’d suggest one AR-15 per adult, plus another one AR-15 for every ten or part thereof AR-15s you have (for spares/emergency replacement), because these are most likely the rifles you’d use for close-in self-defense.

In addition to that, you should have at least one .50 cal rifle, and a certain number of .308 rifles too.  Maybe one .308 for every two or three people in your community, with a minimum of two, and always at least one more than this formula suggests.

Then add two or more each of some type of .30-06 and AK/SKS rifle for ‘just in case’ purposes, and possibly a .22 trainer.

Legal Issues

There are no federal restrictions on how many rifles you can own, and apart from completing a form when you buy a rifle from a dealer so they can do a background check on you, no federal licenses or registration is required.

There are some federal regulations relating to fully automatic rifles and very short-barreled rifles, but assuming you buy ‘normal’ and ordinary rifles from dealers, you’ll not run afoul of such requirements.

Each state may also have state level legislation about rifles, and, to make things even more complicated, there could possibly be city or county issues too.  Your gun dealer can tell you about these.

Some states have limitations on rifle magazine capacities, some states have limits on what calibers can be used for various types of game hunting (and plenty of other rules and regulations on hunting wildlife too!), and others have restrictions on ‘assault rifles’ – that is, rifles that look nasty and scary.

Most states have few or no restrictions on ammo purchases, and there are no federal restrictions on ‘normal’ ammo purchases (explosive rounds, armor-piercing rounds, and other specialty rounds and some shot-shell ammo can be the exception).  It is possible that there might be local fire code or other restrictions on how much ammunition you can store.

Something to be careful about is if you are sharing your retreat with someone who is not allowed access to firearms.  Simply being in the same house as firearms can constitute an offense, with either or both of you possibly being liable to charges if such a thing occurs, and possibly also resulting in the impounding of the weapons.

Spare Parts

Rifles are somewhat stressed mechanical devices.  They have moving parts, and are subjected to great pressures and temperatures.  This means – and please don’t be surprised – they wear out and sometimes have failures.

You need to have a supply of spare parts so you can maintain your rifles.  Even the most expensive of rifles can be made totally useless by the failure of a 50c spring.  Make sure you have plenty of all conceivable spares – a non-scientific approach is to simply buy one extra rifle per every so many working rifles and cannibalize the extra rifles for spare parts as needed.

The problem with this approach is that some parts will probably never fail, whereas other parts will fail more than once.  So buying a spare second rifle, while guaranteeing you have a complete set of spare parts for your main rifle, is an easy way of getting a complete set, is not the best way to get maximum life out of your rifle.

Get friendly with a local gunsmith, read up on the various firearms forums, and do as much research as you can to work out which parts you need to have two or three of, and which parts you don’t need spares for at all.  The good news is that many of the parts you might foreseeably need to replace are inexpensive.

Now for a related thought.  Have you ever been in a car that experiences a flat tire, only to find that the tire wrench is missing?  How frustrating is that!  The chances are you’ll need some special tools to do more than quickly ‘field strip’ your rifle.  Make sure you have a complete set of gunsmithing tools so you can work on each and every one of your firearms.

Now for another flat tire analogy.  Have you ever driven by a car with a flat tire, and seen the driver (dare we say, possibly a woman) sitting helplessly in the car waiting for someone to come change the tire for her?  Our point here is that it isn’t enough to just have the spare parts and the tools.  You also need to have some knowledge and training.

To be realistic, of course you can’t be expected to become a fully qualified and skilled armorer, able to do anything to any firearm.  But what you can do is get manuals and guides for how to maintain your firearms, and possibly videos as well.  The good news is that firearms are basically quite simple and very logical in how they operate, and the better the firearm, the simpler it is.  But even the best simplicity still has some tricks and traps wrapped up in it, particularly when it comes to things like what order you disassemble and reassemble parts, and how to align pieces together so they fit back together readily, and so on.

So – spare parts, tools, and gunsmithing/maintenance manuals.  Get it all.


How much ammunition do you need?  How long is a piece of string?

There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ ammo (unless you’re a gun-hating journalist writing a story for a left-wing pro-gun-control media outlet, in which even a couple of boxes of ammo gets described as a ‘hoard’ or ‘massive stockpile’ or ‘arsenal’).  Ammunition has a very long storage life (think in terms of decades) and is likely to hold its value or even appreciate.  Particularly in a Level 2 or 3 future, we think that ammunition will become an extremely valuable currency.

But be careful who you trade it with – you don’t want it coming back to you, lead first!

We’d suggest you invest in some thousands of rounds of ammunition for each caliber you have firearms for.  We know people with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, and none of them have yet regretted it.  If they ever did, they could sell their ammo for more than they paid for it.


We suggest you don’t give any thought to acquiring silencers for your rifles.  While they will slightly reduce the sound level of each shot you fire, they won’t make your rifle totally silent by any means and it will probably still be clearly heard for some hundreds of yards.  You’ll still scare off game if you don’t make the first shot, and you’ll still draw attention to yourself from other people in the vicinity.

If you do buy a silencer, you definitely get your name red-flagged on any federal lists of firearm holders (you know, the things we’re told they don’t keep!).

Silencers (and the federal taxes on them) are very expensive, they add to the bulk/length of the rifle, and don’t do what their name implies they might.  Leave them well alone.


Whether you plan only to use rifles for hunting, or whether you are concerned about repelling hordes of zombie invaders, you need to have some rifles in your retreat.

Go look in your kitchen.  How many cutting knives do you have?  Probably half a dozen, maybe more.  So why shouldn’t you have multiple rifles, too – each one optimized for some specific purposes, just the same as your kitchen knives.

Jul 172013
How did our country change from Andy Griffith type consensus policing to military style police assault?

How did our country change from Andy Griffith type consensus policing to military style police assault?

We hear this lie way too often, and sadly we see some people base their future plans on the lie.  Don’t fall for this trap.

So, what is the lie?  Go to any gun rights forum and you’ll see it in its purest form.  In the context of gun rights, its purest form is someone asserting, not as a joke but as an apparent truth ‘they’ll take my gun from me only when they pry it from my dead fingers’.

But the lie exists, sometimes in obvious form and sometimes in more subtle form, in many different contexts, not just gun rights.  The prepping version of this lie is ‘I’ll never let them take my preps from me’.  In its broadest form, it is any person claiming that they will take extreme action to oppose anything they disagree with.

There’s a corollary to the lie as well, which is even more deceptive and dangerous.  The corollary takes the form of ‘I know (members of some official/government/law enforcement/military group) and they’d never agree to (do some unconstitutional act).’

The prepping version of this corollary is ‘The local police would never agree to an illegal/unconstitutional order to come and seize my stores.’

We have two words to offer to the bold brave blowhards who claim they’d die rather than relinquish their firearms, who claim they’ll shoot it out rather than surrender.  New Orleans.  There’s a huge number of ‘good old boys’ living in the New Orleans area, and exactly how many of them refused to allow the police to seize their weapons after Hurricane Katrina?  Exactly zero.  None.  Zip.  De nada.  They meekly surrendered their guns like the sheep they truly are.

Or, to put it in another context, how about all the gun owners in states that place restrictions on gun ownership already.  How many of those people have made brave (perhaps ‘foolhardy’ is a better term) fights to the death over their claimed rights?  None.

If they are told they are not allowed ‘assault rifles’ they meekly comply.  If they are told they can’t have magazines with more than ten rounds, they meekly comply.  If they’re told they need to get a firearm owner’s certificate and permission to buy a firearm – yes, again they meekly comply.  But then, after having meekly complied with all these restrictions, they tell us that if someone tries to take their firearms from them, they’ll fight to the finish!  Apparently they don’t realize their firearms rights have already been largely taken from them.

And as for the corollary (that decent right-thinking police would refuse to comply with illegal/unconstitutional orders), again, two words.  New Orleans.  How many police and county sheriff deputies refused to seize people’s weapons, often at gunpoint, even from friends and neighbors?  Again, zero.

For the preppers making similar statements, how many preppers openly defy laws restricting how much fuel they can store in a residence?  None that we know of.  Sure, some preppers might discreetly choose to ignore some restrictions, but how many do so openly and are keen to fight to the death over that issue?  None (and just as well – we have a bad enough a public image already!).

Furthermore, and bearing in mind the billions of bullets that the Department of Homeland Security is amassing, if/when the authorities come to seize your preps or guns or whatever, who is to say they’ll need to rely on the help of the local police?

How big is the DHS?  The short answer is they are the third largest Cabinet department (after DoD and Veterans Affairs).  They employ about a quarter million people and have a budget of more than $100 billion (the DHS budget requires more than $300 from every man woman and child in the country, every year), but the question is the wrong question.

The better question is ‘how big is the entire government security/enforcement apparatus?  The DHS is only the most visible part of the growing government security and control organization.  This Sept 2010 article by the Washington Post (surprisingly critical for a left of center publication) says that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence, in about 10,000 locations around the US.  The WaPo article can’t even guess at the total headcount of all these organizations and private contractor companies.

To put those 10,000 locations into context, there are 50 states and 3,143 counties in the US.  That means that each state averages 200 different locations with shadowy security type structures in place and people employed by them; or, if you prefer, an average of 3 locations in every county.

And that was back in 2010.  You have to believe the numbers have grown still further in the almost three years since then.

Here’s one more version of the enormous lie.  This one diffuses out the claim a bit – ‘The people in our area would never allow (whatever) to happen; they’re too conservative’.

That is a harder claim to ridicule, of course, which is why it is often made.  But if you hear that claim being made, go have a look at the election results from the area that is supposedly ‘too conservative’.  Okay, so maybe they elected a Republican congressman/senator/whatever, but by what size of majority?  If you look at conservative states that are touted as ‘the American Redoubt’, did you know that in 2008, Montana almost gave its electoral college votes to Obama rather than McCain?  McCain had only 2.5% more votes supporting him than Obama.  How conservative is that?

If we drill down to county level results, some of the ‘best’ areas of Idaho and Montana for preppers have surprisingly large Democratic bases – as much as one in three people votes Democrat, even when faced with such stark choices as between (in 2012) Obama and Romney.  Sure, some counties are more overwhelmingly Republican, but some counties are strongly Democrat too.

So if you have one-third voting Democrat, and at least half of the other two-thirds being only weakly Republican, our question becomes ‘just how conservative is your area, really?’.

For example, the small city of Troy in MT, which you’d hope would be ultra-conservative, has a city ordinance banning firearms from city parks.  This is in a state touted as being one of the most ardent supporters of the Second Amendment (where in the Second Amendment does it say ‘except in city parks’?).  Indeed, not only does this show a surprisingly anti-gun sentiment in Troy, but it also points out the regrettable lack in Montana of a comprehensive state level pre-emption statute forbidding all county, city and town gun laws in addition to the state laws.

What Is Our Point?

Okay, so we’ve roamed around the topic fairly broadly here.  What are we actually trying to say?

Simply this :  If you take comfort in the claims by other people that if/when something unconscionable occurs, they will resist such things all the way to the use of deadly force, and even at risk of personal injury or death, you are mistaken.  And if you take comfort in the claims by other people that bad things could never happen because either it is unconstitutional or because good honest Americans would refuse to enforce the provision, you are again mistaken.

If you think that bad things could never be imposed on the American people because we, the people, would oppose such things, and because the Americans directed to impose such bad things on us would refuse to do so, you are very very mistaken.

The ugly reality is that we are already increasingly constrained by laws that many people would consider unconstitutional, particularly as regards the first, second, and fourth amendments.  The ugly reality is that whenever people have been confronted by armed police demanding they acquiesce and allow their property to be searched without a warrant or due cause (ie after the Boston bombing) or demanding they surrender their firearms (ie after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) everyone has uniformly acquiesced.

We are already much closer to a police state than we realize, and our constitutional rights have been massively constrained.  How did weaponless friendly Andy Griffith morph into police in tactical gear with body armor and fully auto weapons, and with head masks obscuring their identity and making them all the more impersonal and unaccountable?

How did a world where firearms training was often offered at schools morph into a world where a child drawing a picture of a gun gets suspended and ‘counselled’ (some might say ‘brainwashed’)?

Where in the Fourth Amendment does it say ‘except if within 100 miles of the border or an international airport’ (which includes much of the American Redoubt, and indeed, nearly all of the populated country in general)?  This is how the Fourth Amendment reads – a clear statement that has become almost unrecognizably distorted :

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

You need to realize that bad things could and might happen, and if they do, there is unlikely to be any popular uprising against such bad things, and that the authorities will be able to enforce such things with overwhelming force.

Our founding fathers would not recognize the America of today.

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.