What Is The Best Survival Handgun?

by Michael K

What Is The Best Survival Handgun?

AHHH…The age old question. One would think that anyone reading this, is of course interested in their families and their own personal survival and protection. We hope our worst fears are never realized, but we all know that, it certainly could happen, HERE! It seems that the volume of bad news concerning our future well-being is coming at a unstopable and ever-increasing pace.

With the financial/debt crisis, environmental disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and earthquakes seemingly happening on an almost on a daily basis, I dare say the domino’s are falling at a more rapid pace. Our futures are, at best, in doubt. We all know, that in order to have any sort of chance to survive any future calamity depends on our preparedness, determination and our own wits.

I am sad and ashamed to say, I do not believe that the American people will exhibit the same level of calm and civility that the Japanese have in face of the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.It will be many years, if ever, they get that area back to normal. My heart goes out to them.

In the event of an American national or even local catastrophe, we may get lucky and survive the initial shock wave, but what’s next? The strongest instinct humans have is the will to survive. In the event of a disaster, those not prepared will quickly resort to any means necessary to survive. Therefore we have no choice and must prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

With that being said, the potential need for personal defense becomes more important than ever before. So, which handgun should I get, or, what handgun do I need? Which one is best? The truth is, there is no such thing, however, your choice should depend on a number of factors, such as, what model or type can I shoot the best?

The answer is simple.

The best handgun is one which you can HIT the best with. Any hit is better than no hit at all. However, if one does not or cannot HIT the target, does it really matter? No one has ever been subdued with a loud noise, which is what a complete miss actually is. A miss with a .44 magnum is worthless, a hit in the eye socket with a .22 rimfire is golden.

Equally important, given that the target is hit, in the right place (center of mass), is that the target is hit with enough power to stop or prevent your adversary from continuing to do whatever it was that caused you to shoot in the first place. A hit with an inadequately powerful round will not immediately solve the issue and will most likely only serve to enrage your adversary.

Equally, a hit must be accomplished quickly enough for you to keep from becoming a victim yourself, in other words, do unto him before he does unto you, because, if you don’t, he will. Simply put, it is about accuracy, power and speed. A balance of the three has proven to be the most effective defense strategy.

Even more important, one must be willing to do whatever is necessary to protect one’s own life or their family’s. Guns are inanimate objects, they do not kill by themselves, they require a humans’, express direction and manipulation to do that. If you are not willing to pull the trigger when it becomes vitally necessary, you WILL become a victim. Therefore,

ATTEMPTING to use a firearm for self-defense is really, after all, a moot point, one MUST do, or die. One must have the WILL to survive and be willing to do whatever becomes necessary to save ones life should the moment of truth present itself. You have to be able to actually pull the trigger if it becomes a matter of life or death.

OK, I see the need, now, what handgun should I get? Just a minute there pilgrim….. you ain’t there yet. The closest we can come to determining what is the best handgun choice for any given individual, is, what will best for THEM, everyone is different, we have different size hands, skill levels, perceived needs and, for most of us, there is a cost factor to consider.

We are very fortunate that today, our current choices are vast and varied. Handguns come in all shapes, sizes, cost and power levels. By definition, handguns are defensive in nature, purpose designed tools for defense. They truly are a “last-ditch” defensive. There are much better choices for any type of “offensive” use or hunting (though some do hunt with handguns).

Being relatively small and light, they are highly portable, quickly employed and are, of course, even concealable, hence their close range superiority for personal defense.
Ok,OK… I get it. So, what should I buy? Well, to put it simply, one that you can hit well with, quickly and has enough power to get the job done.

What works for one person may not work well for another. First and most important to consider, is reliability. The weapon MUST be absolutely reliable, function properly, all the time, every time, without fail. There is nothing worse than a weapon that fails just when you need it the most, Murphy’s Law. “Fit” is very important.

A grip surface area that is too large for your hand affects controllability and shootability. Too small a grip is just as bad as it increases the perceived recoil impulse, also adversely affecting controlability. Any handgun must fit you comfortably in order for you to effectively employ it. High visibility sights are very important as well. Sights are the steering mechanism of any firearm.

If the sights are not visible, not aligned properly with the target, you will never hit anything. Fiber optic sights are highly visible, even in poor light, but are not very durable. Lasers are NOT a good idea in my opinion. Should there be any dust or smoke in the air, such as from firing your weapon, the laser beam can be seen and traced back to its origin. NOT a good thing when someone is trying to do you bodily harm.

In a hurry up, do or die situation, I do not want to waste time looking for some little red or green dot on the target. With just a little practice, normal iron sights are MUCH quicker to see, find, and align. Any sort of optic on a fighting handgun is simply impractical. Also, anything that is electronic is failure prone and requires a power source, another negative one might not be able to deal with long-term in a survival situation.

A quality trigger is a must for good shooting. A long, heavy, gritty, creepy trigger is NOT conducive to accuracy. A 3 to 3-1/2 pound trigger pull weight is ideal, if you are skilled enough to use it. More on that later.

More verbage has been written regarding which cartridge/caliber is best for defensive use than you can shake a bunch of sticks at. The debate rages to this day. Everyone, knowledgable (or not) on the subject has his or her opinion as to what does, could or should work best.

I think it is safe to say this: ANY bullet that instantaneously interrupts the central nervous system is going to end the confrontation, instantaneously. Unfortunately, this is a hit or miss situation, no pun intended.

Very few people are good enough, accurate enough, quick enough, or are presented the opportunity to do so in street scenarios to be able to hit the CNS, reliably, on a moving, live target and make a one shot stop. Variables, variables!!! There is no pat answer.

The only thing we can say is to use the handgun that you can shoot well with, that has the most power you can direct multiple shots quickly with and PRACTICE. Practice makes perfect, ok, that’s a lie, but it does make you a MUCH better marksman and GREATLY increases your chances of survival.

Studying this subject for over 40 years, having had to employ a handgun in combat and competing in practical pistol competition for many years has taught me a thing or two. First rule of a gunfight, “Bring a gun”, ” There are NO second place winners”, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing.” “Use enough gun”. None of these axioms can I claim, they were all said by people more knowledgeable than I, some of you may recognize who said these words of wisdom, nevertheless, they are all true and are very good advise. We would all do well to take heed.

No one can tell you which handgun for defensive purposes is best for you. We can make recommendations but the final decision is yours. I will tell you my personal favorite. If I were to have only one handgun for defensive use, it would be a 1911 pattern .45 Automatic Colt Pistol.

I can hear all the cries and groans of protest already, everyone has their favorite. I realize I have just opened a VERY big can of worms here. However, the problem with all objections with my choice pretty much boils down to this. The John Browning designed Model 1911, IS, the premier fighting pistol ever designed.

It’s reliability, ergonomic excellence, power and sheer shootability in a close range social encounter simply can not be beaten. Proof? OK, how about the fact that EVERY single practical pistol match of any consequence since about 1975 has been won using a 1911 or clone or extrapolation of this design. There may be an exception here and there, but these are very rare, can be counted on one hand and was a function of the winners skill rather than a function of the basic design.

It has been in constant production for 100 years and is currently being copied by at least a dozen manufacturers. There really isn’t much left to discuss. When it comes to the raw ability to put rounds on target, reliably, quickly, accurately, and powerfully, nothing surpasses the combined excellence of the 1911 and the .45 ACP cartridge. Nothing is perfect, but as an instrument for self-defense, the 1911 seems to come pretty close.

One last thing before I go down in history as the world’s bigest blowhard. Get the very best quality handgun that you can afford, one you feel very comfortable and confident with, make sure it works every time, maintain it properly and learn safe handling (THE one safety rule that will always keep you out of serious trouble is this: “NEVER point a weapon at anything you are not willing to destroy”).

Most important of all, practice with it until shooting and hitting becomes second nature. Your personal handgun is nothing more than a tool, it is a poor craftsman who blames his tool for failure. A weapon can be considered as only an insurance policy, it cannot prevent social discourse or prevent someone trying to harm you and yours, that is totally up to you.

One other word of advice, once you have chosen your piece, seek professional instruction and practice as much as you can afford. Only then will you have an even chance of surviving when SHTF.

What do you think? Which handgun is best for you? Let us know in the comments below…

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  1. I agree with some others on this sight that a good 9mm would be the best bet for a home defense gun, and I agree with Mr. Creekmore that the Springfield Armory XD9 appears to be about the best choice available in terms of brand and model for a defensive gun as long as it fits your hand. I have tried one as my buddy has one, and for me, personally, it fits my hand well and it is a natural pointer. To add to that, it is reliable and accurate, it has manageable recoil, it’s affordable, the trigger resets very quickly, it has a great warranty, and it holds a lot of rounds. And with 115 grain corbon +p, it is quite formidable. For home defense, although the tactical model with the 5″ match barrel would be nice, I think the duty size 4″ makes more sense because it is more versatile and would be easier to carry and conceal, etc. Now, again, I like the 9mm XD because with a premium cartridge it has plenty of stopping power and can provide a lot of quick follow-up shots. I can practice with it with ammo that is cheaper than either a .45 ACP or .40 S&W (which is vital), the muzzle flash will be substantially less than the larger calibers when nighttime unwanted visitors appear, and it doesn’t go through walls and penetrate as eagerly as the larger calibers/and or FMJ rounds. And, as a carry pistol loaded with the quality hollow points, it has less chance of hitting others with ricochet or continued flight as it passes straight through the target, and it has a grip safety like the 1911.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the Glock 19 with its 4″ barrel (or even the 23), and if it had a smaller grip (maybe with the Gen 4 that I have not tried yet) and with some kind of additional safety, it certainly would be a consideration. But, I feel that the grip safety on the XD makes it much safer as a carry gun when holstering, etc.. For an all-out battle, I would probably prefer the XD40 over the XD9 with its increased stopping power and ammunition flexibility and its still quite good round capacity and its slightly less recoil than the .45 ACP version. If I lived in a state that had a 10-round limited and I wasn’t worried about what was on the other side of walls, etc. I would certainly consider the .40 over the 9mm. Or, if I was invested in the .45 ACP cartridge and had a lot stockpiled and used it for other things like a 1911, etc. then I might get the .45 to keep my ammunition stocks simpler. Because I live in NJ, I am not sure if I can get an aftermarket magazine that holds 15 rounds and I can certainly not get it for the XDM (for the 9mm). If I didn’t have other avenues going, I feel strongly that I would like to get a duty-size XD9.

    That being said, from a survival prospective, I have two guns that I currently use. Usually, I have my Beretta 92FS w/ 15-round magazines that I keep in my night stand. I got plenty of factory magazines cheaply for it and I had night sights installed on it. If I could purchase it again, and if the compact can take the standard magazines, then I would have opted for the compact. For a tactical/carry that I can only practice with in my anti-constitutional somewhat police state, I have a used Glock 23 (.40 S&W) gen 4 that I picked up for $300.00. I had new night sights installed on it for $120. It came with (2) 13-round factory magazines. I bought (8) South Korean magazines that were for the G22 (15-rounders) and they work perfectly although they stick out the bottom. I think I paid $11.00 each for them and when I ordered them I bought (6) G19 magazines (9mm). They were $11.00 each as well. So, for $170 (shipping was about $15 for all of them), I have (14) magazines plus the original (2) and have a capacity of 146 .40s and 90 9mms. Next, I bought a 9mm conversion barrel and it works just fine with the G23 magazines. The only thing is that it doesn’t work that well with the 115 grain bullets, and hence I use the 92FS for the night stand gun in 9mm. This setup would be almost perfect for me, except, in truth I wish it had a better safety mechanism if the opportunity/necessity ever required/allowed me to carry it daily. If it had a thumb or backstrap safety option (which would not need to be used unless wanted), and if the grip was slightly smaller (Gen 4?), I think I would prefer the Glock over the XD, especially for aftermarket and available parts and because it is a Glock and reliable and durable. But, if I could do it all over again, and I could get 15-round magazines for the XD, I would get an XD9 Duty w/ plenty of magazines, or maybe the XD40 just to be safe, and additionally, I think I would like to get the new Taurus snubby .40 cal revolver Model 405 as a concealed carry 5-shot and backup, or an XD compact.

    Others that I would whole-heartedly consider are the Stoeger 8000 (9mm), 8040 (.40), or the 8045 (.45 ACP). I could almost have gotten two of the 9s for the price of my 92FS and that would have been nice… One for each hand ! I would also be relatively comfortable with a .38/.357 revolver for home defense if I could get one with night sights at a reasonable price, and if a reasonable budget wasn’t important, I might be very happy with the Springfield Armory 9mm 1911.

  2. Bear Patriot says:

    My choice:

    Taurus Stainless Model 66 w/ a 4″ barrel (.357/.38)
    Taurus Stainless Revolver Model 651 w/ 2″ barrel (.357/.38)
    Taurus Tracker 992 (22LR/22WMR)
    Springfield Armory Mil. Spec. 1911A1 (.45 ACP)

    I have complemented these w/ the following:
    Marlin 70PSS take-down 22LR w/ a scope
    Ruger 10/22 stainless, synthetic. I have a scope, but it is not installed
    Taurus Thunderbolt (.45 Colt)
    Savage 24 (.223 LR/12 ga./410 ga. insert)
    Saiga 223 20″ rifle (.223)
    Saiga 223 16″ rifle (.223)
    Mossberg 500 Combo barrel (12 ga.)
    Savage bolt (.30/06)

    Now, I am just getting the Ammo I need, and I am considering adding a Glock 19 and a .308 bolt gun.

  3. Bear Patriot says:

    I forgot one more I want to get…

    S&W 625 (.45 ACP)

  4. Bear1911 says:

    I left off one of my main guns with my recent post and I didn’t include others that I want to get. This is my 3rd and final post… Please remove the others. Thanks!

    My handguns, and my choice:
    Taurus Judge (.410 ga./45 Colt)
    Taurus Stainless Model 66 w/ a 4″ barrel (.357/.38)
    Taurus Stainless Revolver Model 651 w/ 2″ barrel (.357/.38)
    Taurus Tracker 992 (22LR/22WMR)
    Springfield Armory Mil. Spec. 1911A1 (.45 ACP)

    I have complemented these w/ the following:
    Marlin 70PSS take-down 22LR w/ a scope
    Ruger 10/22 stainless, synthetic. I have a scope, but it is not installed
    Taurus Thunderbolt (.45 Colt)
    Savage 24 (.223 LR/12 ga./410 ga. insert)
    Saiga 223 20″ rifle (.223)
    Saiga 223 16″ rifle (.223)
    Mossberg 500 Combo barrel (12 ga.)
    Savage bolt (.30/06)

    Now, I am just getting the Ammo I need, and I am considering adding a Glock 19, another .30/06, a .308 bolt gun, and a S&W Model 625

  5. Assuming you have trained with it, The best handgun, IMHO, when you need one, is the one in your hand. Caliber is a non-issue as the trigger can be pulled more then once.

  6. The Best survival handgun is the one in your hand. That being said, I have put some thought into it and have no final conclusions. I do note that my S&W 22A is a fine survival handgun, it puts 22LR rounds right where you want them. On the other hand my DanWesson puts a much more powerful 38 special or 357 Mag round right where you want it. On still an other hand (how many hands can I get to in this discussion) my Browning HP carries much better than the 22A but doesn’t hit as hard as the Dan Wesson with 357 mags and it isn’t quite as accurate; but, it carries 12 rounds of any 9mm round I want to use. On Still an other hand (I’m up to 4 now) my Springer 45ACP is easy to carry, hits harder than the 9mm but not quite as hard as the Dan Wesson and is more accurated than all but the Dan Wesson.

    From What I’ve gleaned (from only 4 hands), any gun I have in my hand when the SHTF is going to be the best survival handgun.

  7. I started out with a Glock 17 as I was advised it didn’t require as much break in or as much maintenance as a 1911. I practiced with it, shot IDPA with it; in short I became proficient with it. Since then I’ve purchased and practiced with two different 1911 pattern guns. One (a name brand) would fail to feed about 2% of the time. I sent it to the manufacturer, took it to gun smiths, etc. and we were never able to break it of this habit. The second one was a Taurus 1911 that was serviceable.

    The long and the short was that even with much practice I was never happy carrying it (I never carried the first one it was to undependable). In the first place I never got quite as good with a 1911 as I was with my Glock. In the second place, I just wasn’t comfortable with 8+1 rounds vs 17+1 rounds. I ended up selling both of my 1911 pattern pistols.

    I sold the first one and used the money to buy a Springfield XD 45 Tactical (I wanted the full length barrel). I find that while I don’t shoot this quite as well as the Glock, I shoot it well enough. The big positive though is of course 13+1 rounds of .45. Depending on things I’ll carry the XD but I must say I tend to carry the one I have the most hours on, the Glock 17.

  8. Here’s my ticket:
    GP100 Stainless w/ adjustable sights, 4″ barrel and night sights installed (night stand)
    Glock 19 w/ night sights and 4″ barrel (night stand)
    Glock 23 w/ 9mm conversion barrel (duty, carry)
    New* Ruger SR40C (duty, carry)
    (2) Ruger 10/22 (hunting)
    Ruger Single 6, stainless w/ 6 1/2 barrel (hunting)
    Saiga .223 (assault)
    Mossberg 500 (close range defense, hunting) combo barrels
    Savage 10 .308 (hunting, long range defense
    Remingon 7 (.223)

  9. Sara Smile says:

    I have enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. Thank you all for the ideas. It has been a real challenge trying to find the right survival guns. I have decided from a survival standpoint that it would be good to have two calibers as well as a 22LR. The two I have chosen are the 9mm and .357. If I lived in brown bear country, I would probably want at least a .45 Colt.

    Currently, I have a Ruger GP100 w/ adjustable sights that I bought used, but which my father gave me when I moved out of the house. I keep it next to my bed and I would like to get night sights for it and I have considered laser grips.

    I have tried an FNP9, A Glock 17 and 19, a Beretta 92, an XD9, an M&P 9, an SR9 and a Beretta PX4. I would like to try a Cougar 9, a Bersa 9, and a CZ 9, but the local range doesn’t have them for rent. Out of the ones that I have tried, I like the Ruger SR9 the best, especially since it has a safety.

    I have also fired my father’s Ruger Mark II and like it a lot and think it would be a good survival gun as well, especially for hunting and when ammo is scarce.

    If I could only have one handgun, it would have to be a Glock 19, but

    Based on what I have experienced, I think this is what I will shoot for:

    Ruger GP100
    Ruger SR9
    Ruger Mark III

    And, at a later date, I would like to add the following two items for versatility:

    Glock 19 (or Glock 23 and a 9mm conversion barrel for versatility)
    Ruger Blackhawk revolver combo in 9mm and .357

    And to go all out on versatility, I would want these two additional items and another pistol or revolver in 22LR:

    Ruger SR1911 .45 ACP
    Ruger SR9C or a Charter Arms CARR 9mm snubby (if it becomes available)

    • Just my $0.02 worth of bias. Go with a Mark II if you can find one. The Mark III has some interesting features like a more standard magazine release button; however, it has a magazine disconnect making it useless if the magazine is lost or bent.
      Also, if you can find a Ruger Blackhawk revolver combo in 9mm and .357 I’d like to hear about it and where and how much? I’ve had the .357 model for nearly 40 years, and I had the understanding that the 9mm cylinder was no longer available. I contacted Ruger some time ago and was told that no retrofit was available for my gun, and quite honestly, would love to have that combo myself.

  10. Cavemandan88 says:

    Great advice and very well written. I have a Springfield .45 but for SHTF I prefer wheel guns and my Glock with high caps. My preference. Still his points were on the money. I linked here from a Creekmore article in which Mister Creekmore wrote that people should get the basics down when they can hit a six inch target consistently at 25yds! While I can do that consistently with all but my snubbies, that is not at all a realistic goal for the relative novice. I trust that Mister Creekmore has some expertise and surely he meant 25 feet. Novices, do not get discouraged by the 6″ target at 25 yds. That had to be a typo. Just keep practicing.

    • With a handgun, if you can keep a 9-inch pattern at 21 feet, then you are doing what is adequate for most close quarter encounters with a handgun. Beyond the 21 foot distance (Look up Tueller Drill) you may have a problem convincing the legal system that you were in fear for your life, pre-SHF; and post SHF, distances beyond that would be better served with a long gun.

  11. cavemandan88 says:

    I do believe everyone should be able to hit at 25 yd. But I know a lot of deputies who cannot hit consistently (w/handgun) at 25 yd during the yearly re-qualification. Sad but true. Can’t imagine the typical novice shooter accomplishing that feat without a lot of practice and dedication. Meant that typo comment with no sarcasm and all due respect to Mister Creekmore who’s articles I have found informative and exhibiting a great depth of knowledge on survival matters.

  12. Its all subjective . I like the .45 but dont own one . One thing that wasn’t discussed much is that with todays ammunition , a 9mm is every bit as effective as a .45 . Ammunition has come a very long way from 20 years ago , and powerful specialty rounds are made by many more manufacturers now than ever .

  13. js mccrary says:

    I agree w/ many of the things you put forth but disagree strongly with you opionion on lasers for defense handguns. Simply putting a laser on you handgun doesn’t mean that suddenly you no longer have metal sights. I have been carrying, and using, Crimson Trace products on all of my defnse sidearms daily since prior to Y2K, and there is nothing any better for acquiring a target quickly and accurately than lasers. Handguns are designed to be used at close range, so there is no ‘hunting for a small red or green dot’ invovled. In order to hit your target you are going to be looking at it already and your eye automatically finds the dot produced by the laser. Most people who speak as you have not spent any time training with lasers. Train equally with lasers AND metal sights and they will serve you well. In 14 years they have not failed me once. As for the ‘Fog issue’ it is common practice to shroud the laser with your trigger finger (with CTC products, the natural finger position beside the slide does just that) until ready to fire, and is not revealed until firing. Specualtion is no match for actual testing…do not limit yourself, be open and experiment – just remember to practice with both types of sights equally. Respectfully,
    Stewart Mac