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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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.
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.