Joel’s Rifles and the Things He Hunts with Them

For those who are out of the loop, the hit TV show “The Last of Us,” based on the video game of the same name, tells the story of two survivors braving a world infested by a highly contagious virus from the cordyceps fungi that turned half the planet into zombies.

Like all post-apocalyptic zombie franchises, The Last of Us depicts worldwide civilization in a state of collapse, where the Infected are the dominant life form on the planet and humans are forced to fight to survive against both the Infected as well as each other. Just like the other zombie franchises, humanity proves to be its own worst enemy.

For the gun lovers out there, zombie flicks like The Last of Us represent the only time when it’s acceptable to cheer while a crowd of “people” gets mowed down with withering rifle fire. There’s no shortage of rifles, shotguns, pistols and machine guns in The Last of Us, and the show’s main character, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal), is no stranger to using them.

While the world isn’t in any immediate danger of being taken over by zombie mushroom people, the cordyceps fungus is very real and acts quite similar to the one in The Last of Us, but thankfully only infects insects. Humans are safe from being mind-controlled by fungi because our body temperature is too high for the cordyceps to survive, but it would be fun to imagine what it would be like if the society we lived in was suddenly on the brink of collapse and we had to deal with hordes of Infected just like Joel.

Actual cordyceps fungi on a wingless insect

Throughout the show, Joel has been seen sporting a variety of weapons, ranging from common hunting rifles like the Remington 700 and the Winchester Model 70 to the Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic carbine and the select-fire military service rifle, the M4A1.

Joel acquired the M4 from a Federal Disaster Response Agency guard but was forced to stash it because, in his own words, there was “not enough ammo in the world for this type of weapon” which would be an outright lie. The M4 uses 5.56x45mm ammo, which is the single most common centerfire rifle round in the United States. In fact, later on in the series, Joel picks up a Ruger Mini-14, a modern sporting rifle chambered in the same caliber as the military M4. His decision to toss the very capable M4 is most likely because the writers didn’t want him starting out with such a powerful weapon.

Throughout the show, Joel seems to have used his weapons more on other people than against the Infected, but during the rare occasions where he has to blast his way out of a horde of Infected, it’s not always as simple as pointing and shooting.

Joel wields an M4

Killing the Infected in The Last of Us

The generic Infected that we see early in the show belong to a class called “Runners.” These are Infected in the early stages of the cordyceps infection. They look and behave just like your standard movie zombie, and with the right amount of rifle fire, they drop like flies. The most dangerous thing about them is the fact they usually run in groups, and it would be very easy for them to overrun survivors. The M4 with its select fire mode is perfect for dealing with large hordes of runners since they would have not yet evolved the fungal armor defenses of their more developed brothers and sisters.

Runners, a whole bunch of them.

The longer the cordyceps fungus stays in the body, the more it develops. Later in the show, as the plague spreads, we begin to see Infected with mushroom-like gills protruding from their heads. In the video game, these “Stalkers” like to confine themselves to the shadows and dark interiors to pounce on unsuspecting prey.

While Joel used a number of weapons on the Stalkers he encountered to defend himself and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), it was always after they were alerted to his presence. A more prepared survivalist (like Bill) would have been equipped with the latest in night vision optics, such as a Wraith Monocular. The key to surviving something like a Stalker ambush would be to see them before they see you. A night vision monocular would give survivalists the edge they need.

Equally important in a real-world survival situation, it’s crucial to not get jumped by undesirables while giving yourself the best situational awareness possible without exposing yourself to others. With the Wraith monocular, there is no need to worry about visual light that will draw enemies to your location, and it isn’t damaged by direct light like a military PVS-14.

The Stalker that gave Tess the “kiss of death”

Stealth is especially valuable to counter third-stage Infected. Called “Clickers” because of their constant clicking noises, these completely blind Infected have to rely on echolocation to detect their prey. While they are abnormally resilient thanks to the fungal growths covering their bodies like light armor, their running speed is a little slower than a light jog, probably thanks to the same fungal armor that keeps them protected. Joel shot one of them about three or four times in the chest with his M4 in the early episodes of the first season, but that wasn’t nearly enough to bring it down before it pounced on him.

The key to taking out Clickers is to either stay quiet or remove them from very far away. A rifle with a high magnification scope would be perfect for this, like the Presidio 5-30×56.

In the real world, the Presidio is used for long-range hunting. Designed to handle calibers up to .338, the Presidio’s high magnification range and solid construction make it perfect for the rugged outdoorsman or hardy survivalist looking to take down dangerous game.

A very angry Clicker.

However, in The Last of Us, there are certain Infected that are more dangerous than a cougar or a bear. The Bloater, seen in its full fungus-covered glory in Episode 5, is a fourth-stage Infected. Just as blind as its Clicker siblings, this last-stage Infected still relies on echolocation. Instead of clicking, it uses deep grumbles and roars to find prey, befitting its massive size. The Bloater’s heavy armor, composed of hardened fungal scales that coat its body like carapace, makes it nigh-invulnerable to rifle fire. In the show, it takes several hits of full auto fire from an M4 without flinching.

However, there is a canon way of bringing down the gargantuan beast, which involves accurate fire at specific spots on a bloater’s body. The Bloater gets its power from mycotoxin glands on its lower right abdomen, upper left chest, and upper right back. In the video game, destroying these leads to reducing the Bloater’s health and its ability to fight. However, in the poorly-lit areas where the Bloaters live, the discolored splotches of fungus-flesh that mark its mycotoxin glands are hard to see. However, they do emit a faint glow, which means they would theoretically emit a huge amount of IR radiation.

With the help of a thermal scope like a Krypton FXG50 and a high-caliber long-range rifle, taking down a Bloater from a distance would be easy. In theory, the mycotoxin glands would have a distinct glow when viewed through the Krypton’s 1746×1000 high-definition display resolution, making shot placement much easier. Whether in complete darkness or broad daylight, the Krypton is useful for defeating camouflage and detecting living things through their body heat. Since the Krypton is an attachment rather than a true scope, it can be used on any daytime optic and removed without needing to re-zero. The unit is compact as well as lightweight, making it easy for pocket or pouch carry when it’s not in use. In the series, Joel uses a Winchester Model 70, which, if chambered in a big-boy caliber like the .375 H&H, should have no problem taking out a Bloater with the proper shot placement. This rifle, acquired from a renegade sniper and later used to great effect against a horde of Infected, is a great gun for hunting hog, elk, or other large game in the real world.

The Bloater emerges from the ground

How would you survive in a post-apocalyptic nightmare scenario? What tools would you use? Tell us in the comments below!

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