Joe the prepper is making some headway. He’d found a couple of gun stores in his town that were patient with his learning curve and welcoming of his questions. So far he’d bought a Glock in .40 SW, a .357/.38 spl. revolver, and a smallish semi auto in .22 LR. He felt pretty good about the progress he was making with his preps regarding defense of the family. He was also pleased and a little proud of himself for all the new information that he’d been processing. Nevertheless, with all Joe had learned, he knew that in a worst-worst-worst case scenario he’d need more than a brace of handguns to have the best chance of successfully defending his family. To maximize his opportunities he knew he was going to have to get a long gun. Or two.
While Joe lives smack dab in a subdivision, he likes to say he lives “on the edge of suburbia”. Not a half mile down the main road, the “burbs give way to small farms and open spaces and grazing cattle and horses. In spite of that, Joe also is well aware that two miles the other way down the main road is the freeway, and ten miles down the freeway puts one in the inner city. “Not even much of a full day’s walk”, Joe reminded himself frequently, as he worked to understand exactly what a worst-case scenario could be like for him and his family. He also knew that the county jail and a minimum security prison were within that same ten mile radius. The realization illicited a prickling up Joe’s neck when he thought about it.
And so it was back to the drawing board for Joe. He hit YouTube and a few trusted firearms related sites, and spent most of Saturday at his two favorite gun stores. This is most of what he learned:
At close range a 12 gauge shotgun is a formidable weapon when loaded with either 00 Buckshot (double-aught), or slugs. Shotguns in smaller chamberings can be fun and effective for harvesting game, but 12 gauge is a superior defensive chambering, and it will likely be quite forage-ble/barter-able in an extended WROL scenario. A 12 gauge shotgun can also be “downloaded” with #7 shot for taking fowl and other small game in the field. A shotgun, depending on whether and/or how the barrel is choked, is effective out to 50 to 100 yards, so it is limited in range. Most pump action (slide action), and semi auto shotguns have an “underbarrel” magazine with a capacity from 4 to 8 rounds usually, so to find a good way to carry extra shells is a must. Most shotguns are fitted with a simple “bead style” front sight-this is most common with bird hunting guns. Nowadays, there are many manufacturers that eschew the bead sight, and use rifle type sights for their defensive shotgun offerings. Additionally, many weapons can be retrofitted with upgraded sights.
A shorter barrel is preferable for defensive situations as it is more portable and is more difficult to wrest from one in tight quarters. The legal limit for shotgun barrels is a federally mandated 18.5 inches. Longer barrels are better suited for hunting. Some makers offer packages that include interchangeable hunting and defense barrels. A sling on a shotgun is as necessary as it is on a rifle. After handling more than a dozen shotguns, Joe concluded that the readily identifiable “chuk-chuk” of the slide of a shotgun being racked back and forth was pretty much a universal statement to the effect “your day is fixin’ to get a whole lot worse”. So he opted for the pump action shotgun.
2. Bolt Action and Lever Action Rifles
Bolt action and lever action weapons have their respective roles, but may be a liability in some cases due to the fact that reloading either is slow compared to changing magazines in a semi auto rifle.
By their nature, bolt action rifles are typically more accurate than semi auto rifles, simply due to less moving parts. There are some exceptions of course, but an $800 bolt action is quite likely to be much more accurate than an $800 AR variant. Bolt actions can be had in a much wider array of much more powerful calibers also than one can usually find in typical defensive rifles. The defensive niche the bolt action fills then, is that of hunter, and also if one is properly ensconsed and covered, the bolt action can well defend one’s life and property at much greater ranges than a typical defensive rifle. Of course the trade off is the speed of reloading the weapon. Also, the barrel length of most bolt actions make them prohibitive in a close-quarter (like inside your house) defensive situation. In many ways a quality bolt action is a must because of its range and ability to harvest game, but as a main line defensive platform it lacks in some areas.
Lever actions (cowbow rifles), however, are just plain cool. In the right hands a lever action can serve as a formidable weapon in a short range situation, but again they lack the speed-reloading ability of a magazine fed weapon. In any situation where a handgun is a good bet, a lever action rifle is probably a better bet. Lever actions can be found chambered in everything from .22 LR up through the revolver cartridges like .357 and .44, through the old blackpowder cartridges like the venerable .30-.30 and beyond. But again, the time to reload the weapon seemed clearly far too long. Especially under duress. Like taking live fire.
3. Semi Automatic Rifles
Semi auto variants of common military weapons are various in complexity, type of action (how the weapon cycles when a round is fired to eject the spent case and to load the next round), calibers even, and of course price. In the main there are two types of semi auto defensive weapons regarding the type of action. There are “direct impingement” weapons like the the esteemed M16/M4, where the gases actually cycle the bolt. Then, there are “piston operated” weapons wherein the gases cycle the piston, and the reciprocation of the piston cycles the action of the weapon. In short, direct impingement weapons run “hotter” as the gases are in direct contact with the rifle’s action. Generally speaking, however, they have fewer parts and the parts are more universal (interchangeable) from weapon to weapon-including magazines.
Piston driven rifles on the other hand run a little cooler and cycle a little more smoothly than direct impingement weapons. Also, most of the key parts of the action are proprietary from brand to brand so there is little if any opportunity scavenge parts-including and especially magazines in a grid down scenario. AR’s are direct impingement guns. Including the semi auto variants of the venerable AK-47, there are a host of piston driven weapons on the market, including the FAL pattern rifles and the SCARS, and a host of AR looking piston operated weapons.
The most lucid advice Joe felt he got that Saturday came from Jim at Jim’s guns:
“Joe, if you’re just building a defensive battery and you are thinking of an AR style weapon, stick to the direct impingement guns for now. The parts are interchangeable, and if shtf, scavenge-able parts will be abundant. If you buy a piston gun for your first AR and the world goes to heck, you may or may not ever be able to find/scavenge/salvage parts for the weapon. If you already have a solid battery in place and then you want a little different shooting experience then think about buying a piston weapon. Or two.”
Other things Joe learned-generally speaking – the AR’s are more accurate than AK’s. The AK’s are highly touted for their reliability in adverse conditions. The 5.56 round that was developed from the Remington .223 is a marginal all around cartridge for sure, but it does allow one to pack more ammo. The 7.62×39 cartridge the AK is commonly chambered in is effective out to about 300 yards. Neither cartridge holds a candle to the .308 Winchester, but the .308 is larger and heavier (and more expensive) so its a little harder for the average guy to pack around the same round count as he could for a 5.56 weapon. There are other chamberings for the AR, but many of them are not entirely abundant, and so the possiblity of scavenging rounds for weapons chambered in these will be difficult if hard times do come.
The other cartridge that AK’s are frequently (though not as frequently as the 7.62×39), is the 5.45×39. The AK variants chambered in 5.45×39 are called AK-74’s. The 5.45×39 round was developed by the Soviets about twenty years after the 5.56 cartridge was developed by the US. It is ballistically superior and is a better manstopper than the 5.56. The down side-magazines and ammo are a little harder to find. The AK 74 was designed to be both more accurate and more reliable than the AK 47. And Jim leaned across the counter and almost whispered when he told Joe
“And I understand most of the Russian forces and the Spetznas are issued the ’74 nowdays.”
The comment sparked Joe’s imagination a bit. Joe also learned about the importance of cold hammer forged barrels in terms of barrel longevity.
4. Utility vs Portability
The AR platform is remarkably versatile and a quality weapon can serve as a sniper (out to 500-600 yards) weapon, or as a close quarters weapon and just about everything in between. And so, there is all kinds of accessories available to both customize the weapon, and also to “tune” the weapon for a specific tasking. The challenge is to maximize the utility of the weapon without overgearing it. A principle advantage of an AR type weapon is the portability. This advantage can be greatly diminished by adding 3 or 4 pounds of gear. That means one must be mindful and judicious in choosing add-ons. A weapon with a scope and a bipod is obviously set up for longer range accuracy. A weapon with a foregrip, flashlight, and laser sight is set up more for close quarters defense. A weapon with all the forementioned accessories will be heavy enough and awkward enough to be a bit cumbersome in both those roles and so ends up not doing either especially well.
Herein lies the advantage of picatinny rails and quad rail handguards. These allow for the weapon to be outfitted quickly for a specific purpose. The downside is the quad rails are heavier than the stock handguards, and there is an abundance of rough edges. Therefore, if one foresees needing defensive flexibility, then the quadrail is helpful. If one has a good, long range platform like a bolt action already outfitted with a scope and bipod, then one can focus on close quarters type defensive applications for one’s AR (or AK or other semi auto defensive rifle for that matter), then one may be well advised to stick with the stock handguards to maximize the portability of the weapon. To this point Jim shared anecdotally that he’d known veterans that had gone into combat with all the latest and greatest mounted on their AR and in two or three days time they had ditched much of the gear due to excessive weight and because it diminished the portability of the weapon. Jim then searched “gun geardo” on his web browser and showed Joe the pictures. Joe got the point very quickly. While many of the photos were obviously satire, other pictures showed exactly what Jim was talking about. Joe decided decidedly that HE was not going to be a geardo.
In light of all that he’d learned by the end of the day Joe was pretty sure he was going to get an AR chambered in 5.56 manufactured by an outfit in Georgia that used cold hammer forged barrels and was run by an ex military operator guy of some sort. The guns are made to be durable, and include what you need and avoid what you don’t. He wanted the model with the ventilated handguard because it was the lightest one of the bunch, and was pulling out his wallet when the thought occurred to him -“one is none and two is one”. He put the wallet back and pulled out his cell phone. Mamma concurred with his reasoning. Folding the phone and putting it back in his pocket Joe said to Jim: “Actually, I’ll take two of them”. “Good thinking,” Jim replied and nodded approvingly.
That day Joe also got an AR front sight tool, an AR tool that is useful for things like castle nuts on AR’s, a pair of single point slings with quick detach pieces that fit tidily and securely into a recess the manufacturer had thoughtfully put in the rear of the receiver, more gun oil and cleaning solvent, and a handful of mags. Joe knew he’d need more than the handful, but next payday he hoped to acquire more mags and sufficient ammo for the weapons.
At home Joe took the weapons out of their boxes and looked at them. “Man, I hope I never, ever have to use these,” Joe thought with a bit of a grimace. Hopefully Joe won’t ever have to use the weapons for anything more than a little range time. But, its nice for Joe -and his wife and children- that the weapons are there in the event they some day are necessary.
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