This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Steve A
For thousands of years, our ancestors fought to find new and more efficient ways to fold, spindle, and mutilate others. At the same time, they also looked for better ways to farm, hunt, and make their livelihoods. For most of them, the tools they had at hand had to suffice for both tasks.
Until fairly modern times, people were relegated to muscle powered weaponry, with the bow, crossbow, and a few other missile weapons added. Today, the firearm is the weapon of choice.
I know there are some people who by choice choose not to include firearms in their prepping. I won’t argue for or against that, even though I’m definitely not one of them. Nonetheless, there may be a time when a firearm is not available, broken, out of ammunition, or just not the tool for the job. In that case, you need to have a back up. I’m assuming of course, that you don’t have another firearm. Our ancestors put a lot of thought and effort into developing non-firearm weaponry, and we would be silly not to learn from them.
There are a few caveats that I need to include before I start. First, most preppers are armed with firearms, and are at least basically proficient in their use. However, there are a many circumstances that may preclude having a firearm with you. I my case, I am often on military property, and federal law prohibits carrying firearms on military property except under very specific circumstances. Second, no one knows when or even if things are going to come apart at the seams, so it is possible that when SHTF actually occurs, you are not sitting on top of your gear and personal arsenal. Third, it is entirely possible that you could lose your supplies and stockpiled gear, due to flooding, fire, or just having to leave quickly to prevent being overrun. All that said, I think I can assume again that you are not just going to give up and be a victim just because you don’t have a firearm.
Just about anything can be a weapon if needed. A chair, a broken bottle, a scrap of 2×4, all make dangerous improvised weapons. But as preppers, while we love to improvise, when it comes to defending our lives and loved ones, improvisation takes a back seat to prepared gear and how to use it. While most people prepare with a firearm in mind, few keep full medieval armor and weapons on hand just in case. Instead, just like with much of our gear and skills, preppers need to think in terms of multi-use items, or how to maximize the usage of what we have with us. I’m going to cover armament that can fill more than one role, generally a tool-like purpose as well as a weapon.
Primitive weapons fall into two main categories, melee and missile. Melee weapons are hand-to-hand weapons, and missile weapons are designed to place a projectile onto a target at a distance beyond arm’s reach. Missile weaponry includes bows and crossbows, but I am not going to cover that here, as at best I’m a mediocre archer, and not up to demonstrating just how little I know about it. I’m also going to skip all the other missile weapons like slings, atlatls, and thrown items like knives and axes. Another area I’m going to leave out is martial arts weapons, because unless you’re a martial artist, you probably won’t have them on hand, and if you are a martial artist, you know more about them than I do.
Instead, I want to concentrate on the generic hand-to-hand options available. I also want to state up front that hand-to-hand combat should be a last resort. Unless you are heavily armored in armor designed to stop hand-powered weapons, you will get hurt, possibly very badly. That said, let’s get on to seeing what may work for you.
I will break down things into three general categories: bludgeoning, slashing and piercing. Most primitive weaponry falls into one of these three groups, but a few cross into one or both of the others as well. I will also be concentrating on weapons that have a practical purpose to the prepper as a tool or instrument besides just a weapon.
Bludgeoning: Bludgeoning weapons damage by blunt force trauma. They can easily damage someone through body armor and helmets, because they don’t have to penetrate the armor to injure. Even a glancing blow can incapacitate a foe. Of all primitive weapons, bludgeoning weapons are also the most flexible when it comes to other uses.
Clubs: Man’s oldest weapon may have been a rock, but I’m going to give the simple club credit here. A club is so basic and effective that it is still in use, even issued to police and military as a weapon today. Riot sticks, night sticks, baseball bats and tonfa are just modern forms of the club. The club needs to at least 18 inches in length, and thick enough to grip securely, in order to be effective. Of course it can be longer, but beyond 48 inches (riot stick size), it may become too unwieldy. It requires little skill to use, but muscle strength makes all the difference. What other use can it be put to? Besides smashing things, a club can be used to prop a door open or closed, drive in a peg (not a nail), and poke in to areas you might not want to put your hand into first.
Staves: The Staff is little more than an over-grown club. It is also still made, although modern versions are rarely made to be used as a weapon. In ancient times, a staff may have been the only weapon a person had, and properly used, could provide a very effective defense. Unlike the club, using a staff almost always requires both hands, as it should be about 6 feet long and an inch or more in diameter. Its use beyond the most basic striking and blocking requires training and practice. It’s plain and common appearance, however, makes it an excellent choice as a simple weapon to keep on hand. It can also be used for walking/hiking, herding animals, testing the ground/water/etc for safety before crossing, balance, and even hanging a bag for travel ala hobo style.
Hammers: The hammer is one of the most basic hand tools available. You can almost fix anything with it, or at least beat the heck out of it. With hammers, bigger is better when you start talking about needing it as a weapon. Of course there are many types of hammers, and some are very specialized. For the purpose of this article, there are a few that could meet your requirements. A large framing hammer, 22 oz or more, makes a handy weapon, and drives nails and stakes. A blacksmith’s hammer also does a good job, both for beating metal into shape and taking out a threat. Sledge hammers are devastating against a human, but are very slow to use and if you miss, you almost always leave yourself off balance and open to attack, so avoid them as a choice unless you’re built like Hercules. I believe the best choice is the wrecking/utility bar, a combination hammer-style tool the combines a strike face with various spike-like points. Two options I would consider are Stanley’s Fat Max Utility Bar and Dead On tool’s Annihilator Wrecking/Utility Bar. Both are made of a solid piece of steel, and are virtually indestructible. Besides their use as a weapon, there’s not much you can’t get in to with one and they still can be used as a regular hammer.
Slashing: Slashing weapons are probably the most commonly pictured primitive weapons. From knives, to axes, to swords, this class of weapons more than any other has come to incorporate the whole idea of “medieval” weapons. Unfortunately, since most preppers aren’t planning to become Wasteland Warriors from all the 1980’s movies, many slashing weapons are not as useful to us as our imaginations might like.
Knives: Every prepper worth the title has at least one knife, and probably more than one. Knives are Man’s oldest purpose made tool, and we still need them for things from kitchen chores to combat every day. As this is a whole topic all to itself, I’ll just say that when you pick a knife, get the best one you can afford that is not a specialized design. While Rambo’s knife may be very intimidating, try preparing a meal with one. Likewise, try field dressing a deer with only a Swiss Army knife. You can do both tasks, but they’re not easy without the appropriate knife. A good general purpose hunting knife or medium sized K-Bar design might be your best bet for both utility and defense.
Axes and Hatchets: Many preppers argue about whether or not an ax should even be carried. If you’re bugging out, on foot, that is a valid point from a weight and usefulness standpoint. If you’re bugging in, an ax seems only prudent when it comes to chopping wood or breaking game. However, as a weapon, the modern wood ax isn’t a good choice. It can be devastating, but as with a sledge hammer, if you miss, you’re in trouble. Combat axes, like a medieval battle ax, are better on people, but do a very poor job on chopping wood or other tasks. Instead of an ax, a more flexible choice would be a hatchet or tomahawk. Both are lighter and more than capable of cutting small trees and branches for wood, and for fighting. A well made hatchet or tomahawk can also double as a light hammer, and could eliminate the need and weight of carrying two tools should you have to bug out. Also, while I don’t advocate it’s use this way unless you practice a lot, a tomahawk can be thrown, and at short range is very deadly.
Pole Type Weapons: If you can imagine a way to slice, dice, and julienne a person, someone has taken that idea and mounted it on a pole to use as a weapon. Everything from a big knife (glaive) to the axe/spear/hook combination of the halberd has been tried and discarded until only the halberd has remained to modern times (the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, and yes, they know how to use them). For preppers, none of these really work except for the old English Bill, now made as a brush ax. It comes in several varieties, with both long and short handles. Originally used for pruning limbs on trees, it also easily pruned limbs on foes. Oh, and it chops up brush as well. It is slow to use, but again, very effective if its hits. It isn’t easy to carry around, so this would be best used it you were bugging in or had one stored at your bug out location.
Spears: The lowly spear is often regarded as the weapon of the expendable. Hence, the expression “spear carrier” for the rank and file peons present only to soak up enemy fire. Actually, the spear is a very versatile weapon, and it crosses the line between a slashing and a thrusting weapon. Technically, it can also be used as a bludgeoning weapon, if handled as a staff. A spear can be as simple as a pointed stick, with a fire hardened point. It can be a staff with a knife blade lashed to it. It can also be a purpose-made weapon. A spear should be between six to eight feet in length, including the head or blade. A crossbar at the end of the blade is very useful for keeping aggressive game from coming up the shaft to get in a final strike against the wielder (like wild boar).
An exception to the size is the Assegai, a Zulu fighting spear with a 3 foot shaft, and as the colonial British could attest, a very effective weapon in deed. So how does a spear fit into our multi-use requirement? First, the spear is a hunting weapon. You have to get close, but our ancestors could do it, so we can learn (and not starve in the mean time). Second, the spear adds reach for knock fruit out of trees, moving downed power lines, or even keeping wild dogs at bay. And third, spears can be made out of and handy pole and sharp object. As a final note, spears have a psychological effect on an opponent. A bayonet on a rifle is just a spear, and most people and animals will not willingly risk impaling themselves rushing a spear-wielding opponent. At least to me, not having to use a weapon to achieve my goals is preferable to having to use one, and a simple spear could give me that edge.
Swords: Everyone’s favorite post apocalypse/Zombie weapon! I will admit I own a few swords, some decorative, some actual weapons. A sword is a specialized weapon, and I’m mentioning it here only because if I didn’t someone would ask about it. From a prepping standpoint, a sword is pretty much useless. Without training, a sword is just as dangerous to you as it is to a foe. You can’t really hunt with one, chop wood with one, or use it for much else except combat. If you insist on carrying a sword, I strongly suggest you learn how to use it. Check out your local Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) chapter, and get in with their fighters, while your other half gets in with their craft folks and learns something really useful. While your bruises heal, they can tell you all about it…
Entrenching Tools: Using an entrenching tool as a weapon goes back to at least Roman times. In the Twentieth Century, World War One caused troops to start to deliberately modify their E-tools for use in trench raids and as last ditch weapons (no pun intended here). World War Two, Korea, and Vietnam all had cases where E-tools were used to defend their users against attackers in close combat. I do not know of any instances from recent wars, but I believe that has had more to do with the nature of the fighting than anything else. Modern E-tools (the folding kind) usually come with one edge partially sharpened to act as an ax, although they are hard to swing due to their grip configuration. With a little work they can hold a great edge, until you use them to dig a hole. Even so, they are very compact and versatile. I would recommend a surplus E-tool with a fixed wooden handle, like the East German model, either genuine surplus or the Cold Steel version. The fixed handle makes them longer, but also easier to wield as a weapon. An E-tool of some sort should be part of everyone’s gear, so having it as a defensive tool as well just makes sense.
Machetes: Unlike a sword, the machete started out as a tool for cutting crops and brush. It just so happens that it also makes a very effective close combat weapon. A machete comes in many lengths and forms, from a basic brush tool to a kuhkri design optimized for weight-forward cutting. It makes a very effective weapon that requires little training to use other than it’s intended use as a tool. A well made machete can also replace an ax or hatchet for light wood cutting, and a heavier (thicker bladed) version could handle small trees. If you have to have a slashing weapon in your stockpile, this would be an excellent choice.
Piercing: Piercing weapons do their damage by piercing the target, hopefully striking vital organs or causing blood loss. Many of the options already listed, such as knives, spears, and machetes can also be used to pierce a target, and so I’ll not cover them again. Modifications to clubs, staves, and axes can also give the ability to pierce, but at the cost of being able to do their primary functions, becoming pure weapons instead of multi-purpose tools.
Ice Picks: Ice? Who’d going to have ice when there’s no power and no working freezers? While where you live may or may not get ice in the winter, an ice pick is a great kitchen tool to have in your field or camping kit. Piercing meat for spices or marinade, venting a can to drain juice, or even pre-SHTF breaking up ice for cold ones, an ice pick has many uses. As a weapon, it is deceptively dangerous. It can pierce leather, clothing, and skin with ease, doing critical damage to internal organs. It can even pierce the bones of the human skull. At one time, it was a favored assassination tool of the Mafia. It is also easy to conceal, as long as precautions are taken not to stick yourself with it.
The above list is hardly all-inclusive. Nearly anything can be made into a weapon, but I have tried to focus on tools that a prepper could or should have on hand that can do double duty without being modified.
I highly recommend getting training in some form of primitive weaponry, whether through your favorite dojo, the SCA, or a qualified instructor. Personally, I recommend the SCA over the others, as you can also learn lots of skills not associated with fighting, but are low tech and will be vital in a post SHTF environment.
I hope this information is useful to you. I do want to stress again that hand-to-hand combat is nasty, brutish, bloody, and you are very likely to get hurt. Keep your firearm handy, well fed, and working. But if the worst happens, you don’t have to find yourself defenseless. You do have options other than a firearm to protect yourself and your loved ones.
This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:
Second Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com A total prize value of over $600.
Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company. A total prize value of $107.
Contest ends on June 5 2012.
- The Prepper's Guide to Surviving the End of the World, as We Know It: Gear, Skills, and Related Know-How
- The Prepared Prepper's Cookbook: Over 170 Pages of Food Storage Tips, and Recipes From Preppers All Over America!
- Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man's Solution
- 31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness