Logistics of the Irregular Force Warfighter: Caliber & Firearm Choice

On Timeless Classics.
When you consider the amount of vitriolic debate that goes on amongst gun enthusiasts, considering caliber and firearm selection in regards to the “ideal” survival firearm paradigm, it’s no surprise that someone wrote a book to help narrow the selection. Between the hundred year-old debate on the weakness of the 9mm Parabellum versus the manliness and obvious lethality of the .45ACP, and the current equally absurd arguments regarding the Kalashnikov platform versus the AR-15/M-16 platform, these conversations go on and on, ad nauseum. So, we have two notoriously famed books, considered by many to be the ultimate references on the subject: Survival Guns by the late, famed survival writer Mel Tappan, and Boston’s Gun Bible (BGB) by “Boston T. Party,” of the Free State Wyoming project, in attempts, decades apart, to solve the dilemma of “what is the perfect firearm?”

(I never got the opportunity to meet Mel Tappan, as he died when I was a very, very young child. I have met Boston, in passing at the range, although I haven’t seen him shoot as he seemed far too busy telling the shooters how to shoot, instead. So, my implied critique of their work, in this article, is not intended as a personal attack.)

Boston, to his credit does state in the book that BGB is “a catalog of one civilian’s experience and opinions.” Unfortunately, he then goes on to demonstrate that he knows exactly nothing about personal combat. After explaining his lack of professional credentials in the military or law enforcement, he asks, “So, what? Did you learn to drive from Al Unser?”

How is this a demonstration of ignorance? Driving your personal vehicle in daily traffic and in accordance with the rules of the road is not at all comparable to racing a Formula One race car around the track at Indianapolis Speedway at 200-plus miles per hour. The skills necessary are similar but the level of expertise required is not at all similar.

On the other hand, shooting a roomful of MS-13 home invaders, confronting a barricaded active shooter at your local shopping mall, or repelling an armored, jack-booted swarm of Stasi-wannabe storm troopers at a VCP (Vehicle Control Point), requires not only the same skill sets, but at the same level as those required by a Ranger Regiment gunfighter kicking in a door in Kandahar, or a Special Forces soldier clearing a cave complex in the Hindu Kush. Ultimately, while many of the political and philosophical arguments laid out by Boston, and Tappan for that matter, are inarguable, their dogma surrounding firearms selection is flawed, due largely to their lack of real-world experience.

Caliber Debates Dispelled.

There is a reason that this type of manual is not being written by veterans of Special Operations units. It’s simply not necessary. The arguments concerning caliber and weapon selection are ultimately nothing more than gun tabloid marketing nonsense. An 18B (Special Forces Weapons Sergeant) learns to operate, maintain, and train others to operate a broad variety of individual small arms from around the world.

(As a personal example, over the course of my career in SF, I worked with the M9, P35 BHP, 1911A1, Glocks, SIG-Sauers, Makarovs, Tokarevs, and several variations of different revolvers; Uzi, Skorpion, M3 “Grease Gun,” Thompson, M12, PPSh41, MP5, and other sub-machine-guns; and HKG3, FN/FAL, M14, AK-variant, M1/M2 carbine, Enfield .303, and 1903 Springfield rifles, amongst a host of others.)

When conducting UW (Unconventional Warfare) or FID (Foreign Internal Defense) missions, an 18B will learn, quickly, that the caliber of individual small-arms really does not matter. The manufacture and model of the weapon can make a difference but ultimately, the only thing that matters is the man holding the weapon and his level of training.

To their credit, both Boston and Tappan attempt to make this fact abundantly clear. Unfortunately, they both then go on to discuss the critical importance of caliber in choosing a firearm. The reality is, outside of the special applications – heavy sniper systems – caliber is largely irrelevant.

7.62x51mmNATO/.308 does possess slightly better ballistics at long-range than 5.56mmNATO/.223. If you plan on always engaging at 800 yards, that may be a factor. If that’s the case however, .300Winchester Magnum offers even better ballistics at those ranges. For the realistic issue of guerrilla small-arms however, there are some significantly more important issues to consider.  Guerrilla re-supply in the potential future conflict will be largely through battlefield recovery. Thus, selecting a caliber that is in common use by the regime security forces is critical. The ability to pick up a dead enemy soldier’s primary weapon and utilize it will also be an important issue.

There is nothing wrong with owning a variety of firearms, even “evil assault rifles.” If you like the AK-platform, or the M14/M1A, or the FN/FAL, or the HKG3, or the Galil, use that. Master it. Do not, however, get hung up on the supposed superiority of your chosen platform. Learn to run other platforms. Master them as well.

The only important issue in weapon and caliber selection is completely unrelated to caliber and weapon engineering. The important issue is training. The ability to operate your chosen weapon selection at an expert level is far more critical than what that weapon system is.

John Mosby is a former Army Ranger and Green Beret, and the author of the Mountain Guerrilla blog.  The next article on Logistics of the Irregular Force Warfighter will be published next Monday.


  1. maddog says:

    Thank god someone else has a like-minded opinion on this subject! I have left the range and walked away from so many conversations with flames shooting out of my ears over this! Thank you for making this available to your fan base!


  2. Sheepdog says:

    On mission specific needs… If I were mounted on a truck and expected to have to shoot through cinder block or mud walls, I want an AK variant over an AR-M16 variant-maybe. The trouble is, as the article demonstrates, that shooters-warriors fall in love with their gun and blog friends.
    What is better is to study the data on capabilities and understand what the minor nuances might mean in a specific role.
    Further the argument of intervening cover is somewhat mute in real life.
    If my enemy is behind a mud wall and I must destroy him, I will not rely on single round penetration. The target will be shot at with ten, twenty or thirty rounds. The “cover” will be eaten through. This real world “tactic” or “technique” brings even handgun calibers into battle capable (not ideal) status.
    Train! Learn! Mindset!

  3. James says:

    One mindset, any weapon. In combat hits matter. If shot with a .22 in the brain housing group at five to ten yards or hit with .308 (7.62×51 nato) or .311 (7.62×39 Russian) at any range (bore vs. projectile dia.)…you will not be effective. The most highly trained machines (men) in the world fall to the least trained insurgents (although at a high cost to the insurgents). Combat is not about movies or badges, or tabs, or titles. Combat is all about UNIT training and imagination. Because your enemy may have never attended any military school and doesn’t subscribe to tactical doctrine. They just know what works. Any Patriot who is still fighting a doctrinal fight will have their hands full. The coming times will include NEO to full-scale heart-break.

  4. Tim Field says:

    Gotta agree with Mosby. The main issue is to be able to master as many firearms as possible, and be an utmost master in the platform you feel most comfortable with.

    In my unit we had to master all Soviet block firearms eyes closed. You need to be able to fight with whatever gun is available and without any delay. That is why it’s important to keep you personal weapon as basic as possible; that’s what you find out there.

    It takes a lot of training and will to learn. Never give up.

    I recall conversing with some Israeli’s about the hunt of Ali Hassan Salameh after the Munich massacre. They used reduced load .22s to do the job. Whatever works.

    Thank you for a great article.


  5. Old Dog says:

    (off topic, a lot of dogs here…..)

    I agree with the author’s contention that it is better to be familiar with a variety of weapons for a reason not mentioned.

    In our current political climate, there is now the issue of ammunition availability.

    Having the weapon of your choice with no ammunition makes it a pretty useless tool.

    Thanks for listening.


    • Samuel Culper III says:

      OD, that’s a great point. Thank you for reading and commenting. I don’t guess we’ll really know beforehand with what weapons we’ll be fighting in the later years of a protracted conflict.

  6. Bob says:

    The consensus is correct. I’d also point out that the ability to effectively put lead downrange and on target (includind suppressive fire) trumps caliber. Even against armored SWAT-type goons, if you can pelt them with enough small arms fire to wound or shoot up their body armor, you can create enough confusion and hurt egos to slow them down. Killing one bad guy is fine, but his buddies will come after you. Wounding is maybe better. Not only do you take out one goon, but also 1-to-3 of his buddies as they assist their comrade’s evacuation from the fight. It is understood that for every wounded soldier more resources must be diverted to aid in his care and transport, which burdens logistical trains.

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      Bob, thank you for reading. To quote JM, “Hips and heads.”

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