I submitted this article to Guns & Action on May 6, 1985. Shortly after that, John Metzgner, the editor of the magazine, decided to print it. Unfortunately Guns & Action went under at about the same time as the survival movement lost steam.

That was a "kinder and gentler" age. We could write about carrying an assault rifle and no one thought we were bad guys. We could call a firearm a "weapon" without fear of how some whacko from the press might distort things. And it was okay to write about using a firearm to defend yourself and family.

Unfortunately those times are gone, thanks to propaganda from both our government and press.

But the article still has some important stuff in it, though. So I'm uploading it to the Net rather than trying to get a few more bucks for it. (Any contributions would be welcome 8^)

On a serious note, if you have cash in your hot little fist and want some more information like that in this article, then you might want to check out some of my books that are printed by Delta Press and Paladin Press. My gun and survival books with these two companies go into greater detail on the subjects just touched on in this article.

And now... On with the show.


By Duncan Long

I'm just as bad as the next guy; when there's some new gadget or device that is aimed at making a firearm do new tricks, I'm a fool soon parted with his cash.

That's fine if shooting is just a hobby; but in a life or death situation "the wrong stuff" could get you into the soup pot in a hurry. Survivors of battles have one thing in common: they have the right accessories and little else--and almost no gadgets.

It's not that most firearm accessories in the marketplace aren't good. Usually they're quite good. But there are limits to what you can really use. Too many "good things" can turn a light-weight assault rifle or a handy pistol into an awkward-to-use, heavy, complex weapon.

As anyone who owns a Mini-14, AR-15, H&K rifle, or a .45 Auto knows, there's an endless array of good accessories for them (with no end of new products in sight). So, weight considerations aside, unless you're a Midas, you'll have some monetary limits on what you can purchase as well.

Finally, there is some real junk out there. Gadgets which promise to give you the efficiency of The Terminator once mounted onto your weapon. (And they do; unfortunately, it's the type of efficiency the Terminator robot had after going through the hydraulic press!)

How do you avoid getting taken?

Spend your money on the basics first--and maybe even end there. Have all the GOOD ammunition you need and get enough reliable magazines for each of your self-defense firearms (six magazines is a good start). I'm constantly amazed at how many people (myself included from time to time) have a defensive firearm with only one magazine and a box of ammunition for it. Worse are the brave penny-pinchers with some surplus magazines ("used, on sale, but good as new") and/or some ammunition that's of unknown origin or older than the person who hopes to shoot it. If you're really serious about living, buy some good spare magazines and good ammunition.

A good spare parts kit goes into the "right stuff" category. A couple of firing pins, extractors, springs, and parts that are easy to lose during field stripping, or which your firearm has a reputation for breaking, are all you'll probably need to keep things going. Spare barrels (or even weapons) won't be needed if you're doing enough fighting to wear the works out; in such a situation, you'll have plenty of war trophies to choose from.

Please bare in mind that a spare parts kit isn't worth its weight in vomit if it isn't with the weapon when you need it. Place the kit into your gear, holster, stock, grip, or where ever there's a little space, so that it will always be with your firearm.

After you've got the mags, ammo, and parts kit, consider calling it quits (except to replace parts or ammunition that are worn out or used up in practice). A wise man would save his money for more important things.

But most of us "gun nuts" don't end there, right?

How do you go about preventing pocket-book ache? Let me share some questions I ask--or wish I'd asked--myself before shelling out cash for firearms' accessories:

1) Do you really need it?

A lot of people buy things just to be buying or because it looks snazzy on the firearm. Looks can't kill. Accessories purchased for "looks" are a waste of money. Just because someone else needs something, does not mean that you really need it, too. When in doubt, save your money and do without.

2) What do others say about the accessory? Is it any good?

The word gets around if things aren't what they're advertised to be. But you'll have to sort and weigh your information. Some publications get a lot of money from advertising and rarely print bad reviews of products; weigh product reports accordingly. (Too, I've found that really bad equipment often has NO reviews at all. If no one is writing about it, be careful.)

Really objective publications are few and far between. Three I have found useful are THE AMERICAN RIFLEMAN (1600 Rhode Island Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036, $15 per year); SOLDIER OF FORTUNE (Box 693, Boulder, CO 80306, $26 per year); and--truthfully now--articles in this publication (including back when it was SURVIVE magazine).

Also, check with your shooting friends. Poor equipment often gains a bad reputation pretty quickly.

Whatever you do, don't be the first on your block to own a new do-dazzle that gives your firearm ultimate weapon status. Let the gun hacks or your friends throw away their cash to discover something doesn't work.

3) What similar products are available and are they better buys?

Sometimes there are products that do a better job, are simpler, or as good buy less expensive. The publication that's useful in finding out what's available from companies great and small is SHOTGUN NEWS (Box 669, Hastings, NE 68901, $15 per year). Just remember it's only ads; companies always print glowing reports of their own products. Nevertheless, you'll find that there's a great variation between different companies offering similar products as well as the cheaper prices for the same gear if you order it through the mail. (While my friends who own gunshops may slit my throat for writing this, you can usually make a better buy on gun accessories by purchasing them through the mail.)

4) Is the extra weight of the accessory worth carrying around for the few times the product will help you? Can you do without it?

Don't get over burdened with gadgets. It's so easy to get caught up in the ad hype as well as the posed pictures in combat magazines of young, burley guys with 120 pound packs (with combat knives strapped to the harness, leg, etc.) and a rifle complete with scope or night vision sight, silencer (!), bayonet, extended and/or double magazines, bipods, etc. Try to follow suite and you'll have a rifle that's impossible to use quickly and a load of gear that's hard to move in. Nothing can get you killed more quickly in combat.

The question isn't "Can you use it?" The question is whether you can do without it. Guys who have fought for extended periods usually have one thing in common: they got rid of about half the junk their leaders expect them to carry. They can move faster and save their strength for battle. The guy who doesn't do that often doesn't live to use all the nifty things strapped to his carcass. This is a lesson worth learning from professional fighters.

I've found that there are only a few "essentials" that I always carry when I feel like I need to hike about with an assault rifle in my hot little fists. These include the rifle itself, a load of magazines filled with ammo, a good pocket knife (like the Spyderco), odds and ends of a first aid kit, a canteen (IF I'll be out for long periods), maybe a sling (I generally prefer rifles with carrying handles and dispense with the sling), and usually a long-bladed, fixed-blade knife.

Sometimes I might opt for a quality .22 pistol like the Ruger Mark II or a .22 pocket pistol. I don't use military surplus harnesses or pouches except for the canteen and magazines; "Uncle Mike's" belt and pouches are more comfortable. That's all the gear other than clothing, boots, etc. I know many guys carry a lot more. And there are some other good accessories that a lot of people find essential. So this leads to my next question...]

5) Will the new accessory work with your other combat gear?

That may sound funny, but I've known people who discovered that their firearm didn't function correctly with some new gadget mounted on it or that with two accessories being used together, things went hay wire when one or the other accessory by itself worked fine. Test things out ahead of time to be sure everything works, then try everything with everything including combat harnesses/web gear, field packs, straps, knives, scopes, etc., etc., to be sure everything is compatible. Discovering your rifle can't be shouldered because your fancy sling gets caught on your nifty holster is better done in the privacy of your home!

6) Is your accessory easy to replace, remove, or discard?

A lot of "stuff" mounted on firearms calls for a hex driver or L wrench to tighten it up or remove it. I don't know about you, but my little Swiss knife doesn't have an Allen head on it... You'll not be able to call a "time out" to return to your shop and tighten up or remove your scope mount or whatever in the middle of a battle. The answer is to either carry the spare tool or--a better bet--replace the screw with a standard slot-headed screw or (best yet) a wing screw or nut. Most hardware stores have a selection of screws that will take care of your needs. (If you have trouble getting a replacement with the proper threads, it is sometimes possible to slot hex head screws with a hack saw. First use a triangle file to get the slot location started and then use the hack saw to carefully make a groove for a screwdriver. And be sure you've got a heavy duty screwdriver blade on your pocket knife or what-have-you or you'll still be in bad shape.) If you're a real purist, touch-up blue (available from most gun shops) will give metal screws (or the slots you've sawed into hex nuts) a dull black to match your other gear.

6) Will it work in the dirt or heavy brush? Is it tough enough to continue working for extended periods.

A lot can depend on what environment you're fighting in if you have the wrong stuff. If things aren't spic and span, you'd better have gear that continues to work in dirt and mud. If an accessory looks like it's designed for laboratory use only, chuck it.

Likewise, if you're in an area with heavy brush, you'll quickly discover that anything that has large loops or sticks out will be snagged and may even hang you up and the most inopportune of moments. (A good example of equipment design gone wrong is the duck-billed flash suppresser; it works very well for flash hiding... It's just that is also makes a dandy vine, leaf, and twig catcher as well if you're in heavy vegetation.)

In extended combat, you can't afford to baby gear. A fragile night sight that might get you through a short encounter with a burglar won't work if you've got to spend several days in the field. Think about what you'll be using your accessories for and avoid the less-than-tough equipment.

(I'm a little leery of accessories that need batteries; be sure they'll stand up to the punishment they may take and be sure that you have spare batteries and know how to change them in the field.)

7) Will the accessory improve YOUR firearm's shooting/combat utility in combat conditions?

Some of the new accessories really are a big improvement for commercial firearms. A Choate pistol grip on a Mini-14, a new round handguard to replace the beaver-tail on the old-style AR-15's, an extended butt plate for tall shooters' rifles, ambidextrous safeties for a lefty's self-defense pistol, combat scopes (like the Armson O.E.G.), or a folding stock for rifles that need to be stored in tight places all make a lot of sense in some situations. Buying an accessory that can greatly improve the usefulness of a weapon to its OWNER makes sense. Think about YOUR special needs; chances are good that some manufacturer has tried to help you out.

Also think about what you do NOT need; question whether or not you need what the advertiser, gun writer, sales clerk, or friend is recommending. When your life is on the line, you can't afford bad advice or the wrong stuff.

It's really very simple: the right stuff can improve your chances of survival in combat; the wrong stuff will hinder you and may even get you killed. Before you buy a new gadget, give it some careful thought... Your life is on the line.

Copyright © 1986, 1996 by Duncan Long. All rights reserved. Copying of this material is prohibited.

See more articles and stories by Duncan Long.

Go to Duncan Long's Guns & Stuff articles.