In this article I’ll be talking about choosing the right firearms for self-defense, and for foraging. I’ll try to keep this as short and to the point as possible while still covering everything that you really need to know, in order to make an informed decision when buying and learning how-to use those tools to feed yourself and your family.
No foraging arsenal would be complete without at least one shotgun. By simply changing shot loads or moving up to slugs the shotgun can be used to take every game and predatory animal in North America out to 100 yards. And let’s not forget that a pump-action or semi-auto shotgun loaded with buckshot or slugs makes an excellent self-defense tool, especially if the shooter knows how to use it to its maximum effectiveness.
The shotgun that you choose for foraging purposes need not be expensive; the simple single-shot break-action shotgun is an excellent tool when foraging for food, and best of all they can be bought new for under $200 in most areas, are light-weight and extremely rugged and reliable.
Add a carry sling and a way to carry some extra ammo (I like the Voodoo Tactical Shotgun Shell Ammo Pouch) and you’re ready to go foraging for small game, foul or even larger game if the opportunity should present itself.
Ammo selection will of course depend on what you’re hunting for; I like to keep several different types in my sling loops, where I can quickly get to it and change out one round for another, if needed. Say for example; that I’m hunting rabbit, and happen to spot a deer in the distance, it’s a simple matter to quietly and quickly, switch from a chambered shot-shell (I like #6 shot for small game) to a rifled slug and effectively and humanly take the deer.
For self-defense purposes I suggest a pump-action or semi-auto (I prefer the pump-action but there are also some good semi-autos available) shotgun in 12 gauge, however for smaller shooters a 20 gauge will suffice. There are so many great brands and models available that it would take several chapters to go into any detail on each, so I won’t waste your time doing that here.
Two of my favorite pump-action shotgun manufactures are Remington and Mossberg, with my personal home-defense shotgun being a Mossberg model 590 with ghost ring sights and speed fed stock. In my opinion the Mossberg 590 is the best “out of the box” pump-action defensive shotgun available today.
No survival “arsenal” would be complete without at least one high-quality .22lr caliber rifle. Because there are literally, hundreds of quality brands and models available, I won’t take up your time by trying to go over the details of each one here, but I will instead mention several of my personal favorites.
My first choice for a semiauto .22lr would be the Ruger 10/22 takedown model; this is essentially the same rifle as the super trusted and reliable standard 10/22 but with the ability to be taken apart for transport and storage.
My first choice for a bolt-action .22lr is the Ruger American .22lr with 18 inch barrel. It’s well made with fewer parts to break than a semi auto, and I’ve found it to be more accurate out-of-the-box than any standard our-of-the-box semi auto .22lr that I’ve tested it against.
Another one of my favorite .22lr rifles is the Smith and Wesson MP 15/22, mine has been ultra-reliable after thousands of rounds, and is a perfect training tool for new shooters or for cheap live-fire practice for AR-15 owners. However it’s not my first choice when small game hunting, the .22lr that most often accompanies me on small game hunts is the Ruger American .22lr mentioned above.
My first choice when adding an optical sight (scope) to a .22lr is the Nikon ProStaff Rimfire 4 x 32 Black Matte Riflescope. I’ve tried other cheaper (and a few more expensive) alternatives when scoping .22lr rifles and found the Nikon ProStaff to be the best option.
Here again I’ll not waste your time by trying to cover 101 different manufactures and models of centerfire rifles, but will instead elaborate on my two of my personal favorites.
For hunting larger game in my area (Tennessee) I don’t need anything more powerful than a .308 win, however if you live in grizzly and moose country then you may want to move up to something like a .338 magnum or similar to be sure of a clean and humane kill.
My first choice for a .308 semi auto is the Smith and Wesson M&P 10. The M&P 10 is built on an AR type platform with a standard 20 round magazine. I’ve found it to be a well-made, accurate and reliable rifle. It can be used for both hunting large game and as a main battle rifle, however the current, 2015 price tag of over $1,600 will no doubt be a road block for many (I had to save for almost a year to afford it).
My first choice for a bolt-action .308 is the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle, but with a standard rear mounted optic sight instead of the forward mounted “scout” configuration.
All of my .308’s are topped with the Nikon ProStaff 3-9 x 40 Black Matte Riflescope (BDC) optics and also have backup standard iron sights, and a sling. If you’re serious about using a rifle for defense of your property and for hunting then please get a copy of “The Art of the Rifle” by the late Jeff Cooper, it’s a great book that is full of tips and advice that will help to increase your on target accuracy.
This is one of those subjects that I hate to even get into here and that I purposely, avoid discussing in public, because it never ends well, because nearly everyone has their favorite and are unwilling to consider anything else. I too have my own personal favorites, but I’m not like some and unwell to consider other alternatives if something was proven to be better, or just as good but at a better price.
So like we’ve already done above, instead of going into a hundred different manufactures and models, I’ll simply, tell you my favorites that have proven to work for me after years of shooting, hunting, plinking and competition.
Well start with the .22lr – of which my favorite is the Browning Buckmark. This is the top .22lr handgun made today, period. I’ve carried mine all over the forests of Appalachia, and can shoot it accurately enough to make head-shots on cotton-tail rabbits at 50 yards.
I have no idea how many rounds that I’ve put through mine but it has to be ten-thousand or more and I’ve never had a failure that was not ammo related.
Another excellent .22lr handgun is the Beretta 21A Bobcat. The Bobcat isn’t ideal for small game hunting or self-defense, but it’s weight and compact size will allow you to have it on you at all times, and any handgun that you have with you is better that the one you left at home or back at camp because it was too large, heavy and inconvenient to carry.
I carry mine when I’m on the river fishing, camping, hunting ginseng or just working around the homestead, it’s weight and size make it easy to go armed at all times. The Israeli Mossad has proven the effectiveness of the .22lr as an offensive / defensive tool with its use of the Beretta 70 in .22lr. The Beretta 70 is also carried by Israeli Sky Marshals.
By far my favorite center fire handguns are made by Glock, however they’re not the only quality choice on the market, there are many different handgun manufactures that products worth considering. The most important consideration is to purchase the handgun that fits your hand best. If the handgun fits your hand correctly, you’ll naturally shoot it more accurately.
Out of the Glock line up my favorite model is the Glock model 19. The Glock 19 is a medium-sized 9mm handgun that is the perfect size for open carry, in a belt-holster, yet small enough to be carried comfortably concealed under summer cloths. Another plus is that the Glock 19 has a 15 round magazine capacity, which is comparable with other, larger and heavier 9mm handguns such as the Berretta 92.
When it comes to ammo choices and “stopping power” there are just as many opinions as there are for handgun choices, but my personal carry load in a 9mm round is the Corbon 115 grain +p. Ballistics for this round is close to those produced by the 357 magnum and it is a proven stopper according to both ballistic research and actual real-life use.
Air rifles are often overlooked by survival planners and this is unfortunate because they have a lot to offer, with the most notable being the ability to quietly take small game out to approximately 35 yards.
However to get this kind of performance from an air rifle you’re going to have to look past the $45 models like those often seen at Walmart, these don’t produce the energy or velocity that is needed to cleanly take small-game. You’ll probably have to spend over $150 at current prices before getting one that will do take small game effectively.
My personal choice and the one that I’ve taken the most small-game with is the Benjamin Titan GP Nitro Piston .22 caliber air rifle. I’ve found the .22 caliber air rifles to provide much better on target effectiveness i.e. dropping small-game in their tracks, than those in .177.
The Benjamin Titan GP .22 caliber air rifle features a 19 inch fully rifled barrel and a muzzle brake, both with a nice looking deep blued-steel finish. I also have a Ruger .177 caliber air rifle and comparatively the finish on both the metal and stock is much nicer on the Titan GP.
As with most air rifles of this type, the Titan GP has no iron sights but the rifle is grooved for mounting an optical sight. The addition of a good set of metal sights would greatly add to the overall functionality and dependability of the rifle.
But as a rule, I prefer all of my rifles to have the choice of iron sights as well as scope-mounting with see through mounts. Scopes can break, become fogged, lose zero etc., and the ability to quickly change from one sighting option to the other without losing the target aids greatly to the utility of any rifle.
The Titan GP features an ambidextrous thumb-hole stock with dual raised cheek-pieces, and while well designed, I found the reach from the grip to the trigger to be a bit long. But, this would not be a problem for shooters with larger hands or longer fingers. Even with the longer reach to the trigger from the grip, I have no problem pulling the trigger or shooting the rifle.
The rifle also has a 2-stage adjustable trigger for fine tuning to the needs of each shooter; however I found the factory setting to be very good for my needs so I left the settings as is. But, adjustment is an option and a welcome addition that I’m sure many will find very useful.
One of the main selling points of the Benjamin Titan is the Nitro Piston system and a velocity of up to 950 FPS. The Nitro Piston offers a several advantages over rifles with a metal mainspring system, such as smoother cocking, no spring fatigue, reduced vibration, functions well in cold weather and the Nitro Piston system is also much quieter.
In fact, the Titan is noticeably quieter than my other air rifles, and is much quieter than my Ruger air rifle which is the loudest of the lot.
Bows, Arrows and Blow Guns
I’ve used blowguns for small game since I was in my early teens, and I can assure you that there’re not toys, far from it. In practiced hands (and lungs) the blowgun can be used very effectively, to take small game and are much more accurate and deadly than the slingshot.
There are currently three sizes of mass marketed blowguns in the U.S. one in .40 caliber, .50 caliber and .625 caliber diameters. Each has different advantages over the other, but I personally prefer the .40 caliber versions, because I’ve found that I can shoot them further with more accurately, and haven’t noted any difference in effectiveness when taking small game.
Fortunately, blowguns are priced so cheaply that you can buy several (or make your own) to see what works best for you. If you’re interested in finding out a wealth of information on blowguns, and how to make your own Michael Janich has an excellent book available to help you with that it’s called “Blowguns: The Breath Of Death” and covers everything blowgun related.
Another favorite weapon for foraging is the bow and arrow. In skilled hands the bow and arrow can be used to take both large and small game and like with the blowgun you can make your own. However it’s likely that nothing that you can make in the home workshop will compare to the power and velocity of commercially manufactured compound and crossbows.
Bows are like handguns in that you should try out several before deciding what works best for you. Personally, I prefer a more traditional recurve bow with a 45 pound draw weight over a compound, but that’s a personal choice and only one that you can make after gaining experience.