Will; noun; (1)The faculty of conscious and especially of deliberate action; the power of control the mind has over its own actions: the freedom of the will.
(2)Purpose or determination, often hearty or stubborn determination.
Often when personal protection skill comes up in discussion, someone will opine something like “all the training in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the will”. While they are, to a point, correct enough, these folks are typically saying this to reinforce themselves for not training. Because, apparently, training isn’t necessary when they’ve got all this will, and spend their time psyching themselves up to “do what it takes”.
The truth is, you can have all the will in the world in your last moments, but where there is a will there is not always a way. Millions of people have died, hard, with hearts and minds full of the will to survive. Sure, plenty of stories exist of folks with strong will overcoming staggeringly bad odds, including their own lack of training, and surviving all manner of horror, but they still remain in the minority. Far more people have suffered for their ignorance or sloth and died badly because they didn’t have the skills necessary to do otherwise. Why? Because they didn’t have the will to acquire the skill.
It has been said that the fight (or the survival situation) is 95% mental, and 5% physical. Even if this were true, it would not mean that the 5% is unimportant. It is the physical which receives the harm done, the physical which dies; The physical which delivers upon the will to do harm, the physical which carries out the tasks of victory.
The physical also cannot perform without the mental. That supposed 5% does not exist in a vacuum, separately from the mental game. The mental game is more than simple “will” as well; It is the decision making, task performing, complexity navigating machine that drives your physical self. Without that we are lost, and while we have innate tools to help that along, they must be properly honed to do what we want. So, we train.
We train to learn that which we do not know, and then to improve our abilities to do that which we cannot do well. When it comes to combative and survival skills, we can always be improving. We can always put ourselves under challenge, pressure testing our skills in the training environments to develop solutions to problems, improve decision making and timing, and hone the ability to execute those processes under stress. The mind can be continually toughened, made more robust by challenge, as can the body.
It is not as simple as learning to pull iron, put lead on target, and then learning to throw a punch, and then learning to draw a knife, and then learning to wrestle. Not as simple as learning how to build a fire, and how to dress out squirrels, and doing some hiking. All of these things are ingredients, which must be brought together. They begin disparate, and it is up to us to bring them together. We train to reduce the gaps. Because it is in those gaps where we die. Those points where, in the words of John Farnam, “[linking] together a series of psychomotor subroutines into a full technique, the seams remain”. Those gaping seams, the resultant gaps in what we’re doing, must be removed through continual pressure testing and refinement.
Not training is a mistake. Without the will to do what is necessary to survive you have little hope, but you don’t have much without skill either. That skill should be effective, robust, and regularly pressure tested and refined. Your will, iron and crystalline as it may be, can only be properly affected through a disciplined, trained, body and mind. If your will was truly that iron and crystalline, you would be disciplined enough to pursue training. If you don’t, it isn’t, and no amount of wishing will make it so.
My personal library is largely uncounted, as I keep getting distracted by reading and losing count. In excess of 3,000 volumes (the number I reached last before getting distracted again), a sixth of so of it is professional references. To say that I think being well read makes someone better, in almost every way, would be an understatement. To that end, this reading list is offered. It is neither exhaustive, nor complete, and is wholly subject to addition and revision as time goes by.
These are books that have helped us, been fundamental to our growth and development, are frequently consulted references, and have held up over the years. There are other books on these subjects, and plenty of them should probably be here too. Omissions are as likely to be from forgetfulness as deliberate snubs. We care less what you read, so long as you read, but think these are all either where to start, or where to come back to to stay grounded, in their particular subject.
These recommendations are presented in no particular order.
Left of Bang , by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley
Written by veterans of the USMC Combat Hunter program, Left of Bang is a treatise on what we commonly call “awareness”. If we look at events unfolding as a left-to-right moving timeline, being ahead of something means being left of it. The “bang” is some critical event, be it an IED, active attacker, or violent criminal act. Being “left of bang” is recognizing and acting to a critical event before it happens, rather than after it happens.
Left of Bang helps the reader develop sensitivity to indicators of threat, and simplify the decision tree for responding to a perceived threat. This is a kind of mesh between terrain analysis, body language, and situational awareness, to put you ahead of an event in a proactive position instead of reactive. Riley and Van Horn give us a toolkit to pay deeper attention to things we’re already noticing, a framework for responding, and a language to describe and articulate these things to others. Sometimes a dry read, with some bloat to the text, but a valuable book none-the-less.
Sentinel , by Patrick McNamara
Subtitled “Become the Agent in Charge of Your Own Protection Detail” this book is a primer on personal security and protection. An experienced Tier-1 operator and firearms trainer, McNamara does a really good job at re-contextualizing his military experience into value for the private citizen (something many trainers of his background fail at). Framed around the concept of building your skills to be a personal protective detail for your family, much of the content of Sentinel won’t be new to people with an existing depth of training. However, it’s one of the best introductory texts to the field, a book you can give to friends and family who are just starting to become about that life, or look to for taking your own skillset farther. It provides an excellent framework for building a multidisciplinary protection schema, that has more in it than simply shooting. Chapters cover subjects as diverse as strength training, driving and vehicle maintenance, urban survival, and disaster preparedness, just to name a few. Sadly, the medical chapter is antiquated, reading much like a rehash of older Red Cross first aid pamphlets, with no use of the MARCH algorithm, no concepts from TCCC/TECC, and no mention of tourniquets or real address of preventable death from penetrating trauma. That failing aside, this is an excellent book.
Wound Ballistics Terminal Performance Facts , by Dr. Gary K. Roberts
Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness , by SA Urey W. Patrick, FBI Firearms Training Unit
These are both PDF’s, and not very long. Click, download, learn. These are placed together for a reason. Very few subjects are as fraught with bad science, snake oil, and sacred cows as wound ballistics. Special Agent Urey W. Patrick’s Handgun Wounding Factors is an absolute must read for anyone who carries or owns a handgun for personal defense. It dispels the most common nonsense spouted about wound ballistics and handgun bullet performance, and provides a solid foundation from which to further understand the science of wound ballistics and the work of others. Dr. Roberts Wound Ballistics Terminal Performance Facts makes an excellent follow on, delving into things besides handguns and introducing the work of Dr. Roberts, who is perhaps the best authority on these matters working today. Dr. Roberts frequents several different forums, as DocGKR, and has a large body of work available online, beyond this document. Doc Roberts lists of preferred duty ammunition are the gospel for selecting ammunition for duty, personal protection, and home defense use.
The Dryfire Primer , by Annette Evans
Dry fire, practicing your shooting skills with unloaded or dummy-loaded firearms, is an extremely valuable tool. It is a common practice among high level competitors, special operations troops, and fight-winning citizens and LEOs, and should be a practice of yours as well. But, how do you get the best results from it, and how do you fit it in with all the other things you should be doing in your busy life? Annette Evans has answers, drawn from experience as a competitor and trainer, and from an excellent training resume. This is an easy read, that sets up safe practices and gives the reader who follows along a solid structure for maximizing their dry fire results. If you already dry fire regularly, if you want to do it more, or if you want to start, The Dryfire Primer is for you.
Red Zone Prime , by Jerry Wetzel
Most books on physical self defense are utterly masturbatory. They are the authors platform for telling tough guy stories and bloviating about “moves” or “tricks”. Very rare is the book grounded in hard work, relentless pressure testing, and the egoless discipline of putting aside things that don’t work no matter how cute or precious they are to the author. Red Zone Prime is that book. Only things which have “consistent applicability against aggressive resistance” (to quote the introduction) are of value to self protection, and that’s the focus here. Coach Wetzel cuts through a lot of the common BS in self defense teaching and writing, and delivers grounded advice on awareness, avoidance, and violence (when necessary) that actually works. Skip the “dirty tricks” and macho posturing, and pick up Red Zone Prime for a guide to developing a solid base of a functional delivery system for violence and soft-skills for not needing it.
Bushcraft, by Mors Kochanski
Mors Kochanski was, in many ways, the father of the modern bushcraft movement. Bushcraft was his seminal work, but all of his material is worth having. Note that Northern Bushcraft is simply the first edition of Bushcraft, and not a separate title. Mors concern was survival, in the harsh northern boreal forests, and being able to live, work, and thrive in that environment. Although what has come since has seen bushcraft turned from a means of survival to a hobby pursued by weekend warriors and aesthetic lifestylers who yearn for a “past” they never lived, Mors work stand apart, the original cloth. Written with skin in the game, and lives at stake, Mors work is fundamental. You will have to invest some effort into finding copies, as they aren’t easily available.
Aids to Survival, by Western Australia Police
A fine survival manual with a geographically specific focus, with a depth of information not seen in many survival guides written elsewhere. Written by successive generations of survival instructor for the WA Police, and available online as a PDF (click, download, learn), this is another guide written by and for people with skin in the game, focused on survival rather than a weekend hobby.
Forging the Hero, by John Mosby
The Reluctant Partisan, series, by John Mosby
John Mosby is the nom de plume of a former Special Forces soldier and degreed historian, who writes the Mountain Guerrilla blog. If you want an idea of what these books are about, a read of the blog will give you both greater value and a better idea than this short blurb. On the surface, these are preparedness books for small unit tactics and tribal organization during societal collapse, but that pigeonholes them somewhat.
Forging the Hero is a history book, and a book about tribe. Mosby has consistently presented one of the most grounded approaches to “the end of civilization”, and his emphasis on the strength of community is a big part of that. This is a work about building your selected community up to be resilient. The kind of resilient that has kept people, and their cultures, alive for thousands of years across the globe despite war, famine, oppression, deprivation. Using lessons from history, Mosby paints a picture of the potential ugly future, but uses that to deliver a masterwork on resilience and survival that is overall optimistic. Forging is about creating the renaissance, not riding out a miserable existence by your fingernails. His proposed solutions are valuable even if “the end of the world” never comes, and will make your life better.
The Reluctant Partisan series is more a technical set of books, focused on the skills needed for unconventional warfare. There is value here for anyone interested in applied violence, despite the framing of social collapse. Volume I: The Guerrilla is a textbook of traditional guerrilla skills, in keeping with Special Forces Unconventional Warfare doctrine, distilled for prepared citizen’s needs. Covering mindset and individual skills like fitness, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, and riflery, Vol. I goes on to discuss small unit tactical skills, battle drills, planning, escape-and-evasion and more, including detailed training plans for rifle and TCCC. The training plans alone make the book worth it. Mosby is an excellent trainer, with a depth of experience teaching this very subject. Even if you aren’t a doomer, worried about impending collapse, there is solid gold in here for self protection and work or adventure in dangerous environments.
Volume II: The Underground focuses on the urban side of unconventional warfare, and skills for those who live or work in urban environments. Mosby presents a fundamental approach to handgun use, that will be valuable to anyone, as well as battlefield recovery of long-guns which merits study not just for collapse, but conflict work as well. Chapters on vehicle immediate action drills and route planning are excellent, and while more advanced approaches they integrate well with concepts discussed in McNamara’s Sentinel mentioned above. Vol. II also deals with intelligence collection and assessment (pretty out there, right? Not really, I’ve used the skills regularly in the here-and-now) and fighting in and around structures. Vol. II is more conceptual than the first book, but no less detailed and technical, with the same inclusion of complete training programs. This is the more individually useful of the two volumes, in my opinion, but they really go together for best value.
These books are expensive, by the standards of the industry, but they aren’t like anything else out there. More complete, with more depth and driven by more experience, Mosby’s books are essentially textbooks, and viewed through that lens they’re a bargain.
Combat Tracking Guide, by John Hurth
Tracking is a fundamental wilderness skill. If you cannot track, you are losing vital information about your environment that can help you navigate complexity and survive adversity. There are many books about tracking game or other animals, identifying tracks, etc. Many of them are filled with pseudoscientific woo derived from the myth of the Native American tracker, and are less than practical. Combat Tracking is not those books. Written for the tracking of armed and dangerous men, and tailored for the military and tactical environment, Hurth’s book is straightforward without pretense. Like most things, a book isn’t enough and you need hands on training in a real world environment, but this is a solid starting place.
NOLS Wilderness Medicine , by Tod Schimelpfenig
Perhaps the most read and reference wilderness medicine book, this is the companion text for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) wilderness medicine coursework. A simpler, more layperson focused, text than Medicine for Mountaineering. Like most wilderness medicine texts, it is woefully behind the curve on hemorrhage control, with bad information on tourniquet use and no mention of MARCH algorithm or anything that looks like it. Ignore those parts.
Medicine for Mountaineering , by Drs James A Wilkerson, Ernest E. Moore, and Ken Zafren
The original wilderness medicine text, now in its 6th edition, Medicine for Mountaineering remains one of the most complete and valuable guides to medical care in extreme environments. Although it is not up to date on some hemorrhage control advances, this is a fine book, useful for laypeople and practitioners alike, that has a place on any bookshelf. As with the NOLS text, this too is behind the curve on tourniquet use and hemorrhage control with nothing that looks like contemporary point-of-injury bleeding control mentioned. This is a huge failing in current wilderness medicine, the field has been behind that curve and rejected the lessons learned from Tactical Combat Casualty Care use. Hopefully the field will catch up soon to at least the standards of the Hartford Consensus and Stop The Bleed programs.
Survival and Austere Medicine: An Introduction 3rd Edition , by the Remote, Austere, and Third World Medicine Discussion Board Moderators – A free download (click, download, learn), you can also purchase print copies here . Now in its third edition (please get the third, it’s a great improvement over the second), this book is a joint work between several healthcare professionals with deep experience in austere and disaster environments. It is, as the title says, an introduction and not a complete course in medicine, but it is appropriately broad and deep. Survival and Austere Medicine is accessible to the layman, but valuable for the professional as well.
Special Operations Forces Medical Handbook
Because of the scope of practice for Special Forces medics, this is perhaps one of the gold standard austere medicine texts. A professional text, not as easily accessible to the layperson, but peerless in value all the same. The latest edition is an essential for the austere medicine library, which is incomplete without it. Be sure to get the current edition from the Government Printing Office, as those printed by other publishers are outdated.
The Foxfire Series , by the students and faculty of Rabun County HighSchool
An ongoing anthology of material from the Foxfire program and magazine, detailing craft traditions of rural Appalachia. These books contain a world-class, and fundamental, education on the practices of rural, off-the-grid, and austere living. From blacksmithing and bear skinning, to windmills and zymurgy, this series has a little bit for everyone. Take any of the old-time remedies with a grain of salt, but the craft tutorials are valid and valuable in any era. Fundamental books for a library of human capability.
The Beginners Guide to Deer Hunting for Food, by Jackson Landers
Many of us grew up in the woods and hunting with our fathers and uncles, but many more did not. Often, those who did not would like to begin but have no idea where or how to start. Landers’ book lays out a fundamental course in the hows and whys of hunting deer for food. His methods and advice are sound, based on actual experience and confirmed by the experience of many other hunters. Being able to “make meat” is a fundamental human skill, and this book serves as an excellent introduction to the practice. Experienced hunters may also find it valuable, for reminders or different perspective, and as a teaching tool.
Deep Survival , by Lawrence Gonzales
The subtitle of this book is “Who lives, who dies, and why”, and as an examination of exactly that it is peerless. Not a manual, or a how to book, Deep Survival is an examination of various cases of survival and death in the wilderness and emergencies, and the factors leading to either outcome. Gonzales writes beautifully, and there are passages that can bring tears to the eye, but more importantly, he examines well. A journalist, in the sense of that word that means something, Gonzales examines survival events to distill a list of qualities and values that every successful survivor has. Deep Survival not only identifies these qualities and values, but talks about how they are developed, and how they save lives. The single most important book on survival in our library.
Extreme Alpinism , by Mark Twight
Kiss or Kill, by Mark Twight
Whether or not you climb, there are extremely valuable things in Twight’s writing. Extreme Alpinism is an expression of Twight’s climbing philosophy and practices taken from experience, but it is also more than that. In Alpinism Twight shares beneficial wisdom about doing extremely hard things, in harsh environments, and performance under great risk. His comments on learning and experience are quite valuable as well. Even if you don’t climb, the book is filled with value.
Kiss or Kill is a collection of essays, fronted by a great introduction from Brian Enos (yes, that Brian Enos), covering Twight’s experiences and ethos as an alpinist and beyond. It is a less technical book (though Extreme Alpinism is not dryly technical), but possibly the more personally valuable. It is a book about striving, failing, ego and egoless action, and it is unflinchingly, often aggressively, honest. “Quit posturing at the weekly parties. Your high pulse rate, your 5.12s and quick time on the Slickrock Trail don’t mean shit to anybody else. These numbers are the measuring sticks of your own progress; show, don’t tell. Don’t react to the itch with a scratch. Instead, learn it. Honor the necessity of both the itch and the scratch.” from Twitching with Twight, the 18th entry in Kiss or Kill.
On Rope , by Bruce Smith and Allen Padgett
Published by the National Speleological Society, On Rope is the fundamental guide to single rope techniques for multiple disciplines. Described as being for “Caving, Search and Rescue, Firefighters, River Rescue, Aerial Tram, Rock Climbing, Mountaineering, Rope Courses, Industrial Users: Arborists, Window Cleaners, Circus Riggers, Theater, Hollywood, Steeplejacks, Military Applications”, On Rope provides perhaps the best coverage of single rope techniques, across the board, of any single volume. Beginning with Rope, the chapters continue with Ties, Rigging, Rappelling, Ascending, Long Drops and Deep Expeditions, Domes and Walls, Belaying, Vertical Potpourri, Other Rope Users and Vertical Skills and Rescue Training. No single book will ever provide the full extent of knowledge you need to safely work on rope, however inside that constraint, in our experience no other single book is as valuable as On Rope.
98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive, by Cody Lundin
There’s a lot of wilderness survival books, and this is one of them. One of the good ones, even. There’s a few books that could be listed here, along with or instead of this one, but Lundin’s title makes the list for several reasons. It’s a good book, first of all, that’s written well and readable. Between the writing and the layout, it’s not just informative but entertaining. It covers fundamental skills well, from a position of actual experience, and does so without veering into woo or bullshit as some survival titles do. This is a good starting point. Read this, get out and get experience practicing the methods, and then read more, seek training, and refine from there. This is the way.
Lundin’s urban/disaster survival book, When All Hell Breaks Loose , is also a fundamental read on that topic. Entertaining, and informative without going off into whacko doomsday nonsense, it gives a well grounded guide to lifestyle preparation for surviving disasters, and how to prepare in ways that integrate well with, and improve, normal life. Ignore the chapters on personal defense and combatives; It’s not Lundin’s lane, and it shows.
Desert Survival: Tips, Tricks, and Skills , by Tony Nestor
A small, but excellent, primer on survival in the desert. A valuable stand-alone book, made truly excellent when added to a broader survival text or collection. Nestor was the “Survival Guru” for Outside magazine for many years, and is a long-time desert dweller, living and teaching in Arizona. This book is one of our favorites as desert residents ourselves.
The Dark Side of Man, by Michael Ghiglieri
The author of this little mentioned book, a PhD ecologist, primate behaviorist, and experienced canyon guide, began the project of researching this book from an anti-gun, anti-violence, perspective. He finished the process a believer in personal defense and personal arms. Dark Side examines the underpinning of violence, makes a strongly founded argument that it is endemic in our species and that the counter to violence is a societal shift in how we deal with it, encompassing improved education and a societal and individual readiness to met out lex talionis violence (violent response to violent intent or acts). This book makes short work of the flawed idea that there is a human aversion to violence or killing, and an incredibly strong argument for individual skill-at-violence. This is the book that other titles supposedly on killing would be if they were scientifically sound and not written by frauds.
The Five Foot Shelf
Also known as the Harvard Classics, this collection was conceived in 1909 by Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot. The idea being that a classic Liberal Education could be attained from 15 minutes daily reading of the collection of a single five-foot bookshelf. Though the collections contents, as well as the collection itself, all remain in print, Project Gutenberg has collected the Harvard Classics for easy online access.
“The nod toward a bookshelf filled with classics of western literature is something you should heed. The integration [of values] requires a bedrock of principles, which is something that philosophers have been chewing over for a bajillion years. Questions like ‘What is the proper way to live?’ and ‘What is the right thing to do?’ have been in circulation for quite some time. Addressing the rules that govern your decisions permit you to own the choices you make, instead of falling back on conformity or, god forbid, blind obedience to authority. Milgram’s infamous study on such things showed that precious few people refer to their own moral code. The decision to set your will against another should be for reasons you can articulate and believe in firmly enough to risk everything.” Pete M., from Total Protection Interactive.
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There are a few things I consider truths, in my practice of arms and keeping arms for protection and home defense.
Thing The First: If you keep firearms for personal or home defense, having rapid access to them is fundamental. Tools aren’t useful if they aren’t at hand when needed, particularly tools that are needed immediately. The flip side to this, is that dangerous tools must be safely stored to prevent negative outcomes such as unwanted access. For a long time now I have adopted a binary approach to my carry gun, regarding access: It is either holstered on my body (where I control access to it), or it is locked up (where unwanted access to it is prevented). The best place for it is on my body, where I have active control, but also where I can most readily access it if needed. The downside is that, this isn’t always comfortable or possible.
Thing The Second: A pistol is a valuable home defense tool. While long-guns are superior fight winners, and we have discussed the versatility of shotguns in particular, they present challenges for moving through your home with. Especially if you are moving to other family members, to secure or extract them. As a parent, I can over-encumber myself with a long-gun if I have to move to my children’s bedrooms and retrieve them, or move one to the others room to barricade. A pistol is a much more functional choice for solo house clearing, particularly with the intent to then handle small people.
Thing The Third: In a home defense scenario, there are things I need beyond just a firearm. I need a light, I may need medical equipment, I may need other support gear. While many of us just yardsale our light, magazines, and daily carry medical into a bedside valet tray or shelf in the safe at the end of the day, that loose assortment of crap is hard to pick up and tote around. Woken in the middle of the night, many of us are in minimal clothing if clothed at all, and where do you put it all?
With these three points in mind, I have long practiced staging a pistol, when it’s not on body, in a secure but accessible way, along with a few essential support items. This has been an evolving process over the past near-decade, wherein I’ve tried a range of things: Keeping a dedicated pair of cargo shorts with a light clipped on and pockets stuffed with medical gear beside the gunsafe; A plate-carrier with holster, magazines, trauma kit, and flex-cuffs on it; A “happy sack” claymore bag full of reloads and med gear; A warbelt with holster, magazines, trauma kit, etc.
Each thing I’ve tried had some merit, but wasn’t as functional or easy as I wanted it to be. The closest I came to a single, easy to use, platform for putting on quickly to deal with a bump in the night, was the warbelt. With the warbelt, I could have a complete support setup of spare magazines, trauma kit, and even a holster and handgun, on an easily donned platform, that required no additional components and was semi-functional regardless of manner of undress. The warbelt, however, required either that my carry gun be transferred into the holster every night before bed, or in the middle of the night during a crisis. If stored with the gun in the holster, the whole thing had to be secured within a safe. If the gun was kept locked up, and the warbelt hanging somewhere, it took time to retrieve both and put them together. And there was absolutely nothing subtle about the warbelt. If, for some reason, I had to walk out of my house with it on, it was going to be problematic.
For the past several months, I’ve been using a different tool to bring all of these things together similarly to what the warbelt did, but that also allows fairly open public wear. The venerable, infamous, fanny pack.
After trying a few things low-key, I picked up an Elite Survival Systems TailGunner 2 fanny pack, and begin to using it seriously. ESS makes a variety of gun fanny packs, for both full size and compact guns, in different styles and materials. I chose this one because I found it on sale, it was big enough for a Glock 17, and it was in a style similar to long established pistol fanny packs such as Tommy and Eagle. In fact, it appears to be a clone of the older Eagle Industries Weapon Fanny Pack.
Made from 1000D Cordura, the TailGunner 2 is on the heavy side, but isn’t lacking for robustness. The heavy material is further reinforced by solid stitching, and foam padding between front and back layers. The material, and padding, effectively block out the shape of the bag and prevent whatever you put inside from printing an outline through the material.
The design of the TailGunner 2 is very simple. A flush-fitting front pocket spans the entire width of the bag, and the main body is a single pouch which zips almost entirely around, allowing it to fully open up. Inside that main pouch is a Velcro hook field on the body side, and a pair of elastic loops and Velcro loop strip on the opposite side.
Running across the hook field, vertically, is a simple strap affair, sewn at the bottom and threaded through a steel loop sewn at the top of the compartment, with mating Velcro on the body and running end of the strap. This is for securing a holster within.
The TailGunner 2 comes with two different sizes of “holster” insert, both of which have loop Velcro exterior for mounting on the hook field. I put holster in quotes, because these are loose, universal fit, thin bits of fabric that conform to no particular gun, provide no passive retention, and are flexible enough to allow outside objects into the trigger guard. These got a flaccid pass from me, and were thrown in the trash as soon as the pack arrived.
Fortunately, the strap arrangement is an excellent means of locking a more secure holster into the TailGunner 2. I am able to put my carry holster, a Dark Star Gear Orion, into the bag and secure it very quickly with the strap running through the steel clip (and behind the Dark Star Darkwing attachment). A Velcro loop field on the rear of a holster will make this attachment even better, as it attaches to the hook field allowing a set angle to be established. Although this strap attachment may not work for every holster, it works with most of them that I have tried, including WML holsters, and those using soft loops and other attachments.
For a dedicated holster for this, I would look to the PHLster Skeleton. A minimalist holster, with the width of a full size holster, the Skeleton fits the strap extremely well, and almost seems designed to lock into it. With a clip, or soft loop, around the strap, it is perfectly secure for even vigorous drawstrokes and rapid movement.
Inside the main compartment of the Tailgunner 2, at each top corner of the front side, are hard-sewn pull tabs. One of these can be pulled up and left exposed, between the closed dual zippers, providing a ready grab-handle for quickly pulling open the pack. A firm forward and downward pull on this will unzip the entire pack, allowing access to the handgun within.
In addition to the main compartment and front pocket, the Tailgunner 2 features “wings” on either side of the bag, that offer additional cargo capacity. On the left is a small PALS field, which while not super discreet is useful for clipping other items to, or mounting pouches or other gear. On the right, is a zipper pocket, in the shape of the semi-triangular wing. Although not able to hold a great deal, this pocket provides a place to stash your phone for hands free use (such as staying on the phone with 911), or to store small items like pepper spray.
There is also shock-cord laced across the front of the Tailgunner 2, with a barrel-lock for adjusting it. This could be convenient for some users, particularly for regular wear where it makes a handy way to store a cap or gloves for short periods. It turned out to not be useful to me, and somewhat in the way, so I unlaced it.
After several months of wearing the Tailgunner 2 regularly, and training with it on the range and in the gym, I’ve come to a setup that I am reasonably happy with. My carry gun and aforementioned Dark Star holster are in the main compartment, along with a factory 33rd magazine. In the front pocket rests a SOFT-T-Wide tourniquet, nitrile gloves, a full sized pack of Celox Rapid, and a roll of Combat Medical Battle Wrap (a clear, elastic, adhesive trauma bandaging product). On the left wing, attached to the PALS field, is a Fenix flashlight, a 1000lb break strength cord handcuff, and a container of pepper spray. The right wing pocket is left empty for stashing my phone in.
I cut off the original zipper pulls, and replaced them with cord-pulls closed with heat-shrink. Although high quality YKK zippers, the factory pulls were large metal affairs, which jingled quite a bit and were a source of unwanted attention. Cutting them off, and replacing each with smaller cord pulls achieved both silencing the pack, and keeping unnecessary tabs out of the way. With the pull-cord opening widget exposed, the zipper pulls are not needed to access the pistol, and grabbing one along with the pull-cord would jam the opening action. Reducing the size of the pulls effectively negates that possibility.
After removing the shock-cord gear retainer from the front, I ironed on a faux Supreme logo patch to help break-up the profile of the fanny pack a little more, for the occasions when I do wear it outside the house. Being made from heavy Cordura, with a bit of PALS, and square boxy construction, the Tailgunner 2 does benefit from a little added misdirection to deepen its deception.
Using the Fanny Pack
The primary role for this fanny pack setup (jokingly named the Booga-Lite bag, for the front yard boogaloo) is to wear at home. I am a work-at-home parent while my husband is getting his degree, so most of my time is spent at and around my house. With two kids at home, unsecured firearms are an absolute no, so either I carry or the guns are behind locked steel doors. Working from home, I don’t have a dress code or much reason to put on a belt, and the reality is that it’s inconvenient to have to belt up, put on a holstered pistol, and go about my day around the house. There’s a lot of ways to solve this, smaller guns and pocket carry, sucking it up and embracing the “comforting not comfortable” bullshit mantra, not carrying at all, and so on. None of those ways solve it particularly comfortably, cheaply, and with the ability to have onboard medical and support gear, except for the fanny pack.
The Tailgunner 2, as I have it set up, allows me to quickly don pistol, support gear, and med kit, regardless of what I am wearing at the moment, and comfortably keep it all available while going about my day. Because it has a somewhat discreet appearance, I can wear it out into the yard or when going on afternoon walks around the neighborhood with the kids, without arousing suspicion of my neighbors. When I am not wearing the Tailgunner 2, it isn’t much bulkier than a gun-rug style pistol case, and can be locked in many pistol safes, lock boxes, or larger safes, with ease. It can be quickly retrieved from there, and fastened around the waist or tossed over the neck, as a home defense platform.
I am still not using the fanny pack for routine concealed carry outside of the house. Although fanny packs are currently low-profile and, if selected properly, not likely to draw much attention, I am much happier to wear my pistol AIWB and carry support gear on my person in other means. Although worn around the body, and more secure than a shoulder bag, fanny pack carry is still closer to “off body” carry than not, and comes with challenges that must be understood. A one-handed draw from the fanny pack can be rather difficult, simply because of the steps required to open it. In a fight that begins at contact distance, where you must fight to a dominant position before accessing a weapon, the fanny pack is likely to shift around significantly, and may even get unfastened from the waist. Even if you achieve dominant position, an effective single handed draw from the fanny pack while maintaining control is going to be challenging. For these reasons, plus being able to dress in ways that don’t favor adding a fanny pack, I primarily choose not to use the Tailgunner 2 for routine concealed carry.
This choice is why I don’t have a permanently attached holster in the Tailgunner 2. At the end of a day outside the house, I can come home, take my carry gun and holster out of my pants, and mount it in the fanny pack for continued wear. Doing this, rather than unholstering and reholstering, minimizes the administrative handling of a loaded unholstered pistol.
My routine looks something like this: If going out, I take the pistol and Dark Star Gear Orion out of the fanny pack, and put it on as usual. When I get home, the entire package is remounted to the Tailgunner 2, and that gets put on with whatever more comfortable around the house clothes I’ve slipped into. At night, when I go to bed, the Tailgunner 2 with the pistol inside, is placed in the safe in the master bedroom, where it can be retrieved quickly in the middle of the night. When I get up in the morning for a typical day around the house, the fanny pack can be removed and put on, and the safe locked behind it.
Booga-Lite II: The Unsubtle Boogaloo
While playing with the Tailgunner 2, and exploring the role of the fanny pack as a platform for home defense, I set up a second rig that is far less subtle. Using a cheap imported fanny pack from Amazon, that is much more “tactical” in style than the Tailgunner, I built a platform for holding a handgun, long-gun reload, support and medical gear, that makes no bones about what it is.
The HuntVP fanny pack I used is a clone of the Maxpedition Octa, itself a variation on the old Eagle ERB. It has a PALS(-ish) field across the entire backside of the bag, to which I mounted a Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed Double M4 mag pouch. Into the right hand pouch, I forced a PHLster Skeleton with a Discreet Carry Concepts clip on it. The clip goes over the pouch, and the PALS on the fanny pack, and provides retention for the holster. Into the left side pouch, I can put a rifle magazine, or a carrier for the QD-C sidesaddle. The very front pockets are loaded with nitrile gloves, and tourniquets, and the main pocket of the pouch is filled with hemostatic, trauma bandages, NPA’s, and a Rescue Hook. A flashlight can be clipped to the webbing on the front of the pouch, along with a can of pepper spray, or other items.
The role of a bag like this would be similar to how I use the Tailgunner 2 for a “bump in the night” platform. It could be easily stored in a medium lockbox or safe, and provides ready access to your fundamental home defense equipment all on a single platform. Exact configuration would depend on your needs. I set it up fairly medical heavy, but you could easily put a single PHLster PEW and tourniquet in the front, and use the main compartment for tactical gloves, flex cuffs, additional lights, more reloads, or whatever you deemed appropriate for your mission/needs. For a strictly grab-and-go fighting loadout for the homeowner, this higher profile setup has a lot of merits: It nearly duplicates the position and drawstroke of an AIWB carried pistol, allows for more reloads (or different ones) to be carried ready to access, and just generally offers more support capability in an overt role. For my needs, this will be my least used booga-lite rig because of that overt nature, but if all I needed was a home defense platform, this would be the prime contender.
You could use this ERB style of bag for a less overt rig, as well, but after trying both styles, I have come to prefer bags constructed like the Tailgunner 2, that open up fully like a clamshell, for carrying a pistol within. This almost entirely eliminates the potential for hanging up your draw, from within the bag, on the opening (a distinct possibility with a bag constructed like the ERB).
The fanny pack is versatile, for concealed carry or as a platform for emergency equipment, beyond these ideas. My uses for the fanny pack are a narrow scope of what is possible, and my setups may not be ideal for everyone. This is offered to give structure, and a starting point, for your explorations.
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From time to time, the debate over “printing” (the appearance of a concealed handgun under a cover-garment, via tell-tale bulges, outlines, etc) comes around the internet gun community. Arguments are made for and against printing, discouraging or encouraging avoiding it. Of late, the trend has been to discourage concern over printing. Several articles and discussions in prominent groups have made quite a case that printing doesn’t matter. And they’re right. Printing doesn’t matter.
Except, when it does.
The most common arguments made in favor of ignoring printing are that either “no one will notice it” or “no one will recognize what it is”. This is most often based on the experience, among people who are lax about printing, of not having anyone call them out for carrying a gun.
The large failure here is that most people, in most settings, aren’t going to say anything to a guy with a gun. As we’ve learned from open carry demonstrators, the most effective way to stop communication between people in a public setting, is for one of them to visibly have a gun. So why would most people tell someone “Hey, I can see your gun…”?
The other failure there is that many of the guys saying “no one notices/cares/recognizes” aren’t themselves that aware. A lot of gun dudes aren’t exactly paragons of social skill, and tending to associate only with other gun dudes makes that worse. Running the mechanical 180-visual-scan and “watching the hands” isn’t the definition of good social attentiveness. Even if many of us weren’t socially challenged, no one is perfectly aware. It’s impossible. Being unaware that you’ve been noticed printing doesn’t, actually, count for a lot. Using that to argue for the position that “printing doesn’t matter” isn’t enough.
The next argument from the “it doesn’t matter” crowd isn’t that no one notices, but rather that it isn’t important if others see a bulge because they don’t know what it is. This may have some value, but I tend to think that even if they can’t identify it, the bulge can still matter.
In many work environments, an out of place bulge in clothing is going to be cause for notice. Simply because it’s different, and draws attention. With many workplaces having restrictive firearms policies, the eventual questioning of “what is that?” could have serious consequences for folks. Job loss alone can be bad enough, but in some places that could come with the potential for police involvement. The ghost of the event has the potential to follow someone as they try to find new employment, too.
Whether or not it’s realized, printing (even unrecognized) can have consequences elsewhere, too. Maintaining an active social life and carrying can mix very well, but that unsightly bulge above your ass can make that difficult. A lot of gun dudes are, in fact, men… and men are typically clueless as to the level of detail women (and interested men) notice. Particularly in regard to dress.
Any single man who has ever tried to up his sartorial game can tell you the difference it made in his interactions with the desired sex, when he put on nice shoes and a decent watch. That bulge above your ass? That’s gonna stand out just as badly as pairing your ratty Vans with a suit, to certain viewers.
The final, but by no means least important, consideration is the observation of your mohaska by the criminal element. A lot of folks blow this off, and ask “when did a thug ever even see a quality concealment holster?”, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is, “what do I lose if I’m identified as carrying a gun, by a criminal actor?”
Story time: I was 19 and in community college, working my way through various first responder classes and the beginnings of a psych degree. In an English class, I made a friend who we’ll call Antonio. In his early 50’s, Antonio was a long-standing and well positioned member of a 1% motorcycle club (or, outlaw motorcycle gang). An articulate and intelligent guy, who was working on business classes, Antonio decided he liked me and we often had lunch together on campus. I get along well with “dirtbags”, and enjoyed talking with him about New Mexico history, hunting, fishing, trucks, bikes, engines, and such topics in which he was well versed.
One afternoon, he asked if I could give him a ride over to an off-campus bookstore to sell some textbooks, in exchange for him buying lunch. Free lunch being one of the grails of college life, I agreed and off we went. When we stopped for lunch, he pointed out another diner and asked “You’re into this shit, what do you see about that guy?” The guy in question was wearing business wear, slacks with a tucked in shirt and tie. I didn’t see anything particularly notable about him, until Antonio prompted me to “look at his hip”, where the loops of a tuckable IWB holster were visible on his belt, along with a distinctive bulge. “C’mon vato, you gotta be sharper than that, you wanna get along in the world” was Antonio’s comment when I, finally, saw the gun.
I continued having lunch with Antonio fairly often until I transferred to university, and in that time the “spot the gun” game came up often. He was better at it than I was then, and I was the gun-nut. Antonio was a bad guy. We didn’t talk about it much, but he was honest about it when it came up. A bad guy who had survived as a criminal since he was a teenager. I have no idea how he’d score on a FAST-Test or Super Test, or what his ground game was like, or if he thought HiPoint was all a gun needed to be. It doesn’t matter: He was successful where others are not, and had the skillset required to reach the point he was at, transitioned from street soldier to decision maker getting a degree. And, he could spot a gun based on printing and tells.
A fairly common idea is that the gun is a deterrent: A criminal actor, upon seeing the gun, will avoid its bearer for fear of being shot. Reality is a bitch-kitty that’ll scratch you, though. Violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to firearms. Even better, unlike most gun owners, violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to having guns pointed at them, being shot at or, even, being shot. They aren’t afraid of guns. Antonio wasn’t, and said as much. He felt like being able to see a gun ahead of time simply gave him an edge, and he wasn’t the only dirtbag I’ve ever met who had this opinion.
Printing doesn’t matter. Until it does. And when it does, you’re going to have a lot on the line. Romantic success, the potential loss of income or career, or the potential of injury or death at the hands of someone who knew you were carrying and didn’t care except to come at you harder because of it. Today’s market for holsters, belts, and other support gear is truly the best it has ever been. There is a solution out there for you, and quite likely for the gun you already prefer carrying, that will keep you from printing. There are also a plethora of quality, compact, and yet capable handguns on the market currently if your full-sized gat isn’t going to work. Whether better holsters, belts, and pouches, or those things and a different gun, there is a solution for you out there if you try, and every reason to pursue it until you find it.
File under Gospel of the Gauge: A conversation between Lee, of The Obscene Sailor, and Morgan Atwood, of NOC.
Lee: Morgan I want to lead with this, there are those who will say that due to our age (at under 35, we’re both the dreaded “millenials”, [Ed.]) we’re just attempting to stomp on the memory of the departed Colonel Cooper for clicks and to make a name for ourselves, is there anything you’d say to those people? For my defense I’ll simply state that Gunsight and the Colonel have overthrown more third world governments than the CIA School of Americas and are THE reason that America is the front runner in modern firearms use in the world. Cooper is the driving force behind that, and this is not intended to besmirch his good name, merely to poke some holes in the fantasy behind the scout rifle idea in America.
Morgan: Without Cooper, the contemporary American firearms and self protection field would look vastly different, anemic in comparison to what we’re used to. The legend of Cooper exists for good reason. That said, no one is immune to a well-thought out, but wrong, idea. Maybe more so, no one is immune to ideas being dismantled not by young turks, but by time-in-use, and the experience of users at whom that idea was intended. Legend is not a sufficient optic for judging an idea, nor is judgment of an idea judgment of an individual. Time proves us all wrong about something, and legend can’t be allowed to be an enemy of learning. Something, something, if you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him.
Lee: This started with a sleep deprived remark to you at 3 AM, that in America the role Cooper was seeking to fill with his scout rifle already has a contender and winner, the shotgun. The Colonel initially laid out the requirements for a short, handy, lightweight rifle, capable of making hits to distance with sufficient terminal ballistics to be used on people and game. To the both of us though, and despite our very different upbringings and locales, we’ve both arrived at the conclusion that the shotgun is the gun Cooper didn’t know he should’ve chosen. Can you please explain a bit about your intro and upbringing with the shotgun?
Morgan: I grew up shooting, in the country, as a ranch kid on two-thousand acres of New Mexico high-desert. We shot for fun, for livestock protection and predator control, and from time to time for taking game, and I grew up doing it all. I did not, however, grow up shooting shotguns. Rather than something I was raised on, I made myself an autodidact of the gauge. My dad had one shotgun, an old Mossberg bolt-action (yes, bolt-action) 16 gauge, with a busted stock. He had been raised in Colorado, in a small mountain town, where the rifle was dominant. In adapting to New Mexico ranching life, he solved most things with either a 30.06 bolt gun, or a single-action revolver in .30 Carbine, .41 Magnum, or .45 Colt (the latter being the one with which he won his only gunfight). My mom had a bad experience with a heavy loaded 12 gauge as a kid, and relied on a .30.30 or various handguns. I was anything but steeped in the shotgun, but made my way to it as a teenager. Somehow a Springfield Model 67 .410 pump gun made its way to the ranch when I was around 15, and began my introduction to the shotgun. Those .410’s were originally quite long barreled, but this one had been cut down to a 19” barrel re-tapped for a simple bead sight, with a youth length stock. It became both my regular field companion, and my first project gun. The slide handle, a round wooden affair with slight grooves, got reshaped with rasps to have flat upper-sides, and more aggressive grooves cut to rib it. The front bead got replaced with a larger fiber-optic bead, and a while after that I knocked out the fiber and machined a polished brass insert. At some point, the gun got covered in Krylon camouflage, too. I wanted, much to my parents consternation, a “riot gun” with Rhodesian bush-war stylings. My parents, both experienced with violence but not “about that life”, dismayed at their fair-haired boy and his inclinations, but this was my period of discovery. At the time, my exposure to good shotgun practices were the Self Defense Forums (later Total Protection Interactive) community, and stuff I was getting from Guns & Ammo and old Soldier of Fortune back-issues. It could have been worse, SDF brought tutorials on the gauge from guys like Craig Douglas, late 70’s and early 80’s SOF’s were high on the bush-war experience with shotguns and a pipeline directly from American Pistol Institute/Gunsite, Cooper, and Ken Hackathorn, and G&A of my youthful era had “Jim Grover” (Kelly J. McCann). I spent a lot of time with that little pump-gun practicing manipulation, loading, etc. while walking the ranch with it and shooting opportunistically. I wasn’t doing all the things that I’d consider fundamental now, but it wasn’t a random series of noise-making actions either, and good came of it. The opportunistic shooting taught me a lot about ammunition management and “slug select”-type drills, as I learned that being loaded for shooting rabbits when I jumped a coyote was less than ideal. Around 2002, I cut the shell-holder off an elastic butt-cuff, and glued it onto the .410’s receiver as a side-saddle, to enable these rapid changes in load. I was raised on rifles, and heavy handguns, and learned the shotgun on my own, with the only shortcoming I found in making that jump the under-powered nature of .410 and my lack of finances for a 12 gauge.
Between my late teens and mid-twenties I got real time in on a variety of pump-guns in 12 and 20, eventually finding my way into an A-5 type 12 gauge, setting it up as an old-school whippet gun, with 18.5” barrel and 12” length of pull, with the barrel backbored and forcing cone polished. I learned a lot, and gained a respect for the shotgun, but never put myself in a position to rely solely on it, in those years. It would be until my late-twenties before I applied what I knew to a serious working gauge.
Lee: In stark contrast to your very frontiersman upbringing my family merely roleplayed at the idea of being “country”. Despite having lived through the riots of the 80s Dad wasn’t a fan of “Modern Sporting Rifles”, and because of the laws in Ohio at the time the shotgun was the only viable tool for hunting. Pressed into service in our home most often was a 20 gauge knockoff of the Mossberg 500, serving with slugs to take deer from a blind, with #8 shot for squirrel and rabbit, and a slew of bad choices for times that things went bump in the night. From hunting we moved into clay pigeons, as it fit the temperament of the family well, particularly the fact that doing so recreationally allowed for copious shit talking between throws of the pigeons, and despite that we became not just basically proficient but downright competent. It was a stark contrast to my modern knowledge of Push-Pull and shotgun use standards, but being able to hit small, fast, moving, targets 25/25 is not a skill to be reckoned against. That old knock off doesn’t meet my standards today, but a 20 gauge worked over by a competent ‘smith and loaded appropriately absolutely would be something I’m willing to rely upon as my only long gun. With a 12 gauge, set up with good sights and white light, I’d feel even more secure. So with that said, Morgan would you walk us through your shotgun configuration and anything you’ve specifically configured to fit your needs?
Morgan: After starting a family in the city, I returned to the ranch full time in 2015, and bought my first purposeful shotgun. I’d acquired that aforementioned A-5 years before, but despite the work I’d done on it, it was an old and finicky gun. I had a Ruger 10/22 “Old Man Gun” as a social rifle for apartment life, a bolt action 30.06, and a couple of lever guns, but I’d used that A-5 enough to think I wanted a shotgun as my “do everything” long-gun.
That lead me to a Mossberg 500 12 gauge with their factory version of the famed-”DEA Sights”, XS Big Dots in a rifle-sight configuration, with a 20” cylinder-bore barrel and full-length tube. As it stands now, it’s got a Hogue youth-length stock, an L&M light-mount with a Fenix LED, an Aridus QDC side-saddle, and a 2-point sling. The sling is a bit of a jury-rigged affair, with a Magpul sling-loop mortised into the Hogue stock, and a cable loop around the light mount for a front attachment. I’ve done some very minor work on the internals, cleaning up some burrs, polishing the mag tube, and chamfering the loading port a bit, but it is not fancy.
If I were to start again, with what I know now, a lighter gun would likely be my choice. A four or five round tube, a two or three round side saddle, and were it not for the short-shrift of ammunition options, perhaps even in 20 gauge. I would stick to a pump gun, for ease of use with a variety of loads, and would likely stick to a Mossberg, as I find the safety friendlier for field use. Sights might not change, or if they did would be a simple set of high visibility pistol sights dovetailed into a vent rib. The important factors, as I use the shotgun, are a clear set of minimally fussy sights, onboard capacity for more/other shells, a light, and a sling.
Lee: My shotgun is a Mossberg 590, for much the same reason you selected yours. I find the tang mounted safety preferable to the crossbolt of the Remington, and particularly in field conditions find the safety in a perfect position to “pin” in the safe position for an extra measure of prevention. Mine had the Vang Comp treatment done, giving me all the advantages of their occult mastery in reducing pattern sizes and insuring some uniformity to spread. The front sight was enhanced with an XS big dot, and mounted on the receiver is a Primary Arms red dot. White light is provided by a streamlight TLR1-HL mounted on a CDM Gear mount, and for side saddle I use the 2 round offerings from Ares Gear. The tube stays loaded with 6 (downloaded by 1) #4 buck Flite Control shells, and the side saddle is stoked with 2 rounds of #1 FC. I’m using a Magpul buttstock, and Blue Force Gear sling to round out the package. Between the two offerings on-hand I have a guaranteed hit to 55 yards, while giving some degree of pattern spread to insure a higher hit chance.
I want to go ahead and address the immediate response that I can feel the crowd of angry Cooper adherents chanting, that the shotguns general lack of range makes it a non-starter and that if one is spending time in the great outdoors that they should have arms at hand that allow one to make hits as far as they can see. In response I posit that even while exploring the wilds of the border I’ve yet to find a situation in which lethal force was the correct choice outside of “social” distances. The idle fantasy of shooting the PRS guy who was lobbing rounds over our heads, or engaging from afar the white supremacists with the illegal full auto AK is absolutely there, however in both situations and others I found it more correct to liberally hit the gas and remove myself from the threat. Just as criminal action within city limits requires proximity to victims to effect the desired end state, I find that bad guys outside city limits still require proximity to get what they want and as such my concerns for serious distance shooting against people is greatly reduced. The hunting piece with regards to distance is still very real in some parts of the country, and much more so in Africa where Cooper was spending much of his time, however unlike the days of Cooper for many of us taking game legally is a rare pleasure dependent upon luck in a lottery or buying tags and making a weekend of it, and in much of the country without onerous requirements to hunt, the tracts of land suitable measure in the acre not the square mile, and a shotgun with slugs is more than capable. All of this said I’ve largely written off the idea of snap shooting a fleeing whitetail, as hunting is an activity very much prepared for and for which the gun at hand right now isn’t the one that will be called upon. One can bemoan the decrease in legal hunting and I shall join them, however calculating it into the requirements for a gun in 2020 seems to be a mistake. Within your uses on the ranch what are your thoughts on the distance piece for a “general use” gun?
Morgan: It is very possible, in ranch country, to envision many situations in which the multi-hundred yard shot is necessary. The former state lion-hunter, a gent named Pete Hughes, once took a cow-killing black bear at 450+ yards with a .44 magnum pistol… But, the regular reality is something else. The quintessential ranch-rifle is the .30-30 lever gun. That was the rifle my maternal grandfather used regularly on what’s now my ranch, and in addition to his personal Winchester 94, I own another Model 94 roughly stamped “H&C” for Huning and Company, once one of the largest land, sheep, and cattle concerns in New Mexico and Arizona. Those rifles, so marked by Huning, were issued to their sheepherders and cowboys for livestock protection duties. In those days the threat of bandits, rustlers, and even indian raids remained in this country. Those old timers also used those rifles to make meat for their camps, taking opportunistic shots at game. Consider that the .30-30 is a 100 yard cartridge, and you’ll be forced to question the notions of longer range shooting as truly necessary in the ranching context.
I’ll note, that by preference I hunt game with a 30.06 bolt gun, with which shots out to 500 yards are within my comfort zone. That said, if my goal for a hunt is to make meat above all else, I work to do most of my shooting inside 100 yards. Hunting is something we prepare for, and set up to do in a specific way on a specific animal, without the pressure of an unknown problem to solve. If I take a 5.56 to hunt coyotes, or a 30.06 to hunt elk, I do so knowingly. Such knowing is hard to come by, until the moment, when trouble shooting.
Without getting into the human problem, yet, the needful or practical shooting I do is against predatory animals in the moments it becomes necessary. This requires snap-shooting often, but the ranges are rarely that severe. I have done much practical shooting with that bolt-action 30.06, taking after my father, but I can’t think of an example at a range that demanded that cartridge, or .308. The proximity demand that exists for human predators, is also true of animal predators. There’s also some demand to be closer for the killing of them. For livestock protection needs, you may be some distance from where the predator is being a threat, but the advantage is to you if you can get closer to make a shot in-among your own stock. One of the old cowboys who mentored me as a kid, made 90+% of those kind of shots with a .38 revolver. At the ranges we’re talking about, the shotgun is perfectly viable.
In fact, the shotgun has the advantage of being more broadly viable than any other long-gun, with ammunition selection. One of the facts of practical shooting for a rancher is that you don’t know what you’re going to need to shoot. Responding to a disturbance can bring you upon a rattlesnake, a coyote, a bobcat, a mountain lion, a bear, or a man. There is a single long-gun that can equally address that variety: The shotgun. At this point, despite having the full complement of rifles in .22, .30.30, 30.06, an M4gery in 5.56, and even a .38-56, I mostly grab the shotgun going out the door unless I have a very specific purpose in mind like hunting.
I have written, in the past, about the need for “Modern Sporting Rifles” in my settings , and I stand by what I’ve written, but for rambling around my land and commotion-in-the-night problems around the house and ranch yard, the shotgun serves better. For human predators, I put a lot of stock into Tom Givens’ “serving size” argument about the shotgun. I am mostly concerned with criminals seeking “easy” targets for robbery, far from police response. At worst, my most fantastical scenario for violence that doesn’t totally beg credulity, is that as the only two queers in this part of ranch country, some assholes might try to burn hubs and I out. Knowing and having rapport with my neighbors, even that is extremely unlikely. It would be a black swan event on the order of a hostile alien species establishing a beachhead in my yard, to roll out my door and face a violent problem that couldn’t be solved with the shotgun.
Lee: It’s truly hard to argue with the forcefulness of your black swan event, that short of socially motivated violence exacerbated by your distance from “civilization”, the shotgun can fix your problems provided you do the work. My own equivalent fear is some of the social violence perpetrated outside the home in my rare run ins with the various militias and outlaw motorcycle clubs that operate in the area, however in those situations I’m quite convinced that the only selection that impacts my chances of winning is not choosing to be in a convoy of friends all armed with long guns, and short of that there’s NOTHING I can do to help me win that fight.
The entirety of this is a long winded way to say that the shotgun is capable of taking game, capable of defense against two legged predator, legally and culturally acceptable everywhere, in a form factor that is minimally burdening to keep “at hand”. The shotgun is the do everything gun within the continental US, and while it has its failings its worth cannot be overstated.
In the wake of the November 2015 Daesh attacks in Paris, as in the wake of any other act of mass violence, social media was filled with outpourings of sympathy, support and rage. As is often the case, many people were posting about new or additional steps they were taking “just in case” this kind of violence happens near them.
These types of posts tend to go one of two ways: First, people simply wanting to get better acquainted with the tools and training to better approach potential violence, and second, those who gleefully post their extra-steps to “being ready”. This latter group does things like add long-guns, load bearing equipment and body armor to their vehicles, stock mass casualty trauma kits, and generally “gun up” to an extreme degree. As I travel often with both a long gun, and a full-size medical pack in my truck, I cannot fault those actions, but the reality is that such things offer little in the face of terrorism or active attacker.
Violence is largely a come as you are affair, particularly mass violence. The rapidity of violence in such attacks doesn’t allow for much choice; You will deal with the situation with what you have on you.
Choices and Posture:
We all have to decide who we want to be responsible for us, and those we care about. If you’re reading this, odds are you’ve already embraced the idea that no one is coming to save you, except you. This is the way. The only help available in an emergency is the people already in the middle of it, and the one you can depend on the most (hopefully) is yourself. Everyone else is minutes to hours away. When faced with sudden violence, you are the only one capable of doing anything to change or influence your situation, and hope is not a course of action.
Perhaps the biggest action you can take to prevent violence, or at least escape it, is to pay attention. That seemingly common thing is becoming all too uncommon, and all too hard, anymore. Constant distractions are beyond plentiful, smart phones to smart watches, garish and eye-grabbing displays and advertising. Everywhere we go, and even at home, we are inundated with “immersive” user experiences designed to pull us away from the real world and into a gratified lull. Rejecting these opportunities for pleasing distraction and actually watching what’s happening around you is so rare as to be actively mocked in many settings. Yet, few actions will have as big an impact on your long term well being and safety as simply paying attention. Not just safety from violence, but safety from accident, even safety from the embarrassment of spilling your coffee all over that attractive person… that one, right there, that you just bumped into reading this on your phone while walking.
Seeing is the first step, but it is not enough. We must accept certain things as truths about the world, in order to recognize them meaningfully. Without that, we cannot act. If we fail to recognize the events unfolding in front of us, we cannot even begin to respond to them. To recognize things, we must have a place for them in our schema of reality, we must believe them to be real and possible. William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting refers to this as having a “parking space” in our brain; To take action when confronted with violence, we must have a parking space for violence. We must accept both that violence is possible (can happen to us), and that we can deliver violence upon others. If you cannot visualize violence happening to you, you’ll be in denial that it is, if it ever does. Similarly, if you cannot visualize harming or killing someone, your ability to do so if you need to is in jeopardy (and this state is not uncommon among armed, supposedly prepared, citizens and professionals. I was speaking with a police officer recently who was in complete shock because he had almost shot someone, and had no parking space in his head for doing so).
You must decide to be responsible for your own well-being. You must have adequate parking in your mind for both things that can threaten you, and the actions necessary to avoid or survive those threats. You must pay attention. And you must put those things together into a functional daily existence, ready and able to take care of your own.
Tools and Skills:
Fire extinguishers in the home, spare tire and jumper cables in the car, the presence of tools is the outcome of our decisions about self reliance. Many of us carry a gun for the same reasons we have fire extinguishers; Odds are, we’ll never need it, but if we do, it’s easier than putting out the fire with buckets and prayers. However we cannot be overly fixated on tools. Tools are not solutions, they are enablers. They increase our abilities to perform certain actions, if we know what actions to perform. Without skills, tools are useless.
You are not able to use something, just because you stick it down your pants every day. The common fallacy among “preparedness” types is that possession equals skill. Buy a pistol? Combat handgunner extraordinaire. Buy a tricked out Remington 700? Sniper the likes of which Carlos Hathcock could only dream of being. And so on. Thus many people, feeling the need to “do something” in the face of recent events, are buying new tools, or loading their vehicles with tools previously only kept at home. And to what end? Reality says, none.
If you cannot use a thing, it is of no use to you. And even if you can, if you cannot access it, it is of no use to you.
Violence is a come as you are affair.
Want to be better prepared to deal with violence? Better your self. Concerned about terror attacks like Paris? Your first concerns should be getting more knowledge about the skills that may be useful to you in a Paris type attack. Already have some of those skills? Find the weak places, and work on them. Find the gaps, and fill them. Then concern yourself with tools.
And what value tools that have no actual use? How popular in our communities are “EDC” (Every Day Carry) items that are nothing more than fetishes? Extremely. Social media is full of “pocket dumps” showing off single finger knuckle duster beer openers in exotic materials, beads and tops machined from unobtanium and superconductor alloys, fancy pens, and patches proclaiming bad-assery of every flavor and tribe from Mandalorian to Hello Kitty. All this stuff is very pretty, or at least appealing, but serves no actual purpose or function. Even the things that do have purpose, are often never used. That beautiful $3000 pocket knife sumdood just posted in your favorite EDC group on Facebook? It’s never been used, and never will be. He will soon trade it for another exotic custom knife, in his fervor to possess the best, without ever taking ownership of quality through actual use, and continue opening packages with his keys.
It is possible to manage a gunshot wound with no more than can be carried in a pocket, provided that pocket is not stuffed with beads, tops and patches. A tourniquet is not pretty to look at, and no one is making custom ones in exotic fabrics with zirconium windlasses, but try stopping a major hemorrhage with your superconductor CyPop (a popular single-finger knuckle duster, known to cause serious injury to users who actually hit someone with it).
Part of making choices to take responsibility for your well being, is to decide to appropriately enable yourself to act. Be an adult and take ownership of ability. You don’t wear Zegna and Canali to do yard work, you don’t eat regular meals off the finest china, and you wouldn’t put up with a phone with nothing but apps that only show pretty pictures, so don’t clutter your pockets with useless shit just because it’s pretty and cool.
You’re concerned about the state of the world, and events like those occurring in Paris recently, so lets take stock of some things that might actually be useful in dealing with such events.
Ownership of Violence (that aforementioned set of mental parking spaces for receiving and giving out violence) and Awareness (paying attention) are foundational, but before we put a chest rig loaded with magazines and an AR in the trunk, or buy another really pretty-but-useless piece of EDC “gear”, what is there to do to better ready ourselves for this type of violence?
There are some obvious things:
-Getting better at defending ourselves. Improving our fighting ability, shooting ability, skills with contact weapons. Getting better at actually carrying those tools in the first place (something many are actually very bad at, despite owning them).
-Working with our families and loved ones to develop, or improve, response plans. Practice awareness, on your own and as a game (even just people watching and commentary) with your family or friends. Talk about what to do if X occurs, be it escape, fight, and everything in between. Work together to function as a strong unit in the face of adversity.
-Get medical skills, and continue to train them. You are far more likely to use, and need, these skills than almost any other emergency preparedness skill available, and they are perishable and need frequent practice (and refreshing, as medicine continually improves).
-Improve our fitness. There is no aspect of your life that cannot be bettered by being in better physical condition. Your survivability when faced with austerity or hostility is only going to improve as you get fitter, and that’s just one of the many benefits.
A central thread to all of these things is that, while they do improve your abilities if faced with terrorist or active attack, they improve you (and your closest allies) as a whole. Being better martial artists, shooters, and family members. Being stronger, and more aware of our surroundings. Being able to handle medical emergencies, that are far more likely to confront us than any any act of violence. These are all things that benefit us no matter the emergency, and that are far more likely to matter in a terrorist attack than overloading your vehicle with supplies you’ll never get to in time.
I originally wrote this in the wake of the Daesh attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris. Events recent to this re-posting in January 2020 have made great illustration of the points made here. On December 29th, 2019, a violently unstable man wheeled a shotgun out of a long coat and began shooting inside the West Freeway Church of Christ, in White Settlement, Texas. Two parishioners were killed, one of them an armed volunteer security team member, shot while trying to draw (and possibly load) his handgun. The incident was resolved when security volunteer Jack Wilson fired a single shot to the attackers head, from an estimated ten yards. The incident lasted only a few seconds. The volunteer security team at West Freeway Church of Christ, as at most churches, are ordinary people, going about ordinary parts of their lives, carrying equipment that fits in with that. Jack Wilson came as he was, and prevailed. The other security team volunteer did too, and did not.
There are things we know.
We know that at 2:00 AM on June 12th 2016, an ISIL inspired killer walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and started shooting. Before he was stopped, 49 people were fatally shot, and 53 wounded. The law enforcement response began just two minutes later, but no officers entered the club until ten minutes had passed. In the minutes following, officers carried 14 wounded out of the club before asking Orlando Fire paramedics to go inside with them. Orlando Fire commanders refused to make entry, and continued to refuse for nearly an hour despite the offer of ballistic vests from another agency. 88 people were left alone, injured and dying. A study published in the journal PreHospital Emergency Care, by E. Reed Smith et al, found that 16 victims would have survived if they had received care within ten minutes.
We know that after calling 911, the next thing we do is wait. “Emergency medical service units average 7 minutes from the time of a 911 call to arrival on scene. That median time increases to more than 14 minutes in rural settings, with nearly 1 of 10 encounters waiting almost a half hour for the arrival of EMS personnel. Longer EMS response times have been associated with worse outcomes in trauma patients.3 In some, albeit rare, emergent conditions (eg, cardiopulmonary arrest, severe bleeding, and airway occlusion), even modest delays can be life threatening” writes Howard K. Mell MD, MPH,CPE in a 2017 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Surgery. We know that even once official “help” arrives, they have no duty to actually do anything. We have known this for a long time.
We know that since the 1960’s CPR has been taught to everyone from school kids to lifeguards to dental hygienists. We know that when someone has a heart attack, immediate resuscitation performed by bystanders improves outcomes significantly, vice waiting for trained responders to arrive. This logic is increasingly being applied to managing severe bleeding too, with the Hartford Consensus and rise of Stop the Bleed programs.
We know the pithy sayings like “when seconds count, 911 response is only minutes away” are rooted in a cold reality. That, in this greatest of all possible worlds, when emergencies happen we are on our own. Maybe help comes, or we find our way to help, but in the critical seconds and minutes, outcomes depend entirely on the people who are there. There is no one coming to save you or anyone else. If you want to have survivors, you have to make survivors.
What not everyone knows, is how to do that. What is required, in those lifetime-long minutes or hours until help arrives or is reached? We propose that it is nothing superhuman. To be a survivor, to make survivors, you do not need to be a superman assuming some heroic stance in the face of great evil. You simply must, as Uncle Scar taught us, be prepared.
The level of preparedness and skill required depends on your purposes, your environment, and the threats you face. Solo hiking deep backcountry trails requires more preparedness, and a deeper skill, than walking to the corner and back. Field research in the Mongolian wastes requires more than research at your local library. Conducting special operations in hostile lands, more than shopping at “that” Wal-Mart or Murder Kroger. And so on… But, is there something more exceptional about those skills in harsher environments, than in your own? No. You can acquire, train, and perform the skills to survive austerity and hostility, whoever you are.
One doesn’t need to be an ascetic disciple of survival skills to use them. No one coming to save us for a life of disciplined doldrums would probably be a blessing. We survive to return to a life that we’ve built for our fulfillment. A life spent in monastic devotion to mastering some art of living when others die isn’t a life worth living at all. The best skills and tools at survival, and self protection, are those that work smoothly into the life you already lead, the one you are building, not as the purpose of that life. You can spend a weekend learning wilderness survival, practice the fundamentals in your backyard and every camping trip, and survive a disaster. You can give a few weekends a year to classes, and a handful of hours a week to dry fire, and shoot better than most other gun owners. You can take a Stop the Bleed class in a day, and practice applying a tourniquet now and then, and successfully save a life.
Conversely, this is not to say that weak effort will be rewarded, or that suffering a bit to get better at these skills isn’t required. You get out of a thing what you’ve put into it, and if what you’ve put in to your skillset is laziness, apathy, and too much time on the couch, when you are selected, your performance will suffer. If you want to be hard to kill, you have to make yourself hard to kill. It does not happen by osmosis, or through minimal effort. There is no one coming to save you, you have to do it, and to do it, you must put in the work.
“One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” – Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on landing Flight 1549 and all 155 souls aboard safely in the Hudson River.
That effort is doable. The results attainable. You can do it. As in an emergency, start where you are and do one thing that makes a difference, and then do another. Change the batteries in your smoke detector, learn to use a tourniquet, shoot a new drill at the range this weekend, dry fire, learn CPR, eat better, lift a weight now and then. One thing, then the next, this is doing the work. Nature produces many things which are hard to kill, but their very lives require the use and refinement of that ability day in and day out. You aren’t a great jungle cat or a hippopotamus: If you want to be dangerous, you have to earn it.
Dangerous? Aren’t we talking about survival skills, not just violence? Yes, dangerous. Do you want to face death and not be? The word dangerous descends from Middle English, where its meaning included difficult, arrogant, and fraught with danger. Being hard to kill means being capable where others aren’t, being difficult to subdue be it by attack or the depredations of environmental extremes, in short, being dangerous. The world is full of wonders, and if you cannot stand in the face of death and say “not today” you will miss out on many of them. To live the life you want, you must be dangerous when confronted with risk. This you must do for yourself. There is no one coming. Everything is up to you. If you can’t be safe, be dangerous.
Each and every one of you, if you venture into the wilds, drive the roads, pursue adventure or live a quiet life, volunteer in conflict zones or at the safest church in the best neighborhood. Each and every one of you who want to live a good, and long, life. Each and every one of you who are sincere about affecting your passions despite any threat, need to be dangerous. You need more skills, more depth, than a single article, class, or book can give you. It is a lifelong pursuit.
This is something you know, and knowing this, having taken that first step, having that sincerity about your passions, this is your mandate to become fucking dangerous.