Originally, survival rifles were designed and built for those put in an exceptional situation where the main objective was simply to survive until rescued. It was originally meant for the pilots of downed aircraft and those stranded in the wilderness. They were compact, lightweight and often collapsible but could help the stranded pilot hunt for food and defend himself until he made it to safety or was rescued. They were the best rifles used for survival.
Thanks to glorified reality TV type documentaries there is a stereotype of extreme survivors and survivalist characters to be obsessed with firearms, weapons and other such defense items. However, what you don’t see is the real process of preparing for a short-term emergency or end of the world scenario. Besides items that are absolutely necessary to maintain you and your family alive, the firearm is always going to be your best friend in case of general mayhem.
It’s also important to have the training required for what your end goal is depending on whether you are planning ahead or reacting to an emergency, hopefully the former. At the simplest level, everyone should have basic first aid training and basic hunting and shooting training.
Long guns: rifles vs shotguns
When it comes to long guns, preferences are divided between shotguns and rifles.
Shotguns are rugged and designed to be an effective general firearm. They come in both single and double barrel types, which deliver either single or double shots. They can employ a wide variety of ammunition, which is good for availability and cost effectiveness. Shotguns are often used for hunting and sports shooting, however, self-loading types were designed with self-defense in mind. The popularity of shotguns comes from their ability to offer maximum power at close ranges, regardless of their lack of accuracy. If you want to know more about these powerful weapons, we have an entire article dedicated to shotguns with in-depth reviews and other useful information you should check out.
Rifles, however, are designed with the opposite intention in mind. They are more accurate and capable of longer range shooting. A rifle is called so because of the riffling in the barrel. This riffling causes the bullets to twist as it moves through the barrel so that by the time it leaves the gun it has a lot of spin, which makes for more accurate travel, much like when a football is thrown with spin.
Shotguns have a smooth barrel and hence do not have the range of the rifle, which is more ideal if you want to keep distance between yourself and your attacker, or don’t want to scare away food by getting too close. Essentially, shotguns are made for pointing, rifles are made for aiming.
The rifle also sits on the shoulder as well as being held by both hands or even on a stand or ledge in some cases. So it’s more stable for aiming and when the shot is made. Finally, rifles are a lot lighter than shotguns. So if you have to carry it for long periods it’s not going to weigh down as much.
Choosing the best rifle
So how do you choose the best rifle for survival?
- Experience – If you are a complete beginner or novice you will want to start with something simpler and lighter. Generally something in a .22 caliber is recommended as they are great for learning on, cost effective and many companies produce them.
- Use and maintenance – You want a rifle that is not too difficult to use, here, simpler is better. As you gain more experience you can begin to get more technical. However, it’s important that you maintain your rifle and again an easy to maintain rifle is more likely to be looked after than something that requires more complex processes. For this you will need a reliable cleaning kit and the necessary knowledge. The knowledge you can get by reading our tutorial on how to clean a rifle and the market is flooded with great products.
- Application – What will you be using your firearm for, what is your goal? If you’re just using it for hunting, the bigger your game, the bigger the caliber required. If it is for long range defense and survival, military type rifles and semi-automatic rifles are good. There are even some shorter options that work well for shorter range shooting. And don’t forget to consider ammunition availability.
- Cost – What can you afford and what are you willing to spend? What you really have to weigh up here is how high a caliber you require and what other features you want included. Don’t forget about ammunition cost either.
However, all of this won’t mean much if you don’t also put the time into training and practice. You need to be able to practice a lot so you are comfortable with both using and maintaining your rifle. If you go with something simple here, that isn’t a lot of fuss or effort for your ability, then it will be more fun and you will be inclined to continue training. Simpler guns are usually more affordable, as is the required ammunition, which will also be an important factor in the amount of practice you can feasibly do.
Survival rifles: best models to have at need
While survival rifles still exist for this purpose, the modern movement of preppers and retreaters commonly referred to as survivalists, have redefined what makes a good rifle for survival. There are still smaller, collapsible options that do well for defense in urban settings and capturing of small game, but it now also includes some bigger and better rifles for hunting bigger game or defending a larger area.
If you want to know about the best survival rifles it’s a good idea to listen to the advice of survivalists as they have spent a lot of time testing different rifles and comparing different factors such as ease of use, add on features, reliability, cost and availability of ammunition and parts.
Some of the original rifles designed with survival in mind include the M4 survival rifle, which was developed during the Second World War for downed aircrew. It was a lightweight .22-caliber rifle and only about fourteen inches long. During the mid twentieth century the M4 was replaced with the M6 Aircrew Survival rifle for use by the US Air force. Notable about this gun was that it could fold in half, which is important in limited storage space on an aircraft as well as when carried.
Another popular survival rifle was the AR 5. It was exceptionally light, made of aluminum and plastic, and easily stored in tight spaces. The best survival feature, however, was that all the moving parts could be disassembled and stored in the stock. Sealed like this, the gun could also float. From the AR 5, the AR 7 was then developed which is still in use today for backpackers, hikers and other recreational users.
Currently the rifle preferred by the US armed forces is the M16, which was designed by the same man behind the AR 7, Eugene Stoner. It first entered the US military during the Vietnam War and since then it has become the US military’s current standard service rifle. It can be used at both long ranges and short ranges as close to 15 meters.
However, to do this, the user must actually aim over the target as the line of sight is slightly over the bore. They also allow the addition of various scopes depending on application including front sight, rear sight and even low light scopes that utilize radioactive materials for glow-in-the-dark vision.
Apart from use in the armed forces, the M16 is also available to civilians and can use more common ammunition making it more cost-effective to keep using. As a general rule, rifles used by the military or similar in design to are the best choices for survival use. This is because they tend to be heavily tested, more durable, relatively accurate, reliable and they use common ammunition. This way you’ll have plenty of ammunition in an emergency situation which is extremely important when the world turns upside down in a very short period of time.
Popular rifles for survival and survivalists
For all round versatility, ease of use and cost effectiveness many survivalists choose the Ruger 10/22. This is really surprising as it is such as small caliber gun, only .22. It’s a simple gun that’s easy to learn with, easy to use and easy to maintain.
However, as any real survivalist (and not just gun lover) will say, when it comes to survival this will get you through a disaster. There’s not as much power but you still get great range and accuracy. This rifle may small in caliber, but when you really just need to survive, squirrels and rabbits will do just fine for any meal. Also, with ease of use and affordability, in both the rifle and ammunition, you will be able to get a lot of practice in.
If you want to learn more about this rifle, take a look at our article on the best gun for home defense.
The AK-47 is one of the most widely used rifles in the world and easily the most recognizable in appearance and name alike. This rifle was actually designed over 60 years ago and it was designed with durability in mind. It is built with loosely fitted moving parts so that it has the ability to hold up against a lot of wear, tear and abuse. This is the main reason why this rifle is seen all over the world in different environments, scenarios and conditions.
However, with a 60-year-old design it doesn’t have the same accuracy as its modern counterparts. The gun was built to last wars after wars but it doesn’t do very good on aiming. But when you consider that it has a higher number of rounds in its magazine and a higher rate of fire this more than makes up for its less than great accuracy. Also the AK-47 is affordable and the ammunition is widely available and cheap in comparison to other high-end rifles on the market.
We have a complete review of the AK-47 in our article on the best assault rifle so if you want to know more, check out our article, here.
One of the most widely used rifles in the world is the AR-15, or the “Black Rifle”, and it is used by the US military and law enforcement. It is also probably the most popular among survivalists – at least there seems to be a general consensus that this gun is preferred. As it is a common choice among rifles, they are widely available, as is the ammunition and parts.
More importantly, its popularity comes from its reliability and accuracy. It can also be customized, like with camouflage wraps, and added to quite easily, e.g. a front sight post or bipod base, making it a highly adaptable piece to suit a variety of needs and preferences.
Other popular gun mentions go to the Henry Arms AR-7 which is based on the original survival rifles designed for use in survival situations; if a military aircraft was shot down in enemy borders or the pilot was left stranded in the wilderness. It is compact and lightweight and it is collapsible so transport is also easy.
The Mosin Nagant also comes up often as being tough and reliable. And again what seems to matter most in the best survival rifles is affordability of both the rifle and ammunition. Like the AR-15, the Mosin Nagant also comes with a variety of attachments so you can modify to your needs such as butt pads, scopes and gun stocks.
Weapons for tools, hunting and defense
When it comes to preparing for an emergency it all starts with “do I have enough water” but eventually once you worked out all the water, food, shelter and resources, that’s when you actually have something to defend and that is when you can consider weapons. But weapons aren’t just for attacking and defending yourself, when you’re living the simple life everything should be multipurpose, and while weapons can also help you to hunt food, in many cases they will be your daily tools too.
Firearms are not the only answer in a survival situation and you should not be dependable on one single defense mechanism. Any survivalist knows that if plan A fails, he or she must always have a plan B and C prepared.
A good place to start for your plan B is with your own body, self-defense and martial arts. These are vital skills to not only protect yourself but will improve your health too, making you more resilient.
Knives are also a good tool to carry with you when in the outdoors or in an emergency situation. They are extremely versatile as you can use a knife for kitchen chores like chopping vegetables or skinning and gutting meat and for outside chores like cutting rope or clearing through vegetation. They’re also good for defense at close ranges if it comes to that.
Similarly, axes, pick-axes and sledgehammers have their use as everyday tools but if you’re caught out while chopping wood at least you’ve got something you can swing from a distance that’s hard and sharp on the other end.
Of course that a skilled survivalist should be able to improvise if caught off guard and there are simpler weapons that can be made like: slingshots, spears and even bow and arrows. The bonus here is that if you learn this craft you will always be able to remake anything that breaks or wears down. And if the end of the world does come, you won’t run out of ammunition too fast because you can reclaim some of the used arrows as well as create new ones. There are of course modern counterparts like the crossbow.
In conclusion, we saw that the concept of survival rifle has changed over the years. While originally it was about basic survival in exceptional circumstances, usually short-term, nowadays it has evolved with the survivalist movement. No longer are people thinking about surviving for a few days or a few weeks at a time.
They are also thinking long-term. A small lightweight, collapsible rifle will still find its way into many a survivalist’s repertoire but so will more versatile rifles that are customizable for specific needs or environments as well as higher calibers for bigger game hunting.
As with any tool or machine it’s all situational, it has to suit the need and the ability of the user, and its best to go for reliable options that have been widely tested and reviewed. Sometimes, even if the newest gadgets on the market look tempting, the job is better done with an older design like the AK-47. Electronic gadgets and fancy rifles may break in the wilderness due to humidity and improper conditions but an AK-47 will be with you no matter what.
Regardless of the rifle you choose to guard you and your family, make sure that you are always prepared to face unexpected situations. Actually, that’s all survivalism is about: adapting to the environment in a stressful, disastrous scenario.