Note – this post on the best survival guns is part serious, part fun. They’re also a reflection of my general preferences, which may or may not be logical in nature. You may find the comments section of particular interest.
Further, if you are looking for an exceptionally informative, no-nonsense source of information on selecting the best survival guns and building a collection of practical firearms, I highly recommend Steve Markwith’s book Survival Guns: A Beginner’s Guide. Bonus – being the first book in his series, it’s reasonably priced.
Now, on to the list…
#10 – The Mighty Barrett .50 BMG
Okay, okay, I kicked this list off with the Barrett just because. I don’t own one, and I wouldn’t buy one, but I’ll tell you what, if SHTF, and you have one, you’re on my side.
The sticker price ($3,000-$12,000) on one of these monsters is enough to take anyone’s breath away, but witnessing the colossal *POW* that this bad bitch delivers waaaay down range will also take your breath away. Nothing on the civilian market can deliver anything close to the *smack* of the Barrett. Consequently, there’s a growing movement in different states (mainly New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Illinois) to remove the .50 BMG rifle from the civilian market altogether. (See ATF National Firearms Handbook.) California banned it in 2004. So, if you have more money than you know what to do with, this could be a great investment. Buy a few and then sell them after they’re banned nationwide for 4 times what you paid for them.
The cartridge selection for these rifles is disturbing to say the least. They come in incendiary, armor-piercing, armor-piercing/incendiary, tracer, and armor-piercing/incendiary/tracer all-in-one. A .50 BMG sniper rifle was used by a Canadian solder in Afghanistan in 2002 to pull off the longest-range, confirmed sniper kill in history when he delivered the insane ball of lead to a Taliban insurgent 1.5 miles away.
Advantages: It’ll make anyone go “. . . . . . wow;” it’ll penetrate light armor with NO problem; people will open the door for you when they see you carrying it; you can disable equipment and engine blocks from over a mile away; Made in the U.S.A.
Disadvantages: Price, size, weight and recoil (ouch!); very limited availability of the high-end, military grade ammunition you’d need to fully realize this rifle’s capacity
#9 – SKS Rifle
For what you’d spend on one Barrett .50 BMG you could buy a truckload of these things. I’m not a big fan of them. A friend of mine has (maybe had) a Russian SKS and the thing would sometimes fire two rounds with one trigger pull. This may sound cool, but neither of us thought it was. They’re cheap for a reason.
Advantage: They’re cheap
Disadvantage: They’re cheap
Number #8 – Bolt-Action .308
Here it is. You need a sniper set up – period, and there’s a reason the .308 is the most widely used sniper round, it delivers – consistently. It may not have the more flat trajectory of a .270 or the extra wallop in a 30-06 (30-06 ammo), but it delivers, has moderate recoil, and offers a more common caliber with a wider selection of ammunition.
Pictured to the right is my .308 Browning rifle. I painted it myself. Read How to Paint Your Rifle Digital Camouflage.
Of course, the flip side of having a sniper set up is that it’s only worthwhile if you actually spend A LOT of time (and money) learning how to use it effectively at long distances. Chances are, for anyone not in Navy Seal sniper school, they’re not going to. However, the rifle can still get plenty of use hunting large game. The 180 grain .308 cartridge is my top recommendation for large game. It hits hard.
Advantages: Common caliber. Highly accurate.
Disadvantage: No rapid fire.
#7 – Springfield M1A
What’s better than a bolt-action .308 WTSHTF? A semi-automatic .308. If you’re 3 weeks into TEOTWAWKI, holed up in your house with stacks of books around your picture window to serve as makeshift “sandbags,” you’ll want the M1A standing nearby. Gotta send a message to The Golden Horde hanging out by your mailbox? The M1A will do it.
Advantages: Common caliber. They’re really pretty. Made in the U.S.A.
Disadvantages: $1,400 and up typically for a new one. Heavy if carrying long distances.
#6 – 1911 .45 ACP Handgun
Ah yes, a handgun enters the scene. You have to have a handgun, and the 1911 .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) is a beauty. Let’s say it appears TEOTWAWKI is on the verge of happening and people are panicking. They’re out in force to empty the local grocery store’s shelves, and you’re heading into town as well to get whatever you can. This is the stage at which you’re not going to head out with rifles wrapped around your torso unless you’re begging for trouble – HOWEVER – you’re not going unarmed either. Shit could break out in the cooler isle as 28 different dads battle over the last gallon of milk and suddenly one them pulls a piece. You need to be ready without letting people know you’re ready. Additionally, you need a piece for your SHTF “go bag” and the .45 contains a whole lotta lead.
Advantages: Conceal and carry (compared to a rifle). Whole lotta lead. Common caliber.
Disadvantages: Limited magazine capacity (typically 8 + 1 in the pipe); $800 and up for a good one
#5 – Remington 870 12 Gauge Pump-Action Shotgun
Let’s hear that again.
The sound is undeniable. You hear that and you instantly know what it means, “You wanna roll with me?” The only reasonable response is, “errrr . . . . nah, I’ll move along.”
You can get a shotgun that’ll take a bigger shell, but you don’t need it. The 12 gauge is exceptionally common and it’ll take a variety of shells: birdshot for game hunting survival purposes; double-ought buck for pushing intruders not only down, but back out the window they came in through; and slugs for anything else.
Want to mount that shotgun to your bed frame (lol)? Check out one of my previous posts on “The Backup” here.
Advantages: Common caliber. Many accessories available (pistol grips, tube extensions, etc.). Obscene knock-down power.
Disadvantages: None come to mind.
#4 – AK-47
It’s durable, designed to be thrown into a mud hole for a month when it can be dug out and immediately used without cleaning. That might be an exaggeration, but not by much. It also delivers a beefy round for a standard issue assault rifle. If you’re outside the United States, there’s likely readily available parts and ammunition.
Advantages: Banana clips, baby (I know, I know – “clip” – but “banana clip” sounds better than “banana magazine.”) Jungle style banana clips, baby.
Disadvantages: Lacks the accuracy found in other assault rifles; made in China, or Russia, or Yugoslavia – you get the idea.
#3 – Compact 9mm Handgun
What’s a more common caliber than the .45 ACP? The 9mm. Advances in ammunition have closed the gap on the 9mm’s power when compared to other, similar-sized handguns. Recoil is manageable for virtually any person. You can get 9mm handguns in many different sizes, shapes, and price points. Everyone should have at least one.
Advantages: Cheaper to shoot than the .45 (and thus practice with). High capacity magazines. Easy to conceal and carry
Disadvantages: None come to mind.
#2 – Ruger 10/22 Rifle
I can hear it now, “What!?” That’s right, the .22 rifle. It’s ALL about survivalism. Look, when TEOTWAWKI hits you’re going to want a rifle like the Ruger 10/22 as a put-some-sort-of-meat-on-the-table gun. Squirrels, gophers, the neighbors’ cats, any of that. The 10/22 is quiet, effective, and you can shoot all damn day for what it’d cost you to buy a 6-pack of PBR.
They’re great for kids (it was my first gun). They’re great for adults, too (I still shoot it).
Additionally, a little recognized fact, Chechen rebels successfully used .22 rifles for sniping Russian troops in urban settings. The urban setting consisted of narrow streets and close buildings allowing these “snipers” to get exceptionally close to their targets. They strapped soda bottle silencers on them to further the effectiveness. I don’t care what you say about the .22lr, take one in the neck and you’ll think differently.
Advantages: Already stated – go buy one.
Disadvantages: None whatsoever.
#1 Best Gun for Survival…
The MIGHTY AR-15!
This should really come as no surprise. My only guess as to why so many survival writers don’t list the “Black Rifle” as their top choice is because they want to set themselves apart from the pack. Like in politics, when you’re the man on top, you can expect attacks. There are very solid reasons for the AR-15’s extreme popularity and cult-like following. There are very solid reasons why its the #1 choice of the U.S. military and para-military groups (“AR-15” to include all variations). It’s the best – period.
Explaining in great detail why I believe the AR-15 is the single best choice for survivalists goes beyond the scope of this post. I will detail it in the future, however. In the meantime, basically…
Advantages: Very common caliber. Fast bullet with flat trajectory. Highly adaptable platform that allows the user to meet mission specific needs. You can get accessories galore, from flashlights to night vision gear to single-point and two-point slings. They’re everywhere (meaning so are parts). Wide variety of available rounds from 55 grain to 75 grain, tracer rounds, steel penetrator tips, etc. Very, very light recoil. Made in the U.S.A., and in the case of Windham Weaponry, Made in Maine!
Disadvantages: Smaller caliber than what’s found in other battle rifles. Many moving parts. Rather annoying to clean compared to other rifles. The gas system often comes under criticism for throwing the “gunk” back into the chamber (this problem has been remedied in some newer models – at a higher cost).
So those are my Top Ten Best Guns for Survival. What are yours!?