Prehistoric Preppers: A Look Back at Pre-Y2K Survival Gear and Conventional Wisdom
As a child in the 1980s who came of age in the 1990s. I lived through an odd era of the gun culture. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, a lot of survivalists and those preparing for WWIII suddenly had less to worry about…until President Clinton was elected and the threat that Y2K posed became a thing.
Thinking back on such a time, I now laugh at a lot of the ideas and beliefs that ran rampant in certain segments of the population. But exist they did.
Survivalism in the late 1980s and 1990s was different than it is today. Everything was oriented on the belief that either the a reborn Soviet Union or Communist China was going to invade or the US Government in cooperation with UN goons riding in black helicopters, were going to turn the United States into a Red Dawn-like quasi-gulag with FEMA camps everywhere after Y2K destroyed our infrastructure.
Some people were selling everything off, moving out to the boonies to build compounds, and planning to live off the land. Others were buying 4x4s, guns, toilet paper, and MREs like they were going out of style. Those urban dwellers apparently planned to load up their four wheelers and drive off into the hills and hunt and farm on public lands to ride out the collapse.
It didn’t help that President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno were moving ahead full bore on gun control. Y2K and the assault weapons ban fueled the fire. The first real panic buy of my lifetime occurred in 1999. I recall folks going nuts stocking up on guns and ammunition.
Prior to the end of the Clinton AWB, and really not until the 2006-2007 timeframe, ARs were not the real go-to gun in America. During the AWB, the popularity of ARs and the general popularity of other AWB-restricted rifles (AKs, etc.) rose. But there still wasn’t the market domination that we see today with the AR platform.
The AR-15 was, for the most part, a relatively rare bird. It wasn’t popular for a variety of reasons. The cartridge was considered weak, the stigma from its horrible introduction in Vietnam still lingered, and the options to really modify the rifle didn’t exist yet. The carry handle was even seen as a negative because it limited the options for scopes.
ARs were called “poodle shooters” and “jam-o-matics” that would get you killed. The reliability of the platform that we take for granted today was there. It was just unheard of due to all the gun shop gossip from the guy behind the counter who claimed to serve in Vietnam as a Green Beret when in fact he was in the Ohio National Guard and the closest he ever got to combat was handling a Remington 870 during a prison riot.
Back then, I was on the AR-15 bandwagon and loved it like I do now. To me, the AR-15 was everything that was right. Light weight, low recoil, rugged, dependable, and easy to work on. But at the local range at the time, I was the odd duck. Nine times out of ten, no one else had an AR.
My personal Y2K-era guns: Bushmaster A2 HBAR, Beretta 92FS, and Winchester 1300 Defender.
The global war on terror hadn’t happened yet. And when it first began there was still a stigma from Vietnam and everyone was all about piston-driven AR conversions. Because of that, a lot of people derided AR owners.
They claimed that 5.56 just wouldn’t do the job. You needed a man’s cartridge; .30 caliber, preferably 7.62x51mm but you could squeeze by with a 7.62x39mm or .30-06 Springfield.
When I got into the whole prepper/self defense aspect of guns, the mindset was completely different than what we see today. Information was gathered from sources like Boston’s Gun Bible, Shotgun News, Solider of Fortune, and the local gun shows and shops. Even militia recruiting tables at local gun shows were sources of info prior to blogging and the massive explosion of the internet as a whole.
The word at the time was that unless you had a real-deal battle rifle in 7.62x51mm NATO like a G3, CETME, FAL, or M1A, death was at your doorstep. The 7.62x51mm NATO was the end-all be-all cartridge that would do the job. It was the round that would rule the world after the collapse of civilization due to Y2K and the impending UN takeover.
The idea was that it let you hold territory out to 1000 yards and engage the baddies. The M1A was the standard that all others looked to as the SHTF gun for long-distance shooting. The HK G3 and CETME pattern guns were the tough-as-nails, eat everything, survive everything rifles. The FN FAL was gaining ground, too since parts kits were cheap and building them was fairly easy.
If you couldn’t get those then an AK would save your life because you could bury it in mud for twenty years and it would still work. As everyone knew, AKs were indestructible and ARs were fragile. The Norinco-made ones were the crown jewels and were affordable.
The guns were so cheap, they were “you could buy the rifle and enough ammo to last through the Soviet Invasion” type affordable for under $500. Also 7.62x39mm was superior since it was a true .30 caliber projectile and not a weak, wet noddle round like the .223 Remington.
If you were poor, then a M1 Garand or SKS Carbine for semi-auto or mil-surp bolt action would suffice. You could use your Mauser or Enfield to engage your baddies out at 500 yards, then pick up his gun and ammo.
The M1 Garand was the best bet because a mix master was affordable. It used Nazi-killing .30-06 Springfield, by God, and was better than a commie SKS. But if money was tight, the SKS was the better choice since you could find them for about $100 at the time and 7.62x39mm ammo was $80 a case.
The Mausers and Enfields were the go-to guns for bolt action rifles of the day and surplus ammo was still easy to be had. .303 British and 7.92x57mm were considered “equals” to the 7.62x51mm. Mosin-Nagants were still looked down upon. Other guns like Hakims and FN-49s were viewed as good options for the impending Y2K societal collapse.
If you were going to go 5.56x45mm for some reason, then the Ruger Mini-14 was the move. It could be had with a folding stock, 20-round magazines, and was based on the same design as the fabled M1A. It got everything “right” that the AR-15 had “wrong“.
Price was the biggest factor in its favor. It was cheaper than a AR and it could have a folding stock. A FOLDING STOCK folks, during the AWB!
My Ruger Mini-14 GB and S&W Model 4566.
Pistols were 1911 or bust. You had to have a .45 ACP or, if you were a real man, .460 Rowland. You needed that punch since the ban restricted you. If you had a 9mm, it better have been SIG SAUER. Berettas were regarded as death traps and GLOCK were time bombs waiting to go off in your hand.
The Navy Seals were using SIGs and that’s all that mattered. Since 9mm almost bounced off the bad guys, you needed a gun that wouldn’t go tits-up on you when you did a full mag dump. So the SIG P226 was the gun in 9mm.
If you had .45 ACP, though, one round would kill the baddie. And his friend. The 1911 was king.
The other option, of course was the wheel gun. The Smith & Wesson K or L frames and the Colt I frame guns were considered acceptable replacements for a semi-auto. The 125gr .357 Magnum was the man-stopper and would end a fight. The S&W models 66 and 686 were considered the best since they were stainless steel and that’s what Dick Marcinko used when he was running Red Cell. The Colt I Frames like the Python were plenty popular, too.
But as mentioned, the Beretta 92 and the GLOCK were looked at with suspicion. The Beretta was still disfavored because of the constant rumors that the slide would either be taken off the gun by the bad guy or fly back and kill the shooter. The GLOCK was polymer, for God’s sake, and everyone knew that would explode in your hand.
For those few of us who had ARs, the heavy barrel (HBAR) was king. If you had a lightweight pencil barrel like a SP1, you were gonna die. The barrel was going to melt after a mag or two. You needed a HBAR to keep that from happening.
Also If you didn’t have A2 sights, death was at your door. God forbid you couldn’t adjust elevation for that 700-yard shot since the entire mindset was long-distance engagements with the Y2K hordes, Klinton-commanded ATF, and the UN shock troops.
Then again, the 5.56x45mm was considered a wet noddle and your AR wouldn’t get you through an engagement past 100 yards anyway. Also, you better have under-loaded your pre-ban AR magazines. Eighteen rounds in the 20-round mags and 26 rounds for the 30-rounders. And magazines were GI aluminum or bust. Those pre-ban American-made Thermolds were looked at with suspicion.
Shotguns were the choice for close quarters combat. The 12 gauge pump action was superior to everything else for close-in fighting. Everyone knew that 00 Buck stripped meat off bone and rifles were useless for anything less than 300 yards. You needed slugs to stop the ATF boys at your militia roadblocks. They’d punch through an engine block and kill the driver, too.
Equipment was 72-hour loadout. Everything was 72 hours. You better have had that ruck packed with MREs and Iodine tablets to keep you alive from the Y2K nuke strike, too.
MOLLE was unheard of. Everything was ALICE or ComBloc surplus. Wearing armor was for girls since you had 7.62x51mm and were gonna reach out to those government goons with your 4 MOA CETME at 600 yards before their 100-yard ARs got near you.
If you did wear armor is was soft armor and you wore it ALL DAY EVERY DAY to stay alive because the feds might get you with their puny 9mm Berettas. Plates and carriers didn’t exist. The ideal piece of kit was an ALICE belt with ‘Nam-era H-suspenders, an upside-down KA-BAR taped to the left shoulder strap, and a butt pack.
Everything you wore better have been matching. Woodland was king and if your stuff wasn’t Woodland you’d die for not blending into your neighbor’s hedge. Camel packs were king. Canteens were virtually useless. Why carry water on your hip in a easy-to-refill hard-sided container versus a squishy bladder that leaked and ruptured?
Food was MREs or bust. Stocking canned goods did you no good since your were gonna be hoofing it on foot with a ruck sack for 72 Hours and you’d need to reach your bug-out location. You had to have a 1,000 rounds minimum at hand at all times to fire fight the UN.
Optics? Maybe you had some high-end glass on your FAL, G3, or M1A. Powered optics? LOL. Batteries were gonna get you killed. You needed bomb-proof iron sights because that Aimpoint 1000 or Tasco was going to fail. Besides, real men used irons.
And you had to have been part of an organized militia. Seriously…one with ranks and uniforms. It was the militia that was going to rise up and battle the Klinton/UN one-world government since FEMA, the UN, and the Chinese had secret training bases in the national forests. The very same ones where your bug-out location was.
Also it was the militia that was going to restore law and order after the Y2K chaos. Remember, all the computers were going down so that meant that every police department, county sheriff, and local Boy Scout troop was going to be incapacitated and unable to respond to the looters (who were searching for Zima, toilet paper and Pop-Tarts) and the Purge-style crime wave that was going to ravage the nation.
All in all, it was an odd and fun time. A lot of lessons were learned and a lot of ideas finally went by the wayside. We now live in an era of $450 ARs, $12 30-round magazines, and mix-and-match tacticool clothing is a thing.
The days of combing the musty-smelling Army-Navy store for your survival needs is a thing of the past. We now have online ordering and YouTube video reviews to find the best survival gear out there. Armor is life and life is good. Enjoy this now folks…because soon enough, this will be but a fun memory, too.