The path of selecting a gun is well-trod, with a huge majority of gun owners and shooters choosing one of a handful of makes and models, industry leaders that for one reason or another have come to dominate their category: Glock pistols, Smith & Wesson revolvers, Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 series shotguns, and one brand or another if they choose an AR or AK.
But even all together, those makes and models represent only a tiny fraction of the ones that are made today, and the most minuscule portion of guns that were made. Between older, vintage or even obsolete designs and modern but less-popular or odd-duck designs there is a whole separate sphere of firearms out there besides our ubiquitous standbys.
Maybe you inherited or got a steal on one of these older but functional guns. Maybe you have very particular needs that are addressed by a unique or exotic design. Whatever the reason, you are considering pressing an uncommon model into service as your personal preparedness arm.
This article will give you the advice and insight to make a smart, informed decision before putting all your chips on one of these underdogs.
Why Choose an Oddball at All?
Reasons vary, but there are plenty of reasons one may choose an unusual or vintage design as their primary firearm. Maybe one has inherited a firearm and wants to make do with what they have.
Some shoppers will not be able to spend on the latest, greatest and newest. Some users will live in states with draconian restrictions on guns by make and model, and be forced to look to the designs of yesteryear for capable semi-auto or magazine fed guns.
Whatever the situation, sometimes you simply will be forced to rely on a design that is a little off the beaten track. So long as you use your head when selecting one you can be confident that they will get the job done as well as a more well-known counterpart.
Understand this: the guns I am referring to in this article will typically not be, in one or many ways, ideal for self-defense. The common “bread-and-butter” guns I mentioned above along with their closest competitors in the market are all ubiquitous for good reasons: they typically offer the most performance to the most users the most consistently.
There are mountains of literature in print and on the internet written on the topic of ideal firearm selection. Much of it has been written by people greater than I, and I am not going to waste space here re-codifying it except to distill down the most pertinent elements of selection that still apply.
Hear me now when I say that while any of these oddballs and also-rans may be entirely adequate in all essential respects, but will usually come with a host of quirks or flaws that you’ll need to address before you can rely on them with confidence.
Back to our most essential characteristics for selection. Number one, as always, is mechanical reliability. If the gun will not go loud every time the trigger is pulled you should not consider it unless you have literally no other firearm available.
Now, as a rule, most of our vintage guns in this category will in no way come close to modern designs in mechanical and material reliability. This does not mean they are not reliable enough to bet your life on, but we have better tools today than yesteryear.
Modern exotics and uncommon designs may feature excellent mechanical design and high quality materials, and so be very reliable guns in their own right. Some examples may be pretty good, but just don’t stack up to their more mainstream cousins. Reliability may or may not be a concern with modern designs.
Our second consideration is logistical. Depending on the type of oddball gun you have, spare parts and magazines may be expensive, rare or even non-existent. Ammunition may also be a factor if you are saddled with a truly obsolete or rare chambering: a Swiss K31 is a fine bolt action rifle in many regards, but good luck sourcing its 7.5x55mm Swiss ammo in any quantity.
Remember, you are choosing a system, not just a gun, for self-defense. Guns parts will break and need replacement. Magazines wear out. Ammo dries up. Any of these is a show-stopper if you have not laid in an adequate supply of the parts and support equipment you need to keep it running.
Also bear in mind that practice and training will consume both parts and ammo. You must also be aware that you may need to baby an older gun when it comes to diet: even if it is has a standard chambering modern ammo, especially defensive or duty loads, are often loaded to pressures in excess of what many older guns could tolerate.
Lastly, our third major criterion is the performance of the gun. Face it: most guns get relegated to history or ignominiously relegated to also-ran status because they are either superseded by newer, better tech or were simply outmatched by competitors. The march of time will do that. Even so, no one on the receiving end of an M1 Garand today will be thanking their lucky stars they weren’t getting zapped with a SCAR-H. Old and exotic guns still fling bullets that are more than capable of dispatching man or beast when in capable hands.
Where these other guns start coming up short often in the ergonomic department, either suffering from antiquated human engineering and control configurations in the case of older guns or bafflingly “progressive” or strange layouts in the case of modern exotics.
Consider the M1 Garand again: while it is still accurate enough, pretty reliable by today’s standards and easy to shoot well, its control configuration is marred by an inside-the-trigger guard safety, reciprocating charging handle and (compared to loading a detachable box mag) clumsy loading procedure.
I’ll flesh out these concepts more in the following sections.
Criteria for Choosing or Settling on an Oddball
When considering whether or not to greenlight one of these guns, objectively determine the following:
- As a model, is the gun reliable? Does it have a reputation for good, middling or poor function? Can it handle hollow point and/or soft point bullets?
- Can I obtain spare parts, magazines (if applicable), ammo and support for it?
- Can I shoot it well and do so under pressure?
- Is the cartridge, capacity and loading method of the gun adequate to anticipated threats?
- What is my major reason for choosing or settling on this gun versus another, more mainstream gun?
If the answer for any of the first four questions is a negative, you may want to look elsewhere. If you cannot decisively answer the latter with anything besides “it’s cool and I like it” or “I wanna look special on the range” you need a serious recalibration of priorities. Collecting and shooting vintage and weird guns is a fine hobby, but choosing one for serious, no-joke defense is another.
Assuming you have answered all 5 questions in the affirmative, and are willing to put up with some quirks and flaws, an oddball gun can still serve you just fine. In the next section we will look at a few additional criteria among various types of guns you should consider.
Each class of gun will have certain salient characteristics inherent to them that you should be aware of when making your selection. I have detailed some of them below. Bear in mind you may not be able to ascertain some of these characteristics without testing, expert assistance or your own in-depth knowledge of the gun in question.
If you are selecting a vintage handgun, keep in mind the following: many pre-1970’s autoloaders will not function reliably with modern hollow point ammo without modification.
Plan on replacing the springs throughout the gun (including magazine springs at the first sign of trouble) in any older gun of any kind. When selecting an action, try to stay with an autoloader or double action revolver. Single action revolvers have a host of quirks that make them far from ideal for self-defense today.
If you are looking at a more modern oddball, take the time to seek out expert opinion on it, or find an owner or trainer that has high-round count experience with to get a good idea on what you can expect form longevity and performance.
There are plenty of very good but little known or recognized handguns today to choose from. Steyr’s Model M and L series pistols for instance are excellent, robust striker-fired guns in all respects but virtually unknown in the U.S. even thought they have been on our shores before the year 2000.
A quality holster is mandatory for a defensive handgun. With few exceptions you’ll be looking for a very hard-to-find or custom holster for most oddballs in this category. The rise of kydex has made a truly bespoke holster possible for most any handgun and at modest prices, but you’ll want to factor that cost into your plans instead of dumping it in a ratty universal nylon holster.
More than most other guns in our discussion, plenty of vintage rifles continue to give excellent service today, especially WWII-era bolt action service rifles from the U.S., U.K., and Germany. These robust bolt actions were designed to survive the greatest land conflicts imaginable, and while they are not the slickest, lightest or most accurate rifles around anymore, they are more than suitable for general purpose work.
Additionally, many of them became mainstays or exemplars in their class and parts, ammo and knowhow still abound for them today. It is hard to go wrong with one of these old battle axes so long as one can deal with a little recoil.
On the modern side of the house, plenty of semi-auto carbines besides ARs and AKs are worth considering: Beretta, CZ, Steyr and FN all make 5.56mm carbines that are high-quality and reliable, even if they depart pretty radically from the AR and AK pattern guns we all know and love.
One of the most contentious designs among modern oddballs is the bullpup. The bullpup’s short overall length still contains a full length rifle barrel in most configurations, and has serious merit for those working in close confines or around vehicles.
Among bullpups, one of the most prolific and proven is the Steyr AUG series rifles, still made to this day. Others include the IWI Tavor and FN’s now discontinued FS 2000. All are reliable and durable, though some practice is required to ingrain yourself to their unusual control placements and manual of arms.
Vintage shotguns occupy a unique space in our pantheon of oddball guns. Save some very old double barrel guns, most older shotguns, especially pump actions, are mostly the same as their newer counterparts, the manually operated shotgun having changed very little since their inception.
A vintage Remington, Winchester or Ithaca shotgun will handily keep pace with their modern brethren. Once must exercise a little caution when selecting ammo as some older barrels will not tolerate today’s highest pressure loads. Additionally incremental design changes and improvements over the years means that era or series specific small parts may be required for repairs and replacements.
As far as alternate modern guns are concerned, so long as a gun is made to a decent standard of care, be it autoloader or pump action, you most will serve well enough. Once again, there has been much subtle refinement, but very little true innovation, and ergo most advantage is conferred by quality, not design.
A vintage shotgun outfitted with additional ammo storage and modern sling will be nearly identical in all essential performance metrics to its more modern stablemates.
Our modern, “standard-issue” guns are the choice of many for good reasons, but sometimes fate or circumstances will dictate another option, an oddball. If you take some care in selection, a vintage gun may offer adequate service or an uncommon modern design, even an exotic, may give excellent, even superior service compared to more mainstream offerings.
If you use your head and make sure all logistical concerns can be dealt with amicably, an unusual oddball gun may be just the ticket for your SHTF plan.