First, let’s be clear that this entire article is pure speculation. Just for fun, let’s say it’s The End Of The World As We Know It, and you can only have one gun to survive it. What are you going to pick? I’m going to give you three options and tell you which I’d pick, but first, a few made-up, totally arbitrary ground rules for our fake situation:
- No zombies, scary pandemics or nuclear winters. Just your average run-of-the-mill, power-grid-down, have-to-bug-out-and-not-go-home-for-years scenario. No, I don’t know why. I haven’t thought this all the way through.
- You’re living off the land with a few essentials and some camping gear.
- No wacky conversion guns, two-in-one guns or full-autos — just relatively normal guns you probably already own.
Now for the guns.
Option A: A 9 mm Semi-Automatic Handgun
For a bug-out or survival situation, a handgun is a reasonable option. You’d want to go full-sized with a double-stacked magazine for maximum ammo capacity. A 9 mm seems like the obvious choice, because it’s the most ubiquitous caliber in the country, which gives you the best chance to scrounge for ammo if your stash runs dry.
The pistol’s main strength is its concealability, so this is a great defensive play if your survival scenario involves having to defend yourself from armed bandits or other ne’er-do-wells. Plus, with some training, almost everyone in the family should be able to handle the gun without worrying about how it fits or how much it weighs.
The handgun’s biggest weakness, however, is its limited use for hunting. Certainly you can kill small to mid-sized game with a 9 mm pistol if you can get close enough and if you’re a good shot, but it’s dubious as a hunting gun and probably won’t be a lot of help to you in harvesting food.
Option B: A 12-Gauge Shotgun
A shotgun is a versatile tool, allowing you to shoot a wide range of shot sizes and slugs. If you have the ability to carry multiple types of ammo, you can hunt everything from squirrels to birds to big game to feed your family. This versatility can be a massive advantage in an off-the-grid survival situation. The shotgun is handy for defense, too—load it with buckshot for close-range defense and slugs for longer ranges if you’re, say, defending your fortified position from invaders with ill intent.
A 12-gauge seems the obvious choice due to the availability of ammo, as mentioned above with the 9 mm. Pump, double gun or semi? We’ll eliminate over-unders and side-by-sides due to limited capacity, and after that, the choice is mostly a toss-up. Just be aware if you choose a semi-auto, you’ll have to clean that action once in a while to keep it from jamming.
The shotgun’s big limitation is the size and weight of the ammo. Carrying all of that is going to weigh you down if you’re in an on-the-move situation. While 100 rounds of 9 mm ammo weighs about 1.75 lbs., 100 12-gauge shotgun shells will weigh 5 or 6 lbs., depending on the load. That difference adds up quickly, and don’t forget, in order to take advantage of the shotgun’s biggest strength—versatility—you’ll need multiple types of loads.
Option C: A .22 LR Rifle
A rifle chambered in .22 LR might be your gun of choice in an apocalypse, and it’d be hard to argue with. Perhaps its biggest strength is the ammo: It’s cheap, small and lightweight. You can carry 1,000 rounds of .22 and it’ll only cost you the weight of those 100 shotgun shells we just mentioned—about 5 lbs. This makes it a popular, easy caliber to stockpile before disaster strikes and makes it easy to carry around after everything hits the fan.
Everyone in the family over the age of, like, 4, can safely handle a .22. You can use it to hunt birds (not flying) or small game, and with the right shot placement and some luck, you can kill just about any type of big game with it as well. (Note: Under normal conditions, hunting big game with a .22 LR is borderline unethical and usually illegal, but we’re talking about surviving the apocalypse here.)
You can get a .22 rifle in semi-automatic, lever-action, bolt-action or break-action single-shot. I’d go with a bolt because they’re probably the most reliable and durable, but you could make a case for any of the other actions.
The .22’s biggest negative is that it’s not very useful for self-defense. Yes, you can absolutely use it to defend your life and it’s absolutely not a round that anyone wants to be shot with—but it can’t be relied upon to stop a threat, especially quickly. If you’re totally off-grid and not encountering bad guys, and therefore you just need a hunting firearm, a .22 is a no-brainer.
A Wildcard and A Winner
You could make a strong case for several other types of guns, most notably a semi-automatic .223 like the AR-15. If your TEOTWAWKI needs are mostly of the defensive type, this is a fine choice. Ammo’s pretty cheap and easy to carry, you can shoot very long distances to defend your position, and the rate of fire and capacity can’t be beat. Just make sure you have the tools needed to keep it in clean running order.
Since we’re completely making up all the rules as we go along in this scenario, I’m picturing an apocalypse where my needs are mostly hunting for food with a small amount of defending my family thrown in. An AR is a medium- to big-game gun, and I imagine hunting a lot of birds and small game, so if I can only take one gun in this survival scenario and I don’t think defense will be my top priority, I’m leaving my AR in the safe when I bug out.
I’m taking the 12-gauge. It’s the ideal compromise between a hunting and defensive firearm, and it can hunt absolutely anything on the planet if I carry the right ammo. Speaking of ammo, there are three people in my family, so when we bug out together, we’re all just going to have to share the load of all those shotgun shells—slugs, No. 2s and some No. 7 1/2s should handle everything. Hopefully we can take the truck, because it’ll be a lot to carry on foot.
I’m picking a pump, just because it feels like the right thing to do, and I’ll need a sturdy sling. I don’t want an optic, but fiber-optic beads might be the ticket so I can aim it when I’m shooting slugs on big game, but still swing it on birds without a big optic getting in the way.
I’m fairly confident in my choice, but I admit the .22LR and the AR could tempt me away if the situation changed even a little bit. Happily, it’s all moot—thank God for the Second Amendment that allows me to own as many guns as I want, apocalypse or not!