Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)

RIFLES

Your First AR

Picking your personal long gun.

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Your personal rifle is an important decision. It may be the single biggest factor for survival.

Most gun guys know that Eugene “Gene” Stoner created the AR-15 rifle. Students of gun history also know that he developed the larger .308 Winchester–based AR-10 first. But what a lot of people don’t know is that if the AR-10 submitted to the government for testing in 1956 had remained true to the Stoner design, things might have turned out differently.

Stoner was an engineer for ArmaLite, and the company president, George Sullivan, against strong protest by Stoner, insisted that they submit a gun for testing that was fitted with an unproven aluminum/steel composite barrel. The barrel burst during the test and the government rejected the AR-10 in favor of the M14 rifle.

It would be interesting to speculate about what would have happened if management had listened to their paid expert and submitted the gun with a steel barrel. Perhaps the AR-10 would have been chosen as the new battle rifle for the United States. It was shorter and lighter than the M14 and probably have received high praise from our fighting forces. If that happened and it became the military’s standard fighting rifle, then perhaps the military never would have ended up with the M16 and we civilians would probably not be shooting the AR-15.

History, however, took a different course. No doubt the M14 is a great rifle, but some will argue it was antiquated for military use the day it was born. It wasn’t long before the M16 replaced it and through a long and interesting journey that has accelerated exponentially in recent years, the AR-15 civilian version of that rifle has become the most popular long gun in America.

The name AR-15 is owned by Colt, but has come to be used as a generic term for any firearm of this type. When somebody says they have an AR-15, everybody knows the basic gun they are talking about. The accepted definition of AR-15 in common use today is the civilian semiauto version of the military’s M16 platform.

The AR-15 is a lightweight (relatively speaking) intermediate-cartridge, magazine-fed, air-cooled rifle with a rotating locking bolt. The action is actuated by direct impingement gas operation or piston operation. It is typically manufactured with extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials.

The AR-15 was first built in 1959 by ArmaLite as a small arms rifle for the United States armed forces. ArmaLite had money troubles, so it sold the design to Colt. Colt redesigned the rifle and the government adopted it as the M16 rifle.

Colt started selling the semiautomatic version of the rifle for civilians in 1963 as the Colt AR-15. It took a while to catch on, but right now the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America. Colt is not even a major player anymore in this market, where hundreds of different companies manufacture (or at least assemble) and sell AR-style rifles.

The design variations are almost infinite, and just when you think there is nothing left to change, redesign, or introduce in the AR-15 world, somebody comes up with something new.

To cover all of today’s AR-15 rifles and carbines in a single book would be all but impossible. There are too many and the market is changing so fast that the information would be outdated before the book is published, and I will not be so foolish as to attempt to cover them all here. It doesn’t matter anyway. Most of the guns being made today are good. They run well and have few problems. It is best left to the individual users to decide which gun maker is best for them. If you stick with a proven brand name, it’s hard to make a mistake.

I truly believe that in a survival situation where we may be attacked by multiple attackers, terrorists, or an out-of-control mob, the magazine-fed battle rifle is the best tool for survival and an AR-15 is the best battle rifle of choice.

There are a lot of variations, but the most important AR that preppers can buy is their personal rifle, the gun they will carry every day—the gun that may be called on to save their lives.

Your Personal AR-15

Each prepper will need, at the very minimum, a personal handgun and a personal rifle. Even as you buy more guns and build your survival battery, these will remain your primary guns.

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Your personal rifle is the key to survival. Learn to shoot it well. Learn to shoot it fast. Learn to trust it.

A general use rifle is something you will carry every day during a survival situation. It should be lightweight enough that it’s not a huge burden. While the AR-15 concept was for a lightweight, six-pound rifle, weights have crept up over the years, and it’s not unusual for a gun to weigh close to ten pounds today.

I find that unacceptable in an everyday carry and use rifle. In a survival situation you will probably already be carrying a pistol or two as well as extra magazines for both guns, a knife, Leatherman-style belt tool, and a lot of other gear. If your rifle is so heavy that you hate it, it won’t be long before you are finding reasons to leave it behind. Rifles are like fire extinguishers; when you need one you really need one, and you cannot predict when that will be. If you left it behind because it’s heavy, it’s a good bet that things will not end well.

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The M4-style of AR-15 is the most popular today and will serve well as a primary defensive long gun. You can customize it to fit your personal needs.

Probably the most popular design today mimics the military M4, and that is likely the best option for an off-the-rack personal long gun.

The civilian M4 style copies the popular, select-fire carbine used by the military and is probably the type of gun that most preppers should buy for their first primary rifle. The M4 has a short barrel, usually sixteen inches, so it’s legal. Our government long ago picked that as an arbitrary allowable length for a rifle barrel. Any shorter and it falls under the purview of the National Firearms Act. That means you must pay a $200 tax and register the gun with the government.

A short barrel is good for moving in and out of vehicles or for use inside buildings, but I don’t see the point in picking one shorter than sixteen inches for a prepper. It brings little to the table, and it will reduce velocity and increase muzzle blast. It will also require that the gun be registered with the government, which I think is a mistake. It’s legal now, but the lower under the radar you can fly, the better. We cannot predict the future or what our government will do in a crisis. If they start confiscating guns, any registered under the NFA will be a good place to start. I would not risk being noticed just to have a legal short barrel rifle. There are other options, such as the AR-15 pistols explored in another section.

The adjustable stock works well with body armor or bulky clothing and can reduce the length of the carbine to make it easier to maneuver. It will also allow a wide range of shooters to use the gun, as any shooter can pick a length of pull that fits best. Usually in a personal gun, you will just set it and be done, but it does keep some options in reserve.

Most M4-style rifles will run on one side or the other of seven pounds, depending on who makes it and how much bling comes with it. For me, the closer to six pounds the gun gets, the happier I am.

Don’t forget, you will be adding optics and a full magazine to the basic rifle’s weight. Not to mention a flashlight, laser, or any other accessory that you may want to bolt on. It all adds up.

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This custom-built ultra-lightweight AR-15 is a good everyday carry gun. But, it’s not designed for sustained firefights.

I have a couple of lightweight rifles that I have built. One is less than five pounds and the other is a bit over. They are easy to carry, shoot well, and are not a bad choice for an everyday carry gun. In terms of how they shoot, I did the 2x2x2 drill with one of them in 1.5 seconds, which is about as good as it gets in terms of close and fast. Of course, these are custom guns that I built in my shop. You can buy similar guns commercially, but they tend to be expensive. One lightweight rifle I can highly recommend is the JP Enterprises SCR-11 Ultra-Light. This gun weighs only five pounds, twelve ounces, and like all JP Enterprises rifles it is superbly made and very accurate.

Just keep in mind that these ultra-light rifles will have very thin barrels and are not well suited for a sustained firefight.

If you are stocking up on rifles for uses other than to carry every day, then weight and a short barrel become less of an issue.

Muzzle Brake or Flash Hider?

The uninformed often question why a recoil-reducing muzzle brake is needed on a rifle chambered in a low recoil cartridge like the .223 Remington. A muzzle brake will help keep your gun on target for fast follow-up shots. There was a time when I thought it was the best way to go in a fighting gun and actually wrote some articles about that, but I have since changed my mind. They do make the gun faster to operate, and in that aspect a muzzle brake is an advantage in battle. But they are loud—very loud—particularly for anybody off to the side of the shooter. This can be a huge problem in a fight. If everybody has ear protection it will be fine, but usually they will not.

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A muzzle brake at the moment of firing.

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Muzzle brakes are too loud for fighting guns.

I have come to the conclusion that the benefits of a muzzle brake do not outweigh the problems they create on a battle rifle. I have removed the brakes from my defense guns. Of course, I still have a brake on all of the competition rifles that I use for 3-gun shooting, but they are simply too loud for a fighting gun. The idea of ever firing an AR-15 with a muzzle brake inside a small room without hearing protection makes my eardrums spasm.

Flash hiders (often called flash suppressors) are also loud, but not as loud as muzzle brakes. Some of them also help to mitigate recoil and muzzle flip a little bit. Most of the guns in this M4 category are going to be equipped with a flash hider. I am not sure that they bring a lot of benefit to the table. They might help hide the primary flash if you have low-flash ammo to start with, but much of the ammo out there in 5.56 and .223 is anything but low-flash. I have seen muzzle flash in an AR-15 carbine ranging from barely noticeable to bright and big enough to sear your retinas. Some of the imported ammo looks like a solar flare when the gun fires. The good stuff might benefit from a flash hider; but much of the imported and cheap ammo is hopeless. Muzzle flash really comes down to ammo and the propellant used more than a flash hider. Other than making the gun a bit noisier, a flash hider doesn’t hurt anything. They do help protect the muzzle from damage, which can be a big asset in a hard-working rifle. On the downside, they make the gun and barrel longer and add a slight amount of weight.

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This is a typical “squirrel cage” style flash hider that is the standard for AR-15 rifles.

In terms of shooting I can’t see that a flash hider changes much. My best time ever on the 2x2x2 drill was 1.3 seconds with a JP Enterprises JP15 competition rifle with a JP brake. I recently shot that same drill in 1.5 seconds, using a lightweight rifle with nothing on the muzzle except a cap to protect the threads.

Clearly a flash hider is absolutely necessary for marketing. Sales fall off when an AR maker takes them off a tactical gun. They might help a little in reducing flash, which might be an issue in a fight, and they may mitigate recoil-induced muzzle movement a little bit. But if you find a great deal on a gun that has everything you want except a flash hider, buy it; you aren’t missing much.

Triggers

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You can only shoot any rifle as well as its trigger allows.

I am a trigger snob. You can only shoot any rifle as well as its trigger allows, and most guns that come with a mil-spec trigger fail the test.

A lot of AR-15 makers are putting very good triggers in their guns today, but it’s not universal. A mil-spec trigger keeps the price lower and in some cases it’s actually a marketing point with uninformed “tactards.”

However, to run the rifle at its potential, not just for accuracy, but for speed as well, you need a good trigger. If your gun comes with a trigger pull that is not clean and crisp and less than five or six pounds pull weight, you should replace it.

The glory of the AR-15 rifle is that it’s the perfect “kit” gun for do-it-yourselfers. The single most important thing you can add to most AR-15s is a better trigger. There are a bunch of aftermarket triggers out now, and the competition is driving the price down on some of them.

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There are a lot of aftermarket triggers for the AR.

A safe trigger does not mean a hard trigger. You can set up any AR-15 with a three-pound trigger that is safe. The difference is, when you need to make that 300-yard headshot with precision, you can.

Slings

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The author's friend, Eric Reynolds, exits a truck with an AR-15 on a sling.

I like a simple, two-point sling on my AR, one like Kyle Lamb’s Viking Tactics VTAC sling. Single-point slings are cool to stand around and look badass with, but they suck if you have to do anything else.

Some of the multi-point slings are just too damn complicated. You need a PhD to install, and use them, and they have too many straps running in too many directions.

A simple two-point with a quick release is, in my opinion, the way to go. It’s also what Randall Curtis, a consultant for this book and a long-time Delta guy for the Army, suggested. Who am I to argue?

When he said “None of my guys would use a single point sling in combat,” I figured it was settled.

Sights

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The Swarovski Z6 1–6X is a great all-around optic for any AR.

Your personal gun will need a good sighting system. There are a lot of optics on the market, and it’s tough to say which is best. The 1–6X scopes that are popular with 3-gun shooters work well. Traditional battle optics include Trijicon ACOG or Aimpoint sights, which are both good choices.

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I know that the “tactards” get apoplectic if you suggest that a rifle not have backup iron sights, or BUIS as they like to call them. (They do love their acronyms.) For most uses, I don’t think you need them.

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EOTech and backup, flip-up iron sights.

That said, they do make sense on your primary survival rifle. I like the flip-up kind so they stay out of my way unless I need them. You can co-witness them if you have a non-magnifying optic and use them with the optic mounted. It’s also a good idea to mount any primary sighting system with a quick release mount. That way you can jettison it in battle if it becomes disabled and use the irons.

Ammo

The very best accessory for you to spend your money on is ammo. Practice and train with your gun until you know it backwards and forwards. Know the offsets from point blank range out to 600 yards, so you don’t have to think when you shoot. (Offsets are where you must hold on the target that is over or under the expected point of impact, depending on the distance.) This is the gun most likely to keep you alive, so run it hard, and find any flaws or defects early. Make it prove itself to be dependable and then learn it like it’s your best friend, because it may well be.

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The best thing to spend your money on is ammo. Practice makes perfect.