Friday, November 25, 2011

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part VI: Bullets for My Valentine ...Reloaded

File Under: With Both Barrels

Without ammunition, you've got a firearm safe full of pretty paperweights and fancy clubs.

Editor's Note: When I first wrote and published this post I was suffering from sleep deprivation and some sort of respiratory infection, so my writing was not quite cogent.  This post is, I hope, a much more coherent and understandable, reloaded version...

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV  | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

You have traveled far and learned much on your continual journey: you know which firearms will fulfill which roles in your comprehensive defense strategy and you know what to have on your person or in reach for every situation. You are ready to begin building your Battery of Arms. Before you do so however two critical components separate your BoA from being an useful combination of life-saving tools and a worthless cabinet full of plastic, wood, and metal. The first one of these is ammunition; without it, the most well-crafted, accurate, and rock-solid firearm can only be used to bludgeon a threat. If your firearm does not have quality ammunition in the chamber when it is time for you to squeeze the trigger, your chances of being successful in a defensive situation begin to diminish rapidly and drastically. Moreover, to become proficient in using these tools you are going to have to expend plenty of rounds honing your defensive shooting skills to a fine edge. The choices of commercially available ammunition are plentiful and can be quite confusing. To know what will be of the most significant benefit inside your BoA, we will need to first demystify the murky waters surrounding the plethora of ammunition choices.

What Does It All Mean

Whether we are talking about centerfire and rimfire cartridges for your rifles, revolvers, and pistols or shells for your shotgun, all ammunition has the same main components (from rear to nose):
  • Primer – a tiny metal cup that holds an explosive charge. The charge detonates when the the firing-pin of the firearm strikes the primer. In a centerfire cartridge the primer is located in the center of the case head, whereas in a rimfire the primer is located in the rim.
  • Casing – the case holds the propellant, payload (bullet or shot), and other components (shotgun shells).
  • Propellant – once the primer detonates the explosion ignites the propellant which creates hot gases and massive pressures as it burns. Propellants have many intricate design features allowing ammunition manufacturers to fine-tune internal ballistics, however, the two main kinds of propellant in commercial small arms are black powder and nitrocellulose (smokeless powder) based compounds.
  • Payload  – the payload will be a bullet, a load of shot, a slug or some other projectile. The expanding gases created from burning the propellant forces the payload out of the casing, out the chamber, down the barrel, and out of the muzzle.
Shotgun (Left), Centerfire (Center), and Rimfire (Right)
Once you have made certain you are not using black powder cartridges in smokeless cartridge firearms and vice versa, the payload is the next largest consideration when choosing commercial ammunition. The purpose for which you will use the cartridge will largely determine what ammunition you buy and what payload you will choose. Centerfire and rimfire ammunition will fall into one the following 7 categories. Price and availability vary depending upon region, manufacturer, and quality but generally speaking they escalate in price as you go down the list:

Types of Commercial Ammunition
Purpose Features Optimal” Bullet
Training Designed for economical, high-volume shooting rather than for any terminal characteristics. This ammunition, with certain exceptions, if of generally inferior quality and should not be used for defensive purposes if avoidable. FMJ, TMJ
Military International law prevents a bullet that expands, fragments, or otherwise deforms in anyway from being used against troops in warfare. Therefore, military ammunition achieves incapacitation by deep penetration and tumbling in soft tissue. Military style cartridges, particularly cartridges designated as “penetrators,” are especially effective against hard targets; however, due to the possibility of overpenetration and the potential lack of significant terminal wounding this style of ammunition is less preferable for personal/home defense and hunting. FMJ
Personal and Home Defense Civilians and law enforcement agencies are not bound by restrictions against expanding ammunition. Therefore, ammunition targeted towards personal/home defense expands significantly in soft tissue to achieve incapacitation. This ammunition also is less likely to pass-through the target or overpenetrate. Cartridges marketed for this purpose generally have reduced recoil, to assist with accurate shooting, and reduced muzzle blast, to decrease the impact to the shooter's night vision. These cartridges have been specially designed to achieve optimal performance in short-barreled firearms, which are prevalent on the personal defense and concealed carry markets. JHP
Duty Duty ammunition distinguishes itself from personal/home defense ammunition in that it has slightly reduced expansion and significantly improved barrier penetration. These features would be ideal to a shooter, such as a law enforcement officer, who must defend his or herself from an attacker wearing heavy clothing or shooting from a vehicle. This ammunition is generally “standard” recoil and achieves optimal performance in standard barrel length, full-size firearms typically issued by law enforcement agencies. JHP, Bonded
Varmint Hunting Varmints or “pests,” and small predators are generally relatively small and are engaged from very long distances. Therefore, you will require a round capable of reaching out and connecting accurately from very far away. These cartridges are usually high-velocity, flat-shooting with very good ballistic qualities. Additionally, to be certain the target is killed quickly and humanely, varmint bullets penetrate shallowly and expand explosively into many fragments. BTHP
General Hunting For larger animals, the qualities of all other styles of ammunition are undesirable. You do not want the bullet to expand before it has a chance to reach the vitals and secure a clean kill, nor do you want it to expand so much that it destroys valuable edible meat. Moreover, with larger game you have fur, hide, dense muscle, and thick bone to contend with which could turn a regular bullet to shrapnel and cause suffering for the animal. Hunting ammunition gives you a happy medium between controlled expansion and deep penetration. JSP, Bonded
Match Grade Consider this “custom” ammunition, manufactured to tighter tolerances with higher quality control to achieve extreme long-range accuracy and consistency between rounds in the same batch. This ammunition is preferable in competition for its superior external ballistics but is less than preferable for personal/home defense for its generally poor terminal wounding. BTHP

Those terms are a general guideline, you will still want to do your own research and testing to be certain that ammunition adequately fulfills the role the manufacturer claims that it should. Once you have determined the caliber of cartridge you need and the role you are trying to fulfill, next you will want to determine what bullet style will fulfill that purpose best. The majority of the information on a box of cartridges has more to do with the bullet than any other component of the cartridge. This information describes: nose construction, bullet shape, bullet architecture, bullet composition, bullet weight, and of course bullet diameter. There are numerous bullet naming schemes, which vary by manufacturer and region. Some of this information is mere marketing terminology while other information is important to external (how the bullet performs in flight) and terminal ballistics (how it performs in the target or “wounding”). The following are the primary bullet types commonly used in commercially available small arms ammunition:

Full Metal Jacket Bullet
Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) – the most common and widely produced bullet also referred to as “ball.” The name refers to the thin layer of metal, usually copper, which encompasses the nose or tip. A non-jacketed bullet would not only deform on impact or inside the target making it illegal for military use, but would also leave lead deposits (lead fouling) in the lands and grooves of a rifle barrel as that rifling cuts into the soft lead. Cartridges employing standard FMJ bullets are the least expensive ammunition in this group, making it a suitable ammunition for practice and training. Military organizations use this ammunition because the copper jacket increases the penetration capability versus hard targets. Moreover, the jacket prevents the soft lead bullet from expanding in soft tissue and reduces the likelihood of the target expiring from infection or lead poisoning. Due to sketchy terminal wounding and the chance of overpenetration, FMJ is however an inferior bullet in personal/home defense or hunting applications and using them in that role should be avoided if at all possible. That does not mean FMJ cannot be used defensively. With perfect shot placement a FMJ is as effective as a an expanding bullet if you put that bullet through something vital (sternum, heart, and spinal column, etc.). In this case it is all the same. In the end, it may come down to a matter of price. You need to stretch your purchasing dollar when building a supply for a POST-collapse scenario. For you current carry ammunition though – do not use FMJ. Expanding bullets are not guaranteed to expand in every circumstance. In case your shot placement is less than perfect a quality, well-designed expanding bullet can perform just like an FMJ with reduced likelihood of overpenetration and exposure to potential civil and/or criminal liability.
Jacketed Hollow Point Cartridge (Left), Full Metal Jacket Cartridge (Right)
Jacketed Soft Point (JSP) – This bullet is similar to FMJ, however the nose of the bullet is left exposed. This is the preferable hunting, wilderness sidearm, and defensive (rifle) bullet because it penetrates deeply and does not expand explosively offering superior terminal wounding capabilities versus FMJ and hollow-point (rifle) bullets. This simplifies the logistics of purchasing, carrying, and using one rifle for hunting and defense. A JSP can defeat fur, hide, muscle and bone to reach vital organs without destroying excessive amounts of precious meat. The soft nose will deform like lead normally does; if the bullet impacts anything hard, like bone, the bullet will expand even more but the copper jacket will help keep the bullet together longer.
Jacketed Soft Point
Jacketed Soft Point: Cross-section and Expanded
Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) – this bullet is similar to JSP except that instead of the nose coming to a point, the nose is concave meaning it has a cavity carved into it. This is largely irrelevant to terminal wounding in a rifle bullet for defensive purposes. However, this is not the case in pistol or revolver cartridges. The human body is mostly liquid. When that aqueous mass fills the hollow-point cavity, it forces the bullet to expand because water cannot be compressed. The bullet mushrooms or flowers under pressure increasing the permanent wound cavity, A secondary benefit of expansion is that the bullet relinquishes its remaining energy rapidly inside the target decreasing the chances of overpenetration. Some bullets have polymer tips, balls, or plugs in their hollow-point cavity to give it a more ballistic shape, better feeding in semi-automatics, better terminal performance versus heavy clothing, and/or allegedly more reliable expansion; regardless of what the manufacturer calls these, they are still hollow-point bullets.

Boat Tail Hollow Point (BTHP) – this is a rifle bullet used in competition, long-range shooting, and varmint hunting. This bullet, recognizable by its tapered tail, will have very low drag and high ballistic co-efficiency. The bullet's architecture allows it to fly farther, faster, and with greater accuracy before being negatively effected by gravity, air resistance or wind drift. The bullet expands explosively and fragments in soft tissue, leading to grievous but shallow wounds. These are not generally suitable for hunting larger animals or defense.
Bonded (B) – manufacturer's call their bonded bullets by many names, but they all essentially feature a bullet with the core fused to its copper jacket. Without its jacket, soft lead bullets expand and fragment more readily reducing penetration and the ability to defeat hard barriers. Bonding the bullet to the core decreases the risk of jacket separation when penetrating barriers. Bonded bullets are preferred in duty and hunting ammunition for its ability to defeat barriers (organic or artificial) with enough mass and energy to reach vital organs of the target.
Total Metal Jacket (TMJ) – also called brass-enclosed based or brass-encapsulated base (BEB) these are FMJ bullets where the brass covers the base of the bullet as well. This added coverage is beneficial because the hot gases propelling the bullet will atomize the soft lead in the base of the bullet, leaving lead deposits in your barrel and creating lead vapor in the air. The primer in most ammunition uses a lead-based compound in the charge, many cartridges employing TMJ bullets will also have toxic metal-free or “clean” primers which make use of no lead compounds in their composition thus eliminating all sources of lead at the point of ignition. This is better for high-volume shooters, the barrel of your firearm, and the environment. TMJ cartridges are generally used exclusively as target/training ammunition, especially if required by range rules or government regulation. This ammunition unfortunately is generally more expensive and less available depending on brand and region. Like full metal jacket, TMJ is less desirable bullet in personal/home defense or hunting applications.

Most bullets come in a variety of weights for the same caliber. This weight is measured in grains (grains of water), the more grains the heavier the bullet. As a general rule when choosing defensive ammunition, particularly in pistol and revolver cartridges, select a bullet that is heavier-for-caliber as these bullets will exhibit better weight retention and penetration than lighter offerings. An exception would be rounds that produce a high degree of penetration, bordering upon or well into the range of overpenetration, such as .357 Magnum and 9mm. Many manufacturers or independent reviewers provide information regarding the depth of penetration of various loads when fired into a medium called ballistic gelatin. According to standards set forth by the FBI, bullets should penetrate into ballistic gelatin at least 12 – 18 inches to be considered effective in defensive situations. Ammunition that achieves or exceeds 18” can cause overpenetration in personal/home defense situations. Overpenetration is something that is considerably less important in reality than we make it out to be, due to the fact that many more bullets simply miss their target than do actually hit the intended target and pass through it. You are more likely to injure or kill an innocent bystander through sheer poor marksmanship than by getting a two-for; however, we live in society where we must protect ourselves from criminals and the litigious alike.  

Ammunition selection for your rifles, revolvers, and pistols is a fairly straightforward process. If you believe deciphering the myriad choices of pistol, revolver, and rifle ammunition is a daunting task, you will find (at the beginning) making sense of shotgun ammunition is truly a mind-boggling proposition. Go to any sporting goods store or firearms dealer and you are likely to encounter a wide selection of shotgun ammunition, each with a considerable amount of information on their boxes. Let us analyze the information you are likely to see and determine what it means:

Gauge – an antiquated measurement which describes the diameter of a smoothbore (shotgun) barrel; gauge is to smoothbore barrels what caliber is to rifled barrels – the diameter of the bore. In days of yore you would take a solid pound of lead and divide it into identical spheres with each sphere the same diameter of your cannon or firearm. However many of those lead spheres you could make from a pound of lead, that would be the gauge of your bore. Thus a 12-bore (12-gauge) is 1/12th of a pound because you can make 12 spheres of lead the diameter of the bore from 1 pound of lead. With the exception of .410 bore, which is a caliber designation rather than a gauge and the smallest bore diameter, the smaller the number the larger the nominal bore diameter among common, commercial ammunition. Individual tolerances aside, larger gauge shotguns recoil harder. Numerous gauges have been chambered historically; the most common commercially available, mass-produced shotguns and ammunition are (in order of increasing diameter): .410 bore, 20 gauge, 16 gauge, 12 gauge, and 10 gauge. By far the most common of these is the 12 gauge. The 12 gauge has ammunition adopted for a wide variety of purposes from sporting to tactical. The other calibers, with probably the exception of defensive ammunition designed for .410 bore revolvers, are used almost solely for sporting purposes like turkey hunting (10 gauge) and trap/skeet shooting (20 gauge). There is a special safety consideration if you own and shoot different gauges of shotgun: a smaller gauge shell will fit into a larger gauge shotgun and become lodged in the barrel. If you load another (appropriately sized) shell behind it then fire the shotgun, you will now have a massive, violent explosion in your hands a few inches from your face.

Shell Length – this is the overall length of the shotshell cartridge and the length of the chamber it fits into within your shotgun. In order of decreasing commonness, the most popular commercial sizes are: 2-¾”, 3”, and 3-½” shotshells. The reason for longer shells is to allow for a larger charge, a larger payload, or both. This allows the operator to use the shotgun in a wide range of applications and at longer effective distances. The 3” and 3-½” shells offer increased velocity over 2-¾” shells, which translates to increased range and/or penetration. A 3-½” shell offers twice the same payload as its 2-¾” counterpart at the cost of added recoil and reduced magazine capacity. For safety of you, longer firearm life, and reliable ballistic performance, the ammunition used in your shotgun must be within the minimum and maximum length.

Brass Height – in firearm parlance a magnum round/cartridge is one that is of the same diameter but loaded with a heavier charge and possibly at a higher pressure. To accommodate the additional powder charge, visually differentiate it from a standard cartridge, and prevent it from being loaded in a firearm not chambered for it magnum cartridges are usually longer than standard cartridges of the same diameter. A similar ideology is true of shotshells. However, despite the use of the term “magnum” in reference to shells longer than 2-¾” these shells may have the same pressure or powder charge as the shorter shell. In fact, it is possible for shorter shells to have greater power than longer shells. It is all a matter of cartridge purpose and design. The longer cartridge might simply serve the purpose of firing more shot or a heavier slug without changing the charge or pressure. In addition to markings on the case like “magnum” and “high velocity” a key visual indicator of cartridge power is what is known as brass height. The “brass” on a shotgun shell is the metal portion of a (paper or plastic) shotgun shell that contains the primer and powder charge. Shells will either be High Brass or Low Brass and this is sometimes actually written on the packaging. A shell with a larger powder charge will normally have brass that is higher (taller when standing on end) than the brass of a normal shell, informing you this is a more powerful cartridge. Not all manufacturers whether intentionally or unintentionally will necessarily follow this convention, especially those with lower QC or non-commercial handloaders. Familiarizing yourself with common ballistic performance of the types of ammunition you will use frequently will alert you when a particular loading could be too “hot.” Shotgun shells are relatively low pressure and most quality modern shotgun receivers are durable hunks of metal. Nevertheless, before using high power cartridges be certain your firearm is in good condition and can handle their forces.

Rifled Slug (Left), Sabot (Center), Sabot Slug (Right)
Payload – The list of objects fired from shotguns over the centuries has ranged from the mundane to exotic to downright bizarre. However, the most popular commercially available loads today are: lead birdshot, lead buckshot, steel birdshot, rifled lead slugs, and sabot slugs. Sabot (suh-bow) slugs are non-rifled, solid projectiles held in a plastic shoe (the sabot), used in rifled-barrel shotguns (an oddity created to circumnavigate legislation banning rifles in hunting). The rifling applies spin to the sabot (and in turn the slug), stabilizing the slug in flight – just like rifling applies spin to a rifle bullet. The slug separates from the sabot after they exit the muzzle and the slug travels on to the target. The sabot slug is capable of much greater range and accuracy than other common commercial shotgun ammunition making it ideal for long-range hunting when hunting with a rifle is not possible. Lead slugs are like sabot slugs except they do not have the shoe. Lead slugs are meant to be shot from a smoothbore barrel and the rifling required to stabilize it in flight are actually built into the slug itself. Although more accurate than shot, leads slugs shot from a smoothbore barrel have less accuracy and range than sabots shot from a rifled barrel.

As the name implies, birdshot are smaller pellets primarily used to hunt birds (quail, pheasant, turkeys, etc.) and other small game (rabbit, squirrel, etc.). Some individuals use birdshot of a larger size for home defense because of its lack of penetration. Lead birdshot is approved for small game, turkeys, and other birds while regulations mandate steel shot (due to its non-toxicity) must be used when hunting waterfowl to prevent contamination of the environment and poisoning of animals. Though steel shot is the cheapest way to be compliant with these regulations, the hard steel shot damages the bore and chokes of a shotgun and also has inferior ballistics compared to lead because steel is less dense than lead. Non-toxic shot may also be made of bismuth or tungsten allows. Tungsten alloy is the most expensive and is as damaging to a barrel as steel but has a density greater than lead. Bismuth is of intermediate price and is less damaging than either of the other two alloys. Buckshot like birdshot is so named because it is primarily used when hunting medium-to-large game such as deer (a young male deer is a buck). Buckshot is also used in military and home defense ammunition. Whether it is lead shot, steel shot, or buckshot all shot are spheres of metal which increase in diameter as the number designation descends. In addition to creating larger wholes in the target, larger pellets have increased range and penetration compared to smaller pellets. In the realm of birdshot, #6 shot pellets are larger than #7 birdshot which are larger than #9 birdshot. The largest common birdshot pellets are designated by one or more “Bs” (i.e. B, BB, or BBB). Buckshot follows a similar structure #4 buckshot, often used for home defense, is the smallest pellet size and the largest pellets are designated by one or more “0s,” pronounced “aught.” Among commercially available ammunition 00 (double aught) buckshot is the most common shot size followed by 000 (triple aught) buckshot.

Recoil – Manufacturers will advertise some shotgun loads as “reduced recoil” or “tactical,” targeting the home defense and law enforcement buyers. These shells have an optimized powder charge resulting in reduced recoil, muzzle blast, range, and penetration. A reduced recoil load facilitates faster follow-up shots and reduced chance of overpenetration. Reduced recoil loads are not preferable for hunting as you want the maximum range and penetration to insure a clean, one-shot kill.

Pattern and Spread – The final bit of information you will find on a box of shotgun ammunition describes how the shot performs once it exits the muzzle. Shot will naturally spread out (move farther away from each other) the farther away from the muzzle it travels. This can be problematic, especially if the target is far away, moving quickly/erratically, and/or is moving away from you. A mechanical way of altering this effect is using a choke tube, which are barrel attachments that constrict the load of shot as it exits the muzzle. There are numerous types of chokes and differing definitions of how much they constrict the shot, however the most commonly recognized (in order of least to most constriction) are: cylinder bore, improved cylinder, modified, improved modified, and full choke. A good general-use hunting shotgun will have adjustable chokes, or an improved cylinder choke if it has a fixed choke to allow use at all ranges and to safely fire slugs (due to increased pressure inherent to constriction a solid chunk of lead). Most defensive shotguns unfortunately will have a cylinder bore choke (little to no constriction). You can moderate pattern and spread without changing barrels or chokes by using ammunition with distinct pattern and spread characteristics. For targets when you need the shot to stay together as long as possible (if the target is far away) and put more pellets on the target, buffered and/or copper plated shot can help achieve this goal. Buffered shot employs granules of plastic or some other agent to fill gaps between shot thus preventing deformation of the soft lead shot and allowing it to fly in a straighter fashion. Copper plated shot decreases deformation even further with the secondary effects of improved penetration on the target and being potentially less toxic than exposed lead. Other times, like hunting small game at close range, you need the shot to spread quickly to increase your chance of hitting the target without obliterating it with a concentrated blast of shot. Here a softer, less-alloyed shot is preferable. Bird specific designations, such as turkey, quail, or pheasant, alert you to the fact that these are probably long-range, tight patterning loads which do not spread quickly; these will “kick” harder than comparable rounds and may be inappropriate for other game.

Never Enough Ammunition

Now that we are ammunition aficionados, just how much of this stuff do we need? While you can never have too much ammunition (assuming you have met all other needs), there is definitely a minimum level which is largely restricted by your budget and storage space. When buying, storing, packing, and bugging out follow a 3-2-1 approach to ammunition: for every 3 reloads of your rifle or 2 reloads your shotgun have 1 reload for your sidearm. Some adhere to a 4:1 rifle/sidearm ratio, do what is logistically feasible for you, the point is that in an SHTF/WROL situation your long arm's ammunition is going to be of a greater value to you. Even though a pistol or revolver forms the foundation of your BoA, you will receive greater logistical economy per round and per pound from your rifle ammunition – especially the .22 LR. Back to our question, how much ammunition do you need to have on hand? To answer that, I developed the following guideline. Of course, if one firearm serves multiple roles (defense and hunting) it requires the minimum ammunition count for each role. For your shotguns 1 reload includes any ammunition in the magazine tube and shell-carriers attached to the firearm. Reported magazine capacity is base on standard 2-¾” shells; using 3” and 3-½” shells will reduce your magazine tube capacity by 1 or 2 rounds respectively.

Inventory Guidelines

Defensive Ammunition Hunting Ammunition
Rifles Minimum: 27 reloads
Target: 2000 rounds
1000 rounds
18 reloads
Pistols and Revolvers
9 reloads

Sample Centerfire/Rimfire Ammunition Inventory

Firearm Ammunition (Load) Total Rounds
Glock G17 9x19mm Parabellum 147 grain JHP 200
Taurus Tracker 627 .357 Magnum 100
Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan .454 Casull 285 grain JSP
.45 Colt 225 grain JHP
Springfield Armory XDm 40 3.8 .40 S&W 180 grain JHP 150
Para USA 14-45 Long Slide Limited .45 ACP 230 grain JHP 140
Ruger 10/22 Carbine .22 Long Rifle 30 to 40 grain high-velocity plated hollow-point
.22 Long Rifle 40 to 60 grain subsonic plated hollow-point
CIA GP WASR-10 7.62x39mm Soviet 123 grain JSP 840
Browning BAR Safari .30-06 Springfield 180 grain JSP 120

Gauging Your Needs

A general rule of thumb with shotgun shells: consider where you will be and what is in the environment. Close-range? Faster spread, wider patterns. Long-range (50+ yards)? Less spread, tighter patterns. Is it small and not so dangerous? Smaller shot. Is it big (moose/elk, etc.) and/or nasty (brown bear, cougar, etc.)? Larger shot. You must accommodate the size of the target, the speed of the target, and the distance from you to it; large, fast, and/or distant targets require larger diameter pellets, payloads of increased size, and faster muzzle velocity. In shotguns, do not try to mix cartridges and do not invest in less-lethal ammunition. You do not want to be surprised by the effect your shot will have on the target – i.e., you do not want to unintentionally pepper a human or bear with birdshot and you don't want to obliterate your dinner of squirrel with 000 buckshot when you meant to do the exact opposite. Be mindful of what is in the tube when topping-off; be sure to use topped-off shells or eject them before you forget they are inside the magazine. If you are strapped for space and weight keep in mind a larger diameter shot size can accomplish the task of a smaller shot and still serve its original role. On the other hand a smaller shot size probably will not be able to fill the shoes of a larger shot size, especially for defense and protection. For instance: if you are not likely to be in a metropolitan area or otherwise encounter many human threats but you are likely to encounter large and dangerous animals you can omit #4 buckshot using 00 buckshot or 000 buckshot instead. A dedicated self-defense shell is not strictly necessary because any shell you have on hand could take down a human attacker. Tailor your individual ammunition choice to your environment so that with minimal logistical complexity you can put food in your stomach and keep threats off your ace.

Sample 12 Gauge Ammunition Inventory

Firearm Shell Payload Total Rounds Uses
Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag 2-¾” #6 birdshot These shells contain up to about 1-¼ ounces or more of lead shot. 100
  • pests, varmints, small game, birds of all sizes
  • for regulatory compliance an equivalency of #2 steel shot can be used for waterfowl and turkey/pheasant
  • home defense

2-¾” 1-¼ oz slugs A solid, rifled lead slug sometimes with a hollow-point 90
  • long-range shots
  • medium-to-large game
  • dangerous game and predators

2-¾” #4 buckshot These shells contain up to 27 lead pellets, roughly the diameter of a .25 caliber bullet. 60
  • self and home defense
  • small-to-medium game
  • small predators

2-¾” 00 buckshot
3-½” 00 buckshot
These shells contain either 9 (2-¾” shells) or 18 (3-½” shells) lead pellets, roughly the diameter of a .32 caliber bullet. 160
  • long-range shots
  • medium-to-large game (close-range)
  • dangerous game and predators (close-range)
  • tracking/finishing wounded animals
Kel-Tec KSG 3” 1-3/8 oz slugs A solid, rifled lead slug sometimes with a hollow-point 80
  • long-range shots
  • large, heavy game
  • dangerous game and predators

3” 000 buckshot These shells contain up to 10 lead pellets, roughly the diameter of a 9mm bullet. 160
  • Large, heavy game (close-range)
  • dangerous game and predators (close-range)
  • tracking/finishing wounded animals

Loading Your Shotgun

It is important to note that while it is easy to make a good hunting shotgun more tactical, it is more difficult to make a tactical shotgun a better hunter. To make the Mossberg 835 in this BoA an all-round or general purpose shotgun, in the above example the shotgun has three semi-permanent modifications: a 3-round magazine tube extension, an 8-round receiver-mounted shell-carrier, and a removable 8-round buttstock side-saddle. Before carrying a similarly modified shotgun out into the wilderness, verify if laws where you live limits the magazine capacity of your shotgun – in most areas that do it is 2 rounds. The above-mentioned modifications give you: 7 rounds in the magazine, 1 in the chamber, and 16 on hand to manually feed. If hunting is your primary concern and your area is predator-light, you can keep your shells of #6 birdshot in the magazine tube leaving room for 2 or 3 additional shells. In this way you are always ready for a shot of opportunity on small game and you are able to manually load more powerful shells for encounters with larger game or dangerous predators. Some will advise the exact opposite, have the more powerful shells in the tube and have the less powerful shells at the ready. This is particularly prudent if an encounter with a large or dangerous animal is a more likely scenario. Have your slugs and #4 buckshot (ratio 2:1) ready in the receiver mounted shell-carrier for chance encounters with dangerous predators, longer range shots, and human aggressors. Keep 00 or 000 buckshot in the buttstock side-saddle for larger game such as deer or smaller predators likes wolves. You will also want to use the buckshot should you have to track down a wounded animal because you might come upon it (or it upon you) very quickly; you may not have time for a well-aimed shot and you cannot afford to miss. Being less-suitable as a hunting shotgun, load a firearm like the KSG for defense and protection against dangerous threats because it has the ability to quickly and continuously throw a large amount of lead downrange in tight spaces. In this instance, have the magazine fully loaded (plus one in the chamber) with the first 2 or 3 rounds (last loaded into the magazine tube/chamber) being slugs and the remainder of the shells being 00 or 000 buckshot. This is an exception to the “no mix” rule because your level of firepower is equitable or escalating from the first shot to the last.

What NOT to Buy

Before you purchase a single round of ammunition, familiarize yourself with laws regarding what ammunition is lawful to own, hunt with, and carry. You might find fairly enticing deals on surplus, corrosive, Berdan-primed, non-brass case, or imported ammunition – avoid this ammunition for shooting in your carry and go-to firearms. Quality control on this ammunition may be exceptionally low increasing the likelihood of duds, bad primers, or problematic cases. This ammunition has a propensity to leave considerable fouling and residue in the action/barrel of your firearm, and in the case of corrosive ammunition harmful deposits that eat the metal and necessitate thorough (and complicated) cleaning after each shooting session. Therefore, gravitate towards ammunition manufactured in the USA or First-World NATO countries. Do not buy aluminum, steel or bi-metal cased ammunition or ammunition that uses a non-Boxer type primer for your own firearms. Non-brass cases are non-reloadable and berdan primed cases are a pain to reload to say the least. Reloading is not a concern at the moment, but it will be later on so you want to collect all your fired brass cases. Buy new production or surplus ammunition that is non-corrosive, boxer-primed, and in reloadable brass cases for use in your own personal firearms. Nickel-plated brass (cases) provides smoother cycling, increased corrosion resistance and better visibility in low light conditions. Being able to shoot economically is important but high quality control, safety, consistency, and long service life of your firearm are of the utmost importance.

Buy from local dealers when possible or at shows to find the lowest prices because shipping costs will frequently eat the savings in price, tax, and gas gained when buying online. You might not be able to find certain premium products readily available locally, so when buying on line, buy in bulk (by the case) so the overall savings exceeds what you would have paid in sales tax/overhead/gas and the increased cost of shipping. Note: With the exception of specially packaged surplus or other bulk ammunition, a box (the smallest retail package in a case) of cartridges generally sells in the following numbers:
  • Pistol/Revolver – 20 or 25 rounds for premium defensive/hunting and 50 rounds for value, training, or “law enforcement” ammunition
  • Rifle – most all rifle ammunition comes in boxes of 20 rounds
  • .22 Long Rifle – a standard box of .22 LR is 50 rounds
  • Shotgun – shotgun shells sell in boxes of 5, 10, and 25
Without moving from premium to value ammunition you can most times reduce the per cartridge cost of ammunition by buying in larger quantities. Additionally, look for deals on factory overruns (when the manufacturer makes too much) of military issue and “law enforcement” ammunition. This ammunition is made for a specific contract and meets the quality standards of that contract, but is in excess of the contracted quantity. The manufacturer makes this ammunition available to the public at a price that is usually less than comparable quality premium defensive ammunition. Make sure training ammunition is of the same weight and muzzle velocity as your carry ammunition, so that the shooting dynamics are as similar as possible. Be certain to test potential carry ammunition for reliable feeding, extraction, and ejection before carrying it on the streets or in the field. The 3-2-1 idea applies not only to how much you buy, but what you store and shoot; if you are buying by the box, buy 3 boxes, store 2 boxes and shoot 1 box. This way you are always preparing, always practicing, and always verifying the reliability of your ammunition.

Our Lids Are Sealed

Now that you've turned your pretty paper weights and fancy clubs into more effective tools, you need to store your ammunition in a safe, secure, and logical manner. Fortunately, when properly taken care-of, quality ammunition lasts for decades – generations even. Like just about anything that can “spoil,” store ammunition in a cool, dry place. Good condition military surplus ammunition cans, which you can find at gun shops, gun shows, and online, are an excellent container to securely hold your ammunition because they are water tight and durable. Some go the extra mile of vacuum sealing ammunition meant for long-term storage. If logistically feasible you should store additional ammunition in popular calibers for found firearms and barter/trade, but this is a concept for much later in your preparedness journey. Fill your ammo cans, bug-out bags, or practical vests with a variety of ammunition (primarily for your 3F), so that if you have to grab a container and go it has ammunition to cover all your firearms. This way your useful tool remains so because you did not, in a hurry, grab one firearm only to get out in the world and realize you have little or no ammunition for it.

Feeding the Need

That sums up most of your considerations on ammunition, so what is that second critical component we spoke of at the outset? The magazine. We are not talking about Forbes or Vanity Fair. The firearm magazine feeds rounds (cartridges) into the action. Unless you wish to load each cartridge one at a time or merely chuck them at your threat all the while getting shot to Swiss cheese or eaten, you will need magazines to effectively feed  rounds into your firearm. Without a quality functional magazine you are right back to pretty paperweights and fancy clubs, especially in semi-automatic firearms. Each firearm that has a detachable box magazine, should have a minimum of 3 magazines – 1 in the firearm and 2 spare – so that you can quickly reload in a hi-stress situation. Some firearms will have the magazine taken care of for you, like internal box magazine rifles or revolvers. Worst case scenario, someone can reload an empty for you while you are emptying the one in the firearm and preparing to swap in the spare. The more magazines you have the merrier you will be. Buy as many magazines and stripper clips (rifles) as your budget will allow without neglecting other critical needs. A good magazine loader for rifles and pistols will take the time, tedium, and thumb pain out of loading cartridges into all those box magazines. Store rifle rounds, for box-fed rifles, in stripper clips ready to go into magazines. If your internal magazine rifle accepts clips, invest in these and if moon clips or speed loaders are available for your revolver get these also; having these items will significantly reduce reload time and could save your life or the life of someone you care about.

Finally, while not an ammunition concern it is a concern regarding the ability to use your BoA effectively and efficiently. Every rifle or shotgun should have its own sling and every revolver or pistol should have its own holster or you should have holsters that can carry all your revolvers or pistols. This may seem simple but it is an often overlooked concern. I'm fairly certain most if not all jurisdictions have a stipulation requiring your firearm to be in a holster when carried on your person and when on the move you will need a way to carry your firearms, in easily accessible locations that keep them out of your way and out of your hands when you are not using them. If carrying more than one longarm a scabbard can better immobilize the unused firearm and cinch it closely to your body improving comfort and mobility. If you are trying to stay ahead of the zombie horde you definitely don't want your pretty zombie-slayer banging off the your legs and rocks, getting its custom paint job scratched and tripping you up as your scrabble across the wasteland.

Now you are truly ready to begin gathering the tools that will become your Battery of Arms. However, how can we protect ourselves without breaking the bank? In our next discussion in this series, 3 Firearms 4 Life, Part VII: More Bang for Your Buck, we will become frugal armorers and take a look at options for building a BoA on a tight budget.

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV  | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Thursday, November 17, 2011

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part V: Building Your Battery of Arms

File Under: With Both Barrels

The what, why, and how of practical preparedness

In this series so far we have outlined the scenarios under which you will need to carry and possibly use a firearm, and the threats potentially encountered in each of those scenarios. With this analysis we have been able to outline a selection of the most preferred firearm qualities and performance criteria, and have made some choices on systems that could satisfy them. Those selections are a guideline or starting point, not the definitive answer or the finish line. The entire point of the 3 Firearms 4 Life philosophy is to build a Battery of Arms (Battery of Firearms) suited to your unique situational specifications, that will effectively, efficiently, and economically fit a broad spectrum of firearms usage scenarios. The question you are answering is what systems can I purchase, train with, and incorporate into my overall defensive strategy, so that I am ready and able to use a firearm in any situation that will require one? If your solutions receive low or failing grades in any of the 3 Es, your answer to that question is inadequate at best and will eventually fail you completely at worst. The key concept here is Battery of Arms. Thus far in the series you have heard much of my own opinion, analysis, and distilled second-hand knowledge on this topic. To explain Battery of Arms and firearm selection I am going to quote and paraphrase heavily the words of an individual much more qualified than myself on this topic, renowned instructor, law enforcement, and defensive shooting expert Massad Ayoob as found in his article, “An Economical Battery of Guns For the Backwoods Home,” from a 1998 issue of Backwoods Home Magazine. But first, a general note on firearm ownership.

No matter where you live, no matter what the conditions, one should never forget that “firearms are important, routinely-used tools.” The last two words/phrases are the most critical. A firearm is a tool with a specific purpose. Firearms are inert without human interaction and are as safe as any other tools in in the hands of a conscientious, trained, and responsible operator. Secondly, like most tools, they must be used in order to accomplish their purpose. This means you must carry, safety check, clean, maintain, dry practice, shoot, and educate yourself on your firearms and firearms in general. Adherence to this tenet will ensure that when it is time to use a firearm you have a safe, reliable, functioning tool at the ready that you know exactly how to operate. Ayoob, admonishes that you do not just research firearms and tactics, but seek out formal, professional training. If you are new to firearm ownership, or even if you are not, take a basic firearm safety course. Then move on to programs focusing on concealed carry and being a responsible armed citizen. Try to take at least 1 firearms education course each year, escalating in scope, specificity, intensity, and cross-application of skills. Practice with your 3 Firearms at least once per month, every month a minimum of 200 rounds each. Clean each firearm after each range trip and lubricate each before safely storing. If your state issues concealed carry permits, obtain one and carry every day.

Now back to the topic of discussion. What is a Battery of Arms, how do we define it, and why is it important that we understand it? If you have a wild imagination you might be picturing a bunch of human limbs tied together in a series or someone caning your limbs with a bamboo stick.  Those are not the kinds of battery we are talking about.  Ayoob provides us with some enlightenment:
A "battery" of firearms is a selection of guns that will cover multiple needs. The collector has "a collection," but the person who uses guns as tools has a working "battery," like a carpenter having multiple saws for different cutting purposes, and different screwdrivers for dealing with different sizes of screws.
Understanding the distinction between the various types of firearm owner and the uses of a firearm are important to developing an understanding of the Battery of Arms concept and how you will build your own. Primarily, firearm owners will fall into one or more of the following categories, of which we will focus this discussion on the last: collectors, competitors, trophy hunters, military/police, security professionals, enthusiasts, and practical citizens. The use of the word practical does not imply that the other firearm owners are impractical, rather the term used in this context means that the needs of this type of firearm owner are not as highly specified or extreme as the needs of the other firearm owners and the user intends each purchase to fill a general “work” role. For some these roles include service as collection/investment pieces, plinking (target shooting for entertainment), or hobbies/income for those who like customizing, modifying, accessorizing firearms. However, when talking about work roles, we are usually talking about one of the following:
  • Self-defense – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a human aggressor, when you are -OUTSIDE- the of confines of any stationary location legally determined to be your property or residence.
  • Home defense – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a human aggressor, when you are -INSIDE- the of confines of any stationary location legally determined to be your property or residence.
  • Property protection – the combined strategies for legally preventing or stopping the theft or destruction of any property of which you have legal ownership.
  • Personal protection – the combined strategies for preventing death or harm to your person or the person of another individual, by a non-human threat, wherever you might encounter such without the express intention and action of stalking or trapping.
  • Hunting – legally stalking or trapping an animal with the express intention of killing it either to consume it as food or to destroy a dangerous nuisance animal.
  • Training – instruction and practice on the legal, safe, and effective storage, maintenance, and operation of a firearm and the legal and tactical considerations of the various situations in which one could be used.
To some that might be a considerable amount of semantics and hair-splitting, however, a considerable amount of the copious firearm laws have a considerable amount of semantics, hair-splitting, and treacherous legalese within them. Understanding what you are allowed to do, under what circumstances, and how those factors influence the composition of your Battery of Arms (BoA) will be critical to your success. Additionally, training might seem like a no-brainer but ask yourself: If you have added a sleek $2,000.00 firearm to your BoA with the idea that one day you will use it to save your life or feed yourself, which is more likely to happen – getting out to the range/wilderness to practice with it, put it through its paces and roll around in the dirt with it, or will that wind up taking up valuable real estate in your safe because you pamper it to death? Chances are the latter. Therefore, you want something you can train with and abuse (not literally). This is an opportunity to build your BoA correctly from the beginning or rethink your inks and build a Better Battery of Arms (BBoA) if you already have a few safe queens hoarding your precious resources. Find a collector or an enthusiast and get that dead-weight out of your life if you need to recoup the space and money to build a stronger foundation. If you do not shoot it or if you do not carry it, unless it is some uber-rare antique collectible family heirloom – get rid of it. You can always come back to collecting and buying for love once your bases are covered.

As you can imagine, finding 3 firearms to have on hand for each situation that span the range of firearm roles is a difficult proposition. Ayoob, who is vastly more well-informed on the topic than I, actually suggests four to cover you for all situations: a rifle in .22 Long Rifle, a 12 or 20 gauge pump-action shotgun, a pistol or revolver in .38 - .45 caliber range, and a high-powered rifle chambered in calibers such as .30-30 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and .30-06 Springfield. Ayoob, further adds:
If you're not planning on hunting and don't have problems with either very large, mean animals or very distant ones, the high powered rifle—the "deer rifle," if you will—is probably the one gun in the battery you can most easily do without.
This BoA will certainly provide a good answer to every question and is prudent advice for the ultra-budget restricted who want to get up to speed, get covered, and do so with as few purchases as possible to achieve a complete BoA. The 3 Firearms philosophy (3F) builds upon this start by providing you with customizable coverage you can always carry. When approached as an ever evolving plan, 3F allows you to address the most pressing (current) needs first and diversify your BoA later as resources allow. So what are the immediate needs, where do you begin building your BoA? Ayoob, has some practical counsel:
wherever you are, the need to defend yourself from man or beast tends to arise suddenly, without time to run to the gun cabinet […] a [...] moderately powerful sidearm that you can wear whenever you're dressed makes a lot of sense.
Due to complex dynamics of operating and accurately shooting a revolver or pistol, their comparative lack of firepower or range, their limited capacity, and their relative high cost, one might question the wisdom of making a revolver or pistol the basis of your 3F BoA and the platform on which you might learn the fundamentals of shooting. However, remember: what we want to accomplish with 3F is a 24/7/365 carry solution for anywhere we can conceivably wear a firearm. A revolver or pistol is the firearm that meets this criteria. Your next step is to determine where you will be using your firearm and what is the most dangerous threat you are likely to encounter in that environment. For most individuals reading this blog the environment will be a metropolitan area and the most dangerous threat will be a human attacker. Next, you will want whatever you purchase now to be able fulfill a future need if possible or looking at it from a different angle ask: can any of the firearms earmarked for a future need also serve a current/immediate need? In this way you are maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of your dollar and preventing a gap in coverage.

Even though we determined defense is the most immediate need, defense is actually low on the totem pole of needs to remain alive. Survivalists have a saying:  you can survive 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food.  Oxygen, shelter, temperature regulation, water, food, first aid, and infection prevention (in order of most to least pressing) outrank defense and personal protection on your hierachy of needs (though you will need to defend your food/water in a crisis). Fortunately most of those are provided for in one way or another in a normal situation, and only one of those (food) can a firearm directly provide. Therefore, once you have satisfied your defensive needs, insure that the next firearm you add to your BoA can net you food. Start on the smaller end of the spectrum (squirrels, rabbits, etc.) and move to the larger end (deer, moose, etc). Note: This is the exact opposite of defense/protection where you solve the larger/dangerous problem first.  Barring an irresistible deal, avoid buying something you do not need before you fill a higher, more pressing need. Your pistol or revolver will serve as personal and home defense firearm, do not buy your shotgun before you buy your sidearm. A shotgun will defend the home and put food on the table, do not buy your battle rifle before you buy your shotgun. If SHTF and you need to hunker down or bug-out you want to have as many firearm roles covered as possible at that very moment. A “planned” purchase won't do you any good, neither will having a super cool $2,000.00 safe queen that won't put food on the table. Get the picture?

Now that we understand the criteria for our selections and the order in which we should acquire them, what do we actually want to choose and why? Let us review the combined list of 3F picks, examine why those particular models made the cut, and how they achieved their rank:
  1. Glock G17 – this pistol made the list because of its long record of reliability, durability, and simplicity. It has no external safety controls making it brain-dead simple to learn and operate. Along with the Glock G19 it has a list of readily available -quality- accessories and spare parts rivaled only by the 1911 and the AR-15. When you factor in use of the 9x19mm Parabellum by NATO and law enforcement, this will be the cheapest, most R&D-ed, and most available ammunition – both now and after SHTF. The 9mm is the minimum caliber in this author's opinion for use as a primary round in personal defense, meaning the G17 that will serve you well when bugging-out can also fill the immediate need of personal/home defense today, ranking it numero uno. As a machine the G17 is reliable, durable, simple, common and in the hands of an experienced shooter it is effective and efficient. However, with retail prices exceeding $500.00 (US) new, it is not the most economical choice.
  2. Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag – the shotgun should be your next purchase as it can serve all roles, including hunting small game. The Mossberg 835 is based on the design of the Mossberg 500/590, a battle and field-tested system used by the military, law enforcement, and hunters. The Mossberg is probably only bested in consumer sales by the Remington 870 (also used by military and police), so finding replacement parts and accessories should be a relatively painless affair – though this is a case where having replacements ready might be prudent. The 835 itself, does not appear to be readily stocked many places, which in my experience points to a lack of sales that ultimately leads to a discontinuation of production. I do not believe that is a reflection of the quality of the firearm, but rather its specificity in purpose and price. Unlike Remington's 3-½” chambered “super” magnum, the 835 is purpose-built (not an extended version of the 3” chamber). The 3-½” chamber allows for even more flexibility in the type of ammunition your shotgun can feed and the range you can use your shotgun. Compared to 2-¾” shells, 3-½” shells not only offer increased payload but also increased velocity, thus extended range. In addition to the longer chamber, the 835 comes native with a 20” barrel, the ability to use choke tubes, and a thumbhole stock making it more tactical out of the box than many other hunting shotguns and vastly better at hunting than many tactical/defense shotguns. Retailing over $400.00 this is not the most inexpensive shotgun on the market but definitely a high value one.
  3. Ruger 10/22 Carbine – the .22 Long Rifle will take the hunting load off the shotgun at the smaller end of the spectrum and should it be what you have in hand it can be a defensive firearm also, giving it third place in your BoA. The Ruger 10/22 beats less expensive and comparably high-quality, accurate rifles due to the availability of accessories/parts, higher magazine capacity, being massively customizable, and a longer record of reliability.
  4. Taurus Tracker Model 627 – With the bases covered, we restart the list adding items that serve immediate needs first. Having a secondary firearm is a much better proposition than just extra magazines, and completes your list of firearms for EDC. Moreover, the .357 Magnum / .38 Special serves as a simpler more handy home defense firearm and can put a wide-range of game in the pot, making it the #4 acquisition for your BoA. The 627 meets all of the criteria (weight and barrel length) and offers a very nice 7 round capacity. The 627 is even more attractive for its lifetime warranty and competitive pricing.
  5. Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan – At this juncture should you bug out into the wilderness the most powerful sidearm you will have to call upon is the .357 Magnum. While that is good and definitely beats the heck out of swinging a stick, it is not good enough for me; adding the .454 Casull here, you round out your 3F needs for wilderness carry. Though expensive as all get-out, the Super Redhawk Alaskan makes the grade because a) Ruger makes quality revolvers, b) it is compact, and comparatively light making it easier to carry, and c) there are verified stories of this actual model of revolver putting rounds on target, managing the forces of the .454 Casull without coming apart, and dropping a brown bear charging from close-range without expending all of its rounds. 'Nuff said.
  6. Century International Arms GP WASR-10 – this is a good time to cover your ability to take the fight to human aggressors in a WROL situation. Once, you have this in your BoA you can consider yourself ready to go. You are going to use your AKM primarily for defense and secondarily as a hunting firearm. As far as AKMs go without getting your hands on a pre-ban version the closest competition to the WASR-10s for availability would be the Saiga models imported and modified by Arsenal. The SGL-21 is indeed a much higher quality firearm, however it is also double the price of the WASR-10. It is important to realize that while the AKM is a rugged, reliable battle-tested platform, these are not actual battle-tested surplus AKMs. These are new-production, heavily modified AKM-like firearms that have not seen a nanosecond of combat. That said, I am going to put it through some horrendous paces before affirming it my main battle rifle; and, if I am to wind up with an expensive club I would rather have a $350.00 club than a $700.00 one.  Major Caveat:  Do not purchase this firearm sight unseen (online) as the importer/re-manufacturer is known to have QC issues.  If you cannot find one locally AND cannot take an experienced AKM owner with you avoid this brand.  Moreover, if you are averse to minor gunsmithing buy the more expensive brand.
  7. Springfield Armory XDm 40 3.8 – If we have not diverged ideologically already this probably will be where that divergence occurs. In everyday America, the .40 S&W makes a better caliber choice and the Springfield Armory XDm series of semi-automatic pistol a better platform. The ammunition is as plentiful as necessary, the firearm requires few accessories that the manufacturer does not supply with the purchase, and ergonomically the XDm is hard to beat. The 3.8” barrel gives performance and sight radius in the area of a 4” barrel while being slightly easier to carry/conceal and maintaining full 16-round magazine capacity. Like the Glock 22, the XDm has no manual external safeties but it does have a passive grip safety that when combined with common sense and adherence to basic firearm safety rules makes it that much safer than the so-called "Safe-action" Glock. This firearm is not cheap but it is a high-value option that will increase the magnitude of your tactical response when you swap it into the role of primary EDC.
  8. Para USA 14-45 Long Slide Limited – It is a 1911 style pistol. It has 14 rounds of .45 ACP in the magazine, and 1 in the chamber. It has a accuracy and terminal performance improving 6” barrel. It is a beautiful machine. It is more expensive than “value” 1911s and cheaper than some high-end custom shop 1911s, but nowhere near cheap. Do you need more reasons? The traditional 1911 has a 7-round magazine capacity, depending on the manufacturer some have 8 or 10 round magazines. More than 10 rounds and you are looking at a double-stacked magazine, meaning the rounds are staggered in the magazine rather than stacked one on top of the other. The 1911 was designed to use a single stack 7-round magazine.  Therefore, if done poorly a double stacked magazine can create an uncomfortable grip and feeding problems. You do not want feeding problems when its time to shoot – every little .45 must come out when it is its turn. If you do go for a double-stack 1911 do your homework, buy quality, and put at least 1,000 rounds through it before making it a carry option to isolate and correct any feeding, extraction, or ejection issues. With any 1911, whether single or double stacked, test a wide variety of ammunition to find a defensive round (jacketed hollow-point, JHP) that feeds reliably. No BoA is complete without a 1911 in .45 ACP so get a high-quality one you can afford.
  9. Kel-Tec KSG – Depending on how you reckon life, the universe, and everything this might just be the firearm you have been waiting your whole life for someone to make: a pump-action shotgun that gives you on deck 15 rounds of 2-¾” (13 rounds of 3”) shells without reloading. The KSG accomplishes this by incorporating 2, yes 2, 6 or 7 round magazine tubes under the barrel instead of the traditional one. The operator selects which tube the firearm feeds from by means of a switch. As one web reviewer so eloquently put it, “think of it as the fastest shotgun reload you will ever do.” Weighing in under 9 pounds fully load and measuring 26.1” long overall, can you say light? Can you say compact? Can you say perfect home defense shotgun? Yes you can. All that zombie-blasting awesome is not cheap of course, expect to shell out over $600.00 retail if you can find it at a reputable dealer.
  10. If you have been paying attention, you might have noticed there were only 9 firearms mentioned in the 3F series. However, everyone loves Top 10 lists ...nobody likes Top 9 lists. So we will use the 10th  spot (and the 11th and 12th or however many it takes) to address any areas of deficiency. But how can there be holes, I thought 3F prepares you for EVERYTHING? Without question 3F will serve you quite well as part of a complete everyday to extreme survival strategy, yet it does not address every tactical situation. Emphasizing avoidance, diplomacy, peaceful coexistence, stealth, speed, and mobility 3F will see to it that you own your space within 200 yards. This is because 3F assumes if it is outside of that space you probably should not be messing with it, that does not mean that you will never encounter a situation where you need to reach out and touch someone or something assuming your have the skill to do so. If you require a long-distance calling plan you cannot go wrong with tried and true solutions like the Remington 700, Ruger M77, Winchester Model 70, or Savage 110; or if you want something slightly more “tactical” spring for a Springfield Armory M1A Loaded. If this is where I was spending my dollars, I would grab Ayoob's selection of Browning BAR Safari model, albeit in the more common and cheaper .30-06 Springfield. Working a bolt or lever may be more difficult than you think when rounds are flying over head or Yogi Bear is after your picnic basket, the ability to simply squeeze the trigger for follow-up shots and a detachable box magazine could possibly save your bacon. Many people espouse the benefit of having a .22 LR pistol for inexpensive practice using a full-size pistol. If you are intent on having a dedicated pistol instead of a conversion then the Sig Sauer Mosquito or Ruger Mark III variants are an options you might want to consider. If you enjoy the sounds of silence and you are running low on .22 LR you might appreciate the whisper quiet deadliness of the Gamo Socom Extreme .25 cal. This lightweight air rifle can hurl a .25 caliber pellet at 1,000 fps out of the muzzle, spoiling the day of pests and small game. Other silent options include bows or crossbows, such as the Barnett Ghost 400 CRT, which fires bolts at a blistering 400 feet per second. Air riles, bows, and crossbows are not technically firearms, yet that does not matter to all the things they can nevertheless kill. Remember, you are building a battery of ARMS, not just firearms; various non-firearm tools will support the mission of your firearm selections.  As far as carbines go, I am not sure which camp will be more hurt: the AR-15 black rifle proponents or those who swear by the M1 Carbine as the most effective zombie-slayer. I genuinely apologize if I have hurt either of your feelings. I do, however, believe the carbine has a place in a multi-member survival party. Not everyone can or should have a full-size battle rifle, especially if that someone operates in a confined area and requires both his or her hands, like a combat medic. For these members of your party a carbine, like the Hi-Point 995TS chambered in 9mm, could be just the ticket to give them more range and terminal performance than their sidearm while not encumbering them with a longer, heavier rifle.
The list of honorable mentions and slightly overly-justified “must haves” could go on forever with someone who likes firearms and tactics as much I do, but I think you get the point. Assess your priorities, resources, and make choices to give yourself the optimal coverage for what you believe you are likely to encounter. To wrap up this part of our discussion, I am going to borrow from Massad Ayoob one final time:
Don't go for an A+ in one class at the expense of a grade of Incomplete on the rest of the curriculum. One screwdriver won't do it all for you, nor will one saw, and neither will one firearm. A good, functional, representative example of each type puts a lot more versatility in your toolbox than the most expensive specimen of just one type. That's how it is with tools...and […] the working gun IS a tool. No more, no less. […] Choose your tools carefully. Learn to use them well. And, above all, demand of yourself and others that they be used responsibly and safely.
'Nuff said.

You are probably ready to go out and start filling up your firearm safe. I know. I am too, but reign in your horses. The last thing we want to do in these fragile economic times is to go out and blow our wad on a stockpile of junk that wont serve us as well as it should when we need it most. There is yet much to discover in order to maximize our dollars, build an efficient Battery of Arms, and achieve efficient, effective logistical planning. Stay tuned for the next exciting edition – 3 Firearms 4 Life, Part VI: Bullets for My Valentine.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part IV: Zombocalypse Now!

File Under: With Both Barrels

Life at the End of the World

We have come to everyone's favorite topic: the Zombie Apocalypse. This is the ultimate SHTF scenario and probably has caused WROL the likes of which humankind has never before seen. All your intensive video game training and internet forum arguing has culminated in sweet, undead vindication. Now that it has actually happened, all your friends and family have flocked to your hardened, subterranean zombie-proof bunker and it is up to you to ensure everyone survives the onslaught of the zombie hordes. What will be your 3 armaments of choice? As always to determine this first we must analyze what we will encounter and what will be our long-term survival needs.

First off let us examine the 5 different types of zombies one might encounter during the Zombocalypse:

Type 1: Voodoo Zombies
  • Zombification occurs through psycho-chemical means using herbs, poison, hypnosis, and brainwashing
  • Usually pristine condition
  • Retain full upper brain function but unable to articulate or express will
  • May be defeated by normal means
  • Can be rehabilitated
  • Will not cross bodies of water
Type 2: Traditional Zombies – Slow Movers
  • Zombification occurs through a non-scientifically apparent process but can be transmitted from infected to non-infected through a bite
  • Reanimated zombies will be necrotic/decrepit and living infected will decay over time
  • No upper brain function
  • These zombies may be under the direct control of a master entity, thus they can be stopped by destruction of the brain stem or the controller and complete consumption by fire
  • These zombies will not cross bodies of water
Type 3a: Viral Zombies – Fast Movers
  • Zombification occurs through a virus or retrovirus that mutates the physiology of the host to make it faster, stronger, more enduring, and resistant to stoppage, even beyond a normal “death.”
  • The contagion can affect living or deceased hosts with an intact central nervous system
    • Condition of infected/reanimated with range from necrotic/decrepit to pristine
  • Limited upper brain function possible:
    • No psychological response to damage or pain
  • Unaffected by suffocation or blood-loss
  • The body will endure for a long time and if the central nervous system remains intact, will recover
  • Can be stopped by destruction of the brain stem only.
  • Contagion may be airborne or transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of infected host
  • Contagion can cross species or mutate
  • Immunobodies, vaccines, and anti-viral agents may exist
  • The infected/reanimated can traverse water
Type 3b: Viral Zombies – Ragers / Crazies
  • Zombification occurs through a virus, retrovirus, or other biochemical agent that affects the psychochemical, nerve, cardiopulmonary, and/or endocrine system of the host, which primarily strips the live human host of its mental and emotional “weaknesses,” in an effort to make the host more resistant to stoppage.
  • The virus only works on living human hosts
  • May retain full upper brain function with:
    • Increased aggression
    • Reduced fear/inhibition
    • Reduced psychological response to damage or pain
  • The corpse decays at a normal rate and the infected can be killed by any traditional means
  • Contagion may transmit through contact with bodily fluids of infected host or contaminated food/water
  • Contagion does not cross species or mutate
  • Immunobodies are non-existent although counteragents may be available
  • The infected can traverse water
Type 4: Parasite/Puppet Zombies
  • Zombification occurs when an organic or cybernetic parasite (sometimes symbiont) takes over (and frequently destroys) the central nervous system and bodily functions of an organic host. An organic entity will need a living host to possess while the cybernetic zombie could be dead when infested, as it only requires an intact not necessarily living host.
  • Infestation requires direct, probably prolonged and invasive, physical contact
  • Infected will present a wide range of abilities
  • The consciousness of the parasite takes over the host
  • The human host cannot be recovered or rehabilitated and will die or return to a post-morbid state should the parasite be driven from the host
  • The parasite may have a psychological reaction to damage and pain
  • Though the host can be stopped by traditional means, the parasite may be able to regenerate the corpse
  • Parasites must be annihilated, and following destruction of the brain stem, corpses must be quickly consumed by fire
  • A master controller or sire may exist, which upon its destruction, could cause the death or deactivation of all parasites connected to it
  • These zombies can traverse water
Type 5: Sheep Zombies
  • Zombification occurs through indoctrination and complacency
  • Contagion can spread through word-of-mouth, example, and close association
  • The zombies retain all of their higher brain function but choose not to use it
  • These zombies prefer co-dependency and reaction over independence and acting proactively
  • Most likely these zombies are controlled by a master entity (government, media, etc.) and will collapse without the directions of that institution or entity
  • Symptoms of infection: a belief in the system, denial a catastrophic event will occur, a lack of personal responsibility, a lack of preparation
  • The infected are easily defeated by situations that inspire others to persevere
  • You can lead these zombies to water but they won't drink, won't cross, and won't learn to fish
  • The infected will lie, cheat, steal, and/or kill when they begin to suffer the ill-effects of their lack of preparation
  • Contagion is highly virulent though infected can be rehabilitated
  • Known vaccines and anti-virals include: free thought, self-reliance, logic, hard work, planning, and follow-through
So type 5 is not a true “zombie;” however, are real world “zombie” zombies even possible? To answer this question, ask yourself have we ever seen evidence of zombie-like behavior: an ultra aggressive, strong, fast enemy who is persistent, cannot be reasoned with, and does not seem to be effected (physically or psychologically) by normal types of lethal force? The answer is yes, we have seen these individuals before:
  • Fortified (both chemically and psychologically) Filipino warriors encountered by US forces during the Philippine-American War necessitated the research, development, and adoption of the .45 ACP and the M1911 semi-automatic pistol because the sidearm used in that conflict, a .38 caliber revolver, would not adequately incapacitate and stop them quickly.
  • In 1986, two bank robbers resisted arrest in an epic 5-minute battle that left both perpetrators and 2 FBI agents dead. The two criminals received a combined total of 18 gunshot wounds to the head, neck, upper torso, and limbs. They were unarmored and toxicology reports show that they were fueled by nothing but their own malice, discontent, and a strong desire not to go to prison.
  • In 1997, hardened by a combination of phenobarbital and body armor, two criminals in North Hollywood California engaged in a shootout with police that lasted forty-five minutes. Some 650 rounds were fire at the 2 criminals with at least 10 penetrating (each shooter) before the conflict ended.
We see it is possible through indoctrination, determination, and adrenaline alone humans can be made to withstand massive damage before suffering a debilitating injury or succumbing to their wounds. Anyone with access to basic materials and an ability to sew can create rudimentary armor effective enough to give -them- the second chance to do you harm. Add chemicals, even garden variety street drugs, which can calm the nerves, numb the sensation of pain, and disconnect the individual from his or her body and you may completely negate any of the psychological factors to wounding and incapacitation. Is there a method to give a normal human super stamina, strength, speed, and aggression? Yes, and while performance enhancing drugs won't turn an individual into a super human, if they did not give you an edge over non-users they would not be restricted and no one would use them. The straw that could break the camels back would be an easily transmittable biochemical contagion, which can cause the hostility, dementia, paranoia, and psychosis of some of the viruses and/or drugs we are used to without causing degeneration to central nervous and musculoskeletal system. The effect would be ravenously violent individuals, who retain gross and fine motor control. This is all wonderful science-fiction, yet keep in mind that at one time flying ships, walking on the moon, talking to someone on the opposite side of the planet, beams of light that cut metal, and living beyond the age of forty were also all science-fiction; we have even turned lead into gold, a pursuit that at one point in time could get you excommunicated and possibly assassinated. While not all things are plausible or probable, given enough time all things are possible.

Dealing with Zombie types 1-4 in a SHTF environment will be terrible enough. Throw in the Sheep Zombies, opportunistic criminals, or your garden variety mentally-deranged violent offenders and your end-of-the-world party quickly becomes major lame. We do not know why, but all zombies with the exception of the Sheep do not eat their own, yet a need to feed seems to be present in them all. Some zombies have been observed eating animals, however, their primary preferred food is human – particularly the brains. Just as you don't want to setup camp where bears feed, so it is also for zombie defense. Your number one goal will be avoiding people and places people will congregate. That means metropolitan areas, preferred “escape” locations, and any so-called “camps.” In a city or any densely populated area, it is hard to avoid people and quite easy to get cornered. If the contagion is not an airborne viral variety, you may be able to hunker down and hold out for some external force to get things back under control. However, if the outbreak is not contained quickly and it is a case of a reanimated dead then the outbreak may potentially never be contained. Your stockpiles in the city will eventually dry up, there will be no barter/trade system to get new supplies, and scavenging in the city will become increasingly dangerous as the outbreak grows. This is a bug-out must situation and if you are not already in a remote, isolated area you will have a long trek through a vast unknown wasteland ahead of you.

You cannot possibly carry all the firepower you will need, to deal with the numbers of zombies you might encounter. Luckily for you, zombies do not have the best senses over long distances. The more necrotic/decrepit and less intelligent types have even less sensory perception, even at close ranges. Fast Movers and Crazies, unfortunately, have as good or better senses as they did as regular humans. So movement, bright lights, smells, loud noises, and sources of heat can attract a tidal wave of Fast Runners if you are not careful. Everything must be done without making your presence known. At this time you want to be fast, silent, and agile, cutting a wide path around any place that might contain the infected. You have a considerable amount of terrain to cross and you must do so silently. Therefore, on top of simple, reliable, durable, and common, add light, silent, and maneuverable to the list of criteria for your 3 firearms. Your primary threat will be zombies, and while some are immune or highly resistant to the methods of traditional wounding, all can be stopped by destruction of the brain stem. Unfortunately, this means should you encounter a zombie you will need to place a bullet or other projectile within a tiny 2” circle on a (possibly fast) moving target; the situation becomes exponentially worse with each additional zombie. Cracking open a zombie melon is not a problem, hitting that target accurately and silently will be the kicker.

When it comes to simplicity, reliability, durability, commonness, and accuracy one platform immediately comes to mind. A singular firearm with over 100 years of putting in work and putting down bad guys. It was the answer to Filipino zombies then, societal zombies now, and brain-eating zombies tomorrow. I am speaking of course about the 1911 design, chambered in its iconic .45 ACP cartridge. This system has proven itself in the hands of soldier and law enforcement officers for decades. The .45 ACP is capable of the prerequisite accuracy and due to its larger unexpanded diameter gives you a better chance of obliterating that tiny target if you are not dead on. Moreover, the .45 ACP is a subsonic round, meaning it is quiet in flight and can greatly lower your noise footprint when used with a quality sound suppressor. Ammunition, parts, and accessories are as common as Bibles and American Flags in the States, and it is a very easy system to learn to operate and maintain. A final benefit of the 1911 itself is the availability of relatively lightweight 9mm, .38 Super, .22 LR and 10mm drop-in conversion kits for some variants.  Using them you can make use of found ammunition and practice with plentiful, silent ammunition. John Moses Browning must have been clairvoyant, because he designed the perfect sidearm for putting down the zombie hordes. You have other choices, but I for my part am facing the end of the world with a true American classic.  And yes ...I will have 2 of them.

During the Zombocalypse, quiet is king and no centerfire or rimfire contender is as quiet and capable as the .22 Long Rifle, especially once you have equipped it with a good sound suppression device. Assuming there are critters to eat, the .22 LR will ensure you always have meat to eat and it will do so whisper quiet-like. Moreover, should you have a need to take out someone on 2 legs, this rifle can do so. Finally, should you need to hot-foot it out of where you are the .22 LR is not likely to break your back and should be easy to resupply with plenty of found ammunition. 'Nuff said.

Now if quiet is king during the Zombocalypse, then devastating firepower when you need to be less than quiet is queen. Situations will arise when the zombies are unavoidable, when they get the drop on you, and when you are facing many, many drooling brain-suckers. You need the ability to dispatch a large number of aggressors, all the while still putting rounds on a tiny moving target. Every round has to count and you need a lot of them – you don't want to be overrun while you are reloading. You could try your luck with a rifle if that is all you have, but that is not what I am going to want to have with me in close quarters, adrenaline-pumping, high-intensity combat. I want something maneuverable that will put out a lot of lead and maximize the probability of hitting my target. I'm pretty sure you can smell what I'm cooking. If zombies can experience fear at all, they will come to fear the sound of my 12 gauge pump-action shotgun.
  • A full-sized 1911 style semi-automatic pistol chambered in .45 ACP
Para USA 14-45 Long Slide Limited
Chamber: .45 ACP
6.0” barrel
14 round capacity
stainless steel slide / stainless steel frame
41 ounces
adjustable rear sight, fiber optic front sight
Retail: 1,084.00 USD
Alternatives: STI 2011 Eagle 6.0, Springfield Armory Loaded Long slide, Olympic Arms Matchmaster 6, Taurus PT 1911, Ruger SR1911, Sig Sauer, Dan Wesson, Ed Brown, Wilson Combat
  • A lightweight rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle
Ruger 10/22 Carbine
Chamber: .22 LR
18-½” barrel
5, 10, or 25 round magazine
synthetic stock / stainless steel barrel
5.00 pounds
adjustable rear sight, hammer-forge barrel, scope base adapter
Retail: 227 – 234.00 USD
Alternatives: Savage Arms Mark II FSS 24700. Marlin 795SS
  • A smoothbore 12 gauge pump-action shotgun with a 18-20” barrel.
Kel-Tec KSG
Chamber: 12 gauge 3”
18.5” barrel
(2) 6-round magazine tubes
alloy / synthetic polymer
6.9 / 8.5 pounds empty / loaded
bull-pup, downward ejection, picatinny rails
Retail: 575 – 799.99 USD
Alternatives: Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590/835, Maverick 88, Ithaca Model 37 . H&R Pardner Pump Protector, Savage Arms Stevens Model 320/350

There you have it, 3 Firearms 4 Life in the Zombocalypse. You won't be winning any impromptu long-range shooting contests, but you will be lightweight, highly mobile, silent, and equipped with some devastating close-range firepower when it is time to get down with the sickness. Hunting will not be the easiest proposition, but you will not starve if you have to bring home dinner with a firearm. Safety, security, and food – what more could you ask out of 3 Firearms?

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part V: Building Your Battery of Arms

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV Part V | Part VI | Part VII