Alternate Weapons for use in a Survival Situation

Pretty much everyone agrees that weapons are a necessity in a survival situation, especially a SHTF situation where there is any sort of breakdown of society. When people go on the prowl for survival necessities, the world will become a dangerous place. The question becomes, what sort of survival weapons do we want to arm ourselves with?

Firearms are, of course, the weapon of choice for most people, and with good reason. It's hard to beat a gun in your hand when you need to defend yourself. They're also about the best thing around for hunting with, so carrying a gun helps you survive in more than one way. As to which gun... well, there are countless articles around that will tell you the author's opinion about what type of gun is the best to carry in a survival situation.

Challenging Guns for Survival

But I want to challenge that notion. First of all, while I seriously doubt that the government could confiscate our guns without bringing about the second American Civil War, there's nothing saying that the liberals in government aren't really that stupid. So, it's a good idea to have a backup. But even without that, I'm not sure that a gun is the best choice in all situations, even though I'm an avid shooter.

The big problem with guns is that they attract attention. They're noisy, so when you start shooting, everyone will know you are. Adding a suppressor to a gun greatly reduces its sound signature, but you have to have a permit from ATF to buy and own one. I'm not convinced that having a suppressor is worth having my name put in their database for owning one. By the way, suppressors don't make your gun totally silent, like in the movies, even though they do reduce the acoustical signature immensely. Oh, and suppressors don't really get rid of the muzzle flash at night.

Then there's the problem of ammunition. Many of us are stockpiling ammunition for use in a SHTF scenario. That's a great idea, but if you're forced to bug out, how much of that ammo can you take with you? What if you're forced to bug out on foot? Ammo is heavy; you can't carry it all.

Personally, I like the idea of a quiet weapon, especially in a situation where I'm outnumbered and out in the open. I'd rather be able to hit my enemies without broadcasting my position to them. I also like the idea of something where I can get by without needing store-bought ammunition or even reloaded ammunition. So, while I still keep my gun collection up, still continue stockpiling ammunition and still go to the range regularly for practice, I'm keeping my options open for other weapons.

History's Top Alternative Weapons

The history of mankind's advance is paralleled by man's development of weapons. From the earliest days of rocks and sticks to rail guns and energy weapons, a fair amount of mankind's inventive energy has gone into the development of new weapons and the improvement of old ones. Today's weapons can be traced all the way back to the original concepts that were used to fight with rocks and sticks. Only now, we have better ways of throwing better rocks and better sticks to hit with.

Only a few weapons have stood the test of time, having been accepted and adapted to each age of history, even unto today. While a firearm might be considered a more effective way of accomplishing the same thing that throwing a rock does, there's nothing that has really replaced the knife. Since its inception, back in the stone ages, the knife has always been the knife. It has stood the test of time.

These weapons which have stood the test of time are probably mankind's greatest successes in weapons development. They are also the best possible alternative weapons to use in a survival situation. Should an EMP or other cataclysmic event set us back 100 years or more, you can be sure that these weapons will become prevalent once again, especially once people start running low on ammo.


The knife, like fire, is one of mankind's greatest inventions. After the rock and stick, it was probably the cave dwellers' first "new" weapon. The earliest knives could have been nothing more than rocks which were broken naturally and had a sharp edge. Slowly, those cave dwellers learned how to improve upon that edge, either by chipping the rock or by grinding it on a harder rock. Either way, rock knives were both weapon and tool, until they were replaced by the first metal knives in the Bronze Age.

Today's knives are made of much better materials and available in a variety of shapes. Even so, they would be recognizable to those early cave men. They would marvel at the sharper edge and ease of use, but would instantly know how to use it. That's because the knife really hasn't changed.

Many people who carry a gun, also carry a knife. When I was in the military, most of us carried knives as well as our assigned weapon. Not only are knives useful as a close-quarters weapon, but they are a great tool for everything from opening a package of MREs to cutting commo wire. When things get close and dirty and your gun jams, having that knife strapped to your belt or load-bearing gear may be the only thing that saves your life.

The problem with a knife as a weapon is that few people are skilled in their use. It takes time to learn how to fight effectively with a knife and not too many places offer lessons today. However, there are books and videos on the subject, which will teach you how to turn that tool into a fearsome weapon. Considering that any adversary you come across probably won't be all that skilled, everything you learn gives you an advantage.


The spear was probably man's first attempt at getting more reach out of their knives. Up through the Middle Ages, various forms of spears were the most common weapon issued to the various armies of Europe. They were easy to manufacture, cheap and effective.

The popularity of the spear has waxed and waned through history, as other weapons have gained popularity; but it has never gone away. Spears were the most effective weapon for infantry to use against cavalry, unseating horsemen and knights through their own momentum. The longer spears used against cavalry charges were a fearsome weapon, able to stop the charge and render the cavalry useless, or risk throwing their horses at the spears only to have them die.

We even see the spear in modern warfare. The bayonet is nothing more than a modern version of the spear, attaching a spear point to a rifle. With muskets, this was a necessity, so that soldiers wouldn't be effectively disarmed after firing. But the use of bayonets didn't stop with repeating rifles or even fully-automatic assault rifles. They were used extensively in the trench warfare of World War I and even on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam.

If society breaks down and there is a need for a quick, easy to make weapon, the spear is a natural choice. Anyone who can grind metal can come up with an effective spear head and all it takes for a shaft is to cut a hardwood branch and smooth it out. As such, spears will regain their popularity in any such situation.


The bow is one of my favorite weapons of all time. Silent, deadly and able to shoot a fair distance accurately, the bow has been used effectively for centuries. Today's modern compound bows have an incredible amount of force, allowing them to pack a much bigger punch when they hit.

Bows can vary incredibly; from simple bows cut from a branch to the complexity of a compound bow. But one of the beauties of them is that you can build them yourself, with nothing more than hand tools. I've even seen more complex compound bows that have been made in home workshops, using readily available materials. Not only can the bow itself be made, but arrows can be made out of readily available materials.

In a survival situation, the bow has some great advantages. Not only is it silent, which means you can kill without advertising your position, but it is lightweight, easy to transport and the ammunition is reusable. Of all the projectile weapons in existence, including firearms, this is the easiest one to arm yourself with, if you've got to start from scratch.

I've always thought that if I had to attack an enemy position at night, I'd rather arm myself with a bow as my primary weapon, with a pistol as my secondary one. The bow would allow me to sneak around the position, taking out sentries and lookouts. Once they were taking care of, the pistol would be my main weapon inside the position, where the tight confines would make a bow or rifle awkward to use.

Melee Weapons

The earliest of melee weapons was the stick. Using it extended the reach of those early fighters' arms, giving them an advantage over their enemies. At some point in time, one of these ancient warriors tied a rock to the end of their stick, making it an even better weapon. The arms race was on, with each trying to find a way of outdoing the other. Many variants of melee weapons were crated throughout history, especially in the Middle Ages.

Many of the specific types of melee weapons which were developed were to counter specific threats. The war hammer, for example, was developed to counter the problem of knights wearing plate armor. A sword didn't have much effect against that sort of armor, so something was needed that could crush the armor and hurt the person inside. The war hammer filled this need.

While a melee weapon's short range means that it might not be an ideal primary weapon to carry, they still have their place. Should your home be invaded or your campsite attacked, melee weapons give you an up-close weapon that's quite effective, especially if you're fighting people armed with nothing more than knives.

Melee weapons even have one distinct advantage over firearms; that of control. When you shoot a rifle or pistol, you don't know where that bullet will stop. If you miss hitting your assailant, your bullet can travel through several walls, striking someone in another room. That's a risk you might not want to take. While melee weapons don't have a lot of range, within the range that you can reach, they are brutal and can even be deadly.

Spiked Club

The easiest melee weapon to come up with is a spiked club. As the name states, this is a stick with spikes coming out of it. While not the most deadly of weapons, it will create a lot of pain for anyone struck by it. In that sense, it is a great weapon for disabling an attacker, without much risk of killing them.

You can make a spiked club by driving nails into one end of a stick. Once the nails are in, cut the heads off and sharpen the ends. The larger the nails, the better, as they will make harder spikes, which will do more damage and be less likely to bend when using the club.

Mace or Morning Star

That stick with a rock on it was probably the predecessor to the world's first mace. Once man learned how to work with metal, the clumsy rock was replaced by a metal head. Unlike the common image of a mace, which is a ball of metal with metal spikes sticking out of it, real maces had lobes or bumps on them. Like the war hammer, they were designed to be a crushing weapon, rather than a piercing one.

The morning star was the next evolutionary step after the mace. The head of the mace was removed from the stick and re-attached with a short piece of chain. This gave the warrior greater range, as well as more velocity, resulting in more damage from the strike. However, the morning star is a very slow weapon to use, making the wielder vulnerable while swinging.

If you have a welder, you can make a crude mace, fairly easily. Cut a piece of metal pipe which will fit on the end of a stick (you might have to modify the stick) and weld metal triangles or other pieces of metal to it, so that you are creating multiple impact points.

The mace is a great improvement over the spiked club, both due to the added weight and the ability of focusing the force of the impact on a small area. That makes it possible for a mace to break bones, rather than just piercing flesh. It can even be a deadly weapon, when it is used to crush the skull of an adversary.


I already mentioned hammers briefly in the introduction to this section. Actual war hammers don't look like the ones we see in the movies. Rather than being oversized sledge hammers, war hammers look more like something a rock collector would use. They have a round or square face, with a long pick on the back side. Both sides are intended for crushing, although the pick might even pierce armor.

In a pinch, any hammer will work as a melee weapon; you don't need a specific war hammer. More murders are committed with normal every year, than with what the media insists on incorrectly calling "assault rifles."

The larger and heavier the hammer, the more damage it will do. A sledge hammer, in the hands of someone who has the strength to use it, is a fearful weapon, with the capability to crush bones, including the skull. However, like the problem with the morning star, a heavy hammer is a bit slow to use as a weapon, unless the wielder is extremely large.


The axe is probably my personal favorite, as far as melee weapons go. Axes combine the effectiveness of maces with a sharp blade. Of course, many of the axes that have been used in warfare were not designed specifically for military use, they were woodcutter's tools. Even so, they made great weapons.

A fighter wielding an axe has a great advantage over one wielding a sword. The axe is a berserker weapon, swung with abandon, whereas fighting with a sword requires thought and skill. With this difference in technique, the axe wielder can at times get in two hits for each one that the swordsman can. Not only that, but the weight of the axe head makes those hits more powerful.

Today's modern version of the war axe is the tomahawk. While it doesn't really look much like the weapon first used by the American Indians, it fulfills the same basic purpose. Compared to an axe, a tomahawk is much lighter, allowing it to be used as a one-handed weapon. With the axe blade on one side and a spike on the other, it will do damage in both directions. Some even have a spike on the bottom for striking in that manner.

Tomahawks also have one other advantage over most melee weapons, in that they can be thrown accurately. As a thrown weapon, the tomahawk is good up to 15 or 20 feet, depending on the skill of the thrower. Of course, if you miss, you just gave a weapon to your enemy.


I leaf swords for last, because of all melee weapons, the sword is the hardest to use. While considered the ultimate in military technology for centuries, sword fighting required considerable skill. The average peasant wasn't skilled with a sword, only those who had the time to take lessons in their use. That meant that swords were better left to the gentry, knights and full-time soldiers.

If you are properly trained in the use of a sword, then by all means get one. Compared to these other melee weapons, a sword is probably more effective in the hands of someone who knows how to use it properly. It is also an impressive weapon, able to scare your enemies simply be its appearance.

There are countless styles of swords that have been made throughout history. Today, you can find replicas of many of the most popular styles. Be careful when buying though, as there is a huge difference between a sword which is made to be a decoration and one that is intended to be used. A decoration will break in your hands, the first time you try to use it.

Missile Weapons

Missile weapons are those that send an object hurtling through the air. The bow and the gun both fall into this category. The major advantage of any missile weapon is that it gives you greater reach than any other type of weapon, allowing you to attack an enemy before they can close with you.

Having said that, I don't personally put a lot of faith in most missile weapons, except the aforementioned guns and bows. While historically these weapons have been used with great effectiveness, they can't match the effectiveness of either the bow or the gun. That makes them secondary or even tertiary choices.


The blowgun has gained some popularity in recent times; specifically because it is a simple, inexpensive weapon that is easy to learn to use. All it is really is a tube, with darts. You can make the tube out of almost anything, although aluminum tubing is the most common and darts are extremely easy to make. We used to make them by heating piano wire and inserting it into plastic beads. Those blowgun darts were extremely accurate up to 50 feet and even 100 feet with practice and a good set of lungs.

The problem with the blowgun is that it does minimal damage. It was never intended to be used as a stand-alone weapon. Rater, it was intended to be used as a delivery system for poisons. When used with the right poisons, it's a deadly weapon. Otherwise, it's more likely to annoy, than to incapacitate.


The sling is a much different weapon than the slingshot, although some people confuse the two. Traditionally, the sling was a patch of leather, with two leather thongs attached to opposite sides. A stone was placed in the patch, the sling was spun around the head or vertically and the stone released.

Slings are effective enough that some ancient armies actually had companies of slingers, pelting the opposing army with stones. The weapon is surprisingly accurate, allowing the slinger to choose not only his target, but where he would hit that target. Headshots were preferred, as they could knock a man unconscious.

While an effective weapon, the sling doesn't stand up to the bow. Not only does it not have as much range, but unless the target is hit in exactly the right place, it's not very effective. However, it does have one distinct advantage, that of being easy to carry and conceal. So, as an additional weapon, it has some value.


When most of us hear the name sling, we think of the slingshots we used as children. Those were mere toys, but a well made slingshot can be an accurate and powerful weapon. There's a man in Germany who has become an expert on making slingshots and has a number of videos on YouTube. His slingshots are almost as good as a bow, and much more compact.

Using a slingshot with arrows is a great combination; allowing accuracy and a lot of damage. Of course, this requires a slingshot that is designed for use with arrows, so that it can fire them properly. More than anything, that means having an arrow rest at the front of the slingshot, so that the arrow can be properly aimed.

Modern Alternative Weapons

In addition to these more traditional weapons, there are a slew of newer weapons that one could choose for self-defense. Most of these are only effective at close range, so they fit roughly into the same category as the melee weapons.

The problem with many of these weapons is that you have to allow the enemy to get extremely close to you, before using them. That makes it easy for the attacker to disarm you, or at least deflect your aim. For that reason, I'm not all that thrilled with these weapons. Nevertheless, for some people, they might be the best choice.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray has been around for quite a while, having replaced CS gas as the incapacitating weapon of choice. It is inexpensive, effective and easy to use. Actually, pepper spray is more effective than the CS gas that it replaced.

There are two big problems with using pepper spray as a survival weapon. First of all, it is usually a short-range weapon, intended to be used at near contact distance. There are a few companies that make pepper spray in canisters that will shoot up to 20 feet. If you choose to use pepper spray, I highly recommend buying one of these brands.

The second problem is that all pepper spray does is temporarily incapacitate the person it is used on. It is intended to get them to stop, so that you can get away. Even trying to tie them up or put them in handcuffs is risky, as you have to breathe in the pepper spray while doing that.

There are also companies which are making pepper spray guns. These look somewhat like a regular gun, made of plastic, but shoot packets of pepper spray at the target. The cheaper ones only shoot about 20 feet, but the better ones will shoot about 50. This might be a good alternative for someone who doesn't want to use a regular gun; but the limitations must be kept in mind. Once the attacker is put down, get out of there.


Tasers have surpassed pepper spray in their popularity. However, they have the same problem. A taser is basically a contact weapon, meaning that you have to get within arm's reach of the person and then hit them with it. Few criminals or attackers are going to allow you to do that and it's hard to keep it a surprise that you have one in your hand.

The taser guns that some police forces are using now are more effective, shooting two metal darts about 15 feet. They are much more effective at incapacitating an assailant than a handheld taser is, but still require some sort of follow-up, either running or restraining the assailant in some manner.

Sonic Weapons

This is kind of an unusual one. Originally developed for maritime use, protecting ships from pirates, a sonic weapon puts out an audible signal that affects everyone in front of it, making them nauseous and putting fear in them. It is an unexpected attack, which is a real advantage when you are able to ambush them with it.

There are civilian versions of these weapons, which will cover about the area of a room. Strategically placed, it can be used to deny entrance to someone who is breaking down your door or has already entered into your home. One great place for this is in a hallway. Placed so that they would have to transverse the hallway to get to the room you are in, a sonic weapon is a great deterrent.


Mankind has had a fascination and a fear of fire, ever since cave men first captured it. It can be comforting when under control, but when one is faced with fire directed at them, it becomes a terror weapon. This was used quite effectively during World War II, when both sides used flamethrowers.

There are three simple ways that you can use fire as a weapon in your home. You can buy a flare gun, as are carried on recreational boats for signaling for help. That essentially throws fireballs out of 12 gauge shotgun shells. While I wouldn't recommend using it in the house, if someone is attacking your house, having fireballs shot at them might give them pause.

The second way is to use a torch. While a torch is only a close-range weapon, it is effective because of the fear factor. Nobody wants to be burned, so waving around a torch will get them to stay away from you. Of course, that won't necessarily protect you, but it's better than nothing.

Finally, you can make a pretty good flamethrower out of a can of hairspray and a lighter. Hairspray is highly flammable, as is spray paint. Light it up and make them think that you're going to burn them to a crisp.


Looking at this list, there are two points that I want to bring out. First of all, guns aren't the only thing you can use to defend yourself. To someone who thinks weapons, anything can be a weapon. It's all a matter of figuring out how to use it. Did you ever see the A Team? They made some of the craziest weapons out of whatever was at hand. You can too.

The second point I want to make is to not limit yourself to just one weapon. Hide weapons around your house, so that you always have something near at hand. Of course, you should carry a pistol on you all the time, but I'm talking in addition to that.

Anything you are going to use as a weapon will require some practice and experimentation. Be sure to take the time for that. Just having a weapon, without having ever used it, could be more useless than not having it. The bad guys could always take it away from you. That isn't going to help you at all and may end up getting you killed. Skill with your weapons may be the only thing keeping you alive in a survival situation.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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