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The Savage Model 24 Combination Guns –
King of the Survival Guns !
For as long as I can remember the question has raged around campfires, at the shooting range, and over a cup of coffee: What if you could only have only one gun and you had to use this one gun to survive, what gun would you pick?
I’ve listened carefully to arguments that made the .30 caliber M1 carbine sound pretty good, I’ve agreed that there were some good points to the Ruger Mini 14 and to the M -14. I have considered that the smooth bore 12 gauge is probably a lot better than many of the guns that were carried across the prairies by the pioneers that opened up the western frontier. These rugged individualists faced every survival problem I can imagine, from hostile Indian attack to rampaging grizzly bears and the need to supply the family with daily sustenance, and in many cases they relied onone gun. In many cases they had nothing more than a muzzle loading smoothbore musket to solve all of these survival problems.
For many years I viewed this question as academic, a lot of fun to kick around the hunting camp but not something that I would ever have to face seriously and on a moments notice. Then came March 28th, 1979 and the “accident” at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
I was sitting behind my desk in my office when the news came over the radio that there was a “problem” at Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant. The announcer informed the radio audience that there was “no danger to the public”. Before he was done assuring everybody in radio land that there was no danger I was on my way out of my office. I called my wife at her office and told her to meet me at our home, muy pronto.
We then lived just five minutes from the center of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and we both arrived home quickly. We loaded my Toyota Land Cruiser with everything that I thought that we might need if the reactor went sour and listened to the news channel as we waited. The operators got lucky and the disaster that was in progress was averted but this good scare and the realization that, in fact, I might have to abandon my home and hearth some day in short order made me think long and hard.
We own five acres in North central Pennsylvania and have a small self contained camping trailer there but, due to several off season break-ins, we don’t feel that it is safe to store anything there that could be stolen.
In the years since the accident at Three Mile Island I have seriously considered how long it had taken for us both to get together ALL of the survival equipment and assorted and sundry other necessities that we had deemed important when we were ACTUALLY EXPECTING to have to make a run for the mountain retreat; it took us over an hour. I had spent 15 minutes alone picking out a few guns and finding a supply of ammunition.
After the crisis had passed I mentally reviewed my choice of guns. I hadn’t made too many good choices. I had grabbed my favorite .30-06, a Ruger Ranch Rifle in .223, a .45 acp AMT Hardballer and a lever action, scope sighted Winchester .30-30.
These were poor choices for several reasons: first the .30-06 is a custom built bolt action Mauser carbine with a complicated to repair single set trigger. The first law of Murphy is well known, “if it can go wrong it will”. Therefore no complicated set triggered guns belong in a survival situation unless you are a gunsmith and have all of the necessary replacement parts available.
The Ruger was not a bad choice but it wasn’t the smartest choice in this situation.
Ammo is not too hard to find but a .223 is very noisy. When fired in the woods even a little .223 can attract unwanted and unwelcome visitors. If the reactor had gone sour these woods would possibly be inundated by “pilgrims” (over 200,000 people were forced from their homes during the crisis at Three Mile Island. If the reactor had gone sour there might have been MILLIONS of homeless folks looking for a free meal and a place to crash) looking to get out of the city or worse, I didn’t want to attract attention to my little hideaway.
The .223 is basically a good, potent all around cartridge and the Ruger Ranch Rifle is a good multi-purpose weapon. It will certainly drop a deer or other game but it will not leave too much edible meat on a squirrel or ground hog. The other disadvantage to this choice is simply that armed with this kind of firepower I might be tempted to pretend that I was a lion instead of a rabbit. I might choose(stupidly) to enter an armed engagement instead of creeping silently back into the bush at the first sign of trouble.
The .45 acp Hardballer was a reasonable choice but to be honest if I would have had several hundred rounds of .44 magnum loaded I would have chosen my long barreled Ruger Super Blackhawk that I shoot in IHMSA competition over the .45 auto.
The .30-30 was probably my best choice in a series of bad choices. Light, reasonably accurate, easy ammo availability, rapid fire capability and good power for hunting, Alas, this had many of the drawbacks of the Ruger.
It’s now 20 years later and Y2K is just a few months down the road. If the clock strikes twelve and nothing happens I’ll sing Old Langs Ayn at midnight and go to bed smiling. But what if even moderate system failures occur? What do we do if there’s no water. electricity, or heat for even a few weeks? I began to very seriously consider which, if any, of my current guns would be the best choice in a real survival scenario.
I thought that after 20 years of thinking about what real survival might be like – and what gun or guns might be the best choice – I could come up with an easy answer. Wrong !
After considering the guns available I decided that I was going about this all wrong. The guns were important but of even greater importance was a supply of ammunition and the design and construction of the gun. The perfect survival gun would be like a club: simple, sturdy, as close to indestructible as possible. If it was capable of breaking down for easy carry in a backpack it would be an added bonus.
When you limit yourself to a single gun the choices become much less academic: your life might depend on your choice.
While I am almost always armed with a 4 inch, .41 magnum, S&W Model 58 when I am in the woods, a pistol, any pistol, just doesn’t cut the mustard in a true survival situation. Even though the inherent accuracy of a pistol can be as good as many rifles, and many pistols like the Thompson Center Contender will outshoot many rifles, the practical accuracy needed under true survival conditions simply isn’t there.
When you consider only rifles it certainly reduces your choices quickly, and you then are faced with other problems that must be addressed.
Even though my wife is an above average shooter with her little Remington Model 600 carbine chambered in .243, she can’t really handle more recoil. With anything larger than .243 she has little confidence in her ability to place her shots with surgical accuracy. As I might be depending on her bringing home the bacon or to protect me if I was injured, sick, or in some other way incapacitated, any caliber with more recoil than the .243 was not a good choice.
I was reducing my choices very rapidly and I started thinking about the ubiquitous .22 LR. There are many good things to be said for this venerable old timer.
If push came to shove I know that there are probably thousands of rounds of ammo sitting on shelves in empty deer camps that could be “appropriated” if and when necessary.
In a good bolt action the .22LR is as accurate a round as any other and the ammunition is light and cheap. I could drop a thousand rounds into a backpack and hardly know that it was there. Small game is easily taken with this cartridge and poachers have used the .22 LR to take deer and other, much larger game for the past several decades. The .22 rimfire is also very quiet. From 100 yards or so, in the woods, the report can barely be detected. The .22 LR has a lot going for it but not enough to make it my first choice in a true survival situation. As we will see later I found a way to have my .22 LR cake and eat it too but for now the .22 was crossed off my list for several reasons.
The .22 LR simply is not a good caliber to choose if an armed encounter is possible. Even when dealing with a pack of dogs that have gone wild, as I have had to do in the mountains of Northern California, the .22 LR would be simply too marginal. The .22 LR lacks the stopping power that is an essential element in the choice of a survival weapon.
Should an armed encounter become unavoidable the .22 LR can’t be depended upon to reach out past a maximum of 100 yards, putting me at a severe disadvantage that might cost me my life. Clearly I was barking up the wrong tree and I had more thinking to do.
What I needed was a single weapon that had the knock down power of a major caliber centerfire rifle, the accuracy of a .22, light weight, solid construction, no more recoil than a .243, easy availability of ammunition, the ability to place accurate fire out to 300, or more, yards. It should also have the ability to take small game and large game and, if possible, to break down for easy backpacking or storage and with design and construction so simple that I could make any repairs myself should repair become necessary. And I wanted ALL of this in one rifle. That’s not too much to ask is it?
The short and sweet of it is that there is one rifle that has all of these attributes and more; a Savage ,Model 24-V.
My first Savage was chambered in .222 Remington over 20 gauge and I like this chambering but today Savage has expanded their selection and there are several other chamberings that are readily, and affordably, available.
The .222 Remington/20 gauge Savage had some added capabilities that are very attractive in a true survival situation. The 20 gauge shotgun barrel adds a dimension of both food gathering and self protection capability. With smaller shot the shotgun can easily take small game, saving the centerfire ammunition for use on larger game. With larger shot there is little argument about the capability of a 20 gauge shotgun as a self defense weapon. When rifled slugs are used there is no big game animal on the North American continent that cannot be knocked down given the right situation.
To maximize the efficiency of the Savage I had a trigger job performed and the accuracy of this rugged little rifle improved to the point that I have full confidence in making hits on ground hog sized game out to 300 yards.
I added a 3 to 9 power scope which is zeroed in to strike three inches high at 100 yards and I targeted the iron sights to strike dead on at fifty yards when using rifled slugs in the smooth bore barrel.
I attached a light weight Harris Bipod and bought a stainless steel chamber adapter that allowed the .222 to shoot .22 Long Rifle ammunition almost as accurately as .222 ammunition at ranges under fifty yards. I was satisfied that I now had a true survival rifle that could also be pressed into service to hunt small game, snipe groundhogs, or to hunt turkey.
After a few years passed Savage came out with a bigger selection of calibers in the 24 series- and they added the 12 gauge as the shotgun gauge of choice. While I was tempted to get a .223/12 gauge version, and would have had I not had a couple of thousand rounds of .222 already loaded, I chose the .30-30/12 gauge as the ultimate all around survival/hunting/backpacking rifle – shotgun combination.
There were several reasons for this decision. The 12 gauge will do anything that a 20 gauge will, only better and bigger. With a12 gauge Brenneke slug backing up a handloaded .30-30 using a 220 grain round nose solid bullet I’d be willing to face down anything short of elephant or cape buffalo. The .30-30 cartridge is inherently accurate and has proven itself on all north American game in capable hands.
I no longer have to worry about what I would take into the mountains in a survival situation, or out for a day in the groundhog fields or the deer woods. The Savage 24 combination rifle-shotguns, with a copious supply of ammunition and other survival sundries, are kept in a large, surplus, steel, airtight box that lives in the back of my Jeep Cherokee.
One other benefit of these Savages that I should point out is safety. Because they are of break open design, basically single-shot rifle/shotguns, they are one of the safest ways to teach beginners the rules of shooting safety and marksmanship. Both of these combination guns have seen much use in teaching youngsters, and other friends that are not so young, to shoot. That the Savage rifles are so accurate that they let even beginning shooters to hit what they’re shooting at right off the bat is a great way to insure that a new shooter will become a life-long shooter.
You might not agree with my choices for many different reasons but in a real survival situation, when the chips are down, I’m willing to bet my life on these Savage combination guns.
I’ve enjoyed the years that I’ve spent thinking, testing, and ruminating about survival guns. I’m sure that you will enjoy yourself for quite a few hours thinking about what you would choose if you were limited to only one weapon. I hope that I’ve offered some insight to my thinking. And don’t keep your opinions to yourself. Drop me a line with your nominees for the “King of Survival Rifles”. I’ll listen, and think about what you have to say. Heck, it’ll be a great excuse to try out some new rifles, shotguns, or handguns. But don’t expect to change my mind easily. As far as I’m concerned, for pure survival, the Savage 24 series reigns supreme.