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If I Had One…(Part 1)  by Tim Siewert

In the 1970's, a man named Mel Tappan wrote a book entitled, “Survival Guns”.  His original work was about the same length as my second book.  It was basically his opinions and those of a few others as to what a person would need in the way of firearms for a “SHTF” scenario.  He included his recommendations for a basic and ultimate survival arsenal and the recommendations of some other people of notoriety at the time.  While Mr. Tappan’s original book is dated and some of the guns he recommended are now collector’s items, it is still an interesting read and much of what he wrote is still pertinent today.

​My uncle Charlie has used an old west saying on occasion, “Beware of the man who owns only one gun because he likely knows how to use it well.”  This is not to say that someone who owns more than one gun or even many guns does not know how to use them.  I would like to offer my recommendations for all of my readers about what I think works and why.

​After considerable thought, if I could have only one handgun it would be a .357 magnum revolver with a 4” or 6” barrel and adjustable sights.  Now I know some people may ask why a revolver?  And some may ask why a .357?  I have written about this before in my article “Defensive Handgun 101”.  I like revolvers because they work.  A good double-action revolver is a Timex watch; they work every time.  Revolvers are simple.  When the adrenaline is flowing, training takes over and when milliseconds count with less to think about, simple gets the job done.

​O.K., so why a .357 magnum?  The answer is versatility.  .38 Special wad-cutter target ammunition can be used for practice and small game hunting while full-power .357 magnum ammunition can be used for defensive purposes and hunting larger game to include deer.  Right here I know some may ask, “What about the .45 ACP or 9mm or .40 S&W for defense?”  According to statistics, the .357 magnum with full-power, factory ammunition still has the highest percentage of “one shot stops” of any handgun cartridge at 96%.  The other consideration is ammunition availability.  .38 Special and .357 magnum ammunition is available everywhere; given the state of ammunition availability over the last year or so being an anomaly.  Still if one reloads, as I have repeatedly recommended, then ammunition would not be a problem and hand loading increases the versatility of the .38/.357 revolver.

​As far as the barrel length, I offer this: First, there is not much difference between 4” or 6” in handling or performance.  Generally, 50 to 100 fps will be the difference in velocity with any given ammo between the two lengths.  Most of the time there will be greater velocity loss with 2” barreled guns and nominal gains with barrels of 8” in length or greater.  For example: A standard .357 magnum load with 158 grain bullets usually has a published muzzle velocity of 1250fps. Normally, this is out of an 8” barreled gun (but some ammo manufacturers list this velocity out of 6” or 6 ½” barreled guns).  The same ammo out of a 6” barreled gun (if listed out of an 8” gun) will be about 1200fps and a 4” gun will get 1150fps.  But, out of a 2” barrel you will be lucky to get 1000fps.  The reason for this has to do with the powder burning rates that are typically used for handgun ammunition.  With most of these powders a 90% burn of the powder is realized with a 6” barreled gun.  With a 2” barreled gun only 50% of the powder is burned before the bullet exits the muzzle.  Only with the very fastest burning powders can one realize better efficiency and these powders are not intended for magnum level loads.  The second consideration is the sight radius; the distance between the front and rear sights.  A 4” gun has about a 6 ¼” sight radius and a 6” gun 2” more.  The sights that come on adjustable sighted revolvers are designed to work optimally within these parameters.  The reason I recommend adjustable sights is that this would be a do-it-all gun.  Therefore, it may be used for hunting at extended ranges; given this, adjustable sights would be advantageous.  

Now to the brand of revolver: I recommend Colt, S&W, or Ruger.  I have recently heard bad things about Taurus guns.  An acquaintance that operates a small, local gun shop has told me that he will no longer sell or work on Taurus guns because of warranty issues.  I know that this limits the selection but in a world that is focused on semi-auto pistols, unfortunately quality revolvers are limited.  As far as the three brands I have this to offer: Rugers are built like tanks, Colts are akin to Rolls Royce, and S&Ws are like Hondas.  The triggers on Rugers are what they are; most of the time they are good but if not, there is not much that can be done to improve them due to the inherent design of Ruger triggers.  The triggers on Colts hardly ever need any improvement and S&Ws are easy to work on if needed.  Some suggestions: The Ruger GP-100 or SP-101; both of these fine guns are available within my specified parameters. As for S&W there is a wide selection to choose from; the models 586, 686, 27, 327, 627, 60, 66, & 640 are all available in 4”, 5” & 6” blued and stainless and the 686 is available w/7round capacity and the 627 w/8 round capacity.  All of these guns come with adjustable sights.  My all time favorite .357 mag revolver is a Colt Python.  Unfortunately Colt is out of the revolver business except for their custom shop on a limited basis.  For those who may be interested in a Taurus gun; they catalog two .357s, the models 66 and 608.  The 608 is a stainless gun in either 4” or 6” with an 8 round capacity.  The 66 is either blued or stainless with a 7 round capacity. Both of these guns have adjustable sights.  I offer this info because another shop that I am acquainted with claims to have had only good dealings with Taurus and does recommend them to their customers.  There is one other manufacturer of revolvers in .357 mag caliber; Armscor.  The same shop that recommends Taurus also recommends Armscor. I have no experience with these guns of Philippine make that are marketed under the Rock Island Armory brand; therefore I just give them “honorable mention” here.  I did though inquire about the warranty of Armscor guns and was informed that it is a limited lifetime warranty.  This is the sum total of new .357 mag revolvers available today.  If I had to choose one to buy new it would be a S&W 686 or a 627 w/7 or 8 round capacity respectively and 6” barrel.     

​If I could have only one rifle it would be a bolt action rifle in 30-06.  My reasons for this are much the same as a .357 mag. revolver.  “Stick-shift” guns are “Timex watches”.  They work all the time.  They are easy to maintain.  30-06 ammunition is everywhere.  The 30-06 has been used to take every big game animal on the North American continent and almost every game animal on the African continent.  There are chamber inserts available for 30-06 rifles to facilitate the use of .30 carbine & .30 Luger in rifles so chambered.  These inserts can be used so the rifle can be used for hunting small game with the lower powered .30 carbine & .30 Luger ammo much like a .22lr rifle.  The 30-06 is more versatile than the .308 Winchester.  The .308 Win. case does not hold enough powder to take full advantage of .30 cal. bullets weighing more than 180 grains where the 30-06 does.  It is also my recommendation to have at least a 22” barrel on this rifle and preferably 24”.  I recommend this to take full advantage of the ballistic superiority of the 30-06 and it has been my experience that short barreled guns really do not “swing” faster nor does the 4” or 6” less barrel length diminish the weight of the gun by that much.  What the 4” to 6” less barrel length does do is decrease the muzzle velocity significantly and thus the effectiveness of the round dramatically.  Another characteristic of a short barreled rifle is increased muzzle flash.  This may be a particular concern during night operations.

​As to the brand of rifle, I prefer Remington, Winchester, Sako, CZ, and Ruger.  I do not recommend buying a rifle with one of those ignorant, Glock-style knobs on the trigger.  An external safety is always best.  A quality, optical sight like a 2-7 or 3-9 power scope is the way to go.  Of course you can upgrade the barrel, stock, trigger, and sights if you want but it is not necessary unless you want match grade accuracy beyond 400 yards.  Then a custom barrel, stock, bedding job and a scope with greater magnification range will greatly improve the accuracy of the rifle along with a good trigger.  I own a 1965 vintage Winchester Model 70 in 30-06.  It has a 28” Obermeyer barrel, a custom stock with the action glass bedded and the barrel free-floated, and an after-market trigger.  That rifle is capable ½ M.O.A. accuracy out to 1000 yards with 200 grain Sierra match bullets; just an example.  Granted that rifle is a tad heavy to be toting around the woods all day at 13+ pounds sans scope but it will get the job done.  Even a 6 ½ pound rifle gets heavy at the end of a long day.

​As far as scopes go, there are a lot of scopes that are good that do not cost a whole lot. In many cases you are just paying for a name in my opinion but I am not going to mention any names here.  I will say this though; buy a scope with a lifetime warranty and check it out before you buy, do some home work.  Also, get a scope with coated glass.  Coated glass mitigates eye-strain.  I have a target grade scope on my 6.5x284 that I am holding in the picture on the back cover of my second book that is a great scope and I paid $125.00 for it as an example.  Remember that a scope is just a sight and nothing more. As long as it has good clarity and repeatable adjustment, it will do the job.  Also remember this when it comes to optics: there may be 100+ brands of optics available but there is only about 12 or so factories in the world that grind optical quality glass; something to think about.  And none of those factories are located in North America.

​Many years ago, the late Jeff Cooper offered his idea of the ultimate one rifle.  I have long admired Col. Cooper.  I have thought that most of what he had to say was spot-on but if Col. Cooper was anything, he was the quintessential pragmatist.  Consequently he was more a hunter and approached the concept from that standpoint rather than an all-round shooter as myself.   His one rifle concept has become what is now referred to as the “scout” rifle which is what he dubbed his idea.  The scout rifle is an 18” barreled bolt-action rifle in .308 Winchester with a low powered scope (1.5-5 or 2-7) mounted forward of the action on the barrel with detachable magazine feed.  In my mind the scout rifle is neat but limited in both power and range even for this continent.  I base this opinion on the fact that I have shot an M1A rifle at all distances from 100 to 1000 yards in competition.  Even with a standard length 22” barrel on the M1A in .308, performance really starts to fall off beyond 600 yards.  As a matter of fact, 168 grain match bullets out of that rifle start to go subsonic at about 800 yards.  Granted I realize that most people will think that 600 Yards is a long way but really it isn’t.  I have shot in competition at that distance 100s and 100s of times; once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t seem that far.   I think that the ultimate one rifle would be a Remington, Winchester, Sako, CZ, or Ruger in 30-06, with a 24” medium to medium heavy straight taper (possibly even fluted) Obermeyer or Krieger barrel, an adjustable laminated wood stock, an adjustable custom trigger, and a 3-15 power quality scope.  Such a rifle would be able to handle any task with the possible exception of 1000 yard bench-rest shooting.

​So much for handguns and rifles, now a few words about shotguns:  If I had only one shotgun it would be either a double barreled or pump in 12 gauge.  Why 12 gauge? Again, ammunition availability and versatility is the reason for my choice of 12 gauge. Without a doubt, the best pump shotgun ever designed was the model 12 Winchester; and a very close second best being the 870 Remington.  Now the model 12 has not been made for 50 years but, the model 97 has been resurrected.  The model 12 was nothing more than a slightly improved model 97; the main difference being that the model 12’s bolt and hammer are enclosed.  As far as barrel length I recommend either 26” or 28” barrels on shotguns.  The 870 is still available and comes with interchangeable choke tubes.  This option increases the versatility of the gun.  I am not sure as to whether the resurrected 97 comes with choke tubes or not.  I think that a 26” double barreled 12 ga. shotgun with choke tubes and automatic shell ejectors would be very adequate for just about any situation in which a shotgun may be employed.  The only thing that would be better would be a 26” or 28” model 12, 97, or 870 with choke tubes.  A few good things about the 870: magazine extensions are available to increase the capacity of the gun and it is very easy to change out barrels if a different length barrel is desired.  The down side of the magazine extensions is that when full, they do add a significant amount of weight to the front of the gun.  A good addition to this shotgun would be fiber-optic sights. These work well in low-light situations and great during the day.

​I have been asked a few times what made the model 12 so great?  The answer to this question is three-fold.  First, the model 12 was very rugged and therefore reliable.  About the only thing that ever broke on one was the firing pin.  Second, it is virtually impossible to wear one out.  The reason for this was the chamber ring.  If the headspace started to get too worn from excessive use on a model 12, then all that was necessary was to move the chamber ring one notch.  It was said that each notch was good for 100,000 shells.  There are nine notches.  Lastly, the magazine capacity of the model 12 was six shells.  Two more than what is common on most other shotguns.  I think that other shotguns should be held to these standards.   

​To conclude this portion of this article to have only one gun is not an option in my mind; three is a minimum: A .357 mag. revolver, 30-06 rifle, and a 12 gauge shotgun.  Add to this a minimum of 500 rounds of ammunition for each gun.  To me that is the bare bones basic personal arsenal.  In the next installment I will cover my thoughts about the basic adequate arsenal and the ultimate arsenal for a single person and a couple/family.