I like to think of myself as a prepared person. We spend a lot of time and effort here at Rancho De Los Locos gathering preps in the form of storage food, medical and first aid supplies, alternative lighting, heating, energy, and water sources. All the usual prepper stuff.
We spend even more time and energy in creating a sustainable lifestyle, one that we hope will carry us through years if needs be, well beyond our ability to stock pile goods.
So for me, surviving in the woods is not the primary plan. Maintaining and defending the homestead is. But, life being what life is, the possibility that surviving in the woods may be a necessity, even if it is for a short time such as a get home situation, or on a mission to gather together those who I want with me to ride out a long term crisis situation.
And so, I have devoted a fair amount of thought, learned a good collection of skills, and gathered a decent kit of needed gear. Among the gear are the guns that I feel would be of the most benefit in a backwoods survival situation.
It Isn’t About Being Rambo, but when it is…
One of the things I have had to contend with is that it is just flat out impossible to carry enough ammo to feed a battle rifle through multiple sustained fire fights.
I encounter so many survivalists that have this Rambo/Mad Max fantasy about how a HTF scenario will play out. They are all about the tactical gear, high cap Semi Automatics (rifle and handgun), and pretty much anything that comes in cammo and feeds that fantasy.
In reality, it is more likely that back woods survival will have a lot more to do with being able to feed yourself than your ability to fight off hundreds of zombies (or brigands, or looters, or wayward ANTIFA types, or the bogeymen of your choice).
However, it is not completely inconceivable that there could be situations in which your tactical situation is of more concern than your grocery needs, and that fighting may be of more concern than hunting.
And so, here are some suggestions for that situation for the best firearms to survive in the woods.
AR Platform Semiautomatic Rifles
AR 15 variants are just plain great rifles that are currently available at great prices. They offer a high capacity magazine, along with rapid and very accurate fire. If properly maintained they are very reliable, so it’s important to include a good cleaning kit and a supply of CLP in your gear to keep your rifle in good order.
.22 LR Conversion Kits for the AR15
The AR’s 5.56mm projectile is not optimum for hunting, being a bit much for small game and not always the best for larger game. However, with good shot placement it can be an adequate deer cartridge, and with a .22 LR conversion kit it is great for rabbits and squirrels.
If you intend to use this as a versatile survival rifle, the .22 conversion kit is highly recommended, it will make it easier to carry a larger quantity of ammo, and open the door for acquiring a wider variety of fresh meat.
ARs Offer Common Ammo and Magazines
Hunting concerns aside, ARs are excellent defensive weapons. They are very common, making magazines and ammo more available than they are for rifles chambered in other calibers.
Although there are no guarantees that you will be able to resupply in a survival situation, the more common calibers and platforms make it more likely that you might be able to.
Ammo is always a limiting factor, there is only so much you can carry, even if you ditch other essential gear. One half decent firefight can easily run you through all you can pack.
The AK 47 is another decent choice if opt for the battle rifle option. However the ammo is even bulkier and you don’t have the option of the .22 conversion kit. It is a little bit better on large game though. I keep one in the gun safe, and often carry it when walking the perimeter of my homestead.
Tactical 12 Gauge Shotgun
For versatility, shotguns are tough to beat. Depending on the type of ammo you load, you can cover every type of wild animal from the quail to the Grizzly Bear. As an added bonus, there are a wide range of dedicated defense rounds available.
I favor Pump Guns, and lean towards Mossberg 500s and their illegitimate cousin the Maverick 88s. There are a lot of other good options, including the Remington 870s, and a fair selection of quality Semiautomatics as well.
It comes down to a matter of preference and personal taste, and I have been shooting Mossbergs for 40 some years.
I still have my first 500 and it shoots as good as ever, I’m of the opinion that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! So in addition to my field guns I have added a couple of tactical Mavericks to the gun safe, and they would not be my last choice as The Best Firearms to Survive in the Woods, zombie apocalypse or not!
I will say that 12 gauge ammo is pretty bulky and heavy, so you will again be limited in what you can carry. If you do go the shotgun route, bring a variety of ammo from bird shot to slugs, if you have a versatile weapon be sure you are able to fully capitalize on the versatility!
I could launch a thousand ships of controversy and debate where handguns are concerned! So I’ll suffice it to say that I prefer large steel framed pistols, and my full size handgun of choice is the M9 pattern (Including both the Berretta and Taurus 92s).
Again, this is just a preference based on decades of habit. There are a large number of very good handguns out there, and what works best for you is what works best for you.
Your handgun, whatever it may be, is often your first (most immediate) and your last line of defense. I like 9mm, it’s an adequate man stopper and I can carry a bit more ammo for the size and weight than .45 or .40, but all three of those calibers are good choices and abundantly available.
Back to Basics Survival Firearms
OK, now that we’ve fed our inner bad ass, let’s get down to what I consider to be more practical survival weapons. In other words, weapons that will feed you and provide some defensive capabilities at the same time.
Once again, it is my opinion that surviving in the woods is more about putting food on the campfire than it is about shoot outs with roving bands of desperadoes.
The absolute best defense against all manner of dubious people is avoidance, escape, and evasion. While your gun fighting skills should not be overlooked, your ability to avoid or break contact is far more useful in keeping you alive.
The Often Overlooked .22 Long Rifle
That being said, my first choice for The Best Firearm to Survive in the Woods is a rifle chambered in the humble .22 Rimfire.
When I think surviving in the woods, I think of being constantly on the move, either towards an objective or away from a threat. I’m not going to be spending a lot of time stopping to preserve meat, so I’m not going to be all that interested in large game. So it seems to me that a steady supply of small game will be the key.
The .22 offers the ability to provide rabbits, squirrels, and a variety of other tasty little critters. The best thing about the .22 is that bringing a thousand rounds of ammo is cost, bulk, and weight effective. This is an ammo supply an order of magnitude greater than with the AR, AK, or shotgun, and you can keep a year’s worth of small game in a pocket.
As a defensive weapon, the .22 is sub optimum but not incapable. If your primary objective is to break contact and escape, a few rounds of .22 properly placed can buy you the time you need to set that in motion.
As I side note, every time someone tells me a .22 won’t even injure an assailant, I ask them if they would mind standing in front of the woodpile while I shoot them. Oddly enough, I haven’t had any takers on that one, guess the .22 is a little scarier than they let on!
Choosing Your .22 Rifle
.22 rifles come in every imaginable action type, from Semiautomatic to Lever action. My personal favorite is a now ancient Marlin Glenfield bolt gun. It’s that preference and habit thing again, this is another gun I have used for 4 plus decades, it has fed me and entertained me, and trained my kids. I love it to death.
Lots of folks will recommend the Ruger 10/22, and that is an excellent recommendation. The 10/22 is rugged, reliable, and accurate. The semiautomatic action is quick to fire, quick to reload, and offers up many options in magazine capacity.
Regardless of which one you choose, a .22 rifle can form the backbone of a back country survival plan. Definitely should be high on anyone’s list of necessary weapons.
Big Ole Revolvers
This is a category that becomes pretty important if you live in bear country. While there are some large caliber semiautomatic pistols available, both they and their ammo are expensive and often difficult to obtain. .44 magnum or .45 colt revolvers are readily available, and ammo is plentiful.
In this category, I prefer the 1873 pattern single action army type revolvers. Mine has a 5 ½ inch barrel and was made by Pietta, it is chambered in the legendary .45 colt (Yeah, I’ve got an inner John Wayne that keeps my inner Rambo company!).
Lots of Alaskans will tell you a .44 magnum is a better choice for brown bears, and they are probably right. But, there are a lot of pretty effective loads available for the .45 colt, and I don’t live in Brown Bear country.
The .45 is plenty good for any of the local Black Bears that don’t respond to the standard procedure of shouting “BOO!!!” really load!
If you prefer double action, the Ruger Redhawk, and the Smith and Wesson Model 29 are just two of the many fine options available.
This is a category I am fascinated by, but haven’t had the opportunity to try out. When I was a kid, I really wanted a Savage model 24. This long gun featured a .22 barrel over a .410 barrel (20 and 12 gauge models were also available, as well as additional rifle calibers in the top barrel).
Pretty much the ultimate in small game getting, fowl getting, and with slugs even deer getting weapon. I never got one, and feel there is a hole in my life because of it! I feel that the rifle/shotgun combo makes for a very versatile weapon for surviving in the woods, and a shotgun barrel with the right load is a very effective self defense weapon.
Rifles with Multi-Caliber Adapters
We just ordered a Chiappa M6 survival rifle with the X Caliber kit. This little folding rifle has a 12 gauge barrel on top over a .22 Long Rifle on the bottom. It also comes with a set of inserts for the shotgun barrel that allow you to shoot 20 gauge, .410. .45 Colt, .45 ACP, .380, 9mm, .40 Smith and Wesson, .357 magnum, .38 special, .44 magnum, .44 Special, and a few calibers that don’t even exist anymore.
This is versatility at its best, and in a survival situation it gives you a greatly increased chance of coming across ammo you can use without carrying a bunch of guns.
This range of calibers and gauges also allows you to hunt just about anything you would want to, provides several good defensive round options, and is even effective on big grumpy bears. This one is going in my girlfriend’s GHB, since she works 3 hours away (by truck, a lot longer on foot or horseback!).
I had hoped that the M6 would arrive before I wrote this, but it won’t be in until later in the week. I believe that combo guns of this type are a great choice in The Best Firearms to Survive in the Woods debate.
Weapons With Interchangeable Barrels
There are a number of rifles on the Market that offer changeable barrels, as well as the tried and true Thompson Contender Handguns. This gives you some options, but there is obviously a limit on the number of barrels you can carry. If you choose this type of weapon, you might consider a .22 barrel, a common centerfire rifle caliber barrel, and a shotgun barrel.
So, there is some food for thought anyway, and a few humble suggestions on the topic. Opinions vary widely. Take into account what your objectives will be, the duration you may have to survive, the threats you perceive, and the game you intend to eat. Then choose wisely.
You don’t have to go out armed like an operator to make it through, and also remember that those operators have a lot more support and resupply opportunities than you are likely to get.
I live on a 40 acre homestead in the Missouri Ozarks with my 5 kids. I do the whole homesteading thing, livestock, poultry, fruit trees, big vegetable gardens, and so on. I am also an avid prepper, as well as a Certified firearms instructorm range safety officer, and CCW instructor.