By Plan B Writer’s Alliance
(This web article is adapted from the book ‘Locusts on the Horizon‘)
In our 1187 page 247,000 word book, Locusts on the Horizon (available on Amazon), we have a 409 page Defense section where we go into depth about all aspects of firearms, including selection, history, reloading, home powder manufacture, bullet casting, real world terminal ballistics of common calibers, and many other topics.
THE MODERN FAMILY SURVIVAL GUN
As the number of Americans who realize they need to prepare their families rapidly grows, a vast number of people are buying guns. For many it’s the first gun they have bought and, due to finances, it’s often the only gun in the household.
Millions of people are now starting to buy guns and begin prepping, starting from scratch, and the majority of those millions of people don’t have a lot of money to do it with.
The harsh reality is that 40% of the US workforce now makes less in real buying power than what a minimum wage worker did in 1968. A huge percentage, 64% of the US population, has $1000 or less in the bank at the end of the month, after the bills are paid, and 2/3 of those, 40% of the US population, have less than $500 in the bank at the end of the month.
Furthermore, in order to adequately prepare their families, most of their resources will need to be focused on something other than just guns.
Guns can get expensive, and buying too many of them, or buying types you really don’t need, can wipe out a budget before you realize it. Gun purchases can seriously dent or wipe out your budget fast and wreck your entire prepping plan if you are not careful. One trap to avoid is the trap which many ‘preppers’ have fallen into, which is to be bullet rich and dollar short, and that can cripple all of the other important things you need to do.
So, the reality is that whatever firearm a huge number of families decide upon as their first weapon purchase, it will probably be their primary, if not only firearm, at least until the rest of their preps are complete. In many cases, it may wind up being the only firearm they obtain before the situation in the USA gets critical.
This one firearm needs to be the right one because it needs to suffice for everything which that family might need it for. It has to be capable of every type of hunting, plus self-defense.
Interestingly enough, this puts a vast number of Americans in the same situation regarding firearms that the 19th Century pioneer families were in while prepping to head for homestead claims on the American frontier.
THE PIONEER FAMILY SURVIVAL GUN
A large percentage of the pioneer families travelling west to homestead claims in their wagons during the great westward expansion after the end of the US Civil War were from America’s financial lower strata. They were the working poor who were going west because it was their best option at breaking the status quo and getting ahead. Because of this, most of the pioneer families only had a single firearm, and it was often the least expensive, yet still effective one they could buy.
At the beginning of the US Civil War, the Union side in that conflict bought up every obsolete, military surplus, smoothbore, percussion cap musket they could find in every warehouse in Europe. It was a stop gap measure that the North quickly rectified early during the war and pretty much all of those guns went into storage well before the war was over.
At the end of the war, these obsolete, stop-gap muskets were all quickly sold off in mass quantity to merchants for extremely low prices. These guns were commonly sold at retail with their barrels chopped down a bit, or they often got chopped down a bit after purchase. They were bought for very little money as a functional survival weapon by the working poor for their new life on the frontier.
These percussion cap muzzleloaders were typically smoothbore and .54 to .58 caliber. This was a bore diameter similar to a modern 28 gauge shotgun, and they were used in a surprisingly effective and versatile manner on the frontier, often as shotguns. They could be loaded with buckshot, birdshot, or a bullet for a variety of uses. In a pinch, those guns could even be used like the Native American tribes used their trade muskets, firing river gravel at small game to save on valuable lead.
THE MODERN NEED
Millions of modern American families are now faced with a similar situation. They need to arm themselves with something that is extremely reliable, effective, and versatile and they need to do it very economically. They simply cannot afford an arsenal/’survival battery’ of multiple firearms.
Something which is often overlooked by those new to prepping is that when budgeting the cost of acquiring a firearm, the cost of the weapon is just part of the overall expense. What you are buying is an entire weapon system.
A firearm needs ammunition, and a good supply of which can cost as much as the firearm itself. For a family’s primary firearm which they will rely upon they will probably also want a small supply of spare parts as a form of insurance to make sure they always have a working gun. If the weapon uses detachable magazines you will need several of those, or at least a spare or two. Plus there are other accessories which are nice to have for it, or they are a ‘must have’ item, such as a sling. Other things can be considered important or even necessary for long term self-sufficiency, such as reloading tools to reload spent ammunition cases.
What will be the expected tasks which the one, primary firearm should be capable of doing?
It should be capable of realistic home defense. Most civilian self-defense encounters end without shots being fired, the criminals leaving once the civilian homeowner is known to be armed. In the encounters which do end in shots fired, the range is almost always at 7 meters (23 feet) or less, usually less, it happens fast, and the average number of shots fired is 2 shots. Once shots start flying, perps almost always flee the scene, typically abandoning any of their buddies which are shot and down.
The weapon must also be capable of dealing with pests and predators, such as rabid animals, and feral dog packs, which have become something of a problem in many rural areas, especially those near the fringes of major urban areas. In a prolonged crisis, problems with them will only get worse.
If it is to be your family’s only firearm, it must be capable of hunting a wide variety of game, from small game such as rabbits, to birds on the ground/water or in the air, and larger game such as deer, javelina, feral hogs, and elk. Most hunting kills in the USA with a firearm are done at 200 yards or less, usually much less. Your firearm should be able to reach large game, such as a deer, out to ranges of at least 100 yards, but a 200 yard range is also desirable.
Hunting may not always be your entire food supply, but even when it isn’t, it can usually supplement it, and at times it can save you from genuine famine. This was discovered by many rural families in the Great Depression who often got a quarter to a third of their food in this manner. Sometimes the ability to kill a single deer or feral hog supplied a life giving amount of protein in their diet for quite a while, often weeks at a time. It was also a time when many game populations were actually much lower than they are now.
DURABILITY AND REPAIRABLITY
In addition to being affordable, the firearm you chose should also be of a reliable, proven, rugged design.
Well-made firearms which fit this description have been handed down from generation to generation. A well-made firearm, properly cared for, will last a long, long time.
The firearm should also be readily repairable by the owner, and it should also be of a common design so that parts are available. A small number of important parts should be acquired and kept in reserve in case a repair is needed.
So, with all of the parameters we had to operate within, we had to answer the question of what would be the primary firearm to recommend, as a first, and possibly only firearm for a family. This was a lot more difficult to come to an answer for, or at least a consensus, than it seems on the surface.
Eventually, though, it was apparent that there was really only one type firearm which fit all of the criteria, and that was a shotgun, more specifically, a pump shotgun, preferably in 12 gauge.
A shotgun is the one weapon whose ballistic characteristics changes radically when you change to different types of ammunition.
With small game/bird shot a shotgun can hunt small game like rabbits without blowing it to sheds and destroying the food value. It can also pluck birds out of the air in edible condition like no other weapon can.
When loaded with slugs it can reliably drop anything on four legs in North America, including big game like deer, feral hogs, elk, and even large bears.
With buckshot a shotgun becomes ferocious defensive weapon, a “poor man’s assault rifle”. At close range, which is where civilian encounters typically occur and can be justified legally, it outclasses any handgun for self-defense.
Most modern pump shotguns are designed so that they can easily and rapidly change barrels. For the more popular shotguns there is generally a variety of extra barrel styles available.
A modern slug from a smoothbore can accurately hit a target at 75 yards to 100 yards, and we’ve seen good marksmen accurately hit well past that.
However, if you swap the smoothbore barrel to a rifled slug barrel, which takes only a minute or two, that weapon then becomes a large bore rifle. It then has the potential to put a modern, jacketed, hollowpoint .50 caliber sabot bullet into a circle the size of the palm of your hand at 200 yards, provided the shooter is up to it.
Shotguns are also some of the most affordable weapons of any acceptable quality on the market, and they are typically easily obtained. In areas with harsh, tyrannical gun rights restrictions, shotguns are usually the easiest weapon to get a permit for.
The ammunition for shotguns is both affordable and readily available at any Walmart, pretty much any sporting goods store, and in much of the country at many hardware stores. In places like rural Missouri, for example, it’s even commonly found for sale in gas stations.
Shotgun ammunition is also easy to reload the spent shells, and very economical to do so. If supplies are short, shotguns are one of the only centerfire weapons which have about the same performance with shells loaded with old fashioned blackpowder as they do with modern smokeless powder. In a prolonged crisis shotgun ammunition can also become good barter material, especially 12 gauge because it is one of the two most common ammunition types in the USA, second only to .22 rimfire ammunition.
During the ammunition panic buying and shortages of 2013, the one caliber of firearms ammunition which was still available for sale almost everywhere was 12 gauge, even after all of the .22 rimfire ammunition was gone.
Well, in the USA, the debate really brews down to two brands as a primary choice, Mossberg and Remington. There are other brands, but for availability, parts, aftermarket accessories, and just general reliability, Mossberg and Remington are the best options.
After much debate on the issue, we settled on Mossberg as having an edge over Remington as a weapon for long term survival.
One key reason for this is that the Mossberg 500 is more user maintainable and repairable than the Remington 870, minimizing the need to ever call upon a professional gunsmith, which may, or may not be available. Unlike the Remington, virtually every part on the Mossberg can be removed and replaced by the owner with basic, common tools.
For example, the ejector on the Remington 870 is riveted to the inside of the receiver. To replace it is a factory job or one done by a professional gunsmith familiar with the problem and properly equipped. This repair often costs between $75 and $100. On a Mossberg you use a screwdriver to remove a screw, replace the ejector, then put the screw back in.
Also, for another example, the magazine tube on a Remington 870 is brazed into place, and is considered to be part of the receiver. On a Mossberg, it screws into the receiver, held fast with a bit of Locktite. You can heat up the receiver with a hair dryer or something similar to loosen the Locktite, then remove it with a strap wrench for repair or replacement.
The Mossberg has also shown itself to be less prone to malfunctions and jamming under dirty environmental conditions and prolonged firing of large amounts of ammunition than an equivalently priced Remington 870 Express (not all Remingtons are built the same, and they are priced accordingly).
We’ve witnessed the Mossberg 500 being brutalized and abused under awful conditions, and they still worked, and worked well.
Here is an example of how tough a Mossberg 500 is, and it’s also an example why it’s good that Mossberg has two extractors versus the Remington 870’s single extractor.
On one occasion duck hunting in a coastal marsh, the shooter was firing old 12 gauge shells that had been left exposed to the salt sea air for a prolonged period, and the steel bases of the plastic shells were really rusty and corroded. He probably shouldn’t have been using that ammo. Eventually one of the very rusty bases stuck in the chamber after it had been fired. The shooter took the shotgun, clutched the pump slide, and slammed the bottom of the buttstock of the shotgun hard against a fallen tree trunk a couple of times, each time hitting a bit harder, to eject the empty, rusty shell. We don’t recommend doing this if you can avoid it, however, the gun ejected the corroded shell, and it still worked fine after that.
The Mossberg is also less expensive than a Remington, especially if you judge on a quality per dollar scale. The Mossberg 500 is priced like the lower grade Remington 870 Express, but its real competitor for durability and reliability is the higher grade, and much more expensive, Remington 870 Wingmaster. Not all Wingmasters are created equal either. The Wingmasters intended for military and police use are built on a separate assembly line with a higher level of quality control.
That is not to say that the Remington 870 isn’t a very good shotgun, especially the higher grade, and more expensive Wingmaster. However, by the criteria which we judged them by for full spectrum use, price, and long term self-sufficiency, the Mossberg comes out ahead for a family survival gun.
The best deal on a Mossberg is the Mossberg Maverick 88. The Maverick 88 is simply a Mossberg 500 in almost every way possible except that it uses a different, easier to manufacture trigger pack that has a button safety forward of the trigger on the trigger guard instead of a tang safety. The receiver also isn’t drilled and tapped for a Picatinney rail like the Mossberg 500’s are. A few machining steps were saved doing those things. It also has a plain, blued finish.
All of the other parts on the Maverick 88, including barrels, are interchangeable with the Mossberg 500. The stocks are interchangeable with the Mossberg 500. However, to save on expense, the forward handguard is riveted to the tube slide, and to put a Mossberg 500 forward handguard on a Maverick 88 you have to replace the tube slide.
All of these small changes means that the Maverick 88 is noticeably less expensive than a Mossberg 500. For example, in one major retailer, Academy, a Mossberg 500 was $350 while an almost identical Maverick 88 was $190.
Shotgun ammo varies wildly in price, depending upon the load and where you bought it. The cheapest is small game/bird shot bought in 100 round bulk packs at a large retail store such as Walmart. Buckshot and slugs will cost more, even though materially, they shouldn’t but it’s a matter of scale in how much of each type is purchased and used on a regular basis.
A good basic inventory of 400 rounds is good for most families to start off with, and isn’t too much of a hassle to transport if/when you need to relocate. We recommend an initial mix of 150 buckshot, 50 slugs, and 200 small game loads to start out. Of course, in the long run, the more ammo the better.
Remember what we said about buying a complete weapon system rather than just the weapon? This much ammo will cost as much or more than a Mossberg Maverick 88.
There has been some talk in prepper/survivalist circles for decades about the weight of the ammo versus the weight of the game. This really only applies to a situation where you are wandering and carrying your entire life’s supply of ammo on your back (backpack survivalists). If you are operating out of a base camp or homestead, then it’s a non-issue.
What really matters is two things:
1) Is the weapon effective? Yes, very effective, including small game.
2) Can I keep the weapon in ammo? Yes, especially if you reload.
Keep in mind that 12 gauge shotgun shells are amongst the easiest cartridges to reload. Stockpile lots of extra 209 shotgun shell primers. The common 12 gauge 2-3/4″ shell gets about as many rounds per pound of smokeless shotgun powder as a .223 Remington does in rifle powder (about 250 rounds or so, give or take). Wads are cheap and can be fabricated. Buckshot and slugs can be cast with simple hand molds for significant cost savings. Small game and bird loads can be loaded with airgun BB’s, or just have a bag of small diameter lead or steel shot in your supplies.
There is a lot of neat stuff you can mount on a shotgun, and some people take this to an extreme level. However, out of all of what is available, the two things that are a necessary item for a family survival gun is a sling and a shell carrier of some sort, such as an ammo belt, a side saddle carrier mounted to the weapon, or a sling with shell loops to hold ammo.
For most shotguns, you will need to get the sling mounting hardware. There are a couple of good, simple ones out there and a number of more expensive ‘tactical’ types. Both Blackhawk and Uncle Mikes makes a good, simple set, and they are both about $30 each.
There is a wide variety of slings and shell carriers available. An example of a simple, low cost solution that will get most people going initially is the MidwayUSA Shotgun Sling. It’s made of black nylon and holds 15 rounds of ammo, ready to go when you grab the weapon.
DO YOU NEED A HANDGUN?
On so many of the ‘minimum battery’ shopping lists (wish lists, really) you see on the web, a handgun of some sort is usually there as a ‘must have’ purchase, and there are lengthy debates as to what is the best one.
Handguns are nice to have, and nowadays there is a lot of variety on the market. However, if you are on a tight budget do you really, absolutely need a handgun?
This is not a ‘gun control’ question, but merely one of budget and finances versus immediate need. Our goal is to get families prepared on a full spectrum of readiness, not just to arm them to the teeth and breaking the bank while we do it. So, let’s look and see if the expense of a handgun, or multiple handguns, is actually justified in your situation.
The majority of incidents, 52% occur at home and 32% occur at a business with only 9% occurring in public and 7% occurring in or around a vehicle. Due to these factors, 80% of the time civilian firearms are used in self-defense, they are not worn on the person.
Because of this, you may not need the extra financial expense of handgun as much as you might think, with the family’s shotgun doing duty for defense. A shotgun, even a smaller 20 gauge, also out performs any handgun for effectiveness in stopping a bad guy. Even the smaller 20 gauge shotgun has about twice the killing power as a .44 Magnum handgun.
Handguns, especially in today’s seller’s market, are expensive with smoking good deals few and far between nowadays.
There is also the extra hassle in many places where millions of people live of permits and registration which are often extra problematic when handguns are concerned. However, that is another issue.
So, the answer for most people is not really whether they ‘need’ one, but do they want one and can they afford it. If they can afford it, then great. However, for millions, it’s a luxury extra.
TRAPPING VERSUS A SECOND GUN
There is a legitimate debate as to whether a second gun is really needed in addition to the family shotgun, with trapping doing much of what an airgun or .22LR rimfire would be used to do.
There is much merit to this approach, and in many situations and circumstances, trapping could well be more effective than hunting small game with a rimfire or airgun. Not getting a second gun saves the cost of the second weapon, freeing up resources for other things, including more trapping supplies.
Trapping takes skill and experience, but then again, so does hunting. So, whether you get a second family survival gun for foraging depends upon budget and personal choice.
A SECOND FAMILY SURVIVAL GUN (OPTIONAL)
If you have a few extra dollars in your budget, our pick for a second family survival gun isn’t legally a firearm in most of the USA, but an airgun. Specifically we are talking about a .22 caliber spring piston type air rifle, typically capable of at least 800 fps or better in muzzle velocity with a lead pellet.
Why an air rifle, instead of say, a .22LR rimfire as a second choice?
These air rifles we are talking about are not toys like a Daisy Red Rider BB gun. Some of these .22 caliber airguns can reliably kill game as large as an adult raccoon.
If you look at the tasks which need to be done, a decent .22 caliber air rifle combined with the capabilities of a 12 gauge shotgun can largely fill in for much of what you would normally use a .22LR caliber rimfire rifle for.
During times of economic crisis, with the exception of marksmanship practice, the vast majority of the times which you pull a trigger it will be for small game hunting. With an air rifle you can often safely, legally, and relatively quietly shoot squirrels out of the trees, harvest rabbits, and shoot edible pests in your garden.
For example, a lot of small game can be spotted in trees. If you are in or near town and you miss a target in a tree with a .22LR rimfire, then you have just sent a bullet into a parabolic trajectory over habitation. With an air rifle, the lighter, slower pellet will not be nearly the problem.
Because of legal and social considerations, a .22LR rimfire rifle often cannot fill the vital role which a .22 caliber air rifle can play in harvesting a steady supply of small game for the family dinner table. This is especially true in urban areas or near neighbors, where you cannot legally, or even safely, discharge a firearm like a .22LR. However, depending upon where you are at, you often can socially and legally get away with firing an air rifle.
Actually, for much of what a .22LR rimfire is used for, it’s overkill. A powerful .22 caliber air rifle at normal ranges can harvest most ,if not all, of the small game you would normally be using a .22LR rifle on, but at a fraction of the price in ammunition.
Ammunition for an air rifle is the least expensive ammunition you can buy, even compared to rimfire ammunition. Its ammunition needs neither powder nor primers and a vast amount of it can be stored in a very small space. There are also tools which even allow you to manufacture it.
Something worthy of note is that during the ammunition panic buying and shortages of 2013, besides shotgun shells, the one other type of ammo that was commonly available was airgun pellets, while .22LR was stripped from the shelves and nowhere to be seen.
A well-made, spring piston air rifle, properly maintained can shoot well for decades and it’s a technology that is simple, durable, and reliable over the long haul. When getting an air rifle nowadays, almost all of them will be imported, even those with American brand names, like Ruger. We’d recommend getting one with iron sights, and most are scope capable.
Air rifles come with velocity ratings, but as a marketing ploy often these ratings are measured while using alloy pellets, which are not very effective against small game. The rating with lead pellets will generally be about 200 feet per second slower, and it’s that rating which is what matters. The fastest spring piston air rifles will generally do about 1000 fps with lead pellets.
A .22 caliber air rifle is an all-around better killer on game than a .177, and an 800 fps .22 will kill better and be more versatile than a 1000 fps .177 caliber.
While there are 1000 fps .22 caliber spring piston air rifles, like the Ruger Air Magnum and the Hatsan 125, they are generally heavier, more expensive, longer, and significantly harder to cock than one that does 800 fps.
A good example of an 800 fps air rifle is the Hatsan 1000. It’s 6.4 pounds, it requires about 40% less force to cock than the 1000 fps rifles, and it’s shorter than a typical 1000 fps rifle with a 44” overall length. It has a 3.7 pound, adjustable, two stage trigger with adjustable fiber optic iron sights and an 11mm dovetail for mounting a scope. You can get it with a synthetic stock or one made out of Turkish Walnut. As of early 2013, a Hatsan 1000 can be had for about $135.
For a .22 caliber air rifle, plain, domed pellets generally seem to work the best. Any lead airgun pellet striking a solid target will mushroom if it strikes with enough velocity, so a hollowpoint airgun pellet is something of a gimmick. Air rifles will often tend to ‘like’ a certain brand better than others, so try a few brands and stock up on the one that shoots the best.
FAMILY SURVIVAL GUN – AVERAGE MINIMUM COSTS
Note that these costs are approximate costs for the weapon, ammunition, spare parts, sling mounting hardware, and a shell carrier sling. These costs don’t include reloading gear and supplies. These are estimates, and availability, where you shop, sales tax, extra shipping costs, and other factors can influence the final cost.
Shotgun – Mossberg Maverick 88 (12 gauge pump) with 18” security barrel
Total for shotgun – $220 (average retail price)
Ammunition, Shotgun – 12 gauge, 400 rounds
- 150 rounds buckshot – $123
- 50 rounds slugs – $48
- 200 rounds bird/small game shot – $52
Total for ammo – $223
Sling and Shell Carrier
Sling Mounting Hardware - BlackHawk Lok-Down Sling Swivel Set – $30
Sling – MidwayUSA Shotgun Sling with 15-Round Shellholder – $10
Total Sling and Shell Carrier – $40
Mossberg 500 and Maverick 88 spare parts.
- Firing pin – $17
- Firing pin spring – $3
- Tube Spring – $4
- Extractor, right hand – $10
- Extractor, left hand – $9
- 2 Extractor springs ($4 ea) – $8
- 2 Extractor retaining pins ($4 ea) - $8
- 2 Ejectors ($8 ea) – $16
- 2 Ejector Screws ($4 ea) - $8
- Cartridge Stop – $12
- Cartridge Interrupter Assembly - $11
- 2 Brass Front Sight Beads ($4 ea) $8
Total Spare Parts $114
Mossberg 500 Safety Parts (Mossberg 500 only, not needed on the Maverick 88)
Note: We recommend that you replace the factory plastic safety button on the Mossberg 500 with the military style aluminum one used on the Mossberg 590A1, and keep the plastic one in the spare parts supply.
- Safety button, military style, aluminum - $15
- Safety detent ball – $4
- Safety detent screw - $4
- Safety detent spring – $5
- Safety detent plate - $10
Total Mossberg 500 Safety Parts – $38
Total Estimated Cost Mossberg Maverick 88 Complete Weapon System – $597
AIR RIFLE (OPTIONAL)
Air Rifle – Hatsan 1000 (.22 caliber 800 fps) – $135
Ammunition, Air Rifle – .22 caliber, 2100 rounds, 12 tins of 175 pellets each – $65
Total Estimated Cost Air Rifle & Ammo – $200
© Plan B Writer’s Alliance – Permission to copy and reprint this article is given so long as reference to the original author and the website http://www.locustsonthehorizon.com are mentioned.
‘Locusts on the Horizon’