A major disaster, the kind that means life as you know it grinds to a halt and the lights will be a long time in coming back on if they come back at all, will upset the modern order of things. You will not be able to count on the police and other government forces to keep you safe from the hostile elements of society. You also won’t be able to stroll down to the supermarket meat case and grab a pack of beef to-go. If you need fresh meat, and don’t have any in your stores, you’ll need to harvest your own.
Both of these inevitable outcomes mean you’ll need guns, and the know-how to use them to best possible effect. What is best for a real-deal SHTF gun is often much different than what is required for a defensive gun in a “vanilla” defensive situation or required from a regular hunting gun. Knowing what guns will serve you most efficiently across the widest possible array of tasks can save you lots of money and grief down the line.
In today’s article, we’ll be taking a look at what types of guns are best for serious SHTF scenarios, the guns you’ll rely on to keep your ass alive when the wolves close in and stomachs are rumbling.
Gun Selection for Preppers 101
When choosing a gun, the task often dictates what you need. Sure, any gun by design can make a hole appear in something distant that wasn’t there only a moment ago, and you can shoehorn a gun into a task that is was never designed for and perhaps make it work, but you’ll have a far easier time of things if you choose a gun that is either designed for the purpose, or is a truly multi-role gun.
For instance a svelte, light bolt action rifle with a nice scope is just the ticket for taking down game, but will you’ll find it woefully clumsy for self-defense inside a building. Absolutely it beats no gun at all in that situation, but you’ll be working much harder than you’d have to if you had a short and nimble carbine or a handgun in the same situation.
Conversely you would be fretting something fierce if all you had for the hunting of larger game was a short barreled semi-auto .22 handgun; sure, a perfectly placed headshot will still drop a deer, but lots of luck getting close enough to deliver that little pill with the accuracy the situation would demand.
Alternately, some guns can pull double duty quite effectively. A semi-auto carbine like the common AR-15 is a spectacularly effective defensive gun while also being more than accurate and powerful enough afield to harvest game at extended ranges. Most variants readily accept optics and other accessories that will let you adapt the gun to the task at hand with ease and efficiency. A similar choice for a handgun would be something like a .357 Magnum revolver or 10mm Auto semi, both chamberings having very good track records when bagging animals and each still formidable on the defense.
Or you could take a 3rd way and select a shotgun, the most versatile of modern firearms, able to harvest all times of game no matter if it walks, crawls or flies, and immediately move into a protection role by just swapping the barrel and load. Unlike so many other conundrums, you really can have a gun that will do most things well, if you are willing to put in a little effort on researching and defining what you need.
A clever prepper will have no shortage of valid, intelligent choices when it comes to the guns themselves, but what will separate the weekend survivalists from the Doomsday legends will be the handling of the long-term logistics associated with those choices.
Amateurs Talk Hardware, Pros Talk Logistics
Before you even set about shopping for guns and ammo, you must clearly, concisely define what your guns must do for you in your survival plan. I mean really dig in and analyze what will be required of them, under what conditions and for how long.
Answer the following questions about your likely scenario and do not move to procure your guns (or sit satisfied with the ones you have) until you can:
- Will I be depending on the gun for hunting, defense or both?
- Am I genuinely worried about the possibility of surviving in a long-term or indefinite-term SHTF event?
- How many people do I need guns for; just me, a duo, my family, small group, etc.?
- Under what environment am I likely to need the gun? Rural, suburban, urban?
Knowing the job the gun is expected to do is crucial, as it will more or less constrain your search to a few general categories. Of course, as I mentioned above, you can cover nearly all your bases by choosing a good multi-role gun equally at home afield or defending yourself. Guns that can do everything pretty well are my personal preference (just like any piece of multiuse gear I buy) and I’ll be basing my recommendations accordingly later.
Any gun you select for survival duty should be chosen with an eye for reliability and durability, but those characteristics will be put to a far more severe test by an event lasting months or even years than by one that lasts a week. Guns wear out, malfunction and break. If you are genuinely concerned with surviving an End-of-World crisis absolute, you had better be shopping for top-quality guns that are easy to fix.
If you are just worried about yourself or yourself and 1 or 2 other potential shooters with you, you can buy whatever you want, more or less: it is not too big a deal to keep a handful of different magazines, parts and so forth on hand for a small number of people. Much beyond that size of group though and you will want to standardize your purchases: same magazines, same spare parts, same ammo, the works. You’ll have enough to worry about without playing pin-the-mainspring-seat-on-the-pistol in the ruins of society. Like the lady on the internet said, ain’t nobody have time for that.
Your social environment will play a big part in selecting your gun, if you’re wise. If you are living and surviving in an area where there are lots and lots of people, think a major metro area, you may want to stick with a handgun, or an ultra-compact rifle or shotgun, something you can conceal easily.
Do not delude yourself into thinking that neither you or anyone else will care if you are a carrying a gun openly (especially a long gun) after the SHTF; guns always attract attention and this is especially true in urban areas, and double true if you are carrying a long gun in an urban area.
Remember that your gun being visible may be the reason you are getting attacked. A visible gun is not that big of a deterrent to a potential attacker.
The Golden Rule
I’ll bet most of you are certified “gun people.” It seems to come with the territory for preppers, a natural fit you might say. And like any enthusiast, you have preferences. There is nothing wrong with that, but I want to take the space here to remind you that when it comes to choosing a gun for serious, real-world use, not sport, and definitely not hobby use-
“Like the best” may not be synonymous with “Best choice”
It is important that you get comfortable with that if you are serious about preparation.
This often means being very ruthless with your purchasing, especially when you really like collecting different makes and models of guns. You might have to forgo that latest apple of your eye to instead add another “boring” duplicate handgun to your armory, ready to dole out to a member of your survival group.
It might mean forsaking your preferred but fussy favorite make of pistol for one with less pizzazz but more teeth when it comes to enduring a harsh firing schedule and abuse or neglect. You may not want to rely on a rifle that shoots sublimely but uses parts and magazines that are nearly impossible to find and expensive to replace.
You may think your hands-down favorite wildcat cartridge hits so hard, shoots so far and so flat that it can sunder any target with one shot, and so you don’t need a standard caliber, but you’ll rue the day when you finally do run out and there is literally not a single box left on the continent.
Listen to me, as I mentioned above, there are often plenty, or at least several good choices in any particular category of gun. The world isn’t just Glocks and ARs. We all have our preferences, but I too often see the desire to be carrying a unique or uncommon gun varnished over with the contortionist logic of “preference.”
Before you choose a truly oddball gun, ask yourself if you would not be better served the whole way around by a more common gun. If it ever comes down to finding mags, parts or ammo out in the world, you’ll be glad you did.
The Best Guns for SHTF Situations
I mentioned above that the following recommendations are my opinion, and I expect that others may be different. I have chosen the following selections based overwhelmingly on the following criteria: defense against humans, reliability, multi-role capability and commonality. My decisions hinging on the fact that a prepper’s time and money are finite, and having a few guns that can truly do all things well is a force multiplier and more efficient solution than trying to keep up with a bunch of specialized guns for different tasks. I have added runners-up to each section, and my commentary below each category.
Top Pick: AR-15 variant, 5.56mm
Runner-Up: AK Variant, 7.62x39mm
For serious work across multiple domains, nothing beats the handling and convenience of a detachable magazine fed rifle. Most intermediate caliber rifle cartridges are very heavy medicine for human baddies, and more than adequate for most medium to large game.
The two exemplars of this category are the AR and AK family of rifles. Either from a quality maker will definitely do good work for you. Both are supremely reliable, simple to use and maintain and easy to shoot well. Both can accept a wide array of optics and accessories to perform any task, though in this regard the AR is by far superior.
I give the gold in this category to the AR for its all around better performance and vastly more common ammo, parts and magazines (in the U.S. at least), as well as its better accuracy and range compared to the AK. The AK’s punchy 7.62×39 is a venerable classic, but has a terrible trajectory beyond a couple hundred yards and is not known for its accuracy.
Keep in mind a long gun may not be the best choice for urban dwellers as you will have a very tough time concealing it when you head out into the world, but if you do decide to do that keep in mind the AK’s silhouette is a target-indicator to a whole, whole bunch of cops and soldiers, not to mention more than a few civilians.
Top Pick: Glock 19, 9mm Luger
Runner-Up: Beretta M9 / 92FS
The Glock 19 is the closest thing we have to a true do-it-all pistol: large enough to shoot well and small enough to hide, easy to use, ultra reliable, simple to repair and very, very tolerant of abuse. The fact that the pistol, parts and mags are dirt cheap and it uses the ubiquitous 9mm just makes it even more attractive for preppers.
The Glock is an industry leader and favorite of cops and military services the world over with cause. If you and yours are trained well enough to keep your finger outside the trigger guard and off the trigger at all times until the need to shoot arises, you’ll get nothing but smooth sailing.
The Beretta is a much larger, heavier gun, and was the choice of our armed services for decades now, only recently being unseated by the new Sig-Sauer M17 MHS. The Beretta is a much older design compared to the Glock, and is also a hammer-fired DA/SA pistol with a somewhat clumsy slide mounted safety.
But that elegant Italian styling conceals the soul of a warhorse: the Beretta is accurate, reliable, very durable and arguably significantly safer in situations where it is going to be handled more than shot, especially for a lesser-trained user.
The Big B was also a longtime favorite of police and security services, so parts, know-how and magazines are still pretty common out in the world. While not as simple to service as the Glock, the most common failure point on high-mileage M9’s and 92’s is very simple and cheap to fix with no special tools.
Top Pick: Mossberg 590
Runner-Up: Remington 870P
When it comes to scatterguns, the endurance of the Mossberg family of pump actions is the stuff of legend. Of course, so too is Remington’s elder statesman of the shotgun kingdom. Ultimately which one you prefer usually boils down to a few intangible perks.
Remingtons are rightly loved for smooth, fast actions whereas Mossbergs are rarely as swift or tight. Mossbergs though do have an excellent, ambidextrous tang mounted safety where 870’s rely on the old crossbolt safety right behind the trigger; great for righties, terrible for lefties or switch-handing the shotgun around corners.
I awarded the advantage to Mossberg in this case because the Mossberg is overall a little more robust and a little easier to work on and repair, especially the ejector. While very few will shoot either of these guns to death, even in a doomsday scenario of apocalyptic portent, the long game counts, and so combined with its greater durability, the Mossberg gets the nod for easier servicing.
Both are very common in military and police inventories and also in civilian hands in uncounted numbers. We are talking Coke and Pepsi level ubiquity here, so you’ll have little or no concern when it comes to finding parts anywhere for either.
That aside, either will serve you well in any role, easily able to take game or punch the tickets of scumbags with ease. If you were going to choose one gun to do it all, and are willing to put in the time needed to master it, either one of these pump action titans would make a fine choice.
Choosing the right tools to count on when the end is nigh is of crucial importance, and your guns are no different. While many guns are good shooters and reliable, not all will have the extra perks that we should be on the lookout for to make sure they, and we, can make it through whatever fate has in store for us. Make sure you use what was presented in this guide to your best benefit and get the guns that will go the distance when the SHTF.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
14 thoughts on “Best Guns to Have for SHTF”
forget the shotgun, the pistol needs to fit in your pocket, so you can conceal it and protect it while wearing a pack and still have it accessible. The rifle needs luminous iron sights, a 1 lb 1×6 scope and mount (see thru) with a trigger job, a good silencer, a 3/4 lb .22lr conversion unit, a free float tube, fitted with the GI bipod. Need a 10.5″ pencil diamter barrel, 7.5″ and 3/4 lb of silencer, 60 gr Aquila subsonic .22 ammo, 60 gr BlackHills Nosler Partition 60 gr softpoints or Federal Fusion 60 gr sp’s in 223, as well as a few rds of 62 gr steel-tipped ball, and a few more of the BlackHills or Federal 69 gr hpbt match ammo for 223.
You want a silenced Taurus PT22 in .22lr, 9″ long, 15 ozs, and a 15 oz Kahr CM9 for the pocket, a Kahr CW9 for practice, cause the pocket 9’s are not very durable. Practice with 168 gr lnr cast bullets, at 850 fps in the belt gun, and for what little practice you’ll need withe pocket 9mm, use 125 gr lrn at 800 fps.
If you want your wife to be armed, get her a short barreled Marlin Papoose .22lr takedown, 6″ barrel, with 6″ of silencer, Dayglo paint on the iron sights, 2×7 7/8″ scope in see thru mount, with a retractable buttstock and have her carry the CW9. She’s VERY unlikely to have the strength and stamina to lug around a BOB and a centerfire rifle, with enough ammo to make that rifle worth having.
Given the 223 silencer, the subsonic .22 ammo, thru the conversion unit in the AR, sounds like a BB gun, if you know to hold shut the bolt with your non-firing hand. If you let the bolt cycle normally, the sound is less noticable than a mild handclap. The full power 223 ammo sounds like a normal .22lr rifle. It will go unnoticed at half a mile in the open flatland, in cold weather and just half as far in warm, humid conditions in wooded hills. This is as vs its being heard at distances over a mile without the silencer. The .22 can brain cattle or horses at 30m, given eyeball, or temple, earhole , or top of head hits. or men at twice that distance. The 223 softpoints can reliably brain big bears, elk, moose at twice the range that anyone can reliably chest hit them with an arrow and it will take deer or hogs with chest hits as well as a 30-30 ever did. The shorty 223 can snipe effectively to 1/4 mile, given a anti-cant bubble level mounted above the scope. The softpoints drop men with a single torso hit.
the shotgun is a bad joke. It can’t be concealed nor used with just one hand as are the forte’s of the handgun, and neither does it offer the silencer, range, penetration of the rifle. The shotgun does not handle like any fighting rifle, either. So, money and time spent on the shotgun is money and time that can’t be spent on the far more likely to be needed rifle, pistol and hand to hand training. Buckshot is pretty much worthless beyond 25m in a riot barrel and can be so at 20m, vs cover-users. Nobody’s much good with $1 per shot 12 ga slugs. If you were inclined to shoot that much/well, you’d shoot 10x as much with the silenced AR and .22lr unit for same, using 30c per shot 223 ball and 6c per shot normal .22lr ammo. Buckshot not only wont pierce concealable armor, it wont reliably pierce a steel belted radial tire at more than a few feet, and wont pierce car bodies or windshields beyond about 10m, and then only if the striking angle is nearly 90 degrees. Dont waste any time or money on the shotgun.
You’l have to carry a pack full of necessities everywhere, if shtf. You can’t carry more than ONE longarm, along with enough ammo to make 2 longarms worth having, along with that pack. You can have at most a couple of lw, compact handguns. You can’t shoot anything or intimidate anyone with a gun you aint got WITH you. Nor can you get game or looters to wait while you go GET ” the right gun for the job”. So you just have to stick with the most versatile compromise in the way of guns and have your skill make up for any shortcomings it may have. The game will all be GONE 2 months post shtf and you’d BETTER stay underground during daylight hours for a year. Any shooting you do, 90+ % of it better be with the silenced .22 unit and subsonic ammo and it better be 1-2 shots and then you vanish. You wont have any help and any wound that you sustain is probably going to be fatal. So, you just can’t be getting into any firefights. If you do, the odds will get you, in short order, too.
If shtf, ou can’t carry more than ONE longarm, along with enough ammo to make 2 longarms worth having, along with your pack. You can have at most a couple of lw, compact handguns. You can’t shoot anything or intimidate anyone with a gun you aint got WITH you. Nor can you get game or looters to wait while you go GET ” the right gun for the job”. So you just have to stick with the most versatile compromise in the way of guns and have your skill make up for any shortcomings it may have. The game will all be GONE 2 months post shtf and you’d BETTER stay underground during daylight hours for a year. Any shooting you do, 90+ % of it better be with the silenced .22 unit and subsonic ammo and it better be 1-2 shots and then you vanish. You wont have any help and any wound that you sustain is probably going to be fatal. So, you just can’t be getting into any firefights. If you do, the odds will get you, in short order, too.
For some reason everyone seems to think that in SHTF people will be loading up a pack and walking around. We plan to shelter in place with perhaps a few people coming here, so like any toolbox, a plethora of small arms from handguns, to rifles, to shotguns, allows one to have the flexibility to adapt to a likely ever changing situation as it happens.
Everything posted by everyone ahead of me, I agree with to one form or another. that being said, somewheres in the recesses of my memory , I remember being told the best weapon to have is the one that you have with you and know how to use it. Beyond that, is just common sense ( I hope )
Well this is great list of guns that are reliable and inexpensive, I think you may have missed some points. First if you really in a SHTF situation then carrying 3 guns with you may not be practical. You also mentioned that you have to have a purpose for each gun you have, then went straight to the AR-15 being the best all purpose rifle to have. While I agree with you it’s really not the best for any one thing.
I would have also expected to see the Ruger 10/22 on your list. As they are so common everyone seems to have one.
.22LR ammo is very light and you can carry thousands of rounds in a small bag without straining yourself. Along with the idea that more Deer have been illegally hunted with .22LR than anything else, and they are good for small game. Plus honestly lets face it a .22 bullet to a person usually stops them without killing them, and 10 .22 bullets will stop them.
Not to mention they are easy to handle and common enough to find lots of parts for even in a SHTF situation.
they are a fair second choice, behind the Marlin Papoose, which gives you a take-down barrel with much less cost than the take-down Ruger. Since remington bought out Marlin, there’s supposedly been a drop in quality, so testfire the Papoose (a log) upon arrivle. You’ll need a silencer, see thru mount, 7/8″ OD .22 scope, 2×7 variable and luminous paint on the Iron sights of a spare, 6″ long barrel. This short length keeps regular .22lr ammo subsonic and makes the gun concealable, under your arm, stock telescoped, with the silencer mounted.
First choice, tho, by a wide margin, is the shorty AR in 223, with a 3/4 lb, $160, CMMG .22lr conversion unit. You have all the advantages of the .22lr autoloader, while ALSO having the much greater range, power, and penetration of the 223 60 gr softpoint and 62 gr steel-capped fmj ammo. If shtf, a lot of people are going to be wearing concealed armor. YOu can take deer or hogs to 150m with this combo, with chest hits and brain bigger critters to 100m.
I’m a bit of a hillbilly but if it was a long term shtf scenario i would want only 1 gun, the same one i do just about everything with now, my single shot 12 gauge, was an old crack barrel type made in the 30s, got it in piss poor shape and rebuilt it myself, i know it in and out and can (and have) make replacement parts if i need them. i have taken turkey, deer, skunk, coon,, woodchuck, etc with it and have chased of people who showed up on my farm at night with it (i walk in the countryside by moonlight and starlight alot, i am used to darkness, and walking out of the shadows and putting that in a tresspassers face by surprise is a good way to make tresspassers shit themselves and run away, especially if i tell them i am going to make them squeel like a pig if they don’t get off my land). i have also reloaded spent shells with homemade powder and primer and used wax slugs. long term i know this gun, and can maintain it and keep ammo for it, its a game getter and pest control, but not a combat gun, best way to deal with that is control the situation and only use it as a last resort. i have other guns for fun but just about everything is done with my old sodbuster, if i had to bug out its the gun i would head for the hills with.
and if you need to forage, why does nobody else need to so so, hmm? and if they do, a great many of them will shoot you on sight. We have 3x as many people as we had during the depression and 10x fewer of them are living on working farms and ranches. The cities will have no WATER once the power goes off, so they will have no choice but to flee. The cities will burn and be full of diseases, garbage, rats, starving dog packs and marauders. When they leave to get water, they will not risk going back . Where do you “think” that they’ll be headed, hmm? To rural areas, so that they can garden (they think) hunt, fish and prey upon the rural folk, that’s where. And if they see you or hear your 12 ga blasts, many of them will shoot you on sight. You dont want a shotgun or anything noisy or anything that doesn’t offer rapidfire or anything that wont pierce vehicles and concealed armor.
Before the boating mishap I owned a Marlin 60 and a ruger 10/22. I once was trying to get my grandpas shotgun. It was a store branded 16 gauge pump. I reasoned that the shotgun was a 16 guage so resuplying for it would be problematic. So I did not persue it. I had a 06 that I was thinking about having it converted to A.I. Then I realized that it would take from very easy to resupply for . I had a xtra stock for the 10/22 that was a folder. That way I could attach it to or in my pack and have one at the ready on my shoulder.
there’s no reason to settle for just a centerfire, or just a rimfire. The 3/4 lb, $160 CMMG .22lr converion unit for the AR-15 gives you both with a 10 second parts-swap. Get a silencer for the 223, and the .22 unit will be BB gun quiet, using 60 gr Aquila .22 subsonic ammo. It will be no noisier than a normal .22lr rifle when using the full power 223 ammo, too. You want a 2×7 scope, with a see thru mount, luminous iron sights, a trigger job, maybe a free float tube and bipod. Have night vision and enough brains to stay underground during daylight hours, for at least the first year of shtf. Have 6 month’s worth of food buried at your BOL, along with non-hybrid seeds and some sprouting experience. The sprouts will provide food within 2 weeks, the root veggies in 3 months or a bit less. The things to bury are salt, molasses, hard winter wheat. Bring the buckets of corn oil with you. They’ll have to be discarded and replaced once a year, but they are dirt cheap. Leave the oil in a storage rental nearest your BOL, along with the bicycle you’ll walk alongside of. you can move 100 lbs this way pretty easily over some really bad terrain. extend the left handlebar, springclamp the rifle across the handlebars. Keep 20 lbs of stuff on your person. Have 20 lbs of inflatable boat on the bike, or cached where you’ll need it.
Of course, everyone has an opinion on this topic, but realistically, it all comes down to the scenario you find yourself in. As a rule of thumb, simple, reliable weapons with stopping power, would fair well compared to many. It’s good to study SHTF from history, not only for prepping, but to give you an idea of what to expect.