CHOOSING A FIREARM FOR SURVIVAL
My dictionary defines “survive” as “to remain alive or existent.” Most of us will never find ourselves in situations in which we are totally on our own with nothing but a few portable resources between our survival and disaster. Given the geography of most areas, having to survive in this way for a lengthy period of time is unlikely. But it could happen, and when it does the survivor will need to have equipment, supplies, skills and knowledge. Depending on the area, shelter from the elements may be a vital concern. Elsewhere, protection from some forms of fauna may be needed. Regardless of the region, survival for an extended period of time always involves obtaining food.
NEED FOR A FIREARM
No better description of the value of a firearm in a remote area can be found than that given by James Oliver Curwood in the classic adventure novel, “The Wolf Hunters” (Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1908, p. 210). Curwood writes, “Only those who have gone far into the silence and desolation of the unblazed wilderness know just how human a good rifle becomes to its owner. It is a friend every hour of the night and day, faithful to its master’s desires, keeping starvation at bay and holding death for his enemies; a guaranty of safety at his bedside at night, a sharp-fanged watch-dog by day, never treacherous and never found wanting by the one who bestows upon it the care of a comrade and friend.” Curwood spent a lot of time in remote areas and understood the issues. I agree with his assessment wholeheartedly, but I would amend the piece to make it read rifle or handgun.
The choice of a firearm is a personal issue and a topic for discussion around campfires, either real or imagined. One person may prefer a 30-30 Winchester lever action and another may choose a 45 Auto. Although many firearms are suitable companions for desperate situations, I believe that it is versatility that is the most important consideration.
It is only the items that you have immediately at hand you can rely on. Equipment in a well-stocked cabin or left in a truck or boat miles away won’t help you when you are on the other side of a mountain and disaster strikes or you are hopelessly lost. For me, the logical firearm for survival situations is a handgun because you can have it with you at all times. Portability is a serious concern, and a handgun can allow you to have both hands free and weighs less than a rifle. A rifle can be fired more accurately than a handgun, but having a rifle always at hand may not be convenient and it adds more weight and bulk to the survival equipment. However, to be a useful tool, the shooter must have sufficient skill with the gun. In some regions it may be possible to procure food by fishing or harvesting indigenous plants, but in many cases the main source of protein will be from animals and birds. Acquiring such food is most conveniently done with a firearm. A former shooting buddy referred to ammunition as “concentrated meat.”
Opinions will differ but my handgun choice is a revolver. Some autoloaders will not fire without a magazine in place. Even if one will fire, you may lose the magazine or it may get damaged. Moreover, some semiautomatics, particularly rimfire pistols, will function reliably only with full power loads or certain types of ammunition. If I were preparing for survival situations and could have only one firearm it would be a rimfire revolver and my choice is the Ruger Single Six Convertible that comes with two cylinders. One will accept 22LR and all shorter cartridges while the other accommodates 22 WMR and 22 WRF cartridges. Ruger single action revolvers are well known for being simple, accurate and durable.
What is a rimfire capable of? In my youth I lived in a rural area and home processing of meats was routine. For some time, I seemed to be the “designated shooter.” Admittedly, the range was measured in feet and the shots were “head on” but in only one instance out of many did I fire two shots. Even though it has little stopping power, a bullet from a 22LR is capable of killing large animals. Stories that substantiate this observation are easy to find.
Although a 22LR would not be chosen to stop charging bears, it is the utility of that caliber in obtaining food and in possible protection situations that makes it an excellent choice. All manner of small game could become food to a hunter with an accurate 22LR. Under survival conditions, even medium game could be taken by well placed shots at short range. Some hunters even use a 22 LR to dispatch cougars brought to bay in trees. This may not be sport- ing, but we are describing survival scenarios. A well placed 22 Short will kill a small game animal just as dead as will a more powerful cartridge and leave more edible food in the process.
There is currently an increasing and very appropriate fad of hunting small game with airguns. Even a 22 Short far exceeds the energy of all but the most powerful airguns. Well directed bullets from a 22LR provide a considerable measure of defense. Having seen autopsy photos of a victim of a shooting with a 22LR, I have no doubt that a well placed shot or two will terminate aggression even though this may be an unlikely event. Fired from a handgun, the 22 WMR is not as potent as when fired from a rifle, but it produces almost 200 ft lbs of energy at the muzzle. That is sufficient to provide some measure of protection or permit the taking of larger game if necessary and makes it possible to defend a food supply.
Far from a source of ammunition and faced with a long stay in a remote area, I would want a lot of ammunition. That is possible with a 22 rimfire because the cartridges are so light in weight. For example, on my postal scale 50 rounds of 22 Short weigh only 4.4 ounces and 50 rounds of 22LR weigh 6.0 ounces. Even 50 rounds of 22 WMR weigh only 7.4 ounces. For comparison, 50 rounds of 9mm Luger (115- grain bullet) weigh 20.4 ounces, 50 rounds of 30-30 Winchester (150-grain bullet) weigh 37.3 ounces, and 50 rounds of 45 Colt (250-grain bullet) weigh 41.8 ounces. I might prefer more power than that delivered by a rimfire handgun, but I would much rather have the flexibility provided by a generous supply of cartridges. When planning for the long haul, a rimfire is the most practical choice.
Within each type of ammunition there are several choices available. The accompanying table summarizes some of the attributes of the various types of 22 rimfire cartridges. Also, don’t overlook the utility of shot cartridges in both 22LR and 22 WMR calibers.
Although none of the 22 rimfire loads has awesome power, all are capable of dispatching game and pests. Even a very potent airgun, touted by some for taking rather large species, produces less energy than a 22 Short fired from a handgun. On the other end of the spectrum the 22 WMR generates almost 200 ft lbs of energy, which is not much less than a 380 Auto or some 38 Special loads. Not only will well-placed bullets from 22 handguns keep you in food, they will also give you a considerable measure of protection if the handgun is used effectively.
While working on a project in Wyoming several years ago, my wife and I visited in the mountains with a couple whose son worked on a remote ranch. In our discussions of firearms they told us about the gun used by their son in his daily work. I wanted to include some discussion of the gun and a photo of it so the couple borrowed their son’s gun and brought it to me. It turned out to be a well worn Ruger Single Six Convertible with almost no bluing left and a few dings in various places. But it was a working gun and it performed well the tasks expected of it. I think that the ranch hand chose so well I do not have a better choice for a survival gun.
Although a more powerful firearm would be appropriate in some situations, it is the ubiquitous rimfire handgun I would choose for long term survival. A generous supply of ammunition is easily transported or stored, most 22 LR firearms are easy to shoot accurately and the round has enough power for obtaining food even if marginal for defense. If I could have only one firearm to ride out the storm it would be a 22 rimfire, and my choice would be the almost indestructible stainless steel Ruger Single Six Convertible.