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The best firearm for…

May 27, 2017

There have been many many words spent on the subject of the best firearms choices for survival / SHTF. Because I have an interest in both preparedness and hunting, it seemed reasonable to me to sacrifice a few more words to the effort.

Please understand a few things from the start. As I have noted in other places, I really don’t qualify as a hardcore survivalist or prepper. Also, while I spent just over 22 years in the United States military, including time “under arms” in an operational capacity, I make no claim to ever having been some sort of high-speed, low-drag, snake-eating operator. What I am is a pretty boring, middle-aged guy who began his military career as an E1 in the United States Coast Guard and retired as a lieutenant in the United States Navy Nurse Corps. I hunt, fish, raise rabbits and chickens, garden and hope, should things actually go south at some point, to ensure I, my family and a few very close friends are able to not only survive but actually thrive (at least relative to whatever the norm might be at that time). I said all that to say this: if you are hoping for an article that discusses the latest in uber tactical firearms and gear, or one that tells you which rifle/scope/bipod combination you would need to consistently make headshots at 750m, you should probably stop reading now because you are going to go away disappointed.

Survival is an interesting topic. I find it almost as interesting as some of the attitudes and opinions of many who write about it. At some point, on virtually every survival forum I have ever visited, someone will ask a question like this: “what is the best survival gun?” To be fair, you do get some very well-thought-out and well-reasoned responses. You also get a number of would-be pronouncements from on high by people who claim to have carried (insert weapon of your choice) in Iraq/Afghanistan/”can’t say because it was beyond top-secret” (the last, or some version of it, almost invariably comes from some mall ninja). While I find their ex cathedra comments interesting, they are also disturbing because, I believe, they can lead some people to believe things that just are not true. Even for those that are accurate, I fear they will lead people to believe something that is true in one situation is true in all situations.

So, for the person who asks “what is/are the best survival/SHTF gun(s),” I offer the following, with this caveat. These are the guns I have chosen for my situation and anything I think I might reasonably face. This leaves a few things out. For instance, I do not need an anti-material, anti-personnel rifle. Therefore, you will find no mention of the Barret M82 or any of its variants. Likewise, I’m no fan of excessive recoil, so you’ll find no mention of something like the .338 Lapua either.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve probably noted my preference for bulleted lists. So, some bulleted questions related to the “best” survival/SHTF firearm(s).

  • What is your location?
    • Urban? Small town? Suburbs? Out in the country? On a large farm or ranch?
    •  How far away are your nearest neighbors?
    • Do you live in the mountains? The desert? The deep woods? The plains?
  • What do you mean by “survival?”
    • Feeding yourself with small game and/or using the firearm to slaughter livestock? Hunting big game for food? Hunting birds?
    • Perimeter defense?
    • Home defense?
    • Personal defense?
  • Does your SHTF plan center around bugging out or bugging in?
    • In each case, will you be part of a team or a lone wolf?

There are other questions that could be asked. I believe those are sufficient to cover most people. I’ll answer the questions and give my choices based upon those questions.

I live in a small, West Texas city (my wife calls it the biggest small town in America). We live in an older neighborhood with mature trees, houses not too close together (our property is right at 1/3 acres), and little traffic, though we are pretty close to one of the “main drags” in town. Depending on the direction you take out of town, and how far you go, the terrain is hilly, with a fair amount of vegetation (think mesquite and prickly pear), or pretty flat and boring. Our exterior walls are stone (not masonry) and I’m in the process of hardening the doors and windows. I’m also rebuilding, reinforcing and extending the fences. Our plan, should things ever reach the point of having to choose between bugging in and bugging out, is to bug in. The reasons are simple. Stone walls stop bullets far better than the walls of even the world’s best-made tent. If someone gets sick, it’s easier to recover at home than it is while hiding under a log or in a hole in the wilderness. My plan is to continue to raise rabbits and chickens. They provide high quality and low-fat protein, reproduce rapidly, and can be fed for not too much money if you plan carefully. I also have areas located for hunting both large and small game and birds. Perimeter, home and personal defense are all considerations. I do, indeed, have a team. Based on those answers, here are my choices.

Marlin Model 60. In spite of the tubular magazine, this little autoloader is still my favorite .22LR rifle, probably because it’s the one I grew up on. It’s hard to beat for small game harvesting and livestock slaughter (if we decide to start raising goats – this is, currently, an “up in the air” thing).

Marlin 336. A lever-action rifle in .30-30, it performs a number of tasks quite well. While it will never be as accurate or hard-hitting at its more powerful and flatter-shooting .30 caliber cousins, mine is capable of 2.5-3.0 inch groups at 200 yards with factory ammo (what I’m capable of is sometimes a little different, but that’s not the rifle’s fault). For me, it’s perfect for deer and feral hogs. If pressed into service for perimeter defense, its accuracy is sub “minute of zombie.” While the ammo capacity is limited relative to some rifles, it can be reloaded “as you go,” which is nice.

Ruger AR 556. Chambered in 5.56mm, it is more accurate when firing .223 ammo. That’s convenient, as there’s a lot more .223 out there, as well as a broader selection. Light, accurate and easy to shoot, it could, if necessary, be used for small game (head shots only). In Texas, it’s legal for deer and a lot of hunters use it for feral hogs. While it doesn’t carry the down range KE of the .30-30, it is far more accurate, making it an effective zombie killer at much greater ranges than my beloved .30-30. It’s also capable for home defense, especially if loaded so as to reduce the risk of over-penetration.

Winchester SXP Black Shadow. I have argued for years that if you were only concerned about feeding yourself and occasionally driving off predators, and could have only a single gun, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a 12 gauge shotgun. Properly loaded and configured, you can hunt small game, birds, deer and, if you absolutely had to, defend yourself from a bear. Likewise, within its effective range, it is a devastating self-defense weapon. It does not do everything well, but in many cases it does a lot adequately. In the case of this particular make and model, it has the fastest action I’ve ever seen in a pump shotgun. It’s important to remember that people hunt with shotguns – and miss. So, if you choose one, don’t fall for the “you can’t miss with a 12 gauge” lie.

Sig Sauer P250. Mine is the compact version in 9mm. It holds 15 rounds, is accurate within handgun range and eats whatever I feed it. It is almost entirely a self and home defense weapon.

Here at RM Ranch we have other guns. We have bows. We have short and long blades and axes. In addition, the other members of the team have their own selection of tools that go bang, as well as those that cut, chop, slice, etc. The things listed above are my sort of go-to choices. Your circumstances, training, experience, plans and needs are almost certainly not identical to mine, so yes YMMV. Make your choices based upon what you can reasonably anticipate needing.

Some final thoughts that have to do with need. I like guns. I like them a lot. I’ve spent my entire life around them. I’ve used them for recreation, sport and for more serious purposes and I still shoot regularly. All that has led me to this conclusion: there are two, and only two, circumstances in which any person on the planet will ever truly need a gun.

First, if you are depending on one to feed your family. Notice I said depending. I like to hunt. At least for now, my success while hunting does not determine if my family eats or starves. So, when I see a deer while deer hunting, I don’t need a gun. Having one is convenient, but it’s not a necessity. On the other hand, if harvesting Bambi or one of his relatives determined whether we lived or died, then I would truly need a gun.

Second, you need a gun if you are facing an active threat to life or limb from a predator (whether two or four-legged). You don’t need one if you might be facing such a threat in 30 minutes, or if you were but now the threat has ended. Unlike some in the preparedness communities, I will not suggest preparation is the same as need. We prepare for what we might need. If we actually need something, right now, the time for preparation has passed. I have fire extinguishers, not because I need them, but because if I do someday need one I will need it desperately. The same is true for my first aid and trauma kits, and my medical insurance and even the locks on my doors. When it comes to guns I have only truly needed a gun a few times, but when I did, I needed it immediately. I encourage people to learn to shoot and to understand firearms and firearm safety. I encourage them to own firearms. And, yes, sometimes I use the word “need” a little loosely and suggest people need what is, hopefully, only insurance against dire circumstances that never come to pass. But, if they do, sadly and unfortunately need it some day, they will need it right then.

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2 Comments
  1. Excellent points, and really can’t fault your choices. My ‘fallback’ guns are a 94 in 30-30 and a .357 revolver. They work. And they will take care of any ‘business’ I need taken care of, big or small.

    • Thanks. As much as I really like guns (some would argue I like them too much) I just haven’t been able to bring myself to spend my money on the latest and greatest. I have the ones I have because they work. And, yes, I have a fondness for lever guns. Lately, that has expanded to revolvers. As it happens, Marlin makes a lever gun in .44. I already have the revolver…

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