A gun is only as good as the rounds it fires, and those rounds are of paramount importance when defending your loves ones from disasters. Choosing the actual makes and models of your SHTF guns is only half the part of choosing; the other half is choosing the calibers that those guns will fire.
For example, you may have decided that you either want a Glock or a Smith & Wesson M&P to be your main SHTF sidearm. But have you decided what caliber that Glock or M&P will be? 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, .45 ACP, or something else?
Your choice of a caliber is arguably more important than your actual choice of a firearm, because if you end up choosing a caliber that is underpowered, hard to find, or expensive, you’re making a critical mistake.
Let’s go over the different criteria that these calibers should meet, then we’ll talk about the top five best calibers to have for SHTF.
CRITERIA A CALIBER SHOULD MEET
Like I said, you’re making a big mistake if you go out and buy a gun for a SHTF scenario without thinking about the caliber. As in, A BIG ONE.
Take your time to research the different calibers that are out there, and base your research by narrowing your selections down to the calibers that meet the following criteria:
Abundance. Your chosen caliber(s) for when SHTF need to be abundant. Not only will this make them easier to find now, meaning you can stockpile more of them, but you’ll also stand a greater chance of finding them in a long term disaster situation as well.
Granted, all ammunition is likely going to be hard to find in such a disaster scenario, but a plentiful or common caliber will just be less hard.
Affordability. If you have to pay $1 or more per individual shot of a particular caliber, it’s crystal clear that the particular caliber is going to be hard to find post collapse. Furthermore, the more affordable your ammo is, the more of it you can stockpile pre-collapse.
The more expensive the round is, the less likely you’ll spend a lot to get practice ammunition. You need to be able to refine your skills at least once a month to be able to sustain yourself in a firefight, should you need to.
Fulfills Its Intended Purpose. You don’t have to choose a caliber just because it’s ‘powerful.’ For example, the .22 LR round would hardly be considered a powerful self-defense round.
Instead, the .22 LR is used for a different purpose, namely target shooting, plinking, or small game/varmint hunting. And at these purposes, the .22 LR excels. Therefore, choose rounds that fulfill their intended purposes.
Round Versatility. If you’re looking at a handgun, make sure you research the effectiveness of that caliber’s respective hollow point round.
Also, compare that caliber’s jacketed hollow point to other hollow point variations. If you’re looking at a rifle, look at that caliber’s polymer-tip round variations compared to other rounds.
Don’t just research FMJ (full metal jacket) rounds, as you will more than likely not use them for self-defense, hopefully.
Now that we’ve gone over the primary criteria that your selected SHTF calibers meet, let’s next go over the top 5 best calibers to have.
No survival arsenal is complete without a Rimfire .22 rifle. The .22 LR ammunition itself is a very versatile round to have in any SHTF scenario. However, it’s not intended for big game hunting or self-defense (though you could certainly use it for either if you had to).
Rather, the .22 is best suited for training/plinking, small game hunting, and general homestead use. It’s also easily the best round for introducing new shooters to so they won’t be turned off by the hard recoil or loud noise of a larger round. You may ultimately find that the .22 is the caliber that you use over all the others.
Another huge benefit to .22 is how you can stockpile mass amounts in the same amount of space that you could only store a relatively small amount of another caliber in.
For example, you can store hundreds of rounds of .22 LR in the same amount of space that you can store 50 rounds of 9mm Luger in.
For these reasons, the .22 LR is definitely one of the five calibers that you should stockpile for when SHTF.
Another highly versatile caliber to have in your arsenal is the 12 gauge. gain, like the .22 LR, the 12 Gauge is a round that you can use for a great variety of purposes.
When loaded with buckshot, the 12 Gauge is a devastating close range weapon, amplified if you have a compatible adjustable choke. When loaded with birdshot, it will be a highly effective caliber for bird hunting.
When loaded with slugs, you can use it to even bring down big game such as deer (slugs are also great for home defense as well).
The only downside to the 12 Gauge is its recoil. If you have short-statured shooters in your home (or if you are a smaller or shorter person yourself), you may be turned off by the idea of having a gun that might hurt your shoulder with each shot. A 20 Gauge may be a more attractive option in this case.
Nonetheless, the 12 Gauge is more common than the 20 Gauge, so (in some cases) it’s cheaper and easier to find. At least one of the five chosen calibers in your arsenal should be a shotgun round, and when all things are considered, the 12 Gauge should be your top choice.
At least one of your SHTF weapons needs to be handgun (preferably a semi-automatic), and the best round to have in this case will be the 9mm Luger.
The reasons are straightforward: the 9mm is easily the single most common pistol round in the United States, meaning it’s the easiest to find in sporting goods stores as well as the most affordable (you should be able to find a box of 50 rounds of 9mm FMJ for the $10-15 range). This is much less money than you would spend for the same amount of .40 or .45.
Another plus to owning a 9mm is that pistols chambered for it, or double stacked pistols at least, carry a lot of rounds.
It’s practically the norm for a mid to full sized 9mm pistol to carry 10-15 rounds these days, perfect against multiple attackers.
Add this to the relatively mild recoil and the fact that there are self-defense hollow point loads out now with considerable power. The 9mm is not only one of the top 5 calibers to have for emergencies, it’s the first caliber you should consider for your pistol.
The 5.56x45mm NATO or .223 Remington round will be your best choice for the military style semi-automatic rifle in your arsenal. This is almost entirely attributed to the AR-15, which is the most popular center fire rifle in America right now and has made 5.56 ammunition cheap and abundant.
The 5.56 also fulfills many roles as well. It’s sufficient for deer hunting (at least when you’re using hunting loads), has more velocity and range than a pistol round, and substantially more range than a shotgun round.
These factors make the 5.56 an appealing choice for home defense, and definitely the best choice of caliber for defending from long-range threats. Recoil on the 5.56 is also minimal, making it a great option for shooters who are smaller.
Something of note about the 5.56x45mm NATO is that it and the AR-series of rifles were specifically chosen by the United States military for its wounding rather than killing capabilities.
The logic goes that a single hit from a 5.56 round will likely wound not kill an opponent, and thus take two people out of the fight because now an ally of the fallen soldier would have to tend to them or drag them away from the battlefield.
This could certainly be an advantage in a SHTF situation where you may have to defend your home or family from multiple attackers.
With that being said, if your goal is to neutralize the threat, you may have to fire more than one round into your opponent. Using a simple “controlled pair” method of firing can help you with this, so make sure you practice it at the range every time you go.
A lot of people say that the .308 Winchester is the better long range caliber to have, but it’s still hard to go wrong with the .30-06 Springfield, for a number of reasons.
The .30-06 has been around for a long time. Even obscure or small sporting goods stores in the more remote places in America will almost always have at least a few boxes of .30-06 stocked, and in larger stores it’s extraordinarily easy to find.
More importantly, the .30-06 offers a solid combination between range, power, and recoil. While recoil of the .30-06 shouldn’t be considered light, it’s slightly milder than a larger round such as the .300 Win Mag or .338 Win Mag. This means it would be controllable by a smaller-statured shooter.
Furthermore, the .30-06 offers slightly more range and power than the equally popular .308, which is a good benefit for hunting large game such as elk at long distances. If needed, the .30-06 would also do well as a long range anti-personnel caliber.
While there are few semi-automatic rifles chambered for .30-06, there are an endless number of high quality bolt action rifles built for it. All things considered, the .30-06 would be a very wise choice for a long range rifle round.
There are many more calibers out there that can be discussed. For example, you could choose a 7.62x39mm over the 5.56x45mm NATO, the .308 Winchester or .300 Win Mag over the .30-06 Springfield, or the .40 S&W or .45 ACP over the 9mm.
Don’t think that these five are set in stone (other than the .22 LR, as every SHTF arsenal should have a .22 rifle).
However, these five calibers offer the best combination of affordability, abundance, and fulfilling their intended purposes. They are each a solid round and an excellent choice for SHTF.
When trying to decide what calibers you would need for your guns, make sure that these five are the ones you take a look at first.
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.