*Survival Rifles and Hunting*
By: Tailgunner
22 February 2005

Just what would make a useful gun to include in my kit for both survival, defense and hunting? Is there such a thing that could do it all and if so what should I get, or do I already have something that would work just fine? The requirements I had in mind were to identify whether I needed a separate rifle for hunting or if one of my defensive rifles (MBA to some) would work as a hunting arm. The biggest factors that affect selection in my mind are where you live, what animals you can hunt, what bullet you will use and what your possible scenarios include. Other things like accuracy, the planned target or game animal, cartridge and the shooter are also all part of the answer.

To begin with I sat down and looked at what I have to use for these tasks, my gun safe includes a number of different rifles including: bolt rifles, lever rifles, semi-autos (M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, AR, SKS, and a Remington 742) and single shot rifles. So, no lack of possibilities and many to choose from. Next I thought of what I would hunt in my area; we have good quantities of moose, deer, caribou, rabbit, black bear and brown/grizzly bear (but I wonít eat Griz). With that in mind and the fact that when I go hunting I usually have at least a .30-06 but normally a .338Win Mag. I started looking at my choices again to see how they would work in hunting. My Garand is one fine, accurate rifle that Gen Paton once called the finest combat arm ever and with the .30-06 cartridge it shoots I would not hesitate using it on just about anything I hunt, its only real drawback is the enbloc clip rather than a magazine in a MBR. My AR is equally as accurate as any of my bolt guns, however in my AO the only thing to hunt with it effectively is deer, rabbit and maybe varmints. So what to do now? As usual the answer is not as simple as it would seem. Your requirements would be different for your area and what you plan on hunting, lets look briefly at each of those things that I think are important; accuracy, game available, cartridges, the shooter and if it is handy enough to have it with you when you need it.

Accuracy - How accurate does it need to be? I donít shoot for half inch targets, so my accuracy needs are probably well filled with the 1-2 MOA capability of any of the rifles in my safe. Range and my abilities are important and related to accuracy, for example how far are you going to have to shoot? Most defensive engagements will be rather short range. How far out are you willing to call defensive, also how far out are you comfortable taking a hunting shot? With my experience with my Garand and 742 I can take shots out to 250 maybe 300 yards and be comfortable with the accuracy sufficient to kill what I am hunting. My bolt guns can extend that range somewhat to 350 or maybe 400 yards because they are mounted with quality scopes, I would not take a shot knowingly past those ranges with my current skills. My 742 (in 6mm Remington) will shoot into about 1.25inch most all day long with 105grain hunting bullets. My Garand makes small groups under 2.5inch most of the time with irons. Guess what...when I shoot my bolt guns ( a .338 win mag and a .30-06 ) I get similar groups. Granted the bolt .338WinMag is a thumper and few people shoot them to their potential, but I am comfortable shooting it.

With my lever guns (.45-70, .444Marlin, .44Mag, .30-30) I shoot groups a little larger. I havenít tried the .444 at 100 yards yet, but for the most part I would keep my shots to under 200 yards with the sights I have on them. For the most part I have been able to get to within 50-150 yards for my hunting shots. Then too, most of my hunting is done with a good 3x9 Leopold (mounted on my .338WM Ruger M77RS, and .30-06 Ruger M77RSI which are my primary hunting guns) that allow me to see fairly well after the peep sights on other rifles are useless to me either because of light or my vision. So any of my rifles are capable of "hunting accuracy".

Targets/Game - Animals have a kill zone that you need to think of, the heart-lung KZ is the most reliable and easiest target that most people I know use. Most of the hunters I know subscribe to the heart-lung KZ (me too). Other targets demand either greater accuracy or considerably less depending. Shooting a small critter with a KZ of lets say a 6inch circle will dictate how you engage them and from how far out. I like to envision this kill zone as the size and shape of a volley ball for deer or big basketball for Caribou and moose. That seems like a big target, but an expanding bullet through that area will kill and usually quickly. So, again, any of my rifles would work in killing when shots were kept in the KZ or up close brain case shots (which I do not normally take).

Cartridge - You need to use a cartridge that is capable of doing what is needed. For hunting you want a cartridge to have sufficient combination of expansion, penetration and bullet weight to rapidly kill. The .30-30 is quite capable of killing anything on the American Continent. Back during the early 1900s some sportsmen went around hunting and killing just about every game animal I am aware of in North America with a .30-30, they were very successful. Course where you shoot the animal (remember the KZ above) and your woodsman skills will help a lot. For example if you shoot a little Black Tail deer in the butt with a .375 H&H Mag it is going to run a long ways before you get a second shot. Most people do not need the whiz-bang super short long necked bullet launchers to be successful hunters, they need to learn to be hunters. Some people here in Alaska use the .223 to do their hunting (I wouldnít, but some do). Bullet design and construction is extremely important, FMJ is a poor hunting bullet for the most part but does penetrate deeply. A good idea would be to have some softpoint hunting bulleted cartridges in your kit, or a separate magazine of softpoints should a hunting opportunity arise. So, once again, any of my rifles would work as a hunting arm.

Shooter - In my experience this is truly the most important of all issues. We have local natives that use the .223 on Polar Bear and Moose for goodness sakes (close up head shots usually) and they kill all the time. There was a native lady that is now dead from old age, that hunted and killed anything that came within range of her cabin, way out in the bush. She killed everything with a .22LR bolt action. She knew the animalís anatomy very well and where to shoot to kill with the diminutive 22lr, and she was patient and waited until that shot presented itself. She did not starve to death. I know people who use the .30-30 for everything from bears to moose and never feel that they are undergunned. If it is their only gun, they shoot it a lot, they know that gun every way since Sunday, they also know where to hit the animal to kill it.

It takes practice to be good with any firearm; pistol, shotgun, rifle it really doesnít matter, each requires practice to be able to get the maximum benefit from it. Spend more time shooting to increase your skill, not off of a bench, but in field positions and different ranges from 25 yards to 300 yards. Learn where to hit to kill quickly, learn what shots YOU can take and which you can not. Also, donít just shoot from a bench, get practiced in prone, sitting, kneeling and standing offhand then use a rest where ever possible. Ok, again as long as I can shoot it, any of the rifles in my safe would work as a hunting gun.

Have it with you - Having, said that the most important thought in my mind is "what are you going to have with you when you need it?" It needs to be handy, light enough to be comfortable to carry all day, if needed. During the Gold Rush in Alaska, many miners chose the lever action carbines by Winchester and Marlin as some of the most desirable for hunting, foraging and defending their claim. A survival firearm needs to be very versatile, with the different areas across this country comes different situations that could or would arise. For instance, in the rural south you may be far out in the sticks and need a handy firearm, my .338Win Mag (though fun to shoot) is just too much rifle (to heavy also) for use as a working gun. Lets be reasonable, in many places any good reliable firearm can be pressed into hunting service even a holstered pistol would work as well as a .30-30 lever gun or SKS loaded with softpoints.

My contention is that most of the guns I have would work well for me. It doesnít really matter what you want to use for your primary arm as long as it is chambered in a useful round for the game in your area, include a few softpoint hunting bullets either loaded into a spare magazine or on your belt, FMJ does not kill well. What you shoot well and will carry all the time is most important. Spend the money you would spend on another gun and get a lot of practice. If you want to use a survival type weapon like a Garand, M1A, FAL, AK, AR, SKS, LAR, BAR, L1A1, Marlin lever gun, Winchester M94, STG-58, G91, Mosin-Nagant or whatever, get a 5 round mag and go hunting with it. LEARN to hunt with it, especially practice in field shooting positions, it will make you a better rifleman in the very least. If you want to have a holstered utility pistol for these duties, get a .44mag or .45Colt or even a .41 mag at a minimum and practice with it until you are not just comfortable with it but are competent with it. Then regardless of what you decide on, have it with you...

If you are not a hunter now, that is another important skill to learn. A hunter is not just a dude wandering through the woods looking for something to shoot. A hunter is a woodsman who knows the game, its habits, where to find it, where to shoot to kill it quickly and how to track it. He also knows how to take care of cleaning the animal and preserve the meat that he has harvested. Then when you are out working in the back 40 and a nice deer or moose comes within range...

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