This is the first installment in a series of papers to educate the new prepper about what weapons they should have on hand. I’m approaching this from a SHTF scenario and while I’m not advocating using any firearm in an offensive manner, I stress that being able to use one to defend yourself is imperative… so when I use terms like battle rifle or stopping power, keep the defensive mindset. One term, however, you will not hear me use is “assault weapon.” This term was coined by the left wing gun grabbers and it does a disservice to any firearm platform to call them that. Keep in mind, we have a defensive mindset and “assault” is an act of aggression… and the last thing we need is our own ranks badmouthing our guns.
The first, and probably most important gun to consider is the carbine. It is the main infantry weapon for every military force on the planet for good reason…. shotguns, handguns, and plinkers have a purpose and place in the survivalist armory (and we’ll get there) but for ability to reach out and touch something with a high rate of fire, you just can’t beat a carbine. Just like any other type of firearm, there are quite a few carbine platforms on the market to choose from… and even more companies that make them. For simplicity sake, I will stick with the most common platforms and the most common calibers…. but keep in mind, this analysis isn’t complete and you should find a gun you like and stick with it.
To analyze/compare carbines, lets think of what one is used for: it’s both a defensive weapon and hunting rifle. So it must function well as a CQB (close quarter battle) weapon and have reasonable accuracy out to several hundred yards. Now let’s consider the round it shoots. In an urban environment, a carbine should be able to kill a deer sized animal with a well placed shot… and shoot through a sheetrock wall still packing enough power to educate an assailant about the difference with cover and concealment. Now consider if you have to bug out on foot… you may have to carry your carbine (and ammunition and magazines) quite a long way. And if you plan to cache several of them or must choose between storage food and a gun, cost could be a problem depending on your choice of weapon. So lets take a look at the major platforms on the market and analyze them based up accuracy, stopping power, weight, cost, ammunition availability, and overall acceptance as a battle rifle.
AR-15 (and its clones)
When most people think of a carbine, they think of an AR-15. If you were to choose one as your primary defense weapon, you wouldn’t be unhappy. From its controversial military introduction in the Viet Nam era to the star wars guns you see on the market now, the AR is a proven platform that just seems to be getting better with time. There are a wide range of configurations of the platform (20″ heavy target barrel, 16″ barrel m4, flat top, left hand, the list goes on) so you can find one that fits your needs and body structure. There are currently countless manufacturers selling AR’s or AR components so parts, magazines, and accessories are readily available. It has a low recoil despite the supersonic round and its light weight. Its shoots a very common caliber so stocking up on ammo shouldn’t be a problem (but keep the caveat in mind that in times of need, the common calibers are the first to fly off the shelves). It has decent accuracy over long range and is equally adept at close range. But the AR platform does have drawbacks. The .223/5.56 round is quite frankly underpowered round, especially in an urban environment. It lacks the ability to shoot through much more than a window curtains and retain its shape and terminal ballistics… car doors, refrigerators, even sheetrock, will deform the bullet considerably and diminish penetration into the intended target. And as a hunting round, it lacks the knockdown power necessary to drop a deer in its tracks (unless you’re capable of reliable headshots) so the ability to track wounded game is a necessary skill. The accuracy that is such a benefit on open fields is unnecessary for the 25 or 50 yard shots you would commonly need to take in an urban environment… and the flash sight picture (aka battle sight index) on an AR doesn’t lend itself to defensive accuracy much past 10 yards. Also, keep in mind, in comparison to many of the other battle rifles listed here, it ranks right up there in terms of cost (approximately $1000 for a base model). My overall rating of the AR-15 for the suburban prepper would be an A…it will get the job done well, but has a few drawbacks the operator must understand and work around.
AK47 (and its clones)
Just as an American would think of an AR-15 when they think of a carbine, someone from eastern Europe would think of an AK. The AK is probably the most manufactured and widely distributed battle rifle in the world… and for good reason. The 7.62×39 round is an effective, heavy hitting round for an urban environment. It has the ability to punch through thin metal, walls, glass, etc while retaining its shape and much of its terminal energy. And the 30 caliber projectile does a great job taking down deer size animals. The guns ability to run while hot, dirty, or in pieces is nothing short of legendary (yes, I said in pieces… I’ve run mine with the dust cover laying at my feet). The gun is on the light side as is its ammunition so carrying it over long distances isn’t too much of a chore. The AK and its ammunition are historically inexpensive ($400) so you have the ability to buy several and arm your family members, to cache them at retreat locations, or simply have a spare… or just buy only one and spend the rest of your budget on beans and bullets. The battle sight index on an AK allows for fast sight acquisition and target picture… and the accuracy in close range rivals an AR. However, on the “con” side of things, the AK doesn’t have a very good sight system for long range shooting (short sight radius with limited adjustments) and accuracy past 100 yards suffers. Also, the guns aren’t very ergonomical… they have a short stock which makes it uncomfortable for a person of large stature to operate… and the safety must be manipulated by removing one hand from the firing grip. Overall, I would rate the the AK47 the same as an AR, A… it will get the job done well, but has its drawbacks.
The M14 is a proven battle rifle still in use by the US military today (though not as a primary issue firearm). The accuracy of the M1A is unparalleled in a semi-auto 30 caliber firearm… especially in the higher grade National Match or White Feather editions of the gun. The 308 cartridge is easily obtainable and a wide variety of ammunition can be found from 168 grain ball match grade ammo to heavy grain, soft point expanding hunting ammunition that will reliably take down an elk size animal. Since the gun is widely accepted and distributed, the magazines, parts, and accessories are easy to find. Even with the heavy recoil of the 308, the ergonomics and action of the gun make it a joy to shoot. The design of the sights allows for easy acquisition of a battle sight index… and the barrel offset makes accuracy on close range just as effective as a proper sight picture does on long range. But there are problems with the M1A. It is a heavy firearm to carry… and the 308 cartridge prohibits carrying large amounts of ammunition for a lengthy period of time. Also, the cost is very prohibitive… a base model will run around $1400 and the higher end target models will be over $2000 (add optics and you will double the cost). I rate the M1A a little lower than the AR and AK, a B… it’s a great gun and would serve you well, but the heavy weight and price tag make it a second choice for me.
Mini 14/Mini 30
Rugers answer to the M14 on the civilian market was the Mini 30 and Mini 14… they shoot 7.62×39 and 223/5.56 rounds respectively. They are less expensive than an AR-15 or M1A but more expensive than an AK-47 (around $600 new in box). They are lightweight with limited recoil and the stock design and safety on the front of the trigger guard make them ergonomically friendly… so the guns are fun to shoot. They shoot standard ammunition that is widely available… as are the magazines and aftermarket accessories. The sights are decent (though not very durable) and offer reasonable accuracy to 100 yards. The detachable box magazine offers a decent rate of fire but that is where the guns are inherently flawed… they are modeled after a renowned battle rifle but don’t offer the durability of it. They don’t hold up well to excessive use (I tried to run one in a 2 day carbine class and switched to an AR on day two). The front sight post has no protective cage and can be bent or broken off. Finding repair parts is nearly impossible (Ruger would much rather have you send it back to them than put repair kits our on the market). My rating of the Ruger minis is a C… as a farm/ranch gun kept in a pickup or on a tractor they are great, but as a battle rifle they just don’t hold up.
The SKS is a Chinese (and several other countries) battle rifle imported to the US in droves. They are cheap (around $300) and shoot the easily found 7.62×39 caliber. The 30 caliber projectile and sight system do a great job on deer sized game out to 100 yards. The ergonomics are decent and the weight soaks up the recoil of the 30 caliber projectile pretty well… but isn’t so heavy to make carrying it a chore. They are a durable firearm and hold up well to heavy use. But there are a few drawbacks to the gun that simply just can’t be overlooked. The design of the rifle doesn’t allow for traditional optics to be mounted (the scope tube blocks the rails for reloading). Also, the non-detachable box magazine doesn’t lend itself to easy reloading unless you’re a wiz with stripper clips… so maintaining a high rate of fire is nearly impossible. I would rate the SKS the same as the Mini, C… a good gun if none other are around but not my first choice.
Keltec Sub2000, Highpoint Carbine, etc
There is an entire category of guns on the market that would I advise against purchasing… pistol caliber carbines. These guns are fun and cheap to shoot but in terms of survival, they serve a very limited purpose. They aren’t capable of taking down large size game… and even if they were, the accuracy they offer doesn’t lend itself to more than a 50 yard shot (at best… the effective, accurate range of these weapons is probably 25 yards). The one advantage I see to having such a gun is concealability and magazine compatibility with a hundgun. The Keltec Sub 2000 is a prime example… it offers several models that take magazines from glocks, smith and wesson, etc. I would rate these guns as a D on my scale… if anything, they are a BUG (back up gun). You may find it useful to keep one of these carbines in the trunk of your car (where legal)… but I wouldnt rely upon it as a primary personal defense weapon or hunting tool.
I hope this writeup has helped some of you “firearm challenged” folks look in the right direction. Look for other posts in the coming weeks dealing with shotguns, handguns, and plinkers.