Zombie Apocalypse: The 3 Guns You'll Need to Survive

by Dean Rieck

We've speculated and debated for decades about the best ways to kill the undead. But now that actual zombies have begun to appear in the heartland (besides Occupy protestors), we finally see what works and what doesn't.

One of the biggest debates has been what guns are most effective for putting down walkers. Because I live in Ohio, ground zero for the apocalypse, I have seen many zombie battle tactics confirmed and just as many disproved.

There is no mystery about the categories of firearm you need: rifle, shotgun, and handgun. The reasoning is the same as for any defensive situation. You need a rifle for medium-distance precision shots, a shotgun for up-close power, and a handgun for last-ditch defense. However, given that zombies are already dead, you must choose and use weapons in a different way.

For defense against humans, you need to inflict body trauma that leads to bleeding and unconsciousness. Shot placement is important, but nearly any firearm can get the job done. In fact, humans often drop with one shot out of panic even when you don't inflict serious tissue damage. Ask the guy who tried to steal my supply-filled car in the Walmart parking lot. He's okay. I just nicked him.

When fighting zombies, body trauma has little effect because a zombie does not require a circulatory system. Bleeding does nothing but provide a satisfying visual effect. Shot placement is everything, and firearm choice is far more critical. Forget center mass. Putting lead into the chest does nothing but incrementally increase your attacker's weight.

You might remember the iconic advice from zombie movies about removing the head or destroying the brain. As it turns out, that has proven to be only half right. While removing the head will incapacitate a zombie (its body will flop to the ground), the head will remain animated and dangerous should someone get close enough to its snapping jaws. Thank goodness I was wearing steel toe boots when I learned that.

What has zombie combat taught us? Go for head shots exclusively. These shots cannot merely puncture, they must shred brain tissue beyond the critical mass required for a zombie to remain active. Only when you destroy the brain will you permanently “kill” a walker.

So when choosing your firearms, consider distance and power.

Long distance isn't an issue. If zombies are far enough away that you need a 10x scope and extraordinary accuracy, they do not pose a threat. Save your ammo. Keep hidden or leave the area.

At medium distance, you need a high-power rifle with sights. Iron sights, red dot, or scope, doesn't matter. Any brand or caliber will do as long as you can deliver sufficient foot-pounds of energy to destroy the brain. Leave the .22 in your shelter. Like many, I thought my nifty Ruger 10/22 would be ideal for zombie killing. Low recoil. Availability of ammo. Ease of sound suppression. But I've found that while .22 bullets can penetrate a zombie skull even at great distance, it cannot shred enough brain tissue to be effective.

I like .223, however .308 and .30-06 are also great choices. What about .50 caliber? It works in spectacular fashion and I have photos to prove it. But the recoil and noise are big negatives, as is low ammo availability and weapon weight. Extended combat makes you real practical real fast.

For close quarters combat, I recommend a shotgun. A stock 12-gauge pistol grip pump is ideal because it's compact and easy to use, you'll be able to find shells virtually anywhere, and it delivers devastating power. One shot to the head at close range will take out any zombie. If you prefer 16 or 20-gauge, that's fine. They all perform similarly at close range.

A few shotgun don'ts: Don't rely on a semi-auto shotgun because it's more likely to jam and you generally don't need ultra-fast followup shots. Don't use a double barrel because you'll have to reload too often (remember, you may be at bad breath distance). And don't add electronic optics because odds are that at some point in your zombie fighting career, you'll use your shotgun as a club and your fancy tactical red dot will end up embedded in your former mother-in-law's skull. Please don't ask how I know that.

When you're out of rifle ammo and your last shotgun shell has hit the ground, you're going to need a handgun to stay alive as you rapidly advance to the rear. Avoid the mouse calibers and go with serious defensive ammo. 9mm is the minimum I recommend for shootability and ammo availability. However, there are obvious brain-shredding advantages to .40, .45, and .357.

Is .50 caliber too much gun? For extended use, yes. But because I recommend a handgun as a last-ditch weapon, feel free to carry this cannon if you feel you can put the rounds on target one-handed, under stress, while running, screaming like a girl, and shooting at the thing gaining on you from behind.

Revolver or semi-auto? Your choice. Revolvers are ultra-reliable but give you a low round count. Semi-autos give you firepower, but you'd better practice your failure drills.

Okay, so this all begs the question, what specifically are my 3 firearm choices? Armalite M15, Mossberg 500 Cruiser, and M&P 9mm. There's nothing magic about what I use, but they meet my particular needs and have all proven themselves in day-to-day zombie combat, from picking off individual walkers who have wandered into the spam aisle at the grocery store to yesterday's exhausting all-day battle with a herd of about 100 undead invading my neighborhood. And yes, they totally ignored the “no zombies” sign posted by the liberal who lives … used to live … next door.

If you like my choices and want to get a head start on arming up for the day when the terror spreads to your neighborhood, click here to enter the 2012 Zombie Apocalypse Gun & Gear Raffle. You can win the same 3 guns I use plus lots of extra gear and ammo.

I regret to say that even in these dark times, lawyers still cast a long shadow. And I'm told I must say that this raffle is for Ohio residents only.

Before the apocalypse, Dean Rieck was BFA's Marketing and Communications Director and a direct marketing consultant for clients in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. He currently serves as head of his neighborhood zombie watch team.

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