The Five Principles of Survival Guns and Weapons

The Five Principles of Survival Guns and Weapons
McMillan TAC-308 Tactical Rifle
Would this McMillan TAC-308 tactical rifle work well as a survival gun? Read the author's five principles to determine what makes for a good survival weapon.

I would like to start my next post by laying the groundwork I believe is necessary for selecting the survival guns and weapons you will need, both lethal and less lethal (the proper term is “less” not “non” lethal, since many of these weapons systems could kill if used improperly), as well as the equipment to support that the weapon selection.

Before we get into specific weapon selection for specific need, I need to state what I consider to be the underlying foundations of the weapons type you select, no matter what form, or for what situation. While the location and conditions may dictate different weapons be purchased for those specific situations, the underlying concepts used for selection remain constant. I feel that there are five basic parameters that a suitable firearm for tactical preparation must meet.

1) Reliability of Survival Guns

This may seem to be a no-brainer, but from what I have seen, it sometimes gets overlooked because of other factors that come into play, including the “looks cool” and/or “my buddy said…” which may prevent those who are starting to explore this concept from making a better choice.

To put it succinctly, your tactical preparation gun MUST, I repeat, MUST, be absolutely drop-dead reliable. Every time you pull the trigger you must get the proper “bang” and the appropriate projectiles leaving the muzzle. Reliable right from the box is best. If we suffer a national implosion, a finicky firearm, or one that needs to be babied isn’t going to get it. If your situation involves travel, whom are you going to get to fix it? Not likely to be a gunsmith in the crowd of angry, dangerous people who are attempting to surround you and your family.

2) Ruggedness

Your survival guns need to be able to take a beating without damage, especially guns that will be traveling with you. They need to hold up to lowered levels of maintenance, because unlike our military, you won’t have an unlimited supply line from a rear echelon to keep you supplied with spare parts and maintenance materials. Therefore these survival guns should not be of a type that will need replacement parts or specialized service for the duration the uncivilized conditions.

3) Portability

M1 Garand: Survival Weapon?
The M1 Garand is the author's favorite rifle overall, but its bulk makes it unsuitable as a survival gun.

I will be 55-years-old later this year. While I feel I am still in good shape, carrying heavy things around on foot over long distances in terrible conditions just doesn’t appeal to me much anymore.

The survival weapon(s) you choose must be light and easily maneuvered. This means some great guns that will work for shelter-in-place situations won’t work well for travel. My favorite all-time rifle is an M1 Garand manufactured in 1942, refinished once and given a new stock by a previous owner, and purchased for me for my birthday by my father. It is highly reliable, extremely rugged (although I would hate to mar that excellent hunk of black walnut it is nestled in), shoots-the-all-time greatest battle cartridge (sorry to all you 7.62 NATO fans) and is simple to operate.

But who wants to lug it around over long distances at a loaded carry weight of over 10 lbs., plus a healthy supply of loaded clips (WWII combat load on an ammo belt held a total of 80 rounds), plus whatever other gear you are carrying—a pistol, food, clothing etc.? Not me.

For the purposes of this discussion, “portability” also includes maneuverability in confined space—vehicles, buildings, or concealment/cover locations.

4) Simplicity

The survival gun needs to be simple to operate in all facets-loading, clearing, making safe, and firing. This is especially important in terms of getting the weapon to run from an empty and unloaded state. How quickly can you go from empty to “boom” without injuring yourself or someone else?

For me simplicity also means that you aren’t hanging bucketfuls of equipment off your weapon. That includes flashlights and most any other gadget you can think of on, including electronic sights, but excluding a bayonet. Electronic accessories that you become operationally dependent on are likely to fail under extreme conditions.

Further, how many different types of batteries do you want to lug around during travel or store at your home? How much benefit do you really get from that electronic device? Don’t get me wrong; during normal societal conditions for law enforcement or civilian where re-supply is not a problem, you can add whatever additional pieces of equipment you feel you need.

In times of extreme crisis, you should be able to pick up the survival weapon, charge and immediately fire it. There should be no knobs to fool with or system to check, no batteries to test. This principle of simplicity is the same concept I use when it comes to recommending police patrol rifles and shotguns.

5) Effectiveness

The AR-15 is a good choice for tactical scenarios. But is it versatile enough to get you through a survival situation? The author thinks not.

The survival weapon must be effective in terms of completing the task assigned to it.  This also means that you can only evaluate a particular weapon based upon what it is designed for to judge effectiveness.

For example, the 5.56mm AR-15 and its variants work very well for a number of tactical and defensive/offensive purposes. For dealing with single or multiple aggressors within 300 meters, it is hard to beat. In other words, its effectiveness rating for this purpose is very high. However, if it was the weapon you choose to take with you for say, protection against grizzly bears in the wilds of Alaska over any other gun, then its effectiveness rating, and your I.Q., would be very low.

So if your primary mission is addressing single/multiple human threats at ranges within 300 meters, there would be a number of possible weapons choices for this purpose, some being better than others. There are also survival weapons that may be selected for this purpose that are totally unsuitable, and that is what we are trying to avoid.

Effectiveness in terms of the tactical preparation firearm used for defensive/assault purposes would also include its potential ability to hold off, stop, or turn a large mass of people away from their goal. Some weapons are extremely effective in stopping single offenders due to the amount of destructive energy each particular round puts out, but due to lower ammunition capacity, would not be effective in dealing with larger groups of assailants.

For example, in the “Blackhawk Down” incident, two Delta sniper team members, SFC Randy Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon, lost their lives after they volunteered to protect downed chopper pilot Michael Durant—who was later captured—from hordes of Somali assailants. At least as depicted in the motion picture, the two Delta Operators were armed at that time with 1911 .45s as their fallback weapons. They exhausted their primary weapon ammo supply and turned to their 1911’s as the mob moved in.

The ammo supply for the 1911s was exhausted in short order. They were finally overrun and killed, and Durant was captured and held hostage. The .45 was very effective in its basic mission of personal defense, but not in terms of being able to hold off large masses of angry, determined individuals.

This example leads me to the selection of a potential extreme close quarter firearm for tactical preparation—the pistol. That essential survival weapon will be covered next.


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  1. I agree with the above comment about the AK. Along those lines, my choice is the SKS. I look at the ability to load with out carrying a shitload of magazines as a benefit. IMHO, the SKS is also more a accurate..

  2. AK’s fit all of the above criteria and are more affordable than an AR. When in a folding configuration, either side-folder or underfolder, they are incredibly compact, especially with a 20-rd magazine used initially. AK’s are undeniably rugged, portable in any configuration, and consummately reliable. The .30-caliber 7.62×39 round can easily handle just about any 2-legged problem and is quite effective as an anti-personnel round.
    Ak’s may not be as “tacticool” as an AR, or have as much HCF (“High Cool Factor”), but they are an excellent choice when there is no parts resupply and you can’t clean the weapon as frequently as would be necessary with most other weapons.


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