No matter how you look at it, a rifle is your best friend in a survival situation where you face many unknowns. A rifle provides range, power and accuracy. These attributes make it the ideal tool for both hunting and defense.
At close range, it will provide far more effective fire than a handgun. At longer ranges, only a rifle can furnish the precision needed to take game with assurance, or strike an enemy with certainty.
In short, it is a powerfully decisive tool that gives the user more control over outcomes, whether stalking through the woods looking for game, protecting yourself from society’s criminal element, or dealing with any breakdown or collapse of governmental rule.
There are key traits every quality rifle should have, and you should be aware of them before running out to the gun shop. You don’t want to waste money on a low-quality rifle or one ill-suited to your task.
To any prepper, this kind of mistake will end up costing him even more than money; it will put you behind the 8-ball when things get serious out there. Give this article a read and see what you should be looking for in a good rifle for bad times.
Table of Contents
Attributes for Survival Rifles
This is a topic that always raises hackles; everyone envisions a different scenario when you mention “survival” to them. For some, it will be tromping around the wilderness looking for meat for the family table.
For others, it is fending off the desperate and evil after the collapse of law and civility. It is this personal scenario that leads people to declare a rifle “good enough” or not.
Keep this in mind: any rifle will do if you can do, the question is rather what a given rifle (or action, or cartridge) does well or excellently to help you succeed with comparative ease.
Of course you can take a deer (or human) with a .22LR, but is it in any way ideal? Rarely. With that, below I have presented the rifle characteristics that most will be best served by in the widest variety of circumstances.
- Chambered in an intermediate or larger rifle cartridge (excepting .22LR).
- Utilizes a detachable magazine with a standard capacity of 20rds or more, State law notwithstanding. The ability to reload quickly is important in a defensive arm, especially against multiple attackers.
- Semi-automatic, to allow rapid, simple follow-up shots.
- Accurate on a point target, defined as a man or large animal in the open at a range of at least 300 yards.
- Features built-in or ability to mount iron sights.
The features listed here make up a selection of possible candidates that can excel at anything from hunting to defense of self and property. They offer the most advantages under the most circumstances, but if you determine that for whatever reason you are best served by another design, you should arm yourself accordingly.
Whether you’re looking for a rifle optimized for protection or want one that is geared more for hunting, these survival rifles will get the job done and then some.
Now, let’s get down to specific models. Which model of rifle should you buy? There are a plethora of choices and the difference between them may be obvious or subtle. Below are my suggestions for rifles that are suitable for survival after SHTF.
Armalite, a small U.S. company created the created the AR-15 in the 1950’s. The rights to the item were sold to Colt later in the 1960’s. The rifle, like its predecessor the AR-10, was a radical departure from traditional designs of the day. It was eventually adopted by U.S. armed forces as the M16A1.
It was very light, using predominately aluminum for its construction, with only high-strength parts being made from steel.
The furniture was synthetic. It was chambered in a small, extremely fast cartridge against the long-standing “rule” of .30 caliber battle rifles. This 5.56mm round had little recoil and allowed a soldier to carry twice as much ammo for the same weight.
The Vietnam War was the rifles first conflict, and trial by fire. Over 840,000 M16s were ordered by the military during the initial invasion.
There were some initial problems resulting from such boneheaded alterations to design specification as changing the propellant in the new cartridge without careful testing, and issuing the new “Space Age” gun without cleaning kits.
Early on, malfunctions were frequent, resulting in lives lost, but these stumbles were soon corrected and the design improved on over the years, resulting in the M16 and AR-15 rifles of today that are superbly reliable.
The AR-15, sometimes called “the Black Rifle” due to its original monotone color scheme compared to steel-and-walnut rifles of the day, has become ubiquitous in U.S. military and civilian circles, serving continuously with all branches of the U.S Armed Forces for over 40 years.
In fact, the AR and its variants have been adopted by many militaries around the world. Versions of this weapon are made in Canada, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, and most surprisingly Russia. Even the makers of the venerable AK-47 have made room for the AR!
It’s easy to see why: The AR-15 is easy to shoot and operate, owing both to excellent human engineering and its mildly recoiling, accurate cartridge. The rifle and its ammo are both lightweight and easy to carry. Reliable magazines can be had in capacities anywhere from five to 60 rounds.
It is easy to service, and in modern iterations highly customizable and modular, able to be equipped with almost any optic or upgraded to serve nearly any role, from close-in defensive rifle to a precision sniper rig.
The AR design is patently robust and rugged, and suffers little from rough handling or harsh environmental conditions.
Contrary to popular belief it requires little care aside from regular lubrication under an extremely heavy firing schedule, and most broken parts are simply changed at the user level, with typically no fitting required. Spare parts are extraordinarily common and usually interchangeable between rifles.
If the AR has a flaw it is that it is a victim of its own popularity: a decent quality AR starts at about $1,000 USD, even though many models can be had for far less. These lesser models, while to the uninformed appear identical to better-made examples, they are far less reliable and rugged.
The AR is a precision implement, and must be made to a fairly exacting standard to enjoy the perks listed above. The design does not lend itself to sloppy manufacturing tolerances like the AKM, discussed next.
The only other shortcoming is that 5.56mm or .223 is pretty light for large or heavy game animals in a hunting role. True, the AR can be had in a variety of larger chamberings with only certain parts or the upper receiver swapped, but they are all more or less proprietary. Still, they are an option to shore up this minor weakness.
- Reliable –the AR family of rifles have seen combat in every clime and corner of the globe and acquitted themselves well.
- Lightweight – AR rifles along with their magazines and ammo are lighter than most proven competing designs, allowing you to carry or use it with less fatigue.
- Modularity – The AR is extremely versatile, and can accept a great variety of parts, optics and accessories, making it viable for many roles and able to fit nearly any shooter.
- Ergonomics – The AR benfits from excellent human engineering, with all controls being easily operable. The AR is the most lefty-friendly gun on this list.
- Cost – A quality AR, one you could bet your life on, will be the most expensive of the guns on our list, starting around $1,000.00 USD.
- Effectiveness against large game – The 5.56mm is a great cartridge against humans and medium game, but will struggle against large, heavy animals like bears, elk or moose.
The AR is a quality, battle-tested instrument. Parts, magazines, ammo and knowledge are all plentiful for America’s rifle. When times get rough, easy logistics is a real boon.
AK / AKM
The 47 in the title of the legendary AK-47 stands for the year it was created: 1947. Interestingly, the gun was almost finished in 1946 which would have made the title AK-46. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though, huh?
Created by Mikhail Kalashnikov, a Red Army tank commander , who was inspired to improve his country’s infantry rifle while recuperating in a hospital after being wounded in battle, the AK-47 would go on to spawn countless domestic and foreign variants.
In the last six decades or so it is estimated that over 90 million individual AK-family rifles have been made The Russian army uses the rifle to this day in the form of the AK-74 and it is currently used by the militaries of such countries such as Albania, Bulgaria, China, Hungary, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Finland, and Iraq among others and in the hands of untold private fighters worldwide.
The AK family is rightly famous for its ruggedness, simplicity and reliability. Its dependability is second to none. It should be noted, however, that due to the forgiving tolerances of its design that make it so resistant to abuse and neglect also produce mediocre accuracy.
In short, the gun is not the most accurate design on the market. But before you get the wrong idea, a quality made new AK, especially one chambered in 5.45mm is more than capable of dependable accuracy all the way out to at least 400 yards.
An AK chambered in the classic 7.62x39mm cartridge is very punchy, with good penetration and loaded with soft point or hollow point bullets is a very solid performer against large game and badguys alike. Designed to survive the most extreme conditions of the Motherland, there is no environment on earth that an AK will not run in.
The AK is legendary for good reasons, and brings much to the table for any prepper, among these attributes are excellent reliability and a simple manual of arms. It is extremely tolerant of abuse and neglect, comparatively inexpensive compared to other similar military-style rifles, and in 7.62mm benefits from extremely cheap and plentiful ammo the world over.
It isn’t all sunshine and BBQs though; it suffers from mediocre stock sights, typically middling accuracy, especially when compared to an AR, and when chambered in 7.62mm a short effective range.
AKs are heavier than ARs as a rule, and AK specific accessories (most notably real Com-Bloc and Russian equipment) add even more weight. Mounting of optics necessitates AK specific side-rail mounts or railed handguards.
- Superb Ruggedness –AK’s have are world famous for reliability and durability, and withstanding tremendous abuse.
- Potent Cartridge – Chambered in the classic 7.62x39mm AK’s perform well against intermediate obstacles and larger game with good bullet selection. The 5.45x39mm round is more akin to the American 5.56x45mm
- Inexpensive – A quality commercial AK will start around $600 USD or so. Of course the sky is the limit, but you can get into a “battle-grade” AK cheaper than an equivalent quality AR.
- Heavy – Classic, milled receiver AKs are very heavy, and even the modern AKM variants are heavier than similar AR’s. Combine this with the weight of steel-cased ammo and possibly steel magazines and now you are packing on pounds.
- Limited Optics Mounting – Optics mounting on a AK is only readily achieved by attachment of a mount to the left side receiver rail if furnished. Without that, you’ll likely have to look into a railed handguard and forward-mount a red dot sight.
Despite all this, the AK family is still excellent rifles, and a quality commercial rifle will be a far nicer specimen than some old beaten war surplus gun.
If an AR is not your cup of tea (vodka?), and you still want a rifle with a proven record of success in all climates, the AK will serve you well.
The M1 Carbine
The M1 Carbine first drew blood for the US Military during WWII, then the Korean War, and finally the Vietnam War. It has been taking care of business since before most of us were born. Since WWII, it has become a popular civilian firearm and saw plenty of use by foreign paramilitary and police forces.
Originally designed and issued to troops that did not need or have space for a full size M1 Garand rifle, or the hulking weight of a Thompson SMG, the M1 carbine was intended to offer more firepower, range and accuracy than a handgun while still being able to stow away easily.
The M1’s design ethos focused on light weight and handiness. Its .30 Carbine cartridge is a pipsqueak compared to a full-house .30-06 load, but so say most .30 caliber rifles when compared to that classic bruiser.
Make no mistake, the .30 Carbine is a potent round, and having 15 of them on tap in a light, quick handling package is heavy medicine for man or beast alike. Its magazines are likewise very compact and handy, making carriage a simple affair.
The shortcoming of the .30 Carbine is it is not a true, full power rifle cartridge, and suffers from a lack of range, and effectiveness at range.
Combined with the M1 Carbines middling accuracy makes for dicey shots at ranges past 250 yards, but for the majority of hunters and preppers shots will be taken inside 200 yards and often well inside 100 yards.
The M1 Carbines biggest strength is its sheer handiness, offering a blend of light weight, good ergonomics and a solid cartridge that is seldom rivaled even today. It is easy to use, reliable and has light recoil, making it a perfect gun for weaker or small statured shooters and far easier to hit with than a pistol.
Its weaknesses though are equally prominent, and must be accounted for. The M1 Carbine uses a old, obsolescent round uncommonly encountered today unless it is found in a, yep, M1 Carbine. You’ll need to work overtime to lay up ammo before a crisis. That ammo is also pricey, usually around $0.50 a cartridge.
The guns themselves, while still produced today, are getting harder to come by, and spare parts are far from common.
Magazines are also troublesome, with some makes working perfectly and others offering nothing but headaches. Still, if you are willing to put in a little extra effort to sourcing ammo, magazines and spares this classic war horse can still keep pace with the sleek rifles of today.
- Handling – There are few long guns that match the M1 Carbine for sheer handling; its combination of light weight and short overall length make for a gun that is easy to carry and keep on the shoulder.
- Mild Recoil – M1 Carbines have little recoil, and are easy for even novices to shoot.
- Availability – M1 Carbines are still made today, and surplus examples abound, but they are pricey for what they are. Parts, ammunition and magazine availability are also logistical issues that must be taken into account.
- Lacks Power – The .30 Carbine is a potent little round, but it lacks real power and accuracy at range. Extended range shots on man or beast will be difficult.
If you should happen to have one of these guns kicking around, do not hesitate to press it into service. This old warhorse can still run.
The Ruger 10/22
A .22 rifle is the clear choice for small game hunting, teaching new shooters, and applications when noise needs to be kept to tolerable levels.
The ammo is extremely cheap, plentiful and compact. .22 rifles are typically lightweight, and often featherweights, with essentially no recoil. Among all the 100s of .22 rifle models on the market today, one of the most popular, and loved, is the Ruger 10/22.
The 10/22 is a semi-auto, detachable magazine fed rifle available in dozens of trims, with endless customization options available thanks to a thriving aftermarket.
Magazines are available in either flush-fit 10rd rotary boxes or extended 20rd+ stick mags. Of most interest to the average prepper is probably the takedown model, which splits into two component groups consisting of barrel with forend and receiver with stock.
The whole caboodle fits handily into a small pack, or nests together into itself thanks to aftermarket stocks offered by Magpul.
When ready to shoot, the two units are quickly, assembled, a magazine popped in, bolt run, and you are off to the races. A 10/22 is more than just a small game-getter and trainer though; they make excellent hosts for added or integral suppressors, creating a light, quiet and accurate rifle for discreet shooting of all kinds.
While .22LR is not high on the list of preferred defensive rounds, it is still dangerous, and the reliability, lightweight, negligible recoil and accuracy of the 10/22 make it a viable gun not only for hunting, but as a special purpose gun for the infirm or young. Loaded with quality hollow points like CCI Stingers, it is still a reasonably effective tool against human predators.
10/22’s themselves are inexpensive, when combined with the low cost of .22 ammunition and its accompanying parts and magazines makes outfitting a shooter with all the accoutrement they need to succeed affordable.
Its biggest shortcomings, aside from a lack of range and power, are a fairly muddy stock trigger and lack of integrated optics mount. Both are easily overcome with aftermarket parts.
- Lightweight – The 10/22 in all guises except a heavy barreled match variant are very easy to carry. .22LR ammo, even loaded in magazines, is very light and compact.
- Customizations – Available in a wide array of legacy and current variants, the 10/22 has a model to suit every task. This flexibility is further enhanced by a nearly limitless variety of aftermarket parts to enhance or tune everything from the barrel to the controls and stock.
- Inexpensive – You can get into a new 10/22 rifle, spare magazines and a bunch of ammo for under $500.00 USD.
- Lacks Power – This is a symptom of the cartridge, not the rifle, but a .22LR is hardly adequate for anything beyond small game. Performance through intermediate barriers is poor.
- Comparatively Delicate – While reliable and hardy, the 10/22 is not a rifle designed to withstand harsh treatment or abuse.
The 10/22, used properly, is a rifle that deserves a place in any safe. You can use it for game-getting, training and when kitted-out appropriately, nearly silent application of accurate fire.
Marlin 1895 GS
If you require a handy rifle with sheer power, you may have found it. The Marlin 1895 is a classic lever-action that is chambered in the venerable and mighty .45-70 Government. This means it is more than capable of taking any animal on the North American continent, as well as being very heavy medicine for deranged two legged critters.
Lever action is an old but popular design that is manually operated but famous for allowing a quick follow up shot with a little practice. In particular, lever-actions are ideal for stuffing large, potent cartridges into light, quick handling rifles.
The tradeoff, of course, is ferocious recoil and low capacity, which the 1895 suffers from. Reloading is also slow thanks to its one-at-a-time design through a gate on the right side of the receiver for the purpose.
Lever-actions as a whole are a pain to shoot prone thanks to the required movement of the firing hand becoming so awkward, and often take a little more work to ensure scope mount and optic compatibility.
So why would you ever choose a lever-gun? Simple: as mentioned above there is rarely a better option if a very powerful rifle is needed in a compact, quick handling and quick firing envelope.
Your average lever gun, this one included, is mechanically robust, accurate and easily carried even in rough terrain. A durable finish like stainless steel or non-metallic coating will ensure the rifle is proof against corrosion.
If your primary consideration is hunting or defending against big game, a shotgun with slugs will do the job and give you versatility, but you will not have the true long range accuracy and power of a rifle, especially one as brutal as this. It goes without saying that, while not ideal for defense against humans, it is more than up to the task.
You will not find much in the way of customization for rifles like this outside of scope and sling mounts, but you can perform things like action enhancements and adding porting or a muzzle brake to help tame recoil. An aftermarket recoil pad, such a Limbsaver, may be a warranted as well.
- Power – the venerable .45-70 has penetration to spare, and will make easy work of any four or two legged critters.
- Compactness – As mentioned above, you will rarely be able to cram as large a cartridge as this into any other class of rifle and keep weight and bulk at tolerable levels. Don’t undervalue easy carriage; you’ll be carrying a rife far more often than you’ll be actually shooting it.
- Harsh Recoil – Power always comes with a price tag. In this case, stomping recoil. It will not take much pounding from this beast before you develop a flinch and a very sore shoulder.
- Ammo Cost and Availability – There is nothing inexpensive about the .45-70 cartridge. It is not as scarce as you may think, but nowhere near as common as more modern rounds, especially service rifle cartridges.
- Manual Cycling – Manually operated guns get tiresome to use, and depend on the ability of both arms for normal use. Lever actions are also cumbersome fire quickly in the prone position.
If you can overcome the low capacity, slow reload and formidable recoil, a classic big-bore lever-gun may be just the ticket for your post-disaster rifle.I
Choosing the right tools will make the work at hand easier. Skill with the tools you have at hand will likely trump that. If you have the resources and opportunity to upgrade to modern rifles and learn how to use them well, do so.
If you don’t, spend your time and energy learning to run your rifles well. Know what they, and you, can and cannot do. Be able to shoulder and hit well and quickly with them.
The old saying, “Any gun will do if you can do,” has a lot of truth in it; If the rifle is reliable, and accurate enough, everything else is solved by the shooter.
The right rifle will make handling the challenges you face post-SHTF much easier. While modern intermediate caliber semi-automatics are the weapon of choice for many, older designs, manually operated ones among them, remain viable and effective if the shooter puts in practice.
The single greatest determining factor in the effectiveness of any rifle is the shooter. Make sure you are putting rounds downrange in practice and dryfire and you can make most rifles work to your advantage.