One of the hottest topics in the realm of prepping and survival is that of firearms. Everyone has an opinion about what is best, as well as arguments as to why they are right. The problem is, all of those opinions are probably right in certain circumstances. But what is right in one circumstance or for one person isn't necessarily right for another. You and I have to figure out what will work for us, not what will work for somebody else.

The thing is, there are lots of different survival scenarios. So, what might work for you in one situation, might be the absolute wrong choice in another. Without looking at all the potential survival situations you could run into, there's really no way of determining what you'll need.

Of course, looking at all possible survival situations is difficult too. After all, none of us has a crystal ball to show us what the future holds. So, the most intelligent thing to do is to prepare for a variety of different scenarios, which cover most of the likely situations that you could encounter.

Another very useful thing to do is to think in terms of "team" survival weapons, rather than just thinking about "individual" survival weapons. If you look at an infantry squad, you find that they carry a variety of different weapons. While the M-4 assault rifle might be the basic gun for the unit. Not everyone is carrying an M-4. You might have a squad member who is carrying a SAW(squad automatic weapon - a light machine gun) and another is carrying a sniper rifle. Not only that, but not all the M-4s they are carrying will be configured equal. Some will have grenade launchers or shotguns for door breaching, while others will be just the basic M-4.

Having a mix of weapons in your squad or survival team helps to ensure that you will have the weapons you need in any given circumstance. Another thing that will help is to have a variety of potential weapons for each individual in your team to choose from. Maybe a team member will use a shotgun as their primary weapon when you are defending your home, but change over to an AR-15 when it's time to bug out.

How Many Guns is Enough?

This is kind of a trick question, something a wife might ask her husband when he comes home with a new gun. I've seen some preppers with a safe full of guns, but only two people to use them. That might be a bit of an overkill. On the other hand, just having one gun probably isn't enough. You might have problems with that gun or you might run into a circumstance where that gun isn't practical.

At a minimum, each member of your family or survival team needs two firearms. One should be a pistol and the other a long gun. When you are in a survival situation, that pistol should never leave your side. Even when you are bathing or sleeping, that pistol should be within reach.

But a pistol is only a self-defense weapon. As one firearms instructor put it, a pistol is what you use to defend yourself with, while you're running to get to your rifle. That's actually a pretty good description. While a pistol is better than nothing and everyone should learn how to shoot one accurately, a pistol isn't going to be anywhere near as accurate as a rifle is. In just about any circumstance, you're going to be better off with a rifle or shotgun in your hands, than you are with a pistol.

This brings me to an important point. Everyone in your family needs to learn how to shoot. Your name isn't Rambo and you don't have a script writer creating your scenes or a director controlling the action. When things turn real and you need to reach for your gun, you want everyone in your family to be able to reach for a gun as well. Maybe you will be the main one to carry the fight to the enemy, but your family needs to be able to defend themselves. Otherwise, they could become a liability to your defense, rather than an asset.

I realize that this might not be a very palatable idea. I'm a man and I feel like it's my responsibility to protect my family. But at the same time, I realize that I don't have eyes in the back of my head. Nor do I have the ability to be in multiple places at one time. So, I want my family to be able to defend themselves, in case someone tries to sneak up and grab one of them, while I'm fighting off his buddies.

So that means that you need at least one pistol and one long gun for each member of your family. In some cases, you might need more than one. I have a concealed carry license, so I have a carry gun. But that wouldn't be my survival gun if we were to bug out or be faced with a major disaster. So, I have two pistols. If we were to bug out, I'd probably take both, paying the weight penalty, just so I could have a spare.

Let's Talk Long Guns

When we talk long guns, we really need to talk about four different types of guns:

  • Fully automatic assault rifles
  • Military-style sporting rifles
  • Hunting and sniper rifles
  • Shotguns

Fully Automatic Rifles

There are some people who are convinced that they need a fully-automatic M-4 or a HK MP5. I've seen these weapons and even had the opportunity to shoot some of them. Back when I was in the Army, I was trained on the M-16, which was the predecessor to today's M-4. I'll have to admit, it's fun to put that selector switch on full auto and go rock & roll, but that's about all it is.

Full automatic fire is useful for only one thing, that's laying down suppressive fire. If you're in an actual infantry battle and you need to get the enemy to keep their heads down, then full-auto is the way to go. Besides that, the chances of actually hitting your target while on full-auto are minimal.

I know you've seen in the movies when the good guys charge the enemy firing full auto. We all have. It sure seems like a good way to do it, laying down a virtual blanket of lead while you're advancing. But the reality is, your chances of hitting anyone that way are extremely slight. You're much more likely to miss and just waste a lot of ammo in the process.

That's why I'm not a fan of fully automatic rifles. Oh, they're great to have, but they're not worth what they cost. They're especially not worth the cost of the ammo you have to use in them. An M-4 will fire 750 - 950 rounds per minute. Of course, the magazine isn't big enough to carry that many rounds and soldiers are taught to fire in three round bursts. But even firing three round bursts, you can empty a magazine easily in less than a minute. How many magazines are you going to carry?

Even when I was in the Army, I preferred using my rifle in semi-automatic mode. The only time I switched over to full auto was when I was ordered to. I like hitting the targets I'm pointing at, so I prefer taking the time to aim, rather than just spray and pray.

Military Style Sporting Rifles

That brings us to military-style sporting rifles, like the AR-15. Essentially, these are the same as their fully-automatic cousins, just without the ability to go full auto. The nice thing about that is that you can use any of the accessories designed for the M-4 on the AR-15. So, you can really customize it to your survival needs.

There are a few problems with an AR-15 or any other rifle as a survival weapon. The first is that the length of it makes it awkward for using indoors. So, in a home defense situation, a rifle may not be the best weapon to use. The second is that the bullet leaves the muzzle at such a high velocity that it goes through walls easily and may even go through a body and then a well. That could be dangerous to other family members. Finally, the weight of rifle ammunition makes it difficult to carry a lot of ammunition into the field in a bug out situation.

That's not to say that a rifle is bad for survival, just that it has limitations. As I said earlier, there is no one magic solution to all situations. The muzzle velocity that makes a rifle a bit dangerous indoors makes it ideal for killing big game to feed your family.

There are more different models of bullpup rifles that are coming out in recent times. The great advantage of them is that they are much shorter. That makes them ideal for use indoors, whether in home defense or a close quarters combat situation. Such a rifle, with a red dot sight on it, is an excellent short-range weapon.

Hunting or Sniper Rifles

One of the top-selling hunting rifles is also one of the top sniper rifles available. That's because big game hunting and sniping are very closely related. In both cases, the target has to be taken out at long range, using a scope. I high velocity round is needed for improved ballistics and both require a good shooter on the trigger.

However, the problems I just mentioned for a sporting rifle apply to a hunting or sniper rifle as well. There's another consideration and that is, what are you going to use it for? If you are going to use it for hunting, then it might be a good idea to have at least one good hunting rifle in your team. But if you're planning on using it as a sniper rifle, then you are putting yourself at risk, legally speaking. There is no way you can legitimately call someone an impending threat, at sniper rifle distances, unless they are already shooting one at you.

Another thing to consider is that other than for long-range shooting, you can do everything with an AR-15 that you can with a hunting rifle. In fact, many people use AR-15s as hunting rifles. So, having both may not be necessary.


Shotguns come in various types. What one would buy for home defense is very different than what one would buy for hunting ducks or geese. Tactical shotguns, which is what you would want to buy for home defense have an 18.5 inch barrel, while hunting guns have a much longer one.

Some have called the shotgun the ultimate home defense weapon. There is a lot of good reason for that. First of all, most people consider a shotgun a point and shoot weapon, rather than one that you need to aim. In a home defense situation, that can save critical seconds. Secondly, the shotgun can be loaded with a wide range of different loads.

The standard defensive round for a shotgun is 00 Buckshot. This delivers about 12 .32 caliber balls to the target. At the distances encountered in a home, they have little dispersal, so that shot would be deadly. But they can also punch through walls rather easily, just like the rifle bullets can.

The solution to this problem is to use a lighter load. Many home defense experts recommend using number 8 Birdshot. That not only reduces the likelihood of going through walls, but it also increases the spread. Unfortunately, unless you really hit an attacker good, you might need more than one shot to put them down.

In the field, the shotgun is a great tool, especially with the wide range of shells available for it. Those 00 Buckshot shells have proven themselves time after time in combat. They are also good enough for hunting at short distances. For intermediate distance hunting, the buckshot can ban be replaced with a slug, allowing hunting of big game out to about 100 yards.

Which to Use?

As you can see, there is some definite overlap between the various types of long guns. That makes it even harder to decide which is the ideal weapon for survival. The flip side of that coin is that you can probably make do with any of them, if that's all you have. But let's see which ones work out the best for some basic situations.

Home Defense - Inside the Home

A tactical shotgun is usually considered the best firearm for home defense. The shorter length gun can be fitted with a pistol grip, shortening it even more. The one problem is the lack of aiming. You can solve this by putting a laser sight on it and having everyone laugh at you.

As already mentioned, number 8 Birdshot is a much safer round to use inside the home, although it won't necessarily go through walls. But if you're going to use it, you'd better plan on shooting any intruder twice; unless, of course, they fall from the first shot.

The second best firearm for home defense inside the home is an AR-15. If it is fitted with a short barrel, like the "pistol" versions of the AR-15, it is highly maneuverable indoors. Even better than that would be a rifle that is built to a bullpup design. These have the action behind the trigger, with the chamber all the way back in the stock. This makes a much shorter rifle, without sacrificing anything in firepower.

Home Defense - Outside the Home

If your home is being attacked by a group of people, you will want to engage them before they can breach your door. That means shooting at them through the windows, with them in your front yard. The advantage to this is that you are under cover, even though they aren't. This also does away with the problem of maneuvering your guns inside the home.

The same guns that will work for home defense inside the home will work just as well for this sort of a home defense situation. The only difference is that you might want to change the shotgun shells and put in 00 Buckshot. If you are exchanging gunfire from 100 feet away and using a shotgun, use slugs.

Bugging Out - Defense

Here is where a military style sporting rifle will truly be advantageous. The larger magazine capacity and ease of handling make this an ideal choice. You could either put a red dot sight on it or a telescopic sight. If you choose to put a telescopic sight on it, you either need one that has adjustable magnification or some way of using your metal sights as well.

If you have a short barrel on your rifle, for indoor use, then it won't be all that good for outdoor use. The shorter barrel does give you better maneuverability, but it does so at the cost of accuracy. One way of solving this problem is to have two upper receiver assemblies for the gun.

A shotgun is usable as a defensive weapon in the field, but probably not as good as a rifle. The problem is that you don't have a lot of range with it. Even shooting slugs, you're limited to a couple hundred feet. However, if you end up in any close quarters fights, a shotgun is great to have.

Bugging Out - Hunting

Nothing is going to beat a hunting rifle for hunting. However, an AR-15 with a long barrel and a telescopic sight makes for a close second. While you might want to have one real hunting rifle in your party, most of your team would be better off with AR-15s.

If you are bugging out into an area where fowl are plentiful, you will probably want at least one shotgun in the group. Preferably, that shotgun should be in the hands of your best bird shooter. They can double as your close-in heavy firepower in a firefight.

Don't Forget to Mix it Up

As you can see, different guns provide different advantages. Therefore, in a bug out, your best bet is to make sure you have a mix of weapons. One team member should have a good long-range hunting rifle and another a good shotgun. Everyone else will probably be better off with AR-15s or similar military-style rifles. If you have the capability to do so, it would probably be a good idea to have a couple of extra shotguns for your team to use in a home defense situation.

Don't Forget Your Sidearms

While everyone needs a long arm as their primary weapon, I'm a strong believer in carrying sidearms. There are just too many instances in which you have to put your rifle down, so that you can use two hands. That means that there are times when you would be unarmed, if you didn't have a side arm.

Once again, there's a lot of discussion about what sidearm and what caliber is best to use. A lot depends on the individual. Not everyone can use a .45 auto effectively. Women especially have trouble with it. The best answer for most people is to use the largest caliber that they are comfortable shooting. That gives the most firepower for that individual.

In the case of women who have weak hands, a .380 is a good caliber. Sig Sauer makes their pistols with the weakest recoil springs of anyone. So, if you have a woman with weak hands, that might be a good option for them. I ended up buying my wife a Sig Sauer .380 for that very reason.

Then there's the debate between semi-auto and revolvers. That's very much an argument of personal opinion. The advantage of semi-automatic pistols is their larger magazine capacity and speed of reload. But revolvers have advantages too; notably the simpler design which could be important in a survival situation.

Preparing Your Sidearm

I'm a firm believer in doing everything I can to my firearms, so as to make them ready for use when I need them. For that reason, all of my sidearms have tritium night sights and tactical lights on them. Most engagements happen in low light situations, so I want to be able to see both the target and the sights on my gun.

A tactical light should only be used in a brief flash in a shooting situation. Its purpose is to help you identify the target. Once you've done that, move quickly, before they can take a shot at you. Don't use the light for shooting, as that will make you too good a target for the enemy.

How Much Ammo is Enough?

I've seen a lot of people deal with the ammo issue; talking about how much is enough. Typically, the numbers you hear are 1,000 rounds per caliber or 10,000 total rounds. Personally, I think those numbers are a bit arbitrary. You may never use that much ammo; but then again, you might.

It is impossible to carry that much ammo on you. A basic load of ammo for an infantryman is seven or eight magazines. Considering that they are 30 round magazines, that works out to 210 to 240 rounds. That much ammo is supposed to be enough to last the average infantry soldier through a day's combat operations. However, while this is the basic load, in the Middle East wars there were many soldiers who carried more, as much as 12 magazines.

For pistols, the basic load is three magazines, one in the pistol and two in pouches. Since the pistol is a secondary weapon for most people, that should be enough to carry on your person.

When you start adding it up, that's a lot of weight in ammo to carry. Each magazine weighs about two pounds, so eight magazines is 16 pounds of ammo. If you're bugging out and won't have any resupply available, how long will that ammo last you? Of course, a lot will depend on whether you are going to have to fight with that ammo or just use it for hunting. Even so, carrying more than that in our pack would add a lot of weight to your load.

So, let's say one basic load of ammo for bugging out. Is that enough? Probably not. You'll also need ammo for use at home, in home defense. If your bug out basic load of ammo is with your bug out gear, than you can't use it for home defense. That means you'll need another basic load of ammo, just for home defense.

That's still way less than the 1,000 rounds of ammo that has been suggested by many people. In reality, unless you are counting on using it s practice ammo as well, there's no way that you are going to go through that much ammo in a survival situation. Chances are, either things will return to normal before you can go through it all or you're going to end up running out of luck fighting to defend your home.

After all, like I said before, you're not Rambo. If you have to fight that many people to defend your home, that you go through a basic load of ammo, either you're an extremely poor shot or you're overrun with enemies. In either case, surviving that long would pretty much be a miracle. So a couple of basic loads for each of your firearms should be enough to get you through anything.

Dave Steen

About The Author: Dave is a 58 year old survivalist; father of three; with over 40 years of survival experience. He started young, learning survival the hard way, in the school of hard knocks. Now, after years of study, he's gray-haired and slightly overweight. That hasn't dimmed his interest in survival though. If anything, Dave has a greater commitment to survival than ever, so that he can protect his family. Click Here To Read More About Dave

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