The Eternal Question: How best to face the zombie horde?

In a recent edition of The Straight Dope, Cecil Adams tackles unlife's most pressing question: how would the military fight off a zombie invasion? But first he reiterates this timeless personal advice from a classic guide:
In The Zombie Survival Guide (2003), which remains the definitive and possibly only treatment of the subject, Max Brooks recommends for hand-to-hand combat something that can efficiently slice zombies into bits, a two-handed Japanese katana (samurai sword) being ideal. (Also receiving high praise are the compact yet deadly WWI trench spike and the much larger and deadlier ancient Shaolin monk's spade.) Brooks says forget about chain saws – no matter how cool they are, they just aren't reliable enough and require fuel, which may run out at a critical juncture. Firearms are a good choice if used properly – you need to aim for the head, rather than waste ammunition on the body. Even a zombie cut in half with automatic weapon fire can still crawl toward you. An old-style combat rifle such as the M1 Garand is perhaps your best bet. The semiautomatic action conserves bullets, and the heavy stock (useful as a bludgeon) and detachable bayonet give you options when the ammo is gone.
Presuming that the brain must be destroyed to fully incapacitate a zombie, I'd lean on a nice, sharp shovel. How would the U.S. military fight a zombie army? [] Image: Secretly Ironic PreviouslyFairy Tale Inferno: Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ for the Nintendo DSZombie Wars: Dawn of the Dead Producer Sues Over Dead Rising GameRemote controlled robot zombie
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26 Responses to The Eternal Question: How best to face the zombie horde?

  1. airship says:

    [i]…I’d lean on a nice, sharp shovel.[/i]

    Oh, I get it! LOL! ROTFLMAO!

  2. monstrinho_do_biscoito says:

    if playing doom taught me anything about zombie destruction it’s use a shotgun while weaving wildly side to side.

  3. cha0tic says:

    Hang on, you’re all assuming becoming a Zombie is a bad thing :)

  4. dculberson says:

    I would want an autoloading shotgun and a katana or machete. Perhaps a shovel slung across my back, Shoveler style. Plus a side arm in case of suicide need.

    @PaulRedeker, high voltage electricity would have to paralyze a zombie; the muscles they’re using are still human muscle, activated electrically, right? So as long as they were in contact with the voltage, they’d be a squirming mess.

    @Garr, Best Zombie Movie Ever.

  5. Duffong says:

    Katanas and shotguns are nice and all, but Max makes his best case for any of the weapons early on in the book.

    In reality, having a nice Katana or rifle laying around all amount up to NOTHING if the person wielding any of those weapons for the purpose of killing zombies. Max points out that the most effective weapon in the world is the human body. Not the cheese puff beer swilling couch ridden kind, but a well trained fit person is infinitely more deadly.

    Being able to recognize a zombie threat and eliminate it requires that you are always prepared. In order to survive the next zombie outbreak where civilization is at risk or has totally collapsed (see stage V outbreak), make sure that your body and mind is in excellent physical condition. Make sure that every weapon you own has been thoroughly trained with to the point that the weapon becomes and extension of your body. Know your weapons and cross train. If you’re going to lug around a shotgun, be sure you can disassemble it inside and out in complete darkness. If you carry a sword, know its limits and eventually its breaking point. Zombie warfare requires speed, silence, strength, stamina, and skill… only then can you hope to restore order to the world.

  6. Anonymous says:

    that photo is hilarious!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed the book, but I rather think that whilst brooks may well be an expert on the Zombies her created (easy enough, eh?) he does display some typical westerner fanboyism when talking about katanas, shaolin spades and secret orders of ninjas…

  8. g.park says:

    Shotguns aren’t desirable. A .22 (as pointed out by Brooks) is a more effective weapon against slackjaws. Your primary objective is to destroy the zombie’s brain, so you need to be able to pick off headshots rapidly and accurately- in this respect the shotgun fails- they have too much recoil, and aren’t as effective at longer ranges (especially if using shot). A .22 bullet will enter the skull, but then ricochet around inside the skull, more effectively shredding the target’s undead cortex. The .22 also has significantly lower recoil, which will allow for quicker, more accurate firing. .22 cartridges are also significantly lighter than shotgun shells, allowing more rounds to be transported with less fatigue. Lastly, the .22 is a more universal round than the shotgun shell, allowing a cache of rounds to be distributed to handguns and rifles.

    Edged weapons should be avoided at all costs. Firstly, the zombie infection is believed to be spread through fluids, so if you’re using a blade, you have to take into account the Gallagher Effect (the first 3 rows will get wet). Blades easily become jammed in flesh and bone, so dealing with a pack of The Enemy will be futile. If you’re close enough to use a blade, you’re already one of Them, as far as I’m concerned.

    Your greatest defenses are distance and obstacles, since the Horde is slow and shambling, and have trouble negotiating uneven or wooded terrain. Thus, your weapon selection should be focused on range (to take advantage of distance), portability (to recoup the ground inevitably lost to the Groaning Tide), and accuracy (never assume you’ll be able to procure more ammunition – every shot must be a kill).

    And, as always, save the last bullet for yourselves.

  9. Daemon says:

    Meh. Silly zombie movies and crappy video games lend a false sense of security. They’re the walking DEAD. Their brains, like all other organs, are completely irrelvent to their continuing functioning. They must be chopped into bits and, circumstances permitted, comitted to the flames.

    Headshots indeed.

  10. mightymouse1584 says:

    energy sword. go for the killtacular. nuff said.

  11. PaulRedeker says:


    You’de think that. It is a logical conclusion, and what I said about electric fences is not the whole story either.

    At the institute, we have found that the solanum “virus” modifies the body radically. It no longer uses the Kreb cycle.

    The zombie metabolism is Anaerobic. The muscle, organ, and fat masses are slowly digested by bacterial colonies co-opted by the solanum prions into an energy transport system.

    The black ickor they leak is not blood. Incidently this is a reason they can move underwater, they do not “breath” underwater. They could probably Survive on mars if we put one in a heated suit.

    Although we de not fully understood everything about it, we have found this gelatinous material to be a very good dilectric oil. There have been jokes about using ground up zombies to make capacitors, but who would risk getting infected by their walkmen eh.

    (The co-opted bacterial colonies in the Zombie fuselage are responsible for local production of a direct current to power these muscles. The organ that replaces the brainstem controlls this current.)

    We are still trying to sequence the Zombie protean. It is……not normal. The protean folding is out of this world. State of the Art pre-cataclysmic computers are being scavenged to build the biggest beowulf cluster every made. We currently are running it at CERN, with plans for data centers in New New York and, and Honolulu.

    This dielectric insulator permates through the zombie musculature. The zombie muscles work by a hydaulic contraction of the dielectric around a biological membrane. The alternating current of an electric fence simply bypasses this dielectric, and shunted to ground. However, a very strong DC current can cause the zombie to burst into flames.

    Not quite the same effect, but if you have the setup in a trench, you have a self cleaning zombie trap.

  12. onemonkey says:

    Hi, I am a grad student at the Birkbeck Centre for Braain and Cognitive Development. I mostly try and figure out what little babies are thinking, but I have spent a little time considering The Cognitive Neuroscience of Zombies:

    Also, the philosopher David Chalmers maintains an extensive Zombie bibliography here:

    Forewarned is forearmed,

  13. Scixual says:

    Polearms do seem best, as they have the advantage of melee weapons while keeping the dead at a distance.

    However, I find the best bet is to scope out any location you find yourself in with an eye to improvised protection and weaponry. Looking around the room (the spare room of a friend in whose house I am spending the week) I see a long closet pole that may work well as a staff, or at least to keep the critters back while something better is worked out. The bed is made of those interlocking metal bars that could probably be disassembled to make a great, if heavy bludgeoning implement. If I can make it out of the room my options increase greatly.

    I recall when i worked at McDonald’s, the grill scraper — heavy, two-handed, horizontal sharp blade — struck me as an excellent decapitation weapon, in a pinch.

  14. TJ S says:

    Yeah, definately need to do a writeup about this one.

    I just launched earlier this month, we’re still working on getting reviews of the bigger zombie movies put up, planning on doing a lot of survival strategy/weapon tips, etc. later on. Come over, take a look around, leave a comment and let me know what you think :)

  15. Chevan says:

    #9 – “Your primary objective is to destroy the zombie’s brain, so you need to be able to pick off headshots rapidly and accurately- in this respect the shotgun fails- they have too much recoil

    It really depends on the shotgun and how you’re firing it. If you’re being a dumbass and trying to shoot from the hip with a shotgun, you’re not going to hit anything. If you know how to shoot, though, a shotgun can be a good weapon. A properly seated shotgun, a good stance, and careful movements go a long way toward minimizing recoil.

  16. Cinnamonbite says:

    Well then ya’ll better get your weapons sharpened because the invasion has started:
    His last entry was July 14th, 2008
    Read happened the day before. THAT is a zombie attack.

  17. Halloween Jack says:

    If you’re close enough to a zombie to use a melee weapon, then you’re probably about ten seconds away from becoming one yourself. The key to successful survival of a zombie attack is always effective perimeter defense. Refit your house with shutters that are sturdier than the standard model and can also be multiply-bolted from the inside–steel would be good–and also offer ventilation. Also, go with crossbows for zombie elimination, and learn to whittle your own bolts from wood.

  18. crashsystems says:

    Well, assuming that the police will be quickly overwhelmed during any invasion, we can all stop by the police station to pick up some tasers. As an added bonus, zombies are unlikely to shout embarrassing things while being electrocuted, such as “don’t tase me bro!”

    I don’t think the tasers themselves would be of much use. However, if we modify them to increase the voltage, plus perhaps find a way for it to have an effect on a small crowd of the monsters, perhaps it would be a good method of slowing them down, giving us more time to pick our shots.

  19. mdh says:

    that photo is hilarious!

    The pirate hat really completes the ensemble.

  20. membeth says:

    That photo is redonk. What institution of higher learning staged the pirate anti-zombie protest? I’m amazed that anyplace other than Wesleyan has ever had such a thing, but here’s photographic evidence that some other university has also had a zombie protest. (Wesleyan zombies amassed one spring to protest the living, lurching towards parents and high school students on tours. It took me several minutes of watching to realize that it wasn’t a serious protest. I assumed they were having another die-in.)

  21. raisinlove says:

    Max didn’t write the only zombie survival book…there are a few of these on the market actually, of various levels of goofiness. Look it up…I’m too lazy to do it for you :P

  22. loganbouchard says:

    i think an auto company should advertise a high-efficiency SUV as the best vehicle in case of a zombie apocalypse; complete with cow-catcher (blades optional) shatterproof glass, fewer fuel stops on the way to isolation, extensive first aid, GPS, weapon compartments, blade sharpener, and special puncture-proof tires for zombie crushing fun. ooh, and maybe a turret.

    i would buy one just for the awesome commercial.

  23. Garr says:

    For further education, watch Shaun of the Dead
    The film demonstrates how (not) to attack a zombie, which items prove useful as weapons and, this is a bonus, how to emulate zombie gait and growl. This is especially useful for infiltration and covert operations.

  24. PaulRedeker says:

    Cecil is all wrong! It’s raising doubts in my mind about his other work.

    Max Brooks recomends a real Katana if you can get it. For the rest of us who can only afford the delecate replicas made of inferior metals, Max recomends the trusty Machete. The machete is cheap enough to arm your whole militia with, easier to find, and lest likely to attract attention from less than honest survivors.

    Fire is NOT recomended as weapon unless you have the zombies contained in a pit, or a collapsible building with a basement, not connected to any underground structures.
    Fire can be more dangerous than Zombies. A Single shambling zombie has been known to set wooded fortifications ablaze, putting entire fortresses at risk.

    Lastly. I’ve never heard of Electricity Paralyzing a zombie. The electric fences aroudn the compound are not for Zombies, they are for uninvited guests.

  25. jjasper says:

    AA-12 Shotgun. Fast reload, high capacity, full auto if needed, but use single shots if you’ve got the time.

    Tobias Buckell’s book Sly Mongoose discusses the medieval fauchard as the anti-zombie weapon of choice – keep them at bay, and lop off limbs.

  26. E0157H7 says:

    One word: Dirgibles.
    As for firearms, it really depends on the person. A skilled marksman would probably go with a lightweight, accurate and manually operated rifle.

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