What’s Your Basic Load?

Dear Fellow Survivalist;

I’ve been reading a few survivalist type stories lately that one of my clients sent me. They actually sent them so that I could check them for technical and scientific accuracy. Apparently some of these novels have been written by people who don’t have all that much experience in survival, and they wanted to make sure that people like me wouldn’t read these stories and then say, “That’s not realistic,” so they’re having me spot those problems now, while they can still fix them.

One of the things that I’ve seen happen several times in these stories is that one person or another, who is trying to escape whatever apocalyptic situation, gets their hands on a gun. But for some reason, they never get their hands on extra ammo. All they’ve got is what’s in that gun.

Of course, those of us who actually use guns know that a gun without ammo is nothing more than a finely machined paper weight. None of us would ever think of owning a gun, without owning extra ammo for it. Those of us who are also preppers or survivalists probably have quite a bit of extra ammo for our guns.

But those books got me thinking about something. That is, what’s the “ideal” basic load of ammo? If you don’t know that term, a basic load is what the military defines as the amount of ammo that a soldier, tank or ship should carry for a particular weapons system. For example, infantry soldiers going into combat carry 270 rounds of 5.56mm ammo for their M4 rifles.

Obviously, you and I don’t carry that much ammo on a day-to-day basis. Not only is that a lot of weight to carry around, but it’s hard to conceal. Someone is bound to notice all those magazines all over our chest plate if we try.

Going back to the Army, the basic load for a pistol of three magazines; one in the gun and two in a magazine holder on the belt. Back when they carried the 1911, that meant that the basic load was 21 rounds. Now that it is the SIG Sauer P320, the basic load will either be 51 rounds. That sounds a whole lot better to me.

A couple of years ago, a police officer ended up in a shootout with a drug addict. When the bad guy finally fell down and the smoke cleared, the officer only had two or three rounds left, and he had started out with 51 rounds! Eighteen of those bullets were in the body of the drug addict and the rest had missed. If I remember correctly, that officer increased his basic load by two more magazines.

I carry three magazines as well; but with my compact .45 caliber pistol, that’s only 20 rounds (5 round magazine in the gun, 2-7 round spare magazines, and 1 in the chamber). If I was faced with the exact same situation as that police officer, I’d need to hit with every round, in order to end up with the same number of rounds at the end.

Granted, there are a couple of differences between him and I. First of all, he was probably armed with either a 9mm or a .40 caliber, rather than the .45. So, I’ll make bigger holes in the bad guys than he did. Secondly, there might be a difference in our shooting ability. But I wouldn’t count on that all that much, since anyone’s shooting ability is severely degraded by the adrenalin in their system, when they find themselves in an active shooter situation. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, I’m not a cop. Theoretically, at least, there’s less chance I’ll need to use my sidearm than a cop will.

But the point here is that, in reality, there’s a good chance that I’m not carrying a big enough basic load. While something like 70 percent of all shooting situations where a concealed carry holder is involved are no more than three rounds in three seconds, there are still the other 30 percent. What about those? At least a couple of percent are going to be like that cop found himself in, shooting it out with a high drug addict. I know I don’t have enough for that.

Nor can I say that I have enough if I find myself in a shootout with a couple of gang members. Getting in a shootout with one criminal is bad enough. Getting in one with two or more is much more dangerous. It’s also going to multiply the amount of ammo you go through exponentially.

So, how do we handle that sort of situation? Is it actually practical to carry four or five magazines for your pistol? Probably not. Just like that infantry basic load of 270 rounds in 9 magazines, it’s going to be hard to hide. On top of that, everyone is going to really think you’re paranoid.

The best answer I’ve come up with is to have more magazines charged and ready to go, stored in a convenient place. That means I’ve got a few extra magazines at home, stashed in various drawers and a few stashed in my vehicle. I also have boxes of extra ammo in both places. It’s not a perfect plan; but it’s better than not having those extra rounds.

My plan, if I ever get into an active shooting situation away from home, is to work my way back to my car, before I run out. Not, I need to say, to wait until I am out, and then try to work my way back. When I put that third magazine in, it’s time to move. Of course, that’s assuming that I can.

The other part of my plan is to shoot the least I possibly can for the situation. In other words, I’m not going to take pot shots at the bad guys, not going to do any “suppressive fire” and not going to shoot if I don’t have a good shot. As soon as it seems like they might be down or leaving the scene, I’m going to stop. I don’t need to overdo it, especially since I’m only shooting in self-defense. As much as I might be tempted to go after them, I really don’t have any right to do so.

With that in mind, maybe my three magazines will be enough. But I don’t want to take any chances. That’s why I’ve got the other magazines ready, just in case. It’s kind of like the rest of my philosophy. You know, keeping my powder dry and my survival gear close at hand… just in case.

Dr. Rich

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