If You Could Only Have Two: Selecting Survival Firearms

Here’s the scenario: You’re about to be thrust into a survival situation for an extended period of time. You’ve had to take to the wilderness. Say, a couple of weeks to a couple of months. You can only have two survival firearms; a rifle and a handgun. Which would you choose?

The woodlands.
Hitting the wilderness with limited weaponry might not be everyone’s idea of fun.

That would suck!

The above scenario sure would suck a lot, wouldn’t it? Could it happen? Without a doubt, we are living in some pretty bizarre times. Five years ago, if someone had told you about things that have transpired in recent history, you might not have believed what they had to say. I would have had a tough time believing it.

Let’s look at some survival firearms choices that you might go with for this terrible scenario. Understand, this article has limited space, so I can’t list everything under the sun. If your favorite blaster is left off the list, don’t send me any hate mail. I’ll try to hit some of the major categories in a broad sense.

Survival Firearms — Rifles

Lever Guns

The tried and true lever gun might be a choice for some. They can be had in a number of calibers. The design is a classic and tends not to raise alarm when people see us carrying it. This type of action is reliable too.

Marlin .30-30 with other survival weapons
Lever actions have been the mainstay of America for over a hundred years. The knives are a Buck 113 Ranger fixed blade, Buck 110 folder, and Buck 112 folder.

The .30-30 is wildly popular, especially here in PA, especially among “seasoned citizens.” The .35 Remington is also seen in some numbers. Pistol calibers such as the .357/.38 Special are also handy, as are the .44 Magnum/.44 Special examples. I know a few folks who also have them in .22 Long Rifle (LR) too.

Many of these carbines have short barrels when compared to some rifles, making them handy to maneuver through brush and tight quarters.

Bolt Actions

These days, bolt actions have likely surpassed lever guns in popularity. The two World Wars had a prominent hand in the bolt action’s popularity in America, as soldiers on all sides used them in the wars. When the men came home, many continued liking the bolt action and began using it more and more for hunting.

Savage MK II FV-SR.
Bolt actions might just be the most popular hunting rifles in America these days. This is a Savage MK II FV-SR in .22LR.

The choice of manufacturers, calibers, and configurations for “bolt guns” is bewildering. Popular hunting calibers include the .30-06 (made so popular in the wars), .308, .270, .243, .22-250, .223, and….well, there are just way too many to list here! It seems like they come out with a new caliber every single week.

Whether you decide on a model from Remington, Savage, Ruger, or one from several dozen other makers, it’s hard to go wrong with this choice.

Semi Autos

AK and AR.
The AK-47 and AR-15 are among the most popular semi-autos in America today.

Again, we have a plethora to choose from, with the AR-15 being wildly popular currently. The M-14/M-1A also has a following, and we can include Ruger’s Mini-14 in this category. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the AK-47 series here and all of its offshoots. The SKS also has a fan base who enjoy the inexpensive prices of this carbine. Heckler & Koch has an entire family of weapons, all priced at a premium.

Springfield Armory M-1A.
The M-1A Scout Squad Rifle is powerful and will reach out a long way.

These are just a few that we have to choose from, there are tons more out there. Although there is an array of calibers available, they are not as numerous as with bolt actions or lever guns. Mostly, .308/7.62 NATO, .223/5.56 NATO, 7.62x39mm, and a few others. Granted, we can find a number of others, but those are the main players.

Ruger Mini-14.
Ruger’s Mini-14 is wildly popular these days, as is the .223 caliber.
AR-15 in the woods
Even with the light and small rounds of the .223, we can only carry so many for a long-term scenario. Here is a Stag Arms AR-15 with Leupold Scope.

Survival Firearms — Shotguns

Many folks love the shotgun for its power. And there’s no doubt that they are effective for small game hunting. The 12 gauge, 20 gauge, 16 gauge, and .410 are the main calibers with shotguns.

Firing a 12-gauge Remington 870, muzzle flash is visible
Here we see the muzzle blast as the shotgun’s owner, Jason, touches off a round. Recoil is…well, it’s a 12-gauge.

Shotguns are never a bad choice, but the ammo for most is large and heavy compared to other ammunition. As with the other weapons platforms mentioned, there are dozens of shotgun manufacturers to choose from.

Survival Firearms — Handguns

Revolvers

Here’s where the caliber selection is incredibly wide. Everything from .22 Long Rifle all the way up through…what’s the latest huge caliber…500 Magnum Death Ray Zombie Killer. And man, we love big calibers, don’t we?

Revolvers don’t have to worry about whether the ammo will cycle the action like their auto pistol brethren. You can shoot downloaded ammo through a revolver and it will just ask for more. Snake loads? No problem! Magnums? Yes, please!

S&W 642 with speed loaders
Revolvers are not finicky with ammo and can be quite versatile. I wouldn’t choose a .38 Special for survival in the woodlands, though.

People hunt large and small game with revolvers, and their defensive use has long been established. Yes, the revolver is probably the most versatile handgun choice that people could make.

Auto Pistols

Just like bolt action rifles, the amount of manufacturers who make auto pistols is staggering. Unlike revolvers, the caliber selection for auto pistols is more limited. We’ve got the usual suspects, the .45 ACP, .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and a host of others. New calibers are occasionally introduced, but none really seem to gain much traction.

Glock 19X with Fenix GL22
Auto pistols offer serious firepower, especially the Glock 19X. It can carry 19+1 rounds of 9mm as standard capacity. Shown here with a Fenix GL-22 weapon light.

Naturally, the fact that they are magazine-fed and fast to reload is a huge bonus. Unlike revolvers, though, auto pistols can be picky as far as the ammo is concerned. Certain pistols might not like certain rounds.

Considerations

In a survival situation, what will we mostly be using these firearms for?

Game

I’m not an expert, but my chief concern would be harvesting game. Most likely small game, given its availability. Sure, it sounds good to say we’re going to shoot a caribou, deer, or other larger game. But is it available? And is it practical?

Here in PA, Whitetail Deer are everywhere. I can’t take a drive in the country without seeing at least a half-dozen. I’ve hit far more of them with my car than I’ve ever shot hunting (literally). They’re everywhere—until it’s hunting season. Then you can’t find one to save your life (which, in a survival situation, is no exaggeration).

What’s the best caliber for harvesting small game? In my estimation, the .22LR shines in that capacity.

CCI .22 Velocitor.
The lowly .22 Long Rifle is light and a lot of ammo can be carried in a pack. CCI offers some of the more high-performance rounds on the market.

Sure, the .30-06 and every other hunting caliber is better for taking larger game and even defending ourselves against bears and mountain lions. But imagine shooting a rabbit or squirrel with a .30 caliber round, or even some of the smaller hunting rounds.

Having a brick of .22 LR would certainly last us quite a while.

Weight & Space

Let’s say you’re out in the wilderness. It is a survival situation, remember? You’re carrying your belongings in a backpack. How much room do you have to stuff it full of ammo? Beyond that, how far can you carry the ammo you choose to go with? Compare 500 rounds of .30 caliber rounds as opposed to .22LR. A 500-round brick of .22 weighs a couple of pounds and can easily fit into your pack.

A small shelter in the woods.
Setting up shop in the woods.

Obviously, the .22LR is going to edge out the other calibers with its number and weight advantages.

.308 rounds in M-1A magazine.
The 7.62 NATO round is powerful and gets the job done in a big way. However, it’s large and weighs a good deal. Only a limited number of rounds can be carried for a long-term scenario.

Another consideration these days is price. The .22 can be purchased in far larger numbers for less money than anything else that’s out there as far as ammo is concerned.

Scope Or Irons?

Iron sights are more rugged and reliable, with very little that can go wrong with them.

A scope will allow more precision and at longer ranges. However, things can go wrong with scopes, obviously. In a survival situation, that would really be a bummer.

Savage .22 LR, Survival firearms
My choice of rifle, the Savage MK II FV-SR in .22LR, wears a 1-8x scope from Vortex Optics.

Still, there are scopes on the market these days that are very rugged and durable, so you’d probably be safe going with some sort of quality optic.

Jim Davis with Savage in the woods.
Moving on the trail with the Savage MK II FV-SR .22LR.

Effectiveness

Let’s face it, the .22 LR is no powerhouse, and I’ll not try to convince anyone otherwise. With that said, it can take a wide range of game as long as shot placement is precise. And at the closer ranges, it’s possible to gain that precision.

Henry Survival Rifle, Survival firearms
Henry’s Survival Rifle (the AR-7) breaks down into the stock, which floats. It is a very compact package that can fit into a pack. It’s a .22LR semi-auto that holds eight rounds in the magazine.

The .22 LR has long been used by poachers to take deer in the dark of night. Head shots are the order of the day when taking deer in this manner. During a survival situation, this might be a very useful thing to know.

Which survival firearms would I choose?

Each reader will have to make his or her choice. Most likely, it will depend on what you have on hand when the situation strikes. We have our “wish list”, and then we have reality. Personally, I can tell you that my wish list is far larger than what my reality list is.

Jim Davis on the trail with survival firearms
Pausing on the trail to check out some deer spoor. The Savage MK II FV-SR is a compact rifle with a 16.5-inch barrel and composite stock.

The Rifle

As far as the rifle is concerned, I’d likely go with my Savage MK II FV-SR. It’s compact, rugged, and is .22 LR caliber. I have a 1-8x scope on it. Given my eyesight these days, I need that scope for precision at any appreciable range.

Rifle, pack, and knife.
A good rifle, backpack, and quality knife will go a long way toward seeing you through a crisis. The knife is the Gasper 4 from Rewild Gear.

A good case could be made for the Ruger 10/22. A semi-auto .22 carbine could be a real help for survival. I also have a Henry Survival Rifle that wouldn’t be a terrible choice.

Ruger 10/22, Survival firearms
An old standby, the Ruger 10/22, while “only” a .22, offers some firepower. Some folks might choose to mount a low-power scope.

Of course, a number of other rifles would also fill the bill. I’m just naming the ones I have access to and that I’d use. I can’t tell you that your choice would be a bad one.

The Handgun

My handgun of choice might well be one that I don’t currently possess: A .357 Magnum revolver. Why? Because it’s powerful and would be useful for protection as well as taking down larger game such as deer.

I know, I said the .22 rifle would take deer. So why the .357? Because even though the bulk of my hunting would be small game, we never know when a larger animal will present itself. And while I don’t live in the bear capital of the state, they’re known to be seen in my neck of the woods every now and then. Having protection against bears and coyotes would be a comfort.

Ruger MK IV 22/45, Survival firearms
A Ruger MK IV .22/45 would make a good .22LR companion in the woods for long-term survival.

Naturally, I’d only carry a few boxes of ammo if I had a .357 Magnum, as it would be used very sparingly.

On the other hand, a very strong case could be made for carrying a .22 LR handgun. My Ruger MK IV .22/45 would be my choice in that case. It’s light and accurate and would fill the bill very well. On top of that, the ammo would be compatible with my rifle.

Conclusion

Those are my thoughts and likely choices for an extended survival situation. These choices for survival firearms are not very exotic or exciting. However, as far as practicality goes, I think they are fairly sensible.

How about you? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of survival weapons, so feel free to let us know what your choices would be! Leave us a comment.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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