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Finding Ammo Post-Collapse

In the wake of a truly society-ending event, everything you know will be different. Well, not everything; need will remain. Need always remains. As long as you live you’ll still need food, water, shelter and security. Personal security in the modern era, even in a post-collapse scenario is best provided by a gun. Your wits and your foresight will help you get the other things you need, but it is the gun that will help you keep them after all pretense of civility has vanished along with most of humanity.

Coming up with a gun will likely not be too hard in North America, but the trick will be keeping it loaded and firing. Aside from what people who can handload are able to produce with the gunpowder, primers and other components they have left in their inventory, there will be no production of ammunition, or what is will be greatly limited and vigorously controlled. Assuming you had a stash of ammunition and it brought you this far, it is likely running low.

Where can you look to find more ammo in this scavenger’s economy? What places in the ruined world may have a few boxes of shells sitting in a dusty corner with only the spiders for company? You can absolutely count on any common choice being long since picked over; gun stores, sporting good stores, armories, etc. Where else might you look to find some ammo in order to keep your gun running hot and yourself from going room-temperature?

Foreword

This article assumes you have survived the onslaught and aftermath of a properly cataclysmic disaster, one that has disrupted or destroyed society utterly at a regional level at the least. The wholesale destruction and extreme loss of life will see many places and things abandoned and left to rot, and in such circumstances scavenging is ethically acceptable. The information presented in this article should only be considered under such circumstances, and not as a guide or approval to loot, steal or otherwise unethically procure ammunition or anything else.

Think Big Picture

Assuming you have the time and opportunity to prepare for such as the one we are discussing before it arrives, you can help your chances of finding ammunition by prepping smart. Making informed decisions about equipment that will best enable sustainability and longevity is a good play.

The best thing you can do is to store a ton of ammo for personal and group consumption. Ammo is easy to find when you know where you left it! A pallet or more of ammo sitting in the basement ready to load and fire is cold comfort when facing such a terrible outlook, but it is comforting all the same. The only disadvantage if you want to call it that to keeping so much ammo is that you will likely not be able to take it all with you if you have to move out on foot or by vehicle, even in a convoy.

Ammo is heavy for its size, and any one of you who has ever schlepped a case of rifle or shotgun ammo up and down stairs knows it. That case of 1,000 rounds may seem like a lot, but can go shockingly fast when used for training, zeroing, hunting and protection. Split among just two people, that is only 500 rounds apiece.

Don’t Be Special, Snowflake

Caliber selection is your other major concern for long term sustainment. Make it a point to choose a firearm that utilizes a cartridge that is as common as common gets: think 9mm for semi-auto handguns, or 5.56mm for rifles. Revolvers chambering .357 Magnum will fire both it and the .38 Special. A shotgun should be 12 gauge or bust. These are all extremely common cartridges made in extraordinary numbers year in and year out, increasing the chances that when you find a stash it will contain one of them.

If your gun is chambered in something more exotic like .357 SIG, 5.7x28mm, .45 GAP or 10mm Auto, you are going to be truly lucky to come across any out in the world. Dissecting the advantages and disadvantages of these oddball rounds, however great or small they may be, is a subject best left to other articles, but suffice to say none of them amount to much when the world has ended and they aren’t around at all. Logistical concerns are more important.

Choices

Another option is to have a selection of guns in common calibers to choose from, either bought ahead of time or by collecting ones you find. If you have something that will shoot whatever ammo you found, you are back in business. This has its own drawbacks; if traveling on foot, extra guns carried just-in-case will pack on the weight quickly. If you have to choose between a JIC gun or extra food, water and clothing for a long journey, you’ll need to weigh your needs carefully.

You’ll have more discretion if you are vehicle-borne or foraging close to home or a resupply point where you can drop what you find or don’t need. This applies double to long guns which are heavier and bulkier than handguns.

Other Concerns

Any detachable magazine-fed firearm is dependent upon it for speedy shooting. Single loading rounds into their chambers can work in a major pinch, but is very clunky and failure prone. Make sure you have a good stash of mags for any gun that requires them. Again, choose guns of common pattern to make sure you can buy enough mags cheaply enough ahead of time and perhaps find more of them after the event.

Magazines are often ejected and dropped when guns are reloaded in an emergency. This is good tradecraft if you are in a hurry to get the gun reloaded. If you do this in a real fight, and prevail, you can always pick up your magazines later. However, if you only have one or two magazines, and lose or leave one, you will be up a creek. You might consider training to stow a partial or empty magazine back in a pocket or dump pouch on your person to help reduce loss in the field.

Guns with fixed magazines or multiple chambers don’t share this concern, but are not as fast to reload either, and usually do not have the capacity that a detachable magazine has. Revolvers, pump shotguns and bolt action rifles are still viable, however, and you should not turn your nose up at them if they are all you have access to. Learn to run them well while you can, even if they are not your gun of choice. That way if necessity ever forces you on one of them you will not be a complete beginner on their quirks.

Places Worth Investigating

When you start to run low on ammo, and all the usual places have been thoroughly scoured, you’ll need to get creative in your searches. Of course, should you happen upon a gun shop, sporting goods store, armory, or some other place that you’d expect to have ammo inside, it is worth a look no matter how long it has been since the world went mad.

You might discover a box or stray rounds that were over looked by less intensive scavengers, or perhaps you’ll just be lucky. At any rate, it cannot hurt to see but don’t count on it. Start assessing your locale, or rather your locale as it was before it was ruined or abandoned. Areas that are traditionally conservative in their values have more guns and a lot more ammo per capita than more liberal areas.

Areas that supported a lot of hunting or outdoor activity are also ones where you would be more likely to find ammo in a dwelling or vehicle. Start thinking about a few of the following locations and see if any are near you or worth investigating.

Traffic Jams and Abandoned Vehicles- Most people will not leave their vehicles willingly, so if they did you can probably rest assured that if they did, they did so either in a hurry or begrudgingly, and likely could not carry everything they brought with them.

Look for roadways full of stalled and abandoned cars. Prioritize your searching to pickups, SUV’s and any vehicle displaying conservative or other “right-wing” iconography like gun manufacturer stickers, NRA stickers and the like. Check all the usual hiding places. You might find loose rounds or loaded magazines.

Hunting Cabins and Shacks- If you are traveling through a forest or any area known for deep hunting activity, make a detour to the area where there might be a long abandoned hunter’s retreat. You can probably count on a box of ammo being stashed somewhere within and maybe a gun or two. Good place for rifle or shotgun ammo.

Take Care- Remotely sited dwellings are more likely to harbor survivors trying to weather the end the same as you. Be alert for any signs of habitation before approaching or entering. Most hunters especially are very handy with a scoped rifle…

Outdoor Ranges- Outdoor ranges, especially ones that do not sell guns, are often a ways off the beaten path, and most sell ammo. A fair few survivors will have forgotten about checking here versus proper gun shops and indoor ranges located near population centers.

If they have ammo stocked or no, you can go rummage around on the firing line and in trash cans looking for dropped rounds. Note that any cartridge exposed to the elements for a long period of time, especially in contact with the ground, is to be heavily suspected regarding function, but it may be them or nothing.

Indoor Ranges- Most of these stores will have been picked clean long ago, but the average scavenger will not thought to have checked the trash cans and brass bins on the firing line for live ammo. Plenty of less educated shooters might well have tossed a round that failed to feed or fire for whatever reason into the “misfire” bin, and it could be totally ok.

But many of the rounds you find in the bins will be duds or otherwise defective, so take care and perhaps relegate them to “second line” or “desperate measures” supplies as appropriate.

Sites of Major Gun Battles- It is macabre, but the aftermath of a major battle will often see plenty of usable equipment left behind. Do not assume the victors had enough time or manpower to collect any spoils, and likewise a mutual disengagement by both sides could see fallen comrades and their gear abandoned.

Check any found weapons for a round in the chamber, and any packs, vests and pouches on bodies or otherwise for loaded mags and loose ammo. Beware of lurkers and other scavengers around such places.

Prisons and Jails- Many of these facilities will have arms rooms or lockers. Some may be well fortified to prevent inmates from accessing them in the event of a breakout or prison takeover, but plenty are simply isolated from the detention blocks themselves, and barely hardened.

Most will probably be forgotten in the aftermath of a major crisis, so with time and tools, or a little snooping to find a key, you can get you mitts on what is likely to be a good stash of rifles, pistols or shotguns.

Any Installation or Complex with a Security Force- Cops and the military aren’t the only organizations that keep ammo on hand. Private concerns and business that have significant security force presences are worth checking on and likely overlooked.

Think places like power plants, some corporate headquarters, sensitive government installations, etc. Be sure and search thoroughly and don’t forget the vehicles.

Conclusion

Life after the end of society is no doubt grim, but it can be made worse yet of you don’t have a trusty shooting iron and ammo to feed it. Even when supplies are low and hope seems lost, keep your wits about you and turn to the locations I mentioned above. You might be presently surprised to find a box of shiny brass ready to keep you in the fight and get you a little farther down the road.

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About Charles Yor

Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.

10 comments

  1. Totally agree with 95% of your recommendations. I would add use extreme caution at all times, as you say for approaching ‘hunting cabins’. If you run across these, if there are going to be ‘survivors’ I would bet you’ll find them holed up in hunting cabins, for sure.
    I would suggest also as one scrounges for items, to make up 3 man teams for foraging supplies, etc. Works pretty well.
    https://survivingurbancrisis.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/three-man-teams-in-a-survival-scenario-2/

  2. Excellent article. A couple of places that had not occurred to me.

    I would like to add a couple of things, however. It was made clear that salvaging ammunition should only be attempted after a true apocalyptic event, with heavy die-off of humans, and no real government or legitimate law enforcement. I just want to reiterate that. Anything involving taking something that does not already belong to a person is a huge risk. For, if it is not quite as bad as it appeared, and rule-of-law does come back into play, you are going to be in serious trouble.

    Another point is about timing. It was suggested in the article that salvage efforts should begin when your own ammunition supplies start running low. I would not wait that long. I certainly would not start right away. It will be too dangerous, and it will be difficult to determine if the event is a long term WROL event. But as soon as it becomes clear that salvaging ammunition (and plenty of other things) will not produce later problems with legality, I would start the process. Taking great care, of course.

    Another idea on timing, is that I would only use my primary ammunition during the initial stages of the event, to take advantage of the weapons capabilities that use the ammunition. That includes hunting, varmint control, as well as defense.

    As soon as it is no longer critical to use the best firearm/ammunition choice you have, I would start using the oddball items. Plus, I would start using non-firearm weapons and devices for everything except immediate reaction needs where the firearm is definitely the best choice.

    Snares, traps, dead-falls, bows, crossbows, flintlock black powder muzzle loaders, and such for hunting. The use of non-firearm defensive measures, as well (which I will not get into).

    To sum up, stack it deep, stay in practice, scout likely resupply possibilities, obtain effective alternatives to firearms for as many needs as possible, and conserve every round possible by using alternatives when it is not a life and death situation.

    Just my opinion.

    • I was going to compose a rather contrarian post myself, but you’ve covered most of the essentials. Keeping alive the first year to eighteen months (perhaps until after the second harvest) is going to be the issue. Doing things some people might consider “armed looting” would be a definite “no-no” in my opinion. For example, years ago a distant relative I’d have to call a bit of gun nut told me he had no intention of storing any food. His plans were to use his (impressive!) armory to take what he needed from those he could overwhelm. So that “timing” thing is important. Hunkering down would be far more important than roaming around in my opinion. That aforementioned relative probably wouldn’t last long, either starving or running into some folks a darned sight more cunning than him.

      Years ago David Brin wrote an SF novel titled The Postman, and in one passage his hero expressed regret pre-disaster America had “cached mountains of bullets” but neglected to do the same with food. In his book “How to Survive the H-bomb, and why” Pat Frank said he would “prefer a thousand aspirin tablets to a thousand rounds of ammo”. Never mind that aspirin isn’t very stable and must be frozen for long storage. (IMO Acetaminophen is a better choice for the stockpile). Final ‘book’ example is Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novel “Tunnel in the Sky”from 1955. A teenage boy is told by his older sister (a commando leader) he’d be better off with a good knife than the full-scale armory most other students were taking along for their survival class outing on another planet. She explained that her “girls” carrying only a knife worked very hard to become invisible on their missions and tended to come back from them more often than the gun types.

      You mentioned “oddball” items. I’d expand that to mean unorthodox weapons and tactics well blended with camouflage and deception. The odds still aren’t very good, but IMO they’re better than imagining your stocks of weapons will make you a “Rambo”. The freed-up money not spent on ammunition might well buy enough extra food and medicine to supply some unlucky refugees and turn them into the most solid of new friends and allies. Just a thought….

  3. You are completely wrong about .45 ACP being an “odd ball round”. There are a lot of 1911’s out there and more ammo than you can count.

    The rest of your article is dead on right, good job.

  4. Being X-military & retired Law Enforcement, if you are in a firefight, you take weapons and ammo off the dead bodies for your own use. When the SHTF happens, you have to forget about being nice and survive. My friend, who is a retired FBI guy always said if they are wearing a blue helmet, get rid of them first.

  5. As a 29 year veteran federal agent,(retired) with 25 years of experience as a firearms instructor I would stress not training to pocket empty magazines during a firefighter. That tactic is one reserves ONLY after the shooting “appears” to be done, and from behind cover. The time you take to pocket your magazine during combat could well be your last seconds on this earth.

  6. Another source worth checking out will be ABANDONED semi-tractor trailers along roadways, distribution centers and depot yards. Roughly 70% of all freight is transported via tractor trailers and there are more than 2 million of them on US highways at any given time.

  7. I would all so check any gas station / store in the rural parts of the USA. A lot of them still sell ammo. I see 22lr, 30/30, 30.06 and 12 and 20ga most often. You will have to look under the counter and in the back room for this. I would go thru any house that that was not occupied and check for hidden firearms and ammo as well.

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