Survival Guns

by Matt Olivier

April 11th, 2022

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In the Summer of 1985, Ronald Reagan was in his second term as our President and had guided us through a recovery from the Great Malaise of the Carter presidency, fraught with inflation, gas shortages, food shortages, avoidable conflicts, and misguided policies. This was a time before the internet, before cell phones, before 24/7 round the clock news cycles, and a time when communications were much more deliberate, personal, and, for lack of a better word, manual. It was during that summer that John Taffin, now legendary gun writer, sent a letter to eleven other "gun guys" asking them for input into a fictional "Shootists' Holiday". It was to be a gathering of Shootists where the shooting events were unknown to the attendees and the ask was for them to describe what two, and only two, guns they could bring, along with what grips, ornamentation, leather, etc. they would bring. From John's article, he "selected eleven other Shootists with two criteria in mind. They had to love, really love sixguns, and they had to be the type of man that I knew, as the old saying goes, 'would do to ride the river with.'". All of the polled Shootists provided their feedback to John and the story was published in the October, 1985 issue of Th-e Sixgunner. One of the major pieces of feedback received was on the order of "why is this fictional? let's do it for real!", which was the genesis for John's founding of The Shootists, an organization of like-minded gun folks who, to plagiarize The Shootists' website, "have similar interests, enjoy one another's company, learn from each other, test new ideas and products, have fun, and educate and train new shooters in the proper and safe use of firearms." 

They say that history repeats itself. It certainly feels that way to many of us in these current Greater Malaise times. While we can certainly go on a lengthy discussion on this topic, I will leave it to the talking heads and pundits who earn a living fearmongering and dividing us every day. However, there is another historical repetition afoot. Over the last six or seven years, long time gun writer Dick Williams has been hosting a semi-annual, 3-days, invitation only, media event at Gunsite Academy. Each even has a theme of sorts, and various industry members are invited to participate in that theme. The most recent even was based on "Survival Guns". It was left a bit ambiguous by design as survival can mean different things to different folks, depending on location. For example, there is a big difference in what survival guns one might want if hunting in Alaska versus surviving in a large metropolitan area. Industry partners Tyler Gun Works, Ruger, Simply Rugged Holsters, Skinner Sights, Fink's Custom Gunsmithing, Streamlight, Tuff Products, and, of course, Gunsite Academy, were represented. Being a media event, all of the attendees were either industry members or gun writers, either full time or part time, and all had varying different backgrounds ranging from civilian to law enforcement (local, state and Federal), and military. 

Well acquainted with The Shootists, being a member myself for the last 10 years or so, I was very familiar with that 1985 John Taffin article. I decided it would be an interesting endeavor, using a similar format, to see what each attendee would bring to a Survival Gun event. I polled each participant at the very beginning of the event, before we shot, so as to try and get an unbiased opinion. 

Bobby Tyler, Owner, Tyler Gun Works: Bobby brought with him the two guns that he would rely on for survival in today's times, a 3.5" barrel, Smith & Wesson model 27, a 6-shot, N-Frame, 357 Magnum revolver, and one of Henry Repeating Arms recently introduced X models in 357 Magnum lever action rifle equipped with a set of Skinner Sights rear peep sight and ramp front sight, a cartridge cuff and Alaskan sling by Simply Rugged Holsters. 

Rob Leahy, founder, Simply Rugged Holsters: Rob would rely on his trusted and beloved HK91 chambered in 308 Win, a takedown Ruger 10/22, and a Ruger LCP II, chambered in 22 LR with a custom short KDM suppressor. 

Dick Williams, gunwriter (NRA Shooting Illustrated) - Dick's choice for a survival is simplicity. He would feel very much at ease, and sufficiently well-armed, with a Ruger Single Six with a 5.5" barrel, with dual cylinders in 22LR and 22 WMR. 

John Donnellon, retired Chief of Police, Southern California and gunwriter, guninpho. com - JD believes that, in a survival situation, having a gun with which one is most comfortable is critical. For him, that's his Heckler & Koch (HK) VP9, which he carries daily. It is equipped with a red dot sight. He would also have with him a Cry Havoc takedown 16" barrel AR-15 carbine, carried broken down in a backpack for concealability and ease of carrying. 

John Russo, retired LEO, Southern California and gunwriter, guninpho. com - John grew up on cattle ranch so, almost by default, he grew up on the 22 LR. His distinguished career in law enforcement provided him with a background rich in 9mm semi- automatic pistols and 5.56 NATO-chambered AR-15s. However, he firmly believes that the venerable 22 LR is just too versatile to ignore and he chooses a Glock model 44, a Smith & Wesson model 317 Airlite, a Ruger 10/22, all chambered in 22 LR, along with a Ruger PC Carbine chambered in 9mm. 

Flint Hansen, Correction Officer, Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, gunwriter, SWAT Magazine - Flint grew up on a cattle ranch in Yavapai County, Arizona carrying a revolver. In a survival situation, he would rely on his trusty Ruger Vaquero, chambered in 45 Colt, and would feel equally safe with a Rock Island 1911, chambered in 10mm. 

Mike Detty, retired US Marine Corps, gunwriter, ATHLON publications - Mike equates survival to the 22 LR. It is a versatile cartridge that is still readily available. Mike also believes in revolvers because they are simple and reliable. In this caliber, his choices would be a 4" barrel Smith & Wesson model 18, a Colt Officers model 22, a Ruger 10/22, and a Marlin model 39 lever action rifle. Additionally, Mike would be very comfortable with his 3" barrel new Colt Python along with his 45 ACP Commander 
1911, which he really likes and carries a lot). Mike would have a hard time not having one of his 30-06 caliber M1 Garands and, a recent addition to his stable, an old vintage Baker side by side 12-gauge shotgun with barrels cut down by Fink's Custom Gunsmithing to 18". 

Jeremy Clough, Field Editor for American Handgunner - Jeremy has carried a 45 ACP chambered 1911 every day, sometimes 20 hours a day. He shoots it well and it provides the power, and accuracy that he needs. He firmly believes in its ease of concealability. His go-to gun would be a Novak's custom Colt Rail Gun. He would have a light mounted on the rail and, for versatility, would bring a Marvel .22 LR conversion kit for it, giving him the ability to downsize the caliber, if needed, without sacrificing accuracy. He would also have with him a Ruger MK IV, 22 LR. He believes that Ruger is the standard for 22 LR semi auto pistols and his MK IV just plain runs. It is equipped with a rail on top for installation of an optic, a rail on the bottom for a weapon mounted light, and the barrel is threaded for use of a suppressor. In the long gun department, Jeremy would have a DRD Tactical takedown U556, which is a 16" barrel 5.56 NATO chambered AR-15 platform, with a spare 22 LR complete upper, mounted with a Trijicon RMR red dot optic. It easily fits in a briefcase with a Gemtech suppressor, and the 22 LR upper. 

Robert Jordan, gunwriter, ATHLON publications - Robert believes that the perfect calibers for survival are the 22 LR and the 12 gauge because one can hunt any game with either of them, they can be used for home defense, and are readily available everywhere. He grew up ranching in Kansas and always had 22 LRs with him. He's worn out several 22 LR revolvers. In today's time, Robert's go-to survival gun is the AR-7, currently marketed by Henry Repeating Arms as their Survival Rifle. It comes with a threaded barrel and with 3 magazines inlet in the stock. He would also feel equally well having one of Ruger's current production 10/22 Backpacker, which is a take-down rifle factory equipped with Magpul stock that also holds 3 magazines. It has the versatility of changeable combs and can be fitted with a Picatinny Rail for mounting either a red dot sight or a scope. 

Aimee Grant, retired Riverside County Sheriff's Department, writer, American Handgunner - For Aimee, living in southern California, survival means urban survival. As such, her guns of choice would be her current daily carry Glock model 43X, chambered in 
9mm, topped with a Holosun red dot sight. Also along would be her custom Ruger New Model Single Six, chambered in the powerful 327 Federal. 

Dave Fink, founder Fink's Custom Gunsmithing, and on-site Gunsmithy, Gunsite Academy, Paulden, AZ - Dave is conscious that, in a survival environment, supplies could become hard to get. In his area of Arizona, there is a very large veteran population which means there is a lot of 5.56 NATO/223 Rem, 300 Blackout, and 9mm. Based on this, his survival guns would be a short barrel rifle (SBR) chambered in 5.56 NATO with a spare 300 Blackout upper, along with a suppressed 9mm handgun. 

As for me, I live in the 5th largest city in the United States, so it is most likely that my survival situation is going to be an urban one. For vehicle needs, I'd rely on a 12-gauge Mossberg 590S Shockwave pump action firearm. This is the newly redesigned model that allows for feeding of the Mini-Shells without needing an adapter. For the true urban situations, I'd have my Young Manufacturing AR-9 pistol with a red dot optic on it, with some spare batteries in the pistol grip, and either my Wilson Combat EDC X9L or a Smith & Wesson M&P 9, both chambered in 9mm, and both also topped with a red dot optic. All three guns are chambered in the same caliber, for simplicity. I'd probably not be too far away from a Ruger 10/22, 22 LR rifle, especially one of the take-down varieties. As you can see, there are quite a few common themes with these replies. 22 LR caliber guns, Ruger-made guns, same caliber guns. None of these are necessarily new concepts, thoughts, or ideas, but more so validate concepts from the past. The 22 LR has been America's caliber for many decades. Ruger has been one of America's favorite gun manufacturer since 1949. Common calibers have been in used for over 150 years, when Colt and Winchester shared calibers (44 WCF, 38 WCF, 32 WCF, etc.) for commonality of ammunition between pistols and revolvers. Some things just don't necessarily need to change, other than modernizing with the times. 

What about the 3-day event that took place shortly after the above discussion took place in the classroom at Gunsite? Well, Brandon Trevino, from Ruger, happened to arrive a few hours later, due to some weather-related flight delays leaving New Hampshire, and brought with him some guns for us to use that he, and Ruger, felt would fit the bill of survival guns. What did he bring? Ruger's 10/22 Backpacker and Ruger's LCP II in 22 LR with threaded barrels and suppressors. Interesting. Ruger and 22 LRs for survival guns, the theme reappears! We had the opportunity to shoot the LCP IIs one day, and the 10/22 Backpackers on a different day. The LCP II was launched a few years ago and was a natural evolution to Ruger's extremely successful LCP line. It is compact, lightweight, durable and rugged, easy to rack and will hold open after the last round is fired and ejected, comes with one 10-round magazine (22 LR caliber version) with a finger grip extension floorplate for an improved grip, and is just a pure joy to shoot. Along with the LCP IIs, Brandon brought an LCP II Threated Barrel Kit for each gun. These kits, available from ShopRuger. com, allow for the user to easily, and quickly, install a threaded barrel to the LCP II, allowing for the use of suppressors. Brandon also coordinated with Zach Dosch at Alliance Outdoor, to have some of their Stealth Project suppressors for us to use. One thing that Brandon was explicit about was the need to use standard 22 LR suppressors, along with higher velocity ammunition, to overcome the barrel tilt and slide inertia. With the set-up we tested, we had no issues whatsoever. These guns, with the threaded barrel installed and the Stealth Project suppressors performed flawlessly with no malfunctions with the CCI Mini Mag 22 LR ammunition used. 

The next day had us using the Ruger 10/22 Backpacker. This is a take-down version of Ruger's industry leading 10/22 semi-automatic rifle. It comes with a Magpul ergonomic X-22 takedown stock and forearm installed at the factory. The Magpul team came up with a very ingenious design with a hinged comb on the butt stock, opening up a small storage compartment with 3 spare 10-round magazines. The storage compartments are modular enough that one can store a 50-round box of ammunition along with one 10-round magazine as well. The gun is handy! The butt stock also includes a very cleverly designed locking mechanism to attach the forearm/barrel to the receiver for transport, storage, or concealment. The takedown is very easy and allows for a quick removal of the forearm, once the rifle is unloaded and the bolt is locked back! The 16.4" barrel is threaded, allowing the use of suppressors. Well, it turned out that we just happened to have Stealth Project suppressors on hand from the prior day. They were quickly installed, the guns sighted in and zeroed at 25 yards, and off we were to run some of Gunsite's world famous simulators! 

Half of us went to the Donga, the world-famous outdoor simulator where the objective is to clear a wash full of nooks and crannies which are great places to hide bad guys (in the form of gray steel targets). My good friend Bobby Tyler and I decided to go at it as a team, with instruction and supervision from Dave Hartman, one of Gunsite's Rangemasters. The targets never stood a chance! With Bobby on the right, and yours truly on the left, we crisscrossed that wash and triple and quadruple tapped, for good measure, each and every one of our targets. The 10/22s handled great, even with the added length of the suppressors. They performed perfectly, and we both left with big smiles on our faces. I'm not sure the pictures do it justice! 

Once done with the Donga, we went over to The Pit, where an indoor simulator awaited us, along with Gunsite's Training Director and Rangemaster. Lew had set up a challenging indoor house clearing situation and, due to our use of 22 LR caliber 10/22s, mandated that we performed a failure drill on each of the target. The fabled failure drill, also known as the Mozambique drill, requires two fast shots, or hammer pairs, to the high chest area of the target, followed by a well-placed, slower and more deliberate shot to the head. With the contrasting fiber-optic sights of the 10/22, even in an indoor scenario, the targets didn't stand a chance once again. The suppressed 10/22s were a joy to shoot and once again performed perfectly. 

Overall, the event was quite a success. All shooters had the opportunity to shoot their survival guns on various scenarios on the first day, as well as shooting Ruger's two great selections for survival, their LCP II in 22 LR with a Stealth Project suppressor the next day, and their 10/22 Backpacker take-down rifle, again suppressed, on the last day. 

Well, there you have it, a sample of what a Survival Gun event might look like, what choices participants of vary different backgrounds and geographical situation would bring, what events might be shot, and the kind of versatility the guns can bring. One of the things that the pandemic and riots taught us, is that stuff can happen anywhere, at any time, and you better be prepared. As Louis Pasteur once said: "fortune favors the prepared mind". I think a truer translation should be "fortune favors the prepared mindset".

Matt Olivier

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