Preppers: Choose Your Weapons

By Bob Campbell published on in Camping & Survival, Firearms

I think, in practical terms, I have learned more concerning the world around me, and how to work through an emergency, than most. My father taught we how to manage my finances, maintain vehicles, and be a man. My grandfather had a genuine love for animals and taught me to care for them and also taught me how to hunt successfully. My grandmother taught me to prepare food. Today, many are concerned with being prepared. We call them preppers. I think they are simply self-reliant folks who do not wish to stand on the corner and beg for help with the sheep when things go wrong. Firearms are a critical part of the plan too.

Ruger SR556 rifle, black, right profile

The author feels that a good 5.56mm rifle, such as this Ruger, is a cornerstone of any battery.

They may raise their own food because they love to. They may be prepared because they do not like the drive into town. Some have a genuine unease concerning events that may be on the horizon. It is always best to be prepared rather than not. A few years ago, I was engaged in industrial security with the best trainer I have ever known.

Ron Freeman has great knowledge in the fire and EMS side of public safety. His skills were more valuable than my own in that job. I learned a lot from him and came away with a greater respect for the dangers that nature offers.

We should always consult the best-qualified source. When it comes to preparing for a flood, fire, or severe weather, I am not the best source. However, I have become knowledgeable. Food, shelter, clothing, and water are very important. God help us through a true Apocalypse. The real problem, at present, is the terrible weather we have experienced from time to time that has destroyed property and taken lives. The bad man and woman is also a real concern.

1911 pistol with several magazines

Lay in plenty of spare magazines. MecGar is good for the 1911 and any other pistol.

Not long ago in my home county, a man and woman, both about 60, were murdered in their own home in a vicious, edged weapon attack. A young man they had befriended was killed as well. The monsters responsible traveled three states to the south and murdered again before being caught.

The neighborhood was good and a place many of us would like to live, nestled in the mountains. The POS involved was staying at his mother’s house across the way and chose a likely victim. Many such convicts are filled with hate and intense self-loathing. They will kill at some point; it depends on the trigger.

The worst possible combination in a human being is being mean and stupid, and we see no end to these traits among criminals. In my own neighborhood, I enjoy a good relationship with my neighbors to the north, south, and east. I have a buffer to one side that is a lot at present.

We had a doper in a rental house—that didn’t last long. We had a drunken no good—who a pastor befriended—take his car and crash it. A pastor that lives beside him gave a fellow a ride to what was supposed to be his mom’s house and it turned out to be a drug den.

Hornady .223 ammunition with red box

When you match quality and value Hornady ammunition is a good choice.

We used to call them dope fiends. Today, the term is more true than ever. My neighbor and I normally a carry snub nose .38 in our pocket when we walk our dogs or work on the lawn. I am not paranoid and hope that this extra weight will never be needed. But consider this, a felon who is able to attack and kill three grown humans, with an edged weapon, is a deadly adversary. I am not going to be helpless before such an attack.

That brings us to the current subject—choosing the weapon. I have chosen the snub nose .38 Special as a pocket gun. It is also a backup. It cannot be the only handgun, but then nothing else fills its niche as well. Mans’ cruelty to his fellow man and his propensity for violence hasn’t waned much in 10,000 years, and I do not see a Pax Romana on the horizon.

As for myself, I see the same horrors as always—simply in a new dress. The question is, when the man says to choose your weapons, what is the choice? The real question must be, “What is the threat?” I think most of us realize we need a handgun to always be with us, and a long gun to even the odds and provide real protection. For a long-term prepper to cover the needs and situation from a fixed base, the list is longer.

4 GI type 1911 pistols

A GI type 1911 .45 is a formidable sidearm.

We need a rifle, shotgun, .22 rifle, a scoped rifle, and big and small handguns. The rifle is likely going to be the AR-15. I think some compromise may be in order and a versatile scoped rifle such as the M1A may take the place of the AR and the scoped rifle—unless you live out west and need to hunt the mountains. The .22 small game rifle must be chosen.

The shotgun, well, everyone needs a shotgun. For area defense and buggers in the night nothing beats the shotgun. If you are young and developing skill and trade up when the mood strikes, and hopefully each step results in a more credible firearm, the list of irons is fluid. If you are looking for a long-term battery, things are different.

Many of us own as many firearms as Visa, American Express, the mortgage, and marital harmony allow. I enjoy handling the Uberti .44-40 rifle and Colt 2nd Generation Single Action Army, but how many of these can we use well? It is like the family car situation. The pretty girl (my loving and gun understating wife) and I each have a vehicle, as well as a third vehicle—an old but reliable Saturn, just in case.

bob Campbell shooting the TEC 12 shotgun

The TEC 12 shotgun is a great all around problem solver.

The firearm situation might be molded to this car model. The primary, however, is a new Jeep product. It is reliable, well made, and proven in harsh climates. The choice was made on a compromise of gas mileage and performance. My son has a growing family and chose a Jeep Commander with a Hemi engine.

In each case the vehicle is part of the solution to many problems. It has 4-wheel drive and room for an emergency kit with lots of gear. My seven-year warranty might be irrelevant in some situations, but it is good to have. My friend Arnold’s 4-wheel drive Toyota fills much the same need. Likewise, firearms should be proven models.

I am primarily a handgunner. I enjoy firing them and own three for every long gun. But, if you are in a truly bad situation, the long gun is the default—practically a mandatory choice. The best choice is to look forward to the likely problems you will face, and choose a reliable and useful firearm. Then, stock up on ammunition.

This means a quality self-loading rifle. While lever-action and bolt-action rifles are fine for sporting use, they fall short in SHTF scenarios. They may be short cycled unless you have a lot of time spent working on the action. You may not need the AR’s capacity, but an instant second or third shot is good to have.

Canik C100 9mm pistol, right profile

The Canik C100 9mm is a good pistol for a fair price.

Then there is the need to carry extra ammunition. An AR-15, AK or M1A allows carrying the ammunition reserve in magazines and compact carriers. If you carry the bolt guns load in bandoliers, well, it worked well for Zapata and Villa but not for most of us. You will need a good cache of ammunition. And it should be quality ammunition such as certain offerings from Winchester USA or Federal Cartridge Company. It is affordable and reliable.

So, which gun—the AR-15, shotgun, or a pistol caliber carbine? The latter is a big favorite of my very savvy friend Darrel. He likes firing the 9mm AR and thinks is a great choice. However, he is also building a 10mm AR that is more to the point.

I like more smash and range, and consider the 5.56mm carbine a reasonable choice. I also feel that the 5.56mm package is more reliable in the long run than a 9mm AR rifle. As for the shotgun, the shotgun is a great piece for area defense. If you are going to defend the campsite against predators, a shotgun with the Hornady Critical Defense load is ideal. It may also make up for some loss of visual acuity.

Inserting a magazine into a 1911 pistol

Get in plenty of practice with your firearm of choice.

The Hornady American Gunner slug is useful for bears or vehicles, whichever comes at you first. However shotguns are heavy. The lighter the shotgun, the more it kicks, and they kick hard. Then there is the weight of the shells, a not inconsiderable problem. Try carrying 100 shotguns shells some time. Remember, we are looking at long term.

The rifle is portable and lighter than most shotguns. The ammunition supply isn’t difficult to carry. The 5.56mm is the default choice. I am not a fan of the AK-47-type, however, the Arsenal AK rifles have displaced most of my prejudices. With a proper ammunition choice, such as the Hornady expanding bullet load, the Arsenal rifle makes a good choice—if you prefer this system. As time goes on, I like the Arsenal very much.

As for the pistol, this is the most personal choice. Handfit means the most, and a service-grade pistol should be chosen. The 9mm high-capacity gun is the choice, particularly if the handgun is the backup and the long gun the primary. As for ammunition costs, 9mm ball is useless for defense or hunting, but ideal for practice.

The SAKO 10-shot .308 bolt action rifle

The SAKO 10-shot .308 bolt gun is a good choice among manual repeaters.

Having a cache of Winchester 124-grain PDX +P, or the new Hornady Critical Duty 124-grain +P, will be more expensive, but a mix of defense and practice loads is needed. I prefer the 1911 handgun and the .45 ACP cartridge. A lot of practice and hard work goes into mastering the beast. I think that one-shot one-hit is most important in personal defense. On a war footing, the 9mm looks better. The hideout revolver, in my opinion, is also needed as a pocket gun or perhaps for the handgun under the pillow role.

As for revolvers, run a combat course and take an honest assessment of your hit probability. Then carry 36 rounds of ammunition on the belt in a speed loader. Don’t forget load-bearing gear. This means well-made holsters that are proven in service use. GALCO offers quite a few. Slings from Blackhawk! for every rifle are never a bad choice. It gets detailed and expensive but then what worthwhile pursuit isn’t? Choose your weapons and start pacing.

What are your top three guns for a SHTF scenario and why? Share your answer in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

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Comments (31)

  • George Warren Dean


    Amen, reality can be a startling experience!


  • Lord hummus


    Honestly I’ve read numerous first hand accounts written about the various disasters and socio economic collapses and that last is WAYYY to long. As americans we often perpetuate a very unrealistic standard of what actually happens in troubled times due to hollywoods general fantasy based over hyping of the subject.
    Sure an AR or AK are excellent for home defense or for hunting but in most disasters that’s realistically all the use they will see.During events like Argentina’s economic collapse the first people to go were the ones wandering around aimlessly with large amounts of equipment etc. The rambo complex has been hugely over blown and often results in more problems than it solves.Great to have around the farm, if your in the woods, or by the nightstand but most people buy it, shoot it a couple times under non strenuous range conditions, then either stick it in the safe or repeat the process.
    When it comes down to actually moving around during a disaster most experts recommend a simple CCW gun over anything. Light, easily maintained, accurate, well hidden.
    I get the whole gun love for your 44-40. I really do. Hell I love my 45-70 and my 7.62×25. However, once again, stats prove that the odd calibers are usually first to go. Anyone who has JUST that one caliber usually gets all they can while they can. Stockin up is great! Yet not alot of people can hide those rounds.
    When it comes to hunting there are numerous countries and upheavals where this is shown to be a generally useless idea. Food is always first to suffer for the generally unprepared.Thus, everyone who has a firearm becomes an opportunity hunter. If it’s moving, made of meat, and you think you can eat it then it becomes fair game. Yes humans have fallen into this category as people in the former soviet union as well as china can tell you.
    Prepardness is great folks. It really is. However, hollywood has given alot of us unreal scenarios and high hopes for things that history and current events have taught us are useless.I have learned that the same people who often promote the “gun in every room” often don’t change the batteries on their detectors or keep a fire extinguisher handy. That people who live in this mad-max-survivalist-purge-anarchy type world often don’t take a page from real conflicts in the world and instead rally around the notion that they’re big and bad because of what they have and not how they use it.
    In summary-
    Live in reality
    Movies and games are fantasy
    Look at actual accounts not second hand bs.

    Lord hummus king of


  • Steve in Detroit


    A couple AR-15″ in 5.56 with ACOG’s, AR-10 with good glass, a gaggle of AKs, 9mm Carbine, Winchester .22 rifle, 12 Gauge Pump, Glock 21 & 26, Colt Combat Commander, 4 weeks of canned goods, a full Surgical kit with sutures, Novocaine & Freeze Spray, Water Filtration Devices, half being 120 miles west of Detroit and a Plan for all Family to get out of Detroit area to Location. I will be only one in Detroit so I have a plan to extricate myself from Detroit to meet up with Family Members Ex DPD City of Detroit Duty Disability.


  • David


    Agree 100% with your comment on “ammo & parts” !
    Don’t get me wrong …love my semi auto’s however:
    The S&W Governor.
    Out of the box : 410 / 45 LC / 45 ACP.
    Off the shelf “inserts” expand this to include: 9 MM / 38 S / 380 ACP / 32 / 22.
    Mine is expanded to include 10 MM / 40 / 357.
    One 6 shot “wheel gun” capable of shooting 11 different caliber ammunition’s is a choice I am very happy with.


  • archangel


    A semiautomatic rifle in any or all the common calibers like 5.56, .308, 7.62×39 are minimum, 12 or 20 guage pump, and pistols in .380, 9mm and .45 acp, and a .357 revolver so you can shoot the .38 special.
    Some heavyweight or exotic (AKA not too common calibers) bolt rifles in 30-06 or 54R just in case.
    The .22 LR is one you can carry decades worth of ammo easily on the run.


  • KN


    Just as important is the ability to use the ammo which you might find in other abandoned caches after SHTF, and to find necessary parts for the guns you have.
    Therefore, having popular models of .22lr, 9mm, 5.56/.223, 7.62/.308, and 12ga should always be your choices for “prep” guns.
    But don’t forget a good first aid kit, water purification device, flint & other flame makers, blades, compass, and emergency food reserve. A mirror, flashlight, and batteries are also big pluses.


  • Brian C


    Feel like I have most of your bases covered. Very good article & some great ideas/points along with some great comments. My selection:

    2 AR’s, XD-9, 2 Glock .357 Sigs, 1911 .45 ACP, Remington 12g 870, Savage 10 .308. Collectively, several thousand rounds of ammo.

    Need to improve water, MRE supplies, & survival gear.


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