Let’s Talk Guns. Specifically Calibers

There’s no question that the ability to defend your home and family is an integral part of survival. That primarily means guns, as they are the best weapon available to us today. I started shooting as a child, and I taught all my kids to shoot when they were pretty young. As with most other preppers, we have guns in the home and the ammo we need to use them.

I don’t often talk about guns specifically, although I do talk about self-defense and home defense. The main reason I don’t talk about guns is that so many other people do. I see many articles about firearms, especially what guns are “best” for survival, and I even read a few. But by and large, all I’m seeing is people’s opinions. But I think there’s a need for a serious discussion about guns and why one gun might be better than another.

Please note that I have no intention of telling you what gun you should buy or what gun is the best. That’s your decision to make, and it’s a very personal one. What’s best for one person is rarely best for the next. So, even if you are interested in what I carry, that doesn’t mean you should buy the same. However, I will talk a bit about why one type of gun might be better than another in a given survival situation.

Let’s Start with Pistols

All of the guns we’re concerned about can be broken down into two general categories; pistols and long guns. As a starting point, every team member who is old enough to handle firearms safely should have one of each. In a survival situation, especially a post-disaster world where there is a breakdown of law and order, their pistol should never leave their body unless they are bathing or sleeping.

I’m also a firm believer in carrying concealed and do so every day. We aren’t preppers and survivalists only in the aftermath of a disaster, but every day of our lives. In all the years I’ve carried, I’ve only had to draw my pistol two times, both to stop crimes from happening. And in both cases, the criminal ran once they saw that I was armed.

What Kind of Pistol?

But what sort of pistol is the best to carry? There are two fundamental ways of categorizing pistols; one is that they are either semi-automatic or revolvers; the other is by their caliber. There are proponents of semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, and both have good reasons for their point of view. Revolvers are by far a simpler firearm, so they are less likely to cause a problem in a survival situation and much easier to repair. On the other side of the balance, semi-automatic pistols can hold more rounds and be reloaded considerably faster. While I know one ex-police officer who can reload his revolver as fast as I can refill my semi-auto carry gun, he’s the only one I’ve ever seen do that.

My main reasons for carrying a semi-automatic pistol as my carry gun and my survival gun are those twin benefits of larger capacity and faster reload. Should I ever find myself in a position where I need to use that pistol to keep me alive, I don’t want to be limited by how many shots I can take.

What Pistol Caliber?

But now we get to the bigger question; that of caliber. Let me start by saying that one key element here is comfort. Nobody should carry a larger caliber pistol than they can shoot comfortably. That might mean that a woman would be holding a .380ACP pistol, which I consider sub-optimal as a defensive gun. But if her hands aren’t strong enough to rack the slide of a 9mm, she shouldn’t be carrying it. As a test, if someone can’t shoot a box of ammo through the pistol without help and their hand hurting, they shouldn’t be carrying it.

9mm vs .45ACP

The considerable debate in pistol calibers breaks down to 9mm or .45ACP. I’m a fan of both and have both as active parts of my gun collection. The reason for that is that these two calibers were developed for different things and are useful in different situations.

The .45ACP was developed by famed American gun designer John Browning for the U.S. Army. First manufactured by the Colt Firearms Company, the Colt Model 1911 had a 7+1 round capacity, with a removable magazine. It was developed to replace the .38 Special revolvers, which were the Army’s (and other service’s) standard sidearm. The main reason for this was the Army’s need for a pistol round that could stop the Moro tribesmen of the Philippines, who would attack them high on drugs.

The distinguishing features of the .45ACP bullet are that it has a larger diameter than any other standard pistol round (there is now .50ACP, but there wasn’t when it was developed), and it is extremely blunt. This combination of large surface area and a blunt point means that the bullet is poor at penetration but extremely good at transferring its energy into whatever it hits. It functioned well for its intended purpose of knocking down those Moro tribesmen. It worked so well that Colt Model 1911 was the military sidearm for 72 years.

In contrast to that, the 9mm Parabellum, otherwise known as the 9mm Lugar (for the inventor), or 9mm NATO (as it has been the NATO standard), was designed by a German named Georg Luger. He intended to create a semi-automatic pistol cartridge that would be lethal at 50 meters.

Luther developed a more pointed bullet than any other pistol bullet of the day to accommodate this. Even today, the only bullet with a more pointed profile than the 9mm is the FN 5.7. But that’s a rifle bullet, essentially the same as the 5.56 rifle round in a smaller cartridge.

The sharp point of the 9mm allows it to penetrate much better than any other pistol bullet out there. It is widely considered to be able to penetrate up to 12 inches into a body. This allows the bullet to hit vital organs, even when the target is turned sideways to the shooter, forcing the shooter to shoot through the arm and into the body cavity.

The difference between the two is remarkable in any ballistic test.

  • A .45ACP bullet will not penetrate very far into any material, be it Kevlar, wood, flesh, or fiberglass.
  • On the other hand, the 9mm will penetrate farther than any other pistol round, including a .357 magnum or .44 magnum, but excluding the aforementioned FN 5.7.

Choosing between the two means choosing knockdown power or penetrating power. When dealing with criminals, who might very well be high on drugs or adrenalin, the .45 is the superior choice.

But when defending yourself from quasi-military forces attacking your home, the 9mm is a superior round, more likely to kill or at least severely incapacitate the attackers. Besides, the 9mm will carry more rounds, which will likely be necessary in a post-disaster world.

The .40ACP

One other caliber I feel a need to mention is the .40ACP. It was a later development intended to try and combine the advantages of the 9mm with the benefits of the .45ACP. The resulting bullet and cartridge look like the .45ACP’s little brother. The bullet geometry is smaller but still the same shape.

This ended up resulting in a bullet that doesn’t penetrate as well as the 9mm and doesn’t carry the knockdown power of the .45ACP. In other words, it is combining the worst of both cartridges rather than the best. Sadly, many of our country’s police forces have adopted this caliber for their issue sidearm, not giving the officers on the street the best possible weapons to defend themselves.

The Long Guns

There is a much larger variety of long guns to choose from than there is of pistols. I’m not just talking models here, but the primary type of firearm. At a minimum, we can include:

  • sport rifles
  • hunting rifles
  • shotguns
  • fully-automatic rifles

You can easily find proponents of all of these somewhere in the prepping and survival community.

Before we go any farther, though, let’s talk about how a long gun might be used in a survival situation. As best as I can see it, there are two primary reasons anyone would need a long gun: to defend their home or to hunt for food. So anything we choose has got to fulfill at least one, if not both, of those needs.

Fortunately, we don’t have to limit ourselves to one long gun, although carrying more than one in a bug-out would be a bit too much weight. However, we can get around that problem by having different team members armed in different ways. That would give us the various capabilities that we need.

Long Guns for Home Defense

The number one concern we need to look at using long guns is home defense. That means individuals or groups of attackers coming to break into the home and steal your food and other supplies. We usually picture these individuals as being armed and willing to use violence to get what they want.

Assuming that our assumptions are correct, we’re talking about close-quarters fighting here. While I would do everything possible to keep them from breaching the perimeter of your home and getting in, significantly if they outnumber you, that doesn’t mean taking up a sniper rifle and shooting at them a couple of blocks down the street. Unless they’re shooting at you from there, you have no way of knowing that they’re attacking you.

Even though we’re talking about a time when there will probably be a breakdown of law and order, that doesn’t mean things will stay that way. Most likely, things will return to some semblance of normal at some time or other, and when that happens, there will be those who will want to prosecute anyone who had to defend themselves. So you want to be sure that your actions will meet the legal test of being in self-defense. That means that you only use deadly force when you are under attack or threat of invasion by someone physically close enough to do you bodily harm. So much for sniper rifles or their civilian equivalent, the scoped hunting rifle.

Likewise, fully automatic rifles are unrealistic for defending the home, as they are notorious for the muzzle rising due to recoil. That means that once the first shot has left the muzzle, any others are likely to go up into the air, missing their target. That’s not so much of a problem, but what they hit when they come back down to earth could be very serious indeed.

Taking those two categories of long guns out, we’re left with shotguns and sporting rifles, specifically the various versions of the AR-15. Both are excellent for home defense, although you must be careful with the AR-15, as the bullets can pass right through someone, hitting something beyond.

There are a wide variety of shells available for 12-gauge shotguns, including slugs and less-lethal rounds. This makes the 12-gauge one of the most versatile home defense guns out there. The only thing wrong with it is the limited magazine capacity of most shotguns. This can be solved by either buying one of the newer bullpup shotguns with dual magazines or a tactical shotgun that feeds from a magazine.

In no case is a hunting shotgun good for home defense.

However, even with as good as shotguns are for home defense, I wouldn’t just depend on a shotgun with nothing else as backup. Other than those with removable magazines, reloading would take too long in a firefight. If the fight went that far, it would be better to set the shotgun aside and grab a secondary firearm, like an AR-15.

Long Guns for Hunting

When hunting, the same long guns that anyone uses today are ideal for survival hunting. Whatever your favorite hunting rifle is, plan on using it for survival. As far as a shotgun goes, if yours has a removable plug in the magazine, I’d go ahead and remove it, all the while saving it for reinstallation whenever things go back to normal.

The one problem here is that the rifles and shotguns we use for hunting are not ideal if we end up being attacked while out hunting. Carrying a second long gun is impractical due to the weight. The best thing to do is carry a hunting rifle with replaceable magazines, such as some versions of the Remington 700 or an AR-15 chambered for hunting.

Another critical consideration in hunting is the small game. That will probably be more plentiful than big game. So a good .22LR rifle should be part of everyone’s survival arsenal, either that or a conversion kit for their AR-15.

Of course, this assumes you’re going to be able to go hunting, something I’m not so sure of. There will be many other people out there trying to hunt for food, to the point where the game population will become diminished rapidly. If your survival plans depend on hunting those animals for food, I can only hope you live far enough away from any population centers that you will still be able to find the game. Otherwise, you’ll probably be wasting your time.

But for all of this, you should read Simple Gun Hacks That Will Instantly Double Your Accuracy from Decorated Green Beret!

Written by

Bill White is the author of Conquering the Coming Collapse, and a former Army officer, manufacturing engineer and business manager. More recently, he left the business world to work as a cross-cultural missionary on the Mexico border. Bill has been a survivalist since the 1970s, when the nation was in the latter days of the Cold War. He had determined to head into the Colorado Rockies, should Washington ever decide to push the button. While those days have passed, the knowledge Bill gained during that time hasn’t. He now works to educate others on the risks that exist in our society and how to prepare to meet them. You can send Bill a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com.

Latest comments
  • I was hoping a gun manufacture would make a 40 cal. on an AR platform to be the same a a pistol, but no one has yet.

    • There is an AR-15 carbine made by Olympic Arms, chambered in S&W.40. It has a 16″ 416stainless steel barrel that is chrome lined with a 1:16″ twist. It is 31.75″ over-all length and weights 6.86lbs. It has a special Glock lower receiver that accepts standard Glock22 S&W.40 magazines. They also have extended magazines available also. You can find them on the web site Cheaperthandirt.com. I don’t think that the upper is interchangeable with other lower recivers though.

    • Try a Tucson, AZ based company Quarter Circle 10. They make AR platform carbines in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

  • I beg to differ with you on penetration of the 9mm vs. .45 ACP. In ballistic tests I’ve witnessed using large blocks of ballistic gel, you were dead on for using the 9mm using standard load 115 grain bullets: 12 inches penetration straight as a rod and then tumbling all over for another 4-5 inches. Cavitation (which is the real killer, as any organs in the cavitation zone are destroyed or seriously damaged) was 4 inches at point of impact and minimal after 12 inches. For the .45ACP, penetration was straight as a rod for THIRTY INCHES, with cavitation at point of impact being six inches and declining in a straight linear line all around out to the width of the bullet at 30 inches. Since cavitation is essentially as deadly as the actual bullet penetration channel, this means that although the 9mm is likely to put your opponent down, it is much less likely to make sure that he won’t survive to dispute your account of what happened.. The .45ACP is way more likely in any body hit to kill, and if you hit an opponent in an arm or leg, much more likely to either remove the limb if it hits bone or ensure that he can’t use till after reconstructive surgery. This is why i own NO 9mms and several .45ACP…but as you correctly note I can handle one, I provide my wife with a pocket sized .357 loaded with .38 Special, with .357 Magnums for me.

    • There is the Hi-point 4095TS.

      I know that the Hi-point brand of guns have a rather negative reputation of being a cheap, low quality weapon, however I own a few Hi-point guns both a .45acp pistol and a .45acp carbine rifle. These guns are somewhat bulky in appearance and asteticly unattractive, but they are very reasonably priced and function very good and the carbine is pretty accurate, even at 50 yards, holding a hand size grouping at 50 yards.

      The Hi-point 4095TS is a carbine rifle chambered in S&W.40. It has a removable magazine that holds 10+1 rounds of S&W.40 ammo, and they also have extended magazines available. It is a good weapon to use for shorter distances less than a full size rifle, but greater than the standard pistol. It uses the standard S&W.40 pistol round and has a 17.5″ barrel length that gives it a greater accuracy and reaches out to about 50yards accurately. The carbine is 32″ over-all length and weights 7lbs. The carbine shoots farther than a pistol, but doesn’t have the longer range that a standard rifle has. It uses the same magazine as the, S&W.40cal Hi-point pistol and they are interchangeable between the two weapons. In my opinion these are good guns for both protection and hunting purposes. Especially if your on a budget. The carbine does have some limitations due to the pistol caliber round used in it, however most carbines have the same issue of reduced range because they are using a pistol round instead of a full size rifle round.

      The reputation of the Hi-point brand of guns is not great. The first generation of Hi-points had problems with them and were not known for their reliability.

      This however is NOT the CASE ANYMORE. They have underwent a redesign and they have fixed the issues that the first generation of guns had. They are NOW VERY RELIABLE and WORK VERY WELL ! The reputation of them however has stuck and most people are hesitant to buy one because of the beliefs that they are of poor quality and unreliable.

      This is NOT an issue with the SECOND GENERATION of their guns. They are very affordable and quite accurate and perform very well. I would recommend them to anyone who is looking for a pistol and a rifle that both shoot the same ammunition and utilize the same magazines in both weapons. This allows you to carry both a pistol and a carbine rifle that both, use the same caliber bullet and have interchangeable magazines in both guns. This allows you to carry only one caliber of ammunition and one magazine that works in both weapons. This cuts down the number of different types of ammunition and magazines you need to carry, giving you more versatility and the capacity to carry more ammo on yourself and limiting the number of different supplies you have to carry.

      I highly recommend the Hi-point brand of weapons for anyone who is looking for a reasonably priced gun, with high quality and good reliability and accuracy! The brand Hi-point makes a great gun, at a very reasonable price for what you get. They may not have the reputation of being a great gun manufacturer, but that has been resolved in their second generation of guns and they will perform as well as most other brands of gun in almost every situation you may encounter. The reasoning behind my owning both the Hi-point pistol and carbine is simply the versatility that comes with being able to use the same bullet in two different guns, a pistol and rifle at the same time. It reduces the number of different types of ammo needed to carry and the ability to reach out farther than a pistol allows for greater accuracy for hunting purposes. The S&W.40cal is a versatile round and will take down large game in less than 50yards distance. It will also effectively, take down a human threat while protecting your home and family. The versatility of this combination is great for a SHTF situation, where carrying multiple guns and types of ammunition may not be feasible for a solo person. I do and would rely upon these Hi-point guns for protection and for hunting game in most situations and they have not let me down yet.

      I hope this helps you in finding a weapon that will work for you in your requirements for a SHTF weapons platform.

  • Interesting write up. Yes I was issued a 38 special. After being shot down in the jungle with a 5 round Barnie Fife load out, I got back, had a conversion with the unit armor, left with a CAR-15 and a 1911. 50 years later, my choices are more consistent with shoot, communicate, and not so much move. Your suggestion about a 12ga. bullpup is right on. Eight of my friends and I have Black Aces Tactical, FD-12 semi-auto magazine fed bullpups. They have 5 and ten round stick magazines, and a 20 round drum but that is too heavy and bulky. If you have six stick magazines they function just like AR magazines. Fast swap, bolt hold back release and keep shooting. Remember 15 pellet #1 Buck shot multiples your lethal effectiveness beyond 50 yards. 15 pellets times 60 rounds puts out 900 pieces of lead in about a minute. It has an 18″ barrel and 28″ overall for good CQB maneuverability. Ammunition options open the tool up for many mission capabilities. Backup pistol is a Springfield XD 9mm with Sig V-Crown Ammo. Its tactile features make this a winner over Glock, Sig, etc. These cover home defense in the traditional context. However, if you have any expectation of encountering Blue Helmets in the near future, then your doctrine is shoot them as far away as possible. I find 6mm ARC 18 to 22″ AR to be most useful. It is lethal beyond a 1,000 meters and you can self spot with it. Old guy friendly for sure. Plus you can swap uppers for something in the middle range if necessary.

    • You have decent weapons in my opinion. The 6 millimeter Advanced Rifle Cartridge is a rare round to find. I would also have another AR-15 upper assembly that shoots a more common caliber.

      My choice of home defense weapons (not superior to yours) is a .40 Smith & Wesson and a 9 millimeter carbine. Both have 16 to 30 round full capacity magazines. Pistols I chose are .45 Auto and .40 Smith & Wesson. I disagree with the author that .40 Smith & Wesson is an inferior round to 9 millimeter Luger.

      Long range choices for me are AR-10 and M1A rifles both in 7.62 x 51. My intermediate range rifle is a 7.62 x 39. 7.62 x 39 ammo is so easy to find in August 2021 and it is cheap in price.

      • I concur with you on the 40S&W. It is my most prevalent Springfield. My kids have my 9mm Springfield s leaving me with the old reliable 9mm Browning Hi Power with reduced springs to make it old guy friendly.
        Yes, 6mm ARC ammo is pricey if you can find it today. But I got in early and stocked up. Reloading is quite productive. 6mm bullets are really popular so the brass is the only critical item beyond primers. And since I have a source for brass in my stockpile it makes it easy. The AR-15 platform is so much easier to build, maintain, and fire verses AR-10s or LR-308s. With a 25 power FFP scope you can watch the long range impacts and adjust as required. And I can swap a 300 BLK upper for CQB applications if needed. Yes AK steel case ammo is cheap, but, I can reload 147gr to 240gr 300 BLK brass ammo cheaper and its more effective.

      • I agree with you that the S&W.40 is a good weapon for many reasons. It has great knockdown power and holds more rounds than a 1911 .45acp.

  • The 45 CAP was designed to replace the 38 Colt cartridge and not the 38 Special. The .40 cartridge discussed is correctly called the 40 Smith and Wesson. I am unaware of any cartridge referred to as the 40 ACP.

    • Automatic Colt Pistol you need to reasearch before you post makes you look ignorant.

  • One thing to consider here, the military is precluded from using hollow point rounds. But the civilian world has modern HP rounds that are a significant game changer when it comes to terminal balistics.

    Be very careful to do your research on your ammo, and research testing with the barrel length you use. A HP round from a 4 inch barrel will perform much differently than an HP round from a 2.5 inch barrel. It’s the users responsibility to know and understand their weapon/ammo choice.

  • Does NoOne talk about the effects of barrel length on ballistics ? What about the specific firearm ? I use .38 Cal.+P s in my Charter Arms and S&W – with a 4 in. barrel. The .357 Mag is good for blindness and deafness with the same barrel. P.S., the .38+Ps are much better than the 9mm Para. .

  • Excellent article Bill and thank you for posting it. Personally I have pared down my collection of fire arms to a minimum which works for me. I have two separate 9’s that I EDC depending on how i’m dressed that day. One is a sub compact and the other is a full sized Baretta. I have two scatter guns in 12 GA that can chamber 3 inch rounds. One is for hunting ( which I don’t do often anymore ) and the other is a tactical shot gun. I keep a bolt action rifle .22 for small game hunting. All these are more than adequate for my semi rural situation. Some of my friends are serious fire arm collectors and more power to them! Myself, I try to keep it simple.

  • I would like to offer another perspective to gathering firearms for a SHTF situation: Find out what the military and local law enforcement officers are carrying, and get those. Usually the military carries a rifle and a pistol. Find out what they carry and get one of each. Very often, local police will carry a pistol and have a shotgun in the car. Find out what they have and get one of each.


    Because ammo is going to be extremely hard to get in a SHTF situation. (Ammo is hard to get right now.) The Federal, State, County, and City governments will always ensure that the military and the police will have a steady supply of ammo. You may be able to get some of that supply during Dark Times, when all other calibers & gauges are impossible to find.

    After that, consider getting the weapons that are used by the enemies of the US. Then if you are ever faced with encountering their troops, you can fire their ammo too.


  • I was hoping to see the Taurus Judge mentioned here for home protection. The revolver can take .45 long colt or .410 shotgun shells. The 3″ chamber can accommodate the .410 magnum shells with 00 or 000 buckshot. The rifled barrel enhances spread, which is important if you are facing enemies closing. For knock-down power in close quarters when engaged with multiple attackers, it is my first choice. Especially if you need to fire in darkness.

    • Even better is the S&W Governor, which can also fire .45 ACP using moon clips. And for me, those moon clips are easier to load quickly than using a speed loader to load any of my .357 Magnums. Before I bought mine in 2013, a coworker I talked that that had owned both Judge and Governor said the Governor was the easier shooting of the two. I can’t speak for the Judge, but a woman with small hands that I was dating loved shooting my Governor, even with .410. So I believe him.

      With the Governor and .410 #4 shot, I have managed to get close enough to a rabbit to have killed it, had I needed to hunt for food. That’s pretty good for a revolver not even ideal for, or intended for hunting. Shooting .45 Colt, it’s reasonably accurate, although not as much with .45 ACP probably due to the distance between bullet in the chamber and forcing cone.. I don’t know if the Judge is as good, but I can vouch for the Governor.

      I don’t know the price difference now, but at the time, the Governor was $150 more, and there was no 3″ .410 option for the Judge. That, plus the Governor also shooting .45 ACP and holding an extra round made the Governor well worth the extra money.

    • I have a Taurus Judge but I use it for snake protection when out in rocky areas. The 410 #9 shot has little to no ricochet so shooting a snake close in works

  • It’s sad that no one ever mentions the AR-10!

    I’ve hunted, and harvested, deer with one for well over 20 years, and would still put it up against any 5.56 home defense rifle!
    I also have a 1970s era chinese SKS that I’ve hunted with too, although it is a bit heavy. Also a good hunting/home defense weapon. Just get a REAL SKS, not the stamped out junk they sell now.

    There’s a lot of options out there, do some research and, as always, BUYER BEWARE!

  • I have calibers all over the board. My opinion doesn’t matter to anyone, so my thinking is that varying my ammo needs I have a few popular rounds and only a few not standard. Thus having an easier time to match caliber to weapon. I’d like to note that S&W .500 is great for hunting, (some long range, depending on barrel length) but the best reason is vest busting.

  • This article is back again. Well time has passed and efficiency and versatility has proven realizable. The real cost effective solution that handles all the self-defense and hunting needs is an AR-15 lower with two stocks and three uppers.
    Charles Daley AR-410 upper with 15 round magazines is available and affordable. Remington Ultimate Defense 4 000 buckshot rounds are on par with their 12ga. cousins given capacity and fire rate. They are 2.2888” in length and just fit in the 2.29” limited cartridge length magazines. Also good for foul and drone. Has much less weight and recoil making it more user friendly.
    Second upper is 300 BLK 8”pistol and stock. It is the best handgun using subsonic 220 to 240gr bullets muzzle 1050fps. Very effective and maneuverable self-defense weapon. Even when behind the steering wheel of a vehicle. Still very good for hunting deer and hogs. Lots of ammunition options, including my favorite, reprocessing 5.56 ammo into 300 BLK. That makes it as available as anything else. Very functional with head mounted NVG optics and IR lasers.
    Third is the long range upper. Whatever caliber you like 6mm ARC, 6.5mm Grendel, etc. Good for hunting with long range optic. Just remember you shoot the blue helmets as far away as possible.