If there’s any one subject that’s controversial in within the prepping and survival community, it’s what sort of guns are the best to own. Of course, this is a highly controversial subject amongst gun owners in general, because everyone has their favorites. Some gun owners have a lot of favorites.
I could be like others and tell you my favorites too; but that isn’t going to help you. What works for me may not work out well for you. There really is no cookie cutter solution for what guns are the best for survival, because each of us are unique individuals, with unique needs and abilities. Those needs and abilities should dictate the guns we buy, not the other way around.
What I can do is tell you some things to avoid and give you some ideas of how to make good decisions for yourself. From there, I’ll have to leave it up to you. But hopefully the information I give you will help you to make informed decisions, rather than just buying something because I told you it was the way to go.
The Basics – Big and Small
To start with, there’s nothing that says you have to be limited to one “do all” gun for every situation and circumstance. Part of the reason that so many guns exist, is that different guns are crated to meet different needs. You can’t go duck hunting with a rifle or bring down an elephant with a shotgun.
At a minimum, each shooter in your family or survival team needs at least two guns, a pistol and a long gun. As one firearms instructor famously put it, “You need a pistol so that you have something to fight with while going to wherever you left your long gun.” Pistols are for self-defense, not taking the fight to the enemy. But if you don’t carry a pistol, you may find yourself in the position of not having anything to fight with but your bare hands.
Long guns fall into many different categories, including tactical rifles, shotguns, sniper or hunting rifles (they’re basically the same), and fully-automatic sub-machineguns. Some are more useful in some situations than others, so your team should have a good mix to choose from.
Selecting the “Perfect” Pistol
Since your pistol will be your primary self-defense weapon, let’s start there. Pistols can be broken down into two categories: revolvers and semi-automatics. By and large, proponents of revolvers cite that their mechanism is simpler; reducing the chance of breakage and making it easier to work on one if it does break. To counter that, proponents of semi-automatic pistols talk about their guns’ larger magazine capacity and ease of reloading, keeping you in the fight longer.
While being a semi-automatic pistol fan, I can see the benefits of revolvers too. I like the ability to carry several magazines with me and reload quickly. So I would just say that if you do buy a revolver, you practice reloading it, blindfolded, until you can put a semi-automatic fan to shame with your reloading speed. That eliminates their argument.
As for caliber, that’s a very personal question as well. By and large, you should use the largest caliber that you are comfortable firing, as that will give you the most effect per shot. For women who don’t have strong hands, .380 caliber is great, as it is easier to rack the slide; but many people don’t like the .380 round because of its slow muzzle velocity. Ballistics of particular rounds can be quite different than would be indicated by their size.
This argument usually boils down to whether .45 ACP or 9mm are better (the 2 most popular calibers, besides .22LR, which isn’t a serious defensive round). Proponents of the .45 talk about “knockdown power,” a term that refers to how well the round transfers kinetic energy to the target. When the Army called for the development of the .45 caliber 1911 Browning, they were looking for a pistol that would be effective against the Moro tribesmen who would attack while under the influence of drugs. The .45 has a greater chance of physically knocking them down than any other common caliber. I carry a .45 as my EDC gun, because of the high possibility of any criminal I encounter being on drugs.
On the other hand, the 9mm wasn’t designed for knockdown power, but rather for penetration. A number of studies have been done (including my own), showing that the 9mm round has greater penetration than any other standard pistol round, including the .357 magnum and the .44 magnum. That penetrating ability is largely due to the bullet geometry and high muzzle velocity, making it possible to reach the heart, shooting through the arm and then the body, when shooting at an enemy from the side.
The other big advantage of the 9mm is that it is the most common pistol round in the world. That means it would be more likely to be available in the aftermath of a major disaster than any other round.
Selecting a Long Gun
Selecting a long gun can be even more complicated than selecting a pistol, due to the wide variety of different guns out there, each created for a particular purpose. So maybe we should start by talking about the various uses of long guns:
- Hunting big game – that usually means hunting at a distance, necessitating a high powered rifle with a telescopic sight
- Hunting small game – usually at a much closer range; the size of the animals necessitates a small bullet, like the .22LR or even the 5.56 used in the AR-15
- Hunting birds – requires a long-barreled shotgun
- Sniper – basically the same as hunting big game; but it’s hard to call it self-defense when you’re shooting at someone at long distance
- Home defense – requirements vary, but generally means a lot of firepower, fast. That can be from a tactical shotgun, an AR-15 or even a fully-automatic rifle like the M-4
- Defense of survival retreat – similar to home, but may include long-range shooting, if you are being attacked from long-range
As you can clearly see, your needs for long guns will vary considerably, depending on what you’re using it for at that particular moment. So it only makes sense to have more than one long gun.
For hunting, you’ll need a good scoped rifle, with a powerful enough cartridge for the type of game you’re going after. One of the more popular, but by no means most popular, rounds for this is the .308 Winchester, which is essentially the same as the 7.62mm NATO round used in the AK-47. This should make it a fairly easy round to find. However, the 300 Winchester Magnum is the most popular, followed by the .300 Weatherby Magnum and .300 Remington Ultra Magnum.
That hunting rifle can also be used as a sniper rifle, if you need it. But it is highly unlikely that you will need a sniper rifle, unless you have a sniper taking pot shots at your home or survival retreat. Remember, you are legally limited to defending yourself. The concept of “The best defense is a good offense” doesn’t apply to survival.
For home defense the most popular rifle is some version of the AR-15, usually chambered in 5.56mm, although it is possible to get the AR-15 chambered in just about any caliber you want. The nice thing about the AR-15 is that it is a very versatile firearm. For home defense, you have the ability to change magazines quickly, as well as the ability to mount whatever optics you prefer on it.
The other great option for a home defense firearm is a shotgun. Contrary to popular belief, the spread of the shot fired from a shotgun isn’t very far when you’re talking about the kind of range you’d have in home defense. So, while it is often referred to as a “point and shoot” weapon, you actually have to aim it when using it for home defense. That way, you hit what you’re aiming at, rather than putting a hole through the wall beside them.
There are many who would ridicule me for doing so, but I keep a red dot optical sight on my tactical shotgun. This allows me to aim it fast and accurately, should I choose to use it for home defense, rather than my AR-15.
Another thing to consider in tactical shotguns are the newer “bullpup” designs. In the last few years, a number of manufacturers have come out with these shorter shotgun designs, where the action of the gun is actually in what we would normally consider the shoulder stock, making the overall length considerably shorter, while still meeting the requirement of having a barrel that is over 18” long. The shorter overall length makes it much easier to maneuver inside a home with these firearms.
Whatever You Choose
No matter what you end up deciding, make sure that you practice and practice some more with your chosen firearms. Shooting is a skill; one that can take a considerable amount of time to master. Unless you’ve burned up a lot of ammo in your chosen firearms, you can be sure that you’re ready to use them when the time comes. You want to reach a point where you have both speed and accuracy, not only with shooting, but with reloading and the other manual tasks associated with shooting.