A Long-Term Survival Guide – SKS Cache Retrieval


Back in the 80s, when assault weapons bans were being proposed, I decided to acquire a supply of SKS rifles and ammo, for future use. (Back then you could buy them for $69 each.) I cached most of them using a variety of methods, in a number of strategic locations, which was a lot of fun. Recently I decided to dig up one of them, to check the condition of the cache. This particular cache was one rifle, sealed in a surplus 155 mm storage tube.

These 155 mm tubes weigh 16 pounds, and are approx 37 inches long, with a 5 inch diameter, just big enough to store a field-stripped SKS inside. There is also a shorter tube, about 27 inches long, but it is too short for this job.

This publication shows both storage tubes, and the howitzer rounds that were stored inside them.

The storage tube has an end plug, with three locking lugs. A T-shaped handle tightens or loosens them. There is a rubber seal on the inside of the plug, but I prefer to add an extra layer of silicone caulking, as an extra precaution against fluid invasion. I also like to paint my containers with a black rust-resistant paint. I will sometimes also paint the inside of the container, if the condition is less than pristine. Whenever I have the materials available, I like to wrap my containers in several layers of plastic sheeting. I cover the wrapped cache container with a plastic tarp, before filling in the hole, as yet another water barrier. So anyway, I travelled to my cache site, located and dug up the container, and brought it back for inspection.

I prefer to place my survival caches close to natural landmarks, to make future retrieval easier.

Since I live in an area with lots of rainfall, I take extra steps to protect my caches from water damage.

Here is the plastic-wrapped cache tube. It is clean and dry, after decades of in-ground storage (due to the extra tarp it was covered with, before burial). There was no rodent damage, and no water made it inside the plastic wrapping.

Cutting away the plastic sheet wrapping reveals the painted storage tube. There is no sign of rust damage.

After I had sealed this container, I secured the T-handle with paracord, and applied more paint.

Here the paracord has been cut off, to allow the T-handle to be loosened.

Because the T-handle was painted shut, I had to tap it loose with a hammer, to break the paint seal.

Once the three locking lugs were free, it was not difficult to remove the plug, even with the extra caulking. You can see bits of the caulking on the rubber seal, and on the edge of the inner storage tube opening. I also caulked the small hole in the center of the plug. This tube was not painted on the inside, because it was still in perfect condition. Note the bag of desiccant, a must-have item, which I always use to keep the air inside cache containers bone dry.

Here are the contents of the container, from left to right: SKS original wooden stock, SKS barrel (in silicone gun sock), two baby diapers (used to absorb water, if cache container leaks), SKS parts and tools, in plastic bag, SKS ammo in bandolier, in plastic bag, empty drawstring bag (to carry used brass), 30 cal cleaning kit, and desiccant.

I cleaned the SKS parts, which still had the original cosmoline on them, and bearing grease I had added.

I also cleaned the barrel section, which had the same original cosmoline, and my extra bearing grease. There was no rust on any of the parts, after all that time in the cache. I did not refinish the wooden stock, opting instead to use a polymer SKS stock I had acquired, and a receiver cover with a 4 power scope.

Here is the polymer SKS stock, and how it looks with a rifle installed.

I didn’t like the plastic cheek rest, so I removed it.

Here is the assembled gun. I removed a bit of polymer at the end of the receiver cover, to make assembly easier.

I added a nylon pouch to the stock, for a bit of on-board storage. It was originally a Gameboy storage case.

I mounted the pouch with screws drilled into the stock frame, and added a buttstock shell carrier as well.

Here is the empty pouch, in the open position.

Here is a view of the closed pouch, and the ammo carrier.

This ammo carrier holds nine extra rounds. (You can also see the nylon sling attachment point I added.)

The pouch is large enough to carry ammo on stripper clips, if desired.

All SKS rifles can be loaded with stripper clips, if you wish, using a built-in holder on the bolt.

In my pouch I have a 30 cal cleaning kit (smaller than the one in the cache), a broken shell extractor, gun oil, extra patches and bore brush, and an extra stripper clip of ammo, but you could modify the contents as desired for yours.

Here is how the stock pouch on my SKS compares to the one on my Tamer shotgun. I am not planning to re-cache this SKS, it will be used for hunting, and security tasks.

Back when I bought my guns, I also stocked up on ammo. Because ammunition is heavy, you are limited as to how much you can carry in a pack, so it is a perfect item to store in buried caches. Most of my supply is cached, in small containers, in various locations. I used a number of different types of containers to store ammo, to see which is best.

This is a surplus 81 mm mortar tube, a plastic tube with screw-on lid, and an O-ring seal. Interior space is limited, you can get 1000 rounds of 22 in one, but only a few dozen larger rifle rounds, depending on how you pack them. But I like these, and had bought a bunch of them way back when they were cheap, so I have used quite a few to make what I call “ammo only” caches. I put a bead of silicone caulk around the lid, as an extra moisture barrier.

These tubes are easy to carry, and easy to bury.

81 mm mortar tube twin-pack There are a couple of other styles of mortar tube, such as the twin-pack, and 4-pack. They all work ok, for storing small quantities of ammo.

60 mm mortar tube 4-pack

Surplus ammo cans are ideal for storing ammunition. (Funny how that works.) I have cached a lot of these over the years, and I like to follow the same routine as for my weapons cache containers, putting baby diapers and desiccant bags inside, adding extra silicone caulk around the rubber lid gasket, and painting the cans with anti-rust paint. Because the corners of ammo cans are rather sharp, I put little pieces of rubber (usually from old inner tubes) on each corner, held in place with duct tape, before wrapping the can in plastic sheeting. This works pretty good.

You can also buy ammo that is already sealed in cans, called “spam cans”. These are good for caching, and you can add the anti-rust paint and plastic wrap if desired. They have rounded edges, so they won’t tear the plastic, like ammo cans will. I usually tape a small cold chisel and hammer to the top of each can before wrapping, for opening the can. They sometimes come with an oversized can opener, but these are a little wimpy, and can be a problem. Even a small hatchet can be used (with a hammer, or hammer-stone) to cut the cans open (just avoid hitting ammo).

Bulk ammo can also be purchased sealed in plastic battle packs, which are thick plastic bags. These keep your ammo dry, but are subject to punctures, susceptible to rodents, and do not protect ammo from being crushed. The battle packs should be placed inside a sturdy outer container, before caching. A wooden crate works ok.

Any sturdy container can be used to protect plastic battle packs of ammo, including surplus ammo crates.

I had also bought some surplus metal drums, with reusable lids and rubber gaskets. They made good ammo cache containers, but I never found very many for sale. Now you can buy ammo already sealed in cans, but it is cheaper to can your own. Every oil distributor has metal drums with reusable lids available for sale cheap, in different sizes.

Speaking of drums, plastic drums with screw-on lids make great cache containers. There are companies (such as Lexington Container) that sell used drums, but most areas have places that sell used plastic olive barrels or drums.

I have made a lot of barrel caches over the years, they are cheap, sturdy, and hold a reasonable amount of gear.

One container I do not use for caches is the plastic bucket. They get brittle with age, and are too easy to damage.

So you may wonder what I did with my other SKS rifles. Most of them were cached individually, in military surplus 120 mm ammo cans. This was because these cans were the cheapest large, sturdy container available. Back when I bought most of them, they were available for five dollars each. I recently bought a few at a gun show for ten dollars each, but they are usually at least twenty dollars each now, at the army surplus stores in my area.

The 120 mm ammo can has been my primary weapons cache container, because it was cheap and readily available. You can usually get any long gun with a folding stock, or any gun that breaks down easily, into these ammo cans. Some long guns may have to be field-stripped to fit inside, but there is usually room for ammo, and for extra gear.

There are some surplus cases available that will hold full-size rifles, but they usually cost over $100. Since the guns I cache are usually cheap surplus rifles, using expensive containers is not cost-effective.

I like Pelican cases, but the same rule applies to them. Why cache $100 guns in $500 containers?

You can also buy large cache tubes, called Mono Vaults, that will hold long guns, but they cost about $200.

You can make your own cache tubes from PVC pipe and end caps, but large-diameter pipe is also expensive. I have made a few of these from 3 inch PVC, for caching ammo, but the 120 mm ammo cans are still the best inexpensive containers available, for storing the kind of cheap surplus rifles that I prefer to stockpile. Being a poor working guy, I can’t afford to buy guns that cost thousands of dollars, much as I might like to. It all boils down to philosophy. I would rather have a $100 rifle I can use now, over a $1000 rifle I am slowly saving for. You can buy ten cheap guns instead of one thousand dollar assault rifle, and that is exactly what I have done. Since my guns and caches were affordable, I have enough stored to outfit all of my friends post-shtf, as needed.

Of course if you like PVC cache tubes, and don’t mind the expense, you can store a variety of items in them.

Rifles can also be cached in anti-rust storage bags, such as these Zcorr (zero corrosion) bags.

Rifles in bags like these should be stored in a sturdy outer container, to avoid punctures and crush damage.

You can also get smaller anti-corrosion bags for your handguns. These make a good second barrier, when used inside ammo cans.

There are other brands of gun storage bags, such as Aloksak, but all bagged gun should also be kept in a hard case.

Don’t laugh, but another waterproof storage option is rubber inner tubes from truck or tractor tires. You just cut a tube to length, then seal one end. I put a layer of silicone caulk across the end of the tube, then fold it over and clamp it in place until it cures. The clamps can be as simple as two pieces of wood screwed together, and they can be left on the end of the tube permanently, for a sturdy closure. Place your guns or other gear in the inner tube, then seal the open end the same way as the first end. Makes a good improvised cache bag, but also needs an outer hard case, for best results. Shorter lengths can be used for handguns, ammo, or other survival supplies, if desired. If you don’t have any inner tubes available, the same technique can be used with sections of inflatable rubber boats, or life rafts, or some types of towable water toys. Use your imagination.

What extra items should you put in your weapons cache? This is a matter of personal preference, but here is what I prefer, whenever possible. I favor things which will add to the weapon’s uses, and keep the weapon working longer. A bayonet is a good example. It allows the rifle to be used as a spear, so you can do things such as finishing off wounded enemies, or verifying that game animals are actually dead, without having to fire more rounds.

The SKS can easily be augmented with either a spike or blade bayonet. I like both, but blades have more uses.

A bayonet makes your rifle more useful, so it is a good item to add to your weapons cache. You can also see the cleaning rod in this image. It stores under the barrel, so it is always handy.

A small cleaning kit is another good item to add to your cache, as it can extend the life of your rifle.

Surplus cleaning kits have a number of useful tools for field-stripping, sight adjustments, and tightening screws.

Two more handy gadgets are the broken shell extractor, and the front sight adjustment tool.

A gun manual, disassembly guide, or cutaway diagram is a useful addition to a weapons cache. Even if you know your rifle inside and out, you may want to use these guides to train less experienced group members, if necessary.

The only problem I had with my stored SKS was that the catch that holds the trigger group in place was not secure. (The trigger group was not latching into place securely.) I found that there was enough hardened cosmoline behind the rocker mechanism, to inhibit free movement. All it took to restore function was removing the hardened gunk, using a stiff wire. The gun manual and cutaway diagram can be useful, for diagnosing such common problems.

Another possible addition to any rifle cache is a handgun, because having a backup weapon can come in handy. It may not fit in with the “cheap rifle cache” strategy, but it is worth considering.

I am fond of large chopping knives, which have many survival uses, and don’t take up much room in a cache.

A simple takedown bow is another item to consider for your cache, as it can help you conserve ammo.

In general, I prefer to keep my weapons caches separate from general survival caches, and food and water caches. Weapons caches (and ammo only caches) do not need to be disturbed until needed, but supply caches may need to be opened periodically, to rotate any dated foods or medical supplies.

There are other items you might want to add to a weapons cache, depending on how much space is available. Possibilities include a spare parts kit, compact binoculars, night vision scopes, game calls, camouflage netting (or ghillie suit), gunsmithing tools, a larger gun cleaning kit, and extra patches, gun oil, and bore cleaner. Customizing your caches can be a lot of fun, and your stored equipment might just save your life one day.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful

Master Your Semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master Your Semester with a Special Offer from Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.