Throwback Thursday—Choosing a Survival Gun

Trying to determine the best survival gun is a Herculean task I would not wish on the wisest of gun writers never mind yours truly. In the end there is the easy way out…any gun you can get your hands on is the best survival gun. However, that makes for a rather short and unfulfilling article, and really takes the fun out of compiling the list. That said, here is my list of go-to guns for survival.

SIG P228 Cerakoted in burnt bronze with skulls
The author’s primary carry gun has been a SIG P228 for close to two decades and a gun he simply could not survive without.

The details that formed the situation, logistics and geography you find yourself facing, all play a part in picking a survival gun. In my younger years, I did not select just one. Instead, I started filling categories. My plan was to have a reliable handgun, shotgun, long gun and something “military” to combat the invaders in an all out assault.

With reliability topping the list, a survival gun ideally needs to handle a steady diet of a common caliber. A cheap caliber certainly wouldn’t hurt most people’s feelings. However, regardless whether you wallet splits the seams of your pocket or doubles in thickness from the sight of a single Franklin, cheaper calibers are likely to get more range time before the TEOTWAWKI. You’ll also be more likely to have a sufficient ammo stash on hand to weather a survival situation.

Handguns – Semiautos

Stipulating that a 9mm is the minimum handgun caliber for long-term survival, the SIG P228 in a compact frame or a Glock 19 would be hard to beat. The weight versus stopping power is ideal. A pistol can be easily concealed, and with a little preplanning you can expand your options. For instance, swap the P228 or G19 for a similar model in .40 S&W, add an extra magazine or two, the appropriate barrels and your survival gun can quickly be configured to shoot 9mm, .40 S&W or .357 SIG. SIG Sauers cost more, but bring SIG’s legendary ‘To Hell and Back Reliability.’ A Glock will run a few hundred dollars less, still offers great reliability, and the money you save can always go toward ammo.

Taurus Judge with black grip and silver frame on a white background, barrel pointed to the left.
Loaded with .45 Long Colt, a .410 shotshell or Winchester’s PDX1 Defender makes the Judge a formidable urban survival gun.

Handguns – Revolvers

The Taurus Judge is a great equalizer with revolver reliability and the stopping power of a .410 shotshell or .45 Long Colt. The .410 shells will compensate for failing eyesight and splatter a zombie or carjacker’s head poking through your car window. The Judge pushes the limit when you are considering cheap ammunition and truly falls outside of the realm of commonly available in the case of .45 LC. However, for intimate distances, it would be hard to beat. Anyone who has experienced shooting or holding the Judge knows it is not the most ideal gun for concealed carry, but a great choice for a get home bag.


How could you go wrong with a shotgun in a survival situation? It has the stopping power necessary for man or beast when the SHTF. You can fire a load of Buckshot on one shot and slap a pheasant from the sky for dinner from the next. The only change necessary is the selection of shotshells, but a rifled barrel and slugs will bump the effective range of slugs from a maximum of 50 yards from a smoothbore to 100 yards with a sabot.

Who hasn’t owned a Mossberg 500? With over 10 million produced, I suppose there are still a few people but…

Common shotgun solutions include proven performers such as the Mossberg 500 in any of its iterations or any of the 30-or-so Remington 870 models. The mere proliferation of the platforms increases the odds of finding spare parts in the event of a catastrophic failure. The cost of ammunition is friendly to the most meager of budgets and probably the easiest, least technical ammunition to reload for a long-term survival scenario.

Interstate Arms Hawk Model 981R
The IAC Hawk closely resembles a Remington 870 with a couple of upgrades and a much lower price tag.

Shotguns are not quite as Lego-friendly as an AR, but they offer plenty of options such as adjustable stocks, tactical forends, pistol grips, extended magazines and a host of sight options. For those with the budget and a thirst for the finest, Benelli’s M2 or M4 would certainly be top contenders, but Weatherby’s SA-459 TR is no slouch and comes standard with a pistol grip butt stock, fiber optic front sight and removable rear sight with ghost ring.


Speaking of ‘Lego-guns’ who could contemplate TEOTWAWKI without a Modern Sporting Rifle at arms length? ARs and AKs feature high capacities, ammunition is reasonable in bulk and spare parts can be easily sourced. The AK-47 is the clear winner in any durability/reliability comparison and tips the ballistics scales in its favor when it comes to stopping power. The AR on the other hand is the clear winner for feats of accuracy, which can be critical in a self-defense situation or an evening of sniping zombies from an adjacent rooftop. For those doubting the effectiveness of the .233 Rem. cartridge, watch a 275-pound whitetail take a neck shot from a .223 some time. No tracking necessary; it will drop in place. The conversation of which model is best has been done ad nauseam; they are all MIS-SPEC so just pick the one that tickles your special spot. I would, however, recommend a .22LR upper for small game and ammo diversity.

Two rifles, wood-grained SKS on top and AR-15 on the bottom, against a light gray background
Ten shots from the SKS or 30 in the AR-15? For defending the homestead either should prove adequate. The author prefers the AR-15 for its accuracy, but is still fond of the SKS.

Up to this point all the gun choices have been common offerings that would serve well in a survival situation, but what about guns that are built for survival? Not just a modern offering, but one of the grandfathers of survival guns such as the Springfield M6 Scout or Henry Arms AR-7. I bought a Springfield M6 Scout back in the mid-1990s. At the time, I got it on a deal and chose the .22 Hornet/.410 combo. The .22 Hornet stings more than the .22 LR, but a little older and wiser, I wish I would have ponied up a few extra dollars and selected a .22 mag/.410 model. I recall growing up on farms when the .22 mag was the butcher’s tool of choice for slaughtering hogs and cattle. The .410 barrel ups the ante in terms of power and offers the versatility of shot for small game or a slug for medium-sized game. The .22 Hornet is simply too rare and hard to find—especially in a survival situation.

However, in the proper configuration, Springfield’s M6 Scout brings its own bona fides and was based on the USAF’s M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon used from the 1950s to 1970s. It fits the bill for a strip-down, bare bones, purpose-built survival (not a primary fighting) weapon. The M6 does not feature, nor will it accept, any furniture whatsoever. The M6 is all metal and comes either Parkerized or in rustproof stainless steel—save the rubber buttplate, cheek rest and internal ammo storage. The rear sight flips to calibrate the rear peep sight for either the upper rifle barrel or lower .410 barrel.

Henry U.S. Survival AR-7
Henry U.S. Survival AR-7

The M6 Scout is a takedown model for packability, stainless steel models are all but impervious to weather and the stock opens to reveal slots for spare ammo. In all fairness the ergonomics are rough and the trigger design is beyond bad. That admission on the table, I can bust clay pigeons lying on a dirt berm at 100 yards in two or three shots. However, too many of today’s shooters are spoiled by aftermarket triggers, enough furniture to shame Batman’s belt and forget we are talking survival—not Beverly Hills survival, but more along the lines of Mel Gibson in the Road Warrior survival.

Henry Arms AR-7

For those who simply cannot survive without a few creature comforts, Henry Arms AR-7 fits the bill of a survival weapon and offers a few upgrades when compared to the Springfield M6 Scout. The AR-7 tips the scales at 3.5 pounds empty and packs down to 16.5 inches with all of its components packed neatly in the stock. The AR-7 has a trigger that is much improved when compared to the M6 and instead of a single-shot, the AR-7 comes with two 8-round .22 LR magazines. The downside when compared to the M6 is of course you are limited in caliber choice and do not have the added power and versatility of the .410.


I am not sure if we are any closer to picking the ultimate survival gun than before we started, and I still prefer a cache of survival guns to choose from depending on the circumstances I am facing. That being said, here is a list of my go-to survival guns. A SIG P228 has been my primary EDC for close to 20 years and I would be lost without it. Today, I would probably swap it out for a Glock 22 in .40 S&W with 9mm and .357 SIG barrels. Any of my AR-15s would be ideal for taking game at range or defending the castle. Whether a Remington 870, Mossberg 500 or one of my IAC Hawks, I would have to include a 12 gauge with a red dot sight. Complimenting an AR would be my SKS with a couple of spam cans of ammo. Rounding out the survival arsenal would be a bolt gun—either a Savage Model 10 in .308 or Remington 700 in .30-06. The bolt guns are simple, reliable and ideal for game on open prairies or in areas where bigger game such as bears may be a concern. I admit, not all of my choices were on my list above, but survival dictates you going with what you have available, and all of those are currently in the corner of one of my safes.

There is my list and I am sure I have given you plenty of fodder to poke holes in my logic. Share your thoughts on survival guns and give us your top pick or list and why in the comment section.

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Comments (80)

    1. My choice is the AR15 carbine and 300 rounds of 5.56. It is compact and I can carry a lot of ammo.

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