The Tactics of a Gunfight After SHTF

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Last Updated on November 15, 2018

Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Kirk Reynolds. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.

Looking around I couldn’t find an important piece of information – how one should fight in a SHTF situation. I think this is an important topic to cover because it has several special circumstances that need to be considered.

  1. Ammo will need to be conserved – I don’t care how many rounds you have saved up, it won’t be enough and the long-term of a complete collapse of society (potentially 40+ years) means that from the get go every single shot will be precious.
  2. Due to the fact that it is almost a certainty that combatants will be intensely familiar with the area and possibly have been residing for a long period of time it rather changes the mechanics of combat.
  3. Due to limited manpower and the fact that any attrition will be felt heavily, patrols, night combat, and outposts will be nigh impossible to field with regularity.
  4. Expanding on the above, most medication has a limited shelf life and even minor wounds will start to become quite threatening (increased risk of disease and infection) – Medication will run out fast.

With that in mind, let us analyse why tactical considerations are always important and what style of fighting we will have to adopt. Due to the fact that ammo will always be a luxury, modern tactics which rely on the idea of expending more ammo in a gunfight at the foe over men or positioning is obviously not possible.

Now – every weapon you should use should focus on stopping power, the smallest cartridge in your arsenal should be 6.5mm (handguns excluded).

With that out-of-the-way – let us look at the overall thought process and things to identify before you engage in any situation.

  1. Manpower: Who has more bodies at their disposal – do they look weak and ill-trained or are their movements/positions well thought out and the men (and women!) well fed? Are they all moving armed or do they have the luxury of people dedicated to guard duties?
  2. Armament: What weapons are they using – are they rusted and in ill repair? Can you identify if they are carrying enough ammo for everyone to fight adequately?
  3. Maneuver: Who is in the better position? – do they have a path of pursuit and escape, do they have a height advantage? Importantly are they defending something valuable (like a base or stash)? If so you may have the luxury of being able to attack at will, the same thing goes if you are on the defensive.

From these 3 guidelines a threat level can be deduced, obviously there will be some situation where one advantage is so great that it will offset disadvantages – this is a rough guideline. If they check off none, then you are probably in a position to utilize a diplomatic approach and join groups. If they check off one of 3 then you should approach with caution, maybe attempt to surround them at night and make your intentions clear – again diplomacy may be the best decision here. If they check two of three than combat should be avoided until you are in a position to use your advantage to overwhelm them (attacking at night, in an ambush, etc). Do not attempt diplomacy at this threat level as you will not be in a position to make a fair deal and all emphasis should be placed on evening the odds or avoiding the threat. Finally if they check off all three do not engage at all, the goal is survival not heroic death and if worst comes to worst retreating completely or surrendering goods is preferable to a bullet in the brain. They still are people and unless you are absolutely sure that they are completely hostile they may be willing to work with you.

Now with the overall threat assessment done we may now talk about the five stages of combat (Recce, Skirmish, Combat, Push/Withdraw, Decisive Blow/Total Withdrawal).


“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

Recce is often the most overlooked stage of combat but it is BY FAR the most important. Recce is the mode of thought that you should be on at all times, dispatching a scout if possible and identifying incoming threats. The more focus you place on recce the more forewarning you will have as to inbound threats, and more time to prepare/evacuate. Obviously you will be unable to have a complete recon net due to limited supplies but any extra hands should be trained for recce and dispatched when possible.

This is where you will identify your enemies capabilities on your threat checklist and decide whether to choose engagement/diplomacy/retreat. Just to outline how vital this is, 90% of a good tactician’s skill is how the deploy and utilize information from recce, with the other 10% being a good leader with good interpersonal skills and the ability to keep cool under pressure.


The Tactics of a Gunfight After SHTF - The Prepper Journal

This is where you action your initial decision on engaging the enemy, it is the period where hostilities have begun but you are not locked into a fight. This will be the period where you harry the enemy with traps and marksman to attempt to pick off men before you attack or they reach your designated point of defense (usually your fortifications).

Some skirmishes may only last a minute or two and some may be the entire fight, note that your main focus should be leaders and sensitive targets (heavily armed fighters and if possible, medics). The goal of this will be to break your enemies organisation and morale when combat begins – that being said…


This will be the time when individual training counts. Communication will be close to impossible in this brief period and this is where the most casualties will be sustained – though despite this being the most calamitous point of a fight it will be the least important for you as the person in command. Your main role will be encouraging your men and stopping any obvious screw-ups.

What you should be watching closely is the movement of combat, are you making good progress towards your goal or are you sustaining casualties – are there hostile elements that you were unaware of?

Before I make my next point the thing to keep in mind is that in a ‘battle’ there may be multiple combats, intensive fighting between periods of skirmish, pushing, and retreat.


This is as much a phase of combat as it is its own separate action, and the commands will have to be executed well and especially in the case of a withdrawal you need pre-planned points to ensure cohesiveness.

Really the most that can be said of pushing is that your enemy has begun to break or have thinned enough that they can no longer maintain the area their position demands, as I would expect almost all combatants to be ill-trained this will almost certainly result in a decisive victory as the enemy breaks completely.

However, keeping your men together in the case of a withdrawal is another issue. The things to watch out for: can you retreat to your designated point safely (if you have one – keep in mind most defense should take a multi layered approach), do you have enough manpower left to pursue another attack, is the enemy willing to pursue or are they holding position. If it is the latter the combat may switch to a skirmishing stance again.


Decisive blow: Your enemy has completely shattered, this is the period encompassing cleaning up resistance before taking stock of supplies and beginning the process of recce again – re-assessing.

Total Withdrawal: This comes about one of two ways – Your force has broken and are fleeing in a blind panic, or it is (hopefully) an organised retreat to put some distance between yourselves and the enemy combatants and re-asses. You will again need to survey the situation and determine the next point of action for your group.

Something to note – Overall your group should always be prepared for a total retreat, even an easy fight could be a ruse and you always need to be prepared to move and maintain as many supplies as possible.

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The trouble is not the 5.56 platform, it’s the bullet. hollow and soft point rounds in the 60-70 grain range are accurate and deadly, and are an effective weapon. just clarifiying a misunderstood piece of data.

R. Ann

Same goes for people who hate the 9mm because all they were ever issued (cop or military) were FMJs. There are a ton of mags now that work really well after getting kicked around and dirty, which can let you train to have both location and color-tactile differences for dedicated mags for the green tips, HPs and SPs somewhere specific, and a mix in the standard mags to account for soft and hard targets. The platform itself has become far more reliable than the old M16s, too – still needs cleaned, but not quite as sensitive – which is the… Read more »


Cops have never been issued FMJ for duty, at least not for the last 50 years that I’m aware of. The military on the other hand that’s a correct assumption. LE only uses FMJ for training do to cost. As far a ballistics the 9mm, .40, and .45 are pretty close when using hollowpoint LE/defensive ammunition.

R. Ann

I wouldn’t go as far as that 50-year span. NYC was still issuing 115g FMJ 9 in the 1990s. NJ had a state edict for state LEOs to carry non-HP rounds until the last 15-25 years too (and might still, or have more recently changed – I didn’t keep up with it). You mentioned that “50 years” thing, so … as late as the ’70s and ’80s there were town-city departments and sheriff’s departments in AL, MS, and TX (that I know of) still getting FMJ (and in some cases, still getting revolvers and 1911s). One of the county departments… Read more »


I would like to see some links on those claims, please. The military police are still using FMJ, I don’t think the civilian military police are though. Yes, the military have police officers that aren’t actually in the military. What you might be thinking or remembering what those agencies allowed. Not all agencies issue duty ammunition to this day. Some just established guidelines for what you could or couldn’t carry if the agency didn’t issue duty ammo. When I started 30 plus years ago you had to buy your own carry and training ammo. I don’t even think my agency… Read more »

R. Ann

Your claim was “cops have never been issued FMJ” and “not for the last 50 years”. You added the caveat “that I’m aware of”. No, I don’t have links for all of them – I suppose I could try to track down the ancient SOPs that exist. Here’s one for you. New York, 1998 – “will START using”: “Police Commissioner Howard Safir said yesterday that within the next 60 days the hollow-point bullets would begin replacing the old full-metal-jacket bullets that officers now use.” 19 years ago (Lord, how time flies) Civilian cops on military installations fall under multiple… Read more »


I do seem to remember the fact that NYPD was carrying FMJs up tell that time. So, I do stand corrected. I don’t remember if it was a money issue or what. It did say that they had only switched to semi-auto pistols five years earlier. I suspect it had to do more with some older firearms instructors, who had military backgrounds. You never fired anything other than FMJs in .gov 1911s, because of feed issues. Maybe they were hanging onto that mentality. Idk, just guessing!

R. Ann

Just a head’s up – I replied to you, but it includes a link. It said it was awaiting moderation (1-3 days ago – I work thirds so days … what day it is blurs. 🙂 ). If you want to search it yourself while we wait, try looking for an article from the NYT titled “New York Police Will Start Using Deadlier Bullets”, July 1998. It’s not as lib-libby-lib as the title suggests, and covers the implementation of the JHP roll out and changeover from the FMJ, 20 years ago, not 50. I’m not looking up every old SOP… Read more »


Stopped reading at the point he said 5.56 is worthless. He’s just another arm chair commando who has never heard a shot fired in anger.
5.56 served me well in many engagements. So the rest of the article must be more rehashing of other so called experts.
getting tired of these people.

Jeff Seekins

Agree completely. I stopped at the same place.

Wild Bill

I agree Jeff. That post was long before I took over and that statement would never fly. I have seen the damage a 5.56 can do up close and personal as well. I want to defend Pat here as he always made best effort to let people have their say. While we may think he missed the boat on this one, we don’t know, he was and is very knowledgeable.

I have edited that line out of the article, thanks for pointing it out.


Patrols need to be part of a working security solution post collapse. You cannot defend your home from the doorstep. That’s why community building is so important.

What those patrol may look like is up to the individual, but not engaging the enemy until you’re shooting at you and your family simply isn’t an option.


I’ve got to believe that the author is speaking to the challenge of manning patrols, checkpoints, static security points, and the like. It takes a lot of manpower to adequately secure a large plot of land. With rest cycles, homestead operations, and the like, there is a lot of work to be done, and having most of your family manning some position or patrolling leaves a lot of work for the 1 or two people left over. Surviving can be done by just a few people, but to thrive, you will eventually need more people to work on all facets… Read more »


A bit over the top for me. First of all there are those in your neighbor hood who are anti gun, or anti violence. There are those who would wish to participate, but their wife is vehemently against their husband jeopardizing his and their safety. If you have those who will join you, great, but you better have a plan to defend yours, by yourself.

Richard Hennessy

JMHO but any man who lets his wife dictate what he is going to do in this type of situation isn’t much of a man. I know this sounds rough but at the end of the day it has always been the job of the male to protect the home and loved ones and he need to do what it takes to make that happen. The males of this world are going to have to step up again sooner or later and stop being worried about what others think or say. While rolls have become blurred over the last 100… Read more »


I call BS on the ammo. First of all, with the exception of 7.62mm, calibers greater than 5.56mm are very expensive. A person would be a fool to buy 1000 rounds of harder hitting 6.8mm SPC or whatever when they could have afforded 2500 5.56mm or the slower .223ca. Putting rounds down range… when you miss… and you will 90% of the time, it won’t matter if you miss with 5.56mm or a round >=6.5mm. Most people in the US have gone with the 5.56mm over the 7.62mm and that means more people have 5.56mm ammo. It would be foolhardy… Read more »

the Deplorabel Cruella DeVille

I pretty much agree with your thoughts on the ammo situation, as well as the combat performance of non-trained team members. I have made a specific decision to stock mostly the same calibers, ie; all our weapons accept the same ammunition, and the range of calibers involved is targeted to those that will be most likely to be “scroungable” post-shtf. These are .380, (daily concealed carry), 9mm, .5.56, and .300 Win Mag for the “reach out an touch some” suite. Lots of the former calibers in my safe, and a relatively small amount of the 300. The same process applies… Read more »


Well put. I agree, completely.


On social security prepping my not include a lot more than a box or two of 38s, annd a few hundred 22s. I can still pick off quail on a fence post with a single 22 headshot. I’d say get all you can of what you can reasonably use. I grab the 38 pistol if dogs get into my rabbits, chickens, or ducks. I’ve killed a metal watering can shooting at a running dog but I did get him with the second shot. So yes you can certainly miss. Volumn may indeed be your lifesaver. My son gave me a… Read more »

R. Ann

Love your mentality, and the advice you give. Warning re. tampons: Think of what they’re used for – basically, to keep fluids in a jug until we want to uncork it. It absorbs a little and forms a plug, and then keeps absorbing bits until saturated, when we change it. It doesn’t actually stop that bleeding. Same thing in a puncture wound. It’s not actually going to put pressure on things like arterial pumpers, or necessarily stop bleeding in things like cavities. It’s just going to keep that blood from coming out. And as soon as you pull it, you’re… Read more »


Tampons are some of the worst things you can use for bleeding outside of what a women uses them for. Buy proper medical supplies. This isn’t an area you should skimp on. Your life may depend on it!!!!

Ben Leucking

Deplorabel, I fully agree with your assessment and generally agree with your choice of calibers. My own view is that in a post SHTF situation, I’m not going to worry much about concealed carry. Thus, the smallest handgun caliber for me would be 9mm with defensive loads. Up the scale from there is .357 mag and .45 caliber. As far as long range long arms are concerned, your .300 Win Mag is an awfully fine choice, but I’ll stick with my 30-06. I’m not sure about the availability of .300 Win Mag post SHTF, since I’ve never owned that caliber… Read more »

the Deplorabel Cruella DeVille

Re the smaller calibers: the .380 is pretty much only for CCW down here, and primarily due to the hot/sticky/steambath summers. You flat out cannot wear a covering garment of any sort when it’s 110 degrees and 98% humidity. So it’s a pocket pistol. And my ammo inventory reflects that – I only keep about 500 rd in that caliber. Same as for the .300 win mag. I consider both to be relatively specialized weapons systems. Everything else is pretty much as you suggested, with thousands of rounds of .22, 9mm, .45, 5.56, 30.06,(yes I have my original deer rifles),… Read more »

Ben Leucking



Jason, I do believe in my personal experience, that you are spot on the money. It is ridiculous for ME, to switch to a completely different caliber for our long guns, that doesn’t pass the “Wal-Mart test”. (No calibers that are not in abundance/stocked at any Wal-Mart) As normal citizens, we do not have the luxury of having an unlimited supply chain of logistical support, esp chalky, in ANY emergent or SHTF event/situation. To assume otherwise, in my experience is fool hardy. To R. Ann’s point of several larger departments issuing FMJ 9mm ammomtomtheir patrol officers, I can personally attest… Read more »

Frank Rojas

I keep having to remind myself that this article was about gun fighting, and that it’s someones opinion and not a fact. With that being said it was informative and thought provoking. My only problem is the portion about ammo size. Don’t be so dismissive about the smaller ammo. There are millions of gun owners who grew up shooting smaller ammo and can they can shoot better than most people with larger calibers. Other tan that, decent submission.

Ben Leucking

To back up your statement about small calibers, there is a documented article about a Cree Indian lady (subsistence hunter and trapper) who killed a grizzly bear with a single shot .22 rifle near Slave Lake, which is about 350 miles north of Calgary, Canada. Amazingly, she used .22 Long (not even .22LR) for the lethal shot.

Although I wouldn’t want to be placed in her situation, your point is well stated. A small caliber in the hands of an effective shooter can get the job done.

Daniel Parker

I’m interested that people have not talked more about the sniper /marksman angle for a attack. If your enemy is fortified and you pick off 1 or 2 ever so often, than not only are reducing their numbers but you are also instilling fear and lowering moral. I know their are very few trained snipers but I’m not talking crazy long shots. Just shots within 200 yards. Hunting rifles abound and ammo for them is fairly common. Although this only relates to certain situations it still could be useful. Also you would have to randomize shots,position,distance, and numbers of shooters.… Read more »

R. Ann

You’re right. 200 yards isn’t such a tough shot – longer than most take hunting unless they’re Western, Alaskan, etc., ridge-to-ridge and Nebraska cornfield-watertower hunters, but every single army and Marine veteran consistently made those shots (with iron sights) in an actual field at some point, and in the cases of the modern Marine qual, make them on moving targets. Some of us now need a scope to do it, but can still do it, and do it with a bare-bones 2x-4x or 8x Redhead, not anything overly fancy. 🙂 Even 300, 500 yards is fully make-able for somebody with… Read more »


I imagine no one is really talking about it principally due to the offensive nature of the topic. Not being offended, but conducting offensive operations on another group. In the case of conducting such operations, the harassing fires method can work well on non-battle hardened individuals/groups. In that case, one should seek to maximize stand-off distance. If the concept includes actually hitting man-sized targets at distance, with the intent to reduce opposing numbers, then the 5.56mm round is not ideal. Its still very accurate, but can be affected by wind and heat, making it sub-optimal. If the intent is opposing… Read more »

the Deplorabel Cruella DeVille

R.Ann – good comments as is your norm. I personally still practice open sights at 300+ yards. For the same reason I don’t wear the light prescription shooting glasses my eye-doc made for me. I always train/practice with the background assumption that I won’t have niceties such as shooting glasses or even a scope should things to belly-up. From a practical perspective however I would use a large scope for “reach-out-and-touch-someone” shooting with the big bore weapons. If I’m doing it at all I intend it to count. The range I attend has targets out to 600 yards, so that’s… Read more »

R. Ann

Thank you! Sadly, from about 25 on, if I don’t have glasses on, I’d be lucky to tell the difference between a shed, an elephant and a panel van at 300 yards, let alone hit one and not another (it’s not really quite THAT bad, but … mostly because unless we’re having a windy day, sheds don’t move down here). 🙂 Flip side of that, hoarding all my glasses forever (and always buying backups due to being a klutz) is finally paying off. My prescriptions have started going the other way again. 😀 I think there’s just going to be… Read more »

Daniel Parker

Thank you for the feedback. Addressing the counter sniper idea, unless you have heavy weapons and explosives and or air support it would be virtually impossible for regular people to dislodge a marksman. R. Ann and The deplorable good comments, though you did forget a few things . The first being that this is not true sniping, just harassment and bleeding their numbers although you did make a great point about shooting glasses etc. Also choke points and other tactics do work, they are time intensive. My advice would be having a semipermanent sniper already set up in a good… Read more »


This article has a bit of fantasy and personal opinion being touted as fact. A 40+ year collapse?! Lmao no. Society would make a comeback lots faster than that even after a nuclear war. The 5.56 round is plenty deadly. If you don’t think so, let someone put 3 center mass in your chest, then tell me how you feel. The problem is people suck at shooting, including your average infantry. And now with modern bullets, like bonded hunting style bullets or expanding copper rounds, the round is as deadly as ever.

Fred Olsen

People who shoot medics are human scum.

Wild Bill

Think we can all agree on that.


Good info. 5.56N or .223 is more than capable of stopping a “man-threat” 5-15 rounds to stop someone, all I can say is God bless them. The 5.56N is brutal. 55g HPs and 77g OTM are incredibly effective for 55g CQB and 77g OH threat stopping. You also reduce your battle rattle carrying 5.56N versus 7.62N and 6.5 which is uber expensive. Been in combat, been in the zone more than a few times. The advantage of putting a 62g 5.56N SS109 projectile through a threat is that the family/gang members will have to attend to his screaming. It’s demoralizing… Read more »

Jeff Seekins

5.56 is not sufficient? BS. I’ve used 5.56 in real situations. I can assure you that it is very sufficient. Especially in a hollow point or soft point configuration. Please stop misleading readers and actually do some research yourself

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