In the last two articles, I've talked about rethinking the bug out bag and what you really need to have. In the first one, I talked about the four big needs of: fire, shelter, water and food. Then I followed that up in the second article with a discussion of the tools you really should carry. Now I want to talk about your weapons.
If there is anything in the prepping and survival community that is controversial, it's the subject of weapons. Everyone seems to have an opinion and each have their reasons to back that up. I normally stay out of this discussion, but as I was looking at rethinking the bug out bag anyway, it seemed like I had to get into weapons. So here goes.
What are We Carrying Weapons for, Anyway?
This may seem like an obvious question, but it's one that needs to be asked. Why are you carrying weapons on your bug out? How do you plan on using them? If you don't know that, then you aren't going to be able to make the best decisions on what weapons to take with you.
Obviously, the main reason to carry weapons on a bug out is for self-defense. You wouldn't be bugging out, if you weren't in danger. So, you grab your weapons and your bug out bag, and head out the door. But do you have the right weapons for that particular bug out?
Not all bug outs are the same, so not all weapon loadouts should be the same. There really isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of survival weapons. So don't let anyone tell you there is. If you do, then you're accepting that they know your situation better than you do. That could prove to be a fatal error in judgment.
There are two or three major ways that bug outs vary. The first is the reason for the bug out. Bugging out due to a natural disaster isn't the same as bugging out due to civil unrest. In one case, your biggest danger comes from nature herself and in the other it comes from two-legged predators. Since your weapons won't impress Mother Nature, they aren't as important as they are when you are trying to run away from an angry mob.
The second way that bug outs vary is in destination. If you are heading for a FEMA camp, something that can only be attributed to temporary insanity, you're going to have to ditch your weapons anyway, before you get there. If you're going to a prepared survival retreat in the woods, you're probably going to have extra weapons and ammo already stashed there. But if you're going to bug out to the wilderness, all you're going to have is what you carry with you.
Finally, the third major way that bug outs vary is duration. How long are you going to be away from home. If you're only going to be away for a week or two, you're only going to need enough ammunition for that long. But if you're bugging out and aren't sure you'll ever be returning to your home, you'll need to have weapons that will work without the need of ammunition, as whatever ammo you take with you will eventually run out.
Please note that these three variables can result in a myriad of different possibilities. That means you may have to have more than one set of weapons that you consider your bug out weapons. Depending on what type of bug out you are doing when the time comes, you would select the appropriate set of weapons to meet your needs.
The second reason to bring weapons with you on a bug out is for hunting food. Unless you are sure that you can reach your destination before the food in your bug out bag runs out, and you are sure that there will be food awaiting you when you get there, you're going to need some way of replenishing your food supplies. Since supermarkets are notoriously absent from the wilderness, that means getting what you need from nature. In other words, from hunting, fishing and foraging.
The same weapons that you use to protect yourself will have to work for hunting as well. That's going to mean some compromises. You might not end up with the best weapon for hunting with, because of defensive needs. Likewise, you might not have the best defensive weapon, because you need to be able to hunt with it too. But hopefully, you'll find a compromise position, that while not best, works for both.
The Problem with Firearms
That title probably bothers you. How can there be a problem with taking firearms along on a bug out? Well, there are actually several problems associated with firearms. While they are the best weapons around, they aren't perfect; and some of those imperfections could grow to be large problems in a bug out.
For obvious reasons, firearms are the number one choice for most of us, myself included. They are the great equalizer, providing more lethal power in a small package than any other weapon system you can buy. That alone makes them a great choice. But once again, that choice isn't without some drawbacks.
The biggest problem with any firearm in a survival situation is that it needs ammunition. In case you didn't notice, that's heavy. So you are limited in how much ammo you can carry. That, in turn, means you are limited in how much you can use your firearms, before they turn into nothing more than finely machined paperweights. I'm sure you'll have a lot of paper to hold down out there in the wilderness.
The most obvious solution to this problem is to have a cache or two of ammo that you can use to resupply yourself, as needed. If you have a survival retreat that you are heading to, that will of course be one of the things that you'll need to set up a stock of in that retreat. Then you'll need to secure it in such a way that nobody else can come along and steal it, before you can get it.
But if you don't have a survival retreat, you'll still need a cache of ammo. For that matter, you're probably going to need a cache of other things, as well. Ammo will just be one more thing to add to the list.
These caches have to be where you can get to them, but others can't. Since that isn't the subject of this particular article, I'm not going to get into depth on the subject here; but be sure to think your ammo needs through, especially for the long-term.
The second problem with firearms is that they are noisy. If you're bugging out due to social unrest, the last thing you will want to do is advertise your position. But shooting any firearm does just that. Even firearms that have silencers (actually suppressors) make enough noise to tell people where you are. They just don't advertise it as far as unsuppressed weapons do.
Nevertheless, suppressed weapons are preferable to unsuppressed ones. If you have to take firearms with you, than I would highly recommend investing in suppressors for them. Yes, they are expensive and yes you have to buy the tax stamp that lets the BATF know that you have them, but they are still worth having for what they'll do for you.
So, What Type of Firearm is Best?
This is the one question that's most hotly argued, when it comes to weapons. Everyone has their favorite. But I'm going to try to avoid favorites and give you some good food for thought. You'll have to take it from there to make up your own mind.
First of all, let me say that there is no one perfect firearm for all situations. Perhaps that's why we have so many different types to choose from. So trying to head off on a bug out, with only one firearm, might not be the best solution to your problem. Personally, I believe in carrying two; a pistol of some sort and a long gun of some sort.
If you have a survival group or even have children who are old enough that your family operates as a survival group, you've got a great advantage. That is, you can arm different members of the group differently. That gives you more options and more flexibility, while ensuring that you have the firearm you need for any specific need.
This is what the Army and Marines do with infantry squads, and has done for decades. Not every soldier in the squad will carry the same weapon. There might be one with a sniper rifle, a couple with light machine guns and the rest with normal assault rifles. Of those, two will have grenade launchers slung under the barrel. In today's urban warfare, one will carry a shotgun or a "master key" which is an assault rifle with a shotgun mounted under it.
So let's look at the pros and cons of our various options.
I'm a firm believer that every team member who can shoot and is old enough to be responsible with it, should carry a pistol. The question is, what sort of pistol should they carry? Here again, there are a lot of opinions and personal preference wins out in the end.
The basic purpose of the pistol is close range self-defense. As one firearms instructor put it, a pistol is so that you'll have something to fight with, while you're working your way back to where you left your long gun. You may not always be able to have your long gun on your body, while completing survival tasks, but you can always manage to keep your pistol with you.
From a tactical viewpoint, I think semi-automatics are superior to revolvers. Although the revolver is simpler and less likely to have problems, the semi-automatic provides much more firepower. The ability to change magazines quickly and easily could be essential in some situations. Revolvers don't have that capability, even if you use speed loaders.
Of course, this advantage doesn't mean anything if you don't carry several extra magazines along. The basic infantry load for those who carry pistols is three; one in the gun and two in a belt pouch. That's a good minimum to work with.
AR-15 Type Sporting Rifles
The AR-15 is one of the most versatile weapons platforms on the market. It can be chambered for just about any caliber you might want, configured however you want and there are a world of options and accessories that you can change out or attach to your rifle. This makes it a great platform for survival.
How to configure the AR-15 is another issue entirely. Do you go for long range shooting, close in work, such as urban warfare, or something in between. A lot of that depends on your bug out plan. Bugging out to the suburbs might necessitate shorter barrels and red-dot sights. While bugging out to the wilderness might indicate longer barrels and scopes.
To me, the most important part of the AR-15 decision is the optics. Each user must have optics that they are comfortable with, so that they will be able to use their gun quickly and easily. Don't forget about the need to be able to shoot in low light, as that's a prime time to get attacked.
It would be a good idea to carry along a .22 caliber conversion kit for at least one AR-15 in your group. That consists of a special bolt and magazine. With it, you can convert an AR-15 that's chambered for 5.56mm/.223 caliber rounds for small game hunting in minutes.
Hunting Rifles or Sniper Rifles
Speaking strictly on a legal basis, sniper tactics don't have any place in a bug out. If you kill someone at long range, even if they have been pursuing you and taking pot shots at you, you're going to have a hard time proving in court that it was an act of self-defense. There's just too much room for doubt.
Other than long range, a hunting rifle is not a very effective self-defense weapon. Granted, it's better than nothing; but it doesn't stack up very well against either an AR-15 or a shotgun.
As for hunting, unless you are planning on making big horn sheep or antelope part of your basic survival diet, you really don't need to be able to do long range shooting. Most deer that are shot while hunting are shot at under 100 yards. There's no reason why you can't do that with an AR-15.
The shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms on the planet, perhaps even beating out the AR-15 for this distinction. That's not because of the ways the shotgun can be customized, as it really isn't as flexible in that manner as the AR is; but rather in the wide variety of ammunition available for it. Quite literally, one could use a 12 gauge shotgun as their only firearm and survive with it.
Of course, shotguns can be used for hunting fowl and small game. That's basically what they are for. But changing out the number 8 Birdshot and putting in 00 Buckshot changes it into a very lethal killing machine, out to about 30 yards. In a self-defense or group defense scenario, the shotgun is deadly. Then, another change to slugs expands the range out to about 100 yards, making it possible to use the shotgun for longer-range defense, as well as hunting big game.
There are also special breaching rounds for the shotgun, making it possible to use it for busting locks and taking out hinges, with little risk; flechette rounds for defensive uses and even flares for calling in help. If you need to avoid killing people, you can pull out these more deadly rounds and replace them with beanbag rounds, which are called a "less lethal option."
Fully-Automatic Assault Rifles
The last category is one that most of us don't have. However, there are some who are fascinated with the idea of fully-automatic firearms. While they are great in the sense of putting out a lot of firepower quickly, that doesn't mean it that all that firepower is effective. In fact, in the military, that's called suppressive fire, and it's used primarily to keep the other guy from being able to shoot at you.
You've got to remember that every round you shoot, you've got to carry. So, while going rock and roll with a fully automatic weapon is fun, it also means that you're going to go through your ammo quickly. In a bug out situation, that's counter-productive.
Enter the Humble Bow
The big problem with any of these firearms is ammunition. Ammo is heavy and you've got to carry it with you. You'll also have an infinite supply of it. That means that you're most likely going to run out of it at some point, making those firearms useless.
That's not to say that you should totally eliminate firearms from your bug out plans; just that you shouldn't count on them, and them alone. My bug out plans include carrying a pistol, as well as either an AR-15 or a Shotgun. But they also include carrying a bow with me.
The bow is actually a rather amazing weapon. One of the things that makes it so amazing is how many centuries it has been in use. The history of bows goes back so far, that it predates recorded history. Yet it is still an effective weapon today. There are even places in the world where the bow, not the rifle, is the most commonly used weapon.
While the bow doesn't offer the firepower of a modern-day rifle, it has two distinct advantages over it. The first is that it is a silent weapon. Silencing a rifle is difficult, but you don't have to worry about silencing a bow; it's already silent. While it does make some noise, compared to the rifle, it's nothing more than a whisper. It's also a sound that is unusual enough in our modern society, that people won't readily identify it, like they will a gunshot.
The second advantage of a bow over a rifle is that the ammunition is reusable. While some arrows are always damaged beyond hope, the vast majority can be recovered from their targets and used again. The bigger problem is finding arrows that missed their mark and became lost in the underbrush.
You can also make arrows yourself. Granted, modern-day compound bows provide enough force that you need extremely strong arrows to withstand that force and survive use. Nevertheless, with proper material selection and careful manufacturing, you can make your own arrows. That means that at least in theory, you should never run out of ammunition for your bow. To me, that's enough reason, in and of itself, to take a bow on a long-term bug out.
Please note that I am qualifying that as stating a long-term bug out. If you are on a short-term bug out, such as an evacuation to avoid a hurricane, you don't need the advantages of a bow. But if you are abandoning your home, with the intent of never returning, a bow is ideal. It is especially ideal if part of the reason for that bug out is to avoid detection by marauding bands or government forces.
Up until now, we've concentrated on your primary weapon, whether it be a firearm or a bow. The advantage of all these weapons is distance. They give you the ability to deal with an adversary that is beyond the reach of your arms. But what about enemies who are closer? In reality, neither a rifle, a shotgun or a bow are effective once the enemy is closing to arm's reach.
That's where the pistol is most effective. Pistols are not long range weapons, but rather short range. When I was learning to shoot the .45 in the Army, we were told repeatedly that it was limited to 50 feet. While the ballistics of the bullet actually travel farther than that, it's all but impossible to shoot farther than that accurately. And if your rounds don't hit the target, they're just wasted rounds.
But like your rifle, your pistol will eventually run out of ammo, becoming nothing more than a finely machined paperweight. Last I checked, those still aren't all that useful out in the woods. So you need to consider other close-range weapons.
Close range weapons are often referred to as "melee weapons" because they are used in a melee. In other words, something like a gang fight; with everyone striking out at anyone they can. One of the biggest needs in a melee, is a weapon that extends your reach. By using such a weapon, you lessen the ability of the other guy to get to you, while increasing your ability to get to them.
The problem with carrying something specifically for use as a melee weapon is that it increases the total weight you are carrying, for something that you may never use. So what's needed is something that combines the ability to be used as a melee weapon with other functions, making it more versatile and more valuable as a survival tool. Here are some to consider.
Knife fighting is a lost art. There are few people today who truly understand how to use a knife effectively as a weapon. For that reason, knowing just a few tricks with the knife, make it a very effective close in weapon.
You don't need to or really want to buy a fighting knife. Rather, select your main survival knife with the idea in mind that you may have to use it as a weapon some day. So, don't select a trailing point that will break easily, a hawkbill that can't be used for stabbing or a tanto that doesn't give you a sharp point. Rater, select something like a drop point or clip point, which combines a good blade with a fairly sharp point, without the point being so sharp as to be brittle.
If you ever have to us your knife, don't fight the whole person, fight their knife arm. What I mean by that is don't try to stab them in the body or cut their face, but rather try to cut or stab the arm that's wielding the knife. A couple of cuts in that arm, and they won't be able to fight you anymore.
I mentioned machetes as very useful tools that few people bother to carry. But they are also fairly effective as a weapon, being basically a sword. Granted, they aren't as effective as a real sword, but if your assailant has a knife, you've got them beat. Your longer reach will be a distinct advantage.
Of course, the other way you can handle this is to buy a sword (a real one, not a decorative one) which will serve as a machete also. Just think of the various things you would use a machete for, such as cutting branches and clearing a trail, and make sure that you could do those with the sword you are looking at. Most swords will handle those functions as well, assuming that they aren't either too big or too little for use in that manner.
In last week's article, I said that I am not really in favor of tomahawks. But that was for using them in place of a hatchet. However, there is an exception I'd like to mention here. That's carrying a large tomahawk, something like the Gerber Downrange Tomahawk.
Let me clarify the requirements in my mind, to make this a good option. First of all, the tomahawk has to be able to perform the functions of a hatchet. That means having a head which will work well for cutting wood, as well as a surface that can be used as a hammer. If it can be used as a pry bar as well, that's an added bonus. Secondly, it has to be long enough, that you can use it as a walking stick as well. Every time I see the Downrange advertised, some guy is using it that way.
A lot of people carry walking sticks when they are on the trail. I think that's a great idea and do so myself. When walking in rough country, a walking stick of some sort helps you to maintain balance and makes the trail easier to navigate. So, a tomahawk that can also be a walking stick is a great option.
As an alternative to a large tomahawk, you might want to consider an ice axe, especially if you live far to the north and are bugging out in the winter. Many mountain climbing expeditions carry ice axes along, using them as their walking stick. Those also act as an effective tool to break up ice that might cause problems.
While not normally considered a weapon, the ice axe would actually be rather effective as one, being shaped very similarly to the real (as opposed to Hollywood) version of the war hammer. The axe face and pick both function well as striking weapons and the ice axe itself is a useful tool.
I've mentioned walking sticks a couple of times here, so let's talk about a walking stick. The quarterstaff is one of the oldest melee weapons there is, starting its history with the first caveman who picked up a stick to hit his annoying neighbor.
In the middle ages, the quarterstaff might range from six to nine feet long. While a nine foot walking stick would be a real nuisance, a six foot long one is not bad; actually, it's rather useful. If you're going to carry a walking stick anyway, one that is one or two feet longer really isn't an issue.
For a stick to be an effective quarterstaff it needs to be about one and a half inches in diameter. That's thick enough to make it strong, while thin enough that it's not going to be overly heavy. In use, the quarterstaff is most effective for tripping up enemies or for disrupting their movements. While basically a defensive weapon, it can be used offensively by poking people in the chest, stomach, throat or face. It can also deliver quite a blow if you have enough room to get a good swing and build up some momentum.
While a quarterstaff isn't the most effective or destructive melee weapon around, if you're going to be carrying something in your hand, it might as well be something you can use as a weapon. Leaving out the machete, long tomahawk and ice pick, this leaves us the stick, otherwise known as the quarterstaff.
Of course, you can increase the effectiveness of your quarterstaff enormously by making a pointed blade and attaching it to the top end, turning your staff into a spear. That gives you more options in how you use it, including being able to stab any attackers who dare to venture close enough.
A Final Thought
If we are ever faced with a catastrophic event that takes down society as we know it, we can expect to see the weapons that people use degrade over time. Where people might start out shooting at each other with guns, it probably won't be all that long before available ammunition stocks begin to dwindle.
While that may seem all but impossible, with the vast amount of ammunition that exists here in the United States, much of that ammo will never be found. So, while there may technically be ammo available, it won't be available to those who are using it. This will be especially true if the government starts rounding up guns and ammo, which I imagine they will do in such a situation.
Once those ammo stocks dwindle, people with firearms won't be the big threat; it will be people with melee weapons. So, even though the idea of carrying a machete or ice axe as a weapon may seem a bit ridiculous in today's world, it may not be in tomorrow's. We may very well find that those are the only weapons available to us.So having melee weapons and learning how to use them is a valuable survival skill, not just something out of history. While I would hope that you and I will never have to use those skills, I can't be sure. So, I make sure that I'm ready, even in that way.