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.
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.
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?
In 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.
At 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.
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