It has been said 'beware the man who only owns one gun-- he may know
how to use it.'
And this is true, never doubt it.
But we are, as a society and a country and a world, flirting with a
possibility of things really getting serious. Where outright, literal
survival is becoming a valid concern. And that takes us to a condition
where we, those responsible, have to consider how to protect self,
family, loved ones, home and hearth, and in addition, be able to feed
self, family, etc.
So we come to a situation where we MUST consider weaponry.
So... let's say that a man owns only a pistol. A pistol is MOST useful
when an individual suffers a surprise attack. 'Oh shoot!' It is, in
many cases, quite difficult to deal with 'tasks at hand' when
encumbered by a rifle or shotgun. Or, even, in some cases, a handgun
in a truly major caliber-- 44mag, 454 Casull, or one of the 'half
inchers'-- a 50 Desert Eagle, a 500 Smith and Wesson. They are just
too big and bulky and heavy to be the constant, strapped-on companion
in all situations. Not to mention that a 44mag, and up, is a difficult
handgun to use accurately and effectively.
Yes, there are men and women who can shoot the eyelashes off a gnat,
one at a time, 5 or 6 shots in 10 seconds, with the hand cannons. But
those folks are few, far between, and either blessed with an
incredible natural aptitude, or who have spent lots of time and money
at practice. And, for a 'panic weapon', the demand for an outright
hand cannon is just not that common. While a 22lr will often not stop
nor even deter a serious attacker, and a 25acp may not even be as
effective as a 22lr, and a 32acp is just beginning to be 'barely
adequate', by the time you ascend to a 380 or a 38 or a 9, the
effectiveness has come well up the scale. A 45, which with minimal
practice anyone but the most slight and/or frail and/or unskilled can
handle and use effectively.
After all, in a paniic situation, most likely the cause of the panic
is literally within short rock-throwing distance. I know, from reading
of many, many, most police shooting, literal panic rules, and an
entire 15 round magazine can be fired at a man-sized target from two
or three yards without a single hit. But with practice and
familiarity, reflexes and muscle memory take over, and hitting a
foot-wide, two feet tall abdomen is really not much of a demand. And
if a man is hit with a 9mm (0.355-0.357 inch diameter)projectile at
short range, the shooter WILL get the undivided attention of the
If you have less than a 9mm (in this I speak of any 0.355-0.357
projectile), then shot placement and skill with the handgun become
paramount. And the only real excuse, aside from the lesser expensive
ammo, for using lesser calibers is to allow a less-than-strong,
less-than-skilled shooter a handgun that does not spit and snarl and
kick with the vehemence of the larger calibers. So there is the
dilemma-- the light calibers, which demand (for true effectiveness)
good shot placement and shooting discipline, are more likely to be in
the hands of those with the least ability to properly place shots.
So let's propose a situation-- an individual has one gun. It's a 9mm.
And now, as well as having 'panic protection' duties, it also has to
serve to feed him. From a good ambush, a VERY good ambush, or a tree
stand, a 9mm can take a deer. If the shooter can place a shot in the
head, then he has a deer.... but the head is the most mobile part of
the animal, meaning that an unanticipated random head motion, or an
unseen twig can result in only wounding instead of killing, even at
fairly short range. And this can easily mean a long track, or an
outright miss. Taking the far easier target of the heart and lungs,
the 9 just isn't enough gun. A rib or the bones of the shoulder can
deflect the 9 significantly... and we are back to tracking a wounded
animal... and anything can happen on that track-- even the animal
being found by someone else before the shooter actually finds it.
Or, let's say the target is a squirrel or rabbit. Forget taking a
moving, tiny target with a 9mm. Firstly, you will never be close
enough for a fairly certain shot. Well up in a tree is the closest
anyone can count on. I'm fairly good with a handgun, but I would NOT
want to depend on a 9mm to shoot a squirrel out of a tree.
Add to that, a hit with a 9mm could significantly damage or reduce the
available meat on such a small animal.
Self defense in a home or shelter? That 9 may well be going against a
target wearing body armor. Not good. The 9mm is precisely what most
body armor is designed for. Not to mention that it is entirely
possible that a round could penetrate a simple drywall barrier and
strike a friendly on the other side. Of course, surprised out of
sleep, the semiautomatic 9 provides what boils down to an instant
response-- and we are back to a 'panic' situation. It may not be a
submachine gun, nor a shotgun, but it IS fast, and at least meets a
minimum level of effectiveness.
We have largely exhausted the potential of the handgun. Yes, a 357mag,
a 41mag, a 44mag would provide a FAR greater lethality. And far more
weight, far fewer rounds available for a serious fight, and far more
kick and thus requirement for a more skilled shooter. So let's move
The shotgun is the finest close-order offensive or defensive weapon
ever devised by man. With a short, 'cylinder bore' barrel, and a long
magazine tube, a pump or semiauto 12 gauge is a truly fearsome weapon
at close range. A 'choked' barrel is not necessary or even desirable
for close order combat, and at truly close range, 30 feet or less, the
unchoked barrel still delivers a load of shot almost as a column,
making for remarkable knock-down power, even against soft body armor.
#4 birdshot is 0.13 inches in diameter... that is slightly less than
an actual bb, which is 0.171 to 0.173 inches-- and a shotshell will
typically contain more than an ounce of shot. So, for #4 birdshot,
that means well over 100 pieces of shot, often arriving, at short
range, at supersonic velocity. And, at close range, all that shot
arrives essentially as a one to two inch diameter column. Ouch.
With #4 buckshot, the individual shot is almost a quarter inch in
diameter. And can number 30-40 per individual shell. Double ouch. With
00, or 'double ought' buckshot, the individual shot is a third of an
inch in diameter with typically 9 per individual shell. A load of 00
at 30 feet is going to 'smack down' a man, vest or not. And, with a
one-ounce or heavier slug, at short range, it simply won't matter if
the target man is wearing soft body armor or not. The slug will
arrive, wad up the vest, and simply poke slug, vest and all through
the target's chest wall.
For antipersonnel use at close range, there is simply no equal to the
shotgun. It will penetrate drywall, so in confined areas with
'friendlies' about, care must be taken to avoid horrible unintended
Its one drawback for home defense, particularly in a 'surprise from
sleep' scenario is that it is slower to be deployed than a handgun at
In stress situations with a pump shotgun, the only thing the shooter
must do is make sure that each pump stroke is a full stroke, so the
gun is not 'short shucked' or 'short stroked', which may result in
ejecting a spent shell but not picking up a new shell.
As in ANY stress situation, the mind must rule. AIM. And familiarity
and practice are absolutely essential.
The down sides to the shotgun are two-- they are essentially short
range weapons, and they are not easily adapted to being carried for
ready access if the person needs both hands for some task at hand. For
this, a pistol is obviously the necessary choice.
But the shotgun, with appropriate shot size and power, is the perfect
choice for birds on the wing, for rabbits on the run. Even squirrel...
but with the shotgun's inherent power, it is very likely to produce a
good bit of damage and loss of edible meat.
For deer sized game at relatively short range-- 30 yards or so-- heavy
buckshot works well. This situation is often found in the heavily
wooded areas east of the Mississippi, and some areas to the west.
Slugs can be used at longer range, even as far as 100 yards. But the
slug has a tricky trajectory. At longer ranges, particularly beyond 50
yards, care must be taken to not shoot under the target. Practice, and
familiarity are essential, as well as thorough knowledge of the
trajectory beyond 50 yards.
As mentioned, it is difficult to carry 'all the time in all
situations'. And it is inherently limited to 40 yards or so even with
buckshot, and certainly no more than 100 or so yards with slugs.
If the situation might demand engaging targets beyond these maximums,
the choice devolves to the centerfire rifle.
It is possible to use something like an AK or AR for close order
defense, or offense. Large magazine capacity and less potent
ammunition adapt these platforms well to close order conflict. But
when it comes to engaging larger targets at longer ranges, the 223
(AR) and 7.62x39 (AK) just don't have the 'legs' and killing power at
longer ranges. It is possible to engage hostile humans at, perhaps,
250 yards. But that is a practical maximum. And neither the AR nor the
AK are renowned for their accuracy at that range. Yes, they possess
'firepower', but lack outright 'killing power'. And, all too often,
the so-called 'assault weapon' is best used as a 'near-panic' weapon
at shorter range, with a few shooters who need to be able to put out a
lot of perhaps 'loosely aimed' rounds at multiple attackers. In
survival mode, the alternate common usage, a lot of shooters attacking
another group of armed humans, is almost inconceivable. You are in
SURVIVAL mode, not 'battle mode'.
In survival mode, the intent IS to survive. Either to take one shot
and put down a deer, antelope, hog, elk, whatever the game animal may
be; or, fire as few rounds as necessary to put down a human threat, in
this case, at considerably longer range than 'close order'. The ideal
is to keep the threat as far away as possible. I would not hesitate to
take my bolt action, well scoped, wonderfully accurate Winchester 70
in 30-'06 and put down a deer or antelope with one well placed shot at
450 yards-- a tic over a quarter mile. But I have a lot of experience
with that rifle, scope, and caliber. With a 200 yard zero, a 165 grain
bullet will drop about 3 feet under the crosshairs at that range. So,
range estimation (and trajectory) is essential... either by the use of
mildots in the scope, or by a reliable, calibrated adjustable
objective on the scope, or both. KNOW YOUR WEAPON AND ITS BALLISTICS.
Otherwise, all you will accomplish is spooking your game, and going
hungry, or alerting an enemy to your location, which can make you
dead, instead of frightening off the enemy by 'death from afar'.
The scoped, bolt action centerfire rifle is in its element when taking
game or enemies at 100 yards or greater. It is wholly unsuited for
close order offense or defense.
Some rifles-- the M-14 (M1A1) or the FN/FAL 308 'assault rifles' can,
in a pinch, do both. But they are not typically considered as a
long-range alternative to a highly accurate bolt action scoped rifle.
I will throw one more thing into the mix. I am a big fan of precision
air rifles. I do not mean 'break barrel, spring piston' type air guns.
That type air gun requires an inordinate amount of practice to truly
master, and almost no one can shoot one, particularly the more
powerful ones, as accurately as a 'precharged pneumatic' air rifle.
Nor are they as powerful as a precharged pneumatic. With a hand pump,
it is relatively easy to get 30 full power, minute of angle-accurate
shots from these bolt-action repeating air guns with 30 ft-lbs of
muzzle energy from a 22 cal pellet of 16 grains or so.
Precharged pneumatic air rifles are truly in their element when taking
'set shots' on small game. Using a 30 ft-lb muzzle energy, bolt action
repeating, 22 cal airgun launching a 16 grain pellet at a little over
900 fps, I eliminated a muskrat infestation from Mr. Boone's lake, at
ranges from 40 to 70 yards. I took nothing but head shots using a
6-24x Bushnell Elite 4200 mildot reticle scope. I would not hesitate
to put down a wolf-sized animal at 50 yards from ambush with a head
While it is not their intended role, I would, in appropriate but
stressed circumstances, take a head shot on a deer or human target at
50 yards. At 50 yards, a good shooter from a good rest can place every
shot on a penny at that range.... if he is fully cognizant of the
looping trajectory inherent to the platform, and the exaggerated
effect of wind on the light, relatively slow pellets.
And there are airguns available which launch considerably heavier
pellets at considerably more velocity-- 50 ft-lbs and more muzzle
energy, in a bolt-action repeating platform. I caution the reader--
serious, survival shooting is not a task to undertake lightly with an
http://straightshooters.com/ is a site with a very good
selection of airguns and accessories, and it is run by a couple of
great guys. They really ARE 'straight shooters'. There is a discussion
board, and usually no shortage of knowledgeable airgunners to answer
questions. And no, I get no consideration for this recommendation. I
do use them for my airgun stuff, and have ALWAYS received top notch
equipment and service.
So I come to a conclusion-- what projectile weapons does a man or
family intent on survival in a hostile world need? For me, they are a
semiautomatic handgun of at least 9mm, a 12 gauge shotgun, a 'battle
rifle' in either 223, 7.62x39, or perhaps 308, and a very accurate
bolt action centerfire rifle in at least 243 Winchester caliber, if
not something heavier.
Your terrain and surroundings and likely game will determine necessary
calibers, particularly for the bolt action rifle. It should not be
necessary for every member of a group to have the full assortment of
weapons, but it would certainly be appropriate for every member to
have a functional handgun and considerable skill with the others. Of
course, adequate stores of ammunition are necessary, for all weapons.
I will add that a rifle in 22lr is most appropriate for a good shooter
to use for small game. The airguns discussed above are also very
appropriate for a good shooter to use for small game.
These weapons and ammunition for them are NOT cheap. But....
realize.... we are talking about SURVIVAL here, not 'plinking'. The
weapons discussed here are a means to preserve your life, and the
lives of your loved ones. Read the above, and decide for your own
circumstances which are actually needed.
And.... stay alive.