Home > The Zombie Survival Guide(5)

The Zombie Survival Guide(5)
Author: Max Brooks

2. Edged Weapons

Blades, in any form, have advantages and disadvantages over bludgeons. Those that have enough strength to split the skull rarely stand up after many repetitions. For this reason, slicing, particularly decapitation, serves almost the same function as a head blow. (Note: The severed head of a zombie is still able to bite and must be regarded as a threat.) The advantage of slicing over bludgeoning is that it can make killing a zombie unnecessary. In some cases, simply chopping off a limb or severing the spine is enough to disable an undead assailant. (Note: Severing a limb also brings the possibility of contact with the virus through the exposed area.)

The civilian ax can easily crush a zombie’s skull, smashing through bone and brain in one swing. Decapitation is equally easy, which is why the ax has been the favored tool of executioners for centuries. Connecting with a moving head, however, might be difficult. Furthermore, if the swing ends in a total miss, you might be taken off balance.

The smaller, one-handed hatchet is a good weapon of last resort. If you find yourself cornered, and larger weapons are useless, a hatchet blow will more than take care of an attacker.

The sword is the ideal edged weapon, but not every kind will suffice. Foils, rapiers, and similar fencing weapons are not suited for slicing. Their only possible use would be a direct stab through the eye socket followed by a quick swirling action through the brain. This motion, however, has been accomplished only once, by a trained swordsman, and is therefore not recommended.

Single-handed long swords allow you a free hand for other tasks such as opening a door or defending your body with a shield. Their only drawback is the lack of swinging power. One arm may not have the strength to slice through the thick cartilage between bones. Another drawback is its user’s notorious lack of accuracy. Scoring a flesh wound anywhere on the body of a living opponent is one thing. Making an exact, clean chop through the neck is something else altogether.

Double-handed swords could be considered the best in their class, providing the strength and accuracy for perfect decapitation. Of this type, the Japanese Samurai Katana ranks first. Its weight (three to five pounds) is perfect for long-term conflicts, and its blade can sever the toughest organic fiber.

In tight quarters, shorter blades hold the advantage. The Roman Gladius is one choice, although combat-ready replicas are hard to find. The Japanese Ninjite boasts a twohanded grip and, in genuine models, renowned tempered steel. Both factors make it a superior weapon. The common machete, because of its size, weight, and availability, is probably your best choice. If possible, find the military type usually sold at Army surplus stores. Its steel tends to be of a higher quality, and its blackened blade helps concealment at night.

3. Miscellaneous Hand Weapons

Spears, pikes, and tridents serve to skewer a zombie, keeping it out of reach but not necessarily scoring a kill. The chance of an eye-socket stab is possible, but remote. The medieval European halberd (an ax-spear hybrid) may serve as a chopping weapon but, again, requires great amounts of skill and practice to accomplish a decapitating blow. Other than using them as bludgeons, or keeping your attacker at a distance, these weapons serve little purpose.

Morning stars or “flails,” a spiked ball chained to a rod, do basically the same damage as a crowbar, albeit in a more dramatic way. The owner swings the rod in a wide, circular motion, providing enough momentum to bring the ball crashing through the skull of his or her opponent. Using this weapon takes considerable skill, and it is therefore not recommended.

The medieval European mace serves the same function as the standard household hammer but without benefit of the latter’s practical uses. A mace cannot pry open a door or window, drive a chisel, or hammer a nail. Attempting such an act could result in

accidental injury. Therefore, carry this medieval weapon only when no alternative is available.

Knives are always useful, serving a variety of functions in a range of situations. Unlike a hatchet, they can kill a zombie only when the blade is stabbed through the temple, eye socket, or base of the skull. On the flip side, knives almost always weigh less than hatchets and, therefore, are better if you are on the move. When choosing a knife, make sure the blade is no more than six inches long and always smooth. Avoid serrated knives and saw-blade combinations found in survival knives, as they tend to become lodged in their victims. Imagine yourself stabbing one zombie through the temple and turning to engage the other three ghouls but not being able to retrieve your blade.

The trench spike is, without a doubt, the best compact anti-zombie weapon on earth. It is a combination of a seven-inch steel spike for a blade and brass knuckles for a handle. It was developed during the vicious hand-to-hand combat of World War I, where soldiers killed each other in trenches no wider than a few feet. Specifically, it was designed to stab downward, through an enemy’s steel helmet. You can imagine how effective this weapon would be against a zombie. The user could stab easily through a zombie’s skull, withdraw cleanly and quickly, then turn to either brain another zombie or, at the very least, knock one over with a brass-knuckle punch to the face. Original models are extremely rare, with barely a few remaining in museums and the homes of private collectors. However, if accurate, detailed schematics can be found, have one or perhaps two combat-ready, stress-tested replicas made. They will be an investment you will never regret.

The Shaolin Spade

This weapon bears special mention in the anti-ghoul arsenal. It may appear unconventional: a six-foot hardwood staff with a flat, bell-shaped blade on one end and an outward-facing crescent blade on the other. Its roots date back to a bronze-bladed agricultural tool used during the Chinese Shang Dynasty (1766–1122 B.C.E.). When Buddhism migrated to China, the spade was adopted by Shaolin monks as both tool and weapon. On several occasions, it has proven to be surprisingly effective against the living dead. Thrusting forward with either blade will produce instant decapitation, while its length provides complete safety for the user. This length does make it impractical for indoor combat, and it should therefore be avoided in those situations. In open spaces, however, nothing combines the safety of a spear with the killing power of a katana sword like the Shaolin spade.

A variety of other hand weapons exist around the world, and space does not permit the author to discuss each one individually. If you discover an implement or tool that you think might make a good weapon, ask yourself these questions:

1. Can it crush a skull in one blow?

2. If not, can it decapitate in said blow?

3. Is it easy to handle?

4. Is it light?

5. Is it durable?

Questions 3, 4, and 5 will have to depend on your present situation. Questions 1 and 2 are essential!

4. Powertools

Popular fiction has shown us the awesome, brutal power of the chainsaw. Its lightningquick, rotating teeth can easily slice through flesh and bone, making the strength and skill required for manual weapons unnecessary. Its roar might also give the owner a muchneeded psychological boost—empowerment in a situation where abject terror is a given. How many horror movies have you seen in which this industrial killing machine has spelled doom for anyone and anything it touched? In reality, however, chainsaws and similar powered devices rank extremely low on the list of practical zombie-killing weapons. For starters, their fuel supply is finite. Once drained, they provide as much protection as a hand-held stereo. Carrying extra fuel or power cells leads to the second inherent problem: weight. The average chainsaw weighs ten pounds, compared to a twopound machete. Why increase the chances of exhaustion? Safety must also be considered. One slip, and the spinning teeth might be slicing through your skull just as easily as your enemy’s. Like any machine, another problem is noise. A chainsaw’s distinctive roar, even if running for just a few seconds, will be enough to broadcast to every zombie within earshot, “Dinner is served!”

Slings and Arrows

It is a commonly held notion that using non-firearm ballistics such as bows and slingshots are a waste of energy and resources. In most cases, this is true. However, if used

properly, such a weapon will enable you to score a kill at long range with little or no sound. What if you’re attempting to escape an infested area, you turn a corner, and a single ghoul blocks your path? It’s too far away for a hand weapon. Before you get close, its moans will betray your position. The crack of a firearm will sound an even louder alarm. What do you do? In cases like these, certain silent weapons may be your only option.

1. The Sling

Made famous from the biblical story of David and Goliath, this weapon has been part of our heritage since prehistoric times. The user places a smooth, round stone in the wider center of a thin leather strip, grabs both ends, swings it repeatedly in a rapid circle, then releases one end of the strip, loosing the stone at his target. Theoretically, it is possible to dispatch a zombie with a silent headshot at just under thirty paces. However, even with months of training, the chances of scoring such a hit are one in ten at best. With no experience, the wielder would be better off just throwing stones.

2. The Slingshot

A descendant of the leather strap, the modern slingshot has at least ten times the accuracy of its ancestor, the sling. What it lacks is punch. Small projectiles fired from a modern slingshot simply do not have the force, even at minimum range, to penetrate a zombie’s skull. Using this weapon might serve only to alert a ghoul to your presence.

3. The Blowgun

Given that poison has no effect on the undead, discount this weapon entirely.

4. Shuriken

These small, multipoint devices were used in feudal Japan to pierce a human skull. In appearance they resemble a steel, two-dimensional replica of a shining star, hence their nickname, “throwing stars.” In expert hands, they could easily bring down a zombie. However, as with many weapons discussed, the throwing star requires great expertise. Unless you are one of the few masters of this art (only a handful can still claim this title), refrain from such an exotic method.

5. Throwing Knives

As with shuriken, these short-range weapons require weeks of practice to hit something as large as a human body and months to hit something as small as a human head. Only a dedicated expert could even hope for a reliable zombie kill. The time and energy spent training could be much more productive if applied to a conventional weapon. Remember,

you have a variety of skills to learn, and not all the time in the world to learn them. Don’t waste those valuable hours attempting to master a third-rate weapon.

6. The Long or Compound Bow

To be blunt, hitting a zombie through the head with an arrow is an extremely difficult feat. Even with compound bows and modern sights, only experienced archers have a chance of making a direct shot. The only practical use for this weapon is the delivery of incendiary arrows. For starting fires silently, at long distance, nothing works better than a flaming arrow. This manner of attack can, and has, been used to set undead individuals on fire. The targeted zombie will not know enough to pull the arrow from its body and might, given the right circumstances, burn other ghouls before succumbing to the flames. (See “Fire,” for appropriate use.)

7. The Crossbow

The power and accuracy of a modern crossbow can send a “bolt” (crossbow arrow) clean through a zombie’s skull at over a quarter mile. Small wonder it has been dubbed “the perfect silent killer.” Marksmanship is important, but no more so than with a rifle. Reloading requires time and strength, but this should be unnecessary. The crossbow is a sniper’s weapon, not a crowd-stopper. Use only against one zombie. Any more, and you might find yourself grabbed and mauled before you have time to load another bolt. As for bolts, either triangular or bullet-shape will suffice. For increased accuracy, a telescopic sight should be added. Unfortunately, the size and weight of any good crossbow will make it the primary weapon. Therefore, choose one only when the situation permits, such as traveling in a group, defending your home, or when no silenced firearms are available.

8. The Hand Bow

Smaller, one-handed crossbows can serve as a complement to your primary weapon. Carrying one means that a compact, silent weapon will always be on hand if needed. In comparison to the larger crossbow, hand bows have inferior accuracy, power, and range. Using one means getting closer to the target. This increases not only the danger but the risk of detection, which, in turn, negates the need for a silent weapon. Use the hand bow carefully, and sparingly.


Of all the weapons discussed in this book, nothing is more important than your primary firearm. Keep it cleaned, keep it oiled, keep it loaded, keep it close. With a cool head, steady hand, and plenty of ammunition, one human is more than a match for an army of zombies.

Choosing a firearm must be an exact science, with every variable considered. What is your primary goal: defense, attack, or flight? What outbreak class are you facing? How many people, if any, are in your group? What environment is your battleground? Different firearms serve different functions. Almost none serve all. Selecting the perfect tools means dispelling conventional doctrines of warfare that have worked so well against our fellow humans. Sadly, we know all too well how to kill each other. Killing zombies—that’s another story.

1. The Heavy Machine Gun

Since World War I, this invention has revolutionized human conflict. Its mechanism allows a storm of lead to be discharged in seconds. These tactics may be invaluable on the human battlefield but are a feckless waste against the living dead. Remember, you are going for a head shot: one bullet, precisely placed. As the machine gun is designed for saturation fire, it may take hundreds, even thousands of rounds for one, randomly lethal shot. Even aiming the machine gun as a rifle (a tactic used by U.S. special forces) is a losing proposition. Why hit a zombie with a well-aimed five-round burst when one wellaimed rifle shot produces the same result? In the 1970s, one school of thought favored the “scythe theory”: If a machine gun is placed at the head level of an undead crowd, it could mow them down with one long burst. This argument has been debunked—ghouls, like the humans they used to be, are not all the same height. Even if some are destroyed, at least half will survive to close on your position. But what about the massive body damage caused by these weapons? Won’t a machine gun have enough punch to rip a body in half, and doesn’t that negate the need for a head shot? Yes and no. The standard 5.56millimeter round used by the U.S. Army SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) does have the ability to snap a human spine, sever limbs, or yes, tear a zombie’s form in two. This, however, does not mean a head shot is unnecessary. For one, the chance of dismembering a zombie is slight and therefore requires large amounts of ammunition. For another, unless the brain is destroyed, the zombie itself is still alive—crippled, yes, perhaps even immobile, but still alive. Why give yourself the unnecessary need of having to finish off a mass of writhing and potentially dangerous body parts?

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