A flare gun is a pistol-like device that fires flares for signaling or illumination in emergencies. This article will help you decide what the “right” flare gun is for preppers!
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Flares are an essential and potentially life-saving part of any prepper's bug-out gear. When SHTF, you will need all the help you can get, and flares are among the most visible distress signals you can use. Combining them with the right flare gun will only boost this visibility tremendously.
The following article will help you decide what the “right” flare gun is. We look at three of the best flare guns money can buy, all before we answer some frequently asked questions about this essential piece of kit.
What are the best survival flare guns for a Bug Out Bag?
The best survival flare guns are the 584, the Alerter, and the 25mm from American distress signal manufacturer Orion. The flare guns all feature corrosion-resistant materials and are fitted with bandoliers that carry additional flare cartridges. The guns are all approved by the USCG and SOLAS standards board.
In a hurry? If you just want to get to our conclusions, here are our top picks and recommendations!
A flare gun is a pistol-like device that fires flares for signaling or illumination in emergencies. In some situations, users can use flare guns as self-defense weapons.
Naturally, all of these attributes and features would be quite handy for survivalists when SHTF. Flares can be a lifesaving beacon if you get lost or stranded somewhere. One of the best things about them is that they are usually visible at night and in the daytime.
Flare guns amplify this visibility greatly. Flare gun flares (also known as cartridges) are a class of flare known as rocket flares. They are so-called because the cartridge deploys in two stages, one for elevation (up to 1000 feet), and a firework-like explosion that can be seen from over 25 miles away. This makes cartridges much more effective signaling tools than handheld flares.
Flare guns were invented in 1877 by Edward Very, a senior officer in the U.S. Navy. In fact, they are commonly referred to as “Very pistols” in his honor. The initial designs were capable of propelling cartridges to a height of 300 feet.
Most modern flare guns are based on John R. Smith’s 1942 design. The barrels are wide compared to regular pistols, largely because flare cartridges do not need to be fired that far or accurately. Shell extractor mechanisms are the hinges that allow the barrel to swing open for reloading or unloading.
Once a cartridge has been inserted, the user must pull back the hammer, effectively cocking the gun. The hammer is a pivoting piece that will crash into the firing pin at the back of the barrel. The hammer's power actually comes from the adjoined mainspring, which is often hidden within the gun's handle.
The firing pin is a little igniter that kicks off the fireworks. When the trigger is pulled, the main spring releases the cocked hammer. The hammer then…er, hammers into the firing pin into the cartridge, which ignites it. The heat and energy released at the rear of the cartridge propel it out of the barrel and towards where the user is aiming.
Best 3 survival flare guns
If you are in the market for a flare gun, you will be pleased to know that there are quite a few fine choices that could complement your survival kit. You can visit your local outdoor stores or browse online for new, used, and even antique flare launchers.
Orion Safety 584 12 Gauge Launcher
For half a century, Orion has been the leading brand when it comes to modern distress signaling, and that goes double for flare guns. One of their shining stars is the Orion Safety 584 12 Gauge Launcher.
Arguably the best flare gun ever made and an absolute must-have for your bug out bag. The best part? The launcher comes with a nifty bandolier that holds up to four cartridges. The kit comes with four red cartridges, and you can always purchase more flares for backup.
Last update on 2023-02-22 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The launcher is approved by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) for maritime use during the day and at night. It is also certified by the Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS) standards board, much like every other Orion product.
The gun launches the 16,000-candela flares to a height of well over 500 feet within a 7-second burn time. Any far-off boat or aircraft crew could easily spot your signal (in normal visibility, of course).
Orion 25mm Flare Launcher
Another great flare gun is the Orion 25mm Flare Launcher. This day and night flare gun would be a guaranteed difference-maker in any survivalist’s mission. Compact, easy to use, and stylishly designed, there are many reasons for considering the 25mm.
Made from corrosion-resistant glass-filled resin, the SOLAS-approved gun is ready for all conditions you put it through. The 25mm also has a bandolier, this time in the form of a lanyard that can carry up to SIX extra cartridges. With this flare gun by your side, your survival odds might shift seismically.
The 25mm fires its cartridges to a height of about 400 feet, but its flares are very bright (33,000 candelas, to be exact), and much more visible than those from a 12-gauge flare gun. Orion also offers a lifetime warranty and a full return/replacement policy.
Orion Safety Combo Alerter
The next survival flare gun is… (spoiler alert) …an Orion product. The Safety Combo Alerter, to be specific. This 12-Gauge flare gun is the not-so-distant-cousin of the 584. High-performance, stylish, and durable, the Alerter is an incredible launcher and a worthy contender for the best survival flare gun.
The pistol continues Orion’s love affair with the bandolier, and the one on the Alerter can hold up to six cartridges at a time. Fresh out of the package, the launcher comes with four red cartridges.
Last update on 2023-02-22 / Affiliate Links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The gun fires its 16,000-candela flares to heights of up to 500 feet. The average burn time per flare is 7 seconds. Orion crossed all the "t's" and dotted all the "i's" yet again, which has been more than enough to earn the Alerter USCG and SOLAS approval.
Highly visible at any time of the day, and sporting corrosion-resistant materials, the Alerter is one the very best survival flare guns on the market right now.
Why preppers need flare guns
Some people might understand the general purpose of a flare gun, however, they might overlook some factors that could potentially elevate their importance.
Firstly, when SHTF, communication networks as we know them could fail. This could render your smartphone, or even your landline (if you still have one of those), completely useless.
A large number of modern smartphones use internet-based GPS, which won’t work if the internet stops working. Even users with real GPS on their phones will probably rely on internet-based applications for location sharing. See the problem?
Flares could prove to be a lifesaving form of communication in such circumstances. Flare guns increase your visibility even further, increasing your survival odds.
They would be especially useful were you to get lost in a dense forest, for example, because you could signal to any aircraft flying overhead. When SHTF, your survival could be won or lost on such fine margins. Remember that.
Another good thing about deploying flares is that they are a universal language. There is a fair chance that anyone nearby will recognize your flare as some sort of S.O.S. signal.
If you and your family or survivalist crew split up for whatever reason (foraging, hunts, search parties), flare guns would help you keep tabs on each other or serve as some predetermined signal.
In a pinch, flare guns could also serve as weapons, particularly against wild animals. Launching flares could be an effective deterrent against a charging bear or overprotective moose cow.
Animals hate fire, so a warning flare could scare off the animal without you hurting it. Emphasis on “could” though, and don’t forget that you have one shot per load.
Heck, you might even encounter some hostile human beings out there. Remember, it will be a dystopia out there so think Walking Dead levels of resource scrapping. A flare gun could be the only thing between you and a murderous bandit, so you better be prepared to use it.
You could also use a flare gun to start a fire. Of course, this should be in emergency cases only, and we strongly recommend you learn the correct way to start a bug out fire. You never know when disaster will strike, or where you will be when it does.
You will need fire for cooking, warmth, and for warding off marauding beasts. Flare guns can be used for this. Just be careful because this is very dangerous…and very illegal.
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How to store survival flare guns safely
While flare guns are no match for bullet-firing guns when it comes to overall fatalities, they can be just as dangerous in the right (or wrong) circumstances.
They are not toys and the most important thing you have to do is keep them away from children or even intoxicated adults. A direct flare hit could kill a person and inappropriate deployment of flares could lead to devastating fires.
This leads to the second most important storage tip. You should NEVER store a flare gun loaded. Unless you are in a dangerous situation where your flare gun could serve as a weapon, you do not need to constantly have “one in the chamber”. You are most likely going to use your flare gun for distress signaling, not shooting impromptu assassins.
Keep the flare cartridges somewhere cool and dry and in close proximity to the gun itself. Never keep the gun and flares far apart from each other, or far from you. If you get injured or trapped and are unable to walk, you want to be able to load and fire the gun as quickly as possible.
Is it illegal to carry a flare gun?
Under U.S. Federal law, flare guns are not classed under the category of “firearms” per se. However, states and local governments may have different perspectives on that.
California, for example, is particularly strict with its definition of the term. Section 16520 of the state’s penal code clearly includes devices "designed for emergency or distress signaling purposes" under the umbrella term.
In California, flare guns must be carried (while unloaded) in a locked container whenever they are on land. You can have them out while hunting, or if you are on your way to hunting grounds.
All that is to say you should to check with your state and local authorities before walking around with a holstered flare gun. Ignorance of the law doesn’t count.
Do flare guns work underwater?
Because flares are often used at sea, this is an understandably common question. If you were to fall overboard, would your flare gun still work?
Popular YouTube star Edwin Sarkissian carried out an experiment back in 2018 to find out. He and his cameraman set up a fish tank (without fish in it, of course) and completely submerged a loaded and cocked Orion 12-gauge flare gun in the water.
The gun was taped securely to a weight, and a string was secured to the trigger so the gun could be fired from a safe distance.
Once the string was pulled, the gun failed to fire, even on multiple repeat attempts. The duo took the gun out of the water and let off a test shot, which proved that the gun was still functional.
They then decided to try letting off a flare with only the barrel submerged underwater, which worked. This suggests that water may have some delaying effect on the hammer's velocity, which would also affect the firing pin's ability to ignite a cartridge. Another theory is that water simply snuffs out the ignition process in its infancy.
Whatever the case, it is clear that flare guns will not work when completely submerged in water.
Check out the entire "flare gun firing underwater" experiment right below.
Can a flare gun start a fire?
Absolutely. In fact, the National Park Service strongly discourages the use of flare guns at heritage sites. Some protected forests even ban the use of flares and flare guns.
When a flare gun fires a cartridge in the air, the chemicals within are ignited and combust before exploding in the air like a firework. The cartridge casing (usually made from aluminum), as well as any other scorching lumps of debris, could land anywhere and unknowingly start a fire.
There have been many cases of flare guns being at the heart of devastating house and forest fires across the U.S. Back in 2009, pair of overly enthusiastic brothers famously started a fire that caused FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS’ worth of property damage in Milwaukee.
Survival Flare Guns Conclusions
Flare guns are the ultimate distress signaling tool for any survivalist in a jam. Their universal understanding and high visibility make them an effective way to communicate with would-be rescuers. They can also be effective for other survivalist pursuits, and even for self-defense.
With such a wide range of uses, no prepper should be caught without a flare gun in their bug out bag. Of course, owning one comes with the responsibility of understanding the risks and legalities surrounding such a tool.