Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)
The Workhorses of Precision Rifles
There is a lot that goes into making a rifle that can hit a target half a mile away.
There is no doubt that the most popular precision rifles today are usually chambered in the .308 Winchester and similar short-action cartridges. Much of that is due to the lower recoil when compared to some of the larger cartridges.
Of course, the .308 Winchester is important because it’s a NATO cartridge and it’s used by law enforcement. It’s also one of the most popular centerfire rifle cartridges for civilian use. Of any of the precision rifle cartridges, you have the best chance of finding ammo for the .308 after a meltdown.
Actually, any accurate cartridge can be considered for precision work. In fact, many preppers may already have deer rifles that are fully capable for limited use here. The main issue with using a hunting rifle is the very limited magazine capacity. In most hunting-style bolt-action rifles the magazine will hold four standard, non-belted cartridges. The belted magnum cartridges are usually limited to three. That’s not a lot of ammo for a rifle that will be used to defend your life. Reloading will be slow, as you must insert each new cartridge into the magazine one at a time. However, it is possible to change out the bottom metal on most guns to use removable box magazines. That way you can have a supply of extra magazines loaded and ready to use. With most systems you can also get magazines that hold ten or more cartridges. The better magazine systems are a bit expensive, but it’s money well spent.
The other issue is accuracy under sustained fire. Most precision rifles are designed and tested to maintain their accuracy even when the barrel is very hot from a lot of shooting. Hunting guns often will not maintain accuracy when the barrel gets hot. Group sizes can open up or the point of impact may change and may even continue to change as the heat increases.
Of course, not all guns are prone to changes and some very thin-barreled guns can shoot well hot. For example, I have a Remington Custom Shop 40X rifle in .280 Remington with a very thin barrel. In fact, it’s the prototype for their “triangle” shape barrels seen in later production on many factory guns. This gun is designed for sheep hunting and is extremely lightweight. Yet, it is very accurate and will maintain accuracy and point of impact even when the barrel is very hot.
I’ve tested a lot of guns over the last thirty years as part of my job as a gun writer for NRA Publications and other magazines. While I have seen a lot of hunting guns that cannot manage a hot barrel, I think the trend today is slowing down. I am not sure why, except I know that barrel making has changed and I suspect they are finding ways to make less stressed barrels or at least to do better stress relief.
The reason a barrel loses accuracy or point of impact as it heats up is usually due to stresses in the barrel. When the metal heats up, these stresses change the dynamics of the barrel. It is a common practice with some barrel makers to straighten the barrel. That is, if the barrel is not straight after manufacture, they bend it until it is straight. But if it is not stress relieved correctly, the metal tries to return to its old position when the barrel gets hot and the point of impact shifts. The key is to not stress the barrel to start with, or to stress relieve it correctly. I don’t know the reason for sure as a lot of companies keep their secrets tight to their chests, but I am seeing fewer and fewer factory hunting guns that react negatively to a hot barrel. A lot of the newer rifles now shoot very well when hot and sometimes I even run into a gun that gets more accurate as the barrel heats up.
So, how do you tell? Shoot the gun. Run it until it’s hot and dirty. If it’s still accurate and hitting to the correct point of impact, you lucked out. If not, keep it for hunting or trade it to a hunter and try again. It is not a bad gun; you are asking it to do something it was not designed to do.
Or better yet, buy a precision rifle. The best ones are designed and built to maintain accuracy with a hot barrel. They also are designed with removable box magazines for fast reloading. These tend to be heavy rifles designed primarily for shooting from a rest or from prone. They have good triggers and often an adjustable stock so that you can fit the gun to your body shape and shooting style.
Here is a look at some of the most popular cartridges for precision long-range rifles. I am not going to cover every cartridge used, just the most popular in each category.
When the creative people at ammo companies actually spend time pulling triggers, good things can happen. During the 2007 Camp Perry matches, Hornady engineer Dave Emary and High Power National Champion Dennis DeMille were talking about the 6.5 wildcat cartridges that are popular in the sport. As can happen with any wildcat cartridge in the hands of shooters who think they can beat the laws of physics, the lack of standardization was leading to problems. They thought it would be great if there was a cartridge that followed current popular design, was accurate enough to win, and was available from a commercial ammo manufacturer. So Emary and fellow Hornady engineer Joe Thielen pooled their talents and in 2008 announced a new Hornady cartridge designed for long-range shooting called the 6.5 Creedmoor.
The 6.5 Creedmoor can trace its roots back to an odd parentage, one far from the long-range target game. The .307 Winchester was introduced in 1982 and was designed for the lever-action Winchester Model 94 rifle. Not exactly 1,000-yard competition ready. The .307 Winchester never achieved much success and is no longer chambered in any commercial rifles. However, that case was used to make the .30 TC, which was introduced in 2007. Thompson Center had commissioned Hornady to design a proprietary 30-caliber cartridge for the introduction of their bolt-action Icon rifle. Emary used the .307 Winchester case, although it was modified and modernized. The case was shortened, the thick case walls thinned, and the rim removed. The result was the .30 TC. When necked down to take a .264-inch bullet, the .30 TC gave birth to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Emary said that the cartridge was designed around the 140-grain A-Max bullet preferred by long-range target shooters. They looked at other short-action .264 cartridges and made some changes to the chamber throat angle and other specifications to accommodate a long-ogive, high-ballistic-coefficient bullet of that weight. As a result, Hornady was able to extract better long-range performance than is commonly seen from other 6.5 mm short-action cartridges.
The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge has a .473 diameter case head, the same as the .30–06 family of cartridges. It has a 30-degree shoulder and the case length is 1.920-inch. The overall cartridge length is 2.825-inch, so it will fit in a standard short action. With a difference of 0.905-inch, or almost a full inch between the case length and the overall cartridge length, there is plenty of room for the long 140-grain 6.5mm, VLD-type bullets to extend from the case. This means they can be seated properly without intruding into the powder space.
The listed muzzle velocity for the 140-grain Hornady load is 2,710 ft/s.
This cartridge is hugely popular in precision rifles. I have used it to make first shot hits on one MOA targets out to 1,200 yards while shooting at the FTW long-range shooting school in Texas.
I first saw this cartridge when Remington gave some writers a sneak preview at their 1996 gun writers seminar and then “officially” introduced the cartridge at the 1997 SHOT Show. Credit was given to Jim Carmichael of Outdoor Life fame for developing the .260 Remington and no doubt influencing Remington to make an honest cartridge out of it. Carmichael developed the cartridge for use in IBS 1,000-yard benchrest competition and called it the 6.5 Panther.
The .260 Remington will fit in any AR-L rifle and can reach out for long range.
Part of the “family” of .308 Winchester-based short-action cartridges, the .260 Remington bridges the gap between the .243 Winchester and the 7mm-08 Remington while retaining much of what is good about both.
Even though the .260 Remington started life as a long-range target cartridge, Remington ignored that aspect and pushed it as a hunting round, which is the primary reason why it’s not more popular for long-range shooting. There is a serious lack of factory ammo with long-range bullets from any major ammo maker in the .260 Remington, as in none. While the 6.5 Creedmoor has lots of long-range-oriented ammo from multiple ammo makers, most have ignored the .260 Remington in this area.
Handloaders don’t have those restrictions and the .260 Remington has become very popular with long-range shooters. It has more case capacity than the 6.5 Creedmoor so if the gun has the chamber cut for long 140-grain bullets and the magazine is large enough to handle the cartridge, it actually has a slight ballistic advantage over the 6.5 Creedmoor.
Like so many other great cartridges, the .308 Winchester was spawned by the military. In the 1940s the United States Government started searching for a new rifle cartridge to replace the .30 Carbine and .30–06 Springfield. The resulting cartridge was initially called T65, later to become the 7.62X51mm NATO, which the military accepted in 1954.
Winchester actually beat the military to the punch and brought out the civilian version of the cartridge, the .308 Winchester, in 1952. They also offered rifles in the Model 70 bolt-action and the Model 88 lever-action chambered for the .308 Winchester.
Although it was nearly half an inch shorter than the .30–06 Springfield, the .308 Winchester almost duplicated the performance when introduced. This is often attributed to the new ball powder that was developed for the cartridge, but it’s notable that the .308 Winchester is loaded to slightly higher pressures than the .30–06 Springfield, which is a factor in performance. The SAMMI Mean Average Pressure for the .308 Winchester is 62,000 PSI while the MAP for the .30–06 is 60,000 PSI.
The .308 Winchester has been one of the most successful cartridges ever introduced. It has been offered in just about every rifle style made. Bolt-action, single-shot, lever-action, semiauto, full-auto, pump-action, straight pull and single-shot—all have been chambered in .308 Winchester. The cartridge is also perpetually in the top ten for sales of rifle ammunition for every single ammo maker. This is a big factor for preppers as it means you can find ammo just about everywhere.
The .308 Winchester is extremely popular with hunters and it’s a good cartridge for all but the largest North American big game. Some believe that the .308 Winchester may be the most inherently accurate 30-caliber commercial cartridge ever produced. This accuracy has made it a top choice for shooters of many disciplines.
The cartridge is used in just about every type of long-range or accuracy-oriented competition shooting. It’s also extremely popular with tactical shooters as well as in the “heavy” classes of 3-gun shooting. The .308 Winchester is perhaps the favorite chambering for “tactical” bolt-action rifles designed for law enforcement and favored by accuracy and long-range shooting buffs. I doubt there is any other rifle cartridge claiming so large and diverse a resume. The .308 Winchester is one of the most historically significant rifle cartridges ever introduced and will continue to be extremely popular for the foreseeable future.
For tactical use, the two most common bullet weights are 168-grain and 175-grain. Palma shooters often use a lighter 155-grain bullet so it will stay supersonic to 1,000 yards, which may also be applied to tactical use if you plan to shoot that far.
The trouble with any short-action cartridge is that they really start to run out of whack at about 500 yards. Of course, you can hit a target much farther with them. I have shot my .308 out to 1,000 yards and have hit targets at 1,400 yards with a 6.5 Creedmoor, but when you really stretch out the range they are lacking the energy and velocity to be effective.
At 1,000 yards all three are down around 600 foot-pounds of remaining energy and, more importantly, the velocity is below what is needed for positive bullet expansion. If your defense scenario calls for being able to effectively shoot past 500 yards, you may want to look at a larger cartridge.
But if your defense scenario is that they will be used to stop an attack at 500 yards, or less, this class of cartridge is fine for shooting bad guys and will be very effective.
The Middle Ground
The middle level of power for precision rifles would be cartridges in the .300 Winchester class. That would include any of the cartridges with similar ballistics, like the .300 Remington Ultra Mag, .300 Weatherby or any of the various 7mm Magnum cartridges.
.300 Winchester Magnum
There is no doubt that the .300 Winchester Magnum is by far the most popular of this class of rifle cartridges for long-range shooting and in truth it pretty much stands alone here. The other cartridges are, of course, capable enough, but the .300 Winchester has a long history as a sniper round, going back to when it was introduced in the early '60s. It was also once the darling of the 1,000-yard competition shooters when it set world records. As a result, there are many more options for rifles and ammo used for long-range work.
Back when it was first adopted by the military for use in Vietnam there were not many other options in this class. The .300 Winchester was available in rifles like the Remington 700 and Winchester Model 70. That made the cartridge and those rifles the logical choice as sniper guns used by the military. Even today, the M-24 Sniper rifle in .300 Winchester is based on a Remington Model 700 rifle.
This means that of the cartridges in this class, the .300 Winchester has the best chance of keeping ammo in the supply chain in times of trouble. It’s also a hugely popular hunting cartridge so every Mom-and-Pop store in East Podunk probably has ammo on its shelves.
The .300 Winchester is one of the preferred sniper cartridges with the military because it brings more energy to longer ranges. Where a .308 drops below 1,000 foot-pounds at around 600 yards, the .300 Winchester makes it to nearly a 1,000 yards before dropping below that threshold. Most expanding bullets need around 2,000 ft/s on impact to work their magic and the .308 drops below that threshold at just past 300 yards. The .300 Winchester maintains 2,000 ft/s until more than 500 yards. So it effectively extends the useful range of the 30-caliber bullet.
But even with a 190-grain bullet at 2,900 ft/s muzzle velocity, the .300 Winchester is mostly for shooting bad guys, not breaking their tools and toys.
The .338 Lapua
The .338 Lapua cartridge started life in the early '80s and had a rocky road for many years. Due in part to its performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, today it is one of the most popular long-range rifle cartridges around.
When it comes to ultra-long-range shooting the .338 Lapua has emerged as a fan favorite. Of course, holding the world record for the longest sniper shot ever made is a pretty good marketing trick.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest successful rifle shot in history was made in Afghanistan by a British sniper named Craig Harrison using an Accuracy International rifle in .338 Lapua. Three hits at 2,707 yards, or 1.54 miles.
Harrison and his colleagues were providing cover for an Afghan National Army patrol south of Musa Qala. When the Afghan soldiers and Harrison’s troop commander came under enemy fire, Harrison, whose vehicle was farther back on a ridge, set up on a Taliban compound in the distance.
He started shooting with his .338 Lapua rifle. Not every bullet hit the target, but enough did to get the job done. One round hit a bad guy running a machine gun and killed him. Another insurgent stepped up to the machine gun and another bullet killed him. A third shot took out the machine gun.
The distance was measured by a GPS system at 8,120 feet. That is 2,707 yards, or 1.54 miles. It is so far that it took the bullets nearly three seconds to get there, and it’s 1,000 yards past what was thought to be the effective range of the firearm.
The author makes an adjustment to the scope on a Blaser .338 Lapua.
My grandfather had a saying about when somebody made a spectacular shot, “Well, the bullet had to go somewhere.” Meaning the guy probably got lucky. One shot can simply be luck, but three effective hits? That’s not luck, that’s shooting at the highest level. Even at that extreme distance the big, heavy bullets managed to kill the bad guys and break their machine gun.
For ultra-long-range shooting, the .338 Lapua fills the gap between the .300 Winchester and the .50 BMG. It’s proven to handle wind better and hit harder than the 30-caliber cartridges. But unlike the .50 BMG, the .338 Lapua rifles are light enough to be carried by a normal human. Even in the comparatively lighter rifles, the .338 Lapua has much less recoil and muzzle blast than the .50 BMG.
The .338 Lapua is very effective for shooting bad guys as it is accurate and powerful, but still controllable enough to shoot relatively fast. The 250–300-grain bullets normally used in this cartridge are edging into the power level needed to break things and disable machines.
The .338 Lapua is perhaps the very best choice for shooting at ultra-long-range. It brings a level of power that can get things done out in the nether regions but is still a reasonable cartridge that is easily manageable in a rifle. The guns are light enough to carry and move, yet the recoil doesn’t shift body parts to new locations and the muzzle blast doesn’t smash stuff in its path.
The popular 250-grain load still carries almost 1,500 foot-pounds of energy at 1,000 yards. At 1,500 yards it has 763 foot-pounds, which is 225 percent of a .308 and 164 percent of the .300 Winchester at that distance. Plus it has a large, heavier bullet so it carries a lot more momentum. Even if the bullet does not expand due to the low velocity at long range, the .338 diameter is going to make a bigger hole.
The downside is that factory ammo is very expensive for the .338 Lapua, so it’s a pricy gun to practice with unless you handload your ammo. That said, there are some outstanding factory loads from a wide range of ammo makers. There are also some great bullets for handloading. If you are going to buy just one long-range gun to do everything, this is a great choice.
.500 BMG, The Bludgeon
Lee Houghton shooting his home-built .50 BMG.
There is something almost religious about turning loose more than 14,000 foot pounds of energy from a rifle you fire from your shoulder. When you consider that’s about three times the energy produced by most guns used for hunting elephants, it all kind of comes into perspective. The .50 BMG is a special kind of rifle and shooting it is a vastly addicting experience.
The .50 Browning Machine Gun cartridge was developed by John Browning for the Browning 50-caliber machine gun and was adopted by the military in 1921. It was initially to be used as an anti-aircraft round, but it proved useful for a lot of warfare, including sniper work.
.50 BMG cartridges next to .223 Remington cartridges.
The .50 BMG is simply a scaled-up .30–06 cartridge. It’s a NATO cartridge, so ammo should be available for it after TSHTF.
It is the big boy of long-range cartridges. The .50 BMG has no shoulder-fired equal when it comes to breaking things at any range. It can fire a 750-grain bullet at nearly 3,000 ft/s muzzle velocity. Where a .308 Winchester has about 2,600 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, the .50 BMG has almost 14,500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and the big, heavy, high B.C. bullet carries well out to ultra-long range. Size matters with bullets and this is as big as it gets in a shoulder-fired rifle. The .50 BMG has no peers when you want to smash stuff and end problems.
The guns are heavy, the recoil stout, and the muzzle blast is fearsome, but when you absolutely, positively must get the job done, there is nothing you can legally own and fire from the shoulder that even comes close to the .50 BMG.
For stopping vehicles or punching through barriers, the .50 BMG stands alone. If you have property to defend, it is highly recommended that you have one of these guns.
Nothing says, “Go away and leave me alone” quite like the .50 BMG.