The SHTF Gun

Bob Campbell shooting the Remington 870 shotgun with a TruGlo sight

The SHTF gun means many things to many people. Having actually taken incoming fire and proven I cannot stop a bullet, I have a different idea than the casually interested. Planning for an apocalyptic nightmare seems a popular pastime—especially for cinematic writers. Just the same there are times when the need may be real.

Man shooting the Remington 870DM shotgun
Perhaps the Remington 870DM should be at the top of the list in SHTF shotguns.

Man’s propensity for savagery, slavery, and mayhem has little diminished since Neolithic times. Geopolitical woes, revolution, disease, and natural disaster are real concerns. I am not one looking forward to such a trial and I think none that are right minded are. Each of these world wide disasters have been an excuse for the scum of a country to loot rape and burn.

The pillagers still exist. Caesars men and the barbarians did so. None did so on the Nazi scale though. There were looters and rapists during the power outage in New York City in 1968. Read about it sometime and you will not be content to live in a home without a firearm. The question is which firearm, and how many, are enough.

The first and most important step is to have a gun. And let’s not allow the liberals to disarm us while they are taking a political bend. As I mentioned to one of my liberal friends, while he was ranting something about Putin and the Ukraine, where in the hell were you liberals the last 100 years when the Brits were putting the heel to Ireland? He was aghast.

Del Ton DT .308 with riflescope right profile
Perhaps the Del Ton DT .308 is a good answer to the problem.

The Brits and their social order and restrictions on freedom are his idols I suppose. If a political upheaval comes, and I hope it does not, no one will help us. The French marquis fought bravely against the Nazis because there was hope. The Americans were coming. Our oldest ally had hope. Who will help us? No one. No one will and no one could.

Ill conceived ideas lead to a downfall. Some have bright and fluffy ideas that do not wash. Anyone who thinks they know how the Lord thinks, as an example, is pretty arrogant. No one has Him figured out. I once mentioned to one of my friends that God would not let Israel fall. Scott laughed and referred me back to the scripture. How often has He allowed my people to serve in slavery over the past few thousand years? We still fight.

So, forget the misconception of any overlaying protection America has. When our enemy looks at America and calls us the Great Satan, well, look at Hollywood and Washington. They enemy may have a leg to stand on! As my good Jewish friend pointed out, protection is individual not national. The individual is concerned with personal safety, the government, national security. Let’s keep that straight. Individual safety is another thing.

Fiocchi Canned Heat ammunition can
Fiocchi’s Canned Heat ammo is a great choice for long-term storage.

Forget the police. They will be as scared as you are. This varies from agency to agency, the training they have, and how they feel about the community. Officers recruited from the community have ties. Others do not. New York City cops raced toward the Twin Towers. Cops in the recent Florida school shooting hid.

The National Guard will be invaluable. As a National Guard general in New Orleans commented shortly after hurricane Katrina, I have never seen so many people, so scared of large groups of poor people. (He was commenting on heavily armed officers patrolling in armored vehicles. The Guard and church groups fed millions of people.) The Red Cross and FEMA will be your hope in such a situation.

As for New Orleans, when society takes a hit, old scores are sometimes settled. Lets hope you have been even handed in dealing with your brothers and sisters. You may need more help than I can give. Hopefully the situation will be similar to other natural disasters and short lived. You may have a governor like Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana that cried and asked for Federal help. She seemed inept and unable to make a decision. Or, you may have Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina in a command post reading after-action intelligence from the guard a few minutes after it was written and directing from the front line.

Each of these actions was largely the finest hour for the National Guard as they saved uncounted lives. The South Carolina Highway Patrol conducted orderly and intelligent evacuations. In Louisiana it was mayhem. I am not knocking New Orleans; I love the Big Easy. However, the contrast is stark.

Beretta APX 9mm left profile
Beretta’s APX 9mm is a reliable and useful handgun. This is the compact version.

I am a law enforcement veteran without any military experience and I have to call it as I see it. The chief and mayor in New Orleans were despicable corrupt individuals that proved inept. They confiscated guns from honest citizens. Have your firearms hidden and well oiled. Breaking the law? They broke the constitution as subsequent law suits from the Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association proved, but the lawsuits did little to help the person on the spot at that moment.

On another theme, a friend of mine who has enjoyed a long career as an educator is retiring to the North Carolina mountains and a small home. He is ecstatic at the prospect, and I wish him well. He owns perhaps a dozen guns and doesn’t wish to take the gun safe with him. What one gun he asks me? This is a question from a man that isn’t a firearms enthusiast, but instead, a reasonable person who recognized the need to be armed against criminals.

Dopers find their way into the wild as a few recent incidents have shown. A person my age was recently murdered for his truck in NC. The Sheriffs Office not only captured the escaped convict responsible, but arrested several members of his family for accessory to murder as they hid the POS out. It can happen anywhere.

AK-47 with camouflage furniture
The AK-47 is a viable choice.

Most of us have more firearms that we need. That’s great but you cannot have a half dozen just in case firearms to lug around. I speak from experience; you cannot be proficient with that many firearms. What can you effectively use? The other guy coming at you is probably about as smart as you and perhaps as well armed. The level of practice makes the difference.

You need a reliable firearm. If a storm comes over the horizon, you may clear the Browning and Fox shotguns out and run because they have monetary value. However, if you are seeing a mob come over the hill, you need that trusty Mossberg 590. The long-term firearm should not be chosen just before the debacle. It should be on hand and something you have mastered to the best of your ability.

Like the survival vehicle, it should probably have a high capacity and the ammo load should be easy to carry. Kind of like the difference between my wife’s Jeep Patriot and the Silverado I drive. Her Patriot exhibits a brilliant 27 MPG average. My Silverado, more like 17—but my two tanks give me much greater range. Think about the logic.

If you are reading this, you probably own several guns. The good news is the fact that you can carry more than one at time. A pistol and a shotgun are not a problem, or a pistol and a rifle. The long gun is the most needed if the situation becomes grim for an extended period. One of my military friends tells me the pistol is good for shooting dogs and little else. Most folks have not mastered the handgun.

Four 1911 pistols
These Government Model .45s fill the bill for the author.

While useful for home defense, a good shotgun or rifle is much better suited to area defense. If the adversary has a long gun, you are in deep trouble. Even a service-grade pistol isn’t a match for a good .22 rifle as far as hit probability for the half trained. Compared to the .223, .308 and 12 gauge long guns the 9mm, .38, 10mm and .45 are more alike than they differ.

At close quarters for the unexpected, the pistol is the weapon of opportunity. The rifle is the gunfighter’s choice. You need to look at what you can reasonably carry along with a good supply of ammunition. Being caught in the present moron apocalypse, I don’t think the tools for a Zombie apocalypse are the best. The AR-15 is a great rifle, and we can carry plenty of ammunition. The same goes for the Ruger Mini 14.

Get a good rifle, not a fair rifle. Fair rifles are a dime a dozen at present. As for taking game, well, if you are already a good hunter and have been for some time, your deer rifle is a good choice, whatever it is. If you are not a hunter, and think you will be foraging for large game, you are in for a big let down. They don’t stand there and let you shoot them. You better know how to dress and prepare wild game too.

Overall, a good .22 rifle might be better than a pistol, and you may have to shoot dogs for food. That bad? Yep, its bad. I have heard they are pretty stringy. This end of the world thing isn’t for the age of the wimps.

Wilson Combat .224 Valkyrie
This Wilson Combat .224 Valkyrie with Leupold scope is first class, but requires a considerable investment to obtain and master.

The rifle and a few hundred rounds of ammunition are a minimum. I think a good quality bolt-action rifle in .308 with a decent scope might be a great life saver. You will be able to hit most folks a lot further out than they have trained to shoot, and you will be able to do so from a secure position. At close range, if you have practiced, you may get quick hits. If your scenario is more rural, consider the .308. I have split the difference and my personal SHTF rifle is a short Springfield M1A. Cannot gainsay that one, it hits hard and what you hit stays down. It will shoot through light cover and take anything on four legs in this continent with the right shot placement.

How about a shotgun? The shotgun is a great problem solver. Nothing hits quite like buckshot at a few feet. If your plan is to hunker down in the bungalow, and take what shots you must as the adversary attempts to break the window frame out, the shotgun is ideal. The problem is sustainability. Shotgun shells weigh a lot. Carrying a few hundred gets ugly.

A shotgun in the base of operations is good. However, if you are wandering, the rifle is the first choice—at least for me. Shotgun slugs change the picture a bit, but the rifle it seems is the best choice. For most of us this means a variation on the AR-15 rifle. The best examples are very reliable. Accuracy potential is also excellent.

Ruger Mini 14 with magazine inserted right profile
The Ruger Mini 14 is a first-class all-around rifle.

The Colt M4 in my safe is fired often and will group 3 shots of Federal 62-grain JSTP into less than an inch at a long 100 yards. I like this. The Aero Precision rifle my son built for me features a SIG Romeo red dot and is more versatile overall and about 90% as accurate. That is good enough for me.

There are those who prefer the AK-47 format. That’s ok, as far as it goes, but there are a lot of cheap AKs made to sell, not serve, and they tie up and tear up as the original Kalashnikov never would. My friend Darrel keep an Arsenal AK handy and that is as good as it gets. If you use an AK, use a good one.

I am not sold on pistol caliber carbines. Most are not as serviceable as a battle rifle. And why a pistol cartridge in a rifle anyway—if you need accuracy and something that hits hard? A lot of graves in the Old West were filled with men killed with pistol caliber carbines, but when the .30-30 was introduced, it was adopted wholesale by professionals.

Hornady SST ammunition
If you deploy an AK rifle there are very few good service loads. However, this is the Hornady SST, at the top of the list.

The Arizona Rangers wanted more, however, and adopted the Winchester 1895 in .30-40. If you are willing to pay for a Winchester or Browning lever action that’s good, the cheaper lever-action rifles may  not always work out for you. In the gun ‘comic’ books you occasionally see a desk jockey recommending a lever-action rifle for survival use. Unless your name is Evil Roy, and you have a wall full of CAS trophies, this is probably not a good idea. No, definitely not.

It is difficult enough to master a self-loader with the proper technique. Stay in shape. If you are overweight and cannot climb and run on par with the assailant you face, then those relying on you are pretty much screwed. Also give thought to load bearing gear. A sturdy sling for every long gun is essential. For the handgun, a good holster, not a $10 rag or plastic trap, is well advised.

I have been short on pistol talk. Whatever you carry daily is fine. A high capacity 9mm pistol filled with good ammunition is the best choice for most shooters. I prefer a Government Model .45, but if I expend my energy in mastering the rifle, perhaps the pistol might not get as much attention. The 9mm is very easy to use well. That is the dark picture we hope isn’t coming. For my friend, narrowing the choice to one or two guns, the future is brighter. Be prepared, study recent history, and prepare accordingly.

Do you have a favorite gun that you would rely on for the SHTF? Share it in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. I have always been interested in the AK market. I own several ARs and feel comfortable with the quality of them. AKs though are a different story. What are some of the better AK variants available here in the US.

  2. Recent events of the past 10-20 years have caused me to have more fear of our own American government than any terrorist strike or natural disaster.

  3. Cut power for 48 hours and booya. I’m a South Florida native where every several years we lose power for weeks/months. Seems recently it’s no big deal. Hurricane Andrew of 92 taught us. Be prepared. Food, water, likely not sufficient shelter. And yeah, you better be armed.

    More importantly, you better not be the only one armed ready to protect a family. Wife, kids need to know what to do. One person on guard against the creatures of the night won’t cut it.

    You’ll hate to hear it, but if our already tyrannical govt becomes truly tyrannical, you/we won’t win. But in natural disaster situations, it is up to us!

  4. A well-written essay by the author. He covered many of the variables when one is faced with a multitude of firearm and/or ammunition choices.

    Sometimes too many choices skew one’s ability to make a good choice. Let your conscience and experience(s) be your guide.

  5. Great topic and much more practical in the sense of preparing for an interruption in normal life. Living in west central Florida for much of the past 40 years we have experienced some rough times that could have gone really bad and did not. I am fortunate to have a spouse that shares and indulges me in my firearms habit, with several ARs in various calibers and some pistols caliber carbines with two .22 Henry lever action I believe we have the the long guns covered, ammo as well.
    Pistols from Sig, Glock, Ruger, Springfield and HK in 9mm and .45 are where we spend our time and money, easy to find and cheap enough to train.

    As for local food, BO it all sounds good, but remember you can’t say possum without saying Mmmmmm!

    Pack light and group tight.

  6. Thank you, I really enjoyed the article and agree with you on many of these choices especially the Remmy 870. I completely agree that you chose the Remington 870 as THE SHTF gun. The 870 has proven itself over and over in the field with just about every police department and even the Armed Forces in the last few decades. Wise choice. Hopefully the or Mossberg 500/Maverick 88 rate an honorable mention.

    I’m curious to why the Beretta was chosen over say a Glock which has a worldwide proliferation more than almost any other gun, is nearly indestructible and has so many ammunition choices, shares magazines cross platforms and a user can change calibers between most 9mm and .40S&W with a barrel and magazine. And now with the wide open market of A9 and 40 platforms that use Glock magazines it seems a choice with more options. Glock also has high and very high capacity magazines. The Colt .45 has a 7 round mag compared to Glock 21 factory 13 rounds. I have owned both and if the SHTF I think I would opt for a lighter gun with more ammo capacity.

    I also would ask what would be the options for people like me living in… wait… you guessed… California where Walmarts rarely sell ammo, let alone full blown “buy and take home today” AK and AR rifles. The Ruger 10/22 while not as powerful as the other choices would still intimidate most people trying to take your $h!+ but also works well on small game when food is needed. I can’t imagine trying to eat a pidgeon or squirrel after hitting it with an AK or AR round. CA is an active earthquake state and has the most West Coast ports subject to a tsunami of any contiguous state along with one of the highest populations of almost any other state. It’s definitely a “special place” with rules and laws that prohibit many firearms but given that many other states are following suit,
    I think that it warrants more attention.

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