What is the first gun that pops in your head when you think of an end-of-society scenario? Chances are, a sleek, well-adorned AR-15 or M4 with some cool doo-dads bolted onto the Picatinny rails: a nice Surefire light with a laser, with an Aimpoint red dot or thermal imaging scope mounted to the upper receiver. Full magazines neatly line your tac vest as you boldly forage, feed, and protect your family with it against any number of unknown foes. Seems ideal and right, doesn’t it?
What if that was all wrong?
Many people are familiar with the acronym “K.I.S.S”, an easy was of remembering “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”. As with many things in life, this wonderful phrase is idea for helping with many things in life, from grocery shopping to buying a car to – you guessed it – preparing for a complete breakdown of all things as we know them. Specifically, for the purposes of this article, firearms.
The AR-15 platform is pretty much synonymous with the whole concept of SHTF. It CAN make a lot of sense: it’s in a relatively useful caliber in its standard configuration, it’s the main sidearm for our armed services, so parts are usually available, and there is a ridiculous aftermarket support. It’s light, ammunition (usually) is easily obtained and/or hand loaded for, and you can keep a bunch of rounds in a magazine, ready to go at a moment’s notice. It’s rugged, doesn’t need a ridiculous amount of maintenance, and, well, it just plain works. Generally. However, this current High Speed-Low Drag fad of AR-15 builds has a lot of really pretty ridiculous gadgets being hung on the ubiquitous rails of an AR. From Lasers to blinding spotlights to single point slings to red dots to 20 power scopes, the “tactical toothbrush holder” fad borders on the ridiculous sometimes. But do we really need all this gear, and, more importantly, will we need it if we NEED it?
Firstly, electronic sights are a wonder of the modern age. Bring the rifle quickly to your shoulder, and a floating red dot appears through a tube that shows you exactly where your bullet will go…it’s fast, efficient, and works amazingly well on moving targets out to 100 yards or so (where the dot starts obscuring much of the target). However, they do run on batteries (usually a CR2032, CR123 or AA). Some, mercifully, such as the Trijicon ACOG) have standard scope-type reticles that are accessorized by battery and/or fiber optic illuminated reticle points. After your battery supply runs out, or after an EMP burst, where will it leave you when the electronic sight simply doesn’t work any more? Same with light sources. All have the battery weak link, and they all will run out once the SHTF. Yeah, they work well until that time, when they become transformed into a useless piece of cool-lookin’ junk.
What can you do about it? K.I.S.S! Mount a set of sturdy back-up sights and make sure they are dialed in, and not just cool eye candy bolted onto a rail. If you’re on a budget, Magpul makes a great sight in the MBUS (Magpul Back Up Sight). These steel-reinforced polymer sights are very simple, elevation and windage adjustable, and flip backwards onto the rail when not needed. If your optics bail out on you, a simple flick of two switches gets the spring-loaded sights to pop up, ready to rock. I have these on my AR, and they are awesome. And at the price of about $75 for the pair, hard to beat. Many other companies (Troy, Diamondhead, etc) make other flip-up type back up sights for a rail system, many out of aluminum if you prefer something a bit more rugged. A quick (or lengthy) perusal of the Brownell’s website will get you drooling quickly.
Another weak point of the AR platform is a serious one: it needs a detachable magazine to be useful. If you get into a firefight and dump them as you’re moving, the possibility of losing them is very high. Add into the fact that most aluminum mags are junk the second you step on them or they get dented or dropped too hard, and you have the fixing’s for a serious problem once you run out of them. And it WILL happen. What’s the K.I.S.S. solution?
Stick with me here. How about a gun with a fixed magazine? Granted, your granddaddy’s Winchester 94 .30-30 isn’t nearly as sexy as a decked-out M4 carbine, but the magazine stays with it. It also is unencumbered with battery-powered gadgets, is ridiculously simple, and is certainly powerful to harvest deer and bear-sized game and use as a defensive caliber. It’s light, handles and points like a dream, and they don’t really wear…case in point: many lever-action guns built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are STILL soldiering on, putting dinner on tables and providing security for farms. Unless your idea of a SHTF scenario is this: Full Metal Jacket
chances are very good you will be very well served by something less glamorous, but far more practical, than your railed wonder gun.
One gun that won’t stray far in a SHTF scenario, personally, is my Marlin M1894 carbine in .357 Magnum. I love the fact that it’s under six pounds, is extremely accurate with its Lyman 66 receiver (peep) sight, it is the same caliber as another favorite carry gun (S&W M65 revolver) and it doubles the chances of finding useable ammo, as it can shoot both .357 Magnum and .38 Special. With a 158-grain .357 Magnum soft-point or hollow-point bullet, it’s powerful enough to harvest deer out to 100 yards if I put the bullet in the boiler room, or with a cast lead or FMJ .38 Special round, it will work wonders on rabbits or game birds without ruining the meat. The .357 Magnum is legendary for its man-stopping capability, so we know it will work in that department too. Its recoil is very mild, so my wife and 13-year-old son can shoot it all day long. And it’s SIMPLE. It works. What’s not to like?
Up here in Maine, I’ve taken a number of courses (and watched a few) through Weaponcraft Training , and universally I see one thing: at least one guy shows up with a completely decked-out gun, crap hanging off it from all angles, an ear-to-ear grin across his face as he struts around with his ten pounds of battery-operated wizardry and forward-mounted pistol grips. By the end of the course, all that junk has been stripped away, with the basic rifle, iron sights, and maybe a simple optic remaining. Why? Because all that crap wasn’t needed. At all. Why lug around, and become dependent on, what you simply don’t need? Think about that, and think about the gadgetry you dream of plunking on your gun. Is it REALLY needed? Be realistic.
I know that what I face here in rural Maine is a far cry from someone in the flatlands of Nebraska, where a scoped Remington 700 in .308 or 7mm Mag will work very well to reach out and touch in the corn fields…or the urban sprawl of Detroit where hostile gangs could be encountered by a single individual and a decked out AR will work well for you.
Just remember: when choosing how you’d like to outfit your firearms, think about where you will be, how you will use it, what you will encounter. Chances are a simple, rugged gun will serve you better, and for a longer period of time, than any high-tech gadget gun will. Be honest, and don’t bow to the fame and CDI (Chicks Dig It) factor AR-15s draw. What works when TSHTF, and what will still be working one year after TSHTF, is what really matters. Let me know what YOU think works best for you and why!