So you think you need a firearm, but is a gun essential for survival?
The honest answer is NO.
But I also can’t fathom a survival scenario where a firearm would put you at a disadvantage.
Unless, of course, you’re drowning, and the weight of the gun is dragging you down. In that scenario, let go of the weapon.
So What Kind Of Firearm Do You Need?
The most common purposes for a firearm are self-protection, food acquisition, and signaling.
Signaling is easy – any gun that goes “Bang” will do.
The other two purposes are not so cut and dried. You must weigh many factors and decisions.
Food acquisition with a firearm is what we call hunting. We can break hunting down into two categories: small game and medium/large game.
Rabbits, squirrels, possums, raccoons, birds, chipmunks, and snakes are considered small. Thus, they do not require powerful, large-caliber firearms.
Deer, buffalo, and elk are medium to large game and require a firearm with a larger bullet and more power.
When selecting a weapon, you should base your selection on the bullet/cartridge.
Sure, some makes and models of rifles and handguns are of higher quality than others. But the bullet is what does the work, and the cartridge is what sends the bullet on its way.
Start With Cartridge Choice
You should select your survival weapon by selecting your cartridge.
The ideal cartridge for small game is the .22 Long Rifle.
The venerable .22 LR is the planet’s most common, historically plentiful cartridge. Although at the moment, it’s in very high demand and meager supply.
The bullet is relatively lightweight at 40 grains. Yet it still packs plenty of penetrating power to take down about any small game. The cartridge is small enough to easily carry a thousand, even two thousand, rounds on your person.
The survival rifles that fire the .22 LR can be bolt-action or semi-automatic. Sometimes you’ll find them scoped and mostly inexpensive.
However, the maximum effective range for a .22 LR is 150-200 yards, with the best results at less than 100 yards. However, you can measure the bullet drop at 200 yards in feet, so it’s not a long-range cartridge by any means.
For larger game, the weight of the bullet, the amount of powder, and the cartridge’s size and weight grow exponentially.
These cartridges, such as .30-06 Springfield, throw a 150-200 grain bullet anywhere from 2400-3000 feet per second.
The rifles that fire these powerful cartridges are generally bolt action, very accurate and scoped.
These rifles are designed for killing medium/large game at long range. Typically in the 200-400 yards range, with maximum ranges of nearly 1000 yards.
So they excel at the long-range, larger game, yet they have some shortcomings.
The cartridges are far larger, heavier, and more expensive than the .22LR. The rifles that fire these rounds are more expensive, usually three to four times the cost of a nice .22 rifle.
And while these larger rounds are great at killing deer and elk, small game, such as squirrels and rabbits, are blown to bits by these cartridges.
The last disadvantage is weight. A thousand rounds of .30-06 come in a crate weighing over fifty pounds. So it’s not something you’ll want to add to your bug-out bag checklist.
An excellent intermediate cartridge is the .223 Remington (5.56mm). AR-15 variants commonly fire this round.
The cartridge is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than the big hunting cartridges. However, its velocity and shape are still lethal out beyond 500 yards.
This round would still make a squirrel mess; it’s not as destructive on larger small game as the big cartridges.
Depending on local laws, the AR-15 magazine typically holds anywhere from ten to thirty rounds. So extra ammo is right there in the rifle, ready to go.
How About Shotguns?
The shotgun is suitable for small game and when firing slugs, it’s even good for deer and elk. However, its ammo is designed with the hunter in mind, so it’s useless beyond 50 yards. Plus, the weight and size of a shotgun shell can be larger and heavier than rifle cartridges.
Most pump shotguns only hold a handful of shells, so you can’t carry extra ammo in the weapon itself.
What About Personal Protection?
Handguns immediately come to mind, and there are some excellent choices available. Once again, we have to consider the cartridge and its function.
The .22LR comes in as the cheapest and most plentiful handgun round. But once again, it lacks the power of its peers. However, .22 LR can be used in revolvers and even semi-automatic pistols. The .22 LR, while not packing the punch of a 9mm or .45 ACP, is still a lethal cartridge when used for self-defense.
The next most common cartridge is probably a toss-up between the 38 Special and the 9 mm Luger. Both are of comparable power. However, the 38 usually fires from revolvers, and the 9mm from semi-automatic pistols.
Other great self-defense cartridges include the .380 ACP, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and the popular .45 ACP.
All of these are great choices. However, in a survival situation, you may need to consider the quantity of ammo on hand. Not just the power of the cartridge.
- The 38 Special, .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum are all usually employed from revolvers with 5-6 rounds.
- The semi-automatics in 9mm can carry up to 17 cartridges in replaceable magazines.
Large capacities and fast reloads may be necessary for a survival situation. That’s why semi-automatics fill the bill nicely. However, semi-automatic is far more prone to malfunctions or jams than revolvers.
When the gun jams, it doesn’t matter how many rounds are in the magazine. You must clear the blockage, and racking a fresh round takes precious time.
So it’s a tough call between a revolver vs. semi-auto handguns. But handguns, in general, are a wise choice for self-defense.
They are small and easily maneuvered. This means handguns can fire on one target and quickly engage another. However, like a shotgun, they’re range limited.
Indoors, handguns are great, but at longer distances, accuracy declines rapidly.
So What About Shotguns For Self-Defense?
The shotgun has an advantage in accuracy and maybe even destructive power at short range. Firing a single shell into a mass of assailants at close range can be a game-changer.
However, you’re dead meat if you try firing a shotgun at 100 yards against a guy with a rifle.
Even in close quarters, where the shotgun is the most effective, it has the disadvantage of limited mobility.
It’s cumbersome in tight quarters, such as:
- In thick brush
- Indoors in narrow hallways
- Rooms filled with furniture
The shotgun is nowhere near as maneuverable as a handgun. It’s harder to swing the weapon around to engage the second target.
Some “coach” shotguns are shorter than standard hunting weapons. Thus, they are better for indoor self-defense purposes.
But that shorter length means a shorter range and less accuracy if used for hunting.
So What About A Hunting Rifle For Self-Defense?
Unless you are defending a compound in the middle of a thousand yards of prairie and any intruders have to spend several minutes crossing this area to get to you, the bigger “deer rifles” are no good.
Close-in they are unwieldy, like a shotgun, tough to acquire a target, fire on it, acquire a second target and engage it through high-power scopes.
While these rifles are excellent for hunting, they are not ideal for self-defense.
How About A Compromise?
The carbine is essentially a rifle with a shortened barrel. Many AR-15 variants come in carbine form.
These rifles are light, maneuverable, and can hold up to 30 rounds. They also fire with accuracy out to 400 yards, and with red-dot, reflexive sights are perfect for close-quarter confrontations.
They can meet all the basic survival needs: hunting, self-defense, and signaling. The .223 Remington (5.56 mm) is a prevalent, plentiful, and cost-effective round.
The AK-47 variants are also widespread, of comparable size, and fire a similar, plentiful round. Sure, it’s not as accurate as an AR-15. But the AK is more reliable in the dirty wilderness due to its rugged construction.
The Bottom Line Is Simple
Everyone has their opinions about which firearms are best for survival in disasters.
Weapons with common cartridges are best.
In a real end-of-civilization scenario (think Walking Dead, if necessary), you want a firearm for which:
- you can find either find plenty of ammo
- or carry all you’ll ever need to begin with
While perhaps very effective, oddball calibers are not desirable in these scenarios.
If I could only grab two guns from my safe on my way out to the apocalypse, I’d take:
- Bolt-action scoped .22 LR (and a thousand rounds)
- AK-47 (and 300 rounds)
And if I could grab a handgun in this scenario, it’d be my .22LR revolver – one more advantage of the .22 LR round.
The real trick to gun ownership is not endlessly considering your options but buying it before you need it. After you need it – it may be too late.
“Just In Case” Jack
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"Just in Case" JackCo-Founder of TheResilientLife.com and SkilledSurvival.com. Creates content, helps members, and is the visionary behind The Resilient Life’s way of living. Husband, father, mechanical engineer, survivalist, and prepper.
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