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Zombie Nation How-To

How to Pick the Best Zombie Pistol

by James Tarr   |  October 29th, 2012 40

Zombie-pistol_001It is said that you use a pistol to fight your way back to the rifle you never should have put down in the first place. It is also said that handguns have one distinct advantage over long guns in that they are worn, not borne; wearing a handgun in a holster means that you never have to put it down to do something, as you do a rifle or shotgun. While there can be no denying that rifles and shotguns have distinct advantages in both power and reach, it is the handiness and convenience that makes the handgun indispensable when the excrement hits the wind generator and the dead start walking the earth.

Before the question of which handgun is best for defense against zombies can be answered, several other just as important questions must be asked. First, what kind of zombies are we talking about?

Traditionally, zombies are the walking dead from voodoo mythology. These are the true animated corpses, not alive in any sense of the word and sometimes controlled by others. What I’ll call Romero zombies are what we have all seen in such documentary films as Night of the Living Dead. These are bodies that are in every medical sense dead, and yet they are still animated to what extent their rotting bodies allow. The third type is not really a zombie at all, but should be mentioned anyway—these are the infected. Afflicted with any number of viruses or plagues which turn them into mindless killing machines, the infected are in many ways the most dangerous of the three.

Matching the tool with the job is important no matter what you’re doing, whether it is auto repair, or clearing the undead from your lawn or your town. What kind of pistol will work the best against the above threats? That depends.

Romero zombies are perhaps the simplest of these threats to dispatch. Severe trauma to their central nervous system (i.e. brain and upper spine) will put them down. If you’re using a pistol, this means that you need to have something powerful enough to penetrate the human skull reliably from any angle. The human skull can be remarkably resilient, however, so pay attention.

Voodoo zombies are true animated corpses. They are dead flesh walking. They have no beating heart, which means that even if you shoot them full of holes and there is not a drop of blood left in their bodies, they will keep on coming. Should you shoot them in the head, then? Unfortunately, a corpse is a corpse, and a dead brain is a dead brain whether or not it has been perforated by bullets. Shooting Voodoo zombies in the brain won’t stop them. So what will stop them?

It has been suggested by some in the scientific community that shooting out the eyes and ears of Voodoo zombies will reduce or eliminate their ability to track you. This is an unproven theory, and one I would not like to bet my life on. Besides, the history of Voodoo zombies shows that they are quite frequently controlled by other people, so maybe they aren’t even using their rotting eyes and ears. No, the only way to stop a Voodoo zombie is to eliminate their power of locomotion. Broadswords, or better yet, two-ton dumptrucks traveling at highway speeds would do a better job of this than a mere pistol, but we have to work with what we have.

Go for the support structure, meaning the pelvis and thigh bones. Once the zombie is reduced to crawling you’ll have a lot more time to think and act. Magic or science, their bodies are still made of flesh and bone, and if you destroy their joints so that they can’t come after you or grab you, you’ve eliminated them as a threat even if they are still animated. To do this, you’ll need to use a caliber powerful enough to not just reach the center of the body, but break bones.

The infected are not dead per se, but are mindless attackers who feel no pain. Many police officers have had to deal with suspects out of their mind on drugs who were in the same condition. Gunshot wounds to the hydraulic system of these people will not stop them, because until they have totally bled out they will keep on coming. There are only two ways to stop the infected—shut down their brain or eliminate their ability to come after you by destroying their support structure. Either method requires a handgun chambered in a cartridge powerful enough to perform these tasks.

The first step in deciding which handgun is best suited to one or all of these tasks is realizing which handguns are not. The process of elimination makes things a lot easier. For example, revolvers, while reliable and time-tested tools, are just not a good choice when it comes to dealing with the undead, for two reasons—capacity and speed of reloading.

There is never just one zombie. Everyone knows this, and it’s hard to hear the word horde without automatically associating it with the undead. Where there is one zombie (using the generic term), there are a dozen, that’s why they are such a problem. Alone, they are easy to outwit and—except for the sometimes very mobile infected—outmaneuver. In groups they can surround you and break down your barriers through sheer body weight. Revolvers only hold half-dozen rounds, and even if you have speedloaders, they are still slower to reload than semi-automatics.

In the movies, you’ll quite often see characters armed with Desert Eagles. While these are very fun pistols to shoot, they have no place in zombie defense. They are too big and heavy to carry for any length of time, so much so that getting them out and aimed at the threat with any speed is a losing proposition. Chambered in .357, .44 Magnum and .50 Action Express, they definitely have enough power—too much, actually. Recoil with a Desert Eagle is more than what you’re going to want in a target-rich environment. Their capacity is also somewhat limited, so no matter how cool they look, avoid them unless there is no other alternative.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the so-called AR-15 pistols. Stockless, short-barreled versions of America’s rifle, these light recoiling weapons are fed by high-capacity magazines, and no one doubts the .223/5.56mm round has enough oomph to reach the brain stem. The problem, however, is that these are handguns in name only. The advantage of a handgun is that it can be at your side, holstered, at all times. These pistolized ARs have to be slung, and as such for our purposes, are no better than a rifle. If a stockless AR counts as a pistol, then my pistol of choice is an H&K MP5K PDW—but of course no one would consider that a handgun.

The ability of the undead to hear and pursue sounds is well documented, so many people might think that using a suppressed pistol is the answer. However, nobody makes a holster for suppressed pistols. This inability to be holstered is what eliminates any suppressed pistol from consideration, as far as I am concerned. While they usually don’t move very fast, zombies can quite frequently move quietly, and you need to be prepared to react in an instant. A pistol set on the ground, somewhere over there, is not the answer.

I have heard several people suggest that a suppressed .22 is the ideal zombie pistol. Low recoil and noise, combined with cheap and plentiful ammo, are admittedly good arguments for this platform. However, what good is a weapon that won’t put down the threat? While a .22 LR will put down a Romero zombie with one or six shots to the head—depending how many bounce off the skull—those little bullets will do nothing to a Voodoo zombie. Will a .22 kill one of the infected? Yes, with a good headshot on what is probably a fast moving target—good luck with that—or you can hit them repeatedly center mass and wait for them to bleed out. Meanwhile, they are still trying to kill you and everyone around you.

The ideal zombie pistol should be powerful enough to reach the brain the first time more often than not, or any bone in the body. All centerfire cartridges thought suitable for personal defense—9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP—do this, with the .45 probably being the best. The .45 ACP, however, has a lot of recoil, and the cartridges are fat—relatively few will fit inside most handguns.

The .40 S&W round is a good balance between the .45 ACP and the 9mm. Power-wise it is closer to the .45, but guns chambered in this caliber can hold more rounds. Consideration, however, should be given to ammo availability after the world turns upside down. UPS won’t be making any deliveries. While many people and law enforcement agencies—there’s a good chance you may be stocking up on ammo at abandoned police stations—use both .40 S&W and .45 ACP, you will find as much or more 9mm ammunition lying around as any other caliber. This ready availability, combined with the number of the cartridges you can fit into even modestly-sized semi-autos, puts the 9mm ahead of other calibers.

So, we’ve settled on a 9mm auto as the basic envelope. What features should it have? Well, good sights of course, but just about every pistol today has serviceable sights. It definitely should have a tactical rail on which to mount a flashlight. While a light may draw zombies to you, there is nothing better to light up those dark corners than a flashlight, and a weapon-mounted flashlight is best of all. Most importantly, the pistol you choose needs to be reliable.

The 1911 is the handgun against which so many are judged. They can be made very accurate, and its single-action trigger allows quick and precise shooting. The traditional 1911 payload of 8+1 .45s is significant, and high-capacity double-column versions of this design can hold twice as many rounds of .40 S&W with extended magazines. However, it usually takes a gunsmith to get guns like this reliable, and then there is the cost. Once the world falls apart, paper money will be useless, but until then we all have bills to pay and food to buy. Investing over $3,000 for a custom or semi-custom, high-cap 1911 is perhaps not the best way to spend your pre-catastrophe dollars. I believe there are better options.

DA/SA semi-autos are tougher to shoot than pistols which have the same trigger pull each time. This is especially true for new or inexperienced shooters—which you may be surrounded with. Between DAO or striker-fired pistols, the trigger pulls on striker-fired guns are better. The better the trigger pull, the more likely you are to hit what you’re aiming at.

Glocks are the striker-fired pistols against which all others are judged, and for good reason. They point naturally, their triggers aren’t too heavy, they are a lot cheaper than 1911s, but most importantly of all, they’re reliable. While they are not perfect—plastic sights, mushy trigger pulls—their positives far outweigh any negatives. I carry a Glock 34 every day, and if I had been asked last year to pick what I thought was the best zombie pistol, I would have chosen just that.

But then I had an opportunity to test the new Springfield Armory XD(M) 5.25 Competition model.

Zombie-pistol_002XD(M)s are striker-fired semi-autos with a grip angle nearly identical to that of a 1911 as opposed to a Glock. They have a spring-loaded grip safety, a safety lever on the trigger, an ambidextrous magazine release and a tactical frame rail. The XD(M) also features interchangeable backstraps in three different sizes to fit all sorts of hands.

The XD(M) 5.25 comes with an adjustable steel rear sight, fiber optic front sight, and like most XD(M)s, has a trigger pull around 6 pounds. This is all good, but what sets the XD(M) apart is its 19+1 capacity in 9mm. Twenty rounds before you have to reload will get you out of just about any zombie problem you might encounter shy of a World War Z-level chainswarm.  Not just that, but the pistol is sold as a kit, and in addition to the pistol and three (count ‘em, three!) 19-round magazines, you get a holster and double magazine pouch, all for a street price under $750. That price should leave enough money in your wallet to buy ammo, not just for FMJ for practice, but the high-end hollowpoints for when the zombies show up. The zombies aren’t going to kill themselves.

  • Boogy

    Nice promo but ill keep my glock .

    • Chris Rock Woods

      Anyone with half a brain would choose a Glock brother. You're a wise man.

      • Ross

        Well, Chris, I had a Glock 9mm. I hated it. I'm an old man and I could never get used to the trigger and I hated it. It seemed like a kids Toy Army Gun to me with that plastic clunk whenever I fired it. I'll take my Sig 228 over a Glock all day long. I traded my Glock for, among other things, a CZ, a much better gun, although a little heavy.

  • xenotran

    Nice bayonet, now all that gun needs is a horse and it's ready to tackle Narnia! I'm insulting Mitt Romney!

    • xenotran

      It's a reference, guys. I'm still pro gun. Sheesh, you make one joke…

  • Chris Rock Woods

    Springfield XDM is a nice weapon but when you need to repair your magazine or get a new one in a post apocalypict zombie world, you gonna' go on the internet to purchase mags? I don't think so. Stick with your 15+1 .45ACP G21 or same in 10mm G20, and you're good to go. Visit any gunshop and get a .45 or 10mm mag, and you can use either in either gun. Now, how's that for reliability and dependability? XDM great for IPSC, lousy for zombie attack ya'll.

  • bill v


  • E pag

    Really guns and ammo… You only put up 5/6 articles a
    month and half are about freak'en zombies. You could
    do better. is my go to website now

    • Starky

      I agree the zombie crap is getting old. At first for a short time it was ok. It got more people interested in the shooting sports, but it's time to move on. I did not renew my subscription to Guns and Ammo (Guns and Zombies) or Shooting Times (Shooting Zombies). If I wnated non stop zombie stuff the internet is full of it for free.

      • Complain Enough?

        Correct me if I am wrong please… are you paying for a subscription for the website? I believe you are reading articles and reviews on the site for free. I know I don't pay a thing to come to this site to read articles. If you don't like seeing any of the zombie related stuff why read it? You complain but have the option not to read it. But in the end you still do because you are reading it for FREE!

      • Dead Man Walking

        I like the Zombie related stuff. It adds a fun element to the shooting sports. Honestly, what really got old was the overly serious, uptight, limp dick egomaniacs that dominate the competetive shooting sports and a large portion of the shooting world. And don't get me started on the gunshop and gunshow personalitites. Keep the Zombie stuff, at least for a while longer.

        • Ross

          I'm not interested in zombie stuff, but there is some good talk about guns. Otherwise I agree with everything you say Dead Man Walking.

  • Dont diss the .22LR

    I got a .22cal pellet rifle pushig a 21grn pellet at 900fps that can punch through 3/8 plywood at 18yrds (my basement). I am pretty sure a .22LR pistol shooting a 40grn bullet at 1200fps will punch through zombie skull.

  • G&Z Rules!

    LOL! G&Z dug themselves into a hole when they jumped on the zombie bandwagon, proclaiming themselves as zombie experts! Now they have to own it!
    It probably does get a lot of traffic, webhits which adds to their bottom line.
    I think the zombie thing is high-sterical! But it is more fun to come here and read what these yahoos are proclaiming declaring as "THE" weapon of zombie-geddon. The .300 Blackout? Really?
    Of course there are the mandatory poo-pooing of the .22LR. Why? Because it does not promote whichever ad, I mean article, they are trying to push. That is all this blog is. One long running advertisment written in a way to justify whichever product. Gotta give the writer credit for the long ramble, factoring in voodoo, downplay the .22LR, just to get it down to a XD ad. Quite a piece of fiction!

  • Mark

    Headshots on fast zombies are actually pretty easy if you train using the right force on force methods.


    Does the grip safety of the XD bother anyone else? I had one for a minute and couldn't get used to it and the striker protusion from the rear of the slide. I don't mind the grip safety on a 1911, but on newer guns, is it really necessary?

    • Charles

      I like the grip safety. Especially on a pistol with such a light trigger pull. Read something awhile back about a guy pulling the pistol out of a backpack and the grip safety stopped an accidental discharge.

    • Michael from Mars

      I can live with the grip safety but not the trigger. The trigger on the XD feels too narrow/small/thin and I don't like the huge takedown lever. I like the plain-ness of the glock frame. Nothing but discrete levers. I like that

  • Charles

    I have the ultimate zombie pistol and rifle. I have supplies for myself plus ten. Now what i need to know is what firearms I need for an alien invasion. Please write articles about the best weapons for each specific alien species. Also an article about battling advanced simians, a la Planet of the Apes. Thank you.

    • Forever Man

      Best gun for advanced simians? That's easy. It can only be a Hi-Point carbine.

  • Anishinabi

    Ho hum. More Zombie stuff. Reminds me of kids on a sleep-over debating bicyles. Schwinns are better than Huffys. I am tired of all the Zombie stuff, the continual latest greatest 1911 or AR-15 etc. I only buy Guns and Ammo for the GunRoom. The historical stuff on heritage rifles is nice too. But if a guy shoots a Glock he will likely rely on a Glock. Ditto 1911 or a SIG. Most everything else is off on a narrower path popularity-wise.



  • Tim

    Really G&A, We are less than 3 weeks from deer season and you are wasting web space with Zombies??
    Why don't you just leave Zombies to the professionals over at "Call of Duty" and get on with what matters… Hunting Seasons

  • JSOO

    Zombies. Seriously? I agree with some of the other posts that this Zombie crap is getting old not to mention how juvenile is sounds. The anti-gunners already think most gun owners are nuts so why do we insist on adding fuel to their fire? They aren't toys and when you start talking about killing imaginary beings it makes me wonder how children look at it. I love my guns and never want to give them up when you talk about killing Zombies and make Zombie ammunition I feel you're not taking this valuble tool very seriously.

    • Bocephus

      I agree with you, Zombies? You got to be kidding me, is this what gun and hunting magazines has diminished to……glad I dropped my subscription two years ago. Talk about giving anti-gun activists an excuse.

    • Richard Jorgensen

      So I got tired of bullseye target shooting, now I shoot thug and zombie targets, so sorry you got old and forgot how to have a little fun with the sport.

  • snoudude

    You'll all be sorry when the Zombie Apocalypse does come! Seriously – Zombies are easy to pick on – not one (that I'm aware of at least) ACLU law suite has been filed on their behalf and suddenly all that southern or backwoods intellect becomes very desirable. How else can one justify putting quasi un-PC decals on the back of a suburbanites Subaru and acquiring mini-machetes with neon green handles for $80? "Honey, I _had_ to buy that XD(m) 5.25 – it's my only zombie gun…" "Well I guess that's OK – you've been a good boy and we do need a zombie gun but you'll have to cut the grass this weekend instead of going to your IDPA match"

    I'll take my chances with my SxS 12ga and #4 shot – though I may have to put a red dot, laser, and tac light on it – should I paint the stocks dark earth or digital camo?

  • Tim-LV

    Let people have fun. I remember when SASS started. Some people called it playing. I use one handgun for nearly everything. A S&W 500 with a 2 1/2" barrel. Great carry gun if you reload or Federal loads Barnes 275 grains which are gentle.

  • Glenn Blanchard

    I'm a 1911 fan. So, I'm not biased in the Glock/XDM controversy. However, after owning several of both – I'll keep the XDM and sell the Glock. I like the features of the XDM and I like the fact that Springfield Armory keeps trying while Glock seems to sit back and just rely mainly on law enforcement sales. I have 1300+ rounds through an XD .45, still waiting for the first malfunction.

  • Alan Zen

    To all the anti-zombie commenters: no one cares what you think! Why are you so concerned with what anti-gunners will think of us? These are people who want to ban your favorite scoped bolt-action hunting rifle as a "sniper weapon"! EVERYTHING about guns and gun owners is offensive to them. NOTHING we could ever do will please them – except to surrender our weapons and drop dead! You don't like zombie articles? DON'T READ THEM!

  • Brad Ford

    I really don't know what's worse, the undead or the brain dead who buy this absolute rubbish. The antis must be loving this. Get into the real world and portray a positive, responsible and mature image of our sport. Not renewing G&A subscription. It's just rubbish now.

    • Richard Jorgensen

      lighten up Alice.

  • seymour butts

    im 10 years old i needed the info but i would always also carry a g36c and a glock plus i think if we were smarter we would no a minigun is a bad idea its like ur trying to call every zed within a 4 mile radius huge aggro weapon plus i needed to learn what a romero zombie was and zeds came from voodoo.

    • David Sharpe

      Do you own or have access to a G36C or a Glock?

  • Carmine Romero

    Primary, my stage arms model 8 AR-15, with a holographic sight, laser and flashlight, weighting in at about 7.5 pounds with about 5 or more 30 round magazines or a Remington 870 6+1 18.5 inch barrel with an ATI folding stock and a 3 dot iron sight, with a flashlight and a 1 point sling, some slugs and 00 buckshot. Secondary either a glock 19 with 3 or 4 magazines, a glock 23, or a kel tech PMR 30 with 4 mags of 30 rounds of 22magnum. Melee, either a condor machete or a cold steel or kukuri machete. I honestly think you dont need a pistol, just a good long gun and a nice melee weapon or a kukri. I like to be light weight and mobile

  • Richard Jorgensen

    You whining tards do know that prep for the “zombie” thing is preps for any disaster, maybe you can go whine at the CDC for their zombie page also. Then you can get mom to change your diaper.

  • nleksan

    Personally, the ability to mount and work well with a sound suppressor is one of the most critical factors in anything that is to be used within a few hundred yards. Surviving in any PAS will require speed, agility, and stealth and not the Rambo, guns blazing, assaults on whatever enemy. If I am looking through a store, and suddenly a zombie is right up on me, that means something likely drew it in, which also means that it’s unlikely to be alone. A suppressed 45ACP or, my preference, an AR15 SBR in 300BLK (10.2-11.5″ bbl w/ 10-11″ free floating rail and GemTech/AAC can) provides a very versatile weapons platform, and because it’s an AR, you can carry 2-4 uppers and a single lower (with spare parts) and have essentially a lot more weapons for a given weight. You have your 10.4″ 300BLK suppressed SBR for CQC, the obligatory 5.56 upper with a 14.5-16″ barrel, perhaps a 2nd 5.56 upper with a more long-range accuracy focus (think: what you would want for 3-Gun) with a zeroed, say, 1.5-6x optic, and lastly a pistol round (or “SMG”) conversion that allows you to make use of your ever growing 9×19 collection. Keep the barrel short, use a good muzzle brake, and blast away.

  • Unlucky Eddy

    While I am late to this I have to say that any .22lr would be the best anti-zombie sidearm; the ammo is lightweight a lot more quite than all other larger caliber weapons, and if you are in a situation where you are in pistol range then you need to worry about being swarmed.

  • Jake Childs

    Astute, very astute. I’m a religious 1911 lover. (I had to get extended mags for my worst case scenario) I, however, don’t rely on the 9mm. If there are human targets, it would be preferable to have them die in one shot. Hence, my choice in the .45.

  • theelviscerator

    Zombie is a term for anyone that needs lead poisoning after the SHTF.

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