If the zombies rise up, the aliens come down or Mad Max turns into non-fiction, what could truly keep you safe at long range?
Clearly, guns are far more advanced than crossbows, bows, slingshots and other weapons.
HOWEVER: Just as clearly, once a real apocalypse hits, ammunition will go buh-bye, because factories will stop making bullets right when everybody in the world is using them all up in a desperate battle against the undead, the Borg or whatever fashion of apocalypse you favor.
Right off, you have to see firearms as a transitional weapon and a last resort, with precious bullets saved for critical situations while you use sustainable options—bows and arrows, crossbows and slingshots.
So what makes sense?
Option Number 1: A trusty handgun
Hollywood loves pistols, and I’m not against them. Have one myself. Yet there are good reasons why, in a long term SHTF scenario, you wouldn’t pick a pistol as your long-range weapon.
First off, it’s not long range. At all. Handguns are only accurate and effective at close range.
Secondly, you might think the power and capacity of modern handguns balances out the short range. Except shotguns have as much capacity as revolvers are are much more powerful, while many rifles have 30-round magazines with far greater range, accuracy and power.
Arguing for handguns is (a) the fact there are bazillions of them, making it more likely you’ll find one and the ammo for them, (b) the great reliability of modern pistols and revolvers and (c) the intimidation factor, with even an unloaded gun giving you stand-off power against a group armed with melee weapons and (d) the fact that handguns are small and light.
Verdict: A pistol a decent backup weapon, but it shouldn’t be anyone’s primary choice.
Option Number 2: AR-15s and AK-47s
Both have their pluses and minuses, along with passionate defenders. The bottom line is AK’s are brutal, simple beasts and more durable. They’re designed to get muddy and dirty but still fire, and the round they use (7.62 mm) is a lot bigger than the 5.56 mm shot by AR’s, which are more advanced and accurate, but more delicate.
You’d think these would be the king of guns, and they’re great, modern weapons … if you have easy access to more ammo. That’s the trouble. AR’s and AK’s make it easy to crank through magazine after magazine of ammunition, and they won’t be making them anymore.
From the sound of this man shooting an AR and an AK on the same course, you’d think these guns were fully auto. Nope. Same semi-autos that you and I can buy in ‘Murica, so yeah, conserving ammo is not something these weapons like to do.
Verdict: If you’re going to pick an assault rifle for a long-term apocalypse, you can’t use modern tactics like covering fire, because your ammo would be gone within the first couple of battles. Get one with a scope, keep it on semi-auto and treat the ammunition like precious gold.
Option Number 3: Submachine guns
Uzis, Mac-10s, Tommy Guns—the idea for all of these weapons is to use pistol ammo in a machine gun.
And yes, Chuck Norris looked cool with two Uzis.
But true submachine guns aren’t really available to folks without a special license to own automatic weapons. You can buy semi-automatic versions, but those are really just handguns with more capacity than normal.
Verdict: For a gangster in the ’20s smuggling moonshine, submachine guns are great. For our purposes, even if you can find a fully automatic submachine gun, they’re terrible, a handgun on steroids that wastes ammo by design.
Option Number 4: Sniper and hunting rifles
Now we’re talking. Most sniper and hunting rifles are bolt action, which is a lot simpler and easier to maintain than the complicated mechanics of a semi-automatic. Bolt-action is more accurate and makes you conserve ammo.
These guns also have the best scopes.
Armies use a variety of sniper rifles, from modified hunting guns to giant .50 caliber monsters. Those are crazy big and heavy, and those massive bullets are actually meant to be used against vehicles and such, not deer, zombies or aliens.
Verdict: Deer rifles are common and proven. You can’t go wrong with a bolt-action deer rifle.
Option Number 5: A slingshot
This seems like a silly pick, a child’s toy.
But think about it: you need meat on the campfire every night. There’s no way you’ll be lucky enough to bag a deer whenever you get hungry. The most common sources of meat every day will be things like birds and squirrels, which would disappear in a puff of fur if you shot them.
Slingshots are easy to buy, scavenge or craft. You’ll never run out of ammunition as long as the earth keeps making rocks. And this long-range weapon will probably keep your stomach full for years. They also silent, and a good ambush weapon.
Verdict: Everybody in your party should pack a slingshot.
Option Number 5: A crossbow
This is the best of both worlds and the worst of both worlds.
A crossbow is more powerful than a bow (see Option Number 7, below) but far less powerful than a rifle. On the plus sign, they’re silent, unlike guns, yet heavier than a bow.
Crossbows shoot bolts, which you can technically re-use, repair or replace. Yet bolts aren’t easy to craft out in the bush, while arrows are, and good luck repairing a broken crossbow.
Verdict: This one is tough. It sounds like a good choice at first, but the more you think about it, the more it seems meh. A deer rifle or bow seems smarter.
Option Number 6: Mall ninja nonsense
Yes, there are throwing knives, ninja shuriken, boomerangs and bolas. These things exist.
If you want to see what’s out there, go inside your local gas station. For some reason, most gas stations also double as ninja superstores, I kid you not.
Even the higher-quality versions are short-range weapons of dubious value, all of which require a lot of skill and practice to make them remotely effective.
Can you hunt with these things? Not really.
Do they make up for that defect by being amazing combat weapons? No.
Verdict: Come on. Honestly.
Option Number 7: Robin Hood FTW
In the movies, heroes like Robin Hood can lay waste to dozens of soldiers with their trusty bow.
Bows don’t have the range and power of modern guns. Hunters need a lot more skill and patience when they’re using bows instead of rifles, and you wouldn’t want to go after dangerous game like bears, mountain lions or zombies with just a bow. The margin of error is too tight.
Once again, Kevin Costner stinks it up in a big-budget movie yet somehow points us toward the truth. Bows and arrows are a beautiful option for the apocalypse. They’re easy to make and use, silent and versatile.
Bows and arrows are an especially good pick if you’re being smart, conserving ammo and traveling as a Nimble Nomad with Friends, since one of you can try taking down prey with the bow while the other three in your party are ready with hunting rifles or spears. If that arrow misses the mark and the beast charges, your friends are ready.
Arrows are also completely sustainable, while you can make bows out of scavenged material or out in the middle of the forest.
Verdict: Get a bow and learn to make arrows. DO IT NOW.
- Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong
- Chapter 2—Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends
- Chapter 3—Getting Around
- Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots
- Chapter 5—Yes, Any Sort of Apocalypse Means Looting the Mall
- Chapter 6—Suit Up with Seriously Practical Armor
- Chapter 7—Fire and Water
- Chapter 8—Blades, Bludgeons and Bad Ideas
Next week: Chapter 10—Prepping for Day 1 of Any Sort of ‘Pocalypse