The eternal debate of, “What rifle for the end of the world?” rages on as we race onward down the canal of history.
A true apocalyptic event would probably also be an ELE, Extinction Level Event, so the point is moot in the truest regard but… we can scale ‘apocalypse’ to far more realistic and poignant situations. Mike ‘GarandThumb’ Jones does so in the video (and the opening with Brent is worth those 3 minutes alone) but we can also look at it here in scale.
Scale for threat
In truth, you are much more likely to experience a regional disaster, like a hurricane, fire, blizzard, or mass civil unrest that knocks out traditional services more than a ‘Fallout’ like dystopia. You will be competing against, and working with, people who are trying to maintain levels of normalcy with various degrees of success.
In such an environment you will be making choices, and those around you will be making choices, that may come into conflict much more quickly than one expects in functioning society. People are more likely to panic and act drastically in their own interests.
The concealed handgun will still be your most useful tool in an openly undefined situation as it remains convenient and discreet. You may end up carrying more ammunition, a larger handgun, more ancillary equipment, or any and all of the aforementioned but escalating straight to plate carriers, NODs, and open carbines is probably not the answer. It could be, but odds are against it.
Think about the Rooftop Koreans, it was in response to the riots coming directly their way that they armed up and acted so overtly. The threat was real and on their doorstep, not vague plausibility. This is where knowledge and communication of situations is going to become a much more valuable tool. Knowing your neighbors and looking out with them, knowing local responder elements and their emergency plans, and knowing the elements likely to quickly succumb to opportunism as stress of the situation increases will all be more valuable than your Aero Carbine and whether you are carrying it or not.
The gun is a static situational tool, like it was previously, the odds of use just shifted because the behavior of humanity around you did.
So now that we covered, “Hey, the power went out.” is probably not the trigger event to grab your rifle and PC on its own, let’s talk about what is actually meant on an apocalypse, SHTF, or WROL rifle.
When you say [ Insert Buzzword], I say ‘Durable’
“SHTF.” (Poo Strikes the Rotating Air Mover)
“WROL.” (Without Rule of Law)
“SNAFU.” (Situation Normal, All Fu.. you get the rest.)
Nope! The internet ruined that one.. for all eternity. Can’t have fun things.
Anyway, you get the idea, dear readers. You are looking for a rifle with a durable setup for the expected duration you will be without access to repair and resupply assets to maintain the rifle, the optics, and the ancillary gear like lights, lasers, NODs, plates, carrier, packs, ammo, food, water, hygiene, meds, fuel, and climate items.
Long list for living, but lets stick to the rifle and break it into three timeframes.
Short Duration Emergency
This is the extended weekend without power due to weather or a flash in the pan day or few of civil upheaval. It is short duration. It may not require any special efforts on your part at all, even not spoil your food in the fridge and freezer. Will likely resolve before any device would require maintenance or replacements.
In this situation almost anything you currently have that works half-a-damn will be fine. It will matter more that it is handy if the mob breaks down your front door than if it has a radioactive isotope inside that makes it glow for a decade plus without a battery.
You might swap fresh batteries into anything that hasn’t had them in awhile at the start, but are not likely to burn them out to replace again, even on the battery hungry devices (unless you’re playing with them because you have nothing else to do).
Any decent semi-auto rifle and a couple of magazines. Any optic that turns on and stays zeroed. Any items for dealing with an up close problem in your house or, at worst, around a vehicle or your neighborhood briefly. Just about any commercial item is likely sufficient. M&P Sport II with a Streamlight on a an inexpensive little rail strip off the plastic handguard type basic.
It is likely LE, EMS, and the other emergency organizations will still be functional, just strained. A response can be expected, but not on demand.
Moderate Duration Emergency
A more extended duration situation, like severe and extensive hurricane or other storm damage, long term civil unrest, or regional instability based on criminal activity at an unusual level (CHAZ). The early days of COVID had the potential to spiral into this but ended up far better than could have been. COVID isolation combined with some of the stronger weather events produced microcosm variants of short and moderate duration across the nation.
The primary change is in the duration you will find yourself under resourced. This makes considerations like having spare power cells, longer lasting more efficient electronics, or items that do not require power more desirable, if not strictly necessary. This can be mitigated with non-grid power items, like solar cells, as long as they remain in working order.
Resources like the power grid, fuel, and regular food services both for domestic grocery and restaurant are irregular, unreliable, or unavailable for weeks. It is unlikely that emergency services will be able to respond to individual calls or that calls will be answerable in any conventional sense. Resource draw will likely be nodal and rationed, if it was not previously owned by an individual or group.
This all creates a highly charged environment for aggressive and violent competition over available resources and various forms of personal and group security. Opportunism is much more likely on a much larger scale. Necessity for using force or for using more overt forms of deterrence are likelier.
Rifles will essentially be the same category already owned and operated, higher quality will serve you better but that is universally true, the ancillaries will need to be of higher quality with better hardened and more efficient electronics. Some thought might be taken to non-battery powered optics, but having a clean and well kept spare battery for most modern dots will be more than sufficient. A more frequent cleaning/lubrication cycle may be wise to implement. Even if you aren’t in a position where carrying your rifle has become common, you’re outside the normal environmentally controlled conditions that allows for low maintenance tempos.
Extended Duration Emergency
A situation that spans many months, years, or perhaps is a permanent shift in societal structure. This could be invasion, societal collapse, hyper lethal world wide pandemic (making COVID look like the common cold), or civil war. The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, both World Wars (especially in Europe and North Africa), and many other past and present events can fall into this societally altering category, regionally bracketed.
In these situations it must be assumed no formal organizational structure will remain or can be relied upon in any modern first-world sense. In the case of something along the lines of an invasion on US Soil, resources would be prioritized to repelling that first and foremost. In the case of civil war, factions will be formed and they may or may not have anything to do with current governing structures. Humans are social and societal creatures and something will form again, but how closely or distantly it resembles what was normal before can’t be known.
Rifles for this scenario must not only be equipped for long durations without material support, but be of the highest quality materials you can reasonably acquire because you may end up using it until it fails and you must find another, and that other may not be of nearly the same quality.
While people will make noises about the AR-15 being so nice because it is easy to fix, I remind you all that it is easy to fix in a well supplied and well trained environment.
If my M16, in this most desperate of scenarios, gives up the ghost because I’ve shot the life out of it and its burned out, I will acquire a replacement rifle. I am not going to worry about the nuance of my SCAR being harder to find replacement parts for than an AR because if one or the other breaks, my easiest bet it to strip what might be useful from it and pick up a new rifle entirely. Maybe the gun that is down can be fixed later, but for the moment throwing a fresh zero into a working gun is my safest option. The military has learned the lesson well, too. Even with their highly developed maintenance and repair infrastructure, it is easier to replace item X and pull it to repair at convenience than it is to try and repair item X on the line. You may not have that option, but it is the easier way to proceed if you do.
I do want my rifle, whatever rifle I started the whole long chaotic road with, to last the whole way through if it can. So picking the best barrels, operating parts, optics, etc. all for durability makes sense. It’s that level I like seeing and buying for. Rifles from the M4A1 generation and forward are legendarily durable however, easily lasting tens of thousands of rounds even at relatively high annual fire rates.
Durable optics like the Elcan or ACOG may make most sense here due to their jack-of-all-trades nature and incredible durability. The lack of relying on power may be an advantage in very long term type circumstances, but again with how durable and long lasting modern dots are, combined with greater proliferation of rechargeable cells, there are Aimpoints that are going to be running decades from now on their 3rd battery. Even LPVOs shouldn’t be shunned, they’re durable in today’s market and very useful. The early chaotic equipment lists used early in Iraq and Afghanistan showed a bunch of highly successful items that weren’t in the mainstream, but they did work.
The trick is not being overly attached to, or unwilling to swap out, items that fail. Nothing is unlimitedly durable. If my SCAR breaks tomorrow I use my X95 or my M4 until my SCAR is back working. If my SCAR breaks under these long term adverse conditions, I’ll either know or be fairly certain I can fix it from available resources, or not and ditch it. Grab the next rifle in the stash or next available, it will be highly dependent on the supply circumstance of the situation in the wider world.
Fighting off an invasion or in a civil war will have a very different supply situation than a ‘wasteland’ scenario due to some drastic world shift on human survivability.
Buy once. Buy updates as necessary. Buy spares as you can.
The likelihood of running any quality built rifle to its failure point is a topic we have plenty of data on, and an emergency is less likely to produce high round counts than any given two day training class. ‘Firefights’ are likely to continue to be the brief affairs they currently are in self protection, police actions, and other similar circumstances because we are not talking about the clash of uniformed forces en mass for the most part.
Occasional clashes of irregular minimally trained forces with other irregular minimally trained forces, all while every small faction is trying to rebuild their version of normal, is not going to be a 500 round day every day.
Even in the active war zone variants the factions with any survivability will develop deeper logistics pools in order to maintain themselves.
So, buy or build a quality rifle. Good barrel, good operating parts, good optics, best you can get. Know how to run it, have a few good spare batteries based on your electronics with environmental protections, and that’s pretty much it. Then buy a spare the same way if/when you can.
The rifle is easy.
It’s dealing with people under extended high strain that is going to be difficult.