So now that the civil rights haters have lost this round in the Senate… mainly because they way overplayed their hand, the availability of standard-capacity 30-round magazines and military style rifles now appear to on the rise.
Prices are still a little bit crazy, but I’m guessing that they’ll trend lower really soon. Hopefully. 30-round AR magazines are back down to about $15 now… they were about $11/10-pack in November 2012, and AR prices are down about $100-$200 currently. Still not back to ‘normal’, whatever that new normal will be.
With the recent gun-ban panic, and the rising availability of AR’s and AK’s in the supply line again, a lot of folks who never thought of owning a AR-15, AK, etc… are now giving the idea of building a good 3 gun battery some serious thought…. and are looking for some suggestions.
So here are my suggestions, and I’ll try to be brief but informative without running off at the mouth. Remember, my opinion is worth what you paid for it.
No matter what you’ve heard it called – TEOTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It), or the Zombie Apocalypse… we’re talking about projectile weapons to be used in defense of life or home when the proverbial “Shit Hits The Fan”. The primary purpose is protection, not hunting or recreation, so we’re talking about magazine-fed auto-loaders instead of manually operated weapons such as lever or bolt actions. I can already hear the Luddites muttering about how a lever action is more than capable for self defense. Yeah, yeah… I can pedal a bicycle 90 miles each way to work instead of driving my car, or maybe ride a damn mule if I was feeling lazy, but why the hell would I do that if I had a freaking car?
So what would I get if it were my money, and I were looking to build a quality 3 gun battery?
1- Rifle or Carbine: For me, it’s pretty simple. A carbine in an AK47/AK74 or AR15 platform. Both are reliable, 7.62×39 (AK47), 5.45×39 (AK74), and 5.56/.223 (AR15) ammo & magazines are readily available and reasonably priced, and parts and accessories are plentiful as well.
So what do I look for in an AR15?
* chrome-lined or nitrided barrel and chamber – mandatory in my opinion for protecting the barrel from hard use and possible neglect.
* 1-in-7 or 1-in-9 barrel twist – The 1-in-7 works fine for 55-grain or 62-grain projectiles, and would also work with heavier 75 or 77-grain ammo. However, if all you can find is something with a 1-in-9 twist, no problem. It works fine for stabilizing the 62-grain green-tip or 55-grain ball ammo, though it would wouldn’t be any good for anything longer and heavier. If I planned on shooting anything heavier, like 75 or 77-grain ammo, I’d hold out for a 1-in-7 barrel. Now, having said all that… if I got a great deal on an older AR15 with a 1-in-12 twist, I wouldn’t turn it down. The 1-in-12 barrels will shoot the ubiquitous 55-grain ammo just fine.
* A3 upper receiver – it has the 1913 rail on the top of the receiver instead of the A2 style carry handle. Obviously, the benefit of the 1913 rail is that it allows you to easily mount optics and still maintain a decent cheek weld.
* collapsible butt stock – yeah, you can go with the fixed A3 or A2 butt stock, but the collapsible butt stock is adjustable for length of pull for different sized shooters, or if wearing thick clothing or body armor.
* staked Bolt Carrier – the gas key on the bolt carrier absolutely needs to be staked so that the allen head screws can’t back out.
* bolt upgrades – the timing on an AR with a carbine-length gas system and a 16 inch barrel is a bit different than the original rifle-length gas system and 20 inch barrel, and you really need to have the extractor spring insert and O-ring to ensure reliable extraction in a carbine.
* Comments – I’ve owned AR’s from Colt (rifle length, old school slick side upper receiver, and fixed butt stock) and Bushmaster (carbine with collapsible stock), and found those to be reliable, though my Bushmaster didn’t like the older lacquer-coated Wolf steel-cased ammo. I once had an extraction issue where the the the empty case was stuck good and tight in chamber, and the extractor kept slipping off the rim. I haven’t any any issues with the newer ‘polymer’ coated steel cased ammo. Note that the Bushmaster did not have any of the current extractor enhancements such as the extractor spring insert and O-ring… just a standard extractor spring.
My other 2 AR’s are pretty much Franken-guns, built from individual parts and sub-assemblies, but they’ve been absolutely reliable because I used only quality “mil-spec” components.
For an AK platform –
* chrome-line barrel – for the same reasons as why I want one for the AR platform…
*stamped receiver – yep, I know there are those who insist that the milled receiver is superior to the common stamped steel receiver.. I disagree. The milled receiver is heavier, get hot and stays hot when shot a lot, and in my opinion doesn’t offer any real advantage over a good quality heat-treated stamped receiver.
* folding butt stock – while not absolutely necessary in my opinion, a good folding stock really makes the rifle more compact, and is useful for transporting or storing the AK.
* some means of mounting a red dot optic – let me be blunt… the stock notch type rear sight on the AK sucks ass, especially if you have old eyes like me… and because the rear sight is mounted way forward on the front trunion, the sight radius is quite short for a rifle. There are a lot more methods for mounting a red dot optic on an AK now than what was available just a few years ago, and today at means either the Midwest Industries railed handguard, some sort of railed top cover, a rear sight replacement, or a receiver side rail (which you can’t just add to a receiver that doesn’t already have one).
* Comment: I only own 1 AK (an AK47 in 7.62×39). It’s a SLR-107F from Arsenal, Inc… a stamped receiver model with a folding stock. It’s been utterly reliable, and fairly accurate… busting the myth of the inaccurate AK.
2- Shotgun: short list – 12 gauge Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 series. There’s an entire industry built around the 870, and to a lesser extent the Mossberg 500. One thing to consider is that the safety on the 870 is located at the back of the trigger guard, whereas the safety on the 500 is located on the top rear of the receiver where it actuated by the shooting hand thumb. Not such a big deal until you put a pistol grip on the shotgun. The 870 is more ergonomic with a pistol grip because you don’t have to break your firing grip to manipulate the safety. On the Mossberg, because of the location of the safety on the top rear of the receiver, you’d have to break you firing grip in order to manipulate the receiver mounted safety.
* extended magazine – a characteristic of most shotguns is the limited ammo capacity. An extended magazine is necessary to even hold 8 rounds.
* side-saddle shotshell carrier – the limited ammo capacity inherent in most shotguns means that some means of carrying additional ammo on-weapon is needed.
* some means of mounting a 1913 rail to the receiver – this allows the use of a red dot optic for accurate long range shooting with slugs.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a semi-automatic shotgun, either tube-magazine or box magazine… but you’d really need to make damn sure that your load of choice feeds, cycles, and extracts reliably. Most don’t function reliably with lighter rounds such are birdshot. Then again, if your purpose is defensive, you’re probably not shooting birdshot anyway, but it does reduce your options if you want to shoot small game, etc.
I have heard that the Remington VersaMax is quite reliable with a wide variety of loads, though I haven’t seen that for myself. For about $1300+ MSRP, I may never own one. I am a cheap bastard after all.
There is one advantage that an autoloading shotgun has over a pump shotgun, and that is the ability to shoot, and keep shooting with one hand in case the support hand/arm is injured or otherwise occupied doing something else. That’s much more difficult to do with a pump action.
3- Pistol: Glock, or Smith & Wesson M&P. Ok, we’re done! Seriously though, these are the only two pistol brands that I really had any real long term experience with in the last 10 years or so, so they’re what I’d recommend unreservedly. After thousands of rounds through them, I’d say that they’re both pretty damn reliable. I prefer the M&P because it has interchangeable grip inserts in different sizes, and I can easily mount a Crimson Trace LaserGrip just by swapping it for a grip insert. I can also put a nice Crimson Trace Light Guard. Nice thing is they make holsters that will fit the M&P with both attachments.
Having said all that, I like Glocks… they just don’t agree too much with the way I grip them. I like to use a pretty high grip, and when the slide comes back, it tends to take skin off. The M&P has a bit of a beaver tail, so slide-bite is a non-issue. They do make a add-on beaver tail that I’m looking to try out on my daughter’s Glock 19.