Monday, September 28, 2009

Pistols Are Pistols, and Rifles Are Rifles...

The title comes from the venerable Box of Truth website, and usually follows a shooting session where a rifle round once again makes short work of something that a pistol round could not. There's reams of articles out there that drive home the point that "a handgun is what you use to fight your way to a real gun" or that "When a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle, the man with a pistol is a dead man". It's all true of course; even the most powerful of handgun rounds like the nigh-unto-ridiculous .500 S&W Magnum only have a small fraction of the sheer brute force stopping power of even a .30-30.

Which makes the following seem almost counterintuitive. The Survivalist Blog makes the case that a 4" barreled .357 Magnum revolver would make the best SHTF gun were one to be limited to a single firearm. I'm not exactly inclined to disagree. Now, all the standard caveats apply - shoot what you're comfortable with, what you can afford to shoot, what you're comfortable carrying, etc. But there's a number of very good points made as to why a handgun might be preferable to a longarm in a SHTF-type scenario.

Now, I'll admit my bias right up front: I'm a pistolero. Part of it comes from getting my start in shooting at a local public range that only allowed pistol calibers. Part of it comes from growing up in a cop family (this is before the widespread militarization of the local PD). But I think the greatest reason comes from {gasp} a pragmatic standpoint - I'm far more likely to be in a situation where I'll need my handgun than a rifle. I understand and agree that, all things being equal, my Bushmaster is a *far* superior defensive weapon than my G30 or my Model 13. It carries more rounds that impart more force to the target in a firearm that's easier to shoot accurately.

It also doesn't fit under my vest.

And that's the crux of the argument right there - where the whole "rifles are better" crowd misses is that we don't carry rifles around with us. Even in the most pro-gun states folks don't walk around with loaded rifles slung over their shoulder; even if they did, a light six pound rifle is going to feel like a brick when compared to a 25 ounce handgun after a day's worth of hauling it around. Comfort matters. If carrying your sidearm becomes an onerous chore, you're not going to carry it, plain and simple.

The accuracy's another issue - rifles are inherently easier to make accurate hits with because of the longer sight radius and more stable hold. However, when shooting for defense means, anything beyond 25 yards is just showing off - if you're shooting at a target 50 yards away for defense, perhaps it's time to think about moving to a better neighborhood, like Beirut. The rifle's clear advantage become muddied and decidedly less clear when applied to 'real world' scenarios. While we'd all like to think that our prowess with a Garand at 200 yards means we could keep the homestead safe from Black Bart, the logistics of claiming a 100+ yard kill was self-defense become daunting indeed.

In a nutshell, you want something that you can carry with you all the time. You want to be able to practice enough with that sidearm so that you can hit a man-sized target at ranges up to 25 yards. If that something is a .357 Magnum revolver, great. Ditto a 9mm "w√ľndernine", the venerable .45 ACP, the pocketable .380 ACP, or the timeless .38 Special. Caliber is largely irrelevant other than availability and your own comfort level.

If you carry the gun regularly and can hit the broadside of a berm with it, it's the ideal firearm for you.

That is all.


New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

Yes, a SHTF scenario is not the same as a TEOTWAWKI scenario.

SHTF doesn't mean it's time to take pot shots at red coats on Breed's Hill.

SHTF is one zombie, not 10,000.

Jay G said...


That's an excellent distinction. Allow me to clarify a little...

So we've got the following:

SHTF: S**t hits the fan. Think LA riots in 1992 or NOLA in the aftermath of Katrina in 2005. A temporary (that part is key) breakdown in the normal functioning of society. Typically limited to a certain geographic area; may be natural (NOLA) or manmade (LA) causes.

TEOTWAWKI: The End Of The World As We Know It. Cataclysmic and possibly permanent changes. Zombie outbreaks. Meteor strike. Nuclear apocalypse. Donnie and Marie touring. That sort of thing.

I'd add in your allusion:

NWO: New World Order. Whether it's the blue-helmeted troops on US soil enforcing the new UN mandate of no private ownership of firearms or a Demogogue taking the US capitol by force-of-arms, it's revolution or armed resistance on a wide scale.

Of the three, SHTF is the most likely/probable - we have two concrete examples listed above, and if pressed could most likely come up with a dozen or so more just in the past decade or two.

Hence the focus on the right sidearm for just such and occasion.

Wally said...

There's definitely a few shades of gray as to what is suitable when. CCW means 24-7, rifles need not apply.

I interpret SHTF to mean you have access to your BOB. Perhaps an hour or two notice, then an event of some number of days/few weeks. If you are bugging out in a vehicle, take a rifle. If you are bugging out on foot, break a rifle down and toss it in your pack. If you are bugging in, cling to your rifle.

Civies with rifles played a big role in the 1992 LA Riots. They weren't actively engaging the zeds, but they were protecting their retail businesses from damage and looting. I recall the SKS to be a particular favorite of the storekeepers-

libertyman said...

Hmmmmmmm -- "broadside of berm" now? I guess those targets were photoshopped after all....

Bram said...

When the S hits the fan or the world ends, my HK91 will be attached to my body via a tactical sling for the duration.

There may be a pistol in my pocket and other family members armed otherwise, but my best friend and I will be inseparable. I am a rifleman.

Jay G said...


Inside joke with Ambulance Driver... :)

Peripatetic Engineer said...

When the fecal material gets in the air conditioning system, I believe it will be important to have a firearm that uses an easily obtainable round - one that could be obtained from departed warriors or a military warehouse.

Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the point of your post, as I do with most of the things you write. I also admire your efforts and what you've been able to accomplish in Mordor. It is with the utmost respect that I must correct a statement that you made here:

"...even the most powerful of handgun rounds like the nigh-unto-ridiculous .500 S&W Magnum only have a small fraction of the sheer brute force stopping power of even a .30-30."

Although muzzle energy is not the end-all when it comes to measuring stopping power, it is a very good indicator. Hornady's 160 grain FTX LEVERevolution 30-30 round is advertised to have 2046 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Their 300 grain SST 500 S&W round is advertised to have 2868. Even with the velocity loss (and resulting energy loss) from a loss of barrel length, I'm pretty sure that even the shortest barrel 500 S&W firing this round would register a little higher in the energy department than the 30-30 round. Not exactly a "small fraction" according to my math.

Back to the meat of your post. It has been said many times that accuracy is more important than sheer power. I believe that the best choice is a balance between the two.

My choice of a primary carry handgun is the Ruger Alaskan in 454. I picked it because it was the most powerful option that came in a package that I could afford and wasn't too heavy or bulky to comfortably carry. I felt pretty sure I could handle the recoil and be accurate with it. Over four years later, my decision has proven me to be a good one.

The barrel is only 2.5”, but the overall bulk prevents it from concealing extremely well. Even so, I've learned to hide it from all but the best if I need to. I seldom try, though, since my home state has no prohibition on open carry. I carry either Hornady XTP 300 grain or Speer Gold Dot 300 grain 454 rounds.

For the skeptics, let me assure you that I can make holes pretty darn close to where I point it. Follow-up shots are a little slower than they would be with a less powerful caliber, but the concussion is distracting enough to hopefully give me the extra milliseconds to line the sights back up.

Keep up the good work!