Bugging out is one contingency that most preppers prepare for but sincerely hope never happens. At least, the sane ones hope never happens. Making the call to bug out usually comes in response to a threat so severe or so pervasive that normal existence or even survival in the aftermath is impossible or highly unlikely.
In any eventuality, man-made or natural disaster, you will have need of guns in the aftermath for their protective qualities.
The subject of what guns are best for bug-out situations is the subject of much discussion and even a little vitriol. Preppers, authors and experts all have opinions as to what is best in practice or best for a given situation.
Considering how momentous any situation that sees you scurrying off for your hidey-hole is probably going to be, you are right to consider carefully all options before tossing a gun into your BOB all willy-nilly and calling it good.
When bugging out, your life may depend on your chosen firearm and your ability with it, and in more ways than you might think: aside from protecting you from threats to your life and those of your family, a firearm can also be used to harvest animals and put some meat on the table.
Pound for pound, a firearm is the best and most capable personal weapon of our era, and should be given a corresponding amount of attention when in the weapon selection phase of your planning.
In this article, I’ll give you some considerations as to what will make a good bug-out gun for you, and offer my favorites in variety of categories. Pick up your BOB and let’s giddy up!
Table of Contents
Bugging Out: What Guns Do Preppers Choose, and Why?
For the majority of preppers, choosing their bug-out gun(s) is easily accomplished, mostly because it is a default choice and given little attention.
I am not saying these folks don’t care, I am sure that most do, I am simply saying the decision is largely made for them because they probably don’t own a large selection of guns or have enough intricate experience with different guns in different situations to have another opinion.
For these preppers, their choices are limited to the guns they own and will further boil down to one of two major choices: a handgun or a long gun.
Plenty of preppers and other readiness advocates will have a handgun that they carry daily concealed on their person, and this EDC pistol is a natural choice for a bug-out gun since they will typically already have it on them or close at hand when the balloon goes up.
The preppers that rely on a handgun may have a mindset that is very much the same as a normal concealed carrier: you don’t want to get into trouble, but if you do, a handgun can do the job in a pinch and is small enough, light enough and unobtrusive enough to be kept on the body.
Some preppers prefer thought the far greater effectiveness, range and hit probability of a long gun, whatever form that takes. Their thinking is that any situation that calls for a something to be shot is best shot with a long gun if you want good results, and that rationale is tough to argue against.
These preppers will sometimes have a long gun packed in a BOB if large enough, or set near it close by to be scooped up when the “call” comes. Others may keep a long gun stored either at their BOL if feasible or kept in their vehicle if a vehicular evacuation is part of the plan.
Considering that no one short of a loony or someone whose job requires it is walking around with a long gun on their person, all day, every day, long guns require somewhat more care in pre-placement to ensure access for bugging out, though their ammunition will invariably be placed with them in a cache or packed in a BOB.
Both options are valuable and both have merits. You may even wind up carrying or utilizing one of each if you can but there is plenty to consider that may influence your selections. I’ll get in to those considerations in the following sections before I offer my personal recommendations on make, model and caliber later on.
This article is not going to get into specific bug-out procedures, plans and so forth except as guns pertain to fitting into those plans. If you are brand-new to prepping and don’t know what I am talking about, or don’t know much about bugging out, you can check out this other article on the subject of bugging out.
Assess Your Bug-Out Plan
How you plan to bug-out is going to largely dictate what kind of guns you employ for the task. You also need to consider your alternate and contingency plans. Where do you live, rather what kind of environment will you be moving through on your way to your fallback point or BOL?
Urban, suburban, or rural? What is the cultural pulse of your area like? Do you plan to move on foot, in a vehicle or some other way? How far are you going?
The environment you are moving through and how you are moving through it is especially important. Handguns are easily hidden on your person or in luggage and may still be quickly accessible in either mode of carry.
Long guns that are visible will always attract attention, even in permissive rural environments, and will be downright gate-magnets in less- or non-permissive urban environments. The more people that see you openly armed, the worse off you will be in almost every situation.
Do not believe the oft-quoted doctrine of open-carriers and internet know-nothings: openly carried guns are NO deterrent to some people who would harm you!
If openly carried guns were, cops would not be attacked as often as they are, and an increasing number of open-carrier civilians would not have their guns swiped brazenly by criminals. If you don’t want undue attention (and you don’t) when bugging out, keep you guns hidden until you need them if at all possible.
With long guns, this is obviously difficult, and requires them to be of short overall length, carried inside a suitably large pack or bag, stowed in a vehicle or broken-down to fit in smaller luggage.
All of these solutions will permit varying levels of access in a hurry, and some may be so cumbersome to preclude the use of the gun for defense without advance warning, especially in the case of the gun being broken down.
If you are in a sparsely populated or rural area, you will likely have more leeway in this as “country” folks are nearly always more acclimatized to seeing neighbors and locals with openly carried guns from time to time.
Travel in a vehicle, if possible, is a great way to move your guns around with no one the wiser (unless of course you have them in a gun rack in the rear window!)
Size and Weight Considerations
If you are planning to, or might have to, bug out on the hoof you should think carefully about how much weight you can handle.
This is no joke: you must justify every ounce added to your load against your timetable, fitness level and so on. Not for nothing, physical fitness is a huge factor for success if evacuating by foot, especially over any kind of distance.
If your loaded BOB weighs 40 pounds or more before you add in guns and ammo, you can easily be schlepping 50+ pounds over half of creation. If you are unaccustomed and untrained on that kind of weight on your back, this will be an exercise in utter misery and you can expect to be injured.
Now account for varying weather and terrain factors and you can see how detrimental weight will be when speed counts and exhaustion is a constant companion to your efforts.
This means that before you decide on what kind of gun and how much ammo to add to your BOB, you must quite literally weigh its benefits against the load and its effect on you, the poor sap carrying it. Everyone wants a long gun in a fight, but what are the chances that you will get into a fight?
Preparedness is one thing, but you must realistically assess and pack against the likely threats. Ammunition can be another major drag: just a few boxes can add several pounds to your load, to say nothing of hundreds or even, laughably, a thousand or more rounds.
The type of ammo here makes a difference: handgun ammo is more compact and weighs somewhat less than rifle ammo, but both take up more room than you are thinking. Shotgun shells are the worst offenders: heavy hitting in most loads, but very large, bulky and heavy. One of the perennial problems for a dedicated shotgunner is carrying enough ammo compared to a rifle or shotgun.
Dedicated in-Vehicle Bug-Out Guns
In a vehicle, your weight and size considerations are lessened somewhat thanks to the additional cargo room, but even so you cannot carry the sun, the moon and the stars.
When bugging out, even in a vehicle, space and weight are always at a premium, and you likely have much more to carry than just a few guns and a short ton of ammo.
Nonetheless this has seen more than few preppers choose to keep a gun, often a long gun, in their vehicle at all times in an effort to be “ready” when the SHTF in order to ease and speed up their evacuation.
This makes sense, as anything already in the vehicle does not have to be loaded so you can just hop in and roll, and frankly, knowing a big gun is close by if things get really sporty does a lot for your confidence.
But there is a big “but” when it comes to keeping guns in your vehicle: they are not secure against theft in the meantime!
Any firearm kept in the passenger compartment, even “hidden” beneath a seat or in a glovebox or console will be stolen immediately should your car be broken into. Even the trunk, while better, is not proof against forcible access.
Your best bet by far for fulltime vehicle storage is the installation of a specialty vehicle strongbox or safe, one that is resistant to opening even with tools. Even with this upgrade, this is of no help if your vehicle is stolen and the thieves can access the contents elsewhere at their leisure.
Before you decide to go this route, ask yourself how willing you are to risk your guns being stolen out of your vehicle and being in the hands of criminals? Is this the only way, the best way?
Or can you try something else to ensure a quick getaway? Is a handgun kept safely and securely under your watch on your body enough to bug out with if you, say, just kept extra ammo in the vehicle?
Think long and hard before you decide.
Caching and Stashing
If the idea of toting a long gun in your vehicle or on your back sounds like a non-starter for whatever reason, you might consider pre-emplacing it at your destination.
There are several ways to do this, and all require you to carefully assess your desire to have additional arms and armament waiting on you against the risk of discovery or theft in the interim.
If you have a second home or dwelling that you are heading to, an obvious option is to stash the guns there along with their ammo and support equipment.
If the dwelling is unoccupied much of the time, care must be taken to hide the guns very well to make sure they are proof against any thieves, who as a rule look for houses that appear to be unoccupied or have been vacant for some time.
If your BOL is a relative’s or friend’s house and you are on very good terms with them, you can ask them to keep the guns for you in an arrangement that makes sense for both of you.
An alternate plan is caching the guns, specifically hiding them in a place where they will not be looked for.
Popular methods include weatherizing, preserving and wrapping the guns before sealing them up in a moisture barrier and waterproof container and then burying them in a location known to you but very unlikely to be found by any passersby.
Caching guns outdoors is a skill all its own, and requires even more dedication and knowledge to pull off correctly without ruining your guns or getting them found by a potential new owner.
Even so, this can be one of the best ways to make sure your guns are waiting for you when you arrive at your destination if you are not going to be bringing them with you.
Intended Use and Employment
A gun is always good to have around, especially for self-defense against hostile two-legged critters, but self-defense is not the only reason to carry a gun for bugging out.
Now, my opinion is that self-defense against other humans should always factor into your selection, because some humans are evil, but a gun is good for other tasks, namely hunting.
Whether you choose to optimize your gun strictly for self-defense is up to you, as depending on what game you plan on harvesting (if any) around your BOL or ultimate destination may factor into what caliber and make of gun you choose in the first place.
When the time comes to get some meat on the table to either prevent starvation or supplement you existing food supply, the type of gun you have and how you have equipped it will be important, though a clever hunter who is good enough shot can take nearly anything with most guns.
As an example, hunting birds is best done with a shotgun, one stoked with small birdshot. Shotguns are also mighty effective against large game with buckshot (at close range) or slugs (at longer ranges) to say nothing of their dreadful effectiveness against comparatively frail critters like people.
This multi-purpose nature is one of the best traits of scatterguns and one that keeps them a constant favorite in the armories of many preppers and shooters.
A rifle of intermediate or large caliber can be used very effectively on all kinds of land bound animals and people, and equipped with a scope can allow accurate shots far beyond what most shooters can accomplish with irons or an RDS. Handguns can take many small and medium sized animals if you have the ability.
What you might consider doing is choosing a gun that can cover most of your bases on all is lonesome. A shotgun as mentioned provides true versatility so long as you have an assortment of ammo.
A semi-auto or repeating rifle equipped with a low-power variable scope will be equally at home when called on for self-defense or for hunting at extended ranges.
The Best Firearms for Bugging Out
This section will contain even more considerations for selection along with my recommendations. Please not that what I have chosen because it serves my purposes may not necessarily serve yours.
Your specific requirements may make my top-tier picks suboptimal or even nearly useless. Even so, I am always a generalist at heart and my selections are likely to be good all around choices for many readers.
Before committing to any one gun for your needs, you need to really think about it before you pull the trigger (sorry) on acquiring it.
Does this gun do what you need it to do? Why? Does it have any shortcomings or any situations in which it might not be the best choice, or even be a hindrance? Have you accounted for that and tried to plan around it?
There are many viable options out there. Many are good, some are excellent, and a few are nearly perfect, depending on your task. But what you will always need from any gun is that it be reliable, loaded and close at hand when you need it.
Long Gun: Rifle or Shotgun?
Long guns always beat handguns when it comes to performance. The only thing handguns have decisively over long guns is concealability and maneuverability. Any shotgun or rifle (excepting rimfires) is drastically more effective against flesh and blood targets than even the most stomping magnum handgun round.
Deciding between a rifle or shotgun will be easy for those that have a strong preference for one or the other, or those who live in specific environments, but may be trickier for the rest of us.
Rifles and shotguns firing slugs make light work of nearly all common barriers and materials like sheet metal, residential building material, glass and so forth. A rifle is much easier to score a hit with compared to a handgun, especially at range, and shotguns are even easier to hit with than either when firing shot at close to intermediate range.
Ammunition logistics is as always a concern. Consider how much ammo you want versus how much you are likely to need and then weigh that against your room and weight allotment in your pack or vehicle.
Guns that use detachable magazines need a little more room for them as well. This is the part where shotguns start to ramp up the suck pretty hard.
Do this, if you have both shotgun and rifle ammo handy. Pickup a box or magazine of 20 or so rifle rounds. Now pick up a box of the same number of shotshells. See what I mean?
This problem is further complicated by the fact that the majority of shotguns load loose rounds, and those that do feed from detachable magazines require ginormous box magazines that are hard to carry.
Carrying just 50 or 75 shotgun shells will add significant weight and gobble up space, not including a solution for actually carrying the shells in a secure and efficient manner. You can fit a lot more ammo for a handgun or rifle into that same space.
Nonetheless, when the time comes to burn some powder in a fight or on the hunt you’ll be glad to have a long gun with you.
My Picks for Long Guns
- Semi-Auto Rifle – No question: the AR-15. The AR is the closest thing we have currently to a perfect all around rifle. A good AR with good magazines is light, powerful and easy to shoot when chambering 5.56mm, with the added perks of ubiquity and common ammo and magazines rounding out this American icon. ARs have another bonus for bug-out capability: they are quickly and easily split into their two receiver groups allowing them to be stowed in a pretty small space. The “pistol” variant ARs put SBR-sized compact guns in the reach of everyone and can be a truly concealable, er, option for rifle-like performance. My go-to ARs are made by Knight’s Armament Co., though Sons of Liberty Gunworks, BCM and Colt all make excellent models.
- Pump-Action Shotgun – For a proper fighting shotgun, nothing beats a quick firing semi-auto but for general purpose use a pump-action is more than capable to face down in a fight. Ammo flexibility is a huge perk for preppers and allows hunting of anything on the North American continent. Good options are Remington 870P’s or Wingmasters, Mossberg 590’s, and F.N. P-12’s. Don’t rule out Benelli’s Nova and Supernova series guns either; they are bulky and big, but hard running and durable pump guns for sure.
If you carry a gun daily for self-defense, this is your default bug-out gun since you probably already have it with you.
If you carry something truly puny like a pocket pistol or even a snubbie revolver, I might advocate that you upgrade to a dedicated service semi or revolver in your BOB to enhance your capability considering the situation you will be in.
As a rule, larger semi-auto handguns designed for police and military use are more robust and reliable than other classes, especially smaller guns specifically intended for deep concealment.
You can however get the best of both worlds by choosing a compact design ala the Glock 19 or similarly sized gun. If you carry a gun in this category as a rule, you will only need drop some extra magazines and perhaps another holster into your BOB so it is ready to support you.
If you are wheelgun guy or revolver gal and considering a fullsize revolver, the addition of one extra round may not seem like much, and it isn’t, but you can be assured of having a handgun that you can shoot to a much higher standard and, especially, a better trigger.
This is a worthwhile upgrade over a fulltime snubbie. You should also definitely consider looking at a “high-cap” version of a given model as many makers producing fullsize .357’s offer 7- and even 8-shot models.
In the end, even a fullsize pistol is concealable and is easy to shoot well compared to its smaller brethren while being easy enough to conceal. Remember: if you can conceal the gun, you usually should! This means handguns will always have a place in your armory anytime you will be around other people.
My Picks for Centerfire Handguns
- Semi-Auto – I always gravitate toward fullsize semi-auto handguns since they have the most advantages, but modern compact semis are ideal for most folks. As mentioned, their combination of capacity, shootability and excellent reliability (in good makes) all in a concealable package is the current ideal for defensive handguns. In the striker-fired category, consider SIG’s P320, the Glock 19 or 48, Beretta’s APX Centurion and CZ’s P10C. Hammer guns need love too and you’d be well served by a SIG P229, H&K P30, or Beretta Px4 Storm Compact.
- Revolver – The wheelgun is certainly showing its vintage in this golden age of handguns, but remains viable for most tasks. For fullsize .357 Mag/.38 Spl. guns that run hard and shoot great, consider S&W’s 686+ or TRR8 series, or Ruger’s GP100 lineup or even the new 8-shot Redhawk .357 Magnum.
Handguns – Rimfire
For those who cannot handle a larger and more powerful pistol or need a handgun for special purposes, a modern rimfire can be just the ticket. As a specialized, BOB-specific gun, a .22 brings a lot to the table in stock or tricked-out form. While not the best at most practical shooting tasks, their advantages are tough to deny.
Taken together as a solution, .22 handguns are extremely flexible, and can furnish a lot of performance for little cost, both monetary and referring to weight and size.
.22s are a cinch to shoot accurately, generate far less noise than centerfire guns and while not renowned as fight-stoppers they definitely inflict lethal wounds that will pile up quickly and prove a significant deterrent for most attackers.
When in doubt, shoot them in the face! .22’s are also ideal for bagging smaller animals and making the most of what meat they have, whereas a larger round would leave a mangled corpse or pile of feathers.
When considering a modern .22 semi, as exemplified by Ruger’s 22/45 Lite and Tactical lines, the addition of a red dot sight, suppressor and a light or even a laser opens up a whole new sphere of capability: a quiet, accurate and easy shooting .22 firing high-performance copper hollowpoints is hard to beat when you need to stay discreet.
Even with these new righteous rimfire semis, modern .22 revolvers should not be discounted. Going in the other direction, a small, light .22 revolver makes an ideal full-time packed BOB gun that can serve as a backup, handoff or primary handgun when the time comes to hit the road.
An excellent choice is, again, a Ruger- their LCR line is ultra-light, but shoots like a gun twice its size thanks to its great trigger and good sights for a gun in its class.
.22 LR is also just about the tiniest cartridge around, and this is one gun that you really can carry hundreds and hundreds or even thousands of rounds for without breaking a sweat. You can fit 500 rounds of .22 in the space you’d normally devote to 150 rounds of most centerfire handgun cartridges.
The ability to carry that much ammo for such little weight and space together with a compact .22 handgun like the LCR above or something like a Walther P22 is tough to pass up as a dedicated prep.
And before someone raises their hand about reliability concerns, don’t: a modern .22 handgun firing modern, high-quality ammo (not bulk-box range fodder) is damn near as reliable as any centerfire handgun.
My Picks for Rimfire Handguns
- Semi-Auto – I gave these away in the text above: the Ruger 22/45 Lite, Mk. IV. A great shooting and highly reliable gun that is finally a cinch to strip and maintain. The ability to add a suppressor, MRDS and other options is just icing on the cake. These also benefit from handling and a control layout that closely replicates what you are used to on centerfire handguns. These are serious shooting machines.
- Revolver –Ruger LCR .22. Adequate capacity, a good trigger and forget-you-have-it lightweight. A super backup gun or dedicated BOB gun.
So Which One Is Right For You?
Choosing a gun for bugging out is not quite the same as picking a gun for home defense or EDC because the situation you will be embroiled in is a far sight different than either of those tasks.
Proper bug-out gun selection entails careful analysis of all factors concerning your plan: location, movement, destination, population centers and more. Only by assessing these factors against your desired level of ballistic performance will you be able make the right call.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.