A firearm is a tool. A tool that can be a joy to practice with, but one who's original purpose should never be forgotten. Put bluntly, firearms started out as a tool meant to kill other living things. All firearms retain that ability and there is inherent danger in their misuse. Nothing that we can control hurts the public image of firearms owners than demonstrated unsafe firearms handling.
Years ago, the father of modern shooting, Jeff Cooper outlined four redundant rules of gun safety. Redundant means that the rules overlap, if you break one the rest will prevent a firearms accident from being a tragedy. If you follow them diligently you will probably never have a firearms mishap. Or, if you do, the damage will be minimal.
Rule #1 All guns are always loaded. Always assume, and treat any gun as if loaded, especially if you have not personally cleared it. This prevents the very common “I thought it was unloaded” mistakes.
Rule #2 Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. If you aren’t willing to break or kill it, don’t point a gun at it. So called “muzzle sweeps” are simply unacceptable. Naturally sometimes a holstered gun might point at someone or some part of your body, or someone might walk in front of a gun on a table. But guns almost never go off unless someone is handling them.
Rule #3 Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. This is a basic firearms manipulation. You should never be walking around with your finger on the trigger, gun on safe, unloaded or not. The last thing you do before you pull the trigger, is put your finger on the trigger.
Rule #4 Identify your target, and what is behind it. Many people have been killed or injured because a shooter wasn’t sure of their target. That’s why we wear hunter’s orange. If you’re hunting, make sure you see a deer. At the range, make sure you’re looking at a target with a good backstop, and at home make sure the guy coming through the window in the middle of the night isn’t your son or daughter sneaking back in the house.
That being said I have seen firearms accidents happen for three main reasons.
Lack of respect for weapons and ignorance of the four rules (I'm a man I know how to handle a gun it's on the Y chromosome... BOOM) Never mind that they haven't handled a gun since their mom sold their red rider at a yard sale after they left for college.
Lack of familiarity with a firearm or nervousness (how do you get this loaded magazine out? Hmm do I hit this switch...BOOM) I advocate a lot of in the house, unloaded practice with a firearm and a complete disassembly and maintenance cycle before you ever put the first round in at the range.
Complacency. This is the one that gets long time shooters you've been handling guns for years, you've put three thousand rounds though this one running around in matches etc etc (Hey Bob, you how are things going at work, Fine Steve we just got the new BOOM). This one has happened to me, luckily I only violated one of the rules and the round went harmlessly in to the berm.
Anyway, if you respect firearms, understand how they work and don't become complacent it is possible to violate ONE of the rules at a time. But it's only a good idea if you get some kind of experience/training benefit from it. I used to run around the woods getting paid to point weapons at people and pretend to kill them. Now I might dry fire at the TV, or practice clearing the house with some one hiding from me, or test a new scope on a traffic sign at the end of the street. But you can bet the farm that I checked the chamber multiple times before doing so.
On a final note, I seriously recommend the use of hearing and eye protection while shooting. Shooting without using ear protection will eventually destroy your hearing, forever. And no matter what, sometimes things (rocks or bullet fragments) bounce back at you. It only has to happen once before you are condemned to dressing up as a pirate every Halloween from now on.
In this article we are going to discuss the “tactical” gear that is important to the civilian. A lot of bandwidth gets spent on this, and it really gets far more thought than it deserves. The important thing is that you train with what you have and remember that the mission drives the gear. What does that mean? You probably shouldn't try and look like you're patrolling the streets of Baghdad in an up armored Humvee. The average citizen should concentrate on having a squared away concealed carry rig, then a rifle and a way to carry some more mags, food and water. After that you can think about the cool guy stuff.
The terminology is a little goofy here. Generally people talk about “lines” of gear or layers. First line is what you wear, second line is your fighting load and third line is your sustainment load or rucksack. That mostly applies to more “tactical” stuff, like what you would put on if you woke up to a red dawn situation... but there are other, maybe more logical things, like your every day carry or a get home bag.
2nd Line (light)-Also referred to as the “fighting load” this is primarily the way you carry spare rifle magazines. The light second line is for when you are trying to avoid a fight, but it's possible. I prefer some type of simple chest rig, but there are other options like an over the shoulder bandoleer or the Army's fighting load carrier. At a minimum it should carry three or more magazines... how many depends on how much you think you'll be shooting. But, you should regularly try wearing it for a few hours at a time. I find that once people do that they tend to lighten it up. It should be small enough that it can be hidden with your rifle in the back of a car. Other stuff you might want with your second line are another BOK, smoke grenades and a radio. The radio and smoke grenades have the potential to get you out of a fight.
1st Line- This is pretty much the same as your EDC, but not “covert,” what you would put on first if you saw the bad guys swarming the streets. It includes clothes, boots pocket knife etc. But, what people are mostly talking about is some type of belt and the crap that goes on it. I like to have a belt that fits close to my body that carries my pistol holster, two spare pistol mags, a spare rifle mag and trauma kit or blow out kit (BOK) some folks are much more elaborate, with a separate padded war belt and more accoutrements. Clothes and boots are also important- you can spend hundreds of dollars trying to keep up with the latest cool guy pants, but I find that that is usually best spent on other stuff. Your clothes should be comfortable for training, durable and able to blend in to your environment... the Crye pants are gonna suck if you have to ditch your gear and blend in at WalMart.
3rd Line-Your third line is your sustainment load, in prepper circles in can be compatible with the “Bug Out Bag.” This is the gear that will keep you alive and somewhat comfortable in the field. Basically a back pack, food and sleeping gear, spare socks, water filter etc. How much you need depends on your region and how long you plan to stay out. We regularly test our third line gear on hikes and camping trips, and this is critically important so that you know how much you can carry for how far and fast. Third line gear needs to be arranged for seasons, my winter ruck is bigger than my summer ruck.
Assault Bag- This is a very light backpack with minimum gear. Think, some water, snacks, first aid, maybe spare ammo. The idea is that you can still fight with it on (combined with your second line gear.) Even the most fit guys drop there rucksack to fight. I have seen second line gear fully integrated with an assault bag, if you think this is a good idea try it out. I have a hydration bladder that I keep all this stuff in. I like it because I can throw it in my ruck, carry it on a family hike or whatever.... crap should be multipurpose and modular
Bug Out Bags and Get Home Bags- A BoB is what you keep packed and ready to go in case you have to leave very quickly. What is in it seems depends on where your going. I have seen anything from the gear people think they can survive in the woods for weeks – head for the hills to more logical stuff like important documents and meds. A GHB is something you keep at work or in the car with, the stuff you might need on a trip in case bad things go down. These things are generally more discrete than the average third line rucksack. Again, this is very dependent on your personal situation, if your wife wears high heels to work, her GHB needs to have a good pair of walking shoes and socks. Personally my camping/tactical is my BoB (if it requires leaving the house that fast it might involve some hiding and shooting.) and I keep a discreet GHB in the family car.
EDC-This is your every day carry. Your concealed carry gun and holster, belt, pocket knife and similar stuff. This is really the most important area for the citizen soldier, because it is most likely what you will have when the fight comes. It is important that your CCW pistol and gear be what you train with the most. I've seen loads of folks that have a standard pistol for competition, home defense or whatever, but carry some super compact mouse gun that they never practice with because it's unpleasant to shoot. Not smart IMO unless you are absolutely limited by concealment need, and in that case you still need to practice with it. On the other end of the spectrum, some folks go all out, carrying a trauma kits, multiple mags, flashlight etc. You know what you can get away with carrying. Personally I like to have a spare mag and flashlight, and I have a trauma kit close at hand.
2nd Line (heavy)-This is the same as your light second line, but with armor, usually a plate carrier. We've got an entire article on armor so we're not going to go to far in to that. For me the heavy second line is what I would wear if a fight was likely, or if I was traveling in a vehicle so that my mobility wasn't limited. For that reason it is common to carry more magazines on your heavy second line. I spend most of my training days in my plate carrier and also exercise in it. This is because it is extremely hard to get used to, nothing like having 30 or so pounds wrapped around your body- you need to train in it. A heavy second line isn't for everyone, at a minimum it costs as much as a pistol so if it's not in your budget don't sweat it. If you're not in darned good physical condition it would slow you down more than help. Certainly don't skimp in other areas just so you can have armor.
“4th Line”-People often refer to their house or their car as the fourth line. Not a bad way to think about it. In a nutshell your 4th line is the gear you don't carry with you. Our only input here is that such gear should be modular and ready to go. For example, I like to keep my stored food in boxes that could be easily thrown in the truck and include the equipment needed to prepare them. They have a variety, so I am only able to grab one I'm still light years ahead.
Conclusion-You could spend thousands of dollars on gear and still not have everything you need. If you are beginning to get prepared a good CCW rig and discreet BoB is a place to start. Think about what you are most likely to need and use and spend you money wisely. Test and train everything, the best stuff in the world isn't going to do much if you throw it in the closet and forget about it (after taking a couple of pics and posting them on the internet.)
I. Canned Goods As long as they are stored properly, most canned goods can be stored over 2-3 years despite what their expiration dates suggest. And, other than bulk rice and beans are probably the least expensive way to up your family’s food storage. I would suggest to anyone that they combine the bulk, Mylar stored foods and canned goods to add variety and nutrients to your diet. You should concentrate on storing a lot of the foods you already eat, with large amounts of vegetables and fruits that won’t be available fresh. I also suggest a supply of meat oriented dishes that you might not typically use every day, such as canned stews or spam. These will also be handy at extending and adding variety to your bulk preps. It is difficult to store enough canned goods for a long term situation. This is due to their bulk, once you get a system of canned goods going you probably want to begin There are basically two different strategies in storing canned goods, and which one you choose depends on whether you plan to “bug out” or “bug in.” If you have a large pantry and a investing in other types of food preps.safe place to hunker down then it is possible to develop a rotation schedule for your canned goods. They should be marked and stored so that they last as long as possible. If you have to be more mobile, canned goods should be stored in the containers you will be moving them in. I keep a variety in large bins with some other essentials. Every two years I pull them out and rotate, mixing the things we use in to our own pantry and donating things we don’t use to a local church pantry. You can’t store them in the garage or attic, climate control is critical. Canning: If you garden and can, you probably have developed your own rotation system. This is great, and in this you are well ahead of us. But, canning is outside the scope of this article but is an awesome idea. II. Bulk Storage in Mylar Bags Preventing Oxygen from getting to food is the key to long term food storage. Mylar is a foil like material that comes in different size bags that can be sealed with heat (the sides of the bag are melted together.) This gives an oxygen barrier. When storing foods in Mylar it is important that you add an oxygen absorber to remove the oxygen already in the bag. For the pepper/survivalist it is common to put these in sealed five gallon buckets to provide an extra layer of protection and portability. Food properly stored in Mylar is good for 10 or more years. There are a couple of options when deciding what and how to store food this way. 1) Large amounts of bulk goods- using five gallon bags. 2) Smaller bags with a variety of goods in them. If you are set on a “BUG in” situation, that is you have a single place where you think you will be able to live out a WORL situation, then you should probably concentrate on number one. If you have a “BUG out” plan where you have a place to go, but want to store food at your residence then #2 might be the way to go. Option number two loses a little bulk storage because the smaller bags create a little air space in the buckets, but you gain modularity. I use a combination of these two ideas. I have smaller more modular buckets at home in which I keep a variety of items in each. I have several potential bug out locations, and have several bulk buckets at each of these. Items commonly stored in Mylar bag/buckets are rice, beans and oats. These are all staples in the prepper world, and adapt to this storage method well. It provides a bulk of calories for a very low cost. The rice should be enriched white rice (brown rice does not store this way) and the beans should be something you know your family likes. Keep in mind that these items require a good bit of energy to prepare, something you need to plan for. III. Things that store with little preparation There are a few items, some very important and some luxuries that are pretty much “self-storing.” Sugar and salt can both be stored quite easily. I store both in two layers of ziplock bag with a desiccant package in the outer bag. Sugar and salt are very important, make many wild foods palatable and are also important in many improvised medical treatments. Other things such as tea, honey, or hard candies can be stored similarly, basically will last forever if not exposed to moisture or temperature fluctuation. III. Freeze Dried Freeze dried foods are an expensive way to store food, but one of the best as far as storage space, shelf life and ease of preparation. They are far less bulky than canned goods because the water has been removed by freezing and vacuumed out. Afterwards they are usually stored in #10 cans or mylar packages with oxygen absorbers or purged with nitrogen. Freeze dried food generally comes as pre-packaged “meals” that can be reconstituted with the addition of adding water. It can also be stored as bulk vegies or meats that can be used to bulk up and add variety to your bulk stored products. Both of these are good ideas and need to be considered in your own preps. IV. Field Food I’m talking about things that you would most likely carry in your ruck, third line gear or BOB (whatever you want to call it.) This is food that is lightweight and easy to prepare. The standard here is the MRE, or army rations. But, you can look at low cost options such as canned goods (bad on weight) or instant grits and oatmeal either as a supplement to MREs or replacing them entirely. Ramen noodles are another low cost option. In a pinch they can be eaten dry like potato chips. They provide energy in the form of complex carbohydrates, but no other nutritional value. There are also specialty backpacking foods which offer a more expensive option. You should experiment with these things on camping trips. V. Water All of the things I have discussed need water for preparation, some more than others. (Canned goods don’t require a lot of water, where rice, beans and freeze dried food are inedible without it.) You also need water to drink bathe etc. In fact, you need to drink a lot more water than you probably drink on a daily basis. Conversely, you probably use far more water than you need to on a daily basis bathing. Hot and cold water is a luxury we abuse in industrialized societies. I’m not saying you should stop bathing in a post SHTF environment but you don’t need nearly as much water for it as we typically use. Bathing AND staying hydrated are more important post SHTF. That being said let’s discuss some methods for making sure your family has water. Water storage. Storing water is an often overlooked element of prepping. It is next to impossible in some situations but you need to figure something out. The easiest thing is buying bottled water by the case (it’s a whole lot cheaper than cold ones at the convenience store.) It is also easy to rotate and have on hand. We keep a case of water in each vehicle. Having a long term supply of pre bottled water is silly, needlessly expensive and space intense. Look for water storage containers. People with a lot of space gravitate towards food grade plastic 55 gallon drums, other choices are quality purpose built water containers such as the military “jerry-can” type containers. In storing water, be aware of the axiom… one gallon per person per day, at a MINIMUM. Stored water should be treated to prevent contamination. 5-7 drops of bleach will treat one gallon of water, this is about one capful per five gallon container. After treating shake the container and let sit for at least 24 hours. Stored water should be rotated on, at least, a yearly basis. Water collection: No matter what you need to plan to resupply water for long term situations. There are many ways to collect water depending on your climate. If you live in a desert this is obviously a greater concern. Collected water also needs to be purified. There are many ways to do this, rain water can be purified using the bleach method described above. Filtering and purifying water from streams and lakes is a multi-step process. There are many ways to achieve this- a t-shirt and coffee filters are good for removing particulates- but this needs to be followed up by other methods. In a pinch you can improvise a water filter or still, but it is a good idea to have one on hand already. At a minimum you should have a quality hiking filter. There are also chemical methods for purification, iodine tablets and the bleach method listed above, but I consider these last ditch. VI. Final Thoughts Your food and water preps are really the most important part of your prepping. Not nearly as glamorous as loads of guns and ammo, but it is one thing that you WILL need in the future. A good food and water plan is what separates the prepared from the poseur. And a citizen warrior has to be able to take care of his family in hard times, and in a pinch the families of fellow warriors. If you don’t have a plan I would suggest you immediately start laying back extra canned goods- then re-read this article and start researching other things. Ask questions of people who seem to have it going on. Look at our links for websites with more of this info. Find what will fit your situation (budget, storage, bug-out vs bug-in etc) and get started.
Introduction to Night Observation Devices
A NOD, or Night Observation Device, is device that allows us to see better at night. For the sake of this article NOD will refer to the devices that amplify available light and not thermal imaging. NODs are potentially the most expensive item that a citizen soldier might buy- it is conceivable to spend well over $4000 dollars on a single NOD set up and the necessary accessories to make them useful. We have been doing a lot of research into this in an effort to be informed buyers and will share the information here.
Terminology: The NODs we are discussing can be referred to by many acronyms. NVG stands for night vision goggles. NVIS simply means Night VISion. We will use the term NOD to refer to all devices that use and image intensifying tube to amplify visible light. We will use the term “active” to refer to units that require separate IR illumination to be useful versus “passive” for not using illumination. You also see the term IR or “near IR” thrown around. This refers to a spectrum of light, not normally visible to humans, that the NOD amplifies and converts in to the “green” light that night vision is famous for. “Auto-Gated” refers to NODs that are able to shut themselves off to prevent damage when exposed to to much light.
When Night Vision comes up for discussion you here the term “generation” is thrown around. There are two important measurements to think of when it comes to thinking about NOD generations. The gain is roughly how much it will amplify available light. Another thing is tube life, or how long the image intensifying tube will last. We will refer to generations as GEN1, GEN2 and GEN3. Generation refers to the image intensification TUBE, not the unit. The optics and housing of the unit also come in to play when considering its over all usefulness.
First Generation: These are the cheapest and most commonly seen NODs. They might run under $200, for the most part they are tactically useless in a passive mode except in conditions so bright that adapted night vision is just as good. Artificial IR illumination is generally bad as it is basically shining a flashlight that bad-guys with NODs can see. GEN1 might be useful for testing gear to see how visible it is in the IR spectrum. It can also be used in a hand held mode if you think people are looking for you with IR illumination (turn your disadvantage in to an advantage.) Another problem with GEN1 tubes is “fish-eye,” where the image through the tube is distorted.
A stand out GEN1 unit is the Spark, made by Armasight. It is small and rugged enough to to be helmet or weapons mounted. Under ideal conditions, ¼ moon + or with ambient light pollution such as in a neighborhood, it can be used passively. Since it can be helmet mounted you can also have a coaxial IR illumination for active use.
Cascaded Tubes: Early military use NODs were GEN1 tubes placed in series. These produce far more useful image intensification than single GEN1 tubes. However, this is at the expense of size, and Cascaded units are only useful for large weapon sights or hand-held observation. Occasional these units show up on the surplus market. An example would be the PVS-2.
Second Generation: GEN2 units are about ten times as useful as the best GEN1. Military examples that might show up on the surplus market are the PVS-5 (multiple version PVS5 A-D) a set of night vision goggles and the PVS-4, a dedicated weapons sight. The Armasight company makes several commercial GEN2 units which can be used various ways. There are to many options to be discussed here.
Third Generation: GEN3 units are twenty times as useful as the best GEN1. GEN3 units are the most common in military and law enforcement use. As such they are more frequently seen on the second hand and surplus markets. Common units include the PVS-7, a single tube goggle; the PVS-14 a multipurpose monocular and the MUM, another multipurpose monocular. Most GEN3 units are auto-gated, but this should be checked before purchase.
The top image shows the difference in gain and field of view between GEN3 and GEN1 Units. The conditions have been optimized for the GEN1 (Armasight Spark.)
The bottom image shows the “fisheye” effect in many GEN1 units. It should be noted that without supplemental IR illumination the GEN1 unit would be near dark under the conditions seen here.
There are newer units, but they are not commonly available for use and will not be discussed here.
Other considerations when shopping for NODs
Durability: Many commercial GEN1 devices are not “field durable” and can not withstand the recoil of weapons.
Accessories: Different units might require different mounts and certain lens accessories are not compatible with many units. By far most accessories are designed to work with the PVS-14. Make sure a unit can be used the way you want to use it.
Field of View and Magnification: All night vision units produce “tunnel vision” how bad this is is determined by the units field of view. A PVS14 has a field of view of about 30 degrees. This would be inside of the almost 100 degress that we have naturally. Moving around with this limitation takes some getting used to. Many low end GEN1 units have bilt in magnification. Some units have add on magnification lenses. Magnification is only useful while observing things from a fixed location. You won't be walking around with a magnified NOD. Magnification also reduces the field of view. Think of walking around with one eye closed while looking through a telescope with the other.
Buying Used: It is possible to get used GEN3 devices for near the price of of new GEN2 devices. However, there are dangers to buying items sight unseen. First without looking though the device first hand it is very difficult to know how well it performs. Second, many stolen military units have ended up being sold in places like EBAY, and the new owners were tracked down. If buying used try to get a look at the unit first hand. If that is not possible, only deal with people that have a good reputation on internet forums etc.
Hand-Held: The simplest and cheapest way to use NODs is to simply carry them in a pouch, or on a lanyard and look through them occasionally, when scouting a trail or observing an objective. This might be the only useful way to use some GEN1 units, to look in to shadows etc or to check if someone else is using IR illumination.
Weapon Mounted: Some NODs are designed to be weapon mounted. Other general purpose NODs might come with mounts that allow them to be mounted on the rails in front of or behind a day optic. This limits the over all utility of the device. In general this limits the over all usefulness of quality NODs. The field of view looking through two optical devices is severely limited. It also requires the weapon to be raised for observation. The only time I would suggest this (other than with a purpose night weapon sight such as the PVS4) are in a dedicated DMR/sniper role, where you would be observing a sector of fire from a semi-fixed position for a long time.
Helmet Mounted: The most common way to see modern NODs used is mounted to a helmet. This work with both goggles and monoculars. This allows the device to be used hands free and a weapon can be aimed using an IR laser. Of course, this is adding several accessories to your “IR kit” at no small cost.
The Importance of Training: I recommend training and practice with all pieces of gear you might have. This is especially true with night vision. Simply put, using night vision is a different world! Training will teach you more about using NODs than any article ever could. You need to determine how dark it needs to be before you don your NODs, how far different things can be seen and what different things look like. The tunnel vision given by NODs will have an effect on your tactics.
Training Ideas: There are professionally instructed classes for using night vision tactically. However, you should check the credentials of the instructors and they might only be open to law enforcement. You should also try to get out in the woods or in the neighborhood at night as much as possible. Camping trips are a good place to practice using NODs. Night practical shooting matches are rare, but not unheard of. These are usually designed to be shot without NODs, but talk to the match director to see if it's possible. A lot of people also hunt for predators or feral pigs at night, if you can get someone to introduce you to this sport you will learn a lot.
Reflectors and Beacons: IR tape and flags that reflect IR light and IR beacons allow other people with NODs to see you. This is important because “friendly fire” casualties are much more likely at night.
Helmets and Mounts: If you have a high quality NOD you will probably end up wanting to wear it on your head. This will require a helmet and mounts. Military surplus mounts are readily available. There are also high end commercial equipment (used by police and military.)
Weapon Mounts: There are quick detach weapon mounts that fit the Picatinny rails common on most tactical guns, if you want to use your NOD as a sight only, or retain this as an option.
Lasers: If you mount you NOD to a helmet you will need an IR laser to aim you weapon.
Illumination: Even with the best NODs there will be times where there is zero light, shadows that obscure areas etc. Most NODs have a built in IR illumination, but this is low power, for close range only. You will probably want to mount an IR light to either your weapon or helmet.
The ability to see at night is a HUGE tactical advantage. To quote a friend, “I would rather have an SKS and good NOD than five of the best ARs in the world.” This is very expensive to do in an effective way, but you see many folks with multiple rifles and no NODs. I would suggest that you stay away from the low end commercial GEN1 equipment and save toward a quality rig. While you are saving, put a lot of research in to it, this page is only meant as an introduction.