Sunday, 12 February 2017

Surviving A Zombie Apocalypse: Guns 'n' Stuff

Let's face it, post-apocalypse zombie stories are mostly gun porn. Or exotic sword porn. You get to use justifiable violence against flesh-eating ghouls whom nobody's going to feel sorry for, and no one will arrest you. Post-apocalypse stories share a close affinity with Westerns, with much the same appeal: lawlessness, self-reliance and the freedom to carry whatever damn weapon you like.

 And yet I wrote this article second, preferring to concentrate on food and water in the first article (Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse: The Basics), because when someone says to you, "Eat lead," it's not because they're thinking of your nutritional needs. Some things come first.

Sooner or later, though, you're going to need to arm yourself. Doesn't matter if you're the Dalai Lama: in a zombie apocalypse, the key to oneness and well-being is a weapon and the willingness to use it. And what do you know? It turns out the Dalai Lama loves guns, so without further ado, let's plough straight in.

Aim And Fire

If you're a gamer, you know you've wasted waited your whole life for this moment. The dead are walking the streets, law enforcement is non-existent, and everything is there for the taking. Yeah, bro. Head on down to the conveniently abandoned gun store and just take your pick: Glock 17, Desert Eagle or Colt Python. Why choose? Take them all. When a zombie appears at the window, take it out with a single head-shot.

What do you mean, you missed? Try again.

Not easy, is it? That hand cannon bucks savagely in the hand, and even though you aligned the sights, you pulled the trigger, lost the sight-picture for a second, then discovered that you'd blown the zombie's ear off. Not being the sensitive type, the zombie acts like nothing's happened.

A lot has been said about how inaccurate pistols are, in spite of how awesome they are in movies. They're heavy, their barrels are short, and compared to an assault rifle, the bullets are fat and slow. Aim for the head at thirty yards, and gravity will drag down that thick slug, causing it to impact on the zombie's chin - again, no good. But beyond a lack of power, the thing that will most cause you to miss is your index finger.

Yes, your finger and how it's constructed will cause you problems. Contract your finger and you'll see that it wants to press sideways into your palm. Pull a pistol trigger and you'll naturally pull the entire pistol to one side when it fires. Trained shooters are told to squeeze the trigger and push it straight back, in line with the gun, to avoid this. But it's not easy. Holding a pistol out in one hand makes for an unstable shooting platform, and it only takes the slightest of pressures to pull it off target.

In the Olympics, there's a category for 10m pistol shooting. You might think that ten metres isn't very far away (and it isn't), so how could anyone miss at that range? The fact is, pistols require immense discipline to shoot accurately at any range. Even using the two-handed grip shown in the picture above won't completely solve the problem.

None of this takes into account the fact, that, when you're being attacked by things that want to eat you alive, you're going to be a nervous wreck. Aiming calmly will be the last thing on your mind.

If you live in Britain, though, you can be smug in the knowledge that none of this matters, because pistols have been banned since 1997. Even our Olympic pistol shooters have to train and store their weapons abroad. And good luck trying to find a gun store, because they're as rare as rocking horse shit. But hey, we still have cricket bats, right? We'll discuss that later in the article.

Okay, let's return to our intrepid gamer. He's played Call Of Duty and Left 4 Dead, and what he really wants to get his hands on is an assault rifle. Because nothing says 'I'm a badass' like an assault rifle. Immediately he will find that this is a lot easier to aim, on account of the stock digging into his shoulder (or at least I really, really hope that's what he's doing with it. If he's firing it from the hip, he can die right now, I don't care). It'll also have a magazine capable of holding thirty rounds, so that's a whole lot more zombies you can mow down before having to reload.

The bad news is, if he does find an assault rifle, it's more than likely to be a semi-automatic civilian version. So, not really an assault rifle at all. In fact, it won't be that different from any other semi-automatic target or hunting rifle. The bigger magazine may help. Except, in many states, the size of the magazine is restricted. And he's going to look really stupid firing that single-shot from the hip (serves him right, too).

But a rifle is a rifle. Even in Britain, you might find a few - not many, but at least you have a chance. And like I said, it's easier to aim than a pistol.

Did I really say that? I was lying. Technically, if you're in a rested position, and firing at targets downrange, then yes, it's more accurate. But even in the US, most people are unfamiliar with handling a rifle and have no idea how to zero one. And when zombies are in your face, aiming correctly with an unwieldy rifle is going to be a challenge, to say the least. Especially if you've only got the single-shot option. In that situation, a pistol, for all its disadvantages, will be easier for most people to handle. It's simpler and more ergonomic. Just don't try sniping with it.

Size Matters
I should say something here about the size of the target. Everybody knows that you kill zombies by shooting them in the head, and that makes for a hard target in a hairy situation. But your real target is the brain, and that's a third of the size of a head. And the reason most zombies are bad at math and can't work out how to open a door without smashing through it is because the higher functions of the brain, like the frontal lobes, are mush. The only part of the brain a zombie really uses is the old part of the brain - the kernel at the top of the brain stem. This is the part that handles basic mobility and survival needs like eating, and it's not a big target at all.

A bullet creates a lot of its damage by a thing called electrostatic shock. This is like a shockwave that emanates from the path of the bullet and affects surrounding organs. A zombie doesn't feel shock, however. A bullet thrashing through the frontal lobes will cause brain damage, but what happens when a zombie suffers brain damage? Nothing. It looks and acts exactly the same, because it already is brain damaged. Hence the vacant stare and the drooling.

It makes sense then to go for the weapon that delivers the widest circumference of damage, just to make sure. Enter the shotgun. Now, many people think of the shotgun as a short range weapon, and to an extent it is, but actually, it fills the gap between the ranges of the pistol vs the rifle. Considering that the majority of people can't shoot to save their lives (or their faces from being eaten) the shotgun is an ideal weapon as it's more forgiving in the accuracy stakes. And in Britain, we actually have a lot of shotguns. They're fairly simple weapons, and a 00 buckshot cartridge for a 12 gauge shotgun contains about nine 9mm balls. That's the equivalent of shooting nine pistols simultaneously into the same area. If you can't kill a zombie with buckshot at 20 yards, then you might as well sprinkle seasoning on yourself and hand yourself over for lunch. Birdshot cartridges, on the other hand, use smaller lead balls, but a lot more of them. At point blank range, they'll make a decent hole. Beyond that, I'm really not sure. Would you trust your life to something that's meant to kill pigeons?

With regards to available pistol and rifle calibres, I won't go into too much detail other than to say that bigger calibres make bigger holes (duh!). A .308 hunting calibre will make a bigger hole than a NATO 5.56mm (.223), and a .45 pistol round will be more effective than a 9mm pistol round. But the smaller calibres weigh less so you can carry more.

There is one interesting anomaly though, and that's the .22 pistol round. You'd think that no self respecting survivalist would bother carrying such a puny calibre, but Mexican cartel assassins actually like this calibre for a reason that's very pertinent to zombie hunters. The .22 round is strong enough to penetrate the skull at close range, but lacks the punch necessary to exit the skull on the other side. Instead it ricochets inside the skull, effectively putting the brain through a blender. An interesting assassination technique if you really don't want the victim to survive, and even hitting a zombie in the wrong part of the skull could result in a neat looking kill.

Not a common pistol calibre, so it was probably pointless of me to bring it up.

I like the idea, though (cuz I'm sick).

Silence Is Golden, But Crossbows Are Not
Daryl from AMC's The Walking Dead
The appearance of the character Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead has probably sold more crossbows than Genghis Khan. Everyone knows it's good to be silent during a zombie apocalypse, and gun silencers are difficult to get in the US (ironically, they're easier to obtain in the UK - you've just got nothing much to attach them to), so what better than a Stryker 380 crossbow with a lethal 160lb draw weight? Well, that's the crossbow that Daryl uses, and people hunt hogs with it. It's cool, it's silent and it's even more badass than an assault rifle.

Pfft! Fans are going to hate me for this, but crossbows are almost useless against the undead. Hell, they're not that great against hogs.

Hog hunters don't use crossbows because of their lethal efficiency. They use them to increase the challenge of the hunt. It's a sport, and nobody likes a sport that's too easy. The ethical hunting range for a crossbow is about 30 yards. The hunter will aim for the chest area where the heart and lungs are located, and the hog, when hit, will often run for a few yards before dying of shock or haemorrhaging. That's the theory, anyway. Hunters don't go for head shots, because the target is too small, even at 30 yards. And the skull is thick bone, whereas the major organs are less protected.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  It's certainly possible to penetrate the skull with a crossbow bolt, but think about it (which is more than a zombie can do). Unlike a bullet, a crossbow bolt won't generate any hydrostatic shock, and it may only penetrate a human skull by a couple of inches. That would certainly kill a living human, or at least result in severe brain damage. But remember what I said about zombies and brain damage? Exactly. The virus got there before you, and you're more likely to end up with a zombie wandering around with a crossbow bolt sticking out of its head - which will bother it not one jot.

They're not that easy to use, either. In The Walking Dead, I rarely see Daryl actually loading the bow, but the few times I have, he kind of casually draws back the bow with one hand. Of course, it's a studio prop. If it was that easy to draw back, it would have the power of an elastic band. In reality, the bow has a foot stirrup on the end, and you need to hold it down with one foot while pulling on the drawstring with two hands. In fact, the manufacturer provides you with a tool to make drawing it a little easier (though it takes longer). That's a lot of effort for a weapon that can only guarantee a zombie kill with a shot through the eye socket. For that kind of range and effect, you might as well use an air rifle.

And a 160lb bow isn't all that silent. Not as loud as a gun, but the crack of the launching bolt will still echo around the woods. It's also a really awkward shape to carry around (along with all your survival gear). Given a choice, I honestly wouldn't bother.

Join The Club
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Shaun Of The Dead
In the end, it doesn't matter whether you have a pistol or a rifle, big calibre or small calibre. The merits of the M4 vs the HK416 become moot, because sooner or later, you're going to run out of ammunition. The city of Atlanta, for instance, has a population of 463,878 people. With an 80% conversion rate, that makes 371,102 zombies. That's a lot of ammo to carry. In the metropolitan area of Atlanta alone, the population rises to five and half million. That's four and half million zombies. Even at one bullet per zombie (as if) that's more ammo than most army bases hold. Prep all you like, you're never going to have that much ammo. One year into the apocalypse and the continental United States will be the closest you'll ever get to a gun-free zone, because most of them will end up as useless ornaments. Yes, you can try making and loading your own ammo, but unless you're sitting on a lead mine (with an attached ammonium nitrate plant) you're going to run out of raw materials.

We therefore need a more sustainable weapon that will never run out of ammo: the melee weapon. When all else fails, you can always club zombies to death.

Or you can try. It makes me laugh to see how easily zombies are knocked out when hit by baseball or cricket bats in movies and TV shows. If these were living humans, I would understand. Newsfeeds contain plenty of reports of people assaulted by baseball bats who ended up in hospital, suffering the effects of concussion and trauma. Some people die from that. Others end up brain damaged. Awful as that seems, these aren't good stats when deciding on a weapon to defeat a zombie with. Head traumas, shock or the cracking of the skulls aren't enough to deter the undead. You need biceps the size of melons to even stand a chance of fully caving in the skull in one blow. If that doesn't do it, you won't get a second blow.

And wrapping barbed wire around a baseball bat won't do anything either. The little spikes on the barbed wire are like mosquito bites to a zombie. Even a crossbow's better than that. If you find yourself with a bat or nine iron during the apocalypse, don't try and knock a zombie out. Break its kneecaps to cripple it so you can get away quicker. That's pretty much the only use you'll get out of a club. Unless, of course, you're a psychopath who likes to hold show-trials of captured survivors for your bloodthirsty compatriots - in which case, swing away.

Blunt instruments are useless, so you really need something sharp. We should now discuss the Katana. You know, that legendary samurai sword that can cut through anything. Well, no, it's just another sword, but such is the cult surrounding this blade, there are probably more replica Katanas in the US than any other type of sword. Granted, most of them are low grade steel ornaments, but that just means they'll blunt more easily between zombie necks. That said, it does take a certain amount of strength to cut through a spine, so if you're a geeky gamer with spindly arms, you'll need to do a few push-ups before you risk your life getting within biting range of a zombie. On the plus side, you can practise using it as much as you like. Unlike a sidearm, you won't waste precious ammunition doing so. And if it snaps while cutting through a branch, you'll know it was one of the really crap ones - which will save you from that heart-stopping moment when it happens in action.

If you're not a grand master (that's grand master, not games master) I wouldn't bother trying to split a zombie's skull open with it. An axe is better for that, and infinitely more available than a Katana. If you're not in the habit of chopping logs, you'll need to practice your swing (and keep doing them push-ups), but there's still the problem of crashing down through that thick skull and penetrating deeply enough. What you need is something narrower that'll bite deeper. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: the ice axe.

Black Diamond from Outdoorhire
If I was a zombie, I would shudder just looking at that, but I honestly can't think of a better zombie exterminator hand tool. It's light, strong and a lot easier to get hold of than a sword, even in Britain. Do they have a lot of these in Canada? The apocalypse will last seconds, there.

But there is something that's even better than an ice axe, and it's a spear!

You'll notice how, in this run down of weaponry, we're getting increasingly medieval, but the apocalypse will have the effect of sliding society back in time, and they knew a thing or two in the olden days about combat. People tend to think that the most commonly used weapon in that period was the sword, but in fact, in battles that go back to ancient times, it was the spear. It was cheaper and easier to produce than a sword, could be handled with a shield and, when necessary, thrown.

I don't recommend throwing a spear at a zombie, but, when held in a two handed grip, it will allow you to engage a zombie without getting too close to the resulting mess. It's stable, accurate and lethal - but only if you strike through a zombie's eye socket, or through the soft cartilage behind the nose.

Yes, that's right. You stick it up a zombie's nose. Anatomically, that's the path to the part of the zombie's brain you want to target. The only problem is, you'll find it easier to buy a Katana than a spear. On the other hand, they're easier to make. All you need to do is get yourself to a building site and grab a suitable length of rebar. You probably don't even need to sharpen it, though that would help. You can complete the ensemble with a garbage lid that you can use as a shield if you so desire, holding the zombie back if you need to go for a second strike.

In the chaos of an apocalypse, you'll have to manage with what you can get hold of (or stockpiled, if you're a prepper), but in the end I would recommend a pistol as a fall-back weapon (but not if you're a Brit, sorry), a shotgun (preferably pump-action), an ice axe and a shield. If that isn't badass, I don't know what is. List your own preferences in the comments below (or on the facebook page) and let's compare combinations.