Why the AR-15 Is My Go-To Rifle for Survival Situations

AR-15 survival situations

Have you ever been in a supermarket the day before a hurricane? People go nuts. We start pushing and shoving. Cursing and stealing. Fights break out and sometimes — heaven forbid — a person dies… all over a case of water or something.

And that’s just preparing for one hurricane. Imagine if there were a national crisis or a wide-spread pandemic (like World War Z). Would you be prepared to protect you and your loved ones? That’s why choosing the right survival rifle is crucial.

But everyone has different preferences for a rifle. Some people might pick up a Remington 600 while others may opt-in for a good ol’ shotgun. Personally, I’m grabbing my AR-15. Here’s why:

It’s Lightweight and Compact

The AR-15 was developed as a lightweight (and compact) solution for fatigued soldiers hauling heavy M14s in the dense jungles of Vietnam.

In real life, you’ll be in a similar circumstance. For those circumstances, you’d want a lightweight yet deadly rifle with easy-to-carry ammo. The AR-15 delivers on that promise, weighing at around 6 pounds empty.

The best part? The AR-15 can be easily disassembled and packed into your backpack, making them more compact and less conspicuous.

AR-15 survival situations

It’s Lethal

The most common cartridges chambered in an AR-15 are the .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO. These tiny-yet-lethal cartridges are designed to destroy.

Whether it’s a deer at 100 yards or an enemy far out at 300 yards, the 5.56 NATO will do the job. It’s accurate, produces relatively low bolt thrust and deadly.

In fact, when the Army issued the M16 to the soldiers in Vietnam, they had to classify the photographs of the gruesome wounds caused by the .223.

Imagine if they were using a 5.56 NATO load — a “buffed up” (and more powerful) version of the .223 Remington? Isn’t that the kind of power you want in an extreme survival situation?

Of course. That’s what the AR-15 offers. In short: the 5.56 caliber (and .223 Remington) is lethal and effective — a great load to use during survival situations.

It Has Great Accuracy

The fact is, no matter how calm and focused you are while practicing with a paper target, survival situations are a whole different story.

At 1 a.m., with an intruder standing in your kitchen, or in the wake of the world’s worst EMP, you aren’t going to be in the calmest state. You’ll want a gun that’s easy to shoot accurately.

The AR-15 is a perfect match.

They are highly accurate, consistently offering one- or even sub-MOA accuracy—especially if it has the best AR-15 scope. Also, you’ll notice that bullet drop is less two feet at more than 350 yards.

That means the AR-15 could easily (and accurately) reach out to 300-500 yards, making it ideal for close- to long-range distances.

They Have Low Recoil

All shooters, especially smaller individuals and women, should choose survival guns with little recoil.

The last thing you want while shooting a furious grizzly or an intruder is to have your own weapon knock you flat. Especially if you miss your first shot, which is likely in a scary, seconds-matter scenario.

Rifles have lower recoil compared to shotguns and AR-15s are no exception. They shoot beautifully and their recoil is barely noticeable.

In fact, the recoil is so light that young children and women can comfortably shoot an AR-15 with no problems.

AR-15 survival situations

It’s Versatile

AR-15s are the “rifle of all trades.” They are terrific weapons for campers, hunters, survivalists and homeowners who want a good firearm for self-defense.

There’s not a lot you can’t do with an AR-15. Great for shooting everything from jackrabbits, coyotes, deer, and wild pigs to human intruders, AR-15s can put food on your plate, stop a rabid animal or halt an intruder.

In addition, all the mechanically-challenged individuals (like myself) out there will breathe a sigh of relief that…

They’re Easily Repairable

In a survival situation, your backpack is going to be packed. You won’t have room for a hefty pile of fancy gun tools. Thankfully, AR-15s are easily repairable and don’t require specialized gadgetry.

All you’ll need are common tools like a screwdriver, wrench and a hammer. The best part? You don’t have to be a gun expert, either. AR-15s are repairable by any shooter with a decent working knowledge of guns.

It’s Highly Customizable

The AR-15 is pretty much Legos for grown-ups. You can add anything you want: night vision optics, red dot sights, muzzle devices — you name it.

In addition, you can easily transform it in any way you want by swapping out parts. Like the trigger, handguard, barrel, upper receiver and just about any part you can think of.

Not to mention, you can even change the rifle’s caliber. However, adding unnecessary accessories will add more weight and affect maneuverability. That’s a no-go, especially if you plan on surviving.

Instead, keep the build simple: A 16-inch barrel, an adjustable stock, a light and a red dot sight.

AR-15 survival situations

It Has Great Ammunition Capacity

In a survival situation where every second counts, you aren’t going to be humming the National Anthem. You’ll be petrified. And you’ll need a gun that takes literally zero mental function to operate.

Unlike many shotguns that only allow about six shots before the need to reload, the AR-15 boasts a 10-30 round magazine. In other words, running out of ammo is going to be the least of your worries.

What’s even better is that the .223 and 5.56 is the most common rifle ammo. So you’ll be able to find it anywhere, anytime — even in those SHTF situations.


As you can see, AR-15s have it all.

They’re compact and portable, pack a powerful punch, hold plenty of ammunition, accurate, easy-to-use and can be customized, modified, and repaired by any shooter with only a basic working knowledge of gun mechanics.

How many guns can you point to that offer that kind of freedom? Not many.

That’s why the AR-15 is one of the best survival weapons on the market. But keep in mind that its owner limits the AR-15’s potential. That’s why you have to commit to practice and training if you’re looking to survive.

Because let’s face it, in a survival situation (which is going to be HIGHLY stressful), you’ll be relying on your firearm training instincts.

The better trained you are with the AR-15, the higher the chance of you surviving will be. That said, I’d like to turn it over to you:

What would be your go-to survival weapon? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (12)

  1. I picked the AR-15 in 7.62 x 39 for my go to rifle. Duramag (also called C-Products) makes great twenty, twenty-eight and thirty round full capacity AR-15 magazines for them. (10 round magazines are also available.) 7.62 x 39 is a decent effective round out to about 325 yards and semi effective to about 400 yards.

    If you do decide to go with a 7.62 x 39 AR-15 get a spare bolt face. They cost about $75. The bolt face on the AR-15 in 7.62 x 39 I hear last about 2,500 to 4,000 rounds depending on if you are using brass or steel cased ammo. (Steel cased ammo will make your bolt last longer.)

    Also go with a quality 7.62 x 39 upper assembly. I would go with a Delta Team Tactical or other quality parts out there.

    If you use Russian steel cased ammo the AR-15 fouls up fast so I would recommend using brass cased ammo. With Russian steel ammo I managed to only fire 120 rounds without cleaning. More lubricant will need to be put on your bolt to keep it running without feeding issues.

    You are incorrect. AR stood for Armalite Rifle, the company that first produced the AR-10 in7.62 NATO . The AR-15 came later when the need for a 5.56/.223 was determined.

  3. When we are talking riflescopes, AR stands for an automatic rifle. Though telescopic sights have been around, modern technology has transformed them into superlative scopes such as red dot sights, traditional magnified optics, low-light/night vision optics and more. I use firearm for not my self defense, I use it for shooting moving targets like birds or pigs. I was using local guns before that were heavy in weight and low Ammunition Capacity. As I purchased AR-15, my experience of shooting has changed. One more thing- The AR-15 is customizable, which is a great feature every shooter needs to have. And the accuracy is beyond expectation. Thanks for the post on my favorite firearm.

  4. What you describe isn’t typical for most places that are typical landfall targets for storms. I was born and raised in Miami, FL. Altogether I’ve been through 18 storms including the monster Andrew. Floridians are usually pretty blasé about such things until they hit CAT III. Then it becomes more intense. Anybody who went thru Andrew and stayed afterwards learned to start stocking up for storm season in May. Make sure the Generator is serviced by the time the season kicks off. After the looting that followed Andrew, folks got well armed if they weren’t already. The high concentration of Cubans who KNEW the connection of guns to freedom were already loaded up on AR’s or AK’s by the time they got resident status. No, what you describe is a lower 9th ward in New Orleans. A total welfare state in Louisiana just let it fester.

  5. The very first AR-15’s (they were not classified as M-16’s yet) to go to Viet Nam had barrel twist rates of 1 in 14″. Standard M193 ammo fired with this slow of a twist rate becomes instantly unstable when it strikes a target and “tumbles” which is what accounted for the impressive wounding potential. Early M-16’s were winter tested at Ft. Wainwright, Alaska at around -50*F and did not exhibit adequate accuracy. The fact that the Army ordnance techs had completely disassembled the rifles and re-asssembled them incorrectly was the real reason but the army blamed the 1/14″ twist. Remember, back in those days the Army did not want the M-16 and was doing everything they could to discredit it. The original design specified assembly of certain parts (like the front sight assembly connection to the barrel) with taper pins. All that the guys in Alaska had were roll pins so the front sight was kinda loose. After that the 1/12″ twist barrels were specified which diminished the wounding potential. SecDef Robert McNamara eventually forced the M-16 on the Army. Now there are all kinds of twist rates available. I’d like to see someone do some jello testing using AR’s with different twist rate barrels using standard ammo including the original 1/14″ rate. That could get interesting.

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