Firearms: Shotgun, Handgun, Or Rifle


If you ever read the Little House books you may remember that the Ingalls family went through entire seasons without a single fresh vegetable or red meat, but survived on game birds that Pa managed to hunt with his musket. You, you lucky devil, don’t need to hit a sitting bird with a single ball of lead, but can take them out of the sky with a twelve or twenty gauge shotgun. And a quick side note, what follows is written for the absolute neophyte to survival and preparation concepts. Many of you already know everything we’ll state about guns below, and much more. Some may disagree with the direction we take. In fact, we disagree with each other often, talk trash about it, and start all over. But it can’t hurt to go over a few basic, general concepts about firearms.

Getting started

Many shotguns are designed with sport in mind, and only give you three shots per loading, including one is in the chamber. We suggest removing the plug or choosing among those designed to take a whole lot more shells, but then again, a classic side-by-side, two-shot shotgun has no spring that can become brittle over time.

A little .22 rifle seems almost harmless in comparison, and you’d never want to use it against any sizable game. But it can plink birds and varmints and if you’ve got children there’s no better starter gun. Scope optional, but if you’re thinking of survival it really helps make sure dinner gets on the table.

And a side note may be appropriate. If you’re like us, none of this discussion is in the slight bit bothersome or offensive. But we understand the sensitivities out there. One member of our staff, when he’s talking about starter guns with customers, often recollects his own first rifle. A little Browning .22. And the first thing his father told him after showing him how to handle it safely–always assuming it was loaded, never letting the barrel point at a person or anywhere dangerous, keeping the safety on until ready to shoot, etc.–was never to kill a living, innocent animal unless he meant to eat it, or unless the only other option to get rid of a costly pest was poison.

Stocking Up

When you’re hunkering down the biggest difference between that and moving on, in terms of self defense, is that you can keep more weapons, more ammunition than you can carry. Just as with a good earthquake kit, it’s easy to leave everything in a gun safe or ammo chest for so many years your rounds can actually degrade. Now, that takes a long, long time, but try to make a trip to the range or sporting clays facility every once in a while. Even your family members who are generally intimidated by guns, or against them altogether, may find they have a great time. We have several customers who simply do not want to own a gun in their own home, but let a friend or loved one talk them into an hour at the indoor range and had far more fun than they expected. And they left knowing that if the end of the world came, they understood at least once they’d learned how to properly hold a gun, aim, and shoot.Many preppers not only have a gun collection, and a permanent supply of ammo, but various levels of reloading equipment. It can go all the way to making your own powder and melting your own lead for shot, but especially when it comes to gunpowder, the DIY is vastly more risky and involved than people think. It’s not a matter of dumping saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal into a bowl and mixing. Commercial grade gunpowder is a masterpiece of chemistry, combining extraordinary stability with power, and anyone not a professional trying to come anywhere close is probably going to lose limbs or die trying. Even Pa, who melted his own lead for shot, always had to trek on his supply runs with gunpowder on the list.

Little House

And those Little House books–which, oh you better believe, are on the list–are a real world example. Pa had his long barrel, and two musket pistols at home. When he went out for his day’s hunting, it was usually only with the long barrel. Now that we have revolvers and semi-auto clip loading handguns, the equations are different. And they weren’t just trying to survive, they were trying to live a life without obsessive paranoia. Yet one of the most terrifying scenes in all of those books was when two Native Americans simply walked right into the kitchen one day, where Ma was alone with her little girls, and Pa was out hunting.

Once again, given the nature of discourse today, it’s probably important to mention, in the Little House books, which were all autobiographical, Pa had several encounters with Native Americans, the vast majority of which were friendly, mutually helpful, and full of heart. But this one was scary.

In the end, they only took food and tobacco, and left, but it could have been all over for this family, and the lesson here is that however much you want to prepare, plan ahead, and think of all the defenses you might want to employ in various imaginings, reality means you’ll be living your life as best you can with what you have.

In other words, we love thinking about this stuff, but we’ve seen the obsessive compulsive side of prepping and that’s not at all the fun kind of rabbit hole we like.

Shotgun, Handgun, Or Rifle

So, to put it simply, if you are not averse to guns, and only want to have a single one in your possession, you need to decide between a shotgun, a handgun, or a rifle. The shotgun will allow you to protect your home at a roughly similar level to other options, with some advantages and drawbacks, and it will take birds out of the sky. Most people don’t realize how many quail, geese, or other perfectly edible birds are around. But you don’t want to use a shotgun for larger game unless there’s no other option. It can be unbelievably cruel if the first shot doesn’t succeed, and you have to get much closer than with a rifle. The resulting mess is different from a bullet hole and we’ll leave it at that.If hunting food is less of a priority to you than pure self-defense, you’re probably looking at handgun options. The first basic choice is revolver vs. semi-automatic. This debate will last until the end of time. Some of us believe that in a true crisis, the revolver is simply less likely to malfunction. Your self-defense gun sits in its place for years until you need it, and when you need it, it must fire. Clips use springs, and even as well designed as they have become, there’s just slightly more risk of a jam.But others of us say any gun ready for self defense has one in the chamber, waiting. And a Glock, for example, has a safety mechanism that doesn’t have to be pressed the way many do. It’s a point and shoot weapon, designed to defend against an attacker, and if that attacker is large, strong, and out of his mind, a semi-automatic pistol will unload its full clip faster and with less motion on the part of the one shooting. A revolver doesn’t actually have to have its hammer cocked back by the thumb, but the squeeze in that case is longer and requires a little more muscle, and can cause the barrel to move.The size of the gun depends on the owner, but most professionals want a minimum of 9mm. Many of us remember Clint Eastwood’s famous lines in Dirty Harry, as he expounded on his preference for the .44. It’s true, a 9mm round can bounce off a windshield and we won’t believe that’s going to happen to a .44 unless we see it. It’s a cannon, and has the buck you might expect. A .357 is more accurate, kicks a little less, but can still stop a bus, and again, this debate will last until the end of time.We’ll save the rifle discussion for another time, as well. The truth is, we happen to enjoy firearms and our collections range from rooms filled, to a tight, discreet selection of weapons that fit almost any circumstance, and can be distributed amongst a family. So let’s conclude this more general article by addressing the person who has no idea in the future whether they would choose to stay at home, or go on the move, in the event of a disaster.

Fire A Few Rounds

Find your local gun range, indoor or out. If you’ve never fired a handgun before, or perhaps even if you have, call them to schedule a lesson. Whether you need a lesson or not, most places offer a very solid selection of handguns you can rent at little cost. Usually they don’t charge you for switching as much as you like, as long as you keep buying ammo to fit whichever gun you’re testing. Try revolvers and semi-autos of varying brands (usually you’ll see Glock, Smith & Wesson (S&W), Heckler & Koch (HK) Sig Sauer (SIG), and others), ranging in caliber. Don’t go smaller than 9mm. Don’t bother with the .44 unless you really want to try the kick. One or more of them is going to have a good feel for you. Those are the ones you want to discuss with the staff at the range. Guns aren’t cheap. A properly maintained used firearm is a perfectly good option.Whether you stay or go, whether you intend never to fire your weapon again…if you take it to the range once per year, or end up starting your own collection…if you don’t think a firearm is important, perhaps just buy a book first. We recommend The Road, by Cormack McCarthy. You’ll learn in the first few chapters what the end of the world might look like, when you’ve got a child to protect. But there are a lot of other tales not quite so heart wrenching that can help you imagine things that we all hope never come to pass. They’re on the List.And keep in mind, please, as much fun as we have, and whatever our own sensibilities and sensitivities are, our one desire with all of this is not to convince you to think like us or believe like us. All we want is for you to stay alive, and in doing so maintain that sense of humanity that brings meaning, which the savage we hope you never have to face would have lost.