What’s the best survival gun? Ever heard that question before? If you’re reading this, you’ve heard it, read it, discussed it, ad nauseam.
Other than the prerequisites of actually having a gun, and having a gun that works reliably, it’s really a waste of time to discuss what the best survival gun is. There are just too many personal preferences, and too many circumstantial situations to calculate to make it a meaningful discussion.
The truth is, the gun is secondary to the ammunition. The projectile does the work, not the platform, and by “platform” I mean the gun and the person using it. Anything and everything that goes into getting a projectile from point A to point B, but it’s the point B that matters. Putting the right projectile in the right place at the right time.
The correct question to ask about survival is “What’s the best survival caliber”? To that question, my answer is “there isn’t one, but there are only a few that belong in the discussion”.
Understand that when I talk about the best survival calibers, I am talking about versatility in obtaining food primarily, and self defense secondarily.
Here is the list of the best survival calibers, the way I see it; .22 pellets, .22LR, .357 Magnum, and 12 gauge.
“But Punty, a pellet gun? Are you serious? You recommend a toy for survival?”
No. A good pellet gun is not a toy. A pellet gun, in many ways, is the ideal survival gun, and a .22 caliber pellet gun is the best choice, specifically a pneumatic pellet gun, not a CO2 charged one. Something that you can charge without accessories or stockpiling CO2. Mostly, I am talking about nitro-piston break barrel pellet guns.
Let me preface by saying that I am talking about a reasonably quality pellet gun, something on the order of $150 or more, and they can be a lot more if you want to spend the $$$.
The .22 pellet
The .22 pellet gun can do most things that .22LR can do, and some things it can do better. It can be quieter than even a .22LR rifle, although that is not necessarily the case. The projectile itself, however, will not break the sound barrier, so you won’t be making any more noise than necessary, and this is important not only for stealth reasons, but also because it will not scare away game after taking a shot.
There are other ways in which .22 pellets are superior to .22LR. It is cheaper. You can buy 400 rounds for about $6 or $7! Pellets are smaller, more available, and more portable. You can easily carry 1200 rounds in a cargo pocket without even noticing it.
With a .22 pellet gun you can hunt squirrels, rabbits, game birds such as turkey with head shots, grouse, possum, pigeons, and any similar sized game, which will be the most abundant game available in a pinch. Can you do that with .22LR? Sure, but why waste the ammunition? Why waste a valuable 10 cent round of ammunition when you can use a 1.5 cent pellet, and be quieter about it? You can stockpile thousands of rounds of pellets for $50! And…you never have to worry about it being confiscated, or finding space to store it, or worry about keeping it dry, or worry about it getting too old. It’s just a little chunk of lead. That $50 investment in ammunition could score you thousands of meals. Birds, squirrels, rabbits, most anything you can look out your kitchen window and see on any given morning. There for the taking any time.
What’s more…if you run out of pellets, and your pellet gun still works, you can easily turn it into a dart gun by whittling a stick down to .22 caliber and using a leaf or two for wadding, and it’s much easier and more effective than trying to do that with a .177 caliber.
So, these things make a .22 pellet gun and pellets one of the best survival calibers, and incidentally, one of the best survival guns, and best of all, it’s cheap!
Even if you are some kind of crazy gun nut with a garage sized safe full of AR-15’s and other firearms, you should still have a .22 pellet gun or two, and several thousand rounds of pellets. That will extend whatever ammunition and preps you have for jobs that they are needed. For the price of the pellet gun and ammunition, you can arm your whole family with them and keep well stocked and fed making rabbit stew, or roasted squirrel.
As for self defense, forget about it. The only self defense value of the .22 pellet gun, is that they often look menacing and most people won’t know the difference from a short distance.
.22 Long Rifle
Whenever discussion of survival firearms is in the works, the .22LR is always in it, and for good reason. It’s cheap, it’s compact, and it’s versatile. It’s a great hunting round for small game. It can be supersonic or subsonic, and even when it’s supersonic, it won’t be echoing off the mountains for miles around.
The .22LR is not only versatile in what game can be harvested with it, but also what firearms can be used effectively with it, and those firearms are usually very inexpensive. You can use it in long guns or hand guns.
There is very little I can say about the .22LR that has not been said before. It’s the ideal caliber to fend off starvation when talking about gunpowder rounds.
Anyone that owns guns, owns at least one, and probably several, .22 caliber guns. It’s a great round for the whole family.
For me personally, next to the Ruger 10/22, I like the Chiappa Little Badger. It’s compact, so it can be thrown in a backpack and hidden, lightweight at only 3.5 pounds or so, and frankly, it’s just plain fun. For $150 give or take, it’s just a delightful little gun.
You can buy a variety of good, reliable, and accurate .22LR guns for cheaper or similar cost than you can buy a .22 pellet gun. Marlin, Ruger, and a variety of other manufacturers make good .22 rifles for under $200. There’s no reason not to have several, and for ammunition that hovers around 10 cents a round, you can’t go wrong.
As for self defense, the .22LR is lacking. But, if you have a semi-automatic gun, it can get the job done in most circumstances. Nobody likes getting shot at, even if it is .22LR, and certainly no one likes getting shot, even with a .22LR. A Ruger 10/22 can be awfully intimidating if you are on the wrong side of the muzzle, and the .22LR is, believe it or not, the caliber that is most commonly used in homicides, so it is not totally inadequate for self defense, even though it is not ideal, and this is what gives it the most benefit over the .22 pellet gun.
The .357 Magnum is time tested and proven over the course of decades. It’s man stopping power is without debate.
One of the greatest assets of the .357, the ability to choose .38 Special as the ammunition without any concern for changing any parts such as magazines or barrels in most platforms, and this makes it ideal for survival. With the right gun, you can harvest anything from rabbits to deer, and everything in between. Talk about versatile!
With the .357, you can carry a lot more ammunition than you can with rifle rounds, and the Magnum round can do most of what smaller caliber rifle rounds can do. It has been known to be used in self defense against even bear and moose, but it’s underpowered for that. Anything less, and the .357 Magnum should get the job done effectively, and you won’t need to wear a load bearing vest to carry your ammo. If you spot some turkeys or rabbits, pop in your .38 Special. See a white tail deer? .357 Magnum will bring it down with a well placed shot and feed the family for a week or more.
One thing to note about the .357 Magnum, is that your snub nosed revolver makes a lot of noise, but mostly negates the power of the cartridge. The effectiveness of .357 Magnum is dependent on barrel length much moreso than, say, .38 Special. For hunting and stopping power, you really want a barrel that is 4 inches or more to get the most out of the round. Something like a 5 inch barrel is going to give that powder time to burn before it leaves the muzzle.
For an even more effective tool, there are long guns in .357 Magnum that will really maximize the velocity and accuracy of the round. Henry Repeating Arms, for example, makes lever guns that can take .357 Magnum or .38 Special that will give you the most bang out of your .357 Magnum round.
But, in a end of the world scenario, for a handgun that can be carried and concealed, there are few rounds that can top the .357 Magnum, especially when cost and availability are taken into account, and they will lack the versatility of being dual caliber by nature like the .357/.38.
For this reason, you could do a lot worse than having a long barreled .357 on your hip, with a box of Magnum in one pocket, and a box of .38 Special in the other. You can carry 100 rounds of ammunition, ready to shoot anything from rabbits to deer, and even keep your firearm hidden in your jacket at the same time. What other calibers can you say that?
Self Defense? It’s a .357 Magnum. This round practically sets the standard.
Like the .22LR, the 12 gauge is an automatic entry into the “best survival guns’ discussion. There is no other gun more versatile and effective than the shotgun, and of these, the 12 gauge is the undisputed champion, especially if you have a break action shotgun with adapters for 20 gauge and .410.
Shotgun rounds come in such a wide variety for such a wide range of uses that it is impossible to cover in this article. For this article, we will focus on what I choose as the fewest grades that cover the most necessities.
For me, that choice is #6, #4, 00 Buck, and Slugs. These 4 cartridges will allow me to harvest everything from squirrels, pigeons, and geese, to deer and moose. Understand that we are talking survival situations here, so ducks are fair game, although I have not included steel shot in this. I am not a duck hunter, nor will I ever be, so I have no need for water rated steel shot in everyday life, but if you want to add steel duck shot, that would be a good addition to my list, especially if you don’t want to contaminate your own water source.
The problem with 12 gauge is that, along with it’s versatility, it comes with downsides. It is often expensive, it is bulky, it is heavy, and if you are using a single barrel, or a pump shotgun, you have to guess ahead of time what sort of ammunition to load. This is why my recommendation for a shotgun is a double barreled shotgun, with screw in chokes, and a barrel length that will make it effective for wing shooting. If you’re serious about a “do it all” shotgun, you need a double barrel with at least 26″ barrels. Not only does it give you the most versatility, it is also tough to beat for reliability. There is very little that can go wrong and maintenance is very simple. If you’re hunting for survival, you want to be prepared to shoot whatever presents itself, whether a squirrel or a moose, and only a double barreled shotgun can do that.
My choice is the CZ Hammer Classic, which I reviewed in an earlier post here CZ Hammer Classic, not your grandpa’s side by side.
With this, and the combination of #6, #4, 00 Buck, and slugs, I can choose to load one barrel with, say, #6 for any small game I may see, and the other with a slug in case I should get so lucky as to find a deer or moose, and not have to fumble with trying to change the ammunition in the magazine. I just spot the prey, select the barrel I need, and pull the trigger. (The Hammer Classic has two triggers instead of a selector switch.) Nothing in the woods is safe when you have a double barreled shotgun and these 4 calibers on hand.
For self defense, what can I say? It’s a 12 gauge shotgun. Nobody staring down the big, fat muzzle of a 12 gauge is going to feel good about their chances, whether it’s a double barrel or pump action. Even a single shot shotgun will do. Buckshot is the great equalizer.
So, these are my choices for the ideal calibers for survival and prepping. Some will agree, some will disagree, but I hope I have made a good argument for including these in any discussion.
There are a lot of great rifle rounds, but few of them are as inexpensive, available, or versatile as these rounds. For me, center fire rifle calibers are excellent for specific applications, rather than versatility, and they tend to be bigger, bulkier, and more expensive, and thus take a back seat to the calibers I have highlighted here, no matter how much I love Mosin Nagants and AR-15’s.