November 05, 2021
By David M. Fortier, Senior Field Editor
Preparing for an emergency, disaster, storm or terrorist attack is a personal matter. I’ve found some folks do, while by far most do not. As a product of rural America I personally think it only makes sense to try to be prepared for whatever might come. Let me make a distinction though, I’m not espousing building a ‘bunker’ and hiding in it fearful of the outside world. Rather I believe it prudent to have some common sense preparations for likely scenarios, ‘just in case’. After all, you carry a spare tire in your vehicle even though you don’t plan on getting a flat. But you have one, ‘just in case’ because you know bad things do happen and you might just need it.
Some might be surprised to learn that no less than the US Government itself recommends each family keep on hand food, water and supplies for, at a minimum, a three-day emergency. If you visit www.ready.gov you will find the Department of Homeland Security has a host of recommendations to help families and individuals prepare, just in case. This includes building and stocking an emergency supply kit, food, water storage, maintaining your kit and how/where to store it. While much of the information is basic, that it exists at all indicates the importance of having some level of preparedness.
When it comes to firearms for emergencies, disasters, violent attacks, civil unrest and acts of terror there are a number of opinions. Many subject matter experts are dogmatic in their views while others are not. I certainly have my own opinions, but I also understand that while my specific needs are important to me, they are likely very different than many of you. I live in rural middle-America, with a wife, young child and a host of barn cats while reader land stretches far and wide across our great country.
Let me be right upfront with this, there is no perfect ‘prepping’ or ‘survival’ gun. Don’t look for perfection in an imperfect, fallen world. Firearms are tools, and some are better at certain jobs than others. But few are ‘jack of all trades’ and none are universally useful. That’s reality, so don’t waste your time searching for one gun which does everything. Instead, I highly recommend selecting a few appropriate pieces with which to build a useful toolbox. These can be broken down into two basic categories: personal protection and hunting. Of course there will be some cross over between types and not everyone will have a need for both categories.
The cornerstone of my recommended firearms for ‘just in case’ situations, is a handgun. Not just any handgun but a model intended for self-protection and compact enough to allow concealed carry. This is the piece you have with you day in and day out if you possess a concealed carry license. It’s your first line of defense when out and about with your wife, family or friends. It’s the piece which should always be with you, so that if something happens you have the means to defend yourself. This could range from out on ‘date night’ dressed up with the wife or far into the wilderness camping with your children or friends.
I recommend something compact which you can comfortably carry concealed. It should be:
- Utterly reliable.
- Of adequate caliber with a large reserve of ammunition.
- Simple to operate.
- Ammunition, holsters, spare parts and spare magazines readily available.
Don’t make the mistake of buying something too big or heavy. If it proves too large and cumbersome to carry on a daily basis then it’s worthless. At the same time I don’t recommend going too small, such as into pocket pistol territory. The point of this piece is to be your go ‘anywhere and do most things well’ gun.
Now understand carry handguns are like women, everyone has different tastes in what they prefer. In my most humble opinion, something ‘along the lines’ of a Glock 19 or a SIG Sauer P365 would be perfect. Such a piece, teamed with a quality self-protection load, such as Hornady’s Critical Duty 135-grain +P JHP or Black Hills’ 115-grain TAC-XP, and proper training will provide excellent service. You may not agree on my pistol choices, but the model itself is not important. The important part is to have a quality pistol small and light enough to allow you to wear it day in and day out concealed, but instantly available. Yet, it should be of sufficient caliber and ammunition capacity to get you out of unforeseen trouble. Load it with quality ammunition, and learn how to employ it quickly and effectively in a violent encounter, if required.
Why not a five-shot J-frame or .380 pocket rocket? I like and own both, but neither would be my choice for this particular application. With the current undertones of civil unrest and violence, often perpetrated not by single individuals but groups of criminals, I’d prefer something more. A mid-size 9x19mm, .40 S&W or even .357 SIG offers a noticeable step up in terminal performance over a .380 ACP or .38 Special snubby. A Glock 19 holds over three times as many cartridges compared to a J-frame, plus I find it easier to shoot well.
I am much fussier when it comes to ammunition selection, especially with a 9x19mm. I recommend buying quality modern self-defense loads for carry. Practice with economical ball or what you like, but invest in some high-end ammunition for carry. I suggest a modern load which expands reliably, penetrates well and holds together shooting through automobile glass. Just make sure it runs flawlessly in your pistol. After that, 100 or 200 rounds on hand will provide you with an ample supply for any realistic scenario you might encounter, outside of training.
When it comes to accessories, I highly recommend you do not skimp. I suggest only high-quality magazines, and number them so any problem children can be culled out. If a magazine is unreliable pound it flat with a hammer. Buy a quality belt (such as by www.thebeltman.net), holster and spare magazine carrier to go with it. I do suggest carrying a reload, more so if you are carrying a single-stack gun like a Glock 43 or S&W Shield.
Why all the talk about pistols? Simply because you can have a pistol on you at all times, unlike a long gun. Properly concealed no one, especially LE officers who might otherwise confiscate it, will know it’s there. Having a firearm is important. Keeping the firearm, rather than having it confiscated or stolen is also equally important. It does you no good to have a firearm if an LE officer confiscates it during an emergency, natural disaster or major event simply because he feels like it. Never forget how the police confiscated lawfully owned firearms during Hurricane Katrina.
If push comes to shove though a long gun is to be preferred. Back in the 1980s, many authorities recommend having a hunting rifle in a caliber such as .308 Winchester or .30-’06 for big game, a fighting rifle in 5.56x45mm, a .22 LR rimfire and a 12 gauge shotgun. This is still useful advice.
Personally, I prefer things to be simple, and a semi-automatic modern sporting rifle works for me. I prefer a rather mundane AR-15 carbine in 5.56x45mm outfitted with an optical sight, white light and sling. Keep in mind though, I don’t live in the city, the suburbs or have neighbors I can see. I have no issue running modern barrier-blind monolithic projectiles which penetrate deep and expand reliably. That’s the point of a rifle, to be able to shoot through things to get to what’s hiding behind it. I have zero issues using a 5.56x45mm AR-15 for self-protection or for hunting deer-sized game. Being able to use one rifle for both jobs eliminates the need for a dedicated hunting rifle. Plus, it’s much easier to master one rifle than two.
What works for me is a simple 16-inch AR-15 carbine. Why 16 inch and not a high-speed low drag Short Barrel Rifle? Simply because I can throw it in the car and drive out of state and not need to tell the BATF. No one will bat an eye at its length. Plus, I don’t mind the velocity gain over short barrels. I prefer a 1-7 or 1-8 inch twist as I like heavy bullets. I also prefer pencil-weight barrels. I want it to be quick to the shoulder and fast swinging. Give me a collapsible stock, back-up irons sights and an Aimpoint T-1, a good flash suppressor, white light and I am pretty happy. The main thing is the rifle has to be 100% dead nuts reliable. Day in day out it has to run. While there are a lot of good AR mags out there, I prefer Lancers.
Why do I gravitate towards the 5.56x45mm and not a larger caliber? For a number of reasons which include:
- Currently availability of economical and high end loads.
- Terminal performance of high-end barrier blind and expanding loads.
- Versatility of this cartridge.
- Accuracy potential.
- Light weight of the ammunition which allows more to be carried.
- Easy to control recoil impulse which enables faster follow-up shots.
Is the 5.56x45mm cartridge the perfect solution? No. But it is a very viable cartridge which works well. Stepping up to a 6.5mm Grendel or 7.62x39mm adds both weight and recoil. Moving to a traditional ‘battle rifle’ cartridge like the 7.62x51mm NATO adds substantial weight and recoil. I’m not 20, 30 or even 40 years old any more. I don’t move as fast as I used to. Additional weight slows ‘me’ down and additional recoil slows my follow-up shots. The 6.5mm Grendel is a spectacular cartridge, but for many situations the mundane 5.56x45mm is sufficient. The 7.62x51mm is a hard hitter, but in my opinion the weight penalty of both the rifle and ammunition is simply too much. Keep in mind, that if you are ever forced to defend yourself with a rifle it most likely will be at ‘pistol’ distances, possibly against multiple attackers. In such a scenario you want a rifle which is very fast handling, easy to operate and easy to control as you defend your life.
Some respected authorities claim the 12 gauge shotgun is the ultimate survival weapon due its versatility. While I agree the shotgun has a lot going for it, I do think it has significant drawbacks as well. On the positive side manually operated pump-action shotguns are readily available for very reasonable prices, especially used. Such a piece can be used for self-protection, hunting both large and small game, signaling and firing less lethal munitions. The down side to the pump action shotgun is they have limited magazine capacity, are slow to reload, their ammunition is very bulky and heavy, they exhibit heavy recoil and they require dedicated ammunition for each job. That said, an inexpensive used pump-action shotgun with a few boxes of buckshot, birdshot and perhaps some slugs can go a long ways. It can put meat in the pot and then defend that pot.
When it comes to choosing a gauge I only consider 12 gauge for all-around use and perhaps .410 bore for meat. Why 12 gauge, simply due to the diverse range and wide availability of loads. I personally gravitate towards classic Winchester models such as the M1897 and M1912 and Stevens 520/620. Why? Because these are take-down models which can be carried very discreetly. Plus here in middle-America they tend to be readily available at very low prices. However, other designs will serve. My only comment is to understand what the shotgun is, and to try not to turn it into something it’s not. If you want something with a sighting ‘system’, high magazine capacity, and capable of impressive accuracy at 100+ yards, what you really want is a rifle.
On shotshell selection for personal protection I lean towards No. 1 buckshot in a mundane 2 ¾-inch shell. I personally have no use for 3-inch or longer shells for self-defense due to their recoil. I prefer No. 1 buckshot over the traditional 00 buck as you get more pellets of sufficient size and weight to still provide sufficient penetration. Winchester’s No. 1 buckshot load packs 16 .30 caliber pellets into a shell compared to nine .33 caliber 00 buck. The end result is substantially more tissue damage. Unfortunately, No. 1 buck can be much harder to find, in which case I recommend a good buffered nine pellet 00 buck load. However, even the cheapest 00 buck with no plating or buffering will perform well at close quarters, such as inside a house. Remember, the ranges inside a house are measured in feet. I prefer Brenneke style slugs over Foster, but it depends upon what your particular gun likes. Just remember, if you are shooting slugs you might be better off with an honest to God rifle.
Where a shotgun comes into its own is bagging all manner of flying, hopping and running game. So I would recommend that you consider the game animals local to you and stock your smaller shot sizes accordingly. For example, I frequently see wild turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and all manner of game birds. So just take this into consideration.
The last piece I will touch on is a .22 Long Rifle. In my opinion a semi-automatic rifle chambered in .22 LR can be an extremely useful tool. They tend to be very accurate, are light and easy to carry, fairly inexpensive and relatively quiet. Plus .22 LR ammunition is compact and lightweight allowing a large quantity to be stored in a small space. A well-placed shot can bag game similar to a shotgun, but without the heavy, bulky and expensive ammunition or loud report.
I recommend a semi-automatic rifle over a manually operated piece for this type of work. If I’m trying to put meat in the pot in a survival situation, I’ll want to have that lightning fast follow-up shot, just in case. I prefer detachable box magazine designs over those with tubular magazines. I recommend an optic, white light and sling. Personally, I prefer Marlin Model 60 based designs, such as their 795 Papoose take-down rifle. However there are many suitable models to choose from such as Ruger’s popular 10/22. If space is an issue you might consider a suitable .22 LR pistol. These can be very effective tools, but just note they are harder to hit small game with than a rifle. Plus, the pistol length barrel will reduce velocity and thus terminal performance.
The most important part is to figure out what works for YOU. Just because something works best for some writer, or famous trainer or some guy on the interweb doesn’t make it right for you. Also, don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in ‘what Delta Force uses’. Rather figure out what is best for your particular needs. Just remember to be objective with yourself and brutally honest. Whatever you end up with, remember to practice and train with it!
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com
About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.