The Survival Firearm
by: Jack L. McSherry, III, PE.

It is said that in the design of a tank there are three principles of consideration: mobility, firepower and protection. The situation is much the same with a firearm for survival.  For survival, an adventurer needs to find the lightest firearm for his purpose, thereby being easily mobile. It must have enough firepower to be capable of procuring food or protect the adventurer against a hostile threat. It must also be light enough to be easily carried by the adventurer, wherever he may go, as well as the ammunition. Lastly it should be one that is easily maintained and reliable, this is his security and protection.

An adventurer will, most likely, be able to take only one firearm with him. So he would like one capable of doing everything. Yet, this does not exist. Anytime you see the word “ultimate” connected with an article about firearms, you must realize that it is not an article about a firearm, but an advertisement for a firearm!

One big consideration is what types of firearms, if any, are legal in the country, state or territory, that is to be traveled in. You, as an adventurer may be capable of surviving, but end up in jail. Many governments fear firearms in the hands of their citizenry. There are also many legal requirements as to size, barrel length or type of firearm. Always check local laws FIRST.

Thinking of an adventure? Are you to be an adventurer?  Considerations must be taken as  to the specific region or location you may be traveling. This text is geared in the direction of arctic and northern survival.

The first consideration is to ask yourself the following questions: How far will I be out? Or from rescue? How long will I be out? Or from rescue? Do I need the firearm to procure food? Do I need the firearm to protect myself, maybe against bears? How much spare room do I have? Or how much weight can I carry?

James D. Schwebel, a world class adventurer, treasure hunter and maybe that last of the great wild-men, often gave advice. Usually a little more then you would ask for. He had been  in many survival  situations, yet he never made it to the arctic regions, although a trip was planned. But his survival advice was always sound. His first rule was never take a handgun when you can take a rifle.

If the adventurer is expected to be out for long time he may need his firearm for to procure food. In the arctic, as well as anywhere else, the most available food will be birds. The thought of  procuring a moose, deer, seal, or caribou is more fantasy then fact. Luck could be with the adventurer but the odds are against it. As in a true survival conditions, the location and circumstances dictate the situation to you, and you must be capable of adapting. Food over a relative long period of time, with a small meat yielding game, requires the ability to carry a lot of light ammunition.

If a person would expect to have enough food with them, and it is expected that the greatest danger would be a possible bear attack, a much larger caliber firearm is needed. How large?  It is still relative. Large means weight. So a large, light weight, yet  hard hitting round should be selected. Since the situation is in defense, the shot or shots will be at close range. So a fancy large caliber long distance firearm is not what is needed. Instead, a heavy knock-down caliber should be used.

Another consideration is the availability of ammunition. If you must buy ammunition in a remote area, pick something that is very common. Find out what is common in that area to be visited, what is common at your local gun shop may not be so in the area you visit.

James Schwebel also had an opinion on caliber size. He said “when hunting use a hunting rifle”. but for survival he said the 22lr was best for procuring food. He went on to say that he liked the single action revolvers that would interchange cylinders from 22lr to 22mag. He said that his .22 magnum gave him the power of a .38 (well, not quite). He also claimed that the .22 magnum could take down large game. While in his case I would never challenge this last claim, as few people would have his stalking or shooting skill, it would be impossible for almost anyone else, and nobody should expect to do so. “Schweb” carried and AR-7 survival rifle, and his favorite survival pistol was a Ruger single action .22lr /.22mag.

The two most common “survival rifles” on he market are the are the Henry Repeating Arms AR-7 .22lr and the Springfield Armory M-6 “Scout”. Both are copies of  United States Air Force survival rifles. The AR-7 is a .22lr semi-automatic take-down rifle. which breaks down and stores in a floatable stock. But, remember that it is semi-automatic and has a detachable magazine, often frowned on by some governmental authorities. The other rifle is also a take-down model. It is single shot over and under .22 hornet and .410 shotgun with ammunition storage in the stock. It also has a trigger that can be fired from a hand in heavy gloves. The disadvantage is .22 hornet is not to common, and is a little to heavy for the purpose, while the .410 shotgun is to light for bear protection.

The adventurer can find many good defensive calibers. There are many rifles in such calibers as .444 marlin, 45-70 gov’t, or even .44 magnum. Many large hunting calibers will also do.

Shotguns in 12 guage also work well in defense. Aiming becomes less of a requirement. They are fast in repetitive shots. Heavy buck shot should be used. However, they are poor for food procurement, as the weight of the ammunition makes it impossible to carry much.

As for handguns, It should always be a revolver. The mechanisms of automatics have to many ways to fail. It takes two hands to chamber a round, the safeties are hard to operate in a hurry and if they jam, it take two hands to clear it. A revolver is inherently safe, and if a round fails, another trigger pull will be instinctive and chamber and fire the next round. The caliber should be no less then .357 magnum and maybe, preferably, a .44 magnum.

 Just remember if the firearm  mechanism is slow at repeating shots, make your first count.  Even with large calibers, they might inflict a mortal wound in a bear, but may not stop a charging bear in the distance required. It is possible for a large bear to knock down a man and simply crush him with his weight. One thought is to fire side-step fire, requiring a wounded animal to adjust his charge, which he may not be able to do. Another is to fire, and hit the backbone an paralyze the animal. The reality is that the adventure will not have time to think but only to react and hope for the best.

Cold weather, and wet weather, both common arctic condition, are problems for all firearms. Cold weather can cause oil to gum or even freeze making the firearm fail. Wet weather can cause corrosion or rust. Some firearms with stainless steel or polymer parts are less susceptible to weather damage, but the key word here is less. The simple fact is that it must be kept clean before and during use, and it's condition checked often. Additionally it is also a good idea to keep spare parts with the firearm that are more prone to fail.

It is my opinion that a .22lr/.22mag pistol is a nice light all around survival pistol, and there are many companies that offer a reasonable firearm model in the round. As far as protection, the .44 magnum, winchester model 94 trapper makes a good close range defense gun as well as a moderate large game gun. But, although it is a rifle, it's short 16 inch barrel may not meet local regulations.

Nothing short of proper research, and knowledge of the exact conditions to be encountered should dictate which firearm may be need. Don’t let anyone sell you a fancy “high-tech” dazzler. Use the same common sense, that must drive you in a survival situation, to pick out the weapon. Remember advice may be good, but it is your life, and your responsibility alone, to make the proper decisions.

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