Saturday, November 12, 2011

3 Firearms 4 Life, Part II: Welcome to the Jungle ...Err, Woods

File Under: With Both Barrels

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

Everyday Survival in a Rural, Sub-Rural or Wilderness Environments

Previously we discussed the three firearms you would want in an everyday, city environment under normal conditions – meaning all laws still apply and the societal infrastructure you are accustomed to is still intact. Those three selections would suffice for everyday personal and home protection anywhere you are legally able to carry a firearm. Moreover, they would allow you scalable and redundant firepower that should be more than sufficient to get to a more potent defensive option or to make your way home where you can determine whether to hunker down or bug-out in the event of a crisis situation. In today's discussion we will attempt to analyze what might be beneficial to have when you are already living out in a less-developed, less densely populated area where you might encounter non-human animal predators. Of importance to note is the distinction made between urban/suburban/super-rural and rural/sub-rural/wilderness. Although population density is still an important factor, these two groupings focus more on environment as this will have a major logistical and strategic impact on your choices. In a metropolitan area there will be fewer animal predators, travel distances will be shorter, travel routes will be less encumbered, human aggressors will be more common, engagement distances will be closer, and there will be massive obstacles to your sight lines. Far from the city centers animal predators will be more numerous, travel distances will be farther, travel routes may be very cumbersome, human aggressors will be less common, engagement distances can be very long, and you can swing between dense wood and wide open range. As you can see, moving out of the city presents unique challenges that will stress the 3 firearm philosophy.

As with the city survival choices, we will begin with the easier choice to make – that is the one firearm you can carry with you at anytime. You want something that is comparatively lightweight, easy to maneuver in tight spaces, something you do not need a free hand to carry, something concealable for encounters with strangers, something you can take fishing, and something you can climb with to scout or hang. Essentially you need something that goes with you everywhere; it must be something you can and will carry at all times. What fits this bill? A revolver or pistol. So what revolver or pistol will form the basis of your wilderness survival armament. Here is where the big brother to your everyday carry (EDC) revolver becomes leader of the pack. In the great outdoors you want a medium or large stainless steel frame revolver, with a preferably 4 – 6” barrel, chambered in a common magnum caliber (.357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .454 Casull). The stainless steel revolver is preferable over anything else (including the venerable 10mm semi-automatic pistol) due to its simplicity, reliability, and durability – 3 invaluable qualities demanded by the wild and not omnipresent in other revolvers or pistols. Magnum calibers are a must because this firearm will be the last ditch option for protection against potentially large/dangerous predators and for securing food in a pinch. All three of these magnum caliber revolvers can also chamber the shorter, same diameter cartridges from which they evolved namely .38 Special, .44 Special, and .45 Colt (Long Colt for you old-timers) respectively. Once again, this is an added bonus because this adds versatility to your defensive options and having one thing that does two things well adds logistical efficiency. You can practice using the often cheaper non-magnum ammunition and the non-magnum ammunition is perfectly suitable for self-defense against squishier human aggressors. Generally speaking with these three firearms the price of the revolver and the ammunition (both magnum and non-magnum) increases with caliber while the commonness decreases with caliber.

What you will choose, as always, is governed by what you can afford, what you can comfortably carry, what you can shoot and control, and where you will be using it. You want the lightest frame revolver that fits those criteria, without dismantling the revolver under the forces of its magnum load. Keep in mind that shorter barreled revolvers will be lighter and easier to carry and conceal but will have reduced ballistic performance, more muzzle blast, be more “snappy” on recoil, and thus potentially harder to control. At the other end of the spectrum longer barreled revolvers will have reduced muzzle blast, absorb recoil better, and better ballistic performance, but will also be heavier and more unwieldy, which can make them potentially just as hard to control (over long periods). Shot placement (read: your skill in accurate and precise shooting) is always the preeminent deciding factor to you rapidly incapacitating a threat and surviving a defensive situation with the minimal amount of damage possible. That said, caliber choice does play a more important role versus animals because they are more hardily built and the psychological effects of wounding never work in your favor against animals. Failing to incapacitate a passive animal will cause it to likely bolt, up to miles all the while languishing in pain, and force you to track it down. An aggressive animal in the same situation could bolt but could also become enraged and charge on you. Whether the most docile doe or a rabid bear, you do not want to have to track down a wounded, scared animal. Therefore, you have to put the bullet in the right place and it has to do its job when it arrives.

Allow me to diverge here slightly to further a personal point. Experts of all fields (military, law enforcement, self-defense, hunting, survival, etc.) advise you to carry what you can shoot. I agree with this up to a point. That point is when you encounter something that you cannot shoot and you fail to learn to shoot it. Hopefully, if you are considering spending a considerable amount of time in the wilderness you are physically fit enough and have acquired a carry system efficient enough that carrying a 2-½ pound hunk of metal is not a problem. Additionally, factors such as recoil, muzzle climb (flip), and muzzle blast are unavoidable and should be trained around. Now this is not to say you need to learn to shoot and carry .50 BMG caliber rifle, yet with the exception of a physical barrier, i.e. loss of a limb or musculoskeletal illness, carry what you can shoot is a mentally and potentially physically deleterious concept. In law enforcement and the military there are shooters of a wide range of ages, weights, degrees of strength, and hand sizes, yet these agencies have one standard issue firearm and one standard issue duty load – not a variety to fit the metrics and abilities of the individual operator. Each individual operator trains to meet a minimum level of proficiency with that standard issue firearm and cartridge. In the instance of these bureaucratic agencies this has less to do with tactics than it does with logistics and politics. However, taking a lesson from more tactically minded military special forces and law enforcement crisis response units, their standard issue is what is most tactically proficient and they train to be proficient with any instrument they might encounter – standard issue or not. Carry what you can shoot, especially in the Urban EDC, is the wisest foundation to build your defensive strategy, but do not let it be the frame, walls, and roof also. The aforementioned experts will advise you of what is a bare-minimum and what is overkill for your particular application; this naturally implies there is something that is just right on the money. You cannot ignore science, reality, or the law of large numbers; unfortunately comprehensive, credible, empirical, and unbiased research even on human-on-human defensive scenarios, let alone human-on-animal, is grossly lacking. If such studies do exist I would love to read them. Avoid the so-called "advice" of ammunition/firearm manufacturers, bought and paid-for journalists, fan-boys, and tacti-cool weekend warriors. Continue researching, analyzing, and diversifying your ability to protect yourself and survive in a wide swathe of situations that are wildly disparate from EDC in a city when police and EMS are a phone call away and the grocery store is always well-stocked. Otherwise, if all you can accurate and precisely shoot is a .380 ACP or a 9mm or the only platform you can control or stand to carry is a sub-compact, you probably want to stay out of the woods and off the streets (in a crisis) for that matter. End of rant.

Back to the bullet doing its job. In the wild, you are shooting because you need to eat or something is trying to eat you; unlike humans, with animals you don't shoot to incapacitate, you shoot to kill - immediately. The method for doing this works the same for animals as it does for humans: destroy the central nervous system, destroy the cardiopulmonary system, and/or cause bleeding from many large holes. If you can do this with one well-placed shot, hurrah! more than likely (especially in the event of a predator attacking you) this will take more than one shot. The larger the animal, the fatter and more muscular, the thicker the hide and bones, the deeper the vital organs the more penetration you will require to break through fur, hide, muscles, and bones to reach those vital organs. The fastest way to drop anything is to destroy the central nervous system; hunters or any experienced shooter will advise you to avoid trying for the head-shot as the head is a tiny target compared to the center mass and a miss will mean: a) you starve tonight b) you give an innocent creature a horrible wound or c) you become lunch. So for most animals what you want is a broadside or quartering shot that pierces the heart and/or both lungs and possibly spine, which may have to defeat arm, shoulder, and/or ribs bones. Some animals, like a bear charging you, might not present you their broadside. Luckily the head of a bear or bison, though protected by a thick and hard bone, should not present you a smaller target than the chest portion of an adult human torso. If you have chosen poorly here, good luck “aiming for the eyes.” Therefore, when considering what animals you might have to use your revolver against size matters. Among my Big 3 Magnum calibers the penetration and tissue damage increases with caliber. Now you might not want a considerable amount of tissue damage if you are going to use your revolver to take down dinner, but that is not the primary purpose of this firearm. The primary purpose is for you not to become something's dinner yourself. If I am going to roll the dice on what will keep my bacon out of the fire and without a study comparing how well each of the Big 3 did against thousands of the largest North American animals, I am going to err on the side of prudence and go with the pricier and less common .454 Casull. A well-crafted bullet in this caliber has enough mass, density, and velocity to punch through fur, hide, muscle, and bone to reach the vitals intact and it will leave a large whole from which the animal can bleed. Additionally, while I am not sold on the concept yet, in the future with advances in technology and improvements in quality control an accurate and reliable revolver that shoots .410 bore shotgun shells in addition to the .454 Casull / .45 Colt combination could be very attractive for its added versatility. The area you might be trekking in may not have a large brown bear population or any brown bear at all and in such a situation one of the other calibers could be more than sufficient. Whatever you choose be certain what you choose is suitable for what you could encounter, there are numerous normally docile yet territorial North American animals in excess of 500 pounds that can become violent if you startle them.

I see now why writers avoid caliber recommendations – they are invariably exhaustive. Moving right along, lets build on the foundation of our 3 firearm strategy by adding the frame. You are going to need to eat. To accomplish this you will need to have some combination of rations, foraging, growing, and probably hunting. If you are intent on and capable of dropping elk/moose and black bear the .454 Casull is great when a rifle or shotgun is unavailable, but what are you going to do if medium and large game is not plentiful? If you want to eat meat, you had better be prepared to eat furry little woodland creatures. The most energy efficient method for getting Thumper in your belly is by trapping him, but what are you going to do when you're out on the trail and you've got a bead on his fluffy little cottontail? If you squeeze off a round from your revolver you will have rabbit chunks (.45 Colt) or rabbit puree (.454 Casull), so something slightly more appropriate would be better. This is the perfect quarry for a lightweight, silent air rifle capable of firing a .22 caliber or larger pellet at speeds of one thousand feet per second or faster. You'll make off like a silent woods ninja and go home with a lot more edible rabbit for the pot. A fine solution indeed, but is it the best solution? Keep in mind you only will have one slot left, and a wide variety of targets between pests/varmints and brown bear. Moreover, an air rifle is lightweight not weightless, it will need to have to carry more of its own weight to be a worthwhile choice. What firearm can take out little critters at range without obliterating your dinner and extends its reach up into the realm of small, opportunistic predators like coyote? The answer to that is a very old, time-tested, versatile, and economical firearm that you will find on just about anyone's survival list – a light rifle chambered in .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR). If there is something small to eat in sight, this rifle will keep you from starving. This is without a doubt the most economical firearm to shoot and the most logistically efficient to carry, netting you more dinners per pound and dollar than any other available round.  The .22 LR is lightweight, low recoil, low noise, and in the hands of a practiced shooter affective out to medium range against a variety of targets – especially human targets, making it a dual-use firearm in both hunting and protection roles. With food and protection addressed, the frame of your 3 Firearm strategy is complete.

At this point you have rabbit in the pot and it is smelling good. You really wanted it to be Bambi but you did not think you could ethically take her down with your .22 LR. You're not really concerned if the wafting aromas of your dinner attracts a coyote, as it will just wind up being breakfast and lunch should it get too close. However, what are you going to do if a mean old hungry bear or a wolf decides to come join you for dinner? What could have gotten you venison steaks rather than rabbit chops for dinner? A large hole in your defense and survival strategy remains and it is filled with many threats and much potential food. Without walls and a roof, we are mighty cold and wet in our defensive 3 Firearm house.   With only one firearm left, here is where the decision-making process can become hard. An obvious choice here would be a firearm that allows you to reach out and touch someone or something, humanely bringing down a large aggressor with authority at range. Something such as a rifle readily comes to mind, and a rifle that is at home on the range and in the woods would be your classic lever-action rifle. It is light, compact, maneuverable, accurate, rugged, and comes in a variety of suitable calibers (i.e. .30-30 Winchester or .45-70 Government). This is an excellent choice for deer or single predators, but like the air rifle the centerfire rifle has a narrow selection of applications. Too small a caliber and it may be unsuitable for large or dangerous game, too large a caliber you will be decimating edible meat on smaller animals; further, neither solution allows you to tap into the full benefit of nature's buffet. A rifle is not the firearm of choice for winged creatures. Moreover, what happens when the big bad wolf becomes the big bad wolf pack? Unless you are the Rifleman or you have him with you, you will want something better. Is it possible that one firearm can not only be a heavy hitter capable of protecting you from large dangerous game, but also turning everything from wild cats, to wild goats, to wild turkeys into dinner? There most certainly is; and it is the one firearm you will see represented on these kinds of dream lists as much or more than the .22 LR rifle. I am speaking of the age-old, ubiquitous, venerable (enough descriptors?) smoothbore 12 gauge pump-action shotgun. The pump-action smoothbore shotgun is simple, reliable, and durable – the 3 traits of something you will bank your life on in the wilderness. Moreover, this firearm allows far more choices in caliber, chamberings, and payload than any other option. The shotgun is the ultimate in hit probability and damage per shot, untouched by any other class of firearm. In 12 gauge, you can choose a payload that will allow you to take out varmints and small game in the territory of the .22 LR, take out turkey and other fowl, drop small predators/deer/elk, and even stop large dangerous predators in the defense of your life. Logically, if it can take out an aggressive bear it can easily take out a human attacker also. By adding the 12 gauge pump, you've secured food and protection, completing your defensive "house" for life in the wild.  Between the .22 LR and the 12 gauge there is nothing human or animal native to the contiguous 48 States that a practiced shooter cannot eventually incapacitate or kill before it grievously wounds him or her within 100-150 yards. That is a big statement in every sense of the word, the very essence of tactical fitness for survival, and the reason these two platforms and calibers are so revered. 'Nuff said.

The following are my 3 Firearm 4 Life in the Wild:

  • A medium or large frame revolver, with a capacity of 5+ rounds chambered in a common Magnum caliber
Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
Chamber: .454 Casull
2-½” barrel
6 round capacity
steel frame / rubber grip
44.0 ounces
Hogue Tamer grip, DS/SA, adjustable rear sight
Retail: 747 – 798.00 USD
Alternatives: Taurus Raging Bull

  • 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.
Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag
Chamber: 12 gauge 2 ¾”, 3”, 3 ½”
20” barrel
5 round magazine
blued steel / synthetic
7 ¼ pounds
adjustable trigger, overbored vent-rib, thumbhole stock
Retail: 420 – 450.00 USD
Alternatives: Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590, Maverick 88, Ithaca Model 37 . H&R Pardner Pump Protector, Savage Arms Stevens Model 320/350

There you have it, my 3 Firearms 4 Life in the Wild. This load-out has your bases covered: you're safe, well-protected, well-fed, and you can plink old cans of beans in-between sessions of whittling wood to hone your skills and stave off boredom. This will allow you to be armed everywhere you go and transition between your wilderness environment and human-inhabited areas with increased ease without detrimentally reducing your firepower. Moreover, you are agile, mobile, and hostile (when necessary) - something as critical afield as on the field. I hope you have enjoyed this installment of the 3 Firearms 4 Life series. Please feel free to post your questions, comments, or concerns and stay tuned for Part III when we will discuss 3 Firearms 4 Life in SHTF and WROL.

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

Note: While humorous the quote featured in the de-motivational poster used at the beginning of this post is in all likelihood false and of an unknown origin if real at all.

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