Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Archery for Preppers?

With my interest in archery having been rekindled of late, naturally I began to consider whether or not including archery in one's preps makes sense. Certainly, archery played a major role in humankind's rise over the animal kingdom, and bows were important military weapons for millennia, but do they have a place in the 21st century prepper's armory?

Searching the Internet for "survival bow," "survival archery," or "bows for preppers" results in a ton of hits. Several prepper oriented sites recommend adding a bow to your equipment. E.g., this article, complete with a pic of Our Hero wearing a hoodie and gas mask and getting ready to loose an arrow.

But, I'm going to go out on a limb and state that for most preppers in the USA, archery equipment should be far down on the list of gear to get, after food, water, shelter, and firearms. If you're in a jurisdiction that does not allow or heavily restricts civilian ownership of guns but does allow archery equipment, a bow or crossbow moves up the list.

A smart prepper will prepare for the most likely events. Trying to live off the land by hunting and fishing is far less likely than surviving a period of unemployment, short duration social disruptions, or natural disasters. Only the latter two situations really require that you be armed.

Even if the end of the world as we know it happens, wild game is likely to be depleted in a short time. Go compare the amount of wild game available in the 1940s after the Great Depression, when the only source of protein for many was wild game, with what's available now, after decades of conservation. Planning to survive TEOTWAWKI by heading for the hills and adopting a hunter/gatherer lifestyle is planning to fail.

IMNSHO, the single most versatile weapon for a prepper is a concealable handgun such as a Glock 19 or S&W M&P Shield. This allows you to be discretely armed in public and can double as a home defense gun. If your finances permit, add a suitable long gun as a dedicated home defense gun.

Further, even firearms which are now considered obsolete replaced bows and arrows as primary weapons, largely due to them being much easier to learn how to shoot well. As much as I love archery, I would take a flintlock musket over a bow for either hunting or defense.

That said, archery gear does have some advantages:

1. Regulations for purchase are typically minimal or non-existent. Even in many areas that heavily restrict firearms ownership, archery equipment is unregulated. If I lived in a a country where civilian gun ownership is banned, I'd definitely have a recurve bow with a good supply of arrows, and practice with them. I'd also learn how to make arrows from hardware store materials. See, e.g., The Dowel Arrow Handbook.

2. Bows and arrows are quiet compared to unsuppressed guns. That means you're less likely to be discovered if you need to shoot. Crossbows are surprisingly loud, however.

3. Traditional bows can be made at home for low cost, from either hardware store lumber or even PVC pipe. Similarly, arrows for traditional bows can be made from carefully selected dowels or bamboo tomato stakes. Lethal arrowheads can be fashioned from sheet steel or old saw blades (YouTube link). Note that this does NOT apply to arrows to be shot from modern compound bows.

35# PVC bow by Backyardboywer

Home Depot tomato stake arrows by "tenbrook" on Primitive Archer.

4. Bows can be used to take game ranging from squirrels and birds up to moose. With the right kind of arrows, you can even take fish.

5. Bows can be used for defense, although they are far from ideal for this. Even short, Asian-style bows are long and cumbersome indoors. If you're outside, they do give you a standoff option if you don't or cannot have a gun.

6. Within limits, arrows are reusable. When shot into game, it's not unusual for wooden arrows to break or aluminum arrows to get bent. Modern carbon shafts will usually be fine afterwards, although they may need refletching and the edges on the broadhead should be resharpened.

7. With a lot of practice, an archery shooting a traditional bow can fire several arrows quickly.

8. Crossbows are almost as easy to shoot as a rifle out to about 50 yards, and can be carried ready to fire.

And of course, archery has some disadvantages:

1. Compound bows that are relatively easy to shoot well are not easy to maintain, once they need repair or periodic maintenance. You need a bow press to work on a compound bow, and you'll need suitable strings and cables to keep it going.

2. Compound bows require modern arrows made from aluminum or carbon fiber.

3. The rate of fire for a modern compound bow is low. Between nocking the arrow and clipping the release to the bow's string or D-loop, rapid fire isn't very feasible. Older compounds that can be shot by drawing with your fingers can be shot faster, of course. Crossbows are even slower.

4. Traditional bows, whether purchased or made at home, require a lot of practice to use effectively. One of the main reasons that early firearms superseded bows on the battlefield is because it takes a lot less training to use a gun effectively.

5. Even expert archers have a shorter effective range than a moderately trained person armed with a rifle or shotgun and slugs. Most traditional archers limit themselves to 20 - 30 yards when hunting deer-sized game. You can stretch this a bit if shooting in defense. An arrow through a non-vital area like a shoulder or leg is likely to at least slow down an assailant even if he isn't put out of commission permanently.

So, having looked at the pros and cons of archery, if you're still looking to add a bow to your preps, what are some good choices?

IMO, the maintenance requirements of modern compounds outweigh their advantages for long term survival use, so strike them from your list, unless you're already an archer and learn to maintain them and stock the required tools and materials.

If you don't have the time to dedicate to learning how to shoot a traditional longbow or recurve, then a recurve crossbow makes sense. There are some inexpensive Chinese made crossbows on Amazon that get good reviews, although I don't have any first hand experience with them. E.g., the SA Sports Fever and the Arrow Precision Fury. Back in April, I bought a Barnett 78615 Recruit recurve crossbow for deer hunting and have been pleased with it. (Still haven't shot any deer with it, though.) On the high end, look at Excalibur crossbows.

My Barnett Recruit recurve crossbow.

Another option is to haunt Craiglist for deals on used crossbows. This is especially true after deer hunting season closes, since a lot of guys like to dump archery gear (not to mention deer rifles) in January. A good choice would be an old, wood-stocked Barnett Wildcat, as long as it's been reasonably well maintained. Dave Canterbury did a good video on that here, showing off one that he sangged at a gun show for a paltry $25.  If you go this route you may need to replace the string, and picking up a couple spares wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

If you're willing to put in the time for practice a used longbow or recurve is a good choice, since they are so simple. A takedown bow can be handy if storage space is limited, and helps when traveling or if it's going into your bugout kit.

My Samick Sage takedown recurve bow.

I recently posted on Blog O'Stuff about the Samick Sage takedown recurve. It is a good choice for a survival bow. The going rate on them is about $139, and for the money it's an excellent buy. Since it's a takedown and Samick sells limbs separately, you can buy limb sets in different weights. E.g., 35# for extended practice sessions and 50# for hunting. As a takedown it can be stored in a compact case complete with arrows, glove or tab, and bow stringer.

In summary, archery gear may have a place in your preps. But when deciding whether or not to include it make sure that you take into account all the legal, technical, and tactical reasons for adding it.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Lever Action Carbines for Defense

Recently I was able to get some shooting in over a friend's house (he lives in the country). One of the guns I shot was my Rossi 92 lever action in .357 Magnum. It's a replica of the Winchester 1892, designed by John Moses Browning. Shooting the R92 got me to thinking about the practical application of this 19th Century design in late 2015, especially in light of current events.

Those of us who live in free states have unfettered access to modern defensive rifles like AR-15s, with full capacity magazines. However, if you live in a ban state such as New York, unless you're willing to break the law, no more standard capacity magazines will be available. If you're just now looking to get a defensive rifle, modern semiautos and acessories may be limited in availability.

In my opinion, a lever action is a viable alternative, even though the basic design is a century and a half old. If we're looking at a rifle for defense against bad guys (as opposed to dangerous animals) the ones to look at are those which fire handgun cartridges. Although there are several other options, if buying a levergun for social purposes I suggest that you choose one in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, or .45 Colt. These are currently the most common such cartridges and are easy to reload for.

Of these three, my first pick is the .357 Magnum. Ammunition is widely available at less cost than .44 Magnum or .45 Colt, it provides effective terminal ballistics, and recoil is mild.

From rifle length barrels, magnum revolver cartridges get a big performance boost. For example, a .357 Magnum 158 grain bullet that leaves a 4" revolver barrel at about 1250 FPS will probably be doing at least 1700 - 1800 FPS from a 20" carbine. .357 loads with 125 grain bullets can exceed 2,000 FPS from a rifle! The muzzle energy of a .357 Magnum round fired from a rifle can be double that of the same load fired from a handgun.

Compared with a shotgun, lever action carbines have less recoil, smaller and lighter ammo, and greater magazine capacity (generally speaking).

Currently, the Rossi 92 is probably the most commonly available pistol caliber levergun. The Marlin 1894 is still around, but 1894s in .357 seem to scarce as hen's teeth. There are also Winchester 1894s in .357, .44, and .45 available on the used gun market, if you can find one.

Some features that I like about the Rossi 92 include:

  • The 20" barreled models hold 10 cartridges in the under barrel magazine. The 16" models hold 8, while the 24" rifles hold 12 rounds.
  • In the 20" barreled version, it weighs in at about 5 pounds. Even my 11 year old daughter is able to shoulder it.
  • The .357 Magnum carbines have very mild recoil, even with full power loads. I've single loaded .38 wadcutters, which recoil like and sound like a .22 when fired from the 20" barreled carbine. This is great for familiarization firing for new shooters, and can also be used for small game.
  • The design includes a built-in gunlock incorporated into the hammer. It is unobtrusive and is locked/unlocked with a key included with the rifle. If you want to secure a loaded rifle outside of a safe, it's one of the better solutions I've seen. IMO, it's safer than gun locks that go in the trigger guard.
  • Rossi 92s are reasonably priced and readily available, although you might need to order one through a local FFL or from an online retailer. 
  • While my rifle is blued steel, Rossi also makes the 92 in stainless steel. If you need a rifle for a boat or other humid environment this is definitely a big plus.

Some things I don't care for:

  • There are some rough edges inside the loading gate that I need to debur. They can chew on your fingers when loading the magazine.
  • Several years ago Rossi added a manual safety on top of the bolt to John Browning's original design. It feels cheap and cheezy. I removed mine and replaced it with a plug from Steve's Gunz. The gun still has the original half cock on the hammer.
  • The magazine follower is a cheap piece of plastic. I replaced mine with a steel follower from Steve's Gunz.
  • The finish on the wood was not only bland, but it didn't seal the wood well, either. I gave it a couple coats of Watco Danish Oil to better protect the stocks. Boiled linseed oil, tung oil, or a sprayed on polyurethane would also work well.
  • Browning's design does not lend itself to easy takedown. The good thing is that takedown is rarely required. Marlins are much better in this regard.

Steve's Gunz has a good DVD on slicking up the Rossi 92s.

As an aside, Rossi's quality control can sometimes be a little spotty. Years ago I had an 1892 Short Rifle in .357 made by Rossi for EMF. It had a 20" octagonal barrel, crescent buttplate, and no barrel band around the forearm. It was a beautiful rifle but when I first got it, it gave me extraction problems. Rossi had me send it in and they fixed it, but this was a hassle. At some point I traded it off but I do regret that.

The pistol caliber lever actions give you a light, fast handling rifle that fires an effective cartridge, can be operated quickly, and especially in .357 and .45 Colt, has mild recoil. It's worth a look for home or property defense if you can't have a modern rifle.