Advice For Survivalists About Selecting And Using Guns
By Chris Ewens
Many survivalists realize the importance of firearms in their planning. Unfortunately, many do not completely realize the role that the firearms should assume in prepping. I would like to provide some advice based on my experience. I have instructed thousands of students in the use of handguns, rifles, shotguns, and machine guns since 1986. My experience with various types of firearms over the years includes owning everything from a silenced .22LR caliber handgun to a Browning .50 caliber belt-fed machine gun.
Many writers emphasize the role of a long gun in hunting to provide food during a survival scenario, with self-defense being a secondary consideration. Let’s turn that concept around and discuss what I consider to be the primary importance of firearms; defending your family, group, property, and food.
If you cannot successfully protect what you have, then no amount of collecting food and other essentials for survival will matter if evil people should decide to take your possessions. To successfully protect with your firearm, there are certain requirements that your firearm must fulfill. Your choice in firearms should be based on every factor that will provide you with an edge over the armed bad guys. Otherwise, you lower your abilities and assume more risk. Based on decades of instructional and personal experience, I can provide some advice on what to own and what not to own, and why. I am going to assume you are a novice with little or no training, and infrequent practice experience.
If you buy a handgun, don’t buy an extremely short barrel revolver, particularly the light weight models. They kick like a mule for a novice, the trigger pulls are quite heavy, the sight radius is quite short, and the grips make control difficult. All of this means a novice will not be as effective with such a revolver, as he or she would be with a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol with a longer barrel. Despite what some may claim, it is not easier to operate a revolver, particularly reloading. Under stress, it is difficult to open, load, and close the cylinder, due to loss of fine motor abilities.
Don’t buy a semi-automatic pistol with a very short barrel, meaning a barrel that is less than 4 inches. The recoil springs are stronger and require more strength to operate the slide, the sight radius is short, and the grips make control difficult. The stronger recoil springs are more sensitive to malfunctioning due to light grip tension, which is also known as “limp-wristing”. As with the snub-nosed revolvers, these shorty pistols are not a handgun for a novice. Stick with a full size or mid-size semi-automatic.
Handgun caliber choice is not nearly as important as shot placement. If you can’t hit the target while under the severe stress of a life-threatening encounter, it doesn’t matter what caliber you shoot. Remember that nearly all handgun calibers are anemic and will not reliably stop an attacker with one or two shots. And remember that the more powerful the caliber, the more rounds of practice ammo and more hours of practice it will take to reach the same level of competence as you would with a milder recoiling caliber. Combine that fact with the knowledge that 9mm ammo is substantially cheaper than other handgun calibers, and my choice of caliber should make some sense to you. I like 9×19 caliber (9mm auto) because I can buy more ammo for the same price, which means I can practice more for the same price, and 9mm quality hollow point ammunition has become increasingly more effective in the last two decades.
My handgun of choice is a Glock 19. Why? Because they work. Like the Energizer Bunny, they keep on going – dirty, clean, with nearly all types and qualities of ammo. The size is small enough to conceal, but large enough to control, and they hold 16 rounds. There are other makes that are as reliable, so don’t flex. My recommendation is not etched in stone. The size of your hands plays an important part in choosing, so shoot a make of handgun before buying one, if possible. Small hands limit your selection, because your trigger finger may not be able to reach the trigger while gripping the handgun effectively and consistently. Make sure you can press the trigger back without moving the handgun side to side.
There is an old saying, “You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”, and I would add to that saying, “You don’t bring a handgun to a rifle fight”. For certain scenarios, a rifle is essential if you want to prevail. Examples include living in a rural environment, and traveling in a SHTF environment. Which rifle should you obtain? There is a reason why our military no longer uses lever action or bolt action rifles. That is because magazine-fed rifles are more effective. If the Sin City gang shows up to rob and rape, you want to have more effective weapons than they do, if possible. Higher rates of fire, more magazine capacity, and ease of control (in .223 caliber) are some of the reasons you should pick a magazine-fed rifle.
So which magazine-fed rifle should a novice own? During the past decade, the reliability and effectiveness of M16/AR15 direct impingement gas system rifles has been increased substantially. There are currently three different lengths of gas systems available; the original 20 inch barrel, the mid-length 16 inch barrel, and the carbine length 16 inch barrel. (I’m ignoring the availability of shorter barreled rifles based on the carbine system because most novices will not want to jump through the hoops to obtain such firearms. I am also ignoring the various gas piston designs because, in my opinion, the long term reliability of such systems is still being evaluated and determined.) The development of a “mid-length” gas system has substantially improved the reliability of the carbine length rifles without adding any overall length. An additional bonus of the mid-length design is that the recoil is softer than a carbine length gas system. AR rifles are the most common magazine-fed rifles in our country. Parts, accessories and upgrades are seemingly endless. Our military uses them, so you have caliber, magazine, and parts commonality, an advantage that should not be ignored in a SHTF scenario.
My recommendation is to obtain a quality AR rifle from a company that utilizes all the tests that our military contracts require. Bravo Company, Daniel Defense, and Colt are three of the companies that go the extra mile and check the barrels/bolt carrier groups with proof loads, magnetic particle inspect the barrels/bolt carrier groups, shot peen the bolt splines, chrome line the bolt carriers to mil-spec thicknesses/tolerances, and use the latest design extractor springs for reliability. And there is something to be said for companies that hand assemble and test each barrel assembly. I have owned Bravo Company and Daniel Defense rifles, and they are quite reliable. I have seen many other makes of AR rifles come through my classes that are not reliable. That is not a reflection on the design. It is a reflection on the company that built the rifle.
Don’t obtain a rifle in larger calibers such as .308. More recoil, more difficult to control, more expensive ammo, more ammo needed for more practice, heavier ammo; there are many reasons to avoid larger rifle calibers while a novice. Master a girly caliber rifle before you move up to the big league rifles.
Another innovation of the last few decades is the adoption of electronic red dot sights on firearms. Using a quality red dot sight, such as an Aimpoint, Eotech, or ACOG, provides you with an enormous advantage over using iron sights. That means when Billy Biker decides to take your stash by force, and he is shooting at you with his iron sights on his rifle, you will be more likely to shoot him first. That is assuming you know how to use your red dot sight. My recommendation is to obtain a flat top picatinney rail or key mod rail AR rifle, mount quality folding backup iron sights, and mount a quality red dot on the top rail, forward of where you would normally mount a scope. This allows use of the rifle with both eyes open, with a wide field of view. Moving targets are much easier to engage with this setup. Don’t buy cheap red dot sights. You don’t want to trust your life to them.
Last but not least, get some quality training. If I had a dollar for every student who told me some variant of, “I’ve been shooting all my life”, only to discover while instructing that the student’s competence was total crap, I would be a few thousand dollars richer than I am. Let’s be clear about this. You will not rise to the occasion, and become a lean, mean, fighting machine when the two way range shooting starts. Your grand pappy’s instruction in the ole’ orchard is not good enough. That one or two day concealed carry class you took is not good enough. Going back to that lifetime membership school and taking basic level training over and over is not good enough. The six weeks in basic training or the police academy that you completed 25 years ago is not good enough. The Boy Scout training you completed 10 years ago is not good enough.
What is adequate and will prepare you for that SHTF environment is training that includes some type of force-on-force training and team tactics. Force-on-force training forces you to become stressed while simulating an actual gun fight with other students. I like to use gas-operated airsoft guns during the heat of the summer, when the velocity of the guns is so high that hits on students’ bodies leave blood blisters. After feeling that pain, your stress level elevates considerably for any future training that day, unless you are seriously crazy and enjoy feeling wasp stings over and over. The purpose of this training is to provide your brain with simulated, realistic practice in what to do and what not to do while engaged in a gun fight. Learning how to move, how to adjust to being a klumzy klutz while under stress, how to focus your mind and compartmentalize the fear; these are the things you need to learn in order to protect what is yours in the coming times.
Along with force-on-force, learn team tactics so you can communicate with others and work together to defeat adversaries. Take a class that teaches you hand signals and how to support each other during a gun fight. This training is remarkable for how much it will increase your confidence as a team, whether that is a husband and wife pair or an extended family. Learn how to maneuver, how to cover each other, and how to get out of ambushes. Learn why you are toast (literally and figuratively) if you think you can stay in your residence and slug it out with the bad boys outside.
There is much more to owning and using firearms for self-defense, but I’m not writing a book. What I have written here is based on what I have learned in 28 years of instructing, over 40 years of training, and over 40 years of owning every type of modern firearm that you could imagine. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel to know what should be next for your plans to own and use firearms. Use this advice and get serious about your firearm skills, because I guarantee that the need for those skills will be serious in the not too distant future.