You’ll need to consider several factors to get the right gun for a survival or emergency situation. We draw on many years of experience with many guns to make our recommendations. However, you’ll need to do your own research to make sure you find the one that suits you best.
Choosing the Best Gun for Survival or Emergencies
- Application. The purpose of a survival gun is to assist you in survival and emergency situations. You’re looking for something that will be useful to hunt, and to defend yourself and your property.
- Versatility. How many different applications does your gun have? To some extent, every gun can be used to hunt or for defense, so you’re looking at how well it does both.
- Specialization. This is where you’re adapting your gun for specific purposes. For example, a scoped, long-barreled, bolt-action rifle is better for hunting, but not as practical for personal defense.
- Modularity. Is your gun capable of changing functions by the addition of accessories? The Ruger 10/22 rifle is a semi-automatic rimfire .22 that can range from a decent home-defense tactical platform to a long-range varmint hunter.
- Availability. The more common the gun and its ammo, the easier it will be to find parts and ammo in tough economic times.
If you have only one gun, get a shotgun
- A shotgun is the first gun to get as you prepare your survival plan.
- It’s good for home defense and for hunting large or small game. Use a slug, 00, or 000 for larger game like deer, and use smaller shot like #6 1/2 to #8 for home defense and for small game such as rabbit, squirrel, or birds.
- If you use a slug in a choked barrel, be sure to install a “cylinder choke.” If you don’t have a cylinder choke, don’t use a slug — serious injury or death may result.
- A 12-gauge gives you the most options, and ammunition is common. It’s cheap to stock up, easy to reload, and will be more easily available than other gauges and calibers.
- A pump action is generally considered more reliable, although a well-maintained semi-automatic gives you an advantage in tactical situations.
Survival Shotgun Recommendation
Remington 870 pump, Mossberg 500A pump, or Remington 1100 semi-automatic. If you want a tactical shotgun, get the Benelli M4, unless the extra expense will prevent you from buying a rifle and a handgun. For the price of a Benelli M4 you can have a good shotgun, rifle, and handgun.
Survival Shotgun Video
Choosing a survival rifle
- Any rifle is better than none, even if it’s only a single-shot .22. This caliber is grossly underestimated, in my opinion. Ammunition is cheap and plentiful, so you can practice for cheap. With a good gun and match-grade .22 ammo you can kill even large game with a head shot out to 100 yards. I’ve seen a man hit a bird in the head at 80 yards with a scoped twenty-two from a standing position. Note: it’s illegal in most states to hunt with .22 caliber rimfire ammo, but we’re talking about a gun’s capabilities in case of necessity.
- The 30-30 lever action is light and you can find it everywhere. It is tough, dependable, and accurate enough to keep you alive. You can carry it all day long and hardly notice. Winchester and Marlin both make good ones.
- Consider a bolt action rifle if you don’t mind a little extra weight. It will give you better accuracy at longer ranges.
- Generally speaking, availability of caliber is not as big an issue with your hunting rifle, as compared with your tactical rifle, your shotgun, or your handgun. Most successful rifle hunts result in one shot, one kill. My recommendation is to use the caliber that performs best for you and stock up on it. I’ve shot less than 100 rounds through my 7 mm Magnum rifle in the last 16 years.
- A tactical rifle is an excellent all-around rifle selection. It can hunt, or it can play defense. It is extremely versatile. The AR-15 is ubiquitous, and ammo is plentiful and cheap compared to some of the high-power hunting rounds. Buy one which is specified as 5.56 mm; it will shoot both mil-spec 5.56 ammo and garden-variety .223. It is not recommended to shoot 5.56 ammo in a .223 gun because of differing chamber pressures. Other tactical rifles are available, of course, and some are far cheaper. My first was a Chinese SKS I bought for $120 in the early nineties, although they cost more now.
Survival Rifle Recommendation
Remington model 700 in 7 mm Remington Magnum; it will kill any North American large game, and with a head shot you can hunt small game without destroying the meat. Select a model with a detachable magazine. I use 168 grain boattails, which have outstanding ballistic properties. If you’re recoil sensitive, consider the same gun in .270 caliber. Weatherby makes a better bolt action rifle — if you can afford it, go for it, but the Remington is perfectly adequate. For a tactical rifle I recommend an AR-15 in 5.56 mm (rather than .223; see previous paragraph).
Survival Rifle Video
Choosing a Survival handgun
- Whatever you select, someone else will select something different. The key is to consider the variables and choose the gun that works best for you.
- Revolver v. semi-auto. Revolvers are generally considered more reliable because they can’t jam; semi-autos have more moving parts, more to go wrong. Semi-autos generally have more capacity, and once learned are nearly as failsafe as revolvers. Some semi-autos also have trigger and/or striker safeties that make them less likely than revolvers to fire unintentionally.
- If you will be carrying the gun on your person, make sure you’re comfortable with the weight. I prefer a heavy caliber (.45), and I’ll happily trade off a few other items in my backpack.
- The Taurus Judge is a special case. It fires either .45 Colt or .410 shotshells, but because the barrel is rifled it’s not a shotgun, so it’s perfectly legal. It makes a fantastic home defense handgun, but it is heavy. The ribbed grip and the weight make felt recoil entirely tolerable even when shooting shotshells. Get the model with a magnum chamber, which shoots 3-inch shotshells. A .410 magnum shell loaded with 000-Buck shoots 5 nine-mm pellets with a single pull of the trigger.
- The caliber debate will never end. Most handgun defensive situations happen within 10 yards, so even a .22 is better than nothing. The NATO 9 mm is available all over the world. The .40 cal. has more energy than a 9 mm but is lighter than a .45. The .45 ACP is very common, is subsonic, and makes a bigger hole on impact.
- A 1911 has a fabulous trigger, much better than any of the striker-fired semi-autos like the Glock, the Springfield XD, or the Beretta Px4.
Survival Handgun Recommendation
Glock 21 SF. This .45 caliber handgun accepts a 13-round magazine. It has a picatinny rail, an ambidextrous magazine release, and a slightly smaller grip than the regular Glock 21. It comes standard with the legendary Glock reliability. The Springfield XD is a close runner-up.
Survival Handgun Video
Where to buy your gun
- If you buy your gun new from a dealer, you get a brand-new gun with a known history of being only test-fired. Also, some distributors, such as Davidson’s, guarantee their guns for life. The downside is that the government then has a record of your purchase. I don’t for an instant believe that the government actually destroys the record as the law requires them to.
- As of this writing, it is still perfectly legal in most states to buy guns in private sales, except if you buy it out of state and bring it back into your state of residence.
- Some sellers will ask you to sign a bill of sale. Don’t; it’s easy to find another seller.
- The run-up to Christmas is an excellent time to buy.
- Check local sales networks on the Internet to find guns for private transfer, but check your state and local laws first.
Additional gun videos
We have information about the Sig-Sauer 556 SWAT and the Benelli M4.
Coming soon: How to store your guns and ammo