Guns for The Country Home
Some time back I stumbled across an interesting discussion on the appropriate firearm for the farm or country home, much like the country home my folks maintained for many decades.
The Old Man was, of course, a farmer for much of his life, and an old school country gentleman. His attitude towards firearms reflected most of his type and his generation; firearms were tools essential to the maintenance and protection of homestead and crops, in the same order as a chainsaw, a scythe, or a tractor. They were selected and maintained as such, with strictly utilitarian considerations. Childhood in the Great Depression and young adulthood during WW2 made most of the Old Man’s generation practically minded people.
That being the case, the Old Man maintained three firearms on and about the place. They were a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a .22 rimfire rifle, and a .22 handgun. The shotgun was his first purchase with his demobilization pay when he returned from the Army in 1946, the .22 rifle was a third anniversary present from my mother in 1950, and the .22 pistol he bought for recreational shooting sometime in the mid-1960s. I still have all three firearms, and no amount of money could persuade me to part with them, so don’t ask. And, in what should come as a surprise to no one, these are the three types of guns I think are most useful around your typical country home.
If You Can Have Only One Gun
Now, on to the country home: If a family can only maintain one firearm on a country homestead, one would be wise to pick up something along the lines of the Old Man’s first post-war purchase, a simple 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. The Old Man’s Stevens pump-gun hasn’t been manufactured for many years, although used examples are sometimes available at bargain prices. The old Stevens 520/620 series are great guns, John Browning designed take-down pump guns with solid steel receivers. They’re reliable and brutally tough, and if you can find them around, come pretty cheap.
The Mossberg 500 series or the Remington 870 are likewise solid guns that will give long service; my own pair of Mossbergs, a 12 and a 20, have been functioning flawlessly in the game fields for 35 and 40 years now. There are plenty of others on the market, but were I equipping an outpost myself, I’d probably go for a Mossberg or a Remington, for the primary reason that parts will be easy to find.
The advantages of the 12 gauge are many. Ammo is readily available anywhere and various loads/shot sizes can handle anything from garden pests to turkeys, while a slug will dispatch a deer or even a bear. Pump guns are solid, reliable and easy to operate. Most hold five or six rounds in the magazine, which should be enough ammo for most chores.
I’m a big fan of old shotguns, particularly the pre-64 Winchester Model 12 and the Belgian Browning Auto-5s. I have a fair stable of those pieces and over time will probably buy more. But these are collector’s pieces, and while I shoot them and hunt with them, I would not necessarily drag them through mud and bad weather. For that, a rougher piece is in order – a utility shotgun, suitable for the only gun on a country homestead.
Even though I will always love my old Brownings and Winchesters, I will always keep the old Mossbergs around as utility shotguns, especially after our move north. Of course, my attitudes towards firearms are somewhat different than the Old Man’s, and so the Mossbergs will still have plenty of company in the rack.
I’ve seen some great shooting done with simple 12-gauge pumps, too. Despite his utilitarian attitude towards shotguns, the Old Man was nevertheless as artist with his old Stevens. He was known to go 100 straight on the skeet range in his Army days, and he was highly skilled at making a shot charge arrive in the same location as a fleeing pheasant or grouse. In his early 80s he cut off the tip of his trigger finger in a jointer, and since that time firing a gun with any recoil caused a stab of pain through his shooting hand, but before moving to town he capped his hunting career in a blaze of glory by stalking and killing four wild turkeys with a bolt-action .410, causing our old friend Dave to comment, “if anyone but your Dad told me that, I’d call him a damned liar.” I was always disappointed by my failure to catch up to Dad on the trap range, although he would have admitted I was better than he with a rifle.
Which brings us to…
If You Can Have Only Two Guns
But let’s say you can have two guns around your place. I’d recommend the second be a .22 rifle.
Oddly enough, while my gun rack contains several .22LR semi-autos, if you were to keep a .22 rifle in a rural setting, I’d recommend a bolt gun. Why? Several reasons:
- Bolt guns are simple, they generally break down easily and are easy to clean and repair.
- Even in a .22LR, bolt guns are accurate. Not that semi-autos can’t be accurate – but bolt guns are generally a hair ahead.
- Simplicity leads to reliability. Fewer moving parts means less wear, although any well-maintained firearm should last a lifetime.
- Some semi-autos, like my own slicked-up Ruger 10/22, can be finicky about ammo. Bolt guns generally digest any ammo with aplomb, and generally give you the option to run quiet .22 Shorts if you are shooting at close quarters. A subsonic .22 Short round fired from a rifle isn’t much louder than a finger-snap, and that can come in downright handy.
The other advantage to a .22LR bolt gun is price. There are literally millions of inexpensive and yet reliable and accurate .22 bolt guns around. You don’t need high polish or fancy walnut for accuracy in a .22 (although those things sure are nice). Anyone who has handled an old Mossberg or Marlin bolt .22 should be able to attest to that. Back in the day I bought a Mossberg bolt-action .22 with US Government markings for the grand sum of ten dollars, and I could shoot pop-bottle caps off fence posts at 25 yards with it – with iron sights. That Mossberg today would cost you more than that, even adjusted for inflation, but not all that much more. In fact, the same gun without the US Government markings, for some reason, will cost you a lot less.
A lot of the comments above will apply to a lever gun as well, except that .22LR lever guns are generally pricier and more complicated to maintain.
If You Can Have Only Three Guns
For your third gun, I’d recommend a medium-to-major power handgun, one you can carry in a belt holster and shoot accurately. Anything from a 9mm auto to a .44 Magnum will work; it’s far more important that you can handle the sidearm well. Revolvers, though, are generally simpler, easier to maintain and less fussy about ammo than autos. Revolvers also have the capability of handling more powerful loads in a reasonably sized piece. Bear in mind that if you’re in a remote location, you may have to repair the thing yourself. Some of us are better tinkerers than others.
With the above in mind, though, take into consideration any possible uses you might be putting that sidearm to – caliber considerations in Georgia may be quite different than those in Alaska.
Most people find handguns more difficult to handle well than a rifle or shotgun, so be prepared to spend some money on practice ammo.
Parts Is Parts
In a rural home, it’s a good idea to keep some parts on hand. Firing pins, springs, screws and action pins, all good things to keep a supply of. You’ll also need tools, as gunsmithing tools are somewhat specialized; Brownell’s Basic Gunsmith Tool Kit contains a good assortment of tools, gauges and so on to keep your shooting irons shooting. Keep a good supply of cleaning solvents and lubricant on hand.
If your pump shotgun has a barrel that can be swapped out easily, as does the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500, an extra barrel isn’t a bad idea. And speaking of barrels, while I’m fond of Briley choke tubes and run them on a lot of my shotguns, an ugly but solid Poly-Choke type collet choke may be a better idea for a country-homestead gun; you can lose choke tubes, but that Poly-Choke is there for keeps.
If “prepping” is your thing, or you’re just very remote and are worried about supplies being hard to get, here’s something to think about: What would you do if cut off from a supply of ammo?
The answer may be to scale your technology back some – say, to about 1800. A smooth bore flintlock musket is versatile, will kill birds with shot or moose with round balls, and if you have bar lead, a mold, flint and a supply of sulfur you can make everything else you’ll need to keep shooting. Charcoal isn’t hard to come by, and if you have a latrine, you can make saltpeter. You’ll need a fair amount, as the recipe is generally 75% saltpeter, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur.
That’s something to think about, anyway.
A country home requires a lot of tools to keep the place maintained, safe and tidy. Even if you’re not a hobby shooter or (like me) a collector, a firearm is one of those essential tools. Whether your immediate need is rabbit stew, pest control, dissuading something big and toothy or something two-legged and belligerent, sometimes a firearm is the only thing that will work.