If the pandemic has done anything, it is has continued expanding the number of Americans who decide to embrace their natural rights and become gun owners. To these new folks, Welcome! I hope I am able to guide you along the path to the safe and responsible enjoyment of the only sporting activity I know of that fulfills the sentiment expressed in the old saying, “God made men, and Sam Colt made them all equal.”
Gun writers love the “If I could have only one…” topic. (In this author’s humble opinion, the thought of being limited to a single firearm borders on blasphemy, but I digress.)
The thought process involved in writing such a piece is a recognition that all firearms are a compromise between portability and effectiveness.
A North American Arms mini-revolver is certainly easy to carry about, but I would not want to rely on it for my next rabbit hunt.
A long time ago, a gent by the name of Charles A. “Skeeter” Skelton was asked which handgun he would take into the nuclear apocalypse. His answer was the .357 Magnum and a Smith & Wesson Double-Action revolver.
Skeeter’s stated plan to survive was to bug out for the high country on horseback. A good plan. I like it, but very few have easy access to a horse of their own, and even fewer have any place to bug out to. Remember, Once you leave your home region, you are just another “thievin’ refugee” in the eyes of the communities you pass through. Look at how Rhode Island and other States were blocking access to vehicles with New York license plates during the current Covid nonsense. Sadly, Texas was no better, blocking travelers from Louisiana.
So, if buggin’ out is not in the cards, we need to select a defensive arm that meets certain minimum criteria:
1. Portable – A weapon left at home is no use. This means we have to be able to carry it all of the time and often carry it concealed. I am able to carry my Ruger Super Blackhawk in an Uncle Mike’s shoulder holster quiet comfortably, and undetected. The “super” is larger than the regular New Model Blackhawk by a significant margin. (Issues of legality of carrying a concealed firearm are left to local ordinances. Know your State’s laws.)
2. Powerful Enough – Firearms are tools designed to perform a few very simple tasks. In case of a disaster, those tasks are Protecition and Hunting. A gun suitable for self-defense may lack the effectiveness on medium sized game animals to make a humane harvest possible.
3. Common Ammunition – Ammunition shortages have become a real problem during recent disasters like hurricanes, and various government outrages, so we need to be able to secure an initial supply, and insure we can obtain more ammunition in the future
Semi-automatic handguns chambered in 9mm Luger/Parabellum make up the lion’s share of firearms sold for defense in America. The 9 is followed by .40 S&W and .45 ACP. In revolvers, the .38 Special and .357 Magnun pretty much own the defense market with the .38 Special snubnose revolver leading over the old school full size police holster weapon. All of these cartridges can be effective for defense against human attack, but when taking game for food, the rounds have to meet different requirements.
For liability reasons, defense ammunition must penetrate the body enough to reach vital organs, but not so much that it is likely to exit the target and injure an innocent third-party down range. This has lead bullet design to favor the rapidly expanding hollow point bullet that is intended to stop in the target. A hunting bullet needs all of the penetration it can get, and expansion is secondary. A hole punched completely through the shoulders of a deer will bring on a faster death, and leave a better blood trail to follow.
.357 Magnum has the proven ability to harvest wild hog, and deer-sized game with good shot placement and a solid semi-wadcutter or heavy hollow point bullet. The downside to .357 Magnum is price. If you do not reload your own ammo (see below), you will want to do most of your practice with .38 Specials which chamber and fire in a .357 Magnum handguns.
.38 Special loaded with a semi-wadcutter or full wadcutter bullet is an excellent round for small game. The cartridge has the mild recoil and inherent accuracy to make head shots on rabbits and squirrels possible. Full wadcutters are good performers in the defense role as well if the local jurisdiction frowns on hollow point ammunition. One advantage of .38 Special is price. Ammo is relatively cheap allowing for more practice.
9mm would work on small game, but military style full metal jacket ammunition is not a good performer on man or beast. Sure it will stop both, but hollow point bullets are really needed in any of the semi-auto chamberings.
Another issue for semi-automatics is bullet shape. During the loading cycle, a cartridge must make two abrupt turns in a very short distance to move from magazine to chamber. The round nose projectile shape was designed to make this transition easy. Hollow point bullets are missing the nice round nose, and that can create difficulties with some weapons. Hold on to this thought for bit because it will be back.
So, can we have it all?
Yes. If you are willing to adjust your thinking a bit.
Semi-automatic weapons are great fun. They can turn money into noise like nothing else I know, but that hail of lead comes at a terrible price in the great limiter of all survival, logistics. I simply cannot carry enough bullets in my backpack to hose down the woods every time I see a rabbit. In order to protect myself and to take game responsibly, I MUST be able to hit my target.
(Before anybody gets their panties in a twist, I’m not bashing semi-autos, I’m bashing poor marksmanship and the popular tendency to substitute volume of fire for precision. A gun with no bullets is a paperweight.)
So, how do we maximize our ammo?
By owning a gun that will safely chamber a wider number of cartridges, especially the most popular cartridges.
In 1955, a fellow by the name of William B. Ruger capitalized on the popularity of the TV Western and introduced an updated and improved version of the venerable Colt’s Single Action Army (aka Peacemaker) chambered in .357 Magnum. The Ruger Blackhawk has been in continuous production for the past 65 years. During this time, a further improved “New Model Blackhawk” replaced the original model. This is a robust single-action thumbbuster of the first order.
So why is an old fashioned gun so appropriate for the Apocalypse?
In a word, versatility.
Ruger sells Blackhawks in several calibers and barrel lengths, but for the apocalypse, we want the .357 Magnum/9mm “Convertible” Blackhawk with an extra cylinder.
The .357 Magnum Blackhawk will safely chamber and fire any .357 Magnum, .38 Special, or .38 Special +P cartridge. This is possible because the standard bullet diameter is .357 of an inch for both .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges. The second cylinder for a Convertible .357 Blackhawk is chambered in 9mm which uses a .355 diameter bullet.
Now I have a pistol that can fire three of the most popular defense cartridges in America, and with the right bullet style, I can hunt small to medium game for the pot. Almost any store that sells ammunition will likely have at least one of the three for sale.
Even if things get really dark and the black market is the best/only option to obtain supplies, anyone should be able to score a handful of at least one of the three.
Circling back to the topic on ammunition sensitivity in semi-autos, in a revolver, the shape of the bullet’s nose does not matter. If the round fits the chamber, the revolver can handle it. In such hard times, the reliability of ammunition could become questionable. Again, this is not a real problem in a revolver. If a round fails to fire, just cock the gun and try again. Some popular semi-autos like Glock pistols require jacketed bullets. Revolvers do not care. Once again versatility keeps the revolver fed.
“But it only holds six!” cries the peanut muncher in the back. Once again, I must hit my target, not hose it down. That takes training, practice, and discipline. Being on a limited diet of ammo, obtaining hits becomes even more critical. Out in the big ugly scary world, I am not ten feet tall and covered with hair. I am a little gray mouse that does everything in my power to remain unobserved as I go about my business. If I end up in a fight, I must hit my target as quickly and solidly as possible to end the confrontation. If I can’t hit the target, I will run out of time long before I run out of bullets.
Until ALL guns are outlawed, the six-shooter does not fall into the arbitrary definition of an “evil” gun, at least under the current legal definitions. This makes a revolver very attractive. If you are old enough to recall ol’ Bill Clinton’s Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, you probably recall a surge in revolver sales because folks though their wonder nines might be confiscated.
Lately, with improvements in 9mm hollow point ammo design, police agencies are switching back to the 9mm from the .40 S&W. Seems the high pressure .40 is too much for some officers and too expensive to allow for frequent practice. Again, 9mm will be easier to obtain in a crisis than .40, and possibly .45ACP.
Now we have a gun that can be kept fed using conventional and unconventional sources during a crisis. We can also learn to feed our Blackhawk using ammunition loaded at home or in camp if you are living rough.
Reloading cartridges is a relatively simple process, and equipment is available that can turn a home shop into a serious bullet factory, but this is about getting by on a minimum of equipment, so here are the high points.
The simplest reloading tools come from Lee Precision in the form of their Lee Loader.. This is a complete set of tools that will allow the user to reload cartridges safely almost anywhere. A few extras that make the Lee Loader kit work well are Lee’s Powder Dipper Set, and a Loading Manual. If you really want to be prepared, bullet molds , and learning to cast you own projectiles is fully within the ability of the average person.
Forget the idea of reloading 9mm and purchase the .357 Magnum Lee Loader kit. 9mm is likely to be the least useful cartridge because the majority of the ammo available in a crisis will tend toward the full metal jacket military style bullet simply due to the volume of that version produced. This round nose profile is the least effective as a stopping round, so it should be a practice round and backup option if .357 Magnum or .38 Special are not available.
To properly reload cartridges, you will needs some supplies:
- Bullets – Bullets come in a variety of weights (expressed in “grains”) and shapes.
- The standard bullet weight for .357/.38 cartridges is 158 grains. Most of the more popular defense bullets weigh 125-130 grains.
- The standard for 9mm is 124 grains in round nose and hollow point formats. They can be found in weights from 115-147 grains.
- For defense, hollow point bullets are preferred.
- The .38 Special 147 grain full wadcutter offers light recoil and solid performance as a defense round in jurisdictions that do not allow hollow point bullets.
- For hunting, the semi-wadcutter shape is preferred. In .357 Magnum use bullets weighing 158 grains or higher.
- Brass – The metal tube-like part of the cartridge left over after the round has been fired is called “brass” regardless of the metal it is actually made of.
- Brass can be salvaged and reloaded if the hull is really made of brass.
- Note: Some brass cartridge cases are plated with nickel. They are bright silver in appearance. Nickel plated cases can be reloaded.
- Aluminum and steel cases cannot be reloaded.
- Brass can be salvaged and reloaded if the hull is really made of brass.
- Primers – The small round object found in the middle of the cartridge base and the Primer or “cap” (as in “bust a cap”). This is the thing the firing pin hits creating the small dimple seen in fired cartridges. When the firing pin hits the primer the force crushes a small pellet which creates a jet of flame that ignites the powder in the cartridge.
- .357/.38 and 9mm all use “Small Pistol Primers”. The loading manual may suggest a brand, but they are mostly interchangeable. Some load recipes may call for “Magnum” primers. The key description is “Small Pistol Primer”.
- Powder – “Gun powder” comes in a variety of types. Modern powders are very powerful and should never be used in muzzle loaders or antique firearms or their replicas. Choose a powder based on the cartridge and bullet weight combination chosen from the Loading Manual. Follow the instructions in the manual religiously.
- Real Black Powder is the original “gun powder” based on the traditional charcoal, potassium nitrate, and sulfur mixture created centuries ago.
- Replica or substitute powders are modern propellants that mimic the burning characteristics of black powder.
- Black powder and replica powders can be used in cartridges by filling the cartridge case with powder until you can just seat the bullet and crimp it. (See loading manual fro an explanation of these terms.) NEVER try this loading technique with non-replica powders! You risk sever injury or death. Follow the load recipe in the manual!
Purveyors of cartridge loading equipment and supplies.
Yeah, I see the elephant sipping tea in the corner.
Getting back to Mr. Tactical Peanut Muncher, I talked about how great the Blackhawk is and how to keep it fed, but it is “tactical”? “Tactical” is crap. Tactics are a mental exercise performed under extreme stress, so spare me the idiocy.
Every firearm or cutting tool is “tactical” if it is used by a TRAINED person to defend life.
From 1835 until about 1912 Colt’s Single Action Army was a standard issue weapon of the US Armed Forces. Revolvers continued to soldier on in Double-action form even after the adoption of the 1911 pistol simply because stocks of the brand new semi-automatic were insufficient to meet the needs of World Wars I and II. Revolvers stayed in police holsters until the Wonder Nine wars of the 1980s finally displaced them.
The keys to defending yourself with any weapon is training and practice. Lots of very knowledgeable people seem to think the single-action revolver has potential because training classes taught by respected professionals are popping up.
Ruger.com offers a number of free videos on the combat application of the Single-action revolver featuring Il Ling New of Gunsite Academy. Gunsite offers a Lever Gun & Single-Action Revolver Defensive Pistol course at their training center in Arizona. Read a review here.
The defensive use of the Single-Action revolvers is also making a lot of ink:
*This is a great variant for folks who carry snubnose revolvers as well.
And the last reason to choose the Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum, several firms are offering lever-action rifles chambered in .357 Magnum. This allows the same round to feed your handgun and your long gun.
(Note: 9mm cannot be fed through the rifles mentioned below and this should never be attempted! 9mm is an emergency backup option to .357 Magnum and .38 Special if those cartridges are not available, and only for use in the Blackhawk pistol.)