Camping & Survival

What is the Ultimate SHTF Weapon?


First, let me start with a disclaimer. I love the AR platform. I carried one in the military and it served me well. It put rounds downrange perfectly every single time. A well-maintained AR is without a doubt the ultimate combat weapon. Its accuracy and durability are legendary and it has proven itself in combat all over the world. Now that you know that I’m not some AR hating heretic, let’s move on to the issue.

You Loot We Shoot

We had a debate here in the CTD office recently. Let’s take a step into a world where you can only have one gun. Let’s say that western civilization fell and you only had room in your pack for one weapon. What would that gun be? To answer this question, we would have to come up with the most flexible, all-purpose firearm for every possible situation. There are many schools of thought on the subject, but for my money, the pump 12 gauge shotgun is the best all around, one gun to rule them all butt-kicking, hole-punching piece of hardware a person can own. Many people in the office chose the AR-15. While I have absolutely nothing against the AR platform, I still would rather have a shotgun if I could only have one gun. I know it sounds blasphemous, but bear with me here. Let me explain some of the reason why I think that a shotgun is better for this scenario.


Mossberg 500 Special Purpose
Mossberg 500 Special Purpose

In a post apocalyptic society, food is sure to be a scarce commodity. I like to eat. I’m a good size guy and I love steak. I grew up hunting and I’m pretty good at it. Whenever I go out to the family ranch to hunt deer with my rifle, I always throw my shotgun in the truck too, just in case. Being an avid hunter, I’ve learned that often times it is easier to kill small game for food rather than bigger game, such as deer. A dove flying overhead is a much more likely breakfast than a large buck crossing your path. Hitting a flying dove with an AR-15 is just a bit above my skill level. I might be able to score a hit occasionally, but I wouldn’t bet my food supply on it. Have you ever seen what a .223 Remington does to a squirrel? Unless you are good enough to get a head shot every time, then you can bet there won’t be much meat left on the little guy. You might end up with cream of critter instead of a tasty meal. Oh and yes, I occasionally eat squirrel, but only fried. Therefore, in my most humble opinion, a shotgun is a far more versatile hunting weapon than an AR-15, while I agree that you can indeed hunt with an AR, I feel that in a post apocalyptic society, you are far more likely to encounter smaller critters to eat, rather than larger ones.


The shotgun can fire just about any type of ammunition imaginable. About the only thing a shotgun can’t do is engage a target outside of 100 yards. Oh wait, yes it can, all you need is a rifled barrel, which takes a whole 20 seconds to change out, some sabot rounds, and you have yourself an effective firearm that can hit and kill targets well outside of 100 yards. Therefore, that less than common deer that you may run into is no problem for your trusty little shotgun. Inside of 100 yards, no barrel change is necessary, as a slug can bring down most large wild game, including deer with about a three-inch group, depending on your gun. That is good enough.


Shotgun Shells
Shotgun Shell

Okay, here comes the tough part. I’m not sure how common person-to-person combat would be after western civilization falls, but I’m betting it would be more common than it is now. If you are trying to defend a small area such as an abandoned building or home, a shotgun is an excellent weapon. Engaging a target with one round of buckshot from a 12 gauge is like engaging it with several .38 special rounds simultaneously. The U.S. military has used shotguns in combat since the First World War, and with great effect. The German military tried to outlaw shotguns during WWI because they felt they caused undue harm to soldiers. Therefore, the freaking Germans think that a shotgun is too deadly to use in combat. That scores a few points in my book. I must, however, concede to the fact that I would not want to get into a sniper competition with some guy with an AR-type weapon. The AR has greater range and accuracy, and at very long distances, it is clearly a far more effective weapon. Most real combat however, takes place at very close range, where the shotgun really shines.

If our society were to collapse under its own stupidity, what type of weapon would you carry? If hordes of gun-toting assailants came to take your supplies away, would you go with the AR or the shotgun? Comment below and let us know!

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 (39)

  1. Some of the most combat hardened survivors of Vietnam that I have met used a 12-gauage pump because the majority of fighting they encountered occurred not only in close quarters but also at night with very little warning. A great deal of fighting during the Tet Offensive was of that nature. If I had to pick only one gun I would choose my Beretta 1301 Tactical loaded with #4 Buck which is the preferred load of many LEOs. Otherwise I agree with many on here…Ruger 10/22 (i have 3 – one I have had since I was 15 and it has never been cleaned or oiled and still shoots 1/4 groups out to 50 yards and has jammed once despite no maintenance aside from rubbing the exterior down), .357 Ruger GP100 6 inch barrel (does not jam, great stopping power), my HK AR-15 (5.56 -63 grain green tips), and the 12 gauge semi-auto. If I could sneak in one other gun it would be my mid-weight 7mm WM in synthetic stock and matte stainless barrel which I have taped fully. It is not quiet but with a 120 grain Barnes TSX round and a 30″ holdover I can defend anything (not heavily armored of course) I can see coming towards me out to about 475 yards. I can drop a 139 grain in that same gun and still wreak havoc at half that distance.

  2. The shotgun’s power within 100 yards and reliability in harsh conditions makes it my first choice when SHTF. There will be plenty of cover in the cities due to the many cars, houses, and trees. When you get outside the city, its one-shot knockdown power on game will bring less attention to you. But the AR needs at least 2 shots to hunt large game, unless you score a perfect headshot. Less shots fired when hunting equals less noise.

  3. 4gunsforsure handgun GP -100 .357 , Ruger 10/22 , parts availability and ammo interchangability goes to the AR ,shotgun Mossberg 500 due to availability due to 10 million nationwide with field barrel and security barrel quick change dual purpose ,the reasoning choose the .357 GP -100 over an auto handgun is versatility of using two calibers plus quick reloads , not going to use a handgun in a major firefight , will be in a static position at my home anyway not having to run off in the woods .

  4. I cannot agree more and I have an AR as well. I was searching for articles to decide what weapon I would want to use if I had to travel a long distance on foot or bike. When people like Joe say you need 4 weapons, they’re missing the point and completely ignoring the parameters of the premise that said “you can only have ONE”! I am not going to walk 100 miles with 3 long rifles.

    The amount of ammo you can carry will be less, but seriously, how much ammo would you take with an AR? We’re talking about survival. Escape and evasion. Using a weapon only as last resort.

    I have a Mossberg 590 with an EOTech IFL (Integrated Fore-End Light). I have a mix of non-lethal, #6, 00 buck and slugs in two 25 round Condor Shell Holders. So far the biggest problem I have had is finding a scabbard because I have a side saddle and have not found one that will fit. So for the time being I will just use the Magpul single and dual point sling.

    Also, the Mossberg 590 has a bayonet lug so I bought a S&W M9 bayonet. Doubt I would use it, but it makes the shotgun more versatile. I guess it could be effective if a hog comes running out of the woods.

  5. There is no silver bullet or single gun for that matter. You need four:

    1) Handgun on your waist or upper body and always carried with you. Useful for close in. I have a 15+1 shot 380. A standard 380 will penetrate a car windshield even at a grazing angle and that’s just the standard ammo.

    2) Scoped 22 with LR shells. Deadly out to about 200 yds. Can kill small animals or trespassers at considerable range. My boyhood 22 bolt action Mossberg tube fed rifle has a Walmart $44 scope on it. I put three through a quarter or smaller object at 50 yds with no sandbag or tripod rest. Also pretty quiet if you use the right type ammo.

    3) AR type weapon. MUCH more firepower, far greater range and killing power. I bought some of the green tip 5.56 ammo….it will penetrate 1/4″ steel plate and it’s legal (for now). Get it at WalMart.

    4) Shotgun for street sweeper type action, closer in. Get the type that comes with two barrels, one for shot the other for slugs. I have my eye on Mossbergs 20 gauge Youth Bantam with two barrels. About $400. Can’t beat it.

  6. Well, if you use bird-shot from a distance, with a choke or otherwise not hitting it with all the pellets at close-range in tight patterns, then you could expect about the same results you’d get from hitting birds, which low-and-behold don’t readily vapourize either..

  7. I disagree… A Shotgun is versatile weapon in some circumstances. But riddle me this shotgun lovers, why have armies all over the world been armed with RIFLES? Answer: It is a far better combat weapon than a shotgun can ever hope to be. Forget the shotgun as a primary SHTF weapon, unless you want to be dead. Your first choice MUST be a good rifle. One that you know hoe to use, clean and repair. A shotgun has some uses, but a reliable rifle should be your first choice.

    1. They ARE armed with rifles, yes. However, they’re also armed with pistols – and even knives. Oh, grenades, too, and all sorts of other and sundry.. ‘Point is, the right tool for the right job; it ain’t ALWAYS a rifle (or shotty, hand-gun, lance, brick…)

    2. They use rifles because you can carry more ammo and the rounds are cheaper. Wars cost a lot of money. 223 roughly .30 a round buckshot .50-.60 a round. In Iraq / Afghan almost 1 billion rounds were fired. The difference in price would have been 20 million dollars. Point being the rifle isn’t used because it is better, it is used because it is cheaper.

  8. One of the largest brown bears ever killed in Canada back in the 1950’s was a head shot with a .22LR by a lady grouse hunter. Not a forehead shot, but behind the base of the ear side head shot. It’s all about shot placement, not “spray and pray that you hit something.”. If you buy 500 round bricks, you can shrink wrap them in lots of 100 with a vacuum sealer then store them in a 5 gal bucket with snap on o ring lid. I get buckets for free from grocery stores and restaurants. It will be easier to grab as many 100 packs as you can carry in a real bug out situation. Ammo will be water proof for crossing rivers. Plus .22LR ammo could be used for currency or barter/trade. Remember in shtf situations not everyone will turn into your enemy or a zombie. That is movie stuff. There will be a lot of good people out there also that you can barter or trade with. I like tube fed .22’s marlin mod 60 micro groove is pretty accurate, but so is an old remington bolt/tube fed model 35. The Spee-D-Loader is a good 120 round accessory for rapid reload on tube fed rifles. It’s faster than thumb busting clips. But I like Ruger 10/22’s also. I live in Colorado and an old trapper friend of mine told me if he had but one gun to take with him if he had to walk to Alaska would be a .22 mag rifle. Food for thought. Back in the 1930’s depression my dad, as a young lad, was sent out with his rifle and only a few .22 bullets to fetch supper. Town was too far away and besides nobody had any money to buy a 50 cent box of shells once you got there. Practice not to shoot the kitchen match in two, but perfect lighting it. Squeeze every round off as if it were your last. Learn to conserve your resources not waste them. Learn to sharpen your knife on any old rock. No disrespect for AR’s, AK’s and 12 gages as they are fine weapons. But if shtf, I can use my .22 rifle to capture any weapon I need to win the war with. Parting thought from a saying on a T shirt. “You can trust the Govt., just ask any indian.”

  9. In reguards to DixieBulls comment about “picking them off” from a half a mile to a mile away…at that distance how do you know they`re even heading for your house? You may very well be killing someone who could be an ally. But back to the question- I love my Saiga .223 conversion with the sight, but for defending the home in undoubtably close range, front to back 25-35 yards at most, I`d have to stick with my 12 guage pump. It`s just amazing when you fire it! The power behind it feels awesome. Whatever you shoot at disappears! POW, that`s it, good night. Enough said.

  10. I have this discussion with some of my friends who also like to be prepared for “jic”. Many say the AR, but if I could carry only one firearm it would be my Mossberg 500 (however, this also has to due with the physical environment I live in which is dense woods with not much open terrain). Unfortunately you cant carry as much ammo and capacity is down, but for the same reasons you listed chances are myself and my family would be eating squirrel and bird far more often than deer and bear. Although, the way I see it I will always have at least 2 firearms due to carrying a side arm since its small, out of the way, and wont hinder my ability to pack or carry a long gun, and other necessities.

  11. Sorry, I don’t agree. A shotgun is fine in an urban environment. So is the AR. However, if you can only have one weapon, I think it needs to be in .308. The ability to bring down a deer sized target is key. In open terrain, a shotgun is not too useful.

    I would prefer a G3/HK91 to any AR-15 platform. I’ll also take a Ruger Gunsite scout over any AR platform/shotgun as well. Once again, I’d prefer your solution in a city, but in a rural area, you may as well be unarmed.

  12. Shotguns are by far one of the best weapons ever created the reliability on these weapons are incredible the power they possess the damage they will cause to any threat make them my weapon of choice

  13. A shotgun seems like a good plan – you can holed up in an apartment and protect a small are with it easily, and once everything blows over, you can get out quickly and survive in the wild. Food will be the primary issue after the preliminary chaos “settles” down a little. In addition, most things that a 12 gauge can’t do, a .22 rifle can – and a 10/22 TakeDown is so lightweight and easy to store you can just stuff one in your backpack and be ready to go. The only disadvantage I can see to shotguns are the size of the ammo – but you don’t need as many shells as you would rifle rounds, and you can compensate for the size of the ammo by carry a few compact bricks of .22 just to be safe.

  14. If an AR’s .223 round obliterates a squirrel.
    What happens when you hit the small fry with a 12 gauge?

  15. AR all the way 1. more rounds 2. longer range 3. lighter round= more rounds I can carry 4. faster reload

  16. My own 2 cents;

    Seems to me that changing an AR15 mag would be faster than changing a barrel. There are good .22 conversion kits to carry which weigh very little and would not create a weight issue for distance traveling. Shotguns are fantastic, however, given the scenario, I have to go with distance, speed, load limits and reload capacity as the zombies march on my position. I’ll take the AR especially in light of some of the Hornaday .223 loads being offered currently. Also, the recent introduction of the SSAR stock allowing a near-automatic rate of fire would be a firepower plus… providing there is sufficient ammunition.


  17. My SHTF ONE weapon only choice would have to be a great .22lr like (but not limited to) the Ruger 10/22. It is very lightweight and compact. There are shotshell .22lr rounds, hollow points, LRN, jacketed… etc…

    For hunting, you can bring down most smaller critters with ease (Which you are most likely to use the weapon for) You would have high magazine capacity, high rate of fire, next to no recoil so rapid follow-up shots are easy. No person will enjoy being shot by anything, especially not repeatedly. Larger game may be more of a chore but no ONE gun is going to do EVERYTHING well.

    I can also carry a couple thousand rounds on me without breaking my back as a 500 round brick of 40 grain is only around 4 pounds or less.

    Remember we are supposed to pick ONE weapon, so this would be the one I would want with me.

  18. My SHTF weapon is a Remmington 870 with an extended magazine tube and pistol-grip slide. Got a belt of assorted rounds – buckshot and slugs – that can be carried easily. Nothing scares zombies more than a 12 gauge.

  19. Fully agree on the shotgun. You can find anything to do anything for an 870, Mossberg 500, and even the oldie but goodies: the Winchester 1200 and 1300. They can be made very compact, for transport or all out urban combat. Unfold the diy stock kit, and bingo, instant food acquiring implement. I do need to brush up on my shotgun skills, as they have grown rusty from years of using rifles instead of shotguns. I will say, if running a long range weapon, I will take my M1 Garand any day. Load some slap rounds in it and there isn’t much body armor it can’t pierce, and it is rugged and reliable. Yes, it does only hold 8 rounds, but if you are at long range, it makes up for it in the ability to be quickly reloaded and rearmed (as the weapon is hot the second the clip goes in). Backed up with a Springfield HiCap 1911. You might in the end get me, but I am gonna take a lot with me.

  20. Sorry, I gotta roll with my AR. Just more comfortable with it and i will smoke someone with a shotgun in a firefight.

  21. I just have One word to say Master Key. This is an AR15 with a saiga 12 attached as an accessory on the forearm you get both weapons in one.

  22. Out of my personal inventory, which I see most are listed here ( Rem 870, AR15 7.62×39, multiple AR15 5.56, sniper rifle, and AR308) I would say the AR 308. I have about 2000 rounds of various 308 win/7.62 NATO and with a collapsible stock and 16″ stainless, chrome lined barrel I can unload 20 rounds at short or long range and slap in my spare magazines as fast as more AR15s at only about a lb. heavier than my lighter ARs. I have a quick acquisition scope and green laser for what ever the situation calls for. As far as ammo cost, I find 308 win at about 44cents a round all day long, and 5.56 ballistic tips around 28cents a round, and both seem to be pretty available and also reload faster than my shotgun.

  23. Ak 47. I love my two ar 15s but how can you not go with the gun that has survived 50 years of conflict on every corner on the globe. Not to mention those bad boys dont jam, my Colt ar will just occasionally in a blue have a miss fire or two, ive even had a few on my bushmaster, but my cheapest romanian aks dont jam and are straight work horses. And as far as food goes, i would be a barbarian type where we pillage and move on. And i like the idea of the 12 gauge if im in the sticks in colorado some where, but im on the east coast between new york and dc, where its almost exclusively urban combat, and my ak would not do me wrong.

  24. On your close combat issue- It will only be close combat with a shotgun. No holding them at bay several hundred yards out. Also, there are plenty of light loads for the AR- More if you handloaded and stocked up

  25. While I agree with many of your points and do love the versatility of the shotgun I would like to point out a few points in your post that I have found to be erroneous through personal experience.

    1. A .223 or 5.56 round just makes a small hole all the the way through a squirrel just like a .22. I have shot scores of grey squirrels with it works like a champ without substantially damaging the animal. I have even shot them with .308 and 30-06 and it doesn’t turn a squirrel into soup or anything amazing. It just makes a larger hole through the critter.
    2. Deer can be killed pretty easily with a .223. While I would rather shoot them with something .308ish I have seen deer killed with .22 lr and birdshot. A shotgun with slugs isn’t required to kill large game, pretty much any high power rifle round will do with a decent shot which includes the .223.
    3. Affordability and weight of ammo are a factor. I can carry 1000 rounds of .223 if I really had to in a fairly compact package. Could you carry 1000 rounds of buckshot? 1000 rounds of .223 from CTD is around $300-400 dollars which is much cheaper than a combination of various 12 GA shells.

    Not trying to sound too critical despite my rebuttal. I have carried an 870 and an m4 professionally in both the military and law enforcement and have great respect for both weapons. Thank you for the excellent article!

  26. Tough one. I like having BOTH the shot gun and AR. Add a 22 while you are at it, because in reality, it can do a lot of differant game hunting, and you can have a lot of ammo cheap.

    Is that phone from Harbison Canyon in the 2003 wild fire in San Diego? Sure looks like one we took working it.

  27. I want both for the obvious reasons,and with the given scenario…hordes of gun toting ….wanting to take my stuff… .223 platform for longer shots and the 12 ga. pump for close duty……backed up by a pair of 1911’s if I should run out of shells…..

  28. I both agree and disagree with your statement… I own a Remington 12 guage and love it, like you said this gun can do tons of things with one shot that would take a dozen bullets from any other type of weapon to accomplish.

    Also at close range you are right, if you are defending a house or building then this weapon is the weapon to have. However its only the right weapon if you are fighting off a siege type situation where the enemy has already invaded the house, or is charging the house through an open field.

    I would choose a sniper rifle if I had a choice because in an post-apocalyptic world you could not just occupy a house or piece of land, the hordes of cannibals and roaming looters would just wait for night fall to storm the house. In reality you would have to sleep outside in some kind of a hide away tree fort built from scrap wood, use the house as a decoy, and pick off people from a 1/2 mile to a mile away as they attempt to raid the house for supplies.

    Even with the best shotgun skills sooner or later you will get over whelmed, most likely when you are trying to reload which takes a while with a shotgun.

  29. First of all, I reject the notion that I would be limited to only one gun. With that being said, if I found myself in need of defending myself against a team of bandits and my shotgun is in one direction and my AR is in the other direction, which gun do I run to? I choose to move in the direction that takes me to the Rifle. I need to know that when I pull the trigger on a living breathing badguy, he’s gonna find it unnecessary to do anything but BLEED! It all really boils down to the distance at which the engagment takes place: up close and resonal? I’d rather have a short barrelled scattergun. At distances beyond my four walls? Well, then I won’t have to reach for my AR, as it will already be in my hand.

  30. I would stick with an AR platform. you can carry a .22LR conversion, that can swap out very quicly, and give you the ability to take small game, and with the standard 5.56 or .223 you can engage targets at almost 600 yards, depending what kind you have. shotguns are great, And I really do like mine, but I would trust my life to an AR before a rifle. thats just me though. Everyone has their favorite candy.

  31. I would have to go for some type of O&U. Something like the USSG MP94 in 12Ga/.308. An old concept, but best of both worlds in one rifle.

  32. I feel the shotgun it by far the best choice in a SHTF scenario. I have a moss 500 with a breaching barrel. The spikes on the end can be used a defensive weapon if need be, and still holds 6 rounds. A pump shotgun will work indefinitely, clean or not. That cant be said for an AR. I had to think long and hard to decide on a weapon for this purpose. I own AR’s, AK’s, shotguns, and handguns, but in the end, the shotgun is the one gun to rule them all.

  33. That really depends on the situation… if other people are the threat, then a shotgun might be under classed. Limit magazine capacity, bulky ammo and lack of sighting options make it less useful in that situation. But if my only real threat is hunger, I would go with the shotgun for sure. You can take out birds, deer, hogs as well as pepper rabbits and squirrels with bird shot from a shotgun. I can change the barrels out on my Mossberg 500 in less than a minute. So I have to weight it out… defending against people (and zombies), I would go with the AR. If I only have to worry about feeding me and my family, then the shotgun is in order.

    I’ll tell you what… If I can only have one gun, I’ll take the AR. My brother can hold the shotgun as his only gun! :)~

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading