Choosing The Survival Gun That Suits You

Everyone has their own opinion and preference when it comes to survival guns.  Some insist if you only had to choose one, it’d better be a Mossberg 500.  Others say the .22 LR is the name of the game for survival. Then there are the community of military and law enforcement professionals who swear upon their M4s and M16s.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as the perfect survival weapon and everyone is entitled to equip themselves in the matter they deem most fit.

With that said, a survival gun should be capable of performing with deadly effect whenever called upon in an emergency.

What to Look for in Any Survival Gun

Though there is no perfect survival gun, there is also no single gun that works best for each type of individual and level of shooting.

While an able-bodied adult male should be capable of handling most common handguns, shotguns, and rifles, the same cannot always be said of women and children.  The elderly and disabled are at even more of a disadvantage when it comes to arming themselves.

Any handheld weapons like knives, bats, and pepper spray can be used with relative ease by the untrained, they can also be used against you if taken away by an attacker. Since those cold weapons put distance between you and your target, guns have long been hailed as the best form of weapon for defense and survival.

Therefore, anyone in your family, young and old, capable of learning how to use a firearm safely and effectively should consider doing so.


rifleIn a survival situation, your firearm could be the piece of equipment that determines whether you live or die. Not only will it be used to protect you, your family, and your property from others who want what you have, but also for hunting, to put food on the table when other food sources run scarce.

A gun decked out with fancy optics and rail accessories doesn’t always equate with something that will fire effectively every time you pull the trigger, as is its intended purpose.  Typically a more industrial gun without all the bells and whistles will serve you best for both hunting and self-defense practicalities.

If a gun will still fire after falling of a ledge, being dragged through mud, or while it’s raining, it’s a reliable gun.  If you could only have one gun to survive, you want it to be something that will shoot with the same accuracy straight out of the box and after a year collecting dust in storage.


A firearm without ammunition is nothing more than a paperweight, as is a broken gun without spare parts.  For that reason, a survival gun shouldn’t be something obscure that requires the use of expensive or hard to find ammunition.

The more common–and affordable–the gun and its ammunition, the more chance you have to stockpile extra parts and ammo before SHTF, and the more likely you’ll be to find replacement parts and usable rounds in the aftermath of an emergency.

That’s why many advocate the use of a .22 LR for all-around survival usage.  Their widespread popularity in times of peace equates to the circulation of plenty of ammo and replacement parts when disaster strikes, though this also applies to 9mm and 30-06 rounds as well.

Whichever firearm you use, make sure its something you can afford to replace, fix, and fire at any given moment.


6 gunsSimply put, a larger and heavier firearm is less versatile and less effective in a survival scenario.

Though scoped bolt-action rifles and high gauge shotguns are capable of providing extreme firepower, they are simply too heavy and cumbersome to be used for self-defense or home protection in most applications.

Whether you’re firearm of choice is a pistol, shotgun, or rifle (or one of each), your selection should be lightweight, compact, and convenient to carry, draw, and shoot both out on the road and in the halls of your home.

If you find yourself on the move, you will already be burdened by the weight of the water, food, and other essential supplies you must carry.

Not to mention that as the caliber of a gun increases, the amount of rounds you can carry on your person decreases, as they too are heavy.

As long as it has enough takedown power for hunting and self-defense, smaller is better when it comes to survival.


Your gun should be reliable and fire every time you aim at your target and pull the trigger, but doing so should be straightforward.

The process of loading and clearing rounds, using the safety, and pulling the trigger should be so easy that a nine year old could do it with ease.  And while it’s up to you to decide when to teach your children about gun safety, you never know when you may have to arm the members of your family, children included, for the sake of security.

Families with young children should consider keeping their weapons unloaded and stored separately from its ammo at all times to avoid accidents, especially if the children aren’t properly trained. But the weapons should always be stored in such a way that they will be easy to access, load, and use for defense at a moment’s notice.


Ideally you will be in a position to equip yourself with a layered defense with some combination of handgun, shotgun, and rifle.  But if you had to choose only one, it should be something that will be effective for a variety of survival needs, defense and hunting included. To that end, the rifle you use to hunt elk in Alaska may not be the same gun you’d want to defend your home or apartment.

In a survival situation, you never know what your target is going to look like or how many of them you will face.  Accordingly, you can never gauge the distance to your target until you’re staring it in the face or taking incoming fire.

Whether you’re defending your home perimeter or protecting your family while on the move, an ideal survival weapon should be capable of taking down targets in close quarters and at long range.

If a gun adheres to the characteristics listed above, it can be considered suitable for use in a survival scenario.  The more you options you are able to handle and range-test before deciding on a go-to the better, as you never know when you’ll have to call upon your choice for your own survival.

In the end, a gun is only as good as the person shooting it.  If you don’t take the time to learn how to safely and properly handle and fire your weapon, it may be more of a liability than an asset.


This article has been written by Cody Griffin for Survivopedia.

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Written by

Cody Griffin is do-it-yourselfer, and avid outdoorsman. He is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades and his work can be found across the web on several survival, outdoor, and lifestyle blogs. You can send Cody a message at editor [at]

Latest comments
  • my shtf weapon is a ruger Blackhawk pistol. with the extra wheel it shoots 357, 38 specials, 9mm and 380. single action is dependable.

    • Great revolver, with extreme ammo versatility and legendary Blackhawk reliability. Only downside is the side gate ‘cowboy style’ loading. Very slow. But, like everything, that’s a personal judgement call. Considering the ammo versatility, that may be worth the slow reloading.

      • The side gate is not a problem if you practice. I was an Alaska State Trooper and we were issued the SW model 66 4″ barrel we could fire 6 rounds load 6 rounds and fire 6 rounds in 10 seconds without speed loaders and hit our target in the kill zone. We learned to load 2 rounds at a time from belt loops. The key is PRACTICE. PRACTICE, PRACTICE especially under stress by using a timer and someone else shooting at the same time. This way you have time and sound as a pressure you also may have someone yelling commands or I’m hit and scream as if really hit

        • Absolutely! The best firearm for survival is one you can reliably and accurately use for any foreseen circumstance. That means your personal choice should be one that suits your personal needs and physical capabilities. Whatever the choice, it is essential that you practice with it continuously so that shooting it becomes as familiar as eating or using your phone.

    • IF civilized society totally breaks down (SHTF) expect both humans and large dangerous animals to be prowling free (out of their cages). For example, not many of the survival guns in this blog could effectively handle a 1500+ angry grizzly bear. If I had to depend on three rifles, I would want my scoped & suppressed FN Spr .308 with a 6-24×50 Leupold scope. My suppressed lightweight Ruger 22/45 pistol and my lever action MARLIN .45-70 GBL for the big boys up close and personal. Note I mention SUPPRESSED (silenced in the case of the .22). Unsuppressed gunshots will lead your enemies to you like flies to poop, so you are better off being able to prepare for the worst if possible.

      • I’m hoping that you know that subsonic .308 Win/7.62×51 ammo shot from a suppressed rifle has a much shorter one shot kill range on deer size and large game animals. If you only wound one you’re just providing meat for someone else as follow up shots would probably draw unwanted attention.

        • That’s why he said “suppressed” and not “silenced”. Suppressed is using a suppressor and normal supersonic ammo, “silenced” is using a silencer, subsonic ammo, and silent mechanisms (like the SOCOM USP).

  • In any emergency situation where split second action is required, the adrenalin is gushing and the mind is in overdrive, the last thing you want is a pistol or a rifle. You would have one projectile at a time exiting the barrel, and unless you are ‘Cool-Hand-Luke’ the excitement of the moment is going to be your limiting factor for accuracy. I don’t care how many rounds you throw at targets out at the range, you ain’t going to hit your attacker with deadly accuracy unless you are within 5 yards, and you certainly don’t want to let him get that close. Now for the most effective weapon in a get-down-get-ugly situation; a sawed off 12 ga. shotgun loaded with double-00-buckshot. Pump is OK, but simi-auto is better. Just point it in the general direction of your foe and he’s going down fast and hard, guaranteed. Have you ever gone out in the woods and unloaded a weapon of this description at a big tree at 50 feet? (Sorry, all you’all tree huggers out there, I don’t do this often) It ain’t a pretty sight! I have five shotguns in my home, all loaded and hidden; at least one in every room where there is an outside entrance. Do I have pistols and rifles at the ready? Of course! But they ain’t going to be my first grab in a life and death pinch. And don’t even think about entering our bedroom unannounced. You will be ‘judged’ five times in rapid succession whether you have your lawyer there or not.

    • You’ve obviously never shot a shotgun. In most home invasion situations unless you are in a mansion, shooting takes place at across-the-room distances. At those distance, a shotgun load hasn’t had sufficient time to spread at all. Your best bet is a high capacity rifle or pistol so you can fire many times.

      • I’m 69 years old and I’ve been shooting shotguns since I was 13. Who said I was going to let a thug in the house? When the SHTF nobody gets in my house unless I know and trust them. They stop at the gate or my shotgun comes out from behind the door. The dog lets me know when anyone comes up. The good thing about shotguns is they can take out several subjects with one shot. In Viet Nam all the guys who did close combat had their parents send them shotguns, because at that time the armed service did not issue them. They were much more effective than the gov. issue M-14’s and a lot more dependable. I had close friends that say they would never have made it back if not for their 12 Ga. shotguns. Besides in a survival situation hunting is much more productive with the shotgun. Rabbits, squirrels, coons, birds and deer are much easier to bag with a shotgun inside seventy-five yards.

        • Your defensive scenario assumes your hypothetical home invader is not so dedicated or sophisticated enough to accomplish his mission as you are to thwart it. In Vietnam, VC villages utilized dogs and geese to warn of day or night intruders but were easily silenced by Ruger .22LR “Hush Puppy” pistols with sound suppressors. Trying to shoot a legal shotgun (18-inch barrel & 6-inch stock) around a wall or corner of your house without exposing a good portion of your body is tough but much easier with a pistol. You seem to be convinced that no one could enter your house before you could become fully alert and confront them at a distance with your shotgun— I wouldn’t bet my life on that premise. Even an AKM variant with under folding or side folding stock would be more versatile. Whatever firearm you choose, continual training is essential for effective defense. 00 Buck 12-gauge shells are about $1.00 each today and that makes effective training expensive. A person can train for effective defense with a pistol (engagement range 45 to 80 feet, shooting while moving between covers) for much less expense. The AK 7.62×39 rifle ammunition is plentiful, can be found for less than $0.25 per round, has a worldwide record for reliability, and is an effective deer killer out to 175 yards. I’m older than you and practice what I preach.

          • Hi James; happy for your comment. To answer let me make a few responses. #1 Most criminals are stupid people. I learned that doing jail ministry. I am really not concerned about the dedication or the sophistication of the home invaders. When the SHTF I will drastically change my methods. #2 My shotguns will become pistols with sawed-off stocks; forget 18 inch barrels. #3. I don’t target practice with 00 buck. I save those for the real action. I practice with the cheap shells, which I find plentiful at rummage sales every summer. #4 We live in the country; I have two outside dogs and two inside dogs, and they all let me know when someone approaches the fence. #5 In my first post I stated “Do I have pistols and rifles at the ready? Of course!” I also stated that I have a Judge in my bedroom… Like the author of the article said, “Ideally you will be in a position to equip yourself with a layered defense with some combination of handgun, shotgun, and rifle.” I am comfortable with my layers of defense, and I am glad you are happy with yours; I would never find fault with them if they work for you that is all that matters. And I am glad you are older than me…May you live to be a hundred, and may you be in heaven 30 minutes before the devil knows you are dead.

          • To James and Gary – GREAT conversation! You’re both right… AND respectful. God bless you guys.
            MOLON LABE !

          • Gary Lee,
            Amen to beating the devil. I hope neither of us has to face a do or die situation. Keep training as much as you can for winning bad confrontations. Peace through superior accurate firepower.

  • Very good article. Covered all the salient points on different types of firearms for a defensive situation. Personally, I have all bases covered ( I hope). Mossberg tactical shotgun, wheel guns and my favorites, the 1911 series handguns manufactured in the USA and two .22 caliber rifles.

    This maybe a little off topic but I also have two pellet rifles for small game. My favorite is a .20 caliber Benjamin Sheridan that has enough punch to dispatch small game effectively, and most importantly, with little accoustical noise. I’m fairly new to prepping websites but have been a prepper for about 15 years. I’d like to see someone with more expertise than myself address the utility and advantages of using pellet guns in SHTF situation.

    Of course I would always have one of my handguns with me while hunting a patch of woods with my pellet guns but the advantages of being stealthy while hunting small game make just as good a sense as .22 caliber hunting rifle. Especially if you’re trying not to attract attention. The sound of a .22 makes a lot noise in the winter time across a forest floor.

    Snake Plisken

    • I’m very surprised pellet guns are NOT mentioned more often. I had ( but lost during a move) a Benjamin .177 pump that never ceased to amaze me. Unbelievably accurate and powerful enough to dispatch good sized rabbits with one shot. I’ve since replaced it with a nitro piston break barrel. Its Even more powerful and accurate enough for hunting purposes. I can’t put a round thru the same hole like the Benjy could, but it’ll lay out squirrels and rabbits from a good distance and thats all that matters. Another thought for stealth; Big Bore Blowgun.

      • Will you BB and pellet gun stop an angry bear, leopard or lion?

        • The article was about choosing survival guns that suit a person’s situation. Just as a repairman has more than one tool in his box, a survivalist should have more than one tool for taking food. Just as I would not hunt bear with a .177 caliber rifle, neither would I hunt rabbit with a .416 Rigby. In an urban setting, where the report of a gunshot would draw unwanted attention, an air rifle might just be the best tool in the box.

          • Jim, thanks for expanding on my thoughts for Ringo. I wouldn’t shoot a bear w my big bore blow gun either but it’ll handle lots of small game even quieter than a pellet gun. Survival will inevitably involve stealth. And fwiw, I’ll take care of bear etc with my .450 Bushmaster… and when the ammo is all gone, the best all around blade is my reliable and nearly quiet Gurkha Kukri (el hombre). The only sound you’ll hear is the ka-chunk as the steel splays that bear open.

  • There is no perfect weapon for everyone all all situations. Do you know any mechanics with just one tool? Locations and terrain, age, sex, experience dictate right and wrong.
    I will say, every citizen should have at least ONE firearm. Id advocate every home (outside the city) have at least one rifle, one handgun, and one shotgun.
    I prefer the military of government calibers, as ammo use to be cheap and abundant for them.
    Id say if I had to be stuck with just one firearm, or had to start buying from having none, Id get a .22 rifle, I like the Marlin tube fed type.

    • I agree with everything except your choice of .22. Doesn’t it take longer to reload a tube mag than popping in preloaded 10rd-25rd-50rd mags? If you’re using it for self defense, you’ll go through that tube pretty quick. I have a dozen very reliable 25rd steel lip mags good to go. The Beretta’s got 20 mags and my 1100’s got 10 inthetoob&290 in an ammo can GTG. that’s 300rds each. Great number…300. “MOLON LABE!”

      • Your point is good. I grew up hunting with a Marlin, and taken many squirrel and rabbit with it, so I guess I am fond of them for those uses.
        I would have to add, a .22 would not be my defensive weapon of choice. It is a small game bagger, a target rifle for practice, a varmit killer, if a rabid animal is on the property, two legged vermin I would use a different tool.

        • I was speaking specifically to “had to be stuck with just one firearm” I immediately think of a SHTF scenario where self defense is as important as hunting, I’d go with hi-cap mags. I’ve always had a 10/22 and loved hunting with it…we do get attached to our childhood companion. I dig. God bless you and yours Don.

  • There are as many opinions of this subject as there are firearms owners….What it comes down to is get what works for you, personally, and for the members of your family that would also be involved, age appropriately, in a home defense / SHTF scenario and GET TRAINED and practice. For me? Got my revolvers and lever action rifles, shotguns that I used as a competition shooter in Cowboy action shooting events, comfortable with them from that kind of action. But also have AK’s, SKS, .223 that am equally competent with.

  • Having grown up in the 1940s and ’50s with bolt action rifles and revolvers; those familiar handling rifles I tend to stick with, entertaining using an auto-loader only if readily at hand. If however an ‘assault’ rifle is considered needed and becomes available if and when I manage to survive a confrontation with “domestic storm trooper”, so be it. Ref. a handgun, Dad, a fine marksman, gunsmith and custom hunting rifle builder, always advised that I should find one handgun that ‘fit’ and live with it and for the past 20 years that is what I have finally done. Having begun at age 13 with a WWII Vet. M1911, I finally made the full circle and for 20 year now have worn an S&W M4506, finding it, as Dad had directed, FIT.

    • WM. H. “BILL’ JORDAN, WWII Marine Vet. and Retired Senior U. S. Border Patrol Inspector suggested that “I YOU CAN SHOOT” you will potentially have access to whatever assault weapons and ammo and equipment your former adversary had.

      • Bill Jordan wrote a little book of wisdom called “No Second Place Winner” that is well worth reading. I met him in San Antonio—hate that he’s no longer with us.

  • I see very few women answering to the post “choosing the survival gun that suits you” so I will pit in my 2 cents. I regularly carry an EEA .40 caber semi auto pistol. I also use a 870 12ga pump. muti-purpose 30″ barrel 3″ chamber This weapon can easily fired with 2 3/4″ shells from the hip if necessary. Have an ar15 5.56 I fire quite regularly. I agree 100% that the gun should fit the persons hand.That is one reason I will not use a Springfield armory pistol, grip is too large. So I feel I am equipped for nearly any situation. Recoil is of little consequence. I will not carry a .380 and have no great trust the 9mm it only a .380 on steroids.

    • Sounds as though you have tried several different firearms and have settled upon some that fit your needs and physical capabilities. Next find the brand and bullet weight your personal firearms like best (give you the tightest groups) and lay in a large supply of ammunition for the long term and for maintaining proficiency training. You are in the vanguard of an increasing number of women shooters who are awaking to the need to provide for their own defense.