Home > The Zombie Survival Guide(6)

The Zombie Survival Guide(6)
Author: Max Brooks

2. The Submachinegun

The problem presented by this weapon is similar to that of the heavy machine gun: ammo expended versus living dead dispatched. However, when fighting in tight quarters, the

submachine gun finds its niche. The short barrel makes it easier to handle than a rifle, but the folding stock gives it much more support than a pistol. Always be sure to keep it on the single-shot setting. As we discussed, full auto is simply a waste of ammo. Also, be sure to aim it from the shoulder. Shooting from the hip will produce nothing more than a loud noise and a clean miss. One disadvantage is poor accuracy at long range. Because the submachine gun was designed as a close-combat weapon, you will have to get much closer to a zombie than if you were carrying a rifle or assault weapon. This would normally not be a problem except that submachine guns, like all auto and semiautomatic weapons, have the possibility of jamming while in use. At short range, you may be putting yourself at unnecessary risk. This is the only reason to discount a submachine gun as your primary weapon.

3. The Assault Rifle

This weapon was invented originally to bridge the gap between the rifle and submachine gun, offering both range and rapid fire. Wouldn’t these traits make it ideal against the undead? Not really. Although range and accuracy are needed, rapid fire, as we’ve seen, is not. Even though an assault rifle can be set for semiautomatic, just like a submachine gun, the temptation to go full auto still exists, as it does with a submachine gun. When fighting for your life, it may simply be too easy to flip the switch to “rock ’n’ roll,” no matter how wasteful and useless this might be. If you do choose an assault rifle as your primary weapon, keep in mind the basic questions that apply to all firearms: What is its range? What is its accuracy? Is the appropriate ammunition readily available? How easy is it to clean and maintain?

To answer some of these questions, it is best to examine two extreme examples. The U.S. Army M16A1 is considered by many to be the worst assault rifle ever invented. Its overcomplicated mechanism is both difficult to clean and prone to jamming. Adjusting the sight, something that must be done every time a target shifts its range, requires the use of a nail, ballpoint pen, or similar device. What if you didn’t have one, or lost it as several dozen zombies shambled steadily toward you? The delicate plastic stock of the M16A1 obviates bayonet use, and by attempting to use it as such you would risk shattering the hollow, spring-loaded stock. This is a critical flaw. If you were confronted by multiple ghouls and your A1 jammed, you would be unable to use it as a last-ditch hand-to-hand weapon. In the 1960s, the M16 (originally the AR-15) was designed for Air Force base security. For political reasons typical of the military-industrial complex (you buy my weapon, you get my vote and my campaign contribution), it was adopted as the principal infantry weapon for the U.S. Army. So poor was its early battle record that during the Vietnam War, communist guerrillas refused to take them from dead Americans. The newer M16A2, although somewhat of an improvement, is still regarded as a second-class weapon. If given the choice, emulate the Vietcong and ignore the M16 entirely.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Soviet AK-47 is considered the best assault rifle ever made. Although heavier than the M16 (10.58 pounds versus 7 pounds) and possessing a considerably harder kick, this weapon is famous for its rugged efficiency and sturdy construction. Its wide, spacious firing mechanism prevents jamming from dirt or sand. In hand-to-hand combat, you could either stab a zombie through the eye socket with the weapon’s bayonet or use the solid, steel-backed wooden stock to smash through a zombie’s skull. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then several nations have chosen to flatter the AK with either direct copies (Chinese Type 56) or modified designs (Israeli Galil). Again, although the assault rifle is not ideal for defense against the living dead, a member of the AK-47 family will be your best bet.

4. The Bolt-/lever-action Rifle

A product of the mid-nineteenth century, these weapons are often regarded as obsolete. Why use a hunting rifle when you can own a submachine gun? Such arrogance is simply unfounded, its roots based in techno-chauvinism and the absence of practical experience. A well-made, expertly used bolt– or lever-action rifle offers a defense against the living dead that is as good if not better than the latest military hardware. A rifle’s single-shot capability forces the user to make each round count, increasing the chance of a hit. This feature also eliminates even the possibility of “rock ’n’ rolling,” and therefore preserving ammunition whether the user intends to or not. A third reason is the relative easiness to clean and operate a rifle, something that must not be overlooked. Hunting rifles are designed for a civilian market. Manufacturers know that if they are too complex, sales will plummet. A fourth and final reason is ready availability of ammunition. As there are more civilian gun shops than military armories in the United States (a pattern not shared by the rest of the world), you will find it easier to obtain ammunition for a hunting rifle than an assault weapon or submachine gun. This will prove critical in any of the scenarios covered in the latter part of this manual.

When choosing a bolt– or lever-action rifle, try to find an older, military version if possible. This does not mean that civilian models are inferior weapons—quite the opposite—but almost all military bolt-action rifles were designed for use in hand-to-hand combat. Make sure you take the time to study the use of a rifle for this purpose. Simply swinging it like a club would destroy any weapon, military and civilian alike. Manuals are available that explain how to use a rifle as a bludgeon. Even old war films can demonstrate how deadly these weapons are without firing a shot. Examples of bolt-action military rifles are the U.S. Springfield, the British Lee Enfield, and the German Mauser Kar 98k. Many of these still exist, some in good working order. Before choosing, however, make sure the appropriate ammunition is in ready supply. Having an impressive, bolt-action military rifle will do no good if the only rounds available fit civilian models.

5. The Semiautomatic Rifle

Since its debut, this weapon has shown itself to be a superior zombie killer. Given the possibility of wasting ammunition (a round is expended every time the trigger is pulled), a fair amount of discipline is required. However, this option can be a blessing when engaging multiple targets. In one recorded instance, a trapped woman dispatched fifteen attacking zombies in twelve seconds! (See “1947 A.D., Jarvie, British Columbia.”) This story illustrates the potential of a semiautomatic rifle. For close combat or for people on the run, the semiautomatic carbine serves the same function as the larger model. Although possessing half the range, the carbine tends to be lighter and easier to carry, and uses smaller ammunition. Either type will serve you well, depending on the situation. When choosing a semiautomatic weapon, the World War II M1 Garand or M1 Carbine are, in many ways, superior to contemporary weapons. This may be surprising, but these older military weapons were designed to survive the greatest conflict in history. Not only did they meet this task admirably, but the Garand remained the U.S. Army’s main rifle through the Korean conflict, while the Carbine saw action up until the first years of Vietnam. Another advantage of the M1 Garand is its secondary role as a hand-to-hand weapon (in WWII, bayonet use was still considered a vital part of combat). Although no longer in production, many Garands still remain on the market with ammunition widely available. The M1 Carbine is, amazingly, still in production. Its light weight and short muzzle perfectly suit this weapon to indoor combat or long journeys on foot. Other, more modern choices include the Ruger Mini-30, Ruger Mini-14, and the Chinese Type 56 (a copy of the Soviet SKS carbine, not to be confused with the assault rifle of the same name). If discipline can be maintained, you will not find a better weapon than the semiautomatic rifle.

6. The Shotgun

At close range against human attackers, this weapon reigns supreme. Against the living dead, this is not entirely true. A good twelve-gauge shotgun can literally blow a zombie’s head off. However, the longer the range, the greater the pellet dispersal pattern, and the lesser chance of skull penetration. A solid slug would have the same effect as a rifle, even at greater range (provided the barrel is long enough), but in that case, why not just use a rifle? What shotgunsdo possess is stopping power. The scattering shot acts as a solid wall, whereas a rifle bullet might pass clean through or miss the target altogether. If you are cornered, or on the run, and need time to escape, a good shotgun blast can send several zombies sprawling. The downside of a shotgun is that the large, twelve-gauge shells are bulky and therefore burdensome when traveling and leave less room for other equipment. This must be considered if a long journey is required.

7. The Pistol

Americans have a special relationship with handguns. They seem to appear in every movie, every TV show, every pop novel, every comic book. Our heroes have always carried them, from the Old West lawman to the gritty urban cop. Gangsters rap about them; liberals and conservatives fight over them. Parents shelter children from them and manufacturers make untold fortunes from them. Possibly more than the automobile, the

handgun is synonymous with America. But how useful is this cultural icon against a swarm of newly risen flesh-eaters? In truth, not very. Unlike our fictional heroes, the average person may have difficulty hitting anything, let alone something as small and mobile as a zombie’s head. Throw in the obvious emotional strain of undead combat, and the possibility of a successful shot ranks one step above negotiating with your attacker. Studies have shown that of all wasted ballistic wounds—e.g., those that struck a zombie in a non-lethal way—73 percent came from some type of handgun. A laser sight increases the odds of accurate aim but does nothing to steady a shaky wrist. Where handguns do come in handy is in extreme circumstances. If you are grabbed by a zombie, a pistol can be a life-saver. Pressing its muzzle against the undead temple and squeezing the trigger takes no skill and ensures a positive kill. The fact that handguns are small, light, and easy to carry make them attractive as a secondary weapon for any scenario. If your primary weapon is a carbine, this adds the possibility of shared ammo and lighter load. For these reasons, a pistol should always be carried when confronting ghouls, but as a backup only. Never forget that many dismembered, half-eaten corpses have been discovered with these wonder weapons still clutched in their cold, dead hands.

8..22-caliber Rimfire Weapons

These weapons (rifle or pistol) fire a round no wider than a few millimeters and no longer than an inch. In normal circumstances it is usually relegated to practice, competition, or the hunting of small game. In an attack by the undead, however, the diminutive .22 rimfire stands proudly alongside its heavier cousins. The small size of its rounds allows you to carry three times as much ammunition. This also makes the weapon itself lighter, a godsend on long treks through ghoul-infested territory. The ammunition is also easy to manufacture and plentiful throughout the country. No shop that sells any kind of ammunition would fail to stock .22 rimfire. Two disadvantages present themselves, however, when the use of a .22 is considered. The small round has zero stopping power. People (including former President Reagan) have been shot with .22s and not even realized it until later. A ghoul taking a round to the chest would not even be slowed, let alone stopped, by this puny projectile. Another problem is the lack of skull penetration at longer ranges. With a .22, you might have to get a little too close for comfort, a fact that could increase stress and degrade the odds of a kill. By the same token, the lack of power in a round fired by a .22 has been called a blessing in disguise. Without the force to punch through the back of a zombie’s skull, .22 bullets have been known to ricochet inside the brain case, doing as much damage as any .45. So when it comes time to arm yourself against a looming zombie menace, do not discount the small, almost toylike nature of this nimble, efficient firearm.

9. Accessories

Silencers, if attainable, can be a vital attachment to your firearm. Their ability to muffle noise obviates the need for a bow, sling, or other non-ballistic weapon (essential if on the move).

A telescopic sight can increase aim immeasurably, especially for long-range sniper attacks. Laser sights, on the surface, may be your best bet. After all, how hard is it to place a red dot on a ghoul’s forehead? The disadvantage is limited battery life. The same goes for night-vision scopes. Although they allow for accurate, long-range hits on zombies after dark, they become nothing more than useless black tubes when the power runs out. Conventional glass and metal sights are the preferable accessory. They may not be fancy, and they may lack the cachet of electronics, but these basic instruments will never let you down.


Studies have shown that, given the trauma of battle, the closer a human is to a zombie, the wilder his shooting will be. When practicing with your firearm(s), establish a maximum range for repeated accuracy. Practice against moving targets in ideal (stressfree) conditions. Once that range is fixed, divide it by half. This will be your effective kill zone during an actual attack. Make sure the undead do not move closer than this zone, as your accuracy will erode. If engaging a group, make sure to hit those that enter the zonefirst before dispatching the others. Do not discount this advice no matter what your previous experience has been. Street-hardened police officers, decorated combat veterans, even “cold-blooded” murderers have ended up as well-chewed meat because they believed in their “nerves” and not their training.


Question: What could be better than hurling a hand grenade at a mass of approaching zombies? Answer: almost anything. Anti-personnel explosives kill mainly by shrapnel, metal shards tearing through vital organs. As this will not affect zombies, and the chance of shrapnel penetrating the skull is slim, grenades, bombs, and other explosive tools are inefficient weapons.

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