Scientists told us the zombie apocalypse could happen. Forget germs from outer space or nuclear leaks. That's all Hollywood. There were real things, things like mutant viruses or neurological terrorist attacks that could actually trigger the chain reaction. But we didn't listen. Now the time for listening is past.
They said it wiped out 90 percent of the population, but nobody really knows. There are only about 1,000 people here at this gathering today. For all we know, we're the last people in the world.
Spirits were bolstered by the arrival of this veteran zombie-hunting team.
Most people weren't prepared. They were lost in their world of social media, smartphones and malls, always meant to be prey once the predators arrived. One by one, they picked off every social group, except mine. I belong to those who believed in self-reliance, in being prepared and in fighting to protect our families and what's ours. We never looked to the government to solve our problems, we took action ourselves.
Communications broke down right away. Until recently, I didn't know if we were alone or if there were other bands like us trying to survive. A while back, word got to us of another group 150 miles south and we are here to meet with them. The survivors in our group want to see if we can combine forces, resources and talents. But, I have other—bigger—plans.
We are at Fort Ahlman, built on the site of Ahlman's Gun Range, somewhere south of what was once called the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I never should have been here to start with. I live half the country away in Vermont. But, my son lives in St. Cloud, MN, and I was here visiting him when it all started. I didn't have any way home, if home even exists anymore. I am hoping my family survived. I know they had the tools, the skills and the will.
That's one reason we are here. To train, to learn all we can about these zombies, because while my son is going back to his home in St. Cloud when this is over, I plan to head across country, back home to my family.
With the population overrun by zombies, women, like Liz Dorriene, play an even more important role in defense.
But, I am not stupid; I can't beat these things with sheer meanness alone. I need information.
They called the gathering "Outbreak Omega 4" and it was put together by DPMS. For those who don't know, before the doom fell upon us, DPMS was a major manufacturer of AR-15-style rifles, the very rifles we joked about. It turns out they really are perfect for shooting zombies.
I am a gun guy, which meant I was pretty well set with firearms when it started, but it took a little while to sort things out. For example, consider the primary gun, at least for me—the rifle. Zombies are already dead, which changes things a bit. Body hits don't amount to much. Sometimes, you can break a leg and slow them down, but the only way to stop them permanently is with a head shot. So, you need a long gun that can shoot with some precision.
Zombies often travel in hordes, so a firearm capable of carrying a lot of ammunition and able to be very quickly reloaded is also important—one that can keep running even when it's hot and dirty. Zombies are just rotting flesh and are not all that tough, so you don't need a huge cartridge. A .223 Rem./5.56 NATO rifle is fine.
I often use a DPMS AP4 with a DPMS 45-round magazine, but I alternate a little, too. At this gathering, I decided to use the 3G1 with standard 30-round magazines. I am (or at least was) a 3-gun competitor and this gun was designed for that sport. It also works very well as a zombie killer, because shooting zombies and 3-gun competition have a lot in common. The rifle has an 18-inch semi-bull barrel with a compensator, which means it is very controllable for double taps and for rapid target transitions. Its 1:8-inch twist rate enables me use any ammo I can scrounge, including all that military surplus ammo we keep finding on the dead soldiers who were ordered by the president to hold their fire while he attempted to negotiate with the undead.
Because no one yet knows how the disease is transmitted, a splatter shield is a good precaution to avoid becoming sick. The chain saw might be of limited use, but it’s obvious the bat has seen combat.
A lot of zombie fighters prefer a handgun in 9 mm. There are a lot of Glock, SIG Sauer, Ruger and Smith & Wesson pistols here. That's probably a good approach, but I am a bit of a traditionalist. I have alwayspreferred a 1911, so I opted to carry a Remington R1.
You can tell the veterans by the look in their eyes. Those who have been to "see the elephant" are never the same again and you can also spot them by the multitudes of magazines in their kit. Nothing is more terrifying than running out of ammo while a zombie horde is still attacking.
But we were here for training and the stages of training came in many different varieties. The one called "Only Head Shots Count" was blind and a curtain hid the shooters from those waiting their turn. You started with your handgun in your strong hand and a stick in your weak hand. The shooter was instructed to open a coffin with the stick, but before that happened, the coffin opened on its own and a zombie rose out and attacked. You had to react quickly with a head shot. Then you moved to a 55-gallon oil drum with both ends cut out and engaged more targets.
Some of those who attended proudly wore unit badges and other insignia to represent the groups to which they once belonged.
The stage called "Worst Night in Jail Ever" starts with you wrongly imprisoned and separated from your guns. Your jailer is either dead or infected and is nowhere to be found. You must use the handle of a broom to recover the keys from a nail on the wall and let yourself out of the cell, then find your rifle and take out several attacking zombies. When you run out of ammo, you dump the rifle and transition to the next window where you find your handgun waiting to take out several more close-up zombies.
There were a lot more stages, and to be honest, I lost count of how many. One, though, required that you get in a boat and move to a zombie-infested island in a small lake. Using your shotgun, you cleaned out the zombies and rescued the poor woman who was filling a water jug. Sadly, the zombies had eaten her brain by the time I got there, but at least I recovered the water jug.
There were a variety of techniques showcased during the competition. One fighter I met, Matt Pierce, embraced the concept of multiple guns. He has a 1919 machine gun mounted on a wheelchair that he pushes to the action. He also has an AK and a handgun in a holster. Behind the chair he had an old bolt-action military rifle and a Stevens bolt-action shotgun. When I asked why, he replied "Why not? "
I suppose after he is done with the machine gun and the AK, the rest is just mop-up anyway, so that old bolt-action shotgun does just fine.
I was covered for firearms, but I wanted to work out some backup plans. I noticed a lot of the zombie fighters had blades with them.
I asked one fellow zombie slayer why he had a big sword on his back, thinking that perhaps another shotgun might be a better choice.
"A shotgun has what, five shots? Then what? If you are using it as a 'oh crap' backup for when they are packing in close, you are in trouble. A sword never runs out of bullets, a sword never needs reloading and a sword never jams."
Attendees avoided getting close to this gruesome reminder of the gravity of the situation, because he would soon join the undead.
Type of blade seemed to be a hot topic, and a lot of guys had their favorites. Chad Ridler has a pair of Japanese-style swords on his back, in addition to his Glock and a Taurus Judge. He was some kind of grand master with the blades, before the calamity, and showed me some very impressive moves with the swords.
A lot of zombie fighters carry machetes. As one guy told me, "zombies hate machetes, that's a fact...I do two things with my blade. I chop off zombie's heads, and when they get close enough to grab me, I chop off zombie's arms. I found a machete to be perfect for that."
I liked his approach, so before the Outbreak Omega 4 gathering was over, I added one of the new K-Bar Zombie fighting knives to my kit.
A lot of fighters also carry baseball bats for close-in work. Tom Huffman, who works for Element Arms, designed an AR-15 rifle with a chain saw attached underneath. He uses the battery-powered saw to cut his way out of close situations and says it's very effective.
Outbreak Omega 4 lasted only one day, but I learned a lot about zombies and survival. Minnesota is a very long way from Vermont and I don't know how this trip is going to work out. For one long leg, I am supposed to hook up with an outfit called Delta, if it still exists. I have heard very mixed reports about it, so I guess I'll have to see how it works out. But, I leave with a lot more information on fighting zombies, so I am confident that with this knowledge to aid in the fight, I should be seeing my family soon.
For more photos of Outbreak Omega, click here. To see some of the zombie targets available for fun times at the range, click here. And to learn more about the Outbreak Omega 3-gun match, click here.