Guide to Gun Ownership

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
[1] The only way to learn to "shoot where it's gonna be" is to practice. [2] A sling will free your hands. [3] Most anyone can learn to load a shotgun rapidly. [4] Clay pigeons, thrown by an assistant, provide good "moving targets" for practice. [5] Wear earmuffs and glasses when shooting. [6] In some situations, a rifle can do a job that a shotgun can't. [7] If you're careful to keep your firearm oiled. [8] Cleaned, the gun should last long enough for you to pass it on to your grandchildren.

Reprinted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 67

“The Homestead Firearm “first appeared in the
January/February 1981 issue of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS,
prefaced with an editor’s note saying, in part, that ” . .
. this has always been a magazine devoted to presenting
alternatives rather than to preaching. That’s why we can
run articles praising vegetarian living and stories
describing how to raise meat animals in the same issue . .
. . If you are confirmed in your choice never to own a
firearm, be assured that MOTHER EARTH NEWS respects your decision. On
the other hand, if you think you should own a gun, we
respect that decision too . . . and suggest you
read what Gary Kent — experienced shooter and regular
contributor to outdoor and firearm-enthusiast
publications — has to say about gun ownership.”

Today — five years later — our feelings are
exactly the same.

Guide to Gun Ownership

When a family moves from the city or suburbs to the
country, its members will quickly recognize the need to
buy, swap for, or otherwise acquire tools that they aren’t
necessarily familiar with. Some of the items are simple . .
. others are complicated, powerful, and perhaps
intimidating. In either case, the family must first choose
which tools are truly necessary, and then learn to use them
safely. Many country dwellers soon find that one such
necessary implement is a firearm.

Tools, of course, are devices that help men and women do
work. And a gun is a tool that’s uniquely suited to three
specific jobs: protecting people, protecting crops and
livestock, and putting food on the table.

Gun Ownership In the Home

The decision to keep a gun for home protection should not
be made lightly. Before making up your mind, you’ll have to
face squarely the idea that — if you do keep a gun for
self-defense — you might someday (although the
likelihood is very small) actually have to shoot
someone. And if you think the matter through and come to
the conclusion that you couldn’t fire at another
human being, even if he or she were threatening your life
or the lives of your family, then don’t keep a gun
for protection. Bluffing with an unloaded firearm, or with
one you don’t intend to use, could very well cause a
tragedy where one might not otherwise have occurred.

If you do decide to keep a gun for defense,
however, it’s critical that you select the right kind of
weapon and that you know how to use it well and safely.
Such a gun must meet several criteria. It must be simple to
operate, easy to shoot with accuracy, and powerful enough
to stop an attacker instantly. Equally important, it must
be safe to keep in a house where children live, but also
must be capable of being brought into action quickly.
Finally, the weapon shouldn’t have enough muzzle velocity
(the speed at which the projectile leaves the gun) to shoot
through walls and perhaps endanger your family or
neighbors.

Firearms: The Versatile Shotgun

There is, to my knowledge, only one type of gun that
satisfies all of these criteria: a double-barreled
shotgun. A rifle — which sends out only a single bullet
at a time — can be difficult to shoot accurately when
you’re in a hurry, and a shell from a high-powered rifle
will carry through most internal wall material with killing
force. A handgun is difficult to master . . . and
particularly difficult to keep ready and — at the same
time — safe around curious children. (In the hands of
an expert, a handgun can be an excellent defense gun.
However, if you’re an expert, you don’t need my advice.)

As it works out, the double-barreled shotgun is ideal for
protecting your family, your livestock, and your crops . .
. and for putting food in the freezer.
“Scatterguns” are that versatile simply because
there’s a wide range of ammunition available for them.
There are loads suited for putting a rabbit in the pot, and
other loads that will stop an attacking grizzly bear!

The “double” is — to my way of thinking — the
safest practical gun that a family with small children can
own. You can keep the weapon unloaded, yet it’s always
ready: After only a few trial runs, almost any adult can
load a double-barrel in less than five seconds. Simply keep
the gun over the mantel or in a closet — out of the way
but readily accessible — and store a couple of shells
nearby but out of the reach of curious youngsters.

In purchasing such a gun, your best bet is to choose a 12-
gauge shotgun
with a single trigger. Some doubles
have two triggers, but you might pull both simultaneously
when you’re excited . . . and perhaps be knocked flat on
your back from the kick and left with an empty
firearm. (If you already have a 16- or a 20-gauge gun,
it’ll do the job, but don’t rely on the underpowered .410
size.)

The make of the firearm needn’t be of any concern to folks
buying the weapon for the purposes outlined in this
article. (I own a Savage, which is a solid, reliable, and
relatively inexpensive tool.) And remember, when looking
for a shotgun, that list prices are meaningless in the gun
market. To find the best buys, wait for sales at discount
houses.

When you begin to shop around, you’ll discover that guns
have various barrel lengths and “chokes.” The latter term
refers to the amount of constriction at the end of the
barrel (the difference between one choke and another, would
be too small for you to see) that regulates the size of the
shot pattern.

A tight choke throws a small pattern that holds together
for a relatively long distance . . . while an open choke
throws a large pattern that is not
effective at long range. Of course, it’s easier to hit what
you’re shooting at with a large pattern, so get relatively
short barrels (26 inches or so), which tend to cause the
shot to spread out more quickly than it would when fired
from a longer barrel … and choose either
improved-cylinder or modified chokes. As long as you don’t
get a gun with two full-choke barrels, you’ll be OK.

I like to have a sling on my shotgun, because it allows me
to carry the tool when my hands are full or when I’m
climbing. You can have a gunsmith put on detachable
swivels — which will let you take off the sling when
you don’t need it — for about $20, including the cost
of the hardware. It’s best to get an inexpensive sling
that’s nothing more than a narrow (one inch or less) strip
of leather.

Once you’ve bought and equipped your gun, study —
carefully — any and all instructions that
came with it. Next, clean the gun thoroughly with an
inexpensive shotgun cleaning kit (see the accompanying
sidebar on gun care).

There are many rules for safe firearm handling, but I’ll
give you only one. Obey it always, and you won’t ever
have
a tragic gun accident: NEVER ALLOW A GUN TO POINT
AT ANYTHING YOU DON’T INTEND TO SHOOT. Not with the safety
on. Not when the gun is unloaded. Not for the briefest
fraction of a second. Never.

(I ought to explain my reservations about safeties, the
little levers that prevent the weapons from firing. Such
devices are merely mechanical . . . even when clean and
new, they can malfunction. And, like all mechanical
devices, they can break. Use the safety on your
gun, but don’t depend on it. Always assume it
isn’t working properly, and conduct your gun handling
accordingly.)

Loading a double-barreled shotgun is a very simple task.
Just push the lever on top of the gun — it’s
right behind the barrels — to the right. The barrels
will then swing down (you may have to push them), and you
can drop two shotshells into place. Finally, holding the
grip of the stock with one hand and the barrels with the
other, close the action gently but firmly.

Choosing Shells

The key to getting the most out of a shotgun is knowing
which ammunition to use for each situation. Using the wrong
ammo can cause you to miss what you’re shooting at, or to
fail to kill what you hit.

For home defense, don’t use buckshot . . . despite what you
may have heard on TV or what some local “experts” will tell
you. Buckshot can penetrate the walls of a house and could
hurt a family member in another room. Instead, use
shotshells loaded with No. 6 or 7-1/2 shot . . . the same
size you’d use for rabbits, squirrels, or pheasants. At
close range, this size is as deadly as any shotgun
load, but it will have little power left if it should
manage to go through a wall. (Because you wouldn’t shoot a
gun in the house at all except in self-defense,
long-range impact isn’t important.)

If you live in an area where you might be faced with a bear
problem, however, it would probably be best to use a
shotshell containing 00 buckshot in one barrel and a single
“rifled slug” in the other. At bear attack
range — inside of ten yards — this will stop even
most grizzlies.

Should coyotes threaten your livestock, you can try to get
rid of the animals by firing a few warning shots over their
heads. But if the predations persist, No. 1 buckshot will
stop the carnivores for good.

Many folks feel that home protection is an important reason
for having a gun, but your firearm will probably be used
primarily — if it is used for anything other than
target practice — to put meat on the table. For a real
feeling of independence, you can’t beat passing by the
grocery’s meat counter without stopping! (Now I realize
that many people are strongly against hunting. When such a
feeling stems from a sincere belief in vegetarianism, I can
respect it. I have a harder time, however, understanding
such objections from people who raise and butcher livestock
animals . . . and an even more difficult time
accepting the anti-hunting stance of folks whose only source
of meat is the supermarket. Still, I would never
try to impose my views on others by telling them they’re
wrong not to hunt, and I expect the same courtesy
from those who don’t believe as I do.)

And just what game can you put in the freezer with the aid
of your shotgun? For starters there are dove, quail,
pheasant, duck, goose, grouse, woodcock, snipe, rail,
rabbit, squirrel, deer, and bear. (Of course, you shouldn’t
expect to be able to use the same ammunition for such
diverse animals as dove and deer. Check the chart
accompanying this article for suggestions.) In addition, if
you’re not afraid to try something new, you can eat
woodchuck (groundhog), raccoon, beaver, and possum. I will
personally attest to the fact that the first three are
quite delicious and that possum isn’t bad at all.
(Naturally, before going hunting, you will have to check
the regulations in your state to see which species may be
hunted and when their respective seasons are open. And do
be sure to buy a license.)

The meat from game animals is superior to beef in several
ways. It has more protein, less fat, and fewer calories . .
. most folks think it tastes better . . . and it
won’t have been fed, injected, or sprayed with chemical
additives. If you’ve eaten game that had a heavy and
objectionable “gamy” flavor, you were probably consuming
meat that was partially spoiled. You wouldn’t purchase a
package of hamburger, hang it out in the backyard in mild
temperatures for days, show it off to the neighbors, and
then expect it to taste good. Don’t do that with
your game, either. Instead, clean it quickly, wash the
meat, wrap it in double layers of good freezer paper, and
freeze it as soon as you can. Game that’s been handled in
this manner should taste different from beef or
chicken — usually a little sweeter — but it
shouldn’t taste bad. Use simple recipes, cook with
plenty of moisture, and don’t overcook . . . and
you’ll serve delicious wild-meat dishes every time.

Firearm Alternatives: Rifles

As much as I feel a scattergun is the choice for
those buying only one firearm, there are some jobs
that a shotgun shouldn’t be asked to handle. If you plan to
hunt antelope, mule deer, elk, or moose-or if your
livestock is threatened frequently by
coyotes — you may need a rifle.

The simplest, strongest, and most reliable type of rifle is
a bolt action. For antelope or coyotes, an excellent choice
is a rifle that shoots a .243 caliber cartridge. If you
plan on going after mule deer, elk, or moose — or if
you’ll be carrying your rifle for protection from
bears — consider something in the range of a .30/06 or
.308.

There are hundreds of books about hunting and shooting. If
you intend to do much of either, I suggest you study a
couple of the how-to manuals. But to get the most out of
your gun, you must know how to shoot well . . . and the
only way to become a good shot is to practice. Besides
working with your shotgun or rifle, you can get in a lot of
good practice, in a small area and for little
expense, by using an air rifle. Just suspend a tin can from
a tree limb with a length of string (make sure nothing
behind it will be in danger). Have someone start it
swinging and, after that person gets out of the way, try to
hit the container.

Owning a gun is a serious responsibility. If treated
carelessly, a firearm can be as dangerous as household
poisons or stored gasoline. However, if you’re careful, and
if you handle it well, your gun will give you years of
service. It can provide fresh, healthful food for your
family . . . and if you have one occasion to use
it for self-defense (even if you don’t have to fire it), it
will be the most valuable tool you’ve ever owned.


Gun Care: Simple But Essential

Basic gun care is so simple that there is really no excuse
for neglecting the chore. (Of course, if a part on your
firearm breaks, you’ll most likely have to entrust
the repair job to a competent gunsmith . . . but,
generally, routine maintenance will be up to you.)

The two factors that most often cause a gun to wear
excessively are rust and abnormal use. You can easily
prevent oxidation by wiping the device’s metal parts with a
cloth dampened with a few drops of commercial gun
lubricant. Wipe your gun thoroughly, but don’t
soak it in the lubricant, because any oil that accumulates
in cracks will attract grime.

You should apply a commercial powder solvent — followed
by a very light coating of lubricant — to the
inside surfaces of the barrels . . . with a cleaning rod
and a wire bristle brush of the same gauge as the weapon.
(Such tools can be purchased from sporting goods stores and
gun dealers.) Finally, for getting dirt out of crevices in
the tool’s action, nothing beats an old toothbrush! (If you
live in a humid climate, you’ll probably need to clean and
oil your firearm once a month . . . but less frequent
attention is required in arid locations.)

Repeated use shouldn’t damage a gun, as long as the correct
size of ammunition is fired and any obstructions are
removed from the barrels before the weapon is discharged.
However, slamming the action shut will cause undue wear, so
you should close it gently . . . giving your firearm the
same respect you’d have for any hand-fitted piece
of precision machinery. It’s also important to clean the
gun after each practice session . . . and to wipe down the
metal whenever you’ve handled the firearm, to remove the
acidic body oils that may cause rust.

If you care for it properly, a gun that you buy today
should be working perfectly when your
grandchildren are old enough to shoot it!