How Many Guns Do You Need for Survival?

One of the most popular discussions in all of prepperdom and other self-sufficiency circles is the one that revolves around guns. Guns, guns, guns-a-go-go. For most serious preppers, it comes with the territory. For newer inductees, an interest in self-defense or guns in general is a usual gateway into broader and more inclusive prepping.

This is a good thing, as guns are the free man’s and free woman’s weapons of the era, and having one handy that you know how to use will always make you a serious negotiator in any discussion where the outcome involves your safety or sovereignty. No matter where you live in the U.S., you can own a gun of some kind. In a few localities it might be extremely laborious, but you can own one.

A potential pitfall occurs when the quest for purchasing “enough” guns and ammo becomes the mission unto itself. I call this affliction the “Gun Bug.” How many guns do you really need to be “prepared?” Similarly, is one gun enough for yourself, or every person in your group? And what about types of guns? Is one of each sufficient to declare you are ready, or is such a scheme necessary at all?

In the interest of preventing the Gun Bug from taking over the lives, bank accounts and energies of the general prepping populace, today’s article will break down the essential questions you should answer before deciding on the number and types of guns you should seek to procure.

Take Heed! The Gun Bug strikes suddenly and without warning, and before you know it you are being run out of house and home by a tide of rifles, pistols and assorted crates of magazines! Read on to find out if you are infected.

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Why Are Guns Important for Preppers?

In short, they may not be. Any number of events may come to pass and someone may not one time ever need a firearm to solve their problems. That being said, guns are excellent for solving problems where lethal force may be required. The most obvious scenario that leaps to mind is one where you must defend yourself from a deadly attack by another human being. Another scenario could be hunting as a means of procuring or supplementing a food supply.

Guns prove superior to most other weapons, and indeed are the dominant weapon of our time because they allow the accurate and repeated projection of lethal force out to considerable distances. They are durable and long-lasting, and require comparatively little training to use effectively.

If your threat is not similarly armed with a gun, or a ranged weapon at the very least, you have a considerable advantage over him provided you know what you are doing; a close-quarters weapon will always expose the wielder to a certain amount of risk in a standup fight.

If hunting, guns often give you a greatly increased range from which to strike an accurate and fatal blow to your quarry, even compared to a bow or a crossbow. This increased range is beneficial as it allows one to, hopefully, remain beyond the typically superior senses of animals and also take more shots of opportunity compared to other weapons. Assuming one is skilled, this translates into more meat for the dinner table.

Guns are not the only answer, but are most often the best answer for preppers who need a ranged primary weapon. Their advantages are overwhelming compared to competing weapons, and for that reason any prepper worth their salt should consider having at least one for themselves.

Practical Considerations before Obtaining Guns

Before going into more detail on answering the question of how many guns are enough for the average prepper, stop to consider the most elemental characteristics of guns, specifically buying them.

Even the cheapest guns are pricey, and decent quality guns, even handguns get expensive, fast. Imagine shelling out enough cash on the barrelhead to buy five fullsize Glocks plus spare magazines and support equipment. You are talking a minimum of $3,000, any which way, and that does not include ammo. How about the same number of decent AR-15s? How does $5,500 sound? For all but the wealthiest of us, guns, ammo and required support equipment like holsters, mags, pouches and slings will always be big ticket buys.

Aside from cost, guns and their ammunition are heavy. Make no mistake, schlepping anything but handgun around gets tiresome fairly quickly and faster when you are already laden with other gear. Assume that carrying anything beyond a handgun and long gun with a little ammo will add considerably to your encumberment.

Guns and ammo also take up a fair bit of room, both on your person and stashed at home. A responsible owner will keep their guns in a secured storage container to prevent theft and unauthorized access, or at the very least keep them well hidden from searchers. Ammunition of any quantity comes in boxes that are large and bulky, and will also need room in your stores, BOB or vehicle.

When considering arming others in your group (see the next section for more info) have you considered who really needs a gun? Some people may be minimally or completely untrained, and ergo more a danger to themselves and others; a loaded guns in the hands of the uninitiated is a mortal injury waiting to happen.

Some members of the group may not have the temperament to succeed or be trusted with a firearm. If your group of eight only has three gunhands in it, you do not need eight guns to show.

Weighing your defensive requirements against your available space, funds and objectives is imperative before you start stacking guns and ammo to the ceiling.

How Many Guns Are Enough?

This question is both practical and philosophical in nature, so I will do my best to answer it as thoroughly as possible without derailing this article. Some facets are more easily determined or reasoned out than others, while the remainder may only be boiled down after much thought about procedure, doctrine and so on.

Consider How Many “Shooters” You Have

Simply put, when determining how many guns you need start with how many people you are counting on to be with you in your survival group. For the prepper with a family this will obviously be his or her family members. For a prepper who is part of a mutual-assistance group or other similar collective it will be the group. If you are going to take your chances alone, then your group is you, alone.

Next calculate how many people in your group you are responsible for arming: if in a family survival group, any adults who have the training and temperament to use a gun effectively should be counted. Older children who are similarly trained should have appropriate guns as well according to your dictum.

If you are a member of a MAG or other survival group, determine the group rules and guidelines on weapons: do members provide their own, or is a specific member responsible for procurement and equipping, akin to an armorer?

If it is every man for himself, take a moment to consider if there is any member who may benefit from either a loaner or upgrade to his existing gun. If you are only concerned with arming yourself, you have only the two arms of course, and barring you want or require a secondary firearm you nominally only need one gun.

Handgun, Long Gun or Both as Primary and Secondary Weapons?

Your next major consideration will be that of actual equipage for your survival plan: do you issue your members a long gun, handgun, or both? A handgun may be an ideal primary weapon depending on the circumstances, and are certainly easier to carry and conceal. Handguns are harder to shoot well, especially at distance, and all but the most gonzo and gargantuan pistols are not nearly as effective as any long gun.

Long guns, either shotguns or rifles, have the power and range to tackle nearly any shooting task with aplomb, but are heavy and harder to carry than handguns. Their ammunition too, shotshells in particular, is much heavier and bulkier than handgun ammo.

Your choice of type should be broadly reflected by your plan and surroundings. In most suburban and urban environments, long guns draw a lot of attention, and it is almost never good. If you plan on moving around among other people, your choice of firearm had better be a handgun or long gun small enough to conceal in a pack.

On the other hand, rural environments often have residents that are far more forgiving of carried long guns thanks to their close ties to hunting and other typically gun-related pastimes. Whatever type you choose, make sure it supports your objectives.

Many gun-centric preppers default to having the best of both worlds by choosing a primary long gun and secondary handgun for every member of their group. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but have you stopped to consider how much additional weight, both guns and ammunition, this is adding to your and your fellow survivors’ load? Might they better served by one or the other? Managing two guns requires still more skill than running one alone, so make sure your mates can take advantage of the added capability before saddling them with yet more weight.

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Spare Guns or Spare Parts?

Some preppers choose to stockpile additional guns as a hedge against loss, theft or breakage. If a gun goes down, they can simply pull another from stores and go back to work. This is fine if one is almost certain to bug-in or shelter in place, but quickly becomes non-optimal if you have to bug out or flee as most of your guns will likely wind up left behind.

An alternate choice may be to have a spare gun or two for the most essential ones, that way you have a “reserve chute” in case of catastrophic breakage, loss or some other mishap that renders you short a gun or permanently dead-lines it.

Another valid choice is to stock up on the most essential spare parts that are likely to break and malfunction. This will save a ton of money and space over simply buying gun after gun, but also requires more know-how to make use of them. If you are not at least basic armorer certified on a given gun, don’t expect to do anything more than minor parts swaps. This problem becomes geometrically more challenging if you guns are not standardized, which brings us to…

Standardize or Keep Your Options Open?

For preppers who will be obtaining more guns than they themselves will use, when the time comes to get those additional guns they will fall into one of two camps of procurement.

The first is a strict believer in standardization: if they decide on AK-74’s for their long guns and Glocks 19’s for their handguns, you had better believe that every single one of those guns will be identical, or at least of the same broad type, i.e. the AK’s will all be 5.45mm and take the same standardized magazine. This ideology will significantly ease logistics both pre- and post-SHTF as all the guns will be able to swap magazines and ammo, draw parts from the same pool of spares and even in theory swap at least some components between themselves.

The other camp believes in variety, under the nominal notion that they will be able to pick the one right tool for the job. Preppers in this camp are often heavy into the gun scene as a hobby, and will have ARs AKs, FALs, Garands, Remington 700s and on and on and so on. Same for their handguns and shotguns; the more and more variety, the better!

What they wind up with is a smattering of different types of guns chambered in different cartridges and all requiring different parts. This is obviously going to cause logistical difficulties in long-term survival scenarios, and can make for a bit of the old Chinese fire-drill among group members when the chips are down.

Nevertheless, such folks often have plenty of guns, and so long as they have ammo they will at least have plenty to provide to others should they need them.

Considering Terrain and Other Factors

As I mentioned above, consider where you live and where you plan to go (if anywhere) when disaster strikes. If you live in a heavily wooded area or hilly area, you will not have the opportunity for many long shots, so heavy, scoped bolt-actions will not be an ideal choice as their best attributes will likely be wasted. Conversely, such gun would be of great benefit if one lived way out on the high plains.

Anyone can be well served by a handgun for close-in defense, and their concealability and ease of carry make them good choices when you cannot say for certain if you will stay or go, or for folks who want to (wisely) keep a very low profile around other people. Chances are your personal crisis event will not involve running gunfights with hordes of zombies, barbarian cannibals or newly minted warbands so I would not feel under-armed with a handgun in most situations.

If you do decide on long guns, make sure you have a way to move them discreetly if you need to bug-out and you anticipate moving through a public or populated space.

Considering Bugging Out

The biggest mistake preppers who intend to bug-out make when it comes to guns is simply buying too many and too much ammo. I know, talk about a phrase you never thought you’d utter! Simply, put, either on foot or by vehicle, I know fellow preppers who have a dozen long guns and 10 cases of ammo ready to load into their midsize SUV with wife, kids, dog and all the other accoutrement they think they will need to survive.

Where do they plan on putting it? How much weight will their vehicle sustain? Just how much ammo do you anticipate needing? I do not begrudge anyone preparing in the extreme, but reality dictates you will need much more than just guns and ammo to survive a protracted evacuation, things like food, clothing, water and filtration, shelter supplies, etc. etc.

Why have stashes of guns and ammo like that that you will not be taking with you? Is it in case you do wind up staying put? Okay, I suppose, but how likely is that to happen when you have literally prepared plans A, B and C around bugging out? Methinks the money that went into that mountain of rifle and ammo would have been better spent on other things.

Charles’ Recommendations

My personal setup with guns is specific to my lifestyle and plans, and like everything else that I do is very general in nature, allowing me to adapt to a wide variety of circumstances. I live in a semi-rural neighborhood, alone, where I am close with a few families and on good terms with nearly everyone else.

My SHTF plans are bug-in centric: stay put if at all possible, only flee when I must. I believe in home field advantage and have fortified my home accordingly, which I have written about in another article.

ar-15 rifle

As far as guns go, I have my standby guns for preparedness and then an assortment of other guns that are for teaching, training or just for fun. My readiness guns consist of a pair of identical AR-15s, a pair of identical pump shotguns and now a quartet of identical handguns.

The rifles have a permanent reserve of 4,000 rounds between them, the shotguns have 400 rounds of buckshot and 100 rounds of slug and the handguns have all total about 3,000 rounds now. The other assorted guns I do not maintain dedicated stashes of ammo for beyond what I have on hand.

Each of these guns functions as a spare for my own use in case one breaks. This way, I can have an identical weapon while the other is repaired and returned to service. I keep the most common small spare parts on hand for all of these guns- springs, pins, etc. – and a few major parts- barrels, bolts, and so on- despite having duplicate guns.

The reason for the “dual” reserves is so I have guns to hand off to friends and neighbors should one of them show up in need, or we band together when a really Bad Day occurs. Considering the “readiness” guns are identical, I have no need to worry about sharing magazines, ammo and so forth with buddies.

If the day comes that I need to evacuate or bug out, I have a portion of my reserved ammo on hand in a ready-to-load vehicle kit, consisting of 1,000 rounds total for my primary long gun and 250 rounds for my handgun. Yes, I will be leaving a bunch of ammo behind. That’s ok with me, as I have plenty else I need to carry in a small SUV and if I ever run into a situation where I would need the thousand rounds I probably am doomed anyway.

Assessing my plan, you can see I have accounted for my group growing expectedly due to existing relationships, or losing a gun to breakage with both parts and spare guns. Aside from my “collection” of unrelated guns, my actual stash of readiness guns is comparatively small. A person in a similar situation to mine could probably get by with a long gun, a handgun and spare parts, no problem.

Keep in mind also I work in the gun sector professionally and use my guns far more than the average owner, so having spare guns is disproportionately important to me because I can ill-afford downtime on the job.

My way is one of many, not the way, and maybe it will work well for you. Maybe not. It is more important that you learn from my example and apply the tenets discussed above to your own situation and group, if applicable.

Bottom Line

As a general rule: One gun per capable adult in group.

Type: Handgun as default, long guns for special circumstances or terrain. Keep all guns identical to ease logistics. Don’t forget spare magazines, ammo and holsters/slings.

Spares: Keep one spare gun for every 3 people in your group. Alternately keep a selection of spare parts that you will likely need if you know how to service your weapons!

Conclusion

There is no straight answer to how many guns one should have for a survival scenario. The variables are many, and largely dictated by the intersection of your own circumstances and objectives.

By analyzing both according to the considerations I laid down above, you should be able to easily determine how many guns are “enough” for you. It is bad to go under-gunned but also poor to squander your limited time, space and resources. Don’t let the Gun Bug blind you to other concerns you must address to be a well-rounded, grounded prepper.

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About Charles Yor

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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.

14 comments

  1. Avatar

    Just make sure you have enough ammo for every gun you have. Cause a gun without ammo is nothing but a giant paper weight.

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      V – dead on correct. One of my best buddies, former Ranger.. once told me when we were talking about ‘how much ammunition is enough’… said, “in a firefight, that 1000 rounds per rifle is enough for ‘maybe’ one full day’s defensive battle.”. What he reminded me is just how much is fired for suppression fire and flat-out misses.

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    In my background as a retired Army supply sergeant, I tend to stockpile guns and ammo. I have too many guns. My grandfather had a pawn shop and I have traded guns and hunted before I was legal to drive. I have ample numbers of magazines for all if my firearms and am planning on stepping up my limited ability to reload ammo. Spare parts are one think I’m lacking and the advise in this article will be acted on. I have standardized many weapons by mag type and ammo.

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      Hey buddy. Which regiment? I missed my local pawn shop as i moved 5 years ago into a large city and im miserable and Miss my country folk. Im not a newbie but am a little new to prepping. Have some exclusive advice for my fam?
      Good day sir

  3. Avatar

    This well written article has clarified my own related plans.
    Please put me on your email list.

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    The only thing I would add is a long range rifle. A pair actually, for the reasons stated in the article.. Of course this depends on the area. If you are in forested areas, then the AR would probably cover it.

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    I prefer to keep my options open but do it by keeping guns that have options built in. A Ruger single action with extra cylinder for different ammo. An Ar15 with a 22lr conversion and maybe a spare upper in a different chambering or a Sig with a set of alternate barrels and mags. I also like a Keltec Sub2000 and a Glock with a matching collection of mags. It sucks to have ammo, ammo everywhere and not a round to fit my standardized gun.

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    I prefer the AR10 in .308 to the AR15,
    the REM 700 is a great Bolton action in .308, I prefer the longer 24″ barrel for greater accuracy at distance. I also have an old mosin nagant 91/30 sniper rifle for long range shots. I have a couple of Blackhawks in .357 for handgun hunting and can shoot .38 in same handguns. I have a few .22 lr for training kids and small game hunting. We have two PMR 30s as backup handguns and several wuality sirguns for small game hunting as well as several crossbows and hog Spears for killing in traps, why waste ammo.

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      The 357 blackhawk is available with a 9mm cylinder for even more versatility. I also have a air rifle for small game but quickly discovered that a 22 with 22 cb are quieter than the air rifle and more deadly on small game. Another low cost option for close in kills is a pistol crossbow. First time I shot it at a Styrofoam archery target the bolt disappeared completely inside the target.

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    Anyone interested in becoming my net buddy? Im married 36 and looking to learn from other seasoned men some valuable lessons whatever they may be survival suggested.

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    I have inherited a wide variety of calibers. This has disappointed me. If I am forced to bug out, I will take the 12 gauge pump, the 9mm rifle, the 2- 9mm pistols and the 30-06. Every other gun would be useless to me. The problem with a bug out is that I am old with bad legs. Any bug out plan would have to be by vehicle. If it came to entering the woods, I would be forced to make my stand. If I am forced to make my stand at home I would holster my 30-30 pistol. The sound of the 30-30 pistol is the third scariest to hear. The second scariest is the chambering of a pump action shotgun. The First scariest sound is my wife.

  9. Avatar

    that funny lol but you right the wife ill just give them the wife she make all shoot them self in a week….lol

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