The e-mails, the comments, the controversy, the stir; I have to explain why I crowned the AR-15 (and all its variations) the best gun for survival. The way some of you responded, you’d have thought I’d insulted your mother, because your top choice wasn’t mine. I need to break this post into a two-part weekend post, SHTF homies. I gotta explain. It has to be done.
by Derrick James, SHTFblog founder and blogger at Prepper Press
I know most of you already have your own belief on what the best SHTF/TEOTWAWKI gun is, and I suspect most everything I’m about to say here won’t change your mind, but it might, particularly if you base your opinion on most of the SHTF related blogs out there criticizing the AR-15, overstating its disadvantages and never fully explaining its many advantages. I should also preface this post with the note that there is no single gun that will meet every need. For this reason, people should reference my Top Ten list again and buy 10… of each. 😉
The single biggest criticism of the AR-15 is usually its cartridge size. Stories get cited of soldiers needing to hit insurgents 3-4 times in the torso in order to bring them down. In Part I of this two part post I’ll respond to this criticism. In Part II I’ll describe the many other advantages to the AR-15 that either aren’t mentioned or fully defined on survivalist sites.
Criticism – It’s a Varmint Round
Critics happily say this and move on; but as is often the case, there’s more to the story. We need to look more deeply. A typical varmint round in a .223 is a 40-55 grain bullet. A typical .223 varmint rifle will have a 1:12 or 1:14 barrel twist. Virtually all of the the boxed .223 rounds you’ll find at stores like Wal-Fart and Dick’s Sporting Goods will be 55 grain full metal jackets. I can only assume, since critics rarely specify which cartridge they’re referencing, that they’re speaking of this more common cartridge. The military originally issued a 55 grain copper-jacketed lead-core bullet. The “bad performance” stories from the Vietnam-era are the result of this cartridge and a poor, original M16 design that has since improved exponentially. The 55 grain bullets are great if you’re hunting groundhogs or coyotes, but for SHTF purposes? Not my first choice.
Today’s standard issue cartridge for NATO forces is the 5.56mm M855 62 grain bullet with a metal-jacketed, lead alloy core and a 10 grain hardened steel penetrator tip inside. This penetrator tip provides semi-armor piercing capabilities that improves the AR-15’s ability to puncture hard targets. It can penetrate both sides of a steel helmet 700 yards away.
“Penetrates both sides of a steel helmet 700 yards away,” you say, “but what of these stories of soldiers hitting insurgents 3 or 4 times before they fall down? What good is it then? I’m sticking with the AK.”
Hold up. The problem with the M855 is that it was originally designed to penetrate an enemy’s protective vest from a distance while still having enough power to deliver damage. Your average insurgent isn’t equipped with protective vests, however. The M855 round can zip right through an unprotected opponent rather than mushroom or tumble. ADDITIONALLY, today’s soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan is now using an M4 variation of the AR-15. The barrel length is only 14.5″ which means that the bullet does not have the extra 5.5″ of barrel length found in an M16A2. This greatly affects the cartridge performance, because the bullet does not have the extra time in the barrel to increase velocity.
The M855 cartridge is great for penetration purposes in a small cartridge. I recommend everyone have a pile. They’re great for SHTF purposes . . . but still not my first choice. What survivalists want in 5.56mm cartridges is what many Special Forces units are already using, something beefier, like the Black Hills 77 grain Mk262 cartridges. These bullets weigh 24% more than those of the M855. What the Mk262 loses in M855 penetration it gains in terminal ballistics, so for your average non-body armor wearing insurgent, the Mk262 cartridge will deliver a more lethal hit, more combat damage.
Read this portion of a larger Guns and Ammo article (link is now dead):
When a five-man Special Forces team looking for Scuds in Iraq ran into a reinforced Iraqi infantry company, the future looked grim for the Americans. Facing overwhelming odds, it was quickly decided that three men armed with sniper rifles would cover a hasty retreat back to the LZ. With these odds death–or worse–seemed certain.
Yet the ensuing firefight did not go as the Iraqis had planned. Rather than being overwhelmed, the three Americans instead put down a hail of highly accurate rifle fire. Advancing against this murderous wall, entire sections of Iraqi infantry were simply cut down. Screaming and rattling away with their Kalashnikovs on full auto, they were knocked from their feet by carefully aimed shots. When staggering losses finally broke their spirit, the surviving Iraqis either threw down their weapons or simply ran away. Scattered about lay the bodies of 167 of their comrades. The Iraqi dead lay in mute testimony to the Americans’ tenacity and marksmanship skill.
With the criticism of poor terminal performance leveled by many on the 5.56×45, you would think those 167 Iraqis were cut down by 7.62mm M14s. Such was not the case. They fell to 5.56 Mk 12 sniper rifles firing 77-grain Mk 262 Open Tip Match ammunition. Developed to offer increased accuracy, range and improved terminal performance over the standard 62-grain M855 load, the Mk 262 has performed quite well in actual combat.
Those that know AR’s know this is true. Cartridge selection, barrel twist, and barrel length all offer quite different results. These 77 grain bullets are not yet standard issue for U.S. military personnel, and if you’re loading them in your own AR-15, you really need a 1:7 barrel twist to fully stabilize the larger bullet as opposed to the more common 1:9 twist found on most AR’s. These larger 5.56 77 grain (and up) bullets are getting used more widely and they still retain the very high level of accuracy one comes to expect from an AR-15. People that criticize the .223/5.56 cartridge as a useful SHTF round should first specify exactly WHICH variation of the bullet they’re referencing. They need to specify what barrel length and what barrel twist. All of this matters, but rarely gets discussed. A 77 grain hollow-point (or similar) bullet from a 1:7 20″ barrel offers dramatically improved terminal performance over a 14.5″ barrel shooting an M855 cartridge.
The now seemingly age old debate between the AK and the AR generally comes down to ballistics, reliability, and accuracy. It’s widely accepted that while the AR is far more accurate the AK delivers a greater punch. The 77 grain bullet closes that gap, and if it’s *punch* that you’re after, skip the AK-47 altogether and go straight to the .308 M1A or FAL. That way you have superior *punch* AND you retain accuracy.
Tomorrow I’ll cover the factors BEYOND ballistics that help make the AR-15 the best SHTF gun.