Here at TBOBG, we’ve covered all kinds of preps. Among those, of course, are preps for defense and food procurement. Even though you’ve painstakingly researched and selected the ideal armament for your situation and have been religiously stocking up on ammunition, there may come a time when these careful preps aren’t sufficient.
Perhaps you’ll have suffered a raid, an unrepairable malfunction, or simply run out of ammo. In any of these instances, you would do well to have some alternatives to the usual collection of firearms. Read on to learn up on some of the best alternative ranged weapons.
As we look through our options, we’ll make sure to touch on some key decision-making factors for any ranged survival weapon. These factors will include:
- Range: At what distance from the target can this weapon be effectively utilized?
- Lethality: What is the effect on the target when this weapon is used against it?
- Ease of Use: How difficult is this weapon to become proficient with?
- Accessibility: How difficult is this weapon to obtain or build?
- Ammunition: What is it, where can it be found, and how easy is it to replace?
Ranged Survival Weapons
The first alternative ranged weapon to come to mind for most folks will be the good ol’ bow and arrow. A decent bow is a fine alternative to a firearm, offering good range, high lethality, fairly easy learning curve, and pretty high accessibility.
Most adult-sized bows are easily capable of effective ranges beyond 40 yards. This brings their effective range close to that of most handguns. A high quality compound bow that has been set up correctly for a competent shooter is capable of accurate, effective shots out to as much as double that distance.
The whole idea behind a bow and arrow is to poke a hole through something from pretty far away and cause the target to bleed out. As with any piece of gear, proper equipment selection will make a huge difference here. Most bows will definitely be able to harvest deer, pigs, or other medium-to-large sized game.
From a defense standpoint, bows are equally effective to, though much different than a firearm. Do be aware that, unlike a firearm, there’s not a huge amount of hydrostatic shock when a target is hit with an arrow from even the most powerful bow. Unless there’s a direct heart shot, the target will likely be able to move and fight until it bleeds to death.
Ease of Use
Bows are simple in concept, but take a lot of practice and skill to master. Whether you’re inquiring about a modern compound bow, replete with pulleys and cables, or a traditional wood bow paired with a Flemish Twist string, any experienced bowyer will tell you that consistency is key.
If you’re making the smart move of setting yourself up with a survival bow in your preps, make sure to double down and practice with it! Go beyond just learning your anchor point and dialing in your release; shoot from different positions at different ranges. If you’re of the constitution, go bow hunting. You’ll not only get out in the woods and hone your technique, but you’ll likely end up with a freezer full of the finest organic, free-range meat available.
Even if you don’t intend to bolster your preps in advance with a bow, it’s not a bad idea to find a range and take a few lessons. Like learning to drive a manual transmission, the muscle memory and basic understanding of the concept can pay off big time in a pinch.
Bows are quite easy to find, and nearly as easy to make. To purchase a new bow, your best bet is your local archery or hunting store. Otherwise, bows can be found in all the usual online marketplaces, or at gun shows, yard sales, and by word of mouth. Many bowhunters are dying to get rid of some of their old equipment to help fund the Next Best Bow.
Be sure to buy the right size bow, and don’t go overboard with the draw weight. Even the hunkiest prepper would do well to start off at a reasonable draw weight (45 pounds or so). Don’t skimp on your arrows, either; get them in the correct spine stiffness, length, and weight for your bow and intended use.
If you’re looking to make your own bow, you’ve taken on a very rewarding challenge. Whether your project is to design your ideal lifelong hunting partner, or just to gain experience for a “what if” scenario, you should be able to get from tree to complete bow in less than 15 hours of work. Many designs and options to be made from wood, PVC, or other materials are readily available online. Work carefully, pay attention to the details, and you’ll end up with a long lasting, sweet shooting product.
Bows shoot arrows, of course! The best arrows are store-bought. Though traditionalists like the notion of wood arrows, most will eventually agree that using proper carbon fiber or aluminum arrows will result in superior accuracy, reliability, and safety from any bow.
That said, arrows aren’t that difficult to make. Like a bow itself, arrow making is simply an investment of time that can pay big gains. Even the feathers that influence the arrow’s true flight, or fletching, can be made from a number of materials: Including, of course, duct tape!
One of the most versatile of ranged weapons, a good survival bow can be outfitted to take almost any kind of game. A blunt point will do well for small critters like squirrels and rabbits. A barbed point and some line will turn a standard bow into a fine bowfishing rig capable of bringing in 20 pounds of fish at a time. Some creative use of string tied in loops on the business end of an arrow can increase your margin of error and bring birds out of the sky.
Preparing yourself to use or build a bow and arrow setup is an extremely valuable use of your time. The bow was instrumental in separating Man from beast, and can make the difference between a dangerous arms-length encounter and a safe kill from a distance. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with this fantastic piece of ranged weaponry.
|Martin Jaguar Takedown Bow||Traditional style makes a good starter bow
Breaks down easily for packing in a BOB
Laminated wood and glass limbs provide a smooth draw
|Spectre Compact Take-down Survival Bow||Modular design allows for 35, 45, or 55lbs of draw
Set includes quiver and arrows
Stores compactly in quiver
|Siege Compound Bow||Accessory screw mount for bow fishing
55lb draw weight can handle larger game
Maximum speed 206 FPS
Everybody’s favorite soft-hearted, zombie-slaying, post-apocalyptic TV redneck uses a crossbow for a reason; it’s accurate, powerful, silent, and easy to use. If you’re looking for a ranged survival weapon that will do its part in fending off the undead horde or take down a fortnight’s meat, a crossbow shouldn’t be far from the top of your list.
Crossbows are essentially a standard bow that has been turned on its side, attached to a rifle-like stock, and given a trigger mechanism that holds the string at the full draw position until the shooter is ready to fire. As such, the operator only has to draw the bow to its full draw position for a period of time sufficient for the trigger mechanism to lock the string in place. Because of this, the crossbow can be designed to use a much higher draw weight, and thus fire its projectile (though it looks like an arrow, it’s called a “bolt”) a greater distance with higher power. Expect 20-40% more range than a standard bow.
Crossbows are every bit as lethal as a typical upright bow. They poke the same size hole, but generally can do it from a greater distance.
Ease of Use
Crossbows tend to be a bit more forgiving to shoot than a regular bow. While not as easy or intuitive as a rifle for some, the crossbow has a relatively short learning curve. They do take a while to load, and thus likely aren’t the best pick for heated battles. Additionally, they can be awkward to store and transport.
Though fairly readily available pre-TEOTWAWKI, there isn’t likely to be a glut of these after the SHTF. In contrast to most of the other ranged survival weapons, the crossbow is pretty difficult to make with limited time or materials.
Crossbow bolts aren’t just short arrows. Bolts tend to be much stiffer, and don’t have any sort of nock at the rear. Because of the nature of the crossbow’s function, bolts must be very straight and very strong. It’s not recommended to make your own bolts unless there’s really no other option.
There are some specific advantages to the crossbow, namely the effective range and short learning curve. The cons can quickly begin outweigh the pros for many people, though. If you’re not equipped with one of these before TEOTWAWKI, don’t count on ending up with one after.
|Cobra System Self Cocking Pistol Tactical Crossbow||Self-cocking mechanism shortens reload time
Quiet and well-suited to hunting small game
Good beginner crossbow for a reasonable price
|Barnett Jackal Crossbow||Powerful 150lb draw and 315 FPS for hunting larger game
Red dot scope for improved accuracy
Smooth 3.5lb trigger pull
|Barnett Oudoors Ghost Crossbow||Carbon Riser Technology reduces overall weight
Anti Dry Fire Trigger system prevents firing without a bolt in place
Heavy duty crossbow for experienced hunters
Throwing ArrowsUsing a basic lever concept and aerodynamic projectile, a throwing arrow is a highly lethal, simple package that has been around since the earliest days of our species. The most common type of throwing arrow systems are the atlatl and the Swiss arrow. The atlatl is generally wood or some other rigid material, while a Swiss arrow setup uses rope or twine.
A single throwing arrow (or dart, to be technical) is generally effective at a medium range. Once you’re proficient with the thrower, 15-20 yard shots on deer-sized game will be quite achievable. Though the darts can be propelled much farther than this, accuracy wanes quickly.
Throwing arrows can be used quite effectively as a high-volume defense weapon. Though a single surgical kill shot is difficult to achieve beyond 20 or so yards, a great volume of flying darts can be more than a little intimidating. If your group is low on ammo and expecting a fight, consider equipping several members with throwing arrows and instructing them to fire simultaneously at a target.
A well-placed dart is as deadly as a sharp object can get. Even without perfect shot placement, darts will often hang out of a wound and further damage will be done as the exposed portion of the dart is dragged through brush or on the ground. Like the bow and crossbow, there’s not much in the way of hydrostatic shock; the intention is to cause the target to bleed out.
Ease of Use
Throwing arrows take a lot of time and practice to use effectively. A general rule of thumb is to pretend as though you’re simply throwing a normal spear. Let the lever do the work.
Atlatls are quick and easy to make. The lever system can be made from nearly any wood or PVC or other available material, or the focus can be on making a Swiss arrow by using just a bootlace or twisted fiber. While simple in nature and construction, it’s important to recognize the end goal before you get started. Check around for build guides on the internet.
Darts can be made relatively easily from most straight, reasonably rigid materials. Darts should have some flex to them for best performance. Unlike arrows or crossbow bolts, throwing arrows don’t necessarily need to be fletched, although this does increase their accuracy and range.
Because throwing arrow systems are so easy to make, there’s no excuse not to practice at home before the need arises. If the time ever comes that an atlatl could make the difference between eating and not eating, you’ll be glad you did!
|Throwing Spears/Atlatls||Key Features|
|Nanticoke Atlatl||Simple and durable design, easy to travel with
Knuckled handgrip for better control
Darts are made from ash lumber for straightness and elasticity
|Kanakadea Atlatl||Fingerless rest holds dart in place
Comes with fletched 5' darts with field tips
|Catatonk Atlatl||Engineered specifically for hunting
Hammer grips tranfers more power
Moderate shaft flex for improved control
Evidently Dennis the Menace knew a thing or two about lightweight, portable weaponry. Though he generally used his to wreak havoc on his neighbors, the slingshot shouldn’t be discounted as a formidable light-duty ranged survival weapon. For our in-depth review of survival slingshots, CLICK HERE.
Slingshots work off of energy stored in an elastic band. Unlike the previous ranged weapon alternatives, the slingshot doesn’t have the assistance of leverage. As such, even the most well-executed models will be limited to shorter range work on smaller targets.
Slingshots aren’t particularly powerful. Even the compound-style slingshots that can be found these days are fairly anemic compared to other ranged weapons. With most slingshots, expect to be able to take small game at short range. Due to the ease of getting close to them, rabbits and birds are particularly good bets for hunting with a slingshot.
For defense use, don’t expect much from your slingshot. While shots can be painful, it’s rare that they’re deadly.
Ease of Use
While not difficult to get the hang of, slingshots can benefit from some quality practice. Much like a survival bow, consistency is key. When shooting a slingshot, always draw the band to the same length, and try to keep your arms in the same relation to one another. If angled shots are required, focus on keeping your upper body position the same and bending at the hips to account for the angle.
Slingshots are available at many big-box stores, and are really easy to make. Any highly elastic, durable rubber banding should be a good bet for the power plant, while a stout forked branch serves as the chassis.
The beautiful thing about slingshots is that ammo is prolific. While a ball bearing or similarly dense, spherical object is the ideal projectile, any rock or acorn or bolt nut can be used. If you’re equipped with a slingshot, keep on the lookout for good ammo. That said, don’t worry about saving and carrying anything but the very best of what you find; no need to carry mediocre ammunition when it’s available pretty much everywhere.
A slingshot can be a very handy secondary ranged weapon. They work very well for taking game that might not be worth risking damage to an arrow or bolt for a small amount of gain. Also, since it’s not necessary to carry a lot of complex ammunition, the slingshot can be a very lightweight, simple weapon to have in a back pocket, Dennis style.
|Aftermath Kavia Elite Sport Slingshot||Adjustable sight and wrist support. Has unique push-button design to dispense ammo from the hollow handle.|
|Trumark FS-1 Folding Slingshot||Lightweight aluminum frame for easy carrying. Hollow handle has a flip valve for dispensing ammo quickly.|
|Saunders Wrist-Rocket Pro||Unique design allows for extreme velocity. Folds in a manner that allows you to padlock the slingshot to prevent children from using it.|
SlingsMost famous for its involvement as the weapon of choice against a certain Goliath and its effectiveness in the skillful hands of Ayla from Jean M. Auel’s series of books, the sling is a simple but remarkable ranged weapon.
Slings are a good short-range weapon. The power and range of a sling is determined in large part by the size of projectile selected and the length of the sling itself. As with throwing arrows, a large number of stones being hurled by members of a party can be quite effective at even long ranges. Flying rocks always hurt.
Though technically capable of kills on larger game (or in defensive use), the sling is more appropriate as a tool for turning small game into food, and for dissuading would-be attackers before things get out of hand.
Ease of Use
Like most of the ranged survival weapons in this article, slings take some practice in order for a user to become proficient. Though the motions and the principles are quite simple, a good deal of learned coordination and muscle memory are required.
Premade slings can probably be ordered online (Really, what can’t?), but there’s no excuse to not make your own. A length of cordage and a pocket of stiff fabric or leather is about all you need. Aside from a driveway full of rocks, of course.
A sling is capable of propelling just about anything that fits in its pocket. Like the slingshot, there’s no sense in collecting and carrying any but the finest scavenged ammunition.
While not much of a defense weapon against someone with anything more effective than a sling of their own, the sling does have its utility. Even due to nothing else besides its light weight, simple construction, and easy portability, a sling might be one of the most convenient alternative ranged weapons available.
|Paracord Sling||Handmade from 550 paracord
Pouch fits ammo up to the size of a golf ball
60" total length
|Leather Sling||Moulded bison leather pouch cups ammo
54" total length
Though not as permanently damaging as, and considerably less romantic than, many of the other ranged weapons we’ve covered, pepper spray is one seriously effective tool when used correctly.
Most pepper sprays have an effective range somewhere from 10 to 25 feet. This isn’t far, but it can quickly create time for you to get away from your attacker.
The relatively few deaths that have occurred due to pepper spray’s effects notwithstanding, pepper spray is not considered to be a lethal weapon. Using pepper spray for any sort of survival hunting would probably do more harm than good.
Ease of Use
Pepper spray is pretty simple: Point at attacker’s face, depress a button, and watch the sucker writhe in drool-inducing pain. You’ll probably only have one chance to get it right, though, so make it count.
Pepper spray is readily available in most states. Any local gun shop or big box store should have several options. After a big SHTF event, though, this may no longer be the case. If pepper spray is something you intend to rely on, make sure to stock up.
Pepper spray is self-contained. While there’s no doubt that some enterprising soul could probably find a way to mix up a home recipe and make it portable, it’s likely best to simply run what ya’ brung.
Be aware that pepper spray is just that: A liquid spray. If you’re downwind of this stuff, even if you’re not the target, you’re in trouble. Additionally, pepper spray is only going to bring a human down for a short time. During that short time, they can still be combative. Use pepper spray to create the opportunity to make space between yourself and the one you’ve just sprayed.
|Pepper Spray||Key Features|
|SABRE Pepper Spray||10 foot range puts distance between you and your target
Contains 25 bursts or 10 one second sprays for multiple uses
Quick release key ring to deploy quickly
|Police Magnum Pepper Spray||17% OC solution is highest allowed by law
Flip top design deploys with one hand
|Kimber Pepperblaster||Pistol-like design for grip and accuracy
Sprays at 90 mph to hit the target and only the target
Second reserve shot for backup
Throwing Knife or Tomahawk
Don’t do it. Don’t ever throw a knife, axe, or any other hand tool as a weapon. At worst you’ll do no damage to your target and lose a valuable tool in the process. At best, you’ll do less damage than you’d like to the target and lose a valuable tool in the process. Knives and axes can be fun to throw for competition or a challenge, but not for hunting or in battle. Keep those tools and use them to make a more appropriate ranged survival weapon.
Now that you’ve got the information, it’s time to get started with the prepping! Consider your goals, and think long and hard about how you’ll approach the possibility of living without firearms during bad times. If you’re unsure about how to proceed, there’s no harm in trying each of the above ranged weapons. Most of them are fairly easy to make or purchase, and all will add a new dimension to your ability to defend, hunt, and succeed. There’s no time like the present to prepare for the future.
Do you have some experience with any of these alternative ranged survival weapons? Are your preps already stocked with firearm alternatives? Speak up about your experiences, successes, and failures in the Comments section below, thanks!
15 comments on “Comparison of Ranged Survival Weapons”
The simple bow and arrow gets my vote. Very effective for both hunting and self-defense. As a standoff weapon, it’s a deterrent to bad guys even getting close. It’s silent, so won’t spook game or give away your position. Compared to a crossbow, less complicated, faster to “reload” and shoot.
The bow is a great choice. Quiet, reliable, and simple to learn and operate.
The other mitigating factor about the traditional bow and arrow is that the style of bow somewhat dictates its usefulness. For the sake of comparison, I’m going to presume here that for whatever reason, a modern compound bow is unattainable and DIY bows are necessary. That means either a short bow, a long bow, or a recurve bow made of whatever scavengeable materials are available. My thoughts are that someone wanting to shoot from a moving platform at relatively short ranges would want a short bow. Someone looking at a hard-hitting bow at intermediate ranges (up to 150 yards with the upmost practice, construction, and skill) is probably needing a long bow. Someone wanting a “sniper” bow at longer ranges (200-300 yards-again, with upmost practice, skill, and best bow construction) is going to want a recurve bow. One should pick the weapon that is best suited to one’s intents and purposes.
Awesome comparison and info. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of bows. Seems like an average person would get the most use out of a short bow, with the added advantage that it is relatively easier to build.
I think that there’s another category here that is often overlooked: hybrid weapons. I submit the slingbow as an example. Alongside that, I might also suggest any other kind of DIY hybrid weapons that one might think up or create.
Also, I would suggest that there IS a legitimate place for throwing weapons, so long as a backup hand-held weapon is in your possession. Again, as with all weapons, practice is important in making this one serviceable. At worst in a self-defense situation, it will make your opponent instinctively move, thus allowing you time to zero in on that person with something else. I would also suggest that the ideal weapon for this is the francisca, a 5th and 6th century European throwing axe. Although it takes some skill in creating a DIY version, it’s wickedly efficient because it’s built in such a way that even if it hits the ground, it will rotate on its axis back into a dangerous trajectory.
Surprised pellet guns were not mentioned?! Easy to use, effective on small game, cheap ammo, reasonably priced.
You are right that pellet guns have many advantages. In the article we were trying to stay away from firearms generally though to show what other, more basic options there are out there.
However I do agree with you that a pellet gun is great for hunting small game and other survival applications.
Thanks for the suggestion!
The sling is somewhat more effective than you’re giving it credit.
Slingers were commonly employed in most military units along side archers, and the slingers usually had better range.
Balearic islanders regularly compete at ranges that would be challenging with a pistol. And one such islander was featured on a history channel special in which they proved the validity of the David and Goliath account. The weapon can be damn powerful and accurate with sufficient practice.
With conical shaped lead projectiles, slings were known to piece leather armor and cause serious wounds that penetrated deep into tissue. There are videos of this being tested with layers of cardboard and ballistic gel.
While it wouldn’t be my first choice in fight with modern weapons, you can’t beat the hand sling for portability, simplicity, ruggedness, and ease of manufacture. It has my vote.
Wow, thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge of slings. Have you used one to hunt or even for target practice? How long do you think a novice would need to practice before they would be proficient enough to feed themselves on small game?
When I was 10 (1958) my family moved back to Hull and one of the games we used to play was on “bombed buildings” of which there were many in Hull at that time. That was were I first came into contact with “string arrows” which was an arrow with a groove around the shaft near the feathers, a piece of string was wound once around the arrow and over the knot and held taut down nearly to the point. By throwing the arrow like a javelin the extra length of string enabled a considerable distance to be achieved.
Phil, that is a cool idea, thanks for sharing it. The technique sounds similar to an atlatl but slightly modified. I found an instructable for what I think you are talking about here:
Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.
HI Chris, spot on mate. In a SHTF situation one or two bootlaces and a stick could prove useful. Take care all.
Bootlaces are a great improvised solution, thanks for the tip!
What about spears?
I know that their is a risk of losing them but you can always throw it at close range at a large animal like a hippo or elephant and when it almost always hits in that case it can do quite some damage.
My Grandfather used to use spears to hunt fish and large animals (spears are good at killing fish when theirs a large amount)
and he once killed a elephant in one throw.
Paper shotgun shells aren’t actually really hard to make. All you need is paper, glue, a primer (quartz maybe?)