Monday, February 9, 2009

A further guide to zombie Planning: Firearms pt.2

Now we've taken a short trip through the overall types of firearms, we have to get a little deeper if we're going to do this right. So in part two we'll cover a bit on actions and ammunition because there's a lot more to a boom stick than a barrel, a trigger and some magical force that makes things go splat.

The action is the mechanism that places the round in the chamber and by pulling the trigger releases the firing pin, which strikes the primer of cartridge, thus igniting the powder which forces the bullet out the barrel. OK got that, simple enough right. So lets do this in the same format as part one.

Also this is a bit of a generalization, as some makes and models may have features that do not completely coincide with the norms I state here, for example the model 1885 Winchester lever action which is a top loading box magazine rifle which shoots various full caliber center fire rifle cartridges does not fit with every +or- I have listed with lever action rifles.

Long Arms, Carbine rifles and Shotguns: Antique and specialty arms aside there are five basic actions: Bolt, Lever, Pump, Semi-automatic/automatic and Break actions. Now there are variations within each category, but we're talking about zombies here, not instructing a full firearms course and even then that's getting a bit too involved, so lets just stick with those for now.

Bolt Action: This is the simplest type of action there is, a round is placed in the receiver/body of the gun either manually or through the magazine, the bolt containing the firing pin is then closed manually cocking the firearm and pushing the cartridge into the chamber to be fired. The bolt is manually opened extracting the spent casing. Now the important stuff, how does this affect your zombie plan?

+ Simplicity: Fewer moving mechanical parts means less room for error and malfunction. With a horde of zombies within the gates, it is not a good time for a gun to pack it in.

+ Tear Down and Maintenance: Hand in hand with simplicity, bolt actions are very simple to take apart and clean or perform other necessary maintenance. Remember a clean firearm is a working firearm. Lets face it society has collapsed, and it could be a long time to get replacement parts.

+ Single shot capability: Ammunition can be manually loaded individually directly into the chamber. This may not seem like a big plus, but say you've used all the rounds loaded into your gun and only have a loose pocket or box of them and there's that next zombie coming at you. Not having to manually load a magazine and then chamber a round may be more significant than you might first think.

+ Accuracy: Largely because of their simplicity and fewest moving parts and locking bolt, bolt action rifles are generally considered the most accurate rifles.

- Full Recoil: With the bolt locked in place the full recoil of the rifle firing is coming back at you. If you've got a lot of zombies to shoot that can become quite tiring after a while. Fatigue will affect your shooting accuracy and more misses means more precious ammo wasted.

- Slower rate of fire: Typically bolt actions rifles will be significantly slower to get that next round chambered. A lower rate of fire means the advancing zombies might get through that door or window and into the room and then things start looking grim. I will point out the obvious exception here is the legendary speed of the Lee Enfield action where, German forces advancing during the early days of WWI thought the British had machine guns because of the rate of fire. Standard training requirements were that a British soldier had to be able to fire off a minimum of 15 aimed shots and hit a 200yd target in one minute. With practice one could easily exceed this.

- Left hand awkward: Only commercial sporting arms are manufactured for left hand use. While I know left handed shooters how have gotten quite proficient with right hand bolts, cycling the action manually with each shot to repel a zombie attack would still be limiting. Not an issue if you're right handed obviously.

Lever Action: The classic cowboy rifle, the Winchester lever action is legendary. The first rifle to be manufactured for today's smokeless powders, the Winchester model 1894, or simply 94 (also practically synonymous with the term 30-30 which was created for this gun)has been in production from 1894 to 2006 and the basic design is still in production from other notable manufacturers.

+ Ease of Operation: With a simple downward flick of the wrists another round is chambered and you're ready to knock down another corpse. By utilizing only one simple motion to eject and re-chamber another round and by utilizing gross motor coordination rather than fine motor skills, these are quite possibly the finest choices of manually operated actions.

+ Great ergonomics: Short, light and magnificently well balanced these guns are a dream to shoulder and shoot. Less time thinking and aiming is good when you turn a corner and find yourself face to face with a half dozen living dead.

+ Rapid rate of fire: By the ease of operation, rapid rate of fire is a given, and the less time between shots means less time for the Zombies to advance.

+ Easy reload: the classic loading trap on the side of the receiver works so well it is simple enough to load ammunition into the tube magazine in complete darkness.

+ Left hand friendly: If you're a lefty these are equally easy to shoot and operate, although they typically load on the right.

+\- Interchangeable ammunition: Many lever action rifles are made to use the same ammunition that you would use in a hand gun, which works great for interchangeability, especially between a rifle and a hand gun! Almost an ideal situation if out in no-man's land (at the expense of range and power of course). However the .30-30 and .45-70 ammunition is almost exclusive to these guns without much cross over with many other firearms.

+\- Recoil: While the lever action rifles do have full recoil which can beat on a person especially if using the grand 'ol .45-70 big bores, the classic .30-30 and pistol rounds are quite reasonable with far less felt recoil than the usual center fire bolt action rifles.

-slow reload: simple or not one round must be pushed in manually one behind the other and this is a time consuming process.

- Not single shot friendly: A round must be inserted into the magazine before it can be properly chambered. Although it is possible to top load into the chamber on some models, you will likely face extraction issues.

- Mechanically Complex: While they have been around for over a century and have a record for reliability, there is still a lot more that can go wrong than in a bolt action. Tear down and reassembly in the field is not much of an option here. Not a rifle you want to drop in the sewer.

- Tactical reloads difficult: While I understand it's not so problematic for pistol caliber leverguns, it's near impossible to "top up" the .30-30 or larger caliber rifles as the next round to feed into the chamber blocks the loading trap, thus the rifle must be completely emptied before it can be reloaded.

- short range: Typically Lever action rifles are carbine length and considered brush guns with an effective range not typically exceeding 150 yards.

Pump Action: Typical for the shotgun, but also available for centre fire rifles.

+ Ease of operation: Again a simple hand/arm movement and your ready for the next zombie.

+ left hand friendly: The mechanics work equally well with either hand. (In fact that is the reason this was my first rifle, as I naturally draw to my left)

+\- reload speed: While some models now use removable magazines, many (especially shotguns) must be loaded in a tube magazine one round at a time which can be time consuming.

- Full recoil: Again the full force of the boom is coming back at you. Be careful here as ammunition that is loaded with extra powder can and will cause failures that a bolt action can absorb.

- Mechanically complex: While not as complex as the lever action, they are likely the most prone to experiencing feed problems. Care and cleaning is also more difficult.

- Loss of accuracy: While some will argue with me here it's pretty much commonly accepted that they are less accurate than bolt or lever action rifles at range. Some of that is in the mechanics of the action, some of that is the exaggerated arm movement required to chamber the next round and get the second shot off quickly unsettles the shooter. But the CLACK-CLACK-BOOM sure looks and feels cool.

Break Action: Major limitations here, but some good points I suppose.

+ Accuracy: Break action single shot rifles are likely the most accurate rifles out there, but are few and far between and I don't think I'd want on as my primary firearm in a zombie holocaust.

+ Simplicity: Really it doesn't get any simpler than this does it. Again care and cleaning is simple.

+Single shot capable: Well this is a no brainer (hmm, interesting pun choice...), but the poor reload rate really kind of negates this advantage.

- Reload rate: Many older break actions require the spent shell or cartridge to be removed manually slowing things up even more.

- Reduced capacity: One or two shots tops is not a good thing no matter how you cut it.

- OK really those two negatives really outweigh the previous positives by a pretty wide margin.

Automatic/semi-automatic: let's face it given the choice this is the one that the majority of gun junkies are going to grab. Whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen, but the concept has proven itself time and again the world over in every major military conflict since the second world war. I have lumped auto and semi-auto together because they are basically the same concept just a minor variation in function.

+ Ease of operation: Load that clip or magazine, chamber the first round and away she goes until it's time to reload. All you have to do is squeeze the trigger and zombies drop.

+ Reduced recoil: The design of the Automatic/semi firearm utilizes gas pressure and recoil to cycle the firearm and in effect reduces the amount of felt recoil. Making it easier for the shooter to regain his sights on the next target quicker, and at the same time be less punishing on the shooter.

+ Reload speed: All semi/auto firearms are fed with a clip or removable magazine making reloading quick and simple.

+\- Rate of fire: Rate of fire in an automatic rifle is frankly a double edged sword. Spray and pray may work well for living opponents, but against the zombie horde, it's a waste of precious ammunition. While the semi-automatic is an infinitely better choice, and truly maxes out zombie plugging potential with rate of fire, the operator must exercise discipline because it too is almost too damn easy just to let fly with a five round burst wasting ammo and achieving nothing but making you reload all that much sooner.

- Complex design: Again a lot more to go wrong here mechanically and harder to maintain in the field. Semi-automatic rifles require a better cleaning regime to ensure they work properly. That said some designs have an uncanny history of working in the most appalling conditions with a mind boggling record, (can you say Kalashnikov).

- no single shot capability: Not as big down fall here as with other designs because of the quick reload.

- Ammunition related failures: Because this design utilizes the gas pressures of a discharging cartridge to cycle the action, another factor of ammunition tolerances becomes an issue not found in other manually operated actions. While this may not be an issue with plenty of good ammo and reloading supplies available on the market, come Z day that may change. Poor quality or "dirty" ammo will foul the rifle much quicker rendering the rifle useless if gas ports are clogged. Particularly poor quality ammo has been known to cause this to happen within the first dozen rounds fired. A gun that doesn't fire is a club at best, and it's hard to club yourself to death if that's what it comes down to.

Handguns: Again antique and specialty arms aside there are two basic actions, the revolver and the automatic pistol (automatic here does not mean continuous fire, simply auto loading).

Revolvers: Revolvers come in two styles, the single action revolver and the double action revolver. Single actions are quite primitive antique or antique clone guns which require the hammer be cocked manually (simultaneously rotating the cylinder) and the trigger simply releases the hammer. Great for Westerns and cowboy action shooting, but a bit ponderous with the walking dead coming at you at close range. With the double action revolver squeezing the trigger performs both actions in order.

+ Simplicity: Again fewer parts mean potentially fewer problems. Also cleaning and maintenance is simple.

- Slow reload rate: While some makes had design components that made reloading quicker and easier, it is still a relatively slow process, and when zombies are within handgun range, every second counts.

- low capacity: While 8 round revolvers aren't uncommon, most anything in a calibre most suitable such as the .45 are going to be the classic six shooter. And reloading often with a slow reload rate, well lets just say you should remember to count how many shots you've fired, because you'll likely be wanting to save one for yourself.

Automatic pistols: Not new technology, the automatic pistol was widely in uses as early as 1911 and operates much the same as the self loading rifles. Again available in single and double action, however as function goes it's not as big a deal. A single action automatic pistols performs just like the self loading rifles, load, cock and blast away until empty. Double action automatic hand guns do not require an initial cocking action.

+ Rate of fire: Double action revolvers, eliminating that first step in cocking speeds things up a bit. Typically if entering a dangerous situation with a single action however, one would likely have the weapon cocked and ready anyway. With both actions the ability to get that second shot off in a hurry is of major importance at this close range.

+ Large magazine capacity: An automatic pistol with a 9-15 round magazine is the norm, and the more shots in the gun means a better chance of getting out of there unscathed.

+ Quick reload rate. Automatic pistols are quickest of all firearms to reload. This is a huge plus.

- Complex design: More maintenance is required to keep them working properly and cleaning is more labour intensive. But with smaller pistol rounds the good news is they're less likely to be as dramatically affected by dirty ammo than a rifle.

Quickly on ammunition
, as really there a a whole multitude of ammunition choices available. The bigger is not always better. I mean come on you're taking out rotting corpses not Wildebeast. A well placed .22 will likely do the trick, but it's best if you give yourself a bit of wiggle room, utterly destroying the Zombies brain is a better plan than simply putting a hole through it, so select calibers that will do that whenever possible. Hand guns I would recommend no smaller than .38 or a 9mm if you cannot handle the recoil and your accuracy suffers, but a .40 or .45 would be more effective if you can shoot it well. For rifle rounds I would recommend anything that is legal for big game hunting (specifically deer or other thin skinned game). .30cal is a great choice as there are more .30cal variations available than any other, which means lost of available reloading supplies regardless of what specific round you choose.
Some military rounds are better choices than others. The current NATO 7.62X51 round is great if you have access to active military supplies, but there's not much of it on the civilian surplus market anymore. The British .303 has effectively gone extinct as far as surplus ammunition goes (and that which is out there is crap to my understanding), but is readily available as a commercial sporting round. Russian 7.62x39 surplus on the other hand is quite plentiful and inexpensive if you're stocking up. But keep in mind it will not be as easy to find while scavenging as commercial hunting ammunition.
Shotguns are popular Zombie busting fare, but as I had mentioned previously shot size is far more than gauge. Stick with buck shot of at least #4 and avoid small game loads as they will do nothing to stop all but the mushiest brain muncher.

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