Building Your SHTF Combat Overwatch Rifle

After several years in the Liberty Movement working with various survivalists, you begin to realize that there are as many viewpoints and opinions on self defense tactics as there are people.  This is because each individual survivalist’s environmental circumstances are a little different, and unique problems call for unique solutions. 



That said, there are certain universal elements that every survivalist should consider, and certain pieces of gear that can aid us greatly regardless of our particular situation.  I believe the concept of the “overwatch rifle” is one of these universal elements, and an often overlooked combat necessity.

Preparing for a fight, in general terms, is about understanding one’s own weaknesses better than one’s opponent.  This means rigorously examining your capabilities and rounding them out as much as possible.  Are you strong in close quarters but terrible at a distance?  Are you able to engage an enemy regardless of his position, or, do you have to risk closing the gap while he waits comfortably for you?  Are you ready mentally and technically for surprises?

The overwatch rifle is not just a tool, it is also a strategy, and when I refer to “overwatch”, I am referring to a guerrilla methodology, not the standard military usage involving sniper support.

This strategy revolves around adaptability, movement, and creative offense.  You have to be physically fit and ready to move quickly from one engagement to the next in a sequence that creates the utmost advantage for you and your team.  You have to be willing to move from a rear supporting role to a forward scouting role at a moments notice.  Sometimes, you have to operate at the very center of it all, coordinating supporting elements and removing obstacles in their path.

Not everyone can serve this role within their team.  The overwatch rifle does not automatically make a survivalist overwatch ready.  It is the man that makes the rifle effective, not the rifle that makes the man effective.

But before I discuss overwatch rifle design ideas, I want to address a question that ALWAYS comes up when I write an article dealing with any defensive measures:

“Who do you plan to fight?”

The question often insinuates that there is “no one” to fight and that such prepping articles are based in “paranoia”, or, that the enemy will be so technologically advanced that it is “foolish” of us to believe that we can fight them.

My answer is simple – I will fight anyone who attempts to undermine my individual freedom and safety, the individual freedom and safety of the people I care about, innocent citizens, and even future generations I will never meet.  Anyone who suggests that such threats do not exist – foreign, domestic, and internationalist – must have been living under a rotting log for the past several years (or they’ve been mesmerized by Facebook and “reality” television, which is very similar).  The superiority of these very real threats is irrelevant.  I’ve been a fighter for most of my life, and I know well that the biggest and most intimidating opponents are often the easiest to topple in the end, as long as you have the will to press forward, and the intelligence to engage them in a way they cannot predict.

If you are an enemy of liberty and the constitutional philosophy of natural law, then you are my enemy, and if you push me, I will push back.  Count on it…

This principle goes for tyrannical political systems as well.  When a society loses its ability to regulate and restrict government, when all authority is derived through backroom brokered deals between the money elite and puppet politicians on both sides of the aisle, when individual liberties are deemed expendable in the name of illusory “collective safety”, and when the establishment proclaims that the only way for the public to be prosperous is for the bureaucracy to be prosperous, a war is soon at hand.

The elites will never walk away quietly and neither will we.  There are Americans who still respect the virtues of freedom, and there are people in this world whose only goal is to dominate and enslave.  We are at a dangerous impasse, and I believe there may be only one way left to fully resolve it…

Of course, when one discusses citizen armament and preparation for combat, the assumption is that every survivalist has already undertaken the correct prerequisite steps to make himself an effective fighter.  Before anyone even considers combat preparedness, they should have already:

1) Stockpiled ample food and water.
2) Stockpiled proper medical and emergency first aid.
3) Stockpiled ample ammunition.
4) Chosen a retreat location and hardened their home for defense.
5) Been diligent in their personal health.
6) Trained their bodies for the most terrible rigors imaginable.
7) Trained their minds to be psychologically ready for combat.
8) Trained to control the jarring fight-or-flight response caused by the influx of adrenaline.
9) Fired hundreds if not thousands of rounds through each of the weapons they intend to use in combat until they know them intimately.
10) Studied the history of combat tactics and war strategy (especially asymmetric warfare).
11) Built up a community of like minded individuals who are also prepared.

If you have not at least begun to pursue all of these goals then you are not ready to pull the trigger.  Period.  If you don’t respect yourself enough to prepare in a practical way, the enemy certainly won’t respect you either, and why should he?  You’ll be the punchline of a sad joke, the bullseye on the target, and just another notch in his rifle stock.

If you have at least initiated preparations in all of the above areas, THEN it is time to take a look at your rifle setup…

The Overwatch Concept In Asymmetric Warfare

The term “overwatch” is most often applied when a sniper team is placed in a supporting role during a major offensive.  However, the concept has expanded into other areas, especially where guerrilla warfare is concerned, and I would like to use the broader definition here.  A person on “overwatch” could be a sniper, or a general team member who is able to place precision fire almost anywhere on the battlefield at vectors difficult for the enemy to spot.  This means being in a central position covering not one sector, but all sectors of fire, and striking the enemy from one angle while he is distracted by another.

Being in an overwatch role would mean a certain freedom of movement.  You aretopsecretguncontrolplan often designating your own targets and your own fields of fire as you go, and as your teammates push forward.  But, it also means you have to be highly adaptable, quick thinking, creative and imaginative in your strategy, and be willing to cause enough damage during a fight to sometimes draw the majority of enemy fire.  You become the fulcrum of your team’s initiative.

Ideally, you would want every person you work with to be able to fill the overwatch position, and be able to think in terms of creative combat.  The overwatch strategy is meant to stall an enemy advance, destroy enemy sniper positions, create openings in enemy lines, and thus, create targets of opportunity for other team members.

Designing Your Overwatch Rifle

The weapons system you use for overwatch will depend greatly on what you find works best for you as an individual.  However, here are some issues you need to take into consideration before building your weapon:

Short Range, Medium Range, Long Range: Your overwatch rifle must be able to engage targets at almost any range (between 0 – 800 yards would be ideal).  You must also be able to shift from medium and long range opponents to close range surprise attacks quickly and efficiently.

Penetration And Distance: The caliber you choose should not only be able to travel long distances, but also maintain strong penetration ability at those distances.

Precision: The rifle should fire consistent groups of less than 1 MOA (at least 1” groups at 100 yards).

Frequency Of Fire: 
The more fire you can put down range quickly and accurately, the better.  This means semi-auto rather than bolt action.

Adaptable To Optics: 
The weapon should have a rail system that accommodates a number of optics, making it adaptable to almost any situation.  Or, at least modifiable for a rail.

Rifle Systems 

I have found that the .308 military caliber tends to be the most practical for overwatch requirements.  The bullet has long range capabilities and far greater penetration than the AR-15’s .223 caliber, or the AK-47’s 7.62 × 39 caliber.  The AR and AK are great for close range, room-to-room fighting, and some medium range targets without cover, but they have many limitations and are not useful for overwatch.  I have also chosen .308 rifles that are semi-automatic, and that can be fitted with comprehensive rail systems.  A common complaint concerning .308 tactical rifles is that they are “too heavy” and slow to aim.  All I can say is, if you can’t wield the weapon effectively, do some push-ups until you can.

Here is a short list of possible rifle platforms:

Springfield M1A
Saiga .308
Heckler & Koch PTR-91

I’m sure there are few more that could be added here, and I recommend all readers carefully research and fire the weapon they are interested in before purchasing it (especially at today’s prices).


The above rifle is a Springfield M1A modified with a Troy BattleRail and a variable scope.  To the right is a PVS-14 Night Vision Monocular and an Aimpoint T-1 Red Dot on a LaRue Tactical angle mount.  I found this setup to work best for me, but it is only one of many options. Obviously, in a combat situation this entire weapon would be camouflaged according to the environment.


Next, you need to devise an optics system that allows you to engage at a distance AND up-close and personal.   There are many ways of setting up a rifle for this, but most involve a combination of a scope and red dot, or a scope and iron sights.  Here are some ideas…

Variable Scope: A variable scope, as opposed to a fixed power, makes it possible to shift your focus from a wider field of view to narrow longer distance shot with a twist of a dial.  But such a scope alone will not enable the kind of speed you will require for overwatch.  Buying a cheap hunting variable is also not advised.  Make sure the glass is good, and the body can take a beating.  Spend the extra cash…

Mini-Red Dot / Variable Scope Combo: Mini-Red Dots are very versatile and new mounting systems make it possible to tie one to your scope at any angle you wish.  Some mounts place the red dot directly above the scope, but this often forces the shooter to sacrifice his cheek weld in order to take aim. I prefer angled mounts to the side of the scope.  A very quick shift of the rifle to the inside and you can immediately fire without ever taking your cheek away from the stock.  Red dots have no magnification, and thus no vision box.  Both eyes can be used to target the enemy, and your peripheral vision can be utilized to acquire the next target before firing at the first.  My favorite mini-red dot sights are made by Trijicon and Aimpoint, because of their proven durability in the field.

Pre-Designed Multi-Mounts: Multi-railed ring systems like the Burris P.E.P.R. Mount create a solid platform for you to attach a scope and red dot package to your rifle quickly and easily.  Many of these systems are meant for AR-15 enthusiasts, but I have seen them adapted for use on .308 caliber rifles.

Short Dot Variable Scope: Short dot scopes (or CQB scopes) usually come in250x200_bph1-732feff the 1-4 or 1-6 power variety.  The concept was to make a single optics system that combined the speed and wide field view of a red dot with the magnification of a variable scope.  Some of the more affordable short dots are made by Burris, Leupold, Vortex, and SWFA, and even these models can be pricey.  If you have the cash, they are an excellent investment.  Many models include an illuminated reticle that can be used in combination with night vision.  Short dot scopes are popular in 3-gun competitions because of their versatility, and are beginning to see more use in the military.  They can be very effective for overwatch purposes.  I recommend 1-6 scopes in second focal plane, which prevents the red dot reticle from being magnified as power is increased, causing a loss of precision.

Night Vision: Overwatch includes nighttime operations.  The tactical rail on your rifle should be long enough to accommodate a scope and a night vision system.  Or, a red dot and night vision combo.  Quick-detach mounts like those produced by LaRue Tactical are perfect for switching out sights and scopes quickly without losing your zero.


The author training with his overwatch rifle near his retreat somewhere in the wilds of Montana.

In any lopsided contest to the death, the less technologically advanced opponent must inevitably turn to asymmetric warfare; meaning, he must fight smarter, and be more effective with fewer tools at his disposal.  He has to turn his weaknesses into strengths, and make the smallest weapon devastating to his seemingly invincible enemy.  Taking on the role of overwatch rifleman means you must understand all the intricacies of asymmetrics, and be able to apply them in real time in the midst of a battle frenzy.  It is a very ugly mission.

Above all, you have to have the will and the courage to stand against what you know are incredible odds.  You have to be unwavering.  You have to have a clear understanding of why you picked up that rifle in the first place, and maintain a deep belief in your cause despite the seeming impossibility of the task before you.  Otherwise, fear will be your guide, and the fearful can never provide adequate overwatch.

You can contact Brandon Smith at:  [email protected]


Other useful resources:

Survival MD (Best Post SHTF Medical Survival Guide Ever)

Blackout USA (EMP survival and preparedness guide)

Backyard Innovator (All Year Round Source Of Fresh Meat,Vegetables And Clean Drinking Water)

Conquering the coming collapse (Financial advice and preparedness )

Liberty Generator (Easy DIY to build your own off-grid free energy device)

Backyard Liberty (Easy and cheap DIY Aquaponic system to grow your organic and living food bank)

Bullet Proof Home (A Prepper’s Guide in Safeguarding a Home )

Family Self Defense (Best Self Defense Strategies For You And Your Family)

Sold Out After Crisis (Best 37 Items To Hoard For A Long Term Crisis)

Alt-Market is an organization designed to help you find like-minded activists and preppers in your local area so that you can network and construct communities for mutual aid and defense.  Join today and learn what it means to step away from the system and build something better.

To contribute to the growth of the Safe Haven Project, and to help us help others in relocating, or to support the creation of barter networks across the country, visit our donate page here

One Reply to “Building Your SHTF Combat Overwatch Rifle”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.