In complete deference and with a tip o’ the hat to Ranger Man’s “Top 10 BEST guns for Survival”, I wanted to make an every-man’s “Top Guns” list that didn’t incorporate the dreaded “black guns” or anything with a need for detachable mags to keep running effectively. The KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory dictates that the simpler a gun can be, the more effective at a given job it should be, especially given a longer timeline. This isn’t to say that a New England Firearms break-open .410 will be a better gun to have in a firefight than a tricked-out AR-15….but it is saying that once the magazine supply and batteries for optics run dry for the AR, that old fashioned break-open gun that has about 6 moving parts and still works looks mighty desirable. So while I’ll contend that a scoped M1A or rugged AK will be very useful if TSHTF, I will also contend that the guns in this list will make themselves more useful before TSHTF, and arguably just as useful afterwards. Best of all, these guns (most, anyway) don’t use detachable magazines…if they do, the magazine can be reloaded while still locked in the gun. Can’t say that of an AR, AK, or M1, can ya? Onto the list!
The Marlin 39A is one of those wonderful machines that have been optimized, streamlined, and gracefully sculpted into a rifle that is no bigger than it has to be, yet perfectly sized for what it needs to do. My father got my brother and I a matched pair of 1950′s-vintage 39As after we outgrew our youth .22s, and used them to teach us the basics of precision shooting and use of an aperture (peep) sight. Within not much time at all, we were hitting empty .410 shotgun shells at 25 yards offhand shot for shot, further away if we were sitting or prone. They are wonderfully accurate (many a squirrel and crow fell to its “crack!”), reliable and smooth as the sun rising, and with the magazine loaded up with its full payload of nineteen .22 Long rifles, twenty-one .22 longs, or twenty-six (!) .22 shorts, it can hold its own in the firepower department. As an added bonus, turn a thumbscrew in the side of the receiver, and the gun breaks down into two sections that can be easily stowed away or cleaned. I have a very special place in my heart for these little beauties…and you’ll notice, if you try to find one, a lot of other people do, too…they seem to be a tad tough to find.
SMITH & WESSON MODEL 17/K-22
The illustrious K-22 is a gun, in my opinion, that deserves the factory-given moniker, “Masterpiece”. Based on the “K” or medium, frame size, it is not a big gun, but it, too, is perfectly sized for its niche. These guns took home countless trophies in the heyday of indoor gallery shooting, before the .22 autopistols took over, and they are still carried by many, many sportswomen and sportsmen out in the field (including me!), in case the opportunity for a clean shot on small game comes their way. My personal 6″ barreled K-22 is a shooting wonder, being able to put all six shots of Winchester T-22 ammo in one tiny ragged hole at 15 yards if I do my part. Newer models can sport shorter barrels with full underlugs and 10-shot cylinders, but they still have the same thoroughbred pedigree. I’ll never part with mine…hell, I still use it all the time!
SMITH & WESSON MODEL 686
These rugged workhorse revolvers came about in 1980, in a (successful!) attempt to address complaints from police officers and sportsmen that their K-frame .357 Magnums were “shooting loose” after a steady diet of stiff magnum loads. S&W introduced a brand-new frame size, the ‘L” frame, which was much more solidly built than the “K” frame guns that had been finding their way into policemen’s holsters for ages, due to its light weight and power. These guns can take a severe beating, folks, and that’s why they made this list. Yes, the bigger “N” frame .357 Magnums could be considered tougher, but as one who has packed a Model 27 in the field regularly, I can say with certainty that the big “N” frame revolver’s bulk can be fatiguing. That’s where this gun comes into play. They were also introduced in blued steel as the Model 586 and 581, with adjustable and fixed sights, respectively…however, for a true SHTF gun, the stainless steel 686 and its fixed-sight brethren, the 681, have it where it counts most. You can get these in 2 1/2, 3″, 4″, 5″, 6″, and 8 3/8″ barrels. The compatibility of .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads is always nice, too. Couple a 4″ barreled 681/686 with a nice carbine in .357 Magnum, and you’re stylin’. Speaking of….
WINCHESTER 1892/1894 and MARLIN 336/1894Winchester 94 “Trapper”
Marlin 1894 Carbine
I’ve written about these guns before in the blog, and for good reason. The original “assault rifle” (pardon the term)…lever-action rifles have been keeping soldiers, hunters, scouts, and everyday folk safe since the Henry Rifle plowed through Confederate troops in the U.S. Civil War. these guns are tough, tough workhorses. Peruse pretty much any rack at a gun shop, and you’ll see lever-action rifles of varying vintage, from late 1800′s vintage all the way to brand new, still work, and work well. Folks, if a rifle is STILL working after over a century of hard use and coming back for more, you know we’d do well to consider it for our plans. Pretty much every common caliber these guns came in (.30-30, .32 Special, .35 Remington, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum) is still available in quantity today, and it will do everything you need it to do, with utter reliability and lightning-quick handling qualities. They are still 100% valid and useful today, 120 years after their respective introductions. Get you one!
This is the one gun on the list I have not owned, nor shot extensively. But MAN, do I want one. YES, I know it has a detachable magazine. But it can be loaded without removing it from the gun (so you don’t lose it!), or the gun can be used as a slick single-shot if needed. But the two main reasons it made this list are the: the caliber lineup, and the handling. The CZ527 comes in several commonly-appreciated calibers (the .22 Hornet chambering tugs at my heart-strings), but what I’m looking at for SHTF duty are the .223/5.56mm and 7.62x39mm. These two military calibers are starting to become very readily available again, and everyone is stocking up on them. If you gotta hope to find an ammo cache as you wander a wasteland, might as well hedge your bets and have your gun be in the most common calibers, right? The 7.62x39mm is also about as powerful as a .30-30, making it powerful enough to reliably hunt deer-sized critters. Oh, and did I mention that these babies come up to the shoulder like an 8th grader runs to an iPad? My birthday is in July.
MOSIN-NAGANT M91/30 or M44
The Mosin-Nagant rifles were Russian main battle rifles from 1891, when they were designed, all the way up through use in the 1950s. Like the country’s stereotype, these rifles are real bears…tough as nails and brutally powerful. The 7.62x54R caliber is ballistically equivalent to our .30-06, and at the gun shop I used to work at, we always called them “Russian brick splitters”. Bring an M44 (pictured above) to the range, and once you open up with that baby, everyone will stop shooting and look down at you to see what’s causing all the racket. The Russians made things that were simple and WORKED, especially in the frozen wastelands of Northern Russia and Siberia…and these guns were no exception. Due to their rising popularity, accessories are being developed to make them a bit easier to use and more ergonomic, as well as adaptable to using optics. Ammunition is dirt cheap too, and can be found in huge quantities. The 91/30 model is a bit longer than the M44, which is the short carbine model, with a side-folding bayonet attached. Word to the wise, though…I’ve shot tons of these guns (with utter glee) and ain’t none of them shot to the same point of impact when the bayonet is deployed. You can still get these guns (sometimes with ammo) for around $150 in decent shape. Get one, bury it, and forget about it until you need it…and it’ll still work then, too.
SAVAGE 24 COMBINATION GUN
Yep, they’re ugly as sin. But they may be one of the most useful beauties you’ve ever seen. You see, the Savage 24 was a “combination gun”, meaning it had two barrels. The lower one was a shotgun (12 ga, 16 ga, 20 ga, or .410) and the upper was a rifle caliber…ranging from the .22 LR all the way to .30-06. The usefulness should be pretty apparent…you can be out foraging for game, and shoot a moose then a flying partridge within two seconds of each other. An excellent choice for the person who can only afford one gun, yet wants to come close to doing it all. The 12 ga/.223 variation seems like a good bet to me.
H&R 158 “TOPPER”/ NEF “HANDI RIFLE”
The H&R 158 “Topper” and NEF “Handi Rifle” (same gun, different eras and licensed gunmakers) are the quintessential non-semi-auto SHTF gun. Simple. Tough. Versatile. Inexpensive. Accurate. EVERYWHERE. You can’t walk into a gun shop without seeing a one or two of these. The beauty behind these gun is in versatility. Pull off the forend with your hand, open the action, and the barrel lifts out of the receiver. Grab a different caliber/gauge, pop it in, close it, snap on the forend. Bam, in seconds you’ve just changed your capabilities. Available in a truly dizzying array of calibers over the years (I’ve seen them in weird calibers like .22 Jet, .225 Winchester, and .38-55…as well as all the standard “normal” calibers), you can stock up on barrels like you stock up on ammo. They’re as tough as Chuck Norris, containing only a few parts, all of which are sturdily made. You can get them for around $100-150 if you don’t mind a couple dings…and you won’t regret it. Youth sizes are offered too, and they make excellent training guns. Why don’t you have one?
I had lots of others on the list, but it’s getting long enough (Yes, Ray, I know there’s no black powder guns on here…that’s a future post!). All of these guns will serve you well now, and after any Worst-Case scenarios. I bet you probably never considered (or maybe even heard of) many of them…put down the laptop, log off from AR-15.com, and try out some other guns that will save your bacon when your BCG breaks. You’ll be glad you did.
How about you guys? What would you have put on the list? Have a great Wednesday!