6 Calibers That Fly Under The Prepper Radar

If you’ve been a gun-owning prepper or survivalist for any amount of time, you’ve probably noticed a pattern.  After every Best Prepper Caliberlarge-scale shooting where a politician opens his mouth and breathes the words “gun control”, whenever a large-scale firearms regulatory law goes into effect (remember the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban”?), or whenever there is a general alarm that gets raised for a perceived condition, certain firearms and ammo calibers suddenly become unobtainable for a period of time.

By Drew, a contributing author of SHTFBlog & Survival Cache

Most recently, after the tragedy at Newtown, I remember whole AR-15s, AR stripped lower receivers, AR magazines, .223/5.56mm, 9mm,7.62x39mm, and .22LR ammo just being ripped off the shelves at the gun shop I worked at.  Glocks and 9mm ammo disappeared in a flash. Heck, .22 LR production STILL hasn’t recovered fully.

All the standard go-to guns and calibers that preppers gravitate towards – AR-15s, AK variants, SKS variants, Glocks and other Top Survival Blogsemi-auto handguns, any .22 rifles and handguns, for example – are the first items to vanish once the balloon goes up.  While I can’t say that I don’t take part in grabbing what I can when I see trouble on the horizon, I do also take notice that there are some calibers and some guns that always seem to be around, even during scares.  That got me to thinking: are there caliber and firearm combinations that I should be looking into if I want to maintain a relatively uninterrupted supply chain during the alarmist times that are sure to come – especially if a certain someone gets elected this November?

Let’s take a look at a few great calibers that always seem to stay on the shelves in extreme times (at least in my corner of the world), and are definitely worthy of a second glance, especially if your plans don’t require High Speed Low Drag ARs or AKs.

The Secret 6

1) .270 WINCHESTER:  The .270 is an oldie but a goodie, having been introduced by Winchester in the early 1920’s as a pairing with their new Model 54 (one of my personal favorite rifles ever).  The late, great gun writer Jack O’Connor quickly endorsed the caliber and the cartridge quickly found widespread favor with hunters who appreciated the round’s versatility: it shot hard enough to be effective on most of North America’s big game, yet the trajectory was so flat that varmint hunters embraced it for long-distance shooting as well.  The cartridge shoots a  .277” (6.8mm)130-grain bullet well over 3,000 feet per second (fps), and 150 grain bullets at almost 2,900 fps – and these figures can be improved upon with handloading.  Speaking of handloading: bullets are available from 90 grain varmint weights, all the way to deep-penetrating 180-grain bullets. Factory loads on store shelves are almost always 130, 140, or 150 grains.

Also Read: Building The World’s Most Versatile Gun

The .270 Winchester still consistently places in the top ten most popular U.S. centerfire caliber lists – a nod to its effectiveness, even though it’s not the newest, hottest powder-burning hot rod caliber out there.  The sheer popularity also guarantees that ammo companies will be producing this caliber in large quantities for years to come.

The .270 still comes as a standard caliber in a wild array of rifles (again, owing to its popularity).  You like semi-autos?  The Remington 4/74/740/742/7400 line of rifles or the Browning BAR are available in this caliber.  Pump action? Sure!  Take a gander at the Remington 6/76/760/7600 family.  Lever guns?  The Browning BLR is pretty sexy and good at what it does.  Bolt guns?  Pretty much every manufacturer out there makes one (usually many more than one) in their long action configuration. Added bonus:  You can get 10-round extended magazines for the Remington 7400 family, making it a heavy-hitting, fast-firing semi-auto rifle that doesn’t set off “black rifle” alarms.

2) .17 HMR (Hornady Magnum Rimfire) & .17 Mach2 (MK2):  The .17 caliber rimfires came out in the early 2000’s as speedier, flatter-shooting alternatives to the .22 WMR (Winchester Magnum Rimfire) and the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle.  The .17 cases are designed by necking down the parent .22 cases to accept flyweight .177” projectiles.  The .17 HMR, based on the .22 Magnum, has been a modest success, while the .17 MK2 never really took off.  However, ammo is on the shelves in the bigger box stores when the .22 shelves are barren and collecting dust.

Ballistically, these calibers out shoot their parent cases with ease, with far higher velocities and flat trajectories making them stellar small game (think smaller than coyotes) calibers out past 100 yards.  The downside is the lightweight bullets don’t buck wind as well, and don’t retain energy very well.  The little tiny jacketed .17 caliber bullets are more expensive to produce in their many forms (FMJ, Polymer Tip, JSP, and JHP bullets are available) so be ready for sticker shock if you’re used to buying .22 LR at $40/brick.  But if it’s there and the .22 is not, The diminutive .17 rimfires suddenly look a lot better…

Related: Best Handgun Calibers For Survival

There are several rifles out there available if you look.  Savage and Marlin seem to lead the pack with the .17 HMR, and Ruger made the 10/22 series guns in .17 MK2 if you poke around.  There are also conversion kits available if you want to change out your big boy caliber AR upper and shoot .17 HMR or .17 MK2.  The .17 rimfires are expensive plinkers, but devastatingly useful foraging and varmint eradication calibers.

3) .40 S&W:  This caliber is included here as more of a prediction based on current events.  The .40 S&W is really a great Best Survival Gunshandgun caliber, effectively bridging the gap between 9mm and .45 ACP.  The handgun world is experiencing a paradigm shift these past couple years, with the FBI and many other police departments switching to 9mm – the 9 is a bit more controllable, and holds more ammo in the mags.  With bullet and powder technology making advances quickly, the 9mm is having the playing ground leveled somewhat.  (Nobody has seemed to mention that these advances might make the .40 S&W and .45ACP that much better, too…but I digress.) 9mm ammo is also less expensive, with military surplus or mass-produced military style ammo easy to find these days…though the 9mm military 124-grain FMJ ball round is notoriously ineffective.

The .40 is still a very viable caliber for anyone to consider, fitting between the 9mm and .45 ACP perfectly.  Yes, the caliber is a high-pressure meanie, causing more muzzle blast and recoil, but guess what?  It’s not that bad.  There, I said it and I mean it. I carry a S&W M&P Compact in .40 S&W every day – and its recoil is easy to work with if you practice.  Full-sized .40 guns are easily controlled.  A .40’s standard load of 155-grain JHP at 1,200 FPS is pretty mean – especially when you consider that the “gold standard” 9mm load – the 124 grain Speer Gold Dot – is only 100 FPS faster.

Related: 2 Guns, 1 Caliber

Fast forward to a politician-driven weapons ban or even a SHTF event – since everybody has switched to 9mm, that ammo Top Survival Calibers for Survivalistscreams off the shelves.  The .45ACP fanboys follow suit.  The .40 S&W, while still relatively popular now, is declining with people starting to swing to the 9mm or .45 ACP camps – so ammo will likely be available for long enough for you to go out and top off the reserves if you act fast enough.

There are literally hundreds of awesome .40 S&W pistol designs out there, especially in the police department trade-in market. You can get Glock 22, S&W M&P or Sig P226 PD trade in pistols for half the cost of a new 9mm variant.  Tried to find a Glock 19 lately?  Good luck with that! But Glock 23s – the exact same gun in .40 S&W – are usually in stock in most stores.  It never hurts to have a gun with a caliber that begins with “4” in the SHTF arsenal.

4) .30-30 WINCHESTER:  The timeless .30-30 Winchester was introduced a staggering 121 years ago for Winchester’s fresh-off-the-presses John Browning-designed 1894 Model levergun.  It became a runaway success immediately, with its .30 caliber bullet motivated out the muzzle at the serious-for-the-time 2200 feet per second.  It was used all over the globe and considered a great game-killer, even being used on game like brown bears and African species.  Today, we would shudder at the thought of hunting leopard with a .30-30, but in the early 20th century, the little rifle’s fast-handling characteristics and zippy bullet meant it was THE caliber to have for hunting. (Remember, the ’30-06 wasn’t even introduced until 1906 – and it probably still took a while for it to get to the civilian market.)

For a modern SHTF planner, the same still holds true.  The .30-30 is still a very effective caliber for protection and game-getting. To this day, handy, fast .30-30 rifles are coming off the production lines, and modern bullet and powder technology like Hornady’s LeveRevolution series have breathed new life into this ancient caliber. Winchester alone made over SEVEN MILLION ’94 Winchesters, and Marlin’s 336 is still running strong. If you handload and you own a bolt-action .30-30 like Remington’s tack-driving Model 788, you can push the .30-30 awfully close to .308 Winchester velocities. It’s a versatile caliber, with factory loads produced from 125 grain hollowpoints to 170 grains. Prepper tip: the .30-30 is ballistically VERY similar to the infamous 7.62x39mm that feeds millions of AK variants worldwide.

A good  man with a ’94 Winchester or 336 Marlin can rip a magazine full of aimed rounds off a lot faster than you’d think – and aftermarket accessories are available to mount lights, scopes, and more to these often-overlooked designs. Due to the sheer number of .30-30 rifles in the world still on active duty, ammo will always be made and should be available when that 7.62×39 for your SKS isn’t.

5) BELTED MAGNUMS:  Ahh, the magnums.  All testosterone and horsepower.  And recoil.  And noise.  And it’s on the Top Survival Blogshelves in the common calibers.  When the post-Newtown scare had every gun guy buying up .308, 5.56mm, and 7.62×39 the second they saw it, the 7mm Remington Mag, .300 Winchester Mag, and .338 Winchester Mag were still hanging out like the smelly kid at a school dance. Why? Well, they are fairly specialized calibers.  They are excellent at what they do – shooting long, long, loooong distances, hitting with lots of authority, and grouping accurately.  However, the calibers produce lots of recoil.  All that powder in those huge, fat cases means a brutal muzzle blast and stout recoil.  The long cartridges require magnum-length rifle actions, which means the rifles are heavier and overbuilt.  Handloaders shy away from them due to the huge amounts of gunpowder that the cases swallow up.  And those finger-sized brass cases and large amounts of powder means that any factory ammunition you grab up will be quite expensive.

But all that being said, these calibers have a definite place in the SHTF arsenal.  For the purposes of this article, we have to point out that this ammo is usually on the shelf.  Also, like all the calibers on this list,they aren’t military calibers per se – these are 99.9% used for hunting big game – so ammunition bans aren’t likely to target these calibers. But the real shiny reason to have one of these in the rack is that they are capable of hitting targets hundreds of yards away. (I personally shot a West Virginia whitetail buck at over 600 yards with a .300 magnum – and I have a witness! )  Now, that doesn’t mean that owning one suddenly makes you Chris Kyle – it takes lots of practice rounds downrange to be able to put a bullet that’s less than a third of an inch across into a four-inch bullseye at 500 yards.  But you have the capability at your disposal, and many can see the use of a long-range, accurate, hard-hitting game rifle once the chips are down.

Stick with the 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .338 Winchester Magnum.  The new “super Mags” from many makers, the Weatherby calibers, as well as the .300 and .375 Holland & Holland cartridges are too few and far between, and will be hugely expensive to procure, even in quantity.  Rifles for all these calibers can be sourced from pretty much all the major manufacturers – mostly bolt guns, but there are semi-autos and lever actions out there too.  Check out the Nemo Arms Omen series if you want to do some SERIOUS drooling.

6) .30-06 SPRINGFIELD:  I’m saving the best for last.  My grandfather always told me, “if you can’t kill it  with an ought-six,Best Survival Gun you shouldn’t be shooting at it in the first place.”  That phrase always rang in my head and made me smile, and it’s probably the major reason why it’s my favorite caliber of all time.  But it holds true – the .30-06 has probably killed every species of game on this planet (whether or not it was a smart idea to be shooting at Cape Buffalo with an ’06 is debatable).  The 110-year old .30-06 design may very well be the most versatile caliber on the planet.

The Old ’06 is just one of those calibers that turned out “right”. An evolution of the .30-03 case with a shorter neck, the .30-06 was brought about as a military caliber, and it quickly turned into the sportsman’s sweetheart – and it never went away.  Today, the .30-06 is running as strong as ever, even in the face of new designer calibers – many of which are based off the ’06 as a parent case.  Excellent rifles are being turned out in droves with the ’06 as the bread-and-butter caliber. It is a dependable caliber that will kill anything on the North American continent with authority (even the big coastal brown bears if you’re good about bullet placement).

Factory loads used to start at 55 grains with the old saboted Remington “Accelerator” loads (I’m not sure if these are still produced), but now they start off with Hornady’s 125-grain SST rounds and go up through the heavily-jacketed 220-grain round nose loads, with most fodder you run into being 150, 165, or 180 grains.  The ’06 is a handloader’s dream, being forgiving to load for, with excellent accuracy usually resulting. If I could only have one rifle caliber in this world, it’d be the .30-06.  Luckily, ammunition is plentiful and pretty inexpensive – as are rifles in any configuration you could really ever dream of. You don’t have one?  Why not?


This article is relatively subjective, based on what I’ve seen with my own two eyes as people react to situations out of our control. If you don’t want to be a slave to scraping the bottom of the barrel and price gougers, one of the above calibers in a high-quality firearm is a safe bet. It may not be the sexy AR-15 with a high-capacity drum and lasers and 20 power scopes and lights you dream of. But a firearm is only useful when it has ammunition – and what you have when the ball drops is what you have.

Related: Military Surplus Guns For SHTF

If what you want is that chicks-dig-it AR or AK, get it now.  Get ammo and mags now. As of today (3/10/2016), ammo is plentiful and gun shop racks are bursting with magazines and accessories.  We never know when there will be another Newtown or politician-driven “Assault Weapons Ban” – one could happen today.  If you don’t want to make do with what others won’t, act now while you can. It’s a smart course of action for your SHTF plans.  If you react when the masses do, you won’t get what you need, and you’ll pay too much for what you end up with – and nobody wants “this will have to do” in a SHTF situation.

Anybody else out there have other calibers to add to this list?  My list is based on observations in the New England area – what have you seen in your locale? Sound off in the comments section!

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18 comments… add one
  • Mitch March 30, 2016, 8:11 am

    You might like the 30-06 but the 8mm Mauser has my heart.
    Hits as hard as the 06, surplus ammo chews through trees brick and meat with ease while there are a wide range of projectiles available, the rifles made to fire the cartridge are well made and compared to a Mosin Nagant, a pleasure to shoot, don’t get me wrong I respect the Nagant for a multitude of reasons but the Mauser is just.. More luxurious to shoot and just as reliable, if not more so because it doesn’t use a rimmed cartridge.

  • Mike March 30, 2016, 10:07 am

    I have to disagree, in a real SHTF scenario, Nato and federal forces are equip 5.56 or 7.62. So, realistically there Will be plenty ammo and guns as the dead stack up, and any usable equipment will be appropriated. Being realistic, a shtf scenario will lead to a 2nd civil war or revolution, whatever you want to call it. It will be mid evil times, where anything goes. Myself, will cut the heads off of the enemy, and stake them on the road for all to see.

    • Anonymous March 31, 2016, 3:06 am

      Don’t sugar coat it, tell what you think.

    • BamaMan April 1, 2016, 3:57 pm

      The difference in a “revolution” and a “civil war” is dependent on the winner. A failed revolution is a civil war or as we call it The War of Northern Aggression.
      When the government loses then its a “Revolution”, like the one between the colonies and England.

    • Franco July 11, 2016, 7:16 am

      In a true shtf scenario you are correct but I think the author is referring to another ammo run like in 2012 after newtown. Even then I notices the only Ammon on the shelves was those like he spoke about. Reloading is the real way to address the problem, except in 22lr of course. Yes you available reload 22 but still not easily. I buy components and save brass.

  • Joe March 30, 2016, 10:45 am

    All good rounds you mentioned, the only problem with a few of them, is when your out, your out. I’ve got a 7 mag. It’s not in my plan. Not because it’s not capable, but even handloading 20 rounds depletes my powder supply greatly, compared to .223

    For the long run SHTF situation, I agree with Mike. Stay with the NATO rounds. Even if it come to me having to scrounge to find ammo, the odds of finding 5.56 in quantity, are not that bad.

    Good luck to you all. I feel an empty pit in my gut, and to date, it’s never been wrong. Read “One Second After”

    • Ever Vigilant April 4, 2016, 1:12 am

      Read “One Second After” and working on “One year After” now by same author

  • Doc Montana March 30, 2016, 8:34 pm

    Great read Drew.

    Got to second the 30-06! I have two ready to go that I just had the barrels threaded for my SilencerCo Omega.

    When I was a kid, my first center fire rifle was a 30-30, but ballistically they are quite limited being tube fed. Plus it’s a short-range cartridge that occupies as much space and weight as a .308.

    Regarding the NATO rounds, I understood your point to be these six suggestions are in addition to the standard NATO cartridges. Of course we will all have our Glock 9s, AR15s and AR10s (sorry to generalize), but we could/should also have our UTR guns.

    During the big recent ammo shortage there was a mild evolutionary explosion in terms of what calibers were acceptable. The industry standards and party lines were meaningless when there was no ammo on the horizon. Lobbing lead downrange requires lead to lob. Overnight the black sheep sitting on the store gun racks became the cool kids. And like high school fashion today, there no longer seems to be any hard rules. Just appropriate and inappropriate choices.

  • Ray March 31, 2016, 4:21 pm

    30:06 .22 7.62X39 12 Ga. .45 ACP .45 Colt, and muzzle loaders both flint and cap lock. If things go sideways in the USA, one or more of those will be around for as long as smokeless ammo remains available. I have read many the self styled “expert” on post TEOTWAWKI “survival” poo-poo the muzzleloader. BUT a mine bullet will kill any game in North America and stop any man dead in his tracks and it will do it out to 500 yards. If I must shoot a man any hit from a “mine ball” to the body or long bones will drop him flat , even if it is not immediately fatal. My flintlock long rifle will take any game if I do my part, and flint rifles and hand guns killed men for far longer than caplocks and “modern” firearms did combined. IF TEOTWAWKI ever comes to pass the first three things to disappear will be drugs ammo and petroleum. And I have yet to see a forum on what to do AFTER the fish MOX ammo and gas run out.

  • riverrider March 31, 2016, 8:09 pm

    here in my area the only rifle round left was i kid you not stacks six foot tall of 06. not even an oddball box of oddball caliber left otherwise. then there was 40 cal spread out over all the handgun ammo shelves. and it stayed like that for many months.

  • BamaMan April 1, 2016, 8:50 am

    .270 has plenty of knockdown power and flatter shooting than the 30-06. By “flatter” I mean 300 yards or less for the average hunter shooting a non mil-dot/long range scope. With 130 grains its dead on from 0-175’ish and just a few inches drop out to 300.

  • Eric April 1, 2016, 1:55 pm

    I have to agree with the .30-.30. My 40 year old Marlin 336 has been my main deer/black bear rifle since I first got it. With the number of live rounds plus the reloading gear I have at my cabin, I’ve no fear of running out anytime soon in a SHTF or even a TEOTWAWKI event.

  • Chuck Findlay April 3, 2016, 7:20 pm

    As long as you have enough ammo for your needs it really doesn’t make a difference what caliber you have?

    That and the caliber you have is made to do the job at hand. A 22-LR is not a bear gun as a 458 Win is not a rabbit gun.

    Among preppers there is this cult-like belief that you MUST only have and stock common caliber firearms and guns. The problem with this is that these are the first calibers that disappear off the store shelves.

    With the ammo shortages of the last few years it was at times almost impossible to buy 22 LR, 5.56 Nato / 223 Rem, 3006 and other common rounds.

    But odd caliber ammo was still on the shelf to buy if you wanted it.

    I have some less popular calibers like 32 Mag, 17 Remington, 9 mm Ultra, 22 Mag, 7-mm TCU and several others. All of them(other then 7-MM TCU as it is a wildcat and was never made commercially) were on the shelves the last few years because not many people shoot them.

    I also have common caliber guns and ammo, but I stocked up on them years ago.

    I actually didn’t buy any ammo the last few years as I’m stocked up well. But my point is that the prepper argument of common caliber doesn’t hold true.

    Now that ammo is somewhat back on the shelves we all (those of us that need more) should stock up. Learn from the shortages and build up your stock so the next time it it won’t be a problem for you.

  • TPSnodgrass May 7, 2016, 5:23 pm

    Living close to a smaller urban area, I am enamored of my lever action .30-30 a great deal. While I do have AR-15s on hand and a great deal of ammo, in MY locale, the .30-30 is “politically friendly” STILL and always will be, and ammunition is readily available which we continue to stock up on. I will fall back on/with my sporterized M-N carbine, which is exceptionally accurate.

  • Dave Penna August 1, 2016, 6:45 am

    Really surprised to see the .40 S&W considered to be going “scarce”, when the new models out are selling like hotcakes, is a more handleable round than the .45, the guns are cheaper, and its close enough to be considered a better self protection round thanks to smaller frames, easier recoil etc than a .45 Dont get me wrong, love me some .45 ACP, but, for all around, the 9mm isnt yet in the .40 camp for knock down power, the .40 holds 5-7 more rounds than the .45. No, not as common as the 9mm, but damnclose.

    Now another cart, the .243/6mm.. not even an honorable mention ? Its a solid deer round, can take down game at 300 yds, is very accurate, and still reasonably available most anywhere. 30-06 is a great gun, had one, but, if you are smaller framed, its recoil is harsh, the 7mm Mag on up, is borderline bruiser painful. Fine guns for 6’2″ 225 lb Safari guides.. but not so much for the 5’8″ or smaller crowd, and there are lots of us.. men and women.
    .243 can be had relatively cheaply in a decent rifle, is almost as cheap to reload as the .223, has a lot more knock-down power, and will take anything up to a good muley ( with a good shot, duh ). No, you cant bear hunt or Elk hunt with it, so call this the ” below 38th parallel” round.

    just my 8 1/2 cents ( inflation ya know ).

    • Merle August 6, 2016, 1:46 pm

      I agree with the .243. Good little all around gun. Not a sniper round or an assault weapon but for putting food on the table or discouraging varmints; no matter how many legs they have, at ranges past what a .22 can do it’s hard to beat. I don’t reload and I can usually find .243 Winchester ammo on line at a reasonable price. I even find it at Walmart most of the time at under $20 a box.

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  • Higherview December 16, 2016, 7:54 pm

    To say that the .17 HMR drifts more than .22LR or 22 Magnum bullets because of it’s light weight bullets is incorrect and erroneous. Bullet weight has nothing to do with wind drift. The ballistic coefficient and velocity are what affects the amount of drift. The Hornady V-Max bullet for the .17 HMR, for instance, has a higher ballistic coefficient than all but the heaviest (and slowest) 22 Magnum bullets and it drifts less (and drops less) than a 22 magnum and much less then a .22 LR. Try one, you will see for yourself.


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