When planning for a survival situation, firearms are certainly a consideration. Which firearms depend on what you want to do with them, the space available, your budget, storage capabilities and legal restrictions. And, of course, personal preference.
Before picking up any firearm, make sure that you are intimately familiar with firearm safety. As a refresher, 1) treat every firearm as if it were loaded. 2) Never point any firearm at anyone or anything you would not be willing to shoot and 3) never put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
You don't want to utter either of the most common lies: “I didn't know it was loaded” or “It just went off”.
Uses for Firearms
There are two primary (survival) uses for firearms and a secondary use. Having firearms for defense is pretty much a no-brainer. If you are being attacked, there is not much else (practical) which will give you as good a chance of surviving.
Of course, this is dependent on you being absolutely sure that you can wound or kill someone who is attacking you without cause. And, that you are willing and able to spend the time and money to acquire and maintain proficiency with your weapons.
Don’t forget you must be willing to assume the possible eventual legal risks which sadly are often imposed on those who defend themselves. If you have a gun for defense, yet are not willing, or able, to use it, it will likely lower your chances of survival.
In this case, it would be better to use your “defensive firearm budget” for some other purpose.
The other primary firearm use is for hunting. This is not quite as cut and dried. It is true that no other weapon is as effective for hunting, but there are downsides. Primarily, when you fire a gun, everyone and everything around you knows it (unless you use a silencer or low velocity ammo/long barrel combination). This can scare off game, and attract predators (primarily two-legged).
Then there are the legal ramifications. There are places in even the Second Amendment protected United States where it is so annoying to own a firearm legally, that you have to carefully weigh whether it is worth it. And even if the local laws are liberal today, who is to say when the government implements confiscation or laws so limiting, that your (relatively large) investment is savaged?
Thus, whether or not firearms are your primary means of hunting, it is strongly recommended that you acquire “primitive” hunting weapons and skills. Arrows are a good choice, along with the bow or crossbow which fires them. Other common options include blowguns, spear guns, bolas, spear and throwing lever (called an “atlatl”), pneumatic (air) guns, and slingshots. Slingshots can also be fitted to fire arrows.
A secondary use for firearms is for barter. Because of the real and perceived value of firearms in a survival situation, a gun and/or ammo may be accepted in trade for something you need when nothing else would be.
Which Firearm Should You Use?
When choosing firearms, remember that for every usage, there are “best” choices. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true; every firearm has its “specialty”, and is less effective or even unusable for other purposes. Another point to keep in mind is re-supply.
Once you run out of ammunition, your firearm is nothing more than a finely machined stick or rock. In order to maximize your chances of getting more ammunition, or trading the firearm to someone who has ammo, your survival firearms should preferably be a “common” caliber, even if an “uncommon” caliber is actually slightly superior for your purpose.
Classical calibers that have both adequate utility and a higher chance of availability are .22LR, 9mm, .38/.357, .45ACP, 20ga, 12ga, .223, 7.62×39, .308 and 30-06. The 9mm and .223 are not as effective as some other common calibers, but they do have some use (particularly for training and those with physical limitations) and are so plentiful that not having something to shoot them in is a questionable decision.
Does this mean that no other caliber should ever be considered? Of course not. Certainly, what you have already should be factored into your planning. Just be aware that the less common the caliber, the harder it will be to get more ammo, or trade the gun or ammo. For instance, .40 caliber has become a popular defensive round and may even be relatively available these days.
The .30-30 is popular for hunting despite being relatively low powered among the .30 caliber rounds. A .44 Magnum/.44Spl revolver may be one of the top handgun choices for hunting and the range of ammo available makes it suitable for defense, small game and birds, and big game up to deer size. .45LC is not particularly common, but is also very versatile if you can reload a variety of ammunition types for it, and you might even be able to fit a .45ACP cylinder to it. With full moon clips, a .45ACP revolver has all the advantages of a revolver, with a reload speed which approaches that of an automatic.
You may want to consider a carbine or rifle in a pistol caliber you have a lot of. This can not only act as a backup to your pistol, but can provide improved ammunition performance over the pistol.
Of course, these comments are based strictly on normal United States ammunition situation. Make sure you include your local situation in your decision making.
Caliber Converters and Adapters
Note that having weapons for “every” likely caliber is beyond the finances and storage capabilities of most people. An alternative is “caliber converters” or “caliber adapters”. Each of these is a device that holds one round of a smaller sized ammunition (sub-caliber), which is loaded into a larger ammunition gun to be fired.
The device can use the barrel of the weapon if the bullet diameters are close enough, or contain its own rifled barrel for sub-calibers with smaller bullets. It can be the length of the larger ammunition, or in break-open weapons, longer in order to gain the advantages of a longer barrel.
Another option is a “rimfire conversion kit”, which converts the firearm to use .22LR normally rather than using the single shot methodology. These are most common for the AR-15 and the 1911 style weapons, but you may be able to find one for some other firearms, including some Glocks and Sig-Sauers.
These are a super way to familiarize yourself with a large caliber weapon and also have small game potential. With any sub-caliber system, make sure you experiment with it before relying on it, so you are familiar with the usage, accuracy, and differing points of aim when firing the sub-caliber rounds.
Types of Firearms
The common types of firearms are as follows:
- Pocket pistol – Ineffective for any purpose except ultra short range defense when it is important to appear to be not armed
- Revolver – Generally better for hunting, although can be used for defense utilizing”speed loaders”
- Automatic (actually semi-automatic) pistol – Generally better for defense
- Pump Shotgun – with appropriate accessories, a good choice for short range hunting and defense
- Automatic Shotgun – Generally better for short range hunting, although some do have sufficient magazine capacity to be used for defense
- Bolt action rifle – Best for long range hunting and “sniper/counter-sniper” uses
- Lever action rifle – Adequate for hunting and better than bolt action for defense
- Automatic Rifle – Generally better for defense
- Break open pistol/rifle/shotgun, single or double barrel – Hunting, caliber conversion, caliber backup, trading stock
When building your arsenal, keep in mind that going through a licensed dealer, although the most reliable method, is likely to result in governmental records of your purchase, leading to eventual confiscation.
You might be able to save a bit of money by buying online and picking it up from a local dealer. Buying from a dealer, you will need to have a background check done, unless you have a valid Concealed Carry Permit. On the other hand, if you can manage to buy from a private party, government records are less of a concern, although then you have to have enough knowledge to avoid getting a defective or stolen firearm, or violating any laws.
In the current situation, buying large amounts of ammunition locally may be difficult and expensive. It is worth checking out bulk online ammunition sales. Many do not seem to have the quantity limits currently common in stores. Plus, buying in bulk is usually cheaper, although shipping costs are likely to cut into your discount.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 27, 2015, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.