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The Fighting Rifle (And Why Your Pistol Is A Backup Weapon)

America is very much a gun culture, and more weapons remain in civilian hands here than just about anywhere on earth, which is a good thing. We also have a fascination with pistols in this country, with the vast majority of the states having some sort of carry provisions in their laws allowing anyone not prohibited from carrying a pistol on their person. Some states have open carry while most have concealed carry, and thus a great many Americans are armed with handguns at any given time.

Reasons listed on most concealed carry applications range from personal protection, to protection from wildlife, protection from previous stalkers, or because of business considerations. All in all, we arm ourselves with pistols for just about any and all reasons – our law enforcement officers respond in kind, choosing to wear mostly Level IIA body armor, which is good only for pistol calibers.

A quick look at the military, however, shows an opposite preference. Each soldier or Marine is armed with a rifle or carbine. Even cooks, clerks, and supply staff must qualify with rifles, regardless of their jobs in the military. Pistols are a rarity, usually afforded to officers and senior NCOs, almost as an afterthought. In Iraq and Afghanistan, room clearing is still done by rifle. For all intents and purposes, pistols are a seldom-used backup weapon or at best, used for garrison MP work stateside.

Why, then, does the civilian populace have it backwards? Leaving aside the practicality of carrying a rifle around, a pistol for defense purposes is inferior in every way to a rifle. If it were the reverse, armies would march to war with them – but they don’t.

As an off-the-grid prepper or retreat homeowner, you need to begin acquainting yourself with the idea the home defense is a rifle fight that most people bring a pistol to. Sure, there are some cases, such as small homes, condominiums, and apartments – places in urban settings – that lend themselves to having a pistol as a primary defense weapon with a rifle in reserve, but in a rural or retreat setting, your pistols can safely remain in their holsters as backup – where they belong. As Clint Smith said, “The only purpose for a pistol is to fight your way back to the rifle you should have never laid down.”

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The Right Tool for the Job

In a rural or outdoor environment, a rifle or carbine is the perfect companion for a patrol. If you own an acreage or large retreat property, you’re going to want to walk it extensively to scout it out, learn its nuances, and see how your home looks from various other perspectives on your land. See what a potential intruder sees! Bring along a rifle in case of any trouble – even if no trouble is expected. First, this will familiarize yourself with patrolling, and secondly, it will teach you to bear the heft of your rifle. Go out as far from the home as you can on your land…three, four hundred yards if possible. Now take out your backup pistol – unloaded of course – and draw a bead on your house. The front sight probably is bigger than the front door. How do you expect to hit anything with a pistol at that range? It’s a rhetorical question.

Your new retreat should have a battle rifle to defend it. Don’t get hung up on nomenclature and armchair ninjas who declare that a battle rifle is solely a .308 caliber weapon. Your battle rifle is whatever you choose to defend your home with. Ideally, it should be a semi-automatic, gas-operated, detachable-magazine model chambered in a military caliber such as 7.62 x 39, 7.62 x 51 (.308), or 5.56 x 45 (.223). The reasons for these choices are simple. In a home defense situation, each one of the aforementioned features you don’t possess is a huge handicap to you.

You can most certainly hold off an invading horde with a Remington bolt-action rifle, or grandpa’s .30-30, or even a shotgun. Sooner or later though, you’re going to run into rate-of-fire problems since all of these designs are slow to shoot, relative to a semi-auto, and have extremely limited magazine capacities. So if those designs are inferior for home defense use, where does that leave our venerable pistols?

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As excellent backup weapons! Outside fifty yards, a pistol not only loses accuracy, but also knockdown power. Target acquisition becomes difficult due to the coarser sights on most pistols, and there are usually no adjustments possible in any case. Inside twenty-five yards, the game changes somewhat, with pistols having decent accuracy and passable knockdown power. They still suffer from short barrels (between three and six inches on most semi-autos) and low magazine capacities (as low as eight and as high as twenty without extended magazines). Even a $300 junk AK clone with a handful of thirty-round magazines brings far more firepower to the fight than a pistol with the same number of magazines, regardless of caliber.

Train Like You Fight

A prepper who is lucky enough to have a decent size piece of land should definitely practice with both a rifle and pistol (don’t forget the shotgun!) in various drills designed to have the shooter engage targets at long range with a rifle, and then transition to pistol for short range targets. This way, the shooter can smoothly switch from one weapons system to another. Why fool around with your rifle sights? It’s easy to make a range card beforehand so that you know the distances accurately on your own property – so that that tree over there is 50 yards, that rock, 250, that gully, 75. Preparation is key. While doing these drills, feel free to occasionally engage rifle targets with your pistol, to see just how useless it is at anything that is afar off.

While distance drills are great practice, don’t fall into the mentality that a rifle is purely a long-distance weapon. Carbines like the M4 and others represent excellent close-quarters weapons that have incredible power, huge magazine capacities, and the ability to rapidly reload as well as accept accessories such a lights and lasers, making them the perfect weapons for any job. Get good at clearing rooms or doing drills with a carbine, and you’ll start questioning why you even own a pistol.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© Copyright Off The Grid News


  1. Great article Mike,
    About time somebody wrote about , “tha what if”, right now. Me and mySon practice tha above with friends, we have up graded to Glocks, but we do carry cased M-4’s in our trucks, amazing at tha responces we get, even more is how many others are following suit…..


    Write more…

  2. This article was spot on with accurate information. I own both carbines and handguns in 7.62×39 and .40 cal respectively. Very true, a handgun is only going to be good at close range. I would attempt a 100 yard shot with a Glock model #35 but not much over that and as for the 7.62×39 caliber not much over 300 yards unless I had to. But for close range and fire power the carbine would take care of most issues. I still concern myself with through-shots which would be a problem with the high-powered carbines indoors and possibly outdoors at close ranges. Where that bullet goes after penetrating the target should be of concern to all and the proper tool chosen accordingly.

  3. The west was won using pistol caliber carbines. The advantage of more rounds capacity, more accuracy and slightly more energy gave the lever or pump action carbine a great advantage. Today there are at least two models of carbines that use pistol magazines that hold 15 or so rounds. With matching pistol, you can carry magazines for both weapons and have the best of all situations out to 150 or so yards. Realistically, if you are shooting farther than that in a defensive situation, you had better be organized and dug into defensive fighting positions. Mobs and looters once blasted away from the door are not likely to make a long range seige out of the fight. If they do, hopefully, you have concealment and cover (know the difference) to go to a long range rifle and handle the situation. Having participated in close combat, a .40 S&W carbine would have handled most of the firefights I was in in the jungle and in built up areas. Across rice paddies or in the SW, you have more slandoff to deal with.

    • Old soldier is right. Hence the M1 Carbine (except there was no accompanying pistol for the round) Most people, even armed troops hit the gorund when firing starts,,,, there are only a few old warriors who start hunting other humans. (If you here the gun shot, you are still alive) Most people either mobs/crime looting etc will be running. In most neighborhoods you cannot even see 100 yards. It will be close, and you must have your weapons ON YOU at all times, so carrying a Win 338 Mag with a 4-24 scope is not going to be comfy…and nobody is going to annouce that they are attacking you. Have positions built on your property.

  4. Get three weapons,a carbine ,a pump shotgun and finally a pistol.Defensive firing from your home or property will almost never be done at long range.The carbine will really get the bad guys attention from about 200 yards in to an area where a shotgun comes into effective firing range (5 to 30 yards).If all else fails and the problems are now in your face then the pistol is perfect for short range defense.Remember that none of these weapons will give you protection by themselves so get somewhere that will afford you the oppourtunity to practice and become profecient.Be safe and best of luck to all. Mountain Man

  5. I agree with this article and the posts. I have my Smith and Wesson MP15 for primary defense, Mossberg 500 shotgun for a backup and a Springfield 45XDM for close range. I would also suggest a assault vest ready at all times to keep near your weapons. A tactical sling for your carbine/primary weapon is a must so if you run out of ammo or your weapon jams you still have it in your possesion when you swith to the shotgun.An assault vest/LBE with a holster for your sidearm is also a good idea. Also try and get to the range once a week for an hour to drill into your brain engaging targets at different ranges and changing out your clips/loading shotgun and clearing any jams.The more you practice it will become muscle memory and you will perform alot better under duress if it ever comes to that.Im sure you guys already know this but it could be helpful to any newcomers.

  6. Great article. Most people dont realize the huge advantage a rifle gives. I think anyone who wants to have a ar15 for self defense should check out the ARmA15. It allows you to lock it to any wall, car, truck, atv, jeep ect. Its self opening so you can have it from locked up and secure to loaded and in your hands in 3 seconds.

  7. Rifles are king for combat. The only thing that will match it is a riot pump shotgun. Slower rate of fire and limited capacity but one dose of aught buck at close range is a fight stopper 98% of the time. I however dont feel naked when carrying my 4 inch 7 shot 357 magnum w speed loaders. Not to mention. I can fire it more easily from the flat of my back if im suprised

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