Firearms Training for Survival
Anyone who hasn’t factored guns into their survival strategy probably has a big hole in their understanding of survival. The gun has been one of the greatest survival tools ever invented; both from the viewpoint of providing oneself with food and from the viewpoint of self-defense. But just owning firearms isn’t enough; you’ve got to be ready to use them, and use them effectively.
Part of that is making sure you have the right guns and enough ammo. There’s a good reason why there are so many different kinds of guns on the market; it’s because they are designed for different purposes. But don’t just take what the manufacturer says as the final word; find out what several people with survival experience say and then make your own decision, based on their advice and taking into consideration your own ability, survival plans and preferences.
I say this specifically in reference to the various “survival rifles” that are on the market. While I have nothing against any of these firearms, they aren’t at the top of my Christmas list. Most are .22 caliber; and while that is an excellent caliber for small game, it’s not useful for anything bigger than that. So don’t take it as gospel that those are what you need for survival.
But my purpose here isn’t to talk about what sorts of guns you should have or even how much ammo you need to stockpile; so let’s leave those issues aside for the moment. While the type of guns is important and having enough ammo is as well, what’s really more important is the skill and knowledge of the person holding those firearms. A good shooter can do a lot more with a poor firearm than a poor shooter can do with the best firearm.
Shooting for Self-Defense
Although we normally think of shooting for food as the number one way we use firearms in survival, I’m going to talk about self-defense first. The reason for that is that much of what I’m going to talk about here, also applies to shooting for food. A good tactical shooter will be good at the shooting part of hunting, at least at close range, but a good hunter will not necessarily be a good tactical shooter.
Just to make sure we’re on the same sheet of music here, when I’m talking about tactical shooting, I’m talking about shooting in what is known as a tactical situation, one in which you have to think tactically, because there are others shooting at you.
Tactical shooting can be done with pistol, rifle or shotgun, although most tactical shooting practice is done with pistol. Generally speaking, the lessons learned by practicing with a pistol, are directly applicable to use with a rifle, and to a lesser extent with a shotgun.
The Number One Problem
The number one problem in any tactical situation is adrenaline. This hormone surges into the bloodstream in any danger situation, creating the “fight or flight” reaction. It provides us with extra energy, the ability to ignore pain to some extent and heightened senses. But it also affects our nervous system in other ways, such as putting a tremor into our hands and reducing our fine motor skills.
This reduction of the fine motor skills is critical, because the most important single part of the elements of shooting is trigger control. It is hard to have good trigger control, when your movements are stiff and jerky. This usually causes one to jerk the trigger, making their shots go down and to the left (for right-handed shooters).
There are two ways of overcoming the tendency to shoot down and to the left when adrenaline is in your system. The first is to familiarize yourself with the mechanics of shooting, specifically trigger control, to the point where your body is able to operate on automatic. This requires tens of thousands of shots, or the equivalent in dry-fire practice.
The second way of combating the problems caused by adrenaline is to work on improving your accuracy. Most people shoot at about 20% of their normal ability when they have adrenaline pumping through their system. That means that if they can normally shoot a four inch group (which is considered fairly good), they’ll actually be shooting a group five times larger, or 20 inches. In other words, more of their shots will miss the target, than hitting it.
On the other hand, when someone who can shoot a one inch group regularly in practice is operating at 20% of their ability, they’ll be shooting a five inch group. That means that they can probably still manage a headshot, even in those horrible circumstances.
Tactical Shooting Practice
Tactical shooting is nothing like shooting at bulls-eyes; but, then again, I don’t ever expect to be attacked by a black dot on a white piece of paper. Therefore, learning to shoot tactically is an essential part of preparing for survival shooting.
This shouldn’t even be attempted until someone is a fairly good shot at their normal target practice. The average person’s ability to shoot will be downgraded so much in tactical shooting, that even a good shot will find himself feeling like a fool. Take my word for it, it happened to me; so I’m sure it will happen to you as well.
It is difficult to find opportunities to practice tactical shooting. Most shooting ranges don’t allow it, as it is unsafe for other shooters. However, there are shooting ranges which do hold tactical shooting events. These are typically one night a week, and they are competitive in nature, with each shooter shooting individually against the clock. The shooters are graded on both time and accuracy, with accuracy counting for slightly more than time.
In a tactical shooting competition of this type, a scenario is presented with multiple targets, attempting to create something which looks like a potentially real tactical situation. For civilian tactical shooting competitions, the idea is to create criminal scenarios which a person with a concealed carry permit might encounter. These can include:
• Multiple targets – Criminals often travel in packs. You could have anywhere from three to ten targets to engage
• Multiple shots on target – Unlike Hollywood, real criminals rarely go down with one shot. You can expect to have to make two shots to the body or two to the body, one to the head, for each target, depending on the scenario
• Varying distance – Not all targets will be at the same distance. One of the things the shooter has to do is determine which target is the greatest threat and deal with it first
• Magazine changes – Many times you will be limited to the number of rounds per magazine, so that you are forced to change magazines during the competition
• Varying heights – Not all targets will be at the same height; some might be tall and others short
• Low light – There are a disproportionate number of active shooter situations in low-light conditions. Therefore, it only makes sense to practice shooting in such scenarios
• Moving targets – Few bad guys will just stand there, making a target of themselves
• Moving while shooting – One of the hardest skills to acquire. Yet standing still makes you into the target
• Not all targets visible – Just like building clearing, you will have situations where not all the targets are visible from the starting line, so you won’t see them until you move into the right position to reveal them
• Innocent bystanders – It’s always bad when you shoot grandma; try to avoid it
As you can see, there are a number of elements which can be combined to make a tactical shoot. These can be combined together in an infinite number of ways, creating just about any scenario you can imagine. In doing so, they create excellent practice for any real active-shooter situation that you may encounter in a survival situation.
The other part of shooting for self-defense is commonly referred to as “building clearing.” This is the process of moving through a building, to find the bad guys and eliminate them. The tactical training I was just talking about will give you a start in this regard, but that’s all it will do.
The most important point of building clearing is finding the bad guys, without allowing them to get a shot at you. That’s impossible to accomplish, but you can minimize it greatly. While buildings provide little in the way of cover (something that will stop a bullet), they provide a considerable amount of concealment. As most people won’t shoot unless they have an idea where you are, that concealment can work to your advantage.
What is working to your disadvantage is that you might end up clearing a building, like your home, yourself. This is never good. Building clearing should always be done as a team, if possible. You need at least three people, one to act as point, one to act as cover and one to act as rear guard.
When entering a room, the point goes in first, going either to the right or left, as the team has decided beforehand. The cover will come in after them, going in the opposite direction. If the point takes fire, the cover will return that fire, rather than going in the opposite direction, providing the point with an opportunity to seek cover or concealment. The rear guard stays in the hallway, ensuring that the bad guys don’t slip past the team and invest the area that has already been cleared.
One of the key techniques used in building clearing is known as “slicing the pie.” Whenever you come to a blind corner (doorways are also blind corners), you stay back several feet from the corner, working your way to the side, to make more and more of the area around the corner visible. This is done in small stages or “slices” allowing you to visually clear an area, before exposing yourself to the next slice.
All of this can be done working alone, but it is infinitely more risky without anyone to help you. Nevertheless, when dealing with a criminal in your home, it may be necessary, in order to protect your family.
Applying these Lessons to Long Guns
Everything we’ve talked about here can be applied to long guns, just as well as to pistols. Generally speaking, when doing tactical shooting indoors, pistols are used. But the same elements can be accomplished outdoors, using rifles or shotguns. The only real difference is a larger area.
Military units and SWAT teams may use the same techniques indoors, with rifles and shotguns. But when they do, they are usually using specially made firearms, which are designed for use in confined areas. In many cases, these are not legal for civilian use, unless the owner has a collector’s license for them form the BATF, due to their shorter barrel length.
Shooting for Food
The other survival use for firearms is for shooting food. Man has long been a hunter, going back to our earliest days. While our early ancestors didn’t have guns to use, they quickly learned how to adapt the materials around them, turning them into weapons. Modern firearms are merely a continuation of that tradition, through many, many steps of technological improvement.
Those technological improvements have made the gun a much more efficient tool for hunting than the bow and arrow, which passed through many iterations of improvement and was itself an improvement on the atlatl and spear (or dart). Yet, the success rate of the average hunter today is not significantly higher than those ancient ancestors with their primitive weapons.
How can this be so? If our weapons are so much more efficient than theirs, wouldn’t it make sense that our hunting success rate would be higher?
This would only be true if the guns we used were the only part of the hunt, when in fact there are many other factors as well. If we are going to be successful survival hunters, we need to prepare ourselves for the whole hunt, not just be able to shoot our guns. Even so, we need to learn to shoot extremely well.
The Shooting Part of Hunting
Since this is a shooting-related article, let’s start out by talking about shooting; and let’s be honest with ourselves. The average hunter doesn’t shoot all that well. That’s mostly because they don’t spend any time to speak of on the range.
Shooting a box of 20 rounds to check and see that your rifle’s scope is sighted in, just before hunting season isn’t practice. That’s firearms familiarization, nothing more.
I shoot a box (50 round) a week to maintain my shooting ability and I know shooters who do much more than that. Shooting is a skill and like any other skill, it requires constant and deliberate practice. Without that practice, nobody can maintain their level of expertise.
While a lot of hunting can happen at close range, there’s also a lot of it that happens at long range. In a survival situation, you can’t count on using feed to bring bait the game to you. Rather, you have to plan on hunting them in their environment, where they are accustomed to living. That might mean that you will have to shoot them at a much longer range than you are accustomed to shooting.
To me, this means that the most important part of shooting practice for survival hunting is to become proficient at long-range shooting. I’m not talking long-range as you might need for bighorn sheep (800 yards), but rather long-range for deer, something in the 200 to 300 yard range. That’s more than reachable with modern hunting rifles, as long as you have a decent scope and good shooting skills.
Let me be a bit more specific here. The kill zone on a deer is a circle of 10 inches in diameter. You have to be able to hit that size target, with every shot, in order to be able to consider yourself ready for survival shooting. Not only that, but you have to be able to do it, even if the deer is walking.
Keep in mind that your ammunition will be limited, even if you are an avid ammo collector. No matter how much ammunition you have in your stockpile, it is a finite amount. Once it is gone, that’s it; there will be no more. So, like people back in the frontier days, you have to make every shot count. One shot, one kill has to be your mantra.
Understanding Your Target
Modern hunting has changed greatly since I was a youngster starting out. Today, hunters hide in stands and put out automatic feeders to attract deer with feed corn. At least, they do that in the state I live in. I’m not sure what the laws are in other parts of the country. But when I was a kid, that was illegal. Oh, you could use a stand or blind, but you couldn’t use seed corn.
When the brown stuff hits the rotary air movement device, you won’t be able to go down to the local sporting goods store or feed store for bait corn. Hunting will be back the way it was in my youth, when you had to figure out where the game would be naturally and set yourself up to shoot them in their normal daily routine. That means understanding the game and their movement.
Deer and most other game animals, follow a predictable routine. They water at dawn and dusk and feed through the day. At night, they return to bed down in forested areas with thick underbrush they can hide in. So, if you are going after them, you need to find the places where they water and feed.
Don’t set yourself up to shoot any game animals at watering holes. This could chase off other game from much-needed water, causing them to die off. Rather, find the trails the game have created to get from one area to the other and stake out those trails. Even if you do chase them off that way, they will go around where you have made your kill, finding their way back to where they were heading.
Each type of game animal has its own habits and peculiarities. Learning these, as well as how to read their tracks and sign, will help you to have a successful hunt.
Moving Through the Woods
Game animals are wary, equipped by nature to sense and avoid predators. This includes you. They have excellent senses of hearing and smell, making it extremely easy for them to detect any predators. To counter that, most predators move very gracefully and silently; but not man. We’re the noisiest thing in the woods. Between our boots breaking sticks on the ground and our clothes brushing up against sticks and leaves, we sound like the proverbial tank going through the woods to those animals.
It is possible to learn how to move silently through the woods. More than anything, it requires being aware of your environment, seeing the tree branches that could brush up against your clothes and the sticks on the ground that will break if you step on them. Then, all you have to do is move in such a way as to avoid them.
If soldiers can learn how to do this, encumbered by their gear, than you can I can learn it as well. Wearing soft-soled moccasins can help, as it allows you to feel what’s on the ground, before putting your weight on it. But more than anything, it requires practice, like everything else.
As far as scent is concerned, be aware of the direction of the wind. You can approach game very close up from downwind, because the wind is carrying their scent to you, not yours to them. But if you are upwind of them, they’ll smell you from a long ways off.
A Final Thought on Survival Hunting
When push comes to shove, there isn’t enough game in the woods to feed everyone. Back 100 years or more there was; but there was more game and there were fewer people back then. While there are still plenty of hunters in the United States and there is still plenty of game to go around, there isn’t enough to feed all of us, all the time.
Today, we eat mostly domesticated animals, specifically beef, pork and chicken. Millions of these animals are slaughtered yearly, proving steaks, hamburgers, bacon, sausage and drumsticks to our tables. They have taken the place of wild game for meat on our tables.
Looking at it practically, it is these millions of animals that we’ll need to find, if we are going to feed our families in a long-term survival situation. Of course, those animals most likely have owners, who are going to try and protect their property. This could put us at an impasse. Killing others, so that you can kill their animals for food, is clearly wrong.
On the other hand, there may very well be situations where the owners of those animals are no longer alive or no longer caring for their animals. Of course, we’ll have to know what’s going on in our communities and the surrounding area to even consider taking advantage of such a situation. But in that case, it would probably make sense to hunt their animals for food. That’s a decision that each one of us will have to make, when the time comes.
In the meantime, tell your friends!