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.

Aug 032014
Bigger is not always better with binoculars.

Bigger is not always better with binoculars.

One of the most useful pieces of ‘force multiplying’ equipment in your prepper kit is a good pair of binoculars.

Unfortunately, many people have little idea of what makes a pair of binoculars good or not so good, and with mass marketed binoculars usually being low quality, few people appreciate how helpful a good pair of binoculars can be when it comes to boosting your range of vision.  Furthermore, very few of the many different models of binoculars come anywhere close to meeting the requirements of a ‘good’ pair of binoculars, and so by statistical chance alone, most people end up having bought a poorly performing pair of binoculars.

There are many things to consider when choosing a pair of binoculars.  But these various issues are all easy to understand, and unlike evaluating high-end audio gear, for example – it is easy to tell if the binoculars you are considering are ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Different Design Types

There are two major categories of binoculars to choose from.  One type is what we’d term ‘straight through’ binoculars (their official name is ‘roof prism’ binoculars) and they are distinguished by having more or less straight tubes from the objective lens (the big lens that faces towards what you are looking at) to the eyepiece on each side.

These binoculars also look similar to a third type of binocular, known as ‘Galilean binoculars’, but you’re unlikely to see them when looking for prepper type field binoculars and so we will pretend they don’t exist.  They are most commonly seen as opera/theater glasses these days.

The other major type is what could be termed ‘offset’ binoculars and which are more properly named Porro prism binoculars.  These have the eyepieces closer together than the objective lenses.

There are several reasons why we recommend you consider only offset type binoculars.  They can have larger objective lenses (read on to learn why this is important), they allow more light to pass through than roof prism binoculars (making for brighter images, particularly important in low light and night conditions) and the greater distance between the two objective lenses helps improve the stereoscopic perception and awareness of distance.  They also tend to be smaller in length, because the optical path travels in a sort of letter ‘Z’ through them rather than directly through them.

Note that there are also some very stupidly designed ‘reverse Porro’ binoculars, where instead of having the objective lenses spaced further apart than the eyepieces, they ‘zig in rather than out’ and are closer together than your eyepieces.  You will get less 3D depth perception with these, and we totally do not recommend them.

How Powerful Should Your Binoculars Be?

By ‘powerful’ we mean how many times magnification your binoculars may offer.  The answer to this question tricks a lot of people, including my parents, many years ago.

I remember as a young boy I desperately wanted a pair of binoculars, and so my parents gave me a pair one birthday.  Bless them, they wanted to get me the ‘best’ set they could, so they got a pair with 12x magnification.

But they did not understand that more magnification was not synonymous with better.  A 12x magnification was too much for hand-held binoculars.  The greatly magnified images jumped about too much and it was unpleasant to use the binoculars without some sort of steadying support.

So, to my parents’ surprise – and possibly to your surprise also, there is such a thing as ‘too much’ magnification.

On the other hand, there’s little benefit to get a pair of binoculars that only offers two or three times magnification, when there are perfectly good binoculars offering more than twice as much magnification.

To make a potentially long story short, the best compromise for portable handheld binoculars, between too much magnification making for too unstable an image, and too little magnification making for less overall value, seems to be at the seven or possibly eight times magnification.

 – Special Case – Fixed Observation Posts

Our earlier discussion about magnification assumed we were talking about a portable pair of binoculars that you would want to be able to use without the need for support.

If you are instead considering a pair of binoculars that could be mounted on a stand or tripod or other stable platform, and if weight issues are also not so relevant, then there is no reason not to consider more powerful binoculars.  In such a case, by all means get any power you feel appropriate, while noting that if the ratio between magnification and objective lens diameter gets too small, their value as night glasses will diminish appreciably (explained below).

Don’t go wild and crazy, particularly in a fixed OP.  In such a case, you know what vision ranges you need.  Maybe there’s a tree line a couple of hundred yards away, or a rise/fall in land that limits your vision.  You’re unlikely to want or need to be able to clearly see the buttons on a guy’s jacket a mile away, and if you do have that need, then you should use a special purpose telescope rather than binoculars.

Zoom Binoculars

Talking about magnification, you can also get zoom binoculars which might give you a magnification range from perhaps three or more times up to some massively greater number – indeed, we’ve seen zoom binoculars offering beyond-crazy maximum zoom capabilities, sometimes in excess of 100x.

The chances are your camera has a zoom lens, so you know how great they are.  So doesn’t it make sense to have a zoom function on your binoculars, too?

The answer to this is a very emphatic ‘No!’.

There are several reasons why zoom technology – so brilliantly wonderful on a camera – does not translate well to binoculars.

First, remember that any magnification greater than about 8x starts to become problematic from the perspective of keeping the image stable while hand-holding binoculars unsupported.

Second, greater zoom ranges start to get an inappropriate ratio between magnification and objective lens diameter (see below).

Third, a zoom lens has a lot of optical compromises in it.  These can be electronically processed out in a camera, but will be visible and problematic in a pair of binoculars.  The extra lens elements in the zoom will also add to the weight of the binoculars.

Fourth, remember that a pair of binoculars has two independent ‘telescopes’ that are joined together.  If you have a zoom capability, the zooming has to work identically in each ‘telescope tube’; if it doesn’t, then your eyes will be stressed and will lose the ability to merge the two images into one single image in your brain.  We’re unaware of any zoom binoculars on the market today with sufficient build quality as to avoid this problem.

Fifth, a zoom lens has a much narrower field of view, particularly at lower magnifications, than a regular lens.  This makes it harder to quickly point your binoculars at something you saw in the distance and be sure you’re pointing in the right direction, and also reduces the amount of situational awareness you’ll get because the area you are monitoring has shrunk.

We could probably come up with some more disadvantages too, but surely this is enough for you.  Don’t get a pair of zoom binoculars.

Well, actually, here’s one final consideration.  Because zoom binoculars are a gimmick that ‘serious’ users would never select, it seems that the leading manufacturers of binoculars don’t bother making them, so you’re restricted to lower quality suppliers of a product that is incapable of ever being high quality to start with.

Objective Lens Size

If you hold a pair of binoculars away from you and look through the eyepieces, you’ll notice that the image appears as a small circle within the broader eyepiece lens.

Here’s a key consideration.  You want the size of that small circle to be at least as big as the size of your eye pupil (the black circle in the middle of your eye).  Now, as you know, your pupil changes in size – in bright light, it gets smaller, and in dim light, it gets larger.

You want the size of the image to be bigger than the biggest size your pupil ever gets.  If it is smaller, then you are defeating the whole purpose of your pupil growing in size to admit more light in low light conditions.  On the other hand, if it is bigger than your pupil, there is no harm done at all.

Another benefit of a larger viewing image is that it makes it less critical to exactly center the eyepieces on your eyes, because even if your eyes and pupils are a bit off-center (compared to the binoculars – the ‘interpupillary distance’), they are still being fully exposed to the image within the eyepieces.

An adult’s pupil grows to about 7mm in diameter in low light (and as we age, it shrinks), so you want these circles to be at least 7mm in diameter.  Now – how do you know what size the circles are (other than measuring them)?

Happily, this is very easy to calculate.  Divide the diameter of the objective lens (the big one that faces towards what you’re looking at) by the magnification power, and that tells you the diameter of the image your eyes see.  For example, a set of 8×24 binoculars would have a tiny 3mm diameter image in each eyepiece.

Remember we said you should get binoculars with seven or eight times magnification?  Well, multiply those numbers by 7 to get the necessary objective diameters such binoculars should have – at least 49mm in the case of seven times magnification, and at least 56mm in the case of eight times magnification.

This is why the 7×50 binoculars have become pretty much the ‘gold standard’ and optimum compromise point for serious professional grade binoculars.  A pair of 8×56 binoculars would be slightly better in terms of magnification, but they’d also be appreciably heavier (the lens would have to be 30% bigger and overall, the binoculars would start to become too big, bulky and heavy for convenient use).

Field of View

Binoculars have a varying field of view, depending on their design and magnification.  The field of view relates to how wide an image you can see, and is generally specified either in terms of degrees, or in terms of how wide an image you get at a specific distance, for example, perhaps you might be looking at a pair of binoculars that offers a 5º field of view, or a 262.5 ft field of view when looking at things 1000 ft away.

To convert from degrees to feet (at 1000 ft) simply multiple the degrees by 52.5 (or divide the feet by the same 52.5 factor).  If you’re being quoted so many feet at 1000 yards, divide by 157.5 to get degrees (or divide by three to get feet at 1000 ft).

The wider the field of view, the easier it is to get sighted in on something, the easier it is to track fast-moving objects, and of course, the more you can see simultaneously.  The bigger the better for this parameter.

But remember that, in general, the greater the magnification, the lower the field of view.  Normally it is not appropriate to sacrifice magnification for field of view.  Decide the magnification you want first, then get the best field of view available for that magnification second.

Image Stabilization

If you have a heavy-duty budget for binoculars, you might be interested in considering a pair that offers image stabilization.  These are exactly as the name implies – they have built-in stabilizers that steady the image by adjusting the optics, and so allow you to enjoy handheld stable images with much greater magnification.

So that’s a plus.  But there are minuses.  As preppers, we want to have high quality but ultra-reliable gear, and adding all the micro electronics and electrical stuff that goes into image stabilization greatly increases the likelihood of sooner or later, something going wrong.  If the stabilization fails in a bad way – ie, one lens out of alignment with the other – then the binoculars become useless.

The image stabilization also requires battery power.  That’s probably not a deal breaker by itself, but it’s another pinprick of aggravation and hassle.  You’re probably also looking at another pound or more of weight because of the extra stuff inside.

The biggest argument against them though is that unless the objective lens diameter has grown in size to match the increased magnification, you are getting something that works only in bright light and which becomes increasingly useless in dimmer light.

We suggest you don’t buy an image stabilized pair of binoculars.  Spend the money on a truly high quality pair of standard binoculars – indeed, maybe you can even buy two pairs of standard binoculars for the same cost.


Maybe you’re not planning on dunking your binoculars in the ocean.  But how about using them in the rain?  A waterproof pair of binoculars will of course be more resistant to rain effects and humidity, as well as to accidental immersion in puddles or anything else.

Most higher quality binoculars are waterproof, indeed, let’s simply say that if the binoculars are not waterproof, then who knows what other design compromises exist, so don’t buy them.

As you probably know, there are varying degrees of waterproof capabilities, often expressed in terms of how many minutes at what depth of water can be withstood.  So don’t just assume that all waterproof claims are of equal validity – some will probably be better than others.

As well as claims about being waterproof, some binoculars claim to be fogproof.  This means they have probably had their interiors pressurized with moisture free nitrogen.  All fogproof binoculars are necessarily waterproof too, but not all waterproof binoculars are also fogproof.

Focusing Options

There are three types of focus offered on binoculars.  The simplest is a fixed focus that you can’t adjust, whether you want to or not.  The next most simple is a single or central focus knob that adjusts the focus in both sides of the binoculars simultaneously.

The least simple is having separate focusing controls for each side of the binoculars.

We’d suggest you do not settle for fixed focus.  While you probably don’t need to adjust the focus at all when switching between looking at something 75 yards and 150 yards and 300 yards apart, even with variable focus capabilities, if you occasionally use your binoculars to look at closer things, then you will definitely benefit from being able to adjust focus.

A fixed focus lens is a compromise that is slightly out of focus everywhere, and increasingly out of focus to the point of uselessness at short ranges.  Why would you ever want a slightly out of focus picture?  Isn’t the importance of the best possible image worth the slight hassle of turning a knob slightly?  Where is the logic of potentially paying $100-$500 more for a high quality pair of binoculars, only to degrade the image by settling for a fixed focus?

For hopefully obvious reasons, we definitely do not recommend having separate focus knobs for each side of the binoculars.  That is just way to inconvenient and complicated.  We might even prefer to have a fixed focus set of binoculars before accepting the double hassle of focusing twice each time we changed the distance between us and whatever we were looking for!

Some focusing systems involve turning a wheel/knob, around and around, to adjust focus, and it can take a fair while to do this.  Others have a ‘fast focus’ feature – some sort of lever that you only need to move a slight distance to go from closest to most distant focus settings.  That might seem like a benefit, but you lose the fine element of focus control with the turning knob, so we suggest you stick to a normal focus mechanism.

Next, let’s consider a related feature.

Diopter Adjustments

Most of us have one eye that is ‘better’ than the other, particularly as we age and our eyes start to deteriorate.  If you have corrective lenses, you are already familiar with how their degree of corrective strength is measured in diopters.

All good binoculars have a diopter adjustment on one of the two sides.  You use this to balance out your two eyes.  The way to do it is simple.  First, focus the side that does not have the diopter adjustment on something, with your other eye shut.  When you have that exactly in focus, close your eye on that side and open the eye on the other side, and turn the diopter adjustment to then get that side exactly in focus, too.

Once you’ve made this adjustment you won’t need to do it again, but of course if someone else uses your binoculars, they will want to adjust them for their own vision.  So it is helpful to make a note of your diopter setting, so when you get them back, you know where to set it without needing to go through the whole calibration process again.

It would also be a kindness, when passing the binoculars to someone else, to zero out the diopter adjustment for them.

Glass Coatings

Due to various interesting and complicated optical things, when light enters (or exits) a glass lens it gets slightly altered, and some light bounces back.  The bounced back light reduces the brightness of the final image you see through the binoculars, and the slight alterations create distortion in the image you look at.

So, to minimize these things, good  quality optics have coatings of special material on them.  You definitely want coated optics in your binoculars.

Now for the trick.  Some binoculars will describe themselves as having ‘coated optics’, some will say ‘fully coated’, some will say ‘multi-coated’ and still others will say ‘fully multi-coated’.

You can probably guess that the best is ‘fully multi-coated’.  Let’s explain what the others probably mean.

  • A claim for ‘coated optics’ probably means that some lens surfaces are coated with a single layer coating, but others have no coating at all.
  • A claim for ‘fully coated optics’ means that all lens surfaces have a coating, but it is probably only a single layer coating.
  • A claim for ‘multi-coated optics’ means that some lens surfaces have multi-layered coatings, but others probably have nothing.
  • And, of course, the ‘fully multi-coated’ means all lens surfaces have multiple coatings on them.  That is generally the best scenario to hope for.

One last thing about coatings.  Not all coatings are the same, and we have a suspicion that some low-priced low quality binoculars that boast of an optical coating have a fairly useless coating that does almost nothing at all to improve the image quality.  You can place your trust in the big brand names, but need to look at generic brands with extra careful scrutiny.

Optical Quality

It is hard to accurately assess the optical quality of a pair of binoculars just by looking at them, but there are some things you can readily see.  Here are several things to look for.

The first is to check there is no darkening of the picture around the edges.  You want even brightness all the way through.

The next is to check that everything is simultaneously in focus, both in the middle and at the edges.

Make sure straight lines are straight and aren’t curving (either in or out).  Move the lines (both horizontal and vertical) around – curving is most likely to appear around the edges of the image rather than in the center.

Next, look at a scene that has fairly bright light.  You don’t want any ‘flares’ or ‘streaking’ of the image.  Look around the edges of objects with light backgrounds, and make sure the object edges aren’t ringed with color fringes.

Now, hold the binoculars several feet away from you and look at the two small circles of image that you can see as if they were on the eyepiece lenses.  Rotate the binoculars so these small circles travel out to the edges of the eyepieces, and then have them travel around the edges in a big circle.  What you are looking for is to make sure that there aren’t squares inside the circles, greying out the gap between the outside of the square and the outside of the circle.  A little bit of this is probably okay, but you’ll see large differences in this effect between different binoculars.

Do these checks both when focusing on something up close and something far away.

Also, make sure that when you look through them, the images from both sides merge into one single image.  If they don’t do this, it is likely that one of the sides of the binoculars is out of alignment with the other side, and that will always (until/unless fixed) interfere with being able to comfortably and effortlessly use them as an extension of your own eyesight.

These simple tests will give you a degree of comfort as to the quality of the optics.

Construction and Ease of Repair

This is a bit more subjective, but do the binoculars appear to be solidly constructed and well made?  We prefer rubberized (sometimes called ‘armored’) type finishes, in the hope that if (when!) we drop them, the rubber surface will absorb some of the shock of having them dropped.  The rubber also quietens them – if something knocks against them, less sound will result, and that is sometimes helpful too.

One important test is to screw the focus adjustment all the way so the eyepieces move furthest out from the body of the binoculars.  Then lightly press on each of the two eyepieces and see if it wobbles.  It is important they stay solidly at the distance they are at, or else the varying pressure you’ll place on them during normal use will cause them to get out of focus with each other.  Poorer quality binoculars often display some weakness with this, good quality ones do not.

A similar consideration indicative of quality (or not) is you don’t want any slack or slop in the focusing mechanism, or in the way you can open up or close down the binoculars to adjust the distance between the eyepieces.

Are the two tubes held absolutely solidly in alignment with each other.  Even the slightest misalignment will interfere with your brain’s ability to blend the two images together.  Make sure that there is no susceptibility to any movement of either tube with respect to the other.

In terms of repair, can you readily access the interior of the binoculars and adjust the prisms?  If you drop them (we always have the carry strap around our neck so as to minimize the danger of dropping, and you should too) there’s a danger the prisms will be knocked out of alignment and you’ll want to be able to go in and try to realign them.  The prisms should not be glued in place, and you should be able to unscrew the parts of the binoculars to get inside.

Note that if you open up ‘fog proof’ binoculars, when you reseal them they will probably no longer be fog proof.  If this was an essential thing for you, you could at least flush them with wine bottle gas before sealing them up again, and that would displace much of the moisture bearing regular air.


This is a deceptive concept.  On the one hand, if you will be carrying binoculars with you, you want them as light as possible.  On the other hand, well-built and ‘solid’ binoculars will probably also be heavier.

That’s not to say that heavier binoculars are automatically better made and stronger than lighter ones.  We suggest you consider all other factors first, and only then, think about weight and possibly, if you are sure it is not compromising the quality of the binoculars, give preference to lighter weight.

Extra Features

Some binoculars super-impose a compass display so you know what compass bearing you are looking at.  That’s a moderately useful feature in theory, but the compasses are often much less than perfectly accurate, which greatly detracts from your ability to pass sighting data on to other people.  In addition, if you do not have the binoculars flat and level, the compass may not spin so freely.  Yes, you’ve got a $500 pair of binoculars with a 50c ‘toy’ compass inside – lucky you!

Some binoculars have ‘range finding’ marks on them a bit like rifle sights.  If you know the size of something you are looking at, the range finding marks help you to estimate its distance from you.  That may be a useful feature, particularly when away from home, because around your retreat, you’ll have of course already plotted out distances between all landmarks and relevant features (won’t you!).

Note that both compasses and range finding marks might be hard to see in the dark, and/or might require batteries for illumination.  We don’t consider either as a ‘must have’ feature.

Some binoculars have laser range-finders built into them.  That’s a lovely feature to have, but don’t get carried away and compromise on other features just to get the laser range-finder, because it is easy enough to buy a separate standalone laser rangefinder.

Indeed, we’d generally recommend you to get a separate unit, because it is probably much cheaper to do so – they cost about $100-$150 and are accurate to within a yard at ranges of potentially up to 600 yards, depending on what you’re trying to bounce the laser beam off (the bigger and more reflective the surface you are shining the laser at, the better).  Long range precision shooters love these devices.

Make sure the binoculars have lens caps for all four lenses, and also some type of carry case.  You want a neck strap for the binoculars and a second neck strap for the carry case.


We suggest you buy a good pair of 7 x 50 binoculars generally in line with the comments above.  Expect to pay over $100 but be reluctant to pay over $500 (based on August 2014 pricing on Amazon).  Although there definitely are some lovely binoculars available for much more money, you’ll get very good binoculars within this price range that you’ll be very happy with.

Aug 022014
The Surefire M1 is an inexpensive high quality IR Illuminator that works well with most night vision devices.

The Surefire M1 is an inexpensive high quality IR Illuminator that works well with most night vision devices.

In theory, a good night vision device will be operated in passive mode, and is able to brighten up very dimly lit scenes to a point where you can usefully understand what it is showing you.

In reality, many times this is not possible, either because there is too little light, or because the light, while present, is ‘wrong’.

By that we mean light sources in the background can drown out the details in the shadows of objects in the foreground, just the same way as when you take a regular photo of anything with a bright light in the background – the objects in the foreground are too dark.  When you have strong backlighting, you need to counter this with strong front lighting, ie from yourself, so as to get detail back into the shadows.  With a camera, you use a flash.  With a night vision device, you use a supplementary illuminator.

You need to realize that every shadow potentially contains a threat.  Any time you see an area of uniform black (and also any time you see an area of uniform white) that is not telling you there is nothing there.  Instead, it should be warning you that your Night Vision Device (NVD) is incapable of displaying whatever it is that might be present in that area of solid black or white (well, more commonly green, but you know what we mean!).

You should keep your NVD calibrated – both via settings on the device and by way of your use of supplementary light – so that everything in the area you are surveying shows some sign of greeny/grey rather than solid green/black.  Solid green/black obscures whatever it is in those areas and is dangerously deceptive.

So it is common – and necessary – for most NVDs to include a light source that you can switch on to actively illuminate what you’re looking at.  These light sources are always infra-red rather than normal white light.  This is so as to maintain a stealth factor and to keep whatever tactical advantage you might have by means of your NVD.  A normal visible light source would work perfectly well, of course, but using a regular flashlight makes your own presence obvious to any animal or person out there, and also allows anyone else out there to benefit from the light that it shines into dark spaces.

There’s another more subtle tactical advantage you’ve handed to any adversaries, too.  They can see where you are looking, and also, by clear inference, where you are not looking.  They know how to sneak past you (or how to sneak up and surprise you) based on clearly seeing what you are looking at.

None of these outcomes and tactical shifts are desirable.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that if the aggressors also have some way of seeing infra-red – their own NVD, for example, you’re at a double disadvantage.  They can surely see your beam of IR light, no matter how poor and primitive their NVD, but you don’t know they can see you.  Ugh.

Even if your adversaries don’t have any type of NVD, there is still a possible way you might risk disclosing your presence.  While the human eye can’t see infra-red light, some IR illuminators will glow, weakly, with a bit of a visible red glow that can be seen by the naked eye.  On a dark night, maybe the aggressors have adjusted their eyes to the low light and simply see the dim glow from your illuminator, even without needing to have NVDs of their own.

For all these reasons, we recommend you use illuminators very sparingly.  However, when you do need to use one, it is usually a case of ‘the brighter the better’ and you may find that the built-in illuminator on your NVD is inadequate.  So if you are going to use an illuminator, get a powerful and therefore probably separate illuminator (with a bit of luck, if the other side have low quality NVD gear, your powerful illuminator might even overload and destroy their gear!).

There are three things to consider when choosing a supplementary illuminator.

The first is its brightness.  As we said, generally, the brighter the better, but if you expect to be using this only at very short-range (ie within your retreat), too much brightness might overwhelm your NVD and cause everything to be white and washed out.  You’ll need to test any illuminators you get, and hopefully you’ll source them through a supplier with a generous return policy!

The second is how broad the beam angle is.  For short-range work, you want a broad beam at least as broad as the field of vision through the NVD.  This is so everything you are looking at is illuminated – you don’t want to leave any dark spots where surprises may be lurking.

If your requirement is for long-range illumination, you will want a narrower beam so that it carries further before getting too dispersed (and of course, the brighter the beam, the longer the range, too).

The third is the evenness of its beam.  This is very important – you don’t want a ‘doughnut of death’ where there is a bright ring of light but a dark patch in the middle.  Make sure the beam evenly illuminates everything within its coverage – this is even more important than with flashlights, because NVDs handle variations of light intensity and contrast within their image less well than our naked eyes do, and because of the ‘unreal’ or indirect nature of the image shown on an NVD display, you’re never quite sure if a dark patch is due to nothing being there or just a weakness in the NVD and the illumination that is driving it.

One other factor that few people consider, but which we think very important, is how the beam is switched on and off.  Depending on what you are using the illuminator with and what else you expect to be doing with your hands, you might find the best type of switch is a ‘momentary on’ switch.  That is, you press the switch and for as long as you are holding the switch down, the light is on, and as soon as you take your finger off the switch, the light goes off again.  This is much better than a switch that you press and release to turn on, then need to press and release a second time to turn off.  If things get ‘busy’ you might not be able to conveniently turn the light off again, and risk leaving the light on and drawing attention to yourself.

Of course this consideration is most relevant when using regular white light that everyone can see, but you should treat an ‘invisible’ IR beam as just as visible and dangerous to you as a regular flashlight, because for all you know your adversary also has NVD and your IR beam will appear like a huge searchlight shining into the sky when he looks in your general direction.

One more switching consideration.  It is really nice if there is a way to ensure the device doesn’t switch on accidentally when bumped – particularly if it is a ‘permanent’ on rather than a temporary on.  You might inadvertently have your IR beam on and not even realize it yourself!

A good general purpose illuminator is the Surefire M1 (about $120 on Amazon).  The former pre-eminence of Surefire for all types of tactical lighting products is these days under challenge by many new manufacturers, sometimes apparently offering better seeming products and at better seeming prices, but when you want to make a ‘safe’ choice and know, for sure, you are getting something built to the highest standards of quality and reliability, we feel that Surefire remains the best choice.

If you are wanting an illuminator for long-range surveillance, then you’ll find the M1 inadequate.  But a word of warning about long-range surveillance.  Don’t try to use your NVD further than it is capable of being used – there comes a point where the limits of resolution and the fuzziness of the image being displayed to you make it less useful, and no amount of extra illumination will make that any better.

For longer range purposes, we like the Luna Optics range of illuminators.  They also offer more expensive laser illuminators, but we’re unconvinced they offer better performance than the IR LED units.

The Deceptive Dangers of an Illuminator

We need to state something that we hope might already be obvious.  You already know that one danger of using an illuminator is that your adversary might detect the beam from the illuminator, creating a flipped tactical situation where they for sure know where you are (and also know what you’re looking at and so can avoid being there) while you have no idea at all if there are any adversaries out there at all.

The additional issue is in two parts.  Firstly, please understand that no matter how powerful an illuminator, it won’t show you something that you aren’t looking at and illuminating.  Secondly, the extra vision capabilities that you believe you are enjoying – and your inevitable feeling of having ‘tactical battlefield superiority’ is largely an illusion.  Do not abandon your defensive posture.

Using lights with NVDs is a bit like submarines stalking each other in the ocean.  All submarines have both active and passive sonar.  And, similarly, all submarines almost exclusively use only passive sonar.  It is only on rare occasion that a submarine will send out an active ‘ping’.  Although doing so might give that submarine useful battlefield data for a relatively short distance around itself, the sound of the ping will also reveal its formerly hidden location to all other submarines for a much greater distance around.

It is the same with illuminators, or lights in general.  Sometimes you have no choice but to use them, but when you do, the tactical situation changes massively and potentially unpredictably.

Static Illuminators

One scenario where illuminators might sometimes have a value would be if your retreat comes under attack at night and your attackers are hard to see in the dark.  In such a case, turning on external floodlight type illuminators, shining out from your retreat, would help you to see them more clearly.

But is this an overly complicated solution to a simple problem?  Why not use regular lighting, which means everyone in your retreat can see the aggressors without needing NVDs, and the aggressors are blinded by the bright lights which makes it difficult to see where you are, semi-safely located behind (and to one side, please!) of the lights.

A Lower Cost Alternative

Sometimes we become too reliant on technology, and certainly as preppers, we know the inherent dangers of this.  If you’re trying to get good vision of distant objects, don’t overlook the value of regular binoculars which can work well, even at night.

If you want to use binoculars at night, there’s one important thing to do – make sure that when you divide the diameter of the objective lens (the big one that faces towards what you are looking like) by the magnification factor, the result is at least seven.  This indicates the size of the image that you see through the eyepieces, and you want it to be sufficiently large to fill your eye pupils, so that at night, all your light collecting ability is being used.  The lower the number (for example, a pair of 8×40 glasses with the number 5 being derived) the less light collecting and the poorer they will work for you at night.

The classic binocular rating is 7 x 50.  This is close to the best all-round day/night portable binocular.


If your budget extends to night vision devices, you will need to also get supplementary illuminating devices so you can sometimes and selectively optimize the ability of your NVDs to reveal details of what is otherwise obscured in the dark shadows around you.

But using a supplementary illuminator can be a double-edged sword.  If an adversary also has NVD capabilities, your illuminator has clearly revealed your position and also shows where you’re watching, potentially giving a massive tactical advantage to your adversary.

For this reason, use such devices selectively and carefully.

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.

Aug 272013
The powerful but uncommon .357 SIG in the middle, others are 9mm, 7.62 Tokarev, 10mm and .40 S&W.

The powerful but uncommon .357 SIG in the middle, others are 9mm, 7.62 Tokarev, 10mm and .40 S&W.

We all know about the dreadful ammo shortage that has plagued the country for the last nine months.  Less well-known is the reason for this – sure, a lot of people bought extra ammo after last December’s school shooting in CT, fearing new government restrictions, but the biggest reason for the continuing ammo shortage seems to be massive buying by the federal government.

You may have read about the billions of rounds of ammo being purchased by the Department of Homeland Security, who are buying more ammo than the US Army – and whereas the Army is fighting wars overseas, the DHS has no apparent reason for using ammo at all, other than training.

It is easy to shrug this off as just government overspending – a sad but far from uncommon event.  But then, once in a while, something comes along that makes you stop and wonder.  Here’s one such example.

The Transportation Security Administration has published a tender for the supply of 3.454 million rounds of .357 SIG pistol ammunition.  On the face of it, there’s nothing astonishing about that.  But – stop and think about it some more, and you’ll end up scratching your head until it bleeds, trying to understand why the TSA needs such a large supply of ammo.

The thing is this.  You’ve all seen TSA employees – they’re the people manning the screening stations in airports.  The TSA is a relatively new government department, formed as part of the knee-jerk panic responses after 9/11/2001, under the assumption that a government department could provide better airport security than could private contractors.  The main feature of ‘better’ seems to be ‘more hassle’ rather than ‘more secure’, alas, and the events of 9/11 were not a result of any security failure.  It was legal to take box-cutters on planes; the problem was not the box-cutters as such, but rather our ridiculous policy of cooperating and complying with hijacker demands that caused the problems of that day.

Anyway, here’s the thing.  Almost every one of the 55,000 TSA employees has no law enforcement powers, can not arrest people, and do not carry guns.  Sure, they like to dress up in fancy new semi-police style uniforms, and they wear police style badges, but they are not sworn peace officers.

Which brings us to our question.  What does the TSA need with 3.454 million rounds of .357 SIG pistol ammo, when its employees are not armed?

Can anyone answer that?  In what new way can we expect ‘our government to be here to help us’?

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.

May 052013
Whether intentional or accidental, a vehicle can very effectively smash through most unprotected building exteriors.

Whether intentional or accidental, a vehicle can very effectively smash through most unprotected building exteriors.

You probably already know that your retreat needs to be reasonably protected against high velocity ballistic attack, which is a fancy way of saying it should be more or less ‘bullet-proof’.  But have you thought about low velocity attacks?

What do we mean by low velocity attacks?  We mean instead of having small rapidly moving things (ie bullets) impacting on the side of your retreat and possibly penetrating through the walls, having much larger but slower moving things impacting on the side of your retreat and again possibly penetrating the walls.

The first example of such an object would be a traditional battering ram.  We’re going to hope that there’s not much chance of an enemy being able to deploy a battering ram against your retreat doors or windows, because that would presumably expose the people with the battering ram to sustained fire from you and your fellow defenders, to the point that by the time they’d positioned their ram and started to use it, they’d have experienced unacceptable casualties, causing them to break off the attack.

But there’s another type of low velocity ballistic weapon which you need to consider.  What say the bad guys simply drive a car or truck at full speed up to your retreat and crash it in through the walls?

To put things in perspective, a typical pistol bullet has in the order of 300 – 900 ft lbs of kinetic energy.  A .308 rifle round is in the order of 2000 – 2500 ft lbs.

A 5,000 lb car or truck, traveling at 30 mph, has 150,000 ft lbs of kinetic energy.  Get its speed up to 42 mph and it has 300,000 ft lbs of energy.  If you can get it to 60 mph, it will have 600,000 ft lbs of kinetic energy.

A passenger car, even at fairly low speeds, can crash right through the exterior of a typical stick built home, and end up in the living room (we know this from experience).  Add extra weight, reinforce the front with a ram to focus all that energy in one concentrated area, and get the speed up a bit, and any attacker has a formidable weapon.

It isn’t even a very high-tech weapon.  Any old vehicle, as long as it can be driven, will work perfectly well.

One more point.  With safety belts (and possibly air bags), even at quite high speeds, the person driving the vehicle into your house is unlikely to be harmed.  The reason for this is that the impact event is spread out over time and distance, so instead of a deadly sudden impact lasting only a few hundreds of a second, it is a survivable impact that extends over a second or longer.

There’s another issue, too.  At even a fairly slow 30 mph, the vehicle is covering 45 feet every second.  If you have, say, a 250 ft ‘clear zone’ around your retreat, that means it takes the vehicle just over five seconds from when it first appears to when it is crashing through your wall.  That’s not much time to respond to the threat – even if you were on active sentry duty, at least a second to recognize the threat and start a response, another second or more to get your rifle shouldered, sighted, and safety off, and that leaves less than three seconds to try to do something.

With the vehicle being a moving target and its angle to you probably rapidly changing (meaning you need to appreciably lead the target with your sighting – how much practice do you have at that?), your chance of getting any effective fire on it is minimal.  Even if you could get some rounds landing on the vehicle, and while that might injure or kill the people inside, you’re almost certainly not going to stop the vehicle continuing on and into your wall.

Sacrificing a vehicle to break into your retreat might seem like an extreme move that not many attacking groups would willingly do, but if that’s what you think, maybe you should think again.

Our prediction is that in a Level 2/3 situation, vehicles will be a dime a dozen.  What will be in precious short supply is fuel for the vehicles, but how much fuel does it take to start a vehicle, gun the engine, and drive it at full power a couple of hundred yards?  A pint or two of petrol should do the trick.

An adversary could have a team of horses tow the vehicle to close to your retreat and would only need to use precious petrol for the last short powered dash of the vehicle into your outer wall.

Such a method of attack – unless you had prepared for it – would be very hard to resist.  It behooves you to consider this risk and devise appropriate defensive measures.

The obvious solution might be to strengthen your walls still further, but that’s not necessarily the best, and certainly is far from the only possible response.  Generally, we’d recommend the better thing to do is to prevent potentially threatening vehicles from being able to approach your retreat at any speed other than a crawl.  Keep the battle at a safe distance from your retreat whenever possible.

There are two ways to do this.  The first involves ‘taking things away from the ground’ and the second involves ‘adding things to the ground’.  In other words, digging holes and ditches, or adding obstructions and obstacles.

Obstructions and Obstacles

An obstacle doesn’t need to be large to be effective.  It can be either permanently mounted (ie dug deep into the ground to hold it in place) or can be relatively mobile.  There are many different types of obstacles, but for simplicity, we’ll consider four primary types.

In sequence from easy and simple to largest and most complex, the first type is very simple – known as caltrops, these are nothing more than metal spikes/stars that you can sprinkle over the ground.  At least one of the spikes always sticks up and so will puncture a vehicle’s tire(s).

The best caltrops are made out of hollow tubing, so as to increase the certainty and speed of the tire puncturing.

The nice thing about caltrops is they are low tech, simple to make, and quick and easy to deploy and similarly not difficult to remove again.  You might be thinking ‘if I can easily remove them, so too could an attacker’, and that is half-true.  But while the attacker is out there, sweeping aside your caltrops, he is very exposed and vulnerable to your defensive fire, and he has lost the ability to surprise you with a vehicle coming from nowhere and cannoning into your retreat unexpectedly.

You could even have a caltrop deploying device – a slingshot or something – that would enable you to throw more caltrops onto any cleared pathway.  You’d be tossing them out from behind cover, while the bad guys would have to be exposed in the open to clear them.

A second type of low tech very simple obstacle is almost laughable in its simplicity, but people who have seen this in action assure us of its effectiveness.  Simply strew old car/truck tires where you wish to impede on-coming traffic.

We are told that this will massively slow down an oncoming vehicle, as it suddenly finds itself having to go up and down over tires that are probably each 6″ – 12″ high.  Like the caltrops, the tires can be spread out and cleared on an ‘as needed’ basis, and while an opposing force could also clear the tires, that would again involve exposing themselves to your defensive fire.

A really determined enemy could devise a ‘snow plow’ or ‘cow catcher’ front to put on their vehicle that would deflect tires and caltrops away, although it would probably have to do so at lower speed.

The bottom line for both these approaches (and indeed for all of them) is that a truly comprehensive defense involves using multiple layers and strategies, and you have to realistically decide where to draw the line and how much is enough.

The third type is what are sometimes called Czech hedgehogs.  They are structures that might be freestanding, or possibly weakly anchored.  They might be individual units or possibly may be linked together, and might be made out of metal or concrete.  They work best when they are only slightly taller than the clearance underneath the class of vehicles they are designed to stop – that is a reasonably known quantity when defending against tanks, but in your case, you might be confronting anything from a low slung sports car to a ridiculously raised 4×4.

So these are not so good as a general purpose ‘one size fits all’ device.

The fourth type are large heavy concrete blocks – possibly in pyramid shape, possibly just pillars or some other shape.  These objects are more commonly securely mounted in the ground.  They have been called dragon’s teeth (and many other names too).

Unless they are ridiculously solid, they are vulnerable to being knocked over by a sufficiently strong oncoming vehicle.  But in the course of being knocked over, they will absorb a great deal of the vehicle’s energy.  They are particularly good, in this ‘sacrificial mode’ when reasonably close to your retreat exterior, so in the event of them failing, the vehicle won’t have enough distance to build up speed again.

Noting that attacking vehicles might have been raised up on trick suspension, we’d suggest you need to make any sort of obstruction fairly tall, and we don’t really much like that concept too much because you may then be providing cover for enemy forces to shelter behind when attacking you.

Obviously, obstacles can also be large and prominent.  You could have a three-foot high and three-foot thick wall (perhaps a type of Hesco bastion, for example).  But then you run the risk of providing a defensive cover for your attackers to shelter behind, hence our focus on smaller sized obstacles that don’t have this type of downside associated with them.

There’s another type of simple but effective device for slowing down vehicles, but it is not without its limitations in our sort of environment :  A gravel pit, such as you sometimes see going down long steep hills for runaway trucks.  If you’ve ever seen one of those, you may have noticed how short it seems – those gravel pits do a great job of slowing down and stopping a speeding truck on a steep slope and would do the same for any vehicles approach you at speed too.

Arrester beds typically have a depth of between two and three feet of small-sized gravel in them.  Some locations use sand, which provides a much stronger decelerating force, but in cold winters, the sand will freeze into solid blocks and cease to function as a dragging medium, instead it becomes a smooth surface for the vehicle to drive over, unimpeded.  A loose gravel pit will probably still work as intended in freezing weather.

The shape of the gravel is important – ideally it should be fairly well-rounded, enabling each piece to move and slide over each other piece, rather than causing pieces to interlock together and present a firmer more solid platform for the vehicle to drive on the top of.

A truck at 45 mph typically takes 200 – 250 ft to stop in an arrester bed.  That becomes a massive waste of space if being used to defend a retreat on all sides, unfortunately, making arrester beds less practical for retreat defense.

In addition to gravel and sand arrester beds, there is a special type of collapsible concrete material used at some airports as a run-off zone at the end of runways.  This material stops planes safely and quickly and in less distance.  This ‘engineered material’ has also been used to protect the approaches to secure locations, being a discreet way of providing protection against vehicular attacks.  It is more expensive, but takes up less space.

Unlike gravel, which is a relatively low tech product that can be probably fairly easily replaced or just raked back into place, once the collapsing concrete blocks have stopped a vehicle they need to be replaced.  This would be difficult in a Level 2/3 situation, and you’re still looking at a requirement for at least 100 ft of arresting zone.

Ditches and Moats

A defensive ditch can be a great vehicle stopper.  It can also slow the advance of regular infantry forces, although note that any such ditch needs to be designed so it doesn’t inadvertently provide a secure position for enemy troops to regroup in and then press their attack against you.  In other words, the closer the ditch is to you, the more readily you’ll be able to shoot down into the ditch, and the less cover it will provide an attacking force.

If you have abundant supplies of water, adding water to a ditch makes it into a moat, which can slow down the progress of enemy forces and vehicles even more effectively.

A moat can be expensive to create, especially if you line it with concrete, although it would be possible to line a moat with puddled mud as an alternative.  Depending on where your retreat was located and the wind and weather conditions, you could expect appreciable evaporation in summer, and if it froze over the winter it would not be very effective while frozen solid.  A possibly easy solution to that would be to partially or completely drain the moat in fall and refill it in spring, assuming water is plentiful.

Moats and trenches can be bridged over, and if they are not very wide, maybe by nothing more sophisticated than 2″x12″ planking, although such an arrangement would not allow for a vehicle to proceed over at high-speed.

Traditionally, castle moats were at least 12 ft wide, and ranged in-depth from as little as 3 ft to as much as 30 ft.  Ideally they would be too deep to allow an attacker to wade across.  A 30 ft depth is of course not so essential, but one benefit of a deeper moat was (and still could be) that it protected the structure inside the moat from tunnelers.  Unlike medieval sieges, we feel it unlikely that any attacking force against your retreat would go to that degree of effort, whereas the depth of moat might interfere with your own escape tunnels out of your retreat.

Clearly the width is an important parameter – the wider, the better, at least up to a certain point.  But it is also necessary to consider cost.  For example, if we say your retreat exterior measures 40′ x 100′, and if we say there is a three-foot space between the building’s exterior walls and the start of the moat, and let’s make the moat 15 ft wide and 8 ft deep, that’s a lot of excavation (44,000 cu ft of dirt).  You could use some of that to build up the raised berm on which your retreat stands, and you’re sure to find a landscaping or strategic use for the rest, but you’ll still have to pay a considerable sum for the earthworks.

If you decide to line your moat with concrete, and if you have a six-inch thick floor and walls (some sources suggest thicker walls), then using the same moat dimensions as in the previous paragraph, you need 5624 cu ft of concrete, or 210 yards.  At a total cost for the concrete and pouring of perhaps $200/yard, that’s close on $45,000 for the concrete alone.

As for the water required, let’s say you decide to fill the 8′ deep moat with 6′ of water.  That would require 245,000 gallons of water.

One more interesting factor about a moat.  On a warm summer’s day with a gentle breeze, you would lose at least 1,000 gallons of water a day to evaporation.  Note that the evaporative loss rate is unaffected by the depth of water – it is proportional to the surface area of water, not its depth (and also to the temperature, humidity, and wind speed), so simply reducing the depth of moat water would do nothing to reduce the rate of evaporation.

Of course, a moat is effective whether wet or dry.  If dry, it is a ditch and still prevents vehicles transiting over it, and slows people down – they have to climb down 8 ft (in the example we have been using) and then climb up 8 ft at the other side, and then have only a very slim 3ft ‘work area’ pressed up hard against your retreat’s exterior walls.  The more water in the moat, the slower their progress across it will be, and the more difficult it will be to take equipment with them.

If you find yourself choosing between a deeper moat and a wider moat, then assuming you have a minimum width of 12′ or slightly greater, you would be best advised to make your moat deeper rather than wider.  There is little or no added value in increasing the width – the difficulty of a moat is mainly in the ‘transitions’ from level ground to whatever depth/differential the moat is, and then from whatever level the moat is to the ground on the other side.

Ideally, we’d recommend the water depth be 6′ or slightly greater so that people can’t conveniently walk across, and then any extra depth should be used to create a vertical air space/wall between the water level and the ground level.  Getting in and out of a moat is even more difficult if you have to ascend or descend more than a convenient number of feet, and with water rather than solid ground at the lower level.

Allowing for Legitimate Vehicle Passage

You need your own vehicles to be able to travel through your obstructions, and you’ll also have legitimate friendly traffic coming and going too.

If you have a ditch or moat, obviously the solution for that is to provide a drawbridge – either a device like in old-fashioned castles that raises up and lowers down, or alternatively one which extends out from your retreat to the other side, or one which rotates/swivels.  Of course, whichever design you use needs to be very secure so that an opposing force can’t take over its mechanism and lower/extend/rotate it to span the moat against your will.

If you are relying on a series of above ground obstacles, you need a lane through them that vehicles can travel, and by including tight turns, you ensure that the vehicles have to move slowly.

The best type of tight turn is to require a three-point (or sometimes called ‘Y’) turn.  Because it requires the vehicle to actually stop, reverse, then proceed on forwards again, this is a very effective delay.

Of course, having had to very slowly work through the obstacles would cause the enemy to be in the open and exposed to your defensive fire for an extended period, plus means that when they finally do arrive close to your retreat wall, they are moving slowly rather than quickly.

Note that when you are planning for how you will allow legitimate traffic to come and go, you need to consider the dimensions and turning abilities of the largest probable type of vehicle that may legitimately visit.  This could be as large as a semi truck/trailer unit with a 56′ long container behind the tractor unit; alternatively, you might decide to have a staging point somewhere remote from your retreat where larger vehicles can be unloaded to smaller vehicles.

That is a much less efficient arrangement, so if it is possible to allow for at least moderately large semi trucks to get through your ‘maze’ that would be the best option.

A Last Line of Physical Defense

Naturally you want to stop vehicle attacks some safe distance from your retreat.  Even a slow speed vehicle, when approaching your retreat, can provide cover for enemy attackers sheltering behind or alongside the vehicle as it slowly moves forward, so some type of obstacle arrangement is essential.

Unavoidably, the further away from your retreat you place such defenses, the more extensive they will have to be.  If you have a retreat with perhaps 40′ x 100′ exterior walls, the walls themselves have a length of 280 ft.  If your vehicle barriers are a mere 100 ft away from your retreat (a distance that a sprinting attacker could cover in four seconds or less) then they will be a massive 1080 linear feet in size.

So possibly you’ll have a partial line of obstructions at a distance to slow down incoming vehicles, then a more severe obstacle design closer in to stop them.  This is the concept of layered defenses – it also helps you to understand the intentions of people approaching your retreat, requiring them to show aggression earlier on.

In addition, if the budget allows for it, maybe it makes sense to have a last line of defense that is actually immediately adjacent to – or even part of – your retreat wall.

One form of this would be an immediately adjoining moat.  Another form would be to build your entire retreat above grade on a berm.  Maybe the first three feet or so of the retreat is nothing other than a solid earth foundation.  In addition to its three-foot (or more) height, f you had this solid earth foundation extend out even only another foot or so (due to it being liable to be compressed if hit by a vehicle) that would be a very strong stand-off layer.

Having your retreat an extra three feet higher is a good thing for all reasons, giving you a better commanding view of your surroundings.  And presumably at least part of that extra three feet of height would be used to get you a head start on excavating basements, too – your below grade basements would in effect have their first three feet above ground level, but still be treated as basement.

In the event that you were blessed with a water table that was very close to the surface, raising up the ground level of your retreat structure is obviously very beneficial.

Whether you raise up your retreat or not, you definitely should make sure there’s not a downhill slope running towards your retreat.  That just makes it so much easier for an incoming vehicle to gather more speed and more energy.  It isn’t only bad feng shui to have your house lower than the surrounding area, it is bad strategy too.


There will be three major categories of physical threat against your retreat.  Bullets, heavy weights and vehicles, and people.  A good series of obstructive defenses will help keep vehicles away from your retreat walls, and will slow down the speed at which people can reach your walls too.

It is easy to underestimate how far away a person can be and still be an immediate danger.  A person 100 yards away can cover that distance, if there are no obstructions, in about 10 seconds, whereas if you’re just going about your ordinary lives in your retreat, there’s no way you can mount an effective defense with that little warning.

Rather than creating impractically huge clear zones around your retreat, you need to slow down the speed at which people as well as vehicles can get to your retreat, to buy you time to prepare an effective defense.

Above ground obstructions have some value in slowing down vehicles, but are less effective against individuals on foot.  Fencing works well against people (but probably not vehicles).  Ditches and moats will stop most vehicles and slow down people.

May 012013
Beware nearby major roads that will funnel refugees fleeing from the cities and into your region.

Beware nearby major roads that will funnel refugees fleeing from the cities and into your region.

You have a difficult balancing act to carry out when choosing your retreat location.

You don’t want to be too close to major population centers, because they largely comprise an overwhelming number of people who can not support themselves in a crisis and who will be forced to do whatever it takes to survive – even if that extends to harming other people and taking their food and shelter from them.

On the other hand, you don’t want to be too far away from other ‘good’ people and to participate in whatever level of mutually beneficial support you and they can exchange in a Level 2/3 situation.

We wrote in an earlier article about the general desirability of siting your retreat in a low population density area.

We’ve also written about the benefit – indeed, the need – to be close to a ‘good’ small town.

In general, there’s a fairly direct relationship between a population center’s size and the safe distance you wish to be from it.  The bigger the population center is, the further away you wish to be.  But if a population grouping is small, safe and sane, then you’d prefer to be reasonably close to it.

That much is moderately intuitive.  So let’s move on to some additional considerations.

Not All Distances are the Same

The distance you want to keep between yourself and appreciably sized population concentrations needs to be measured not just in ‘as the crow flies’ miles, but also by traveling time and difficulty.

Clearly, a mile on straight and level freeway is pretty much the same whether it is traveling toward you from the north or south or any other direction.

But a level straight freeway mile is much less of an effective separation than a mile through dense forest with no roads, or a mile that is intersected by a wide deep fast flowing river with no crossing points, or a mile that involves traveling up one side of a mountain and down the other.

In some cases, an overland mile might count for the same as ten freeway miles.  In other cases, an overland mile is a complete barrier, and people will have to choose other routes to get from where they are to where you are.

Which points to an interesting and significant consideration.  When a person is mapping out their travels (assuming they actually have a map and a purpose for traveling) they will be seeking out easy routes in preference to hard routes.  They’d rather take the mountain pass route than the mountain summit route, for example.  If you are located close to the mountain summit route, there will be fewer people spilling off the road and into your retreat than if you’re on the mountain pass route.

Even if traveling itinerantly with no fixed abode, most people will be thinking along the lines of ‘Where is a place I can conveniently get to in a day or two of travel where I’m likely to find some opportunities for food and shelter?’.

Their preference will probably be to go towards small townships and other places where small settlements can be easily reached, rather than to go speculatively heading off the major roads on the map and into regions with no evidence of civilization or other supportive resources on the map they’re looking at, and for sure, they’ll seek to avoid difficult to travel routes.

People might decide to get somewhat clever and to travel on secondary roads and head for secondary population clusters, particularly as traveling on main routes becomes less feasible and more dangerous, but there comes a point where they’ll decide ‘enough already’ and go in a different direction, simply because they hope there might be better opportunities in another direction.

So, when considering how much distance you need to put between yourselves and population centers, you should allow for the effective difficulty of making the journey as well as the straight line distance involved.

There are still more considerations when choosing your retreat location with respect to population clusters.

Consider Major Routes as well as Population Centers

Maybe there’s no major population center within whatever you’ve assessed as your necessary separation distance.  Great.  But there’s another issue to consider as well.  Are you close to any major travel routes that will see distressed people and marauders passing along?

For example, look at this map of much of Idaho and Montana.  What do you see?  Not a lot of major cities, which is a good thing.  But the most prominent thing you do see is not necessarily a good thing.  We are referring to the interstate highway shields and the yellow lines denoting their routes.  Now, ask yourself the question – ‘If I were escaping Seattle or Portland, and wanted to get into the redoubt area, what route would I take?’.  Zoom the map out a bit to help you answer the question.

The answer is probably I-90 from Seattle (and being reinforced by Spokane evacuees) which goes more or less directly into and through the northern and central redoubt, or I-90 then down to I-84 for the southern redoubt.  For Portland refugees, they’d simply take I-84 from Portland and then either up to I-90 or on over to I-15 and continuing whichever way from there.

If you chose to travel all the way from San Francisco or Los Angeles to the redoubt, how would you do that?  From San Francisco (and Sacramento) you’d probably head northeast on I-80 until at some point heading north to join up with I-84 and the crowds moving inland from Portland and Seattle.  From Los Angeles or San Diego or Las Vegas, you’d probably travel along I-15 until it breaks into Idaho (some people might choose to stay in UT) and then fan out east or west on I-84.

And let’s not forget also that Boise will have its own exodus.  Maybe even some people from Salt Lake City will go north and into the redoubt region too.

When people start evacuating the cities, there’s likely to be a lot of traffic on these portions of the interstates (well, always assuming people get that far).

Our point is simply this.  You might decide that a location ‘in the middle of nowhere’ meets your distance requirements, but don’t overlook the presence of any nearby arterial traffic route and the implications this presents.

Although people don’t ‘live’ on the freeways (at least not in normal times) it is very likely that freeways and other major highways will become the primary routes people use to flow out of the cities and to where they hope to find either safer places to live or tempting targets to live off.

Because of the nature of such people – in large part they have been reduced to becoming itinerant scavengers – they pose a greater threat than the residents of small-sized nearby towns who are possibly attempting to struggle and survive in place through their positive efforts at becoming self-sustaining.

Furthermore, as people travel along these routes, they’re going to be needing food and shelter on a regular basis – especially once their cars run out of gas and they transition to traveling on foot.  It seems a very likely scenario that there’ll be a ‘path of destruction’ to either side of freeways marked by half a day to a day’s travel time.

People will travel for a way on the major route/freeway, and then will go off to one side or the other, looking for food and shelter for a while, before possibly then returning back to the freeway and continuing their journey.  Of course, some people will find somewhere they like and just stop and settle there.  As long as the place they stop and settle in is not your place, that’s probably a good thing, and the reason why distance buffers you from the full force of people evacuating the cities.

When people leave the cities, the density of travelers will reduce with distance.  People will semi-randomly leave the main throughways and stop in places, and from time to time turn off the main route and go down minor routes to secondary destinations.  In addition – to be brutally blunt – some people will die.  There will clearly be a major reduction in traffic once you get the far side of a typical tank of gas driving range from most cities – indeed, if we say that people average 2/3 of a tank of gas in their car at any given time rather than a full tank, some people will start having fuel problems before that.

As people’s cars die, they’ll then of course be forced to abandon them and many of such people will immediately look for refuge in the immediate area of where their car ran out of gas.

So you definitely want to be at least a day’s travel by foot from the first 350 miles or so of freeway from each major metropolitan center, and hopefully have some sort of ‘barrier’ between you and the major routes, and no ‘magnets’ on beyond your location (see below).

In our example, and ignoring all other location issues, we’d definitely say you do not want to be on I-84 anywhere from where it enters Idaho from Oregon and on through the semi-circle as it becomes I-86 and then I-15 up to I-90, and we’d probably give I-90 a wide berth too.  I-15 heading straight-shot north from I-90 up to the Canadian border also looks like a major distributor route for people to take who have reached the redoubt and are now looking to get into the more remote parts.

Barriers and Magnets

We mentioned the desirability of having a barrier between you and a major thoroughfare, and the need to avoid having a magnet further on past you.

By ‘barrier’ we mean a place that people are likely to stop at when they get there, and probably not travel on further past it.  Barriers can be both positive and negative in form.

A small/medium town is likely to be a positive barrier, because most people when they reach the town are likely to stop there, at least for a while, or until such time as the town is overwhelmed (and possibly destroyed).  A river with no bridge is clearly a negative type barrier.

Magnets are places people are likely to want to travel to.  A magnet might be a well-known resort area or settlement.  For example, perhaps a lot of people from California might decide to go to Lake Tahoe – in such a case, you’d want to be sure you weren’t between I-80 and the lake, because if you were, you might have too many people traveling past you, and many deciding to stop when they stumble upon you.

A magnet might be an appealing town or region that people for whatever reason feel would be a good location to find refuge and support – whether this is necessarily a rational choice or not.  Maybe someone saw a brochure for a Sun Valley, ID resort, and they decide to go there – so you’d not want to have a retreat too close to Highway 75 as it makes it way up from I-84 to Sun Valley (which is a bit of a shame because there are some otherwise interesting locations in that region).

These two examples incidentally point out that not only major connecting routes may be well trafficked – some unlikely secondary routes may end up with more traffic than you might think, due to the presence of a ‘magnet’ somewhere along them.

Out of Sight – Out of Mind (Hopefully)

It should go without saying that not only do you want to be a certain physical distance from well-traveled routes, but you also want to be out of sight of the routes as well.  You want to have a land barrier between you and the route.

Other buildings are not a good form of barrier, because buildings and other signs of human inhabitation are magnets.  The sight of buildings will draw people to them.

Trees are okay but not great, and particularly at night, light from your retreat might be seen through the trees.

Simple distance by itself is okay, but if you are on reasonably level ground, you need quite a lot of distance to be secure and ‘invisible’.  If we say the highest point of your retreat roof is, say, 40 ft above the ground, and if a person is standing a little above ground level at the far away point – on a slight rise or something, then the distance you have to be apart so as to have the horizon caused by the earth’s curvature block your roof line from their sight is in the order of 12 miles.

That doesn’t mean 12 miles from the freeway.  It means 12 miles from the closest point a person is likely to travel off the main thoroughfare on a semi-random basis, which we earlier suggested would be somewhere between a half day and a whole day’s travel from the thoroughfare.

The best way to be out of sight is to have a hill between you and the main thoroughfare.  The hill not only obscures you, but discourages people from traveling in that direction, too.

Distance – whether needed or not – also protects you from other giveaway indicators of your presence – the unavoidable smells and sounds of your retreat.

Remember the Fourth Wave of Food and Shelter Seekers

In our article ‘Four Waves of Food and Shelter Seekers‘ we categorize people fleeing the cities into four categories.  The first three waves of people will be traveling along the highways in the month or two or three immediately following whatever catastrophe it was that occurred.

But the fourth wave – which is by far the most threatening of the groups – will be roaming about the country on an ongoing basis.  Long after ordinary people’s cars have run out of gas or failed, there will still be roving gangs of evil-doers, probably in mechanized transport, and if not, on horseback, looking to opportunistically loot and nihilistically destroy whatever they come across.

They will probably be regionally based, and so will get to know their local home turf, and remaining obscured from these people will be your greatest challenge of all.  While they’ll travel on what remains of the major arterials to cover longer distances efficiently, when they’re scouting for new targets to attack, they’ll systematically fan out every which way from the major routes.

But that brings us to an entirely different topic – one of defense, and we cover that in its own category.


When choosing a retreat location, you want to consider not only distance from major population concentrations, but also distance from major routes that refugees are likely to travel when the inevitable exodus out of the cities occurs.

You want to consider not just physical distance, but also the difficulty of covering the distance between you and the routes/cities you are avoiding.  A suitable retreat location should not be detectable from anywhere that refugees and roving hoards of lawless looters are likely to travel.  To minimize the amount of refugee traffic in your region, you don’t want ‘magnets’ drawing people past your property on the way to somewhere else.

Barriers can be both physical and impassable, or in the form of positive distractions that cause people to divert from otherwise traveling towards you.