How Much Ammo Do You Really Need for Survival

One of the most perennial topics in all of prepperdom: how much ammo is enough? And enough for what?! A regional disaster, a short duration outbreak of societal unrest, the end of the U.S. or Armageddon?

There is no one-size fits all answer that encompasses all of the above except “more” and you come here for actionable info, not glib self-aware snarking so that is no answer at all.

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Still, it is not the easiest question to answer as the variables are many, and my answer may not assuage the emotional needs or anticipated threats someone else is facing.

Nonetheless, there is an awful lot of biased, knee-jerk responses to this simple but bedeviling question and in this article I will do my very best to answer it in way that can serve as a baseline for your own planning by discussing the various factors that will affect your analysis.

So How Much Ammo is Enough?

I’ll make my stand here. Using my own preps as a baseline, your average solo prepper should have around 3,000 rounds for his rifle on hand in reserve at any time.

For your handgun, assuming it will serve as a secondary weapon to your long gun, another 2,000-3,000 rounds will be adequate for nearly any conceivable event.

If you adhere to the Gospel of the Gauge, for a shotgun 250 to 500 rounds of your primary load, slug or buck, should be on hand and another 250 rounds of your secondary load which is the opposite.

These are hard reserves: you don’t dip into it for range time or training. Note that 3,000 rounds is only about three cases, depending on your caliber of choice.

Why Not All of It?

I hear you out there. The person for whom the amount of ammo you need is always 1>n. Fair enough, but for those of us that don’t have more money than Solomon and are also planning to survive a crisis that cannot be solved by shooting it, we need to stock an adequate amount of ammo, not all the ammo, no matter how bad we want it.

It’s like this: ammo is heavy, expensive and you cannot eat it, drink it, or use it to keep you warm although it will keep your gun warm which will make you happy, but I digress.

You have other contingencies to prepare for than making your last stand against the rampaging hordes closing in from across the cursed and bitter earth to take the last, decent human habitation away from you.

If you spend all your money and storage space on ammo, you will be neglecting, seriously neglecting other issues that are statistically far more likely to kill you in any circumstances.

But on the Other Hand…

That being said, too little ammo may leave you woefully underprepared for a legitimate long term situation, one where the rule of law is tenuous or non-existent and that means Times Will Be A Changing.

Likeminded people, clan, family and kin will band together to hold on to what they have, and some will do the same to take what they want. History shows us there is never a shortage of people willing to pick up a gun or blade when times are tough and authorities absent.

At such times, the one true gold standard- force, violence- will be the only law; the Law of the Jungle.

Therefore, a goodly stash of ammo will be literally worth its weight in gold. But frankly the chances of such a Black Swan event are very low, and chances are good that we will keep shambling and tottering along in our currently decaying empire until some regional catastrophe more or less cuts off a swath of the U.S. from itself, either from infrastructure damage or apathy.

Or, look on the bright side, there are plenty of generic but no less impressive disasters to look forward to in the form of major hurricanes, earthquakes, widespread power grid failure and more that will make things sporty enough that you wish you had an goodly supply of freedom seeds until such time that the cops show back up.

Alternate Uses

Having a serious surplus of ammunition can help you in other ways besides stoking your own blasters. Ammo may very well become a proper trade commodity in a long term trade crisis, and having a generous pile of ammo to draw from for that purpose or the arming of friends, relatives and neighbors will be a comfort indeed when you (or they) are in need.

In the above mentioned long term and unknown duration type of crisis, you will also need a supply of additional ammo for periodic skills maintenance, training of inexperienced shooters who are part of or joined your group and zeroing of sights and optics.

Hey, don’t think you’ll be able to set those things and forget them. Even with the highest quality optics and corresponding mounts stuff goes wrong; screws vibrate loose, return-to-zero mounts don’t and sometimes things get trashed and you need to swap out for a spare.

From hunting trips to staying sharp behind the trigger, you may very likely need more than you think in a lengthy crisis.

Consider Your Numbers and your Plan

I mean the number of people in your group that have or will be given a gun and expected to use it when the time comes. So in essence how many chambers you have to feed.

More guns in more hands mean more ammo is needed to sustain all of the above and still maintain a ready reserve for all personnel. If it is just you and yourself, you can get away with comparatively less ammo on hand.

Before accounting for the above, filter your expectation through your primary and alternate SHTF plans. Are you planning to bug-in or rally at a secure, well-stocked location?

If so, you can definitely keep more ammo on hand in preparation than you should plan to if you are going mobile or bugging out to the far lands when the balloon goes up.

Remember what I said about ammo being heavy and bulky? Yeah, if you think you are going to toss a crate of ammo in an average vehicle and not feel the pinch on weight and space, you have another thing coming.

Even with external storage and trailers, copious amounts of ammo gobble up precious room and pounds that you must allocate for all the things you need to survive, not just slotting baddies. These considerations are even more pressing in compact vehicles or, Heaven help you, on a motorcycle or bike.

Firearm Selection Makes a Difference

The types of guns you choose for defense will further influence your decision. Handgun ammo is smaller, lighter and cheaper. Centerfire rifle ammo is expensive and can be on the large side.

Shotgun shells are bulkiest of all and can cost over a dollar a pop for both slugs and buck. Depending on what guns you are depending on you should allocate resources and room for ammo according to your projected needs.

A concealable handgun may be your primary and only weapon in kind times, but when the stakes get raised you will really want a long gun, and that long gun should probably be a rifle for all the gauge’s antipersonnel capability at close range.

The entire point of this article is logistical concerns about ammo so consider this: it is far easier to carry and store rifle ammo than shotgun shells considering bulk alone. Rifle ammo works pretty much the same at point blank or 300 yards.

A shotgun’s performance is totally dependent on the shell type loaded, meaning you’ll need to stock both slugs and two kinds of shot to cover all your bases and make use of the scattergun’s much vaunted versatility.

I’m not knocking the shotty, but you do need to be aware of the strain it can place on you logistically. If you want to keep one around as a special purpose gun, great. Keep a several boxes of shells for it.

If you want to rely on one as a primary and you don’t live in dense woods, a jungle or a tunnel complex than you must plan to stock more than just buckshot. You’ll need slugs for dealing with threats past 30 yards or so.

Additional Considerations

Now for some modifiers you would do well to consider. The number above are for a solo survivor, allowing a modest cushion for unforeseen events. You should increase by a factor of 1.3 to 1.5 for every additional person in your group who will go armed.

If you are planning to hit the road, you can cut those numbers by a third or even half if your BOV load looks anything like mine. In an ideal world, you’ll be bugging out to a location you have pre-stocked with ammo and other supplies and will not be travelling like the Clampetts with your whole house in your vehicle.

But then again you will not be bugging out in anything resembling ideal times, that much is certain. If you are in doubt and have the room, I can always recommend you bring more ammo, but rarely will I do so if it is at the expense of water, food or shelter materiel.

Conclusion

While it would be nice to retreat to your fully fortified and fully stocked bunker busting at the seams with ammo when the world spins to a halt, it is not going to be the reality for most folks.

Ammunition, for all its appeal to End Timers and Post-Apocalypse Poster Boys, is not the end all, be all of your stash. It would be a terrible thing to get caught short of ammo when you need it, but far worse to die of thirst or a preventable injury because you squandered too much money and time hoarding it. Careful assessment is the rule of the day when deciding how much ammo to store for survival.

About Charles Yor

Charles Yor
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.

6 comments

  1. Avatar

    The estimates given are for a “solo survivor”. They are good numbers for each gun, but ignore one critical factor. A “solo survivor” is unlikely to survive a serious, multi-person attack, or perhaps even be awake for it.

    If you are going to be on your own, there are more important things to concentrate on before you go for that big stash of ammo. Dogs, other people, fortifications (bullet proof), assorted intrusion alarms (including non-electronic), etc. will increase your chances of being in circumstances where a large ammo supply will actually be able to be used.

    And once you do have that large amount of ammo, perhaps you can set up “remote fired” weapons to disguise your limited numbers and actual location.

  2. Avatar

    Charles,
    You raised a good point about not relying too heavily on huge ammo stashes as a solution. I mean, if we truly imagine a fallen world in which we must always carry our long gun and a sidearm, how bad has everything else gotten? 3000 rounds are enough to fire ten rounds a day — every day — for over eight years!

    If we are really thinking we are going to be living in downtown Sarajevo (c.1990s) or Felujha for eight years, what ELSE should we be preparing for? What are we going to eat for those eight years? Starvation, sickness or injury could well take us out before any marauders get past our long guns.

    • Avatar

      365*10*8=29,200 rounds

      Also just trolling you a bit, I completely agree 3000/210=around 14 load outs. Average soldier carries 7 30 round mags. Good luck surviving 14 intense firefights.

      Use your Judgement, an ar-15 yeah get a few thousand. A hunting rifle, that barrel will be doo doo at 3000.

      My opinion is the correct opinion, because i am a narcissistic. 😉

  3. Avatar

    Well written and informative……….but, as usual, a variety of possible answers. the scenario chosen will dictate to a large degree the quantity, as will a persons plans in the event of a shtf scenario. For true hoarders, er, preppers, you can’t have too much!

    One thing not really mentioned, other than in the context of zombies: An out of control government, as might happen in Virginia if things don’t change, and UN Peacekeepers, acting at the behest of some person or group and operating on American soil and against American citizens. And, believe it or not, in my many years of associating with preppers and survivalists, both lukewarm patriots and rabid, far right nuts, the UN, out of control governmental agencies and a red dawn invasion by any number of entities, are never far from the thoughts of many. And while most realize that a head to head confrontation with an organized force would be catastrophic, initially, pretty much everyone agrees the time would come when you/we would either resist, fight or live on our knees or pass away in a camp. For this reason, storing gross amounts of ammunition seems to be a reasonable pass time! One thing is certain, don’t store more than you can carry if you plan on bugging out, and if you plan on going commando, good luck!

    In keeping with your low profile recommendations, I won’t go too much in depth in this comment, but again, good article!

  4. Avatar

    While a good article I don’t think it takes it all into effect. You would need to really break down the weapon and what you plan on using it for to decide how much ammo you need for it. If it is your battle rifle then 3000 rounds may or may not be enough depending on where you are. Honestly if you plan to put 3k out plan on having 3k come in which probably means you are going to take some hits on you. If this was a hunting rifle then 3k would be way to much. How many rounds have ya put through your favorite deer rifle?. Now are we talking .22 for small game then we could be back to the 3000 round idea again.

  5. Avatar
    tuesdayissoylentgreen day

    A person never has enough ammo. You may need stores to resupply a friend or family or Militia… besides having a good supply of your own to fend off varmits… Someone has to be the trading post…

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