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The Big Problem With Semi-Automatic Rifles For Survival

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With so many rifles to choose from, it can often be difficult to determine which rifle would be ideal for a survival situation, whether it’s one that you stash in the truck in the event that you’re stranded in the sticks — or you’re using that same truck to bugout to the sticks.

But all too often, I’ve seen folks reaching for that semi-auto beauty for such a purpose. While these weapons can certainly give you that needed fire superiority in a tactical situation, it’s going to fall short when you’re stuck in the backwoods and have to put meat on the fire to keep from starving.

The Fundamental

Just like with knives and secondhand tweed blazers, there is no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to firearms — even though we often try in vain to make it work sometimes.

In most cases, the best use for semi-auto rifles is for combat applications (or the occasional hunting weekend).

Essentially, the fundamental reason why a battle rifle is going to fall short when you’re stuck in the sticks is because you won’t be able to head back to the armory (or gun store) in the event that you’ve lost a spring, detent or some other tiny-but-critical mechanical part of the weapon. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that bolt or lever guns are completely exempt from this issue, but I AM saying that they are certainly simpler creatures, which don’t have near the number of moving parts that can break, wear out, or get lost.

Semi-auto weapons have an additional degree of mechanical complexity that gives them that additional functionality; however, any time you add complexity, that’s when you’re inviting problems.

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And a survival situation is certainly a scenario in which you’ll want to avoid problems to the very best of your ability.

Short-Term: What Are You Shooting At?

If you’re looking at a short-term survival scenario, the question at hand is not necessarily that of tactical or survival efficiency per se.  If anything, it’s a question of … what’s the point?

AK-47In this type of situation, chances are that you’re not going to be pitted against possible enemy hostiles. I’m basically talking about overturning your canoe somewhere in the middle of nowhere, and you might have to take a rabbit or two to keep yourself nourished as you find your way back to civilization. And if you need a 30-round magazine to take a meal, then you probably shouldn’t be toting around a rifle in the first place — at least until you visit your eye doctor.

If you’re basically just firing upon that which will soon become a meal (or you’re not fond of wolves), then you should probably stick to something that will have a near-obscene reliability factor … and the vast majority of your semi-autos will not.

Long-Term: Your Local Gun Store Will Probably Not Exist

As I said before, my fundamental point to saving semi-autos for your “typical” tactical situations is because all the gun stores and armories are most likely going to have had their inventories involuntarily liquidated via looting after your bugout op.

However, I’m not saying that your AK is going to be dead weight DURING your bugout operation — especially since you might require its goodly services while making for the hills. But this scenario is hopefully going to be a very, very temporary one, and hopefully, you won’t even fire enough rounds to do a speed reload.

Over the long haul, however, you’ll most likely find these situational possibilities eventually fitting into your own unique situation …

  • In deeply wooded areas, your ranges will almost never extend past 100 yards. A shotgun, lever-action rifle, or revolver carbine would be your ideal options in this instance.
  • For regions like the desert or plains, your ranges could extend indefinitely. A bolt-action rifle would almost be the only real choice for this environment.
  • In a long-term survival scenario, your Rem oil and solvent is going to run out eventually, and the absence of these will basically render a working semi-auto into a blunt force weapon.
  • Life in the sticks without the luxury of an actual cabin will quickly get dirty, muddy and grimey. ARs, especially, are not fond of such environments
  • Even though an AR, AK, or M1A might provide you with a superior tactical footing in a tight spot, nothing beats the natural featherweight-ness of a lever or bolt-action rifle, especially since you’ll always be carrying it while trekking/scouting.
  • You’ll need to clean your semi-auto quite often (since you probably didn’t bother to load your pristine fridge-sized gun safe into the truck). However, cleaning your rifle is yet another instance when a small part could easily get lost, since the forest floor can hide a tiny spring like a needle … on a forest floor.
  • A well-picked retreat should result in extremely limited interaction with other humans (aka: possible hostiles during anarchy), and this means that the vast majority of your shots will be taken on critter targets. Because they’re probably not shooting back, then you most likely will not need to lay down 30 rounds of suppressing fire in order to fill your game bag.

self-defense weapons woods wildnerness gunsAt the end of the day, your battle rifles will not make much sense in the sticks. Starvation is most likely going to be your biggest threat, and that will set on quick if your rifle goes out of commission. And sure, you might be able to clear a room or keep hostiles pinned down, but your chances of running into a close-quarters combat or pitched battle scenario will (and should) be slim.

Personally, I’m thinking that you should be doing everything in your power to avoid such dangerous situations. Your best bet at surviving any battle is not in the capabilities of your firearms; it’s in the ability to avoid a fight before it even senses your presence.

Good Alternatives to a Semi-Auto

Of course, I’m also not one to simply denounce an entire class of rifles, while neglecting to offer a few positive mentions. That’s why I’ve named these two particular rifles below, as I feel like they’ve got a TON of promise for the situations that I managed to describe above. Basically, they’ve got just enough of what you might need out of a survival rifle, while keeping to a more simple, problem-lite approach in the process.

  • 30-30 Marlin 336 — The Marlin 336, chambered in 30-30, is a lever-action rifle, that I feel would be an extremely strong option for those of you in wooded areas. While you’re probably not going to get much more than 200 yards (due to the ballistic properties of the 30-30 round), you will have the additional advantage of being able to fire this weapon rather quickly after some practice, of course. Also, you’ll be able to take anything from coyotes to whitetail deer to black bear with the highly versatile round that the 336 is chambered in.
  • Mossberg MVP Series — This is one particular rifle series that has really grabbed my attention over the past few years. The MVP can be chambered in 7.62 (.308Win) or 5.56 (.223Rem), and can actually be setup similarly to that of a Col. Jeff Cooper scout concept system. If you’d like to maintain some faster handling capability, you might consider mounting a scope with a long eye relief, allowing you to keep your peripherals clear while engaging multiple targets. The kicker is that this rifle can accept AR magazines, making for a cheap, modular and highly capable rifle that can engage in both light combat and especially hunting purposes.

The important part about both of those rifles is that they’re man-powered. You’re not relying on gas or pistons to actuate the weapon, but instead, you’re removing that problematic variable possibility from the equation, making for a rifle that will be ready to go boom when you need it to …

… Because your survival should not be traded for a tactically efficient disadvantage.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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  1. Well said. Remember, those bolt action rifles from WWII are still up and running (priced a Mosin-Nagant lately? Dirt cheap, fires a high power round, and these things are impervious to almost everything). The tiny springs, specific pieces that wear out, and rifle-specific parts means if you have a semi-auto, you’d better have two (at least) and be able to disassemble/reassemble them quickly. We used to call the tough firearms “truck guns” – you left them in your truck, knowing that when you needed them to work, they would.

  2. Good points but also consider (Former US Marine in both Iraq/Afghanistan) that troops have carried a “battle rifle” for extended periods of time in remote places without any issues at all. I know I did. Some of us were at FOB’s (Forward Operating Base’s) for 6 months or more without any armorer in site that could repair our guns. Take care of it, clean it and it should last. Plus they do not weigh that much.

  3. cool hand luke

    An SKS would be a good choice and still affordable so that every member of your house can have their own. Any survivalist should have at least 1 semi-auto rifle. At the bare minimum , at least 1 semi-auto carbine chambered in at least 9mm, 40 cal, or 45 cal for rapid fire. As for bolt-actions, the Mosin rifles are still cheap and plentiful with spam cases of 440 rds still available. Scout mounts are like 40 dollars that replace the elevated iron sights and work great out to reasonably long distances with long-eye relief scopes. The 7.62 x 54 rounds can also be reloaded with black powder and lubed lead cast bullets,slower velocity, but will still handle crude ammo.

  4. Another thing that many people don’t consider, if looking at things from the long term perspective is ammo reloading. IF you get to the point where you exhaust your stores of ammo for any reason, or if you have to bug out and can’t carry much ammo to begin with, you might be forced to have to field improvise for your ammo. If you’re using a bolt gun or a break barrel or revolver, it would be a little easier to save shells for future reloading versus a semi auto that will spit shells for what seems like 100 feet in any direction where you’ll never find them again. Secondly, if you don’t have access to the modern propellants to make the rounds that will cycle the action in a semi auto, you might have to resort to some more guerilla methods of ammo production like using matchheads or even traditional black powder (whether from muzzleloader suppliers or even homemade). You might be able to store a couple thousand primers in little space but a couple pounds of powders takes plenty of space. Even primers can be improvised with practice but the point is, when you’re making field improvised ammo from scratch, even using molded lead bullets, a semi auto will definitely not be the gun you want. Something that will cycle and chamber through the energy you put into it will be what you want for that application.

  5. The people whom, think you only need a gun with only 2 or 3 rounds in it for hunting have never been where they needed extra shots to protect themselves bear, mountain lion, wolfs etc. to say nothing of a wounded animal attacking you. While one shot, one kill is nice don’t bet your life on it. Also you might need more than one deer.

  6. To each his own.

    I have bolt action and Semi autos in my safe. I carried a M16A1/A2. CAR16, M21 and an M60 over most of this world. I am a combat veteran.
    I use my AR15 (its legal in Alabama), my M1A and my Savage to hunt deer. All are semi auto except for the 2 Savages.

    I’ll stick with the semi’s. Peacetime don’t matter much but when the SHTF I take the semi. Since WW2 with the Garand we never went back to to the bolt action. Fast follow up shots are needed in hunting as in combat. With the exception of a few rifles bolts only carry 4 or 5 rounds and may be feed from a internal magazine instead of detachable.

    I’ll stick with the semi.

  7. Of all my guns from 35 Whalen to Remington 270 to Marlin 45 carbine, my survival gun would have to be my Marlin Simi auto 22 Mag with a seven round clip. I have had it almost 10 years and has never jammed and as long as sited with the same bullet is always dead on.

    • Clip? Your opinion of anything firearm related is invalid.

      • This topic has been written about and discussed by gun experts ad naseum. The modern consensus is that we know what is meant by the term ‘Clip’ and there’s no real reason to be pedantic about it unless you just enjoy being anal. It certainly doesn’t invalidate his point of 10 years of fault- free use of his semi…an experience that doesn’t require being an armorer to comment on intelligently.

      • His name says a lot.

  8. Marlin 60.22lr 15 rounds semi auto. 18 years thousands of rounds, extremely accurate no recoil. Had a vet armorer tear it down cause it was double feeding. Diagnosis was ejector spring. I soaked the mechanism in gas overnight and problem solved. Bagged more animals with it than any other of my rifles. Old reliable stays with me

  9. It’s horses for courses, where I live , in the middle of the Aussie bush, I’ll stick with my .223 Rem Savage Mod14 bolt action and reloading gear, no one can approach my place without me being warned well in advance, so I know they’re coming, the .223 is reliable, accurate and runs on small amounts of powder and I have a stockpile of 50 and 55gr Zmax projectiles, brass cases, primers and powder. I have no intentions of fighting off hordes of Zombies or the starving masses, but intend to hunt to survive. I guess if I lived in a urban built up environment my choice would be different but as I said horses… Cheers

  10. Speaking as someone who’s been through a social collapse in an East Euro country, people tend to forget just how many other human beings are around them and just how far we’ve changed our environment.

    When you’re facing people armed with as little as a knife, or starving dogs, or if you should intrude into territories of wolves or bears, a semi auto is a life saver. Even if you’re perfectly vigilant people and animals can still sneak up on you, and multiple hostiles approaching at a sprint from close range will not give you time to reload your weapon in a bolt or lever or pump configuration.

    If you’re dead set on carrying a bolt action rifle, I would suggest AT LEAST carrying a high caliber revolver with you at all times, with speed loader moon clips, and at minimum 100 rounds through it per two week period.

  11. I read a few years ago about an Arizona or NM sheriff showing up at Gunsite with a beat up winchester 94 30-30. All the tacticool AR guys laughed at him. He quietly beat the hell out of them in both marksmanship and time through the courses.
    The moral, as I interpreted it is: get fast and good with what ou have. An AK or AR that you can barely hit the ground with isn’t going to do you much good.

    I would also like to point out that my “anti-bipedal predator” guns all are in police/mil calibers. That way i can always be assured of an ammo supply, during shtf, or hopefully, the revolution.

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