Friday, February 28, 2014

SHTFriday: Your Apocalypse Arsenal (pt.1)

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
The prepper Holy Trinity is often pithily described as "Beans, Bullets, and Band-Aids."  Put more prosaically, these break down to:
  • Food, Shelter, & Water;
  • Hunting/Fishing, Security, and Self-Defense;
  • Health, Well-Being, and First Aid. 
While all of these are important -- your gun won't keep you warm at night, or staunch your wounds -- it is an important tool (perhaps the most important tool) for keeping yourself alive and protected. With the proper gun, you can get food (hunting), make shelter (animal hides), and prevent your other resources from being taken away by people bigger, stronger, and more numerous than yourself. 

However, this begs the question:  Which guns for the apocalypse? After all, those of us on blue collar budgets aren't made of money, and so no matter how much we'd like our answer to be "All of them, and ten times the ammunition besides," we can't do that. We need to prioritize our purchases based upon the disaster(s) for which we are preparing.

This article, then, is the first of a series wherein I take a sample disaster or desired quality and make suggestions on what to buy, and give you my reasoning behind those suggestions. I am certain that readers will find some of my suggestions questionable (guns are a bit like sports and politics in that regard); I invite such disagreement in the comment section, below.

This image is here specifically to forestall the inevitable "Your gun sucks and you're holding it wrong" comments. 

Absolute Utility

  • 12 or 20 gauge pump shotgun with interchangeable barrels (one of them scoped)
  • .22 caliber revolver

If you aren't sure for what you're prepping, or you simply desire to be prepared for as many possibilities as possible within the smallest budget, this is for you. Both of these firearms are deliberately not semi-automatic; my definition of utility encompasses both ruggedness and low percentage of malfunction -- manual actions mean fewer moving parts, which means a reduced chance of breakage or malfunction*. Another aspect of utility is "making your ammunition count", and by slowing down your rate of fire you limit the possibility of wasting your shots in an adrenaline rush. Finally, shotguns are cheap (new ones may be bought for under $300; used ones for sometimes far less), and while new .22 revolvers can be expensive (in excess of $500), they have been around for 100+ years, so the odds of finding one at a pawn shop or garage sale are excellent.
* I am told by a friend that I am subscribing to the "Revolver Fallacy" here, and that revolvers are in fact more complicated than semi-autos and that they break about as often. Additionally, when they break, they often require the attention of a gunsmith, while an SA is often user fixable. 
Since my revolver has never broken or malfunctioned, this is outside my area of expertise. In this, as in all things, I urge you to consider what I write to be my opinion and not absolute fact; investigate and come to your own conclusions. I am here to provoke thought and discussion, not proclaim holy writ. 

The shotgun is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of firearms:  with the right shells, and the right barrels, you can do anything with it.
  • With an 18.5" barrel and 00 buck shot, it's an excellent home defense weapon.
  • With a 26"+ barrel and birdshot, it's great for subsistence hunting at range. 
  • With longer barrel, an optic, and deer slugs, it's a potent 100 yard rifle. (I recommend getting a barrel with an scope mount already attached, so that you can change out the barrel without having to re-zero your scope every time.)
The shotgun has downsides, of course. It is heavy, has impressive recoil, has limited ammunition capacity, and that ammunition is heavy and bulky. It can also be outperformed by other types of firearms (rifles shoot further; pistols fire faster), but it's an excellent jack of all trades weapon. Unfortunately, it's very much not a "grab your weapon and run off to live in the woods" kind of thing, but if you are operating from a base with a steady supply of ammo, it's superb.

Speaking of ammunition, while buckshot and deer slugs can be expensive (around 70 cents a round for 00 bucks, and over a dollar each for slugs), birdshot -- often called "game loads" or "sporting loads" -- is remarkably affordable, with a box of 100 averaging between $25 and $30 at most sporting goods stores and Walmart. In addition, many online outlets (Sportsman's Guide, Cheaper than Dirt, Lucky Gunner, etc) often sell bulk packages of 00 at a discount, so it's often worth it to get a case of 250 shells at once.
Disclaimer: I participate in the Lucky Gunner "Lucky Affiliates" program. Any purchases made using this link, or the sidebar advertisement, directly benefit me.
There is an ongoing debate among gun owners over whether or not 20 gauge is as effective as 12 gauge for many applications. As I do not own nor have I shot a 20 gauge, I do not feel qualified to discuss the merits of each. What I do feel comfortable telling you is this:
  • A 12 gauge, by virtue of having a larger shell, is going hit harder and go further. 
    • It is also going to kick more, be heavier, and have larger, heavier, more expensive shells. 
  • A 20 gauge will kick less, be lighter, and have smaller, lighter, less expensive shells. 
    • It is also going to have reduced punch and range. 
  • I wouldn't want to be hit with either, frankly. 
    • In most instances, the differences in range or punch won't matter. 
  • Smaller people (children, some women and teens) might be unable to fire a 12 gauge but able to use a 20 gauge. 
    • Therefore, knowing who is going to shoot this weapon, and your budget for ammo, will likely be a greater influence on your decision than any differences between ballistics. 

Complementing the shotgun is a .22 caliber revolver. While not ideal for self-defense, it has many good features as well:
  • Ammunition is light and (usually) plentiful.
  • A revolver, unlike a semi-auto, will accept .22 Short, .22 Long, and .22 Long Rifle. 
    • I am told that newer revolvers come with warnings not to mix ammunition. While I cannot testify to this, not having seen it myself, it is worth mentioning that you should always, always, check the owner's manual for such things. 
    • Important Note:  Do NOT use a .22 Magnum (also called .22 WMR) in any firearm not chambered for it, and do not use .22 Short/Long/Long Rifle in any .22 WMR firearm! Doing so will likely damage your gun and possibly injure you!
  • It can be used to harvest small game (like rabbits and squirrels) when a shotgun would be too much.
  • Its report can be used to deter pests without wasting a more valuable shotgun shell.
  • Recoil is small enough that it can be effectively used off-hand, in case you cannot set down your shotgun without losing or damaging it.
  • Low recoil also allows a quicker target re-acquisition. 
  • In a pinch, it can be used for close-in self-defense. While the threat is not likely to be eliminated with those shots, nothing likes to be shot at, and making them flinch will buy you time to bring your shotgun to bear. 
The downsides to a .22 are minimal, but they do exist: the round is anemic in comparison to most other types of ammunition, and reloading a revolver is slow. Speaking of reloading, .22 cartridges are rimfire, and rimfires cannot be reloaded at home the way centerfire cartridges can. 

The only time I would ever recommend a .22 semi-auto pistol over a revolver for this specific scenario would be if you have already gone through the process of becoming licensed to own a suppressor (what the media calls "silencers") and have a pistol with a threaded barrel to accept said suppressor. In that case, having a quiet firearm more than makes up for the increased chance of malfunction. 

That said, I would still suggest you own a revolver in addition to the suppressed semi-auto pistol. Revolvers only require the gun and ammunition; pistols also require magazines to function. While magazines make the firearm easier to load, they are an additional expense and weight.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the following:  what I present is A solution, not THE solution. For example, a case could be made for a light rifle and a heavier pistol, and I expect (and welcome!) remarks to that effect in the comments field below.

Next week: a different scenario!

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