A firearm can be useful, but it generally isn't all that important in the lower 48. However, in some areas a gun is a good idea for protection and it is required equipment when flying in Alaska and remote areas of Canada. For these purposes the choice is between a high powered rifle and a 12 gauge shotgun. Many experienced bush pilots seem to prefer the shotgun and slugs for its effectiveness against bears. Many carry both or a hand gun to complement the shotgun.
Check local laws and regulations before carrying firearms in your survival kit or in your automobile, aircraft or on your person. Penalties for breaking firearms laws in many states and countries are very severe.
There are also a number of relatively light weight (2.5 to 4 lbs.) purpose built survival rifles available which break down into a compact package. The AR-7 Industries "AR-7 Explorer," a .22LR autoloader, breaks down and stores inside its own stock, which will float. Marlin makes two .22 caliber breakdown rifles appropriate for survival use. The "Papoose," model 70PSS, is a stainless steel autoloader with a removable barrel. The Model 39TDS is a lever action rifle which takes down by splitting the action which is held together with a thumb screw. A soft sided, padded zippered case, which floats, is included with both Marlins.
The Springfield Armory M6 "Scout" is an updated version of the U.S. Air Force M6 survival rifle. The Scout is a .22LR or .22 Hornet /.410 shotgun, single shot over-under design available in both standard and stainless steel. On the original Scout, the stock folds under the barrel. The current production doesn't fold all the way, but it can be taken down by removing the pivot pin. Soft and hard carry cases are available. The Scout stores 15 rounds of .22 ammo and 4 shotgun shells in the skeletonized stock.
These weapons will suffice for taking small to medium sized game and birds or water fowl, if you stay in practice; even larger game, if you are an expert. However, they aren't much use for protection against large predators such as bears and larger game really requires a more powerful cartridge.
Two other "survival" rifles can be had in larger calibers. The excellent "Alaskan Co-Pilot" by Jim West of Wild West Guns is a .45-70 or .444 Marlin caliber take down rifle with a lever action. The barrel is 16 in. long, the action and stock is 18 inches. The two units screw together in a matter of seconds. A soft carrying case is included. This rifle is custom made and available with a number of options. The .45-70 will also fire a .410 shotgun shell in single shot mode.
Thompson/Center Arms offers the acclaimed "Contender Carbine." This is a single shot takedown carbine with interchangeable barrels. It is now available with synthetic stock and forend and stainless steel action and barrels. A wide range of calibers from .22 to .30/30 up to .45/70 in a variety of barrel lengths are available including a combination .45/.410 and .410 smoothbore. An aftermarket folding stock is also available for the Contender Pistol, as an alternative, as are numerous factory and aftermarket specialty accessories such as scopes, slings and the like.
If you are going to carry a survival firearm, please learn how to use it safely and competently. It is a waste to carry any gun you aren't competent to use and potentially dangerous besides. For nearly all of us, competence requires regular practice. If you aren't going to practice, you shouldn't carry the gun.
Finally, a gun makes a lousy signal. Don't carry one rationalizing that it will be useful to signal for help. The unfortunate experience of many who have tried teaches us that gunfire in the wilderness is generally ignored, though admittedly, there have been some lucky exceptions. For signaling there are far more suitable and lighter weight alternatives.
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Revision: 011 September 17, 1999
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