Put a BUG in your Bug Out

A BUG or Back Up Gun is a secondary (or tertiary) weapon included in your plan for when things go sideways big time. The Back up pistol for your bug out bagBUG is more than a sidearm to a primary rifle. A true BUG in your plan is a 100% functional replacement of your preferred carry weapon. A BUG is not an afterthought, or grandpa’s old revolver, or some one-off abomination of a handgun designed with form over function, or style over substance.

By Doc Montana, a contributing author of Survival Cache and SHTFBlog

BUGs come in many flavors, some quite small like the .380 Ruger LCP, and others just a step down from their big brothers such as the Glock 26 and 27. But no matter the choice, the point of a BUG is the same: it is to backup the primary weapon whether called upon by malfunction, injury, no reload possible, temporarily disarmed, or even tossed to a friendly to double the fight. But we will address a particular tangent of the BUG, namely the Bug Out BUG.


The Bug Out BUG does not need to be strapped to an ankle, stuffed in your pants, or bolted onto a chest rig as operating LEOs Best Back up gunoften do. Instead it can ride along in or on your Bug Out Bag, or other piece of “Luggage” you will carry or at least have handy.  Unless you are chasing bag guys, serving warrants, or running to the fight, the Bug Out BUG is just another tool in your mobile SHTF shed.  The Bug out BUG philosophy is pretty much the same across the survival board, but the choice of Bug out BUG is dependent upon three main factors. First, where will you be bugging out to?  If your answer involves wilderness, having two short-barrel auto pistols might not be the best option. In that case a BUG of a more useful caliber like a .22 Ruger Mark III might be a more useful tool. Hunting squirrels with a Glock 26 is entertaining, but not when you’re hungry.

The next question is who will you be bugging out with? Packing a pair of .44 mags might be great for a big guy in a bad neighborhood, but for the rest of us dirty but not Harrys a wrist-breaking pocket cannon is better served for killing engine blocks then for daily bug out duty.  Plus, unless both practiced with and prepared for the recoil of such a beast, the hand howitzers will be one-shot-only due to either flying out of the shooter’s hand, cracking the shooter in the face, or most likely the latter then the former in the same shot.

The final question is based upon that minor detail that connects Point A with Point B.  In order to reach any useful bug out location, you will need to move through space and time. So what does that space look like?  And what time of day do you plan on traversing it? Urban dwellers will have to escape their concrete jungle first before entering the natural world.  Since any situation that requires a real bug out from a city will be dangerous, the urban BUG (or hopefully BUGs) should error on the side of magazine capacity over slim profile.

Are You Experienced?

The BUGs I have carried in my Bug Out Bags, Bug Out Vehicles, and stored with other preps include Glocks, several small how to pick a back up pistolcaliber wheel guns, and the Ruger LCP, among others. For the Glock 26 and 19, I use Renegade Ridge Tactical Double-Down pistol cases. A Spec.-Ops Mini Pocket Organizer keeps my LCP, mags, and a small Bug Out Bullet Bottle organized.  As BUGs, I like the idea of having self-contained packages with a gun, mags, ammo all secure in a small padded case. That way I can toss the appropriate BUG into a kit, BOB, or BOV.

Don’t SWAT the BUG

Unlike law enforcement attire, your bug out BUG is for bugging out, not daily wear. So imagine shifting your bug out into high gear and stomping on the gas. I assume a holstered sidearm is at the top of your list of bodywear. Some of you will want to slap some additional cordite jewelry to your lower leg or drop a mouse in your back pocket. But the BUG for bugging out is a self-contained shooting kit unto its own that rides shotgun in your BOB kit.

Some Glock Love

I’m one of the lucky many who finds the Glock frame both comfortable and at the perfect angle for natural shooting. The Glock best back up pistolpoints where my mind aims. A 1911 frame in my hand naturally points towards the tree tops. And on the old-school western revolver side, my hand is more likely to fire off a crotch shot rather than at the center of mass. So for me Glocks are the obvious choice.  Adding more points to the Glock scorecard is the fact that any same-caliber Glock can eat magazines of grip size or longer. That means, for instance, a 9mm G17 can run mags of 17, 19, and 33 rounds along with drum magazines.  A G19 can run all of the above plus a shorter 15 round mag. And a G26 can run all of the above plus its own ten rounder. That means any double stack 9mm Glock mag will run in a G26 so if my BUG is a G26, it will eat all my other mags regardless if I am running my G17 or G19 as primary. In my BOB, I have several 33 round Glock mags ready to go which will work in any of my 9mm Glocks so no matter what I grab, I’m good to go. I cannot say the same about my friends who run 1911s, revolvers, Kimber jewelry, and who diversified their handgun calibers.

As if the mag interchangeability is not enough, the trio of Glock 9mms can, in most cases, share holsters. The Blackhawk Serpa Back Up Pistolholster is a fine choice and the only difference between one made for a G17 and a G26 is the length of the barrel shroud. A 26 in a 17 holster has an extra inch of coverage, while a 17 in a 26 holster extends through the shroud and out the other end. Since all Serpa holsters are open ended, a good barrel inspection should follow any mud wrestling event no matter which gun is in which holster.

All Things Equal

Finally, the issue of quality between primary and BUG is critical. I know many folks best back up gun bug out bagwho toss some old kit gun into their BOB, you know, just in case. Yet their so-called BUG is little more than a feel-good accessory chosen out of convenience. True Bug Out BUGs do not compromise quality or function because the only use for the Backup Gun is to become the Primary Gun under even worse conditions than a moment ago. Did that make sense? To state it again, your BUG must completely replace your preferred primary weapon when you have lost control of the situation. So pulling a pearl-handled double-barreled derringer out of your belt buckle might have sounded like a cool idea in the store, but never in a million years would you have chosen that gun for this particular moment. So don’t do it now.

Driving home this point further, some of my 1911 friends have their tricked out race gun or super-tuned primary, and then consider an off-the-shelf budget 1911 as a viable BUG due to the similarities in their manual of arms. The chink in this particular armor is that the reliability and performance of a tuned gun does not transfer to a nearby pistol of similar persuasion through osmosis alone. Perfection must be gunsmithed into the soul of the pistol. Yet dropping a few more Benjamins of polish and parts on a crippled mechanism that was already limping when it left the factory is a hard bullet to bite. So now the backup gun is already suspect and the fight hasn’t even started yet. On Glock front, quality is a complete and total non-issue across the entire 9mm product line.

The Other Side of the Coin

On the other hand, why would you want to store, cache, bury, or otherwise hide away and almost forget a perfectly good gun? SHTF TEOTWAWKIThe flip side of the coin allows for a low to medium quality firearm of usable caliber to be squirreled away, especially if you want to back up your bug in or bugout location. In this case, I have an old eight-shot .22 revolver and a few hundred rounds packed away with the extra knives and can openers in one of my food storage areas. The old double action gun is good enough to count on short term and in a pinch, but certainly not anything I would want for EDC during your bugout. I’ve greased up the little wheel gun and sealed it in a watertight box along with several hundred rounds of .22 in various flavors including subsonic. While not my only BUG, nor even my primary-secondary, if the social scene really does fade to black, then a small infestation of BUGs in your plan begins to make sense.

One Size Fits Some

Of course any BUG is a compromise in some respects unless you just want to keep one manual of arms by replicating your primary and your primary is perfect. While that is certainly a great way to go, and a highly defensible decision, for those who carry a full-sized handgun, or even a large compact (sorry for the oxymoron), BOB space is limited and weight is to be minimized so most BUGs will be smaller in stature but hopefully will order off the basic ammo menu. Additionally, there is the consideration of whose hand will wrap around the grip, and how much recoil that hand can tolerate. When you consider a BUG option, don’t confuse it with your standard set of weapons platforms. The default gunset for bugging out usually consists of an AR or AK military pattern rifle, a 12 gauge pump shotgun, a thirtyish caliber bolt action scoped rifle, an autopistol of 9mm or larger, and a .22 rifle. That’s a lot of blued iron to pack around so adding a BUG to the mix must be more than just one more bangstick. The primary BUG will need a special home similar to a tourniquet. It must be out of the way, but ever-present. It must be handy but not cumbersome. It must be accessible with either hand. And most of all, it must perform perfectly even though you never want to use it.

All Photos By Doc Montana

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16 comments… add one
  • Rob March 26, 2015, 3:59 pm

    If I’m buggin out…then I’m probably never comin back, so they’re all comin with me.

  • TPSnodgrass March 27, 2015, 2:23 pm

    In consider my BOB to be my Get-Home-Bag(GHB) as opposed to a BOB. However, our Bobs DO have BUGS in them that supplement our legal daily carry weapons. One can never have too many firearms or ammunition(unless you are on fire or trying to swim).
    I would rather have our BUGS and not “need” them, then need them and not have them. A mentor once shared with me, “You are never going to need a gun, until you NEED one, badly!” Seemed right then….and now.

  • Infantry architect March 28, 2015, 10:21 pm

    Someone else commented on the Bug-out-Bag being a Get-Home-Bag.
    I would echo this sentiment.
    My work is as an architect for the design of Hardened Homes and Shelters.
    When our clients talk of a bug out bag we ask them:
    Where are you bugging out to?
    How well set up are you at that location for long term life?
    Often the client is a little unsure of the bug out plan.
    We share “History has been very unkind to refugees”.
    By far a best plan is to live at your retreat and work from home.
    I cannot stress that enough.
    Bugging out is a recipe for refugee status.
    Example: Everyone in your group needs 2,000 calories per day, and one gallon of fresh water per day, at 8.34 lbs per gallon. (one week is 58 lbs of water per person, one month 216lbs). if you have water filters, you need to stay close to a source of water in your travels, but so will lots of folks, a recipe for conflict. or you need to carry all that food and water.
    It will not last long.
    What firearm(s) you have in this situation might end up valuable as barter items when the realities of life as a refugee sets in and your wife and children are cold, starving, and been without a warm bed or shower a few weeks or months.
    No one can bug out with more than a few months of supplies, even with a very robust vehicle.
    We already made the rural transition and work from home. Bugging out from here is of course a possibility, albeit far from optimal outcome, and would require the likes of a SWAT team or looting hoard or act of arson to eject us from our hardened location. Our secure cache off site has the personal effects we need to make a real go of it at our second tier retreat which has been preplanned and a reasonable distance from the secure cache if we even have to make it on foot. If you follow this recipe, your bug out bags can therefore be light and have his/hers matching gear as much as allows, including firearms. So if there is more than one person armed in your party, matching firearms would make good sense.
    Any semi auto pistol, 9mm, .40, .45 is a 300 to 500 Ft/lbs of force projectile with a bullet shape not optimized for long range, so they loose power dramatically over distance. This feature of non-aerodynamic bullet shape also limits the effective range of an pistol cartridge carbine to 75 yards as we saw with the Thompson SMG in WWII. Possibly this is of no concern if the firearm is close quarter defense only, but don’t expect to take game with it. possible yes, likely no. (but if you have the means to own a legal full auto SMG , especially in .45ACP, they are a real joy and devastating in their intended role)

    However standard military rifle cartridges are 1,200-2,600 Ft lb projectiles optimized to retain force over distance. Therefore any pistol for serious SHTF bug-out to a retreat is an unfortunate back up choice. possibly something to have, but a very last hope item. That’s not so say we don’t carry them as CCW holders. Of course we do. Its a nice item to have when polite society turns impolite in the present, but not something I would rate as a first priority SHTF WROL bug out firearm.
    There is another option.
    A class of firearm based on semi automatic military style rifles , but made into pistols. often these are classified as PDWs personal defense weapons.
    AR15s AK47s PTR91 FNFAL and many others are all offered in the PDW configuration, and the invention of the “Sig Brace” allows these to be shoulder fired.
    The rifle cartridges do loose 20-25% power and velocity in the short barrel of a PDW, however even in the weakest modern military rifle cartridge 5.56mm ; at 25% less than 1,200 ft lbs is about 2x more powerful cartridge than a pistol with even +P ammunition.
    The rifle based PDW can be matching to your groups main battle rifle as well.
    Bull pup configuration rifles also are an option, and retain full power of the rifle cartridge IMI Tavor, Steyer AUG come to mind.
    Also for those of considerable financial means, a lengthy article was penned a few years ago and posted to http://www.zerohedge.com with an very high spec bug out kit, with the combo if an FN PS90 PDW carbine and matching FN 5.7 pistol.
    Not a common cartridge, but if one has the means purchase these arms and stock the ammo, it is a very lightweight and effective cartridge in the 100 meter distance category for the get home/ bug out role.

    So If you already have a CCW (or open carry pistol) it would be redundant to pack your BOB with another 400 ft lb pistol, when a far more powerful yet back-packable size arm exists in the broad PDW range of firearms.
    I avoided the topic of shotguns based entirely on the amount of ammo one can carry. In many other roles, a quality shotgun is a great choice.
    I actually do pack a take-down Winchester 12 ga and 50 rounds of buck shot and slugs for the first leg of bug out to our secure cache, and carry my CCW. But its a short very densely wooded route, in the Pacific NW big tree forests between home and there, with I and 105 lb dog as the “point men” of our group so the Vietnam Era shotgun role is an appropriate choice for that first hike to better gear.
    But something is better than nothing, so make the best of whatever life dishes out and whatever gear you can get within your own budget and abilities.

  • Roger March 30, 2015, 2:12 am

    This sounds like a lot of Bug-Out BS or a Glock-paid advertisement! Personally, I’m a big fan of .357 revolvers, from 2.5 to 6 inch barrels; a very common caliber (+ .38 spec.), very reliable, with practice very accurate, but to each his own. Don’t forget that 12 gauge with sub-caliber adapters which give you lots of options for much less weight and size! A BOB BUG seems like just extra weight since you would surely have your primary weapons with you, starting with a ‘battle’ rifle, sidearm, maybe shotgun! Good Luck!

    • BamaMan March 31, 2015, 4:26 pm

      I am a fan of the 357 but also a Glock enthusiast. I like my 357 revolver b/c it 99.99% will not jam. My Glock is about a 95% no jam but getting 17 rounds versus six is a risk mitigant. This is why I am not a big fan of 1911 .45’s. The risk of an auto loader jamming is somewhat constant and having 9 rounds of 45 just does not make the statistical sense of 17 rounds of 9mm.

      • lance April 2, 2015, 12:58 am

        Two choices here I would pick for a full loadout…well just the guns… here they are,#1
        kel-Tec sub 2000 designed for glock magazines,
        Glock 19 as back up to the kel-tec,
        Glock 26 as BUG, and a bunch of 33 round magazines.

        The other loadout would be less combat oriented
        more Hunter oriented
        .357 magnum lever rifle marlin or Winchester
        (notice which one is capitalised?)

        .357 magnum revolver as a backup to the rifle
        Hard to jam etc..
        And a small .357 as BUG
        All 3 can use .38 special for small game or .357 mag for defense or big game.

        Both loadouts are good and reliable however someone will say something about range well guess what!! Ohio doesn’t have have that many open shots and later that would be classed as murder if it’s beyond 100 yards.

        • irishdutchuncle April 8, 2015, 4:23 am

          the prosecutor will be itching to charge you, regardless of the distance. I’d be
          “standing my ground” regardless of the distance, because I likely will be too scared to run away. (plus too fat)
          I’d say, anyone inside of 10 yards is a potential threat, whether visibly armed or not.

          • BamaMan April 8, 2015, 5:36 pm

            I agree on “stand your ground” but usually your ground is your land/home and unless you have a farm then the 100 yard shot is pushing it.

          • irishdutchuncle April 10, 2015, 2:42 pm

            … and I would never attempt a pistol shot at that range, unless I’m certain that the target is a bad guy, about to harm some innocent. I’m not out looking for any trouble.

        • Anonymous May 2, 2015, 11:04 pm

          But that’s bugging in so it’s a completely different story. you may have a lot more range and you don’t need to worry about how heavy your gear is. so I would definitely have a different load out for that.

          • lance May 2, 2015, 11:06 pm

            But that’s bugging in so it’s a completely different story. you may have a lot more range and you don’t need to worry about how heavy your gear is. so I would definitely have a different load out for that.

          • lance May 2, 2015, 11:07 pm

            But that’s bugging in so it’s a completely different story. you may have a lot more range and you don’t need to worry about how heavy your gear is. so I would definitely have a different load out for that

  • BamaMan March 31, 2015, 10:53 am

    Glock 19. Nuff’ said.

    • lance April 2, 2015, 11:21 am

      You know what’s better than a glock19.. two glock19s! One bug other primary.

      • BamaMan April 6, 2015, 10:49 am

        I have two…..easy to know which mags go with “each gun”

  • Tatie October 4, 2015, 8:19 pm

    I’m really kind of surprised that no one has brought up the Ruger LCRx with the 3″ barrel. This gun seems like it is almost perfect for a BUG when you factor in size weight vs stopping power. Ya it is a .38 special +p but it only weighs like 15 ounces unloaded and weight matters if your packing it on your back. Only thing that I could think of that would make this little gun better is if they come out with a .357 mag version.


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