Armed Self Defense in Rural Areas in Africa and Brazil

Although Scandinavian by origin I have lived more than 15 years as a farmer in Africa and now since a couple of years in Brazil. In both cases I settled in rural areas a few hours away from the next police station and characterized by poverty and absence of law and order. In order to protect myself, my wife and my small property (which most of the time did more belong to banks, family and friends having borrowed me the funds to start the business), I had to equip and protect myself. Usual criminal activities were kidnapping, robberies, poaching, cattle rustlings, raids against homes and cars – including rapes and homicide. Facing this danger I trusted only a few arms and have actually field-tested most of them.

“And he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one”.
Luke 22:36

As I said, in the areas where I had settled down were few police or military. And the few forces were even from a local standpoint corrupt and unreliable. There were a few officers whom I visited and spoke to occasionally. I explained my situation, that I borrowed nearly everything in order to start my business, but that I would create some jobs for local people. The problem was that I was not rich from a European perspective, but that I was richer than most local people could imagine and that I was a white man – an outsider. One of those police officers in Africa just told me, “We can not protect you or your property. But if someone enters your farm without your invitation, fight him and no one will ask you afterwards”. I heard similar statements from others as well. Also in Brazil, when gangs from the cities started raiding rural areas as well.
It may astonish you reading my report in Germany or other European countries, that I armed myself to counter the permanent danger of criminals threatening my life and property. But imagine that I was in a quite similar situation before I went there. I had served as every young man in that time in the armed forces of my country in Scandinavia, but I was never engaged in war fighting or peace operations or something like that. And I was not in law enforcement and had never intended to be. As a Scandinavian I was not in favor of self-defense, particularly not for armed self-defense. But fortunately I was a hunter and I was a good shot from the time on when I was a small boy and my father took me with him in our woods (actually that was the reason for coming to Africa for the first time). I had to change my mind regarding self-defense: In the African country where I lived, criminals were an immanent danger and the fighting of different ethnic and political groups finally let the entire country fail so that I was forced to leave after 15 years. 
Gangland: A challenge even for heavily armed police units
Brazil is a relatively stable country regarding the political system, but about 55,000 people are killed by criminals every year and corruption of authorities is quite normal. There are areas like the Favelas, which are entirely controlled by gangs and where even the police only operate with hundreds of heavily armed men. Interestingly many gangs are led by mafia chiefs already imprisoned. The gangs which operated formerly only in the cities are also attacking people in the countryside since a couple of years. And a white farmer is definitely a more interesting target than an Indio and his wallet mor promising.
The very first thing I bought before I came to Africa was a 12 Gauge pump-action shotgun from Remington. I owned several other shotguns since then. My favorite ones are today the Mossberg Mariner and the Remington XCS Marine Magnum – simply because they are extremely reliable, work with every ammunition (even with local products) and under every condition. The special treatment of the Mariner versions protects the guns against corrosion – not only if used at the sea side, but also in areas with the humidity we were facing several months per year in both countries. First I used a Ghost Ring Sight, but I lately exchanged this as Eotech offered their sights. Believe me; I used these guns under really all possible conditions. They never failed. For what purpose did I buy them? First of all I wanted to prepare myself against a group of intruders entering my house or trying to stop my car miles away from the next village. I am only one man and only occasionally I had my wife with me and in some cases one or two reliable hands (local workers). Nowadays I know that with this combination of 12 Gauge 00-Buckshot, the Eotech sight and a reliable shotgun, I will be able to confront also a small group of armed criminals successfully. 00-Buckshot is a fight stopper as someone wrote rightly. Famous self-defense trainer Gabriel Suarez (Lethal Force Institute) confirms: “The shotgun is most suited for close range, short duration conflicts that do not require a great deal of firepower (i.e., rounds per target) or extreme penetration. The forgiving nature of its ammunition makes the shotgun particularly useful for low light encounters or situations where the antagonists are moving quickly.”
And by the way, this gun also serves to protect myself in case of a breakdown of my car or other reasons why I am on my own in the wilderness against a wide range of animals like aggressive monkeys and even cheetahs. The gun is next to my bed during the night and in my car when I drive (I know that in your country this is absolutely illegal, but trust me, situations are quite different between the place you live and the places I have lived and law is mostly absent).
Pistol and Revolver
Another weapon I bought, or better weapons I bought are Glock 17 pistols (9 x 19 mm). During most of the times I owned three of them. One was carried by my wife, when I was not at home, or when she was traveling. And one was in my sleeping room, basically dealing as back-up and – this is of importance in these countries – as source of spare parts for the other two. Although I trust the saying “Use enough gun”, the caliber 9 x 19 is more suitable than today’s 40 S&W or .357 SIG because of the supply of ammunition. I have also extensively tested and used the Glock and I can say that this pistol is as reliable as the Mossberg. I seldom cleaned them and I never had any problems –even with different ammunition. The Glock is my basic self-defense weapon and I always carry her (which is of course easier than with a shotgun). I bought additional magazines with capacity of 33 rounds and a stock, so that I can make the pistol a reliable carbine in a minute. My wife bought a Smith &Wesson Snubby in .38 for concealed carry and I agree that this is more suitable for women, particularly for concealed carry in these hot countries. The .38 caliber is pretty much enough in order to stop an aggressor on short distance and can easier be handled than a .357 Magnum or something bigger. However, I would take none of them for hunting purposes, for this purpose just the good old .44 Mag would suit me. Today I would suggest my wife some of those new Ruger Lightweight Compact Revolver (LCR) in .38 as they are indeed surprisingly light weight and they are about 400 Euro, so you could afford tow or three for the price of the S&W. And Remember: A .38 in your pocket is better than a .44 Magnum in your car or cupboard.
Bold-action rifle
The next gun I bought was a Remington 700 in 30-06. Basically I needed it for hunting, but I equipped it with a reliable Leupold sight (a variable 2-7 x 33) that enabled me also to use the gun as a surveillance device, when I was around my farm. The 30-06 soon got a sister in .300 Win Mag (with a 3,5 -10 x 50 Leupold), simply because I needed a rifle for long distance shots as there was quite some plains game around the settlement. Later came a .308 (easier ammunition supply) and I also bought a .416 Remington Magnum for big game. They all were Remington 700s. Until today I had five or six of them (I gave some to deserving hands). They were all, I must admit, not that precise as the German and Austrian hunting rifles that I used when I was in Europe hunting with friends. Among others I tried a Sauer, one or the other Mauser and a Steyr Mannlicher in .308, 8 x 57 IS and 9.3 x 62, all equipped with Zeiss or other German and Austrian optics. These were superb weapons and it was really delighting to use them. But for daily use in Africa and for giving them occasionally to others, I needed cheaper rifles that need no or nearly no cleaning and for which I can buy spare parts everywhere. I also did not buy the more expensive 700 Police or Sendero versions. I am not a sniper; I am a hunter and an armed citizen and I got one rifle for about 500 Euro. I got three to four Remingtons for approximately 2,000 Euro – the same price as one modern Mauser rifle. I carry the Remingtons on hunting trips and I give them to my hands when we make our small reconnaissance trips around the farm (e.g. in order to recon poachers). I really do not want one of them using a shot gun or a self-loading rifle next to me, because this is for many reasons far too dangerous. But I still dream of a real Mauser rifle and some fine hunting trips. Maybe next life…
I could imagine something of more value for self-defense purposes like the bolt-action rifle. This is one of those Remington pump-action rifles, for example the 7615 Tactical Rifle in .223 Remington. It works with AR-15 mag’s and therefore you can dramatically increase speed and firepower. But I did not manage to get one.
Self-loading rifle
The Remingtons were basically hunting rifles. Later in Brazil and after having noticed that a few of my neighbors were victims of armed gangs, which were organized and equipped like small military units, and that some victims virtually were facing shoot-outs for hours, I though about getting a self-loading rifle as it could be that I had to defend my home for a while until police or neighbors could arrive (I have a small, but reliable radio station and I and my wife know how to operate it – mobiles were not available in these days in Africa and even today they are quite unreliable where I live now). I had some African experiences with AK-47s (the rangers protecting the game reserves – if there were any – in Africa carried them sometimes) and G3s (I don’t not whether German ones or foreign license models). For many reasons I could only manage to get an AR-15 in .223 Remington originating from the US. I practiced a lot with it. But again I became a crack shot again (as with the bolt-action rifle that I used since my boyhood) when I bough an Eotech sight and a magnifier. Ammunition in .223 was relatively easy to get. I took the AR with me when we went out for randomly made recon trips. By the way; it was known by neighbors and in the villages around that I made these small “recon operations”, always accompanied with at least to reliable hands and heavily armed. I hoped that this already would force some potential intruders to go elsewhere as I was an unnecessary hard target.
Cold steel, first aid and flashlights
I focused also on three other areas: first aid equipment, knifes as tools and edged weapons for a "last stand" and flashlights. First aid is the only aid you get for hours in both countries I described. There are doctors available, but you need a five to six hours drive to see them. You might be hindered to do so – for example when you are fighting back intruders of your home – or you might be unable, simply because you are severely wounded (by the way, learn to fight with both hands in case you are injured). I had several first aid kits in my cars and in my home – none of them far away when I need them. And I needed them often – for several reasons. By the way, first aid treatment and the possibility of being driven to a doctor is one of the reasons for my hands to be loyal. Since they are available, I bought modern tactical first responder equipment like tourniquets and Celox in order to control wounds effectively. I also learnt that the best equipment actually does make a difference, try for example to treat someone when you are on your own with a control wrap and compare with a normal one. The control wrap does make your life easier. Whereas the problem in Europe is to keep you experienced and informed about first aid, this problem does not exist where I live as I had to treat several injured people during the years including knife and gun shot wounds.
In both countries most male people carry knifes, mostly machetes. Criminals as well as farmers. And they have good reasons: these knifes are tools for daily work and they are very basic self-defense tools – and affordable for everyone. I always carry a large folding knife and have a set of knifes in my car as well, for example for hunting purposes or agricultural work. A knife is also my final back-up if someone takes away my gun or in case I loose it in an accident or something. A knife is my last stand both against animals and criminals. I used some of those German Eickhorn military knifes, KA-BAR military knifes and American SOG-knifes with a Bowie-style blades. But I never had seen anything so robust and practical as the new German Pohl Force Knife a friend gave me, when I visited Germany on a business trip, but the several ones I used for years did also the job.
The last piece of equipment that I would like to mention is flashlights. The power supply in the areas where I lived was always poor and I needed for several purposes reliable lights. Yes, there are a lot of new and often cheap flashlights imported from China. But without permanent supply and for self-defense you need something else. Nothing beats one of those classical, rock-solid Maglites. Take one of those heavy 5Ds and you have light for hours and a heavy baton. I have always some of those flashlights, two in each car, one in each room etc. and they are always at the same place so that I can find them easily, even in the dark (when I need them most). There is one purpose for which I also bought a small Surefire flashlight: To use it together with my Glock in a low light operation, but I did not buy a flashlight mount. I am more flexible with solely the light and I use the Harries flashlight ready and firing positions. But I did not use them often, because not only can I see in the dark with a flashlight. Also the criminals could see me. The advantage is on my side, as I know the terrain at home and even on my land better than strangers do.

In Africa I had designed three security areas in my farm: my home, the area around my home with the garage, the dining hall and the store and the rest of my land.
I had virtually fortified my home as the situation was quite complex when I started to settle there. I took over a small house, from the man from which I bought the farm and built additional walls around the house. It took a long time for an inexperienced man to build these walls and my wife had some funny weeks watching the process. But in Africa we had plenty of two things: time and space and these were all I needed.
I made the walls quite robust 1.5 to 2 meters away from the old walls in which I made large additional windows. Also the new walls got windows, but relatively small ones and not on the same places where the others were. I used iron bars and wire mesh to protect against intruders, against people watching us and even against criminals with Molotov cocktails and snipers. And in fact during the years there were some occasions were someone fired shots against our walls – fortunately and maybe because of this building without hitting anyone.
I exchanged the roof to make it fire resistant and to cover the new house completely. As a result my wife and I were not only protected against the climate, but also against intruders during the time when we were weakest: during the night, when we slept. I had not much furniture at that time. Not only, because we used all our money to reduce our debts or to pay the residential school for our son and our daughter, who we could not afford to have with us when they were older than five (there was no suitable school around and even worse – we would have been much more vulnerable), but also, because in this part of Africa furniture is a good place for snakes, spiders and other inhabitants that you do not want in your sleeping room. We had only some clothes, our beds (protected by mosquito nets), some guns and other material I stored for an emergency in this little house that was basically just one big sleeping room.
The next area to protect was the place of the three most valuable buildings: the garage with the cars I needed for the farm, the dining hall with the kitchen, where we met and had breakfast and dinner (we had lunch usually somewhere during work) and the store for the valuable materials. All three could attract thieves. The buildings, particularly the garage, were only a few minutes away from my home so that I could get there to leave the farm, but far enough so that I was not endangered when someone burned them down (particularly the garage where I had always cars prepared so that I could immediately leave). This area was protected by a fence with barb wire and by my dogs. I made a primitive alarm device by connecting the wire with some empty Cola or Beer cans. You can not enter the area without a slight noise. I would have preferred an electronic alarm with lights, but there is no way for this down there. But of course my dogs do not need an alarm. I had two Rhodesian Ridgebacks during most of the time, sometimes even three (some of my dogs were killed – we never found out by whom). I would have preferred Dobermans, because I grew up with these dogs, but I could not get them in Africa and I think they might not have survived for long because of the different climate. Whatever someone will tell you, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are not suitable for hunting. Yes, they are used for chasing down lions and other dangerous game, but this is not the form of hunting that Europeans use to practice, particularly not in the Germanic area. I tried, but I did not manage to get them ready for search operations. It did not work well – with none of them. What I have seen in Germany, done by hunters with blood hounds like Gebirgsschweisshunden belongs to the most outstanding hunting experiences I have made in my life.
All my hands had to leave this area at the evening and no one was at any time allowed inside my house. I allowed two small houses next to the area and there was always one of the inhabitants on duty to stay in their home in case of poachers or burglars or other African “surprises” during the night. These two families belonged to my foreman and the eldest hand, responsible for the women in the kitchen and the small shop that I had established. In fact these men were too old for farm work, but they both had a positive track record with other farmers (what I checked carefully) and were known as loyal and reliable. I took care of some health services for all my workers, but I paid the school for the eldest sons of these two families and I employed their wives and some of their other children as well (that secured also a flow of information about what younger people think). We were not friends – even not in over ten years, this is not usual down there – from both sides. But we respected each other and we took care for each other as we had a common interest: if the farm had problems we all had problems too. That was not equally true for most of the younger man who could get a job elsewhere as well. Of course the two older men also valued their special status and their responsibility. The man on duty always got a loaded shotgun and on our reconnaissance trips they got the Remington rifle (and shot game for their own purposes on my land). And when I hunted, they got their part of the game as well.
Gang members forming a mob

I already mentioned my random reconnaissance operations. It was a big country down there in Africa – I am teasing a Swiss friend by telling him always we meet, that my property was nearly as big as Switzerland – and it was difficult to control. There were not only poachers and other criminals, there were also problem animals that endangered people and cows and there were a lot of other things from illegal settlers to animal diseases – and of course my cowboys were pretty much alone out there. They did not only need supervision, but also guidance and support. We used a four-wheel-drive and in front of the car there was the driver and me and on the back there was a man standing with binoculars and one of the Remingtons. We made from time to time stops and monitored the area around us for 10 to 20 minutes and listened carefully, particularly during the nights. There were also tree stands, like the Germans use for hunting. I used them for hunting as well, but more often for reconnaissance as I had a perfect overview over my country. We visited the cowboys and hands and tried to find out everything that could become a problem. We always brought news and food and some beer, so that our visit was highly appreciated although it was understood as control element as well.
If you understand us as a reconnaissance unit, you could understand the cowboys as guards. And right so, they did not only guard the cows and protect the game from poachers, they also dealt as recon elements. They were watching areas for a long period of time and were able to recognize changes very soon. The only problem was how to keep them loyal, so that they report correctly and did not steal or poach themselves. Well, this was a question of leadership. I was seldom disappointed, but sometimes it happened. So I just can state: do not trust your hands until they have proven that they are trustworthy. And even then consider that their attitude changes. Respect them and offer them something of value that they can not find easily elsewhere, for example schooling for their children what then also means more income when they are old (by many better educated sons – this is Africa). In addition to our observation and the reports we got, my two men accompanying me were excellent trackers and could detect movement of vehicles and other things even weeks ago (there was not much rain down there). In all the years I tried to learn, but I never came to comparable knowledge.
I already told you: You situation in Western Europe and mine in Africa or nowadays in Brazil is quite different, so do not use me as an example for your own self protection and further more: respect you local laws. But there is one thing, which you might find relevant as well. I am convinced that some people are made for the role of the victim and others are not. I mean, you can always be at the wrong place at the wrong time and be killed in a shoot out between criminals and the police or between gangs (this is more realistic in Brazil). But generally spoken, all sorts of criminals do not want to attack a hard target. They want to get your money or your wife or daughter or your car as easy as possible. The do very seldom just want a fight (the drug addicts sometimes want and they are dangerous as they often feel no pain).
In your case I assume that criminals do not want to be prosecuted, they fear the police, lights, close circuit TV, burglar alarms, neighbors and other elements that make prosecution easier. In my case they simply do not want a target that strikes back. They do not want an armed man or woman. They do not want to confront dogs and people with shotguns or Glock 17s who know how to use them and potentially fight until the end. I know that your governments do not allow you to carry guns for self defense or even knifes of more than 12 cm or something. This is ridiculous. But in the hands of an alerted man or women many instruments can be used for self defense. Remember that in prisons guards always find something that people have made to be used as a weapon. Self-defense for me is not a question of armory. It is a question of mind set. So consult the works of Jeff Cooper and his theory of the different states of preparedness to survive conflicts, be alerted and become a hard target. At first glance the situation might be different, but also in Brazil the government tried to ban weapons for private owners. What would have been the effect? Yes, only criminals would own guns. And the police. But they are usually elsewhere, if you meet your fate. And until the situation gets better and until we can live without fear, I will remain and advocate of armed self-defense.
Finally I thank you for reading through this text. I know, my English is not the best. My wife says it is as worse as the two African languages I speak and my Portuguese. Fortunately we can speak in our Scandinavian mother tongue. That has helped to reduce some misunderstandings, some … Take care.
Sources of useful information
  • Ragnar Benson: The Survival Retreat. Boulder 1983.
  • Hugh C. McDonald: Survival. New York 1982.
  • Walt Rauch: Real World Survival. 2004.
  • Gabriel Suarez: The Tactical Shotgun. The Best Techniques and Tactics for Employing the Shotgun in Personal Combat. Boulder 1996. And: The Tactical Rifle. The Precision Tool for Urban Police Operations. Boulder 1999.

Anmerkung: Dies ist ein Bericht aus erster Hand von einem Mann, der jahrelang weitab von der Zivilisation und in Abwesenheit von Recht und Gesetz seinen Schutz selbst übernehmen musste. Wie er schreibt, ist seine Situation nicht mit der in Europa vergleichbar. Der vorliegende Text soll deshalb in keiner Weise Anregungen für Einstellungen oder Maßnahmen in Europa geben. Obschon wir die Veröffentlichung dieses Textes kontrovers diskutiert haben und explizit weder der Selbstjustiz, noch der bewaffnete Selbstverteidigung das Wort reden wollen, haben wir uns letztlich dazu entschlossen. Der Wert des Textes liegt u.a. in den teilweise bestürzend machenden Erfahrungen und der ungewöhnlichen außereuropäischen Perspektive.