Sunday, October 2, 2011

Some Thoughts on a "Battery" of Survival Arms--Part I

Survival Blog recently posted an article from a reader (Jon W.) discussing what a prepper should have for his or her survival battery. (Follow up comments here). While the author stated his preferences for which weapons to include, his basic theme (at least as I understood it) was to attack "prevailing wisdom" in the prepper community as to the type and variety of weapons to own. I've thought about this subject over the years, and have to agree with the general thrust of Jon W. article.

One of the early gurus of the survivalist movement was Mel Tappan, who, in 1987 published a book called Survival Guns, which became an influential book within the survival community. Prior to Mr. Tappan's book, the typical survivalist guide would generally recommend a small battery of firearms--generally a battle rifle of some sort, a handgun, and a shotgun; with certain other arms such as a precision rifle or a .22 rifle for hunting small game also suggested. (See, for example, Bruce D. Clayton's Life After Doomsday).

Tappan took a different approach. He recommended that survivalists obtain a wide-variety of “working guns” (used for training, hunting, controlling varmints, and putting down injured animals) and “defensive” (i.e., combat or “tactical”) firearms. (See Survival Guns pp. 1-13). He wrote:
At a minimum, you should acquire: one battle rifle per person and one spare for each pair, several hunting rifles―the types and calibers determined by the terrain and game in your area―but at least one should be capable of firing the same ammunition as your battle rifles, a combination varmint-sniping rifle, one defensive shotgun for each two people, one working handgun each, a hunting shotgun―if your defense model won't serve both purposes―a few rimfires, an air rifle, probably a hideout gun or two and whatever special purpose weapons your situation appears to require. Prudence would seem to dictate secreting a few extra items such as combination guns, Charter Arms AR-7's and the like in hidden caches on various parts of your property together with a small supply of ammunition for emergencies. Even at your retreat it is a good idea to keep a portable kit conveniently at hand containing short term emergency supplies, food and a spare gun and ammunition, just in case you ever need to leave in a hurry. I maintain such a kit in my car at all times now. This list comprises my idea of a no-frills battery for a modest fixed retreat. More would be highly desirable; less, simply inadequate.
The problem is the multiplicity of arms and calibers he eventually ended up recommending to his clients. In getting to specific examples, he recommended that one couple (with severe budget restrictions) obtain over 15 weapons between the two of them (of which five were handguns), and another couple (with no budget limitation) obtain some 50 different weapons! (While Mr. Reynolds suggests that Tappan's recommendations were based on what the people already owned, that doesn't really come across in his book--most of his recommendations appear to be for firearms they did not then own).

The fundamental issue is, of course, whether all of this is necessary. About the same time as I read Mr. Tappan's book for the first time, I also read a book called High Country Hunting by Lloyd Bare. Bare noted the amazement and disapproval he generally encountered when other hunters learned that he used a .300 Winchester Magnum BAR for all of his big game hunting, be it deer, sheep, elk or bear. He explained:
In my gun cabinet you'll find one big game rifle (the BAR), one .22, one varmint rifle and one shotgun. In other words, I'm a hunter not a “gun nut” and I say that with kindest regards to gun experts and aficionados. Some of my best friends own a closet full of guns, one for every purpose. 
(High Country Hunting, p. 208).

Bare simply got what he needed, picking hunting weapons of general usefulness rather than for specialized purposes. This same principle--keep it simple stupid--applies for survival situations as well.

With all due respect to Mr. Tappan, I believe his approach is unrealistic for most survivalists. First, and foremost, is the sheer expense of purchasing a large number of different types of firearms and their necessary ammunition, magazines, spare parts, and other accessories. While you will need defensive firearms, I believe you would be better off taking the money you would otherwise put into specialist firearms and use it instead to pay down debt, add to your savings account, purchase stockpiles of food or other equipment, or purchase extra ammunition or accessories for a basic battery of weapons. In short, minimize where possible and put the savings into other preparations.

Second, you will probably have to relocate or temporarily abandon your home or retreat at some point, and maybe more than once. You won't be able to carry a lot of weapons if you are on foot, you probably won't want to carry a large number in a vehicle, and you may not have time to hide a large arsenal. While looters and scavengers may appreciate your leaving a large arsenal of weapons, it probably won't do you any good.

Third, what you carry should be able to serve both as a working gun and a defensive weapon. If you are out hunting and suddenly come under fire, the other side is not going to give you a time-out while you go back to your shelter to exchange your hunting rifle for a combat rifle. Similarly, the need for fresh meat may require you to take game when out on a security patrol or reconnaissance.

Fourth, Mr. Tappan assumes that the person following his recommendations will be living in a remote area as homesteaders--running a working ranch or small farm, with gardens and orchids to boot, and trying to be self-sufficient in most every way. I would question the application of his ideas to even that small group of people, let lone the suburban or rural survivalist.

Now, I don't want to minimize Mr. Tappan's book either. Even if the information on firearms and products are outdated, the book is still an interesting read. Mr. Tappan had actually used many of the firearms reviewed in his book, and provides critical insights. However, our weapons, and experience have evolved. At the time Mr. Tappan wrote his book, the AR system suffered from poor quality control and limited selection; many of the reliability issues had not been sufficiently addressed. The AK and SKS systems were not available. The importation of "parts kits" was in the future. Our ten years of low-intensity fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was unimaginable. The spreading popularity of the prepper movement, while hoped for, was unbelievable in 1987. In short, there have been significant developments in in firearms, related technology, tactics and philosophy that needs to be incorporated. Old ideas need to be reexamined and, if necessary, updated or replaced.

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