A Brief History
On March 29, 1911, the Colt M1911 .45 ACP caliber semi-automatic pistol became the standard pistol of the US Army. We used this historical event for our impetus to write an article in 2016 titled, “Top Ten Must have Calibers for the “Apocalypse.”” Little did we know back in 2016 that many places in the United States would be shutting down gun stores and ammunition sales because of the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. While we may still be a long way from an “apocalypse” that may never happen, we are a lot closer to a catastrophic event or series of events that could potentially destroy the fabric of society and the rule of law. In such a situation, money will be worthless. Food, water, medicine, fuel, guns and ammo will be the currency that keeps people alive. Or maybe it will all blow over. We shall see. In any case, today we will take a look at our recommendations for the best guns a person or family can have on hand if society breaks down and you are forced to fend for yourself against marauding looters, hysterical panicked crowds, deranged individuals, starving large dogs, or you have to hunt to live. Feel free to criticize our choices and to offer your best recommendations. Our list is in order of importance as we see it. You can question our order as well! Our top 3 picks are what we would recommend if you could only have one firearm. Obviously, a decent supply of a variety of types of ammunition are a necessity, as without ammo, a gun is something less than particularly useful. Doo-dads such as laser sights and flashlights may be good investments for your firearms in a survival situation as well.
1. 12 gauge shotgun, pump action or double barrel.
The ubiquitous 12 gauge is the most common shotgun caliber in the US (probably the world), so ammo is most likely to be found. An incredible array of ammunition types are available, from long range (relatively) sabot slugs to light birdshot loads. This is the one gun that can do it all, more or less, except be easily hidden on your body. The pump action models from major manufacturers are not terribly expensive, and are ultra-reliable. This weapon can provide hunting for any size game, from rats and squirrels to Moose and bears, and everything in between. As a defensive firearm, the 12 gauge using buckshot for close or medium work or slugs for medium ranges (to about 100 yards) the big 12 is heavy hitting and intimidating. Its mere presence might scare off your potential assailants. Plus, you can also acquire special purpose barrels for your 12 gauge pump at a reasonable price, giving you much greater flexibility in your use of your shotgun. A rifled barrel with a scope can give you excellent accuracy to 100 or slightly more yards, a short barrel (18 inch) makes a handy gun for indoors or in a car, a pistol grip stock makes your gun even more compact. Much cheaper to buy these extra barrels and accoutrements than to buy an arsenal. If you are really, really, non-mechanically inclined and have little faith in your own ability to work a pump action, buy a double barreled shotgun. You will lose firepower but gain simplicity, and still have that second shot. With a small amount of practice you can learn to rapidly reload such a shotgun. Ammunition manufacturers even make extra short shotshells to increase your magazine capacity for close range work. Semi-auto shotguns are not recommended for apocalyptic events because they do not always work with all types of ammunition.
2. .410 gauge/.45 Colt caliber revolver.
Smith&Wesson and Taurus both make affordable revolvers that are capable of firing either the .45 Long Colt caliber or the .410 shotgun shells with no changing of the gun or cylinder. Some models come in a 2 ½ inch chamber cylinder and some with a 3 inch chamber, and we recommend you spring for the extra couple bucks to get the “magnum” model with the 3 inch chamber. This choice will give you more flexibility if you have to scrounge for ammunition. This revolver is simple, rugged, reliable, and can be used for self defense or hunting, though the short barreled models are not much good for hunting. High end brands offer similar revolvers that also fire the powerful .454 Casull round, but those are usually single action only. We recommend the double action/single action type revolver for flexibility if quick shots are needed. Taurus offers their Raging Judge model (our main recommendation in this type of revolver) in this triple caliber configuration that retains double action capability for under $1000 (in many stores).
3. .22 long rifle repeating rifle with scope.
Either a pump action, lever action, bolt action or semi-automatic operated rifle or carbine in .22 Long Rifle caliber is an extremely versatile firearm for survival type situations. Producing little in the way of recoil, muzzle flash and noise, these rifles are user friendly to the max. In particular, we would recommend one of the models of the Ruger 10/22, a rifle that comes with a flush fitting 10 round magazine but you can easily find large capacity magazines to give this gun tremendous firepower, to the tune of 25, 30, 50 rounds or even more. (We do not recommend magazines of more than 30 rounds because they make firearms unwieldy and often affect reliability.) With a scope, these handy rifles are deadly on small game to 100 yards or so, and even without a scope can hit larger targets at that range. The ammunition is small and cheap, and can be acquired, stored and carried in large quantities without undue bulk or weight. Not particularly deadly for self defense, the .22 caliber is still nothing to sneeze at if you are on the receiving end, especially in multiple shots. An excellent choice for small statured people, recoil sensitive people, and those not wanting to make a lot of noise.
4. AR-15 style rifle or carbine in 5.56mm caliber.
Those citizens interested in self defense during a civil disaster pretty much cannot beat the AR-15 style rifle or carbine as the rounds are effective against marauding thugs, the magazines hold a lot of ammo (30 round magazines are standard, though smaller and larger capacities are available), recoil is much less than a 12 gauge shotgun or .30 caliber rifle, ammo is light, cheap and highly available, and the weapons are generally quite accurate out to about 600 yards or so. While a bit light for big game, the 5.56mm cartridge (or .223 Remington, a more or less interchangeable load for these rifles) can be used to hunt medium game such as deer if needed. Simple, reliable, and available (maybe before, but not during an apocalypse!) you can often find major brand name AR’s for under $500 (Ruger, Smith&Wesson, notably).
5. High capacity 9mm Parabellum semi-automatic pistol.
This pistol is a choice mainly for self defense, not hunting. In the self defense role, having 15 to 20 rounds in the gun is a tremendous advantage for our good citizen trying to defend himself/herself or their family. Easily parked in a pocket or belt, a waist holster or shoulder holster, we are talking about a medium or duty size pistol for this use. A sub-compact model has its place when concealment is critical, but a pistol with a 4 or 5 inch barrel will be much easier to shoot more accurately when you need it. We recommend the double stack large capacity type such as a Beretta 92/M9 type or similar pistols from other reliable manufacturers. The Glock type pistol is hard to beat in this role. These 2 pistols we mention here are both in widespread use in the US, and thus their magazines are also readily available. Some pistol caliber carbines also use Glock brand magazines, so you might have a pistol and carbine with a common magazine if you want to use a pistol caliber carbine instead of an AR type rifle. We also recommend the single action/double action or the Glock type action instead of the single action only type pistol, unless you are highly trained in your particular single action pistol, such as a 1911 style. We strongly recommend the 9mm caliber, not because it is the most effective, though it is just fine (lots of statistics to back this up), but because it has moderate recoil and the ammo is smaller and lighter than .40 or .45, and more effective than .380 or .32 caliber. Also, 9mm ammo is the most likely caliber you will come across if you are hunting for ammunition. You can buy large quantities cheap, even cheaper than .380 or .32.
6. .357 S&W Magnum revolver.
If you just do not want a semi-automatic pistol and you prefer not to deal with the bulk and bulky ammo of a .410/.45 chambered revolver, we would recommend a .357 caliber revolver, preferably with a 3 or 4 inch barrel, for its combination of concealability and adequate power, simple operation and reliability. Obviously, a 6 or 7 shot cylinder is desirable over a 5 shot cylinder in a survival situation. The .357 Magnum caliber is highly effective against people and can also be used on game up to the size of deer. An important factor in choosing a .357 revolver is that these revolvers can also shoot .38 Special ammunition interchangeably with no adjustment, an important consideration if ammo is scarce. An excellent choice in this type would be the Ruger Super GP 100 model, which has an 8 shot capacity cylinder, but it is not cheap at an MSRP of $1549. A more affordable model is the GP 100 with either a 6 round cylinder (retail $769) or a 7 round cylinder (retail $899). The Taurus model 608 is another good alternative choice, and it boasts an 8 round cylinder for an MSRP of $759. (Note: You can usually find guns for less than the MSRP.)
If you can only have one gun, or if you really want it, a .22 Long Rifle caliber revolver or semi-automatic pistol may be considerably better than nothing. While not our recommendation for a top choice because of a lack of stopping power and quite limited range capability (for most people), a nice light .22 pistol or revolver might be your ticket. Easy to carry and easy to find ammo that is small and light, as with the .22 rifle these firearms make much less noise than larger caliber types. Plus, many of them are highly affordable, not a lot over $100 for a single action only type revolver and around $250 for a modest style from a major manufacturer for a semiautomatic pistol. A particularly small model might be your hideout/back-up gun hidden in your pocket and might just bail you out of a bad situation. You never know.
8. Special Bonus!
Although not great for a firefight scenario, the Chiappa M6 X-Caliber over and under rifle/shotgun is a terrific survival choice among firearms. With either a 12 gauge or 20 gauge shotgun barrel and a .22 LR or .22 WMR barrel, this two barrel break top long gun folds in half for easy storage and travel (hiding?), and has the extra-special highlight of coming with up to 8 chamber inserts for the shotgun barrel allowing the shooter to utilize an additional 8 pistol caliber cartridges. Thus, a single firearm can provide the versatility of firing 1 whopping 10 different calibers of ammunition! This fantastic capability could be a life saver in a survival situation. As an alternative, you can purchase the 12 gauge chamber inserts, all 8 of them, for an MSRP of .$349.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is the one firearm you would want during an apocalyptic event? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Amselle, Jorge. Modern Survival Guns: The Complete Preppers’ Guide to Dealing With Everyday Threats. Caribou Media Group, 2017.
Gregersen, Steven. The Gun Guide for People Who Know Nothing About Firearms. Amazon, 2012.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by M62 of a Remington-made M1911A1 sidearm in August 2007, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.