What Are the Best SHTF Firearms? 3 Handguns 7 Rifles 3 Shotguns Recommend For You

So here is one of the most controversial topics in survival forums… what are the best guns to have in a SHTF situation?  One person will have one opinion while another will go in a totally different direction.  Some may say a pump-action 12ga while his friend would choose a semi-auto rifle.  Is one of them more correct than the other?

Below I list the various factors that should go into your decision on picking a SHTF firearm. There is no 1 correct universal answer.  When TEOTWAWKI occurs, you must know your limitations and have had this question already figured out for yourself.

First off let’s take a look at the variables that should affect your decision, because everybody is in a different position and what works for one might not work for another. These factors include:

  • your budget
  • the environment around you
  • your personal shooting skill level
  • your knowledge of that firearm
  • your strength level
  • ammunition availability
  • firearm parts availability
  • ability to customize the firearm

Your budget will first and foremost determine what you can or cannot buy.  Your dream firearm may be a Barrett M107A1, but most of us aren’t able to put down the $12K – $14K needed to own one.  Decide how much you can afford to set aside for your firearm(s) and that will help narrow your search.  Don’t forget that ammunition costs too.  For those on a very tight budget, you might want to take a look at military surplus rifles such as the Mosin Nagant or SKS.  You can also start saving for something that may be a little more expensive by putting a little bit of money aside every paycheck.  Whatever works best for you.

Where you live will also play a big role in your decision-making, or at least it should.  If you live in the city (and plan to stay there when the SHTF, which I highly advise against), you would be better off with a firearm that is easily maneuverable around corners.  If you look at photos of SWAT teams, what weapons do you see them holding?  Short-barrel rifles and SMGs.  Trying to move around inside building with a long gun is not a good idea.  Look for firearms designed for urban warfare.  Bullpup rifles are also a great choice, such as the IWI Tavor, which has the magazine behind the trigger (keeping the barrel length while shortening the overall length of the firearm).  If you are someone who lives in the mountains or the midwest, where there are plenty of open spaces, you would probably want to consider a more accurate firearm that is capable of longer shots.

How good of a shot are you?  Do you get the chance to practice much?  If not, you need to start going to the range as many times as you can.  If you don’t, you won’t want to choose a firearm that’s best-suited for long range combat if you can’t hit anything past 300 yards. You’d probably fare better with shotguns or handgun-caliber carbines.

How much do you know about your weapon of choice?  What is its effective range?  Do you know how to take it apart and clean it?  If you don’t take the time to familiarize yourself with a firearm, then choose one that is very low maintenance such as the AK-47 and its variants.

Your strength level doesn’t seem like it would be a factor but I assure you it does.  In this category also goes your build (height/weight/age).  If you are a 5’5″ female you wouldn’t want to fire a weapon that would dislocate your shoulder every time you pull the trigger. Now I know that there are plenty of women who can handle big guns and who can shoot better than many men, but this advice is for the standard female who doesn’t get to practice shooting as much.  Choose a firearm that doesn’t pack a big punch, and that goes for men with a smaller build as well.

Ammunition is everything.  If you can’t feed your firearm, it will not keep you alive.  Owning an exotic weapon with a hard-to-find cartridge may be impressive now, but it may as well be a baseball bat when you need to find spare ammo when the SHTF.  Calibers such as the 8mm Mauser, .45 GAP, and even the .50 BMG are not ideal simply because of their availability.  If you can’t readily find it at your local Walmart it probably isn’t a good cartridge to choose.  Some of the better options are:

  • .22LR
  • 9x19mm
  • .45 Auto/ACP
  • .556×45 NATO / .223 Remington
  • .308 Winchester
  • 7.62×39
  • 12 gauge

If your favorite caliber is not on that list don’t cry, there are other popular cartridges out there such as the 7.62x54R and the .300 Winchester Magnum that could be considered. This is just a basic list.

The availability of parts for your firearm is important too.  If something breaks you’ll need to replace it quickly.  Again, steer clear of exotic firearms.

Your ability to customize the weapon is a huge plus.  Some firearms have a big limitation here, while some such as the AR-15 and Ruger 10/22 are widely known for their huge range of customization options.  This allows you to tailor your firearm to best suit your needs.  Are you better off with an ACOG or EOTech?  Retractible buttstock or fixed? These options can transform your rifle to fit the situation.

When it comes down to it, the best SHTF firearm is the one that meets every need of yours in these categories.  That being said, below I will go through some of my personal firearm choices (in no real order) as well as a few I can generally recommend to most people. Remember, these fit my needs and are of my opinion only.  We’ll start with handguns.


Glock 19 (9x19mm)

Photo credit glock.com

The Glock 19 is widely used by both private and public security agents, and is one of the most popular conceal carry handguns in the United States.  Chambered in the extremely available 9mm round, the Glock 19 can hold 15+1 rounds (1 in the chamber), has little recoil, and is accurate.  Glock pistols are known as the AK-47s of the pistol world due to its high tolerance for abuse.  It is a compact handgun that fits many roles.  You can find one new around the $500 mark.

1911 (.45 ACP)

Photo credit colt.com

The beloved 1911 has had quite the history.  The Colt 1911 was chosen as the official sidearm for America’s armed forces over 100 years ago.  Since then the M9 has replaced it, but many Special Forces and law enforcement still prefer the 1911 and the .45 ACP round it delivers.  The photo above is of the Colt CQBP (Close Quarter Battle Pistol), the civilian version of the Colt M45A1 which was recently adopted by the United States Marine Corps.  Many different firearm companies produce the 1911 model, including Springfield and Kimber, so you have multiple options to choose from.  It only holds 7+1 rounds, but they pack a mean punch.  On average, the standard 1911 can be picked up new for around $1,000 – $1,200.  Some cost as little as $800 (Kimber Ultra Carry) while some are $3,000+ (NightHawk Custom Enforcer).

Sig Sauer P226 (9x19mm)

Photo credit sigsauer.com

The railed Sig Sauer P226 (P226 Navy, pictured above), chambered in 9mm, is the sidearm of choice of the US Navy SEALs.  It is also used by federal agents and law enforcement agencies including the Texas Rangers, Ohio State Highway Patrol, and the Michigan State Police.  Its fans love it for its ergonomics and balance, making this full-sized handgun easy to handle.  It, like the Glock 19, holds 15+1 rounds of the easy-to-find 9mm. You can find one new between $900 – $1000.


AR-15 (.556 NATO / .223 Remington)

Photo credit colt.com

This wouldn’t have been a complete list without the Black Rifle.  Some people love to hate it, some simply love it.  Chambered in .556/.223 and holding a standard capacity of 30 rounds, the AR-15 is one of the most widely recognized rifles today with over 200 different manufacturers.  Some of the better known companies include Colt, Bushmaster, Spike’s Tactical, Knight’s Armament, LWRC, Windham Weaponry, and Daniel Defense.  If you are looking for a highly customizable firearm, the AR-15 is it.  The picture above is of the Colt LE6920 SOCOM in its factory form.  Nothing fancy, but you could add foregrips, scopes, holographic and red dot sights, flashlights, lasers, different magazines, and you can mess around with the internal components.  I would think that most people would gravitate towards this rifle during TEOTWAWKI, but the real controversial aspect here is – which manufacturer is best?  Again, it comes down to personal preference and what your wallet can spare.  AR-15s are available from as little as $600 all the way past $3,500 and $4,000. The Colt pictured above is available for around $1,400 brand new.  The AR-15 is effective up to at least 400 – 500 yards and makes a great urban weapon due to its collapsible stock. Pick one up, customize it to your needs, and stock up on .556 NATO.

Ruger Mini-14 (.556 NATO / .223 Remington)

Photo credit ruger.com

Also chambered in .556/.223, the Ruger Mini-14 looks and feels similar to the much larger M14 rifle (.308 Winchester).  Very popular today for use on farms and ranches, the Mini-14’s short barrel and overall short length are ideal for those situations where maneuverability is key.  Apart from the standard Ranch Rifle configuration (pictured above, also in synthetic black furniture), the Mini-14 also comes in a Tactical Rifle version (collapsible stock or compact barrel with flash suppressor), Target Rifle version, and in the Mini-30 (chambered in 7.62×39).  These rifles are all designed with a side ejection so that you can still mount a scope or other optic on top.  Some models, like the Ranch Rifle pictured above, hold 5 rounds while others hold 20 rounds with a magazine. At around $600 – $800, the Mini-14 is a cheaper alternative to the AR-15.

Springfield M1A (.308 Winchester)

Photo credit springfield-armory.com

For those who like the Mini-14 but want a little more punch, the Springfield Armory M1A offers just that along with the ability to further customize with its rail system.  The replacement of the popular M14 (which was a replacement for the M1 Garand), the M1A is a powerful, accurate, and very reliable rifle.  There are 10 models in the M1A series, some designed more for competitive target shooting and some more geared towards combat, such as the M1A SOCOM II (pictured above).  It has a 16″ barrel and has plenty of rail space to attach anything you want, from sights to grips.  It may be a little pricey for some at around $2,000 but you get what you pay for.

AK-47 (7.62×39)

Photo credit centuryarms.com

The infamous AK-47.  There are many different variants of the Avtomat Kalashnikova with quality and prices varying.  In general, the AK-47 is one of the most reliable rifles in world history, renown for being able to fully function whether it is covered in mud or has a magazine filled with sand.  People have beaten the hell out of it, even run it over in a tank, and this rifle continues to fire.  The secret to this is its extremely simple design with few moving parts.  Its almost as easy to clean as it is to fire, all you really need is your finger and a rag.  Its also an easy firearm to learn on given its simplicity.  With an instructor, you could learn to take apart, clean, and take care of an AK-47 in a matter of hours (an AR-15 would take up to a week to fully learn everything about it, for some people).  Where this rifle excels in reliability and stopping power, however, it lacks in accuracy.  It is not designed to hit targets much past 350 yards and is much better suited for urban warfare. You can find a cheap WASR 10 or 10/63 (pictured above) for about $500 – $600 give or take.  Zastava O-PAP models are in the same price range but can be up to $800, while the PolyTech Legend can be $4,000.  If you decide this is the rifle for you, do your research on the different AK-47 variants, from the country that makes it to the specs and price of the rifle itself.

Ruger 10/22 (.22LR)

Photo credit ruger.com

Yes, I have included a .22 long rifle in this list.  Some of you may be confused at this, but for those who have done the research and have been in the survival community long enough will know that the .22 long rifle is one of the best survival rifles.  First, ammunition is extremely cheap (although recently a little challenging to find due to gun-ban scares), but nonetheless it is everywhere.  The .22LR is a great choice for younger children due to its near-nonexistent recoil and it is quiet enough to not travel great distances (slap a suppressor on one and you’ll be amazed).  The Ruger 10/22 is probably the most popular .22LR rifle there is.  It is highly customizable and very reliable.  A couple other options would be the Henry AR-7 or the Smith & Wesson M&P 15/22.  Able to kill a human, the .22LR is best-suited for hunting small game, an essential part of surviving.  Rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs are all easily taken with the .22LR, making this an important rifle to keep in your survival arsenal.  The Ruger 10/22 comes in several configurations, including the popular Takedown and Tactical models.  They are available on average for around $200 – $300.

Remington 700 (.308 Winchester)

Photo credit remington.com

The Remington 700 is one of the most popular bolt-action rifles and is renown for its pinpoint accuracy.  The United States Marine Corps adopted the M40A1, built off of the Remington 700, as its first official sniper rifle during the 1970s and is still in use by the Marines today as the M40A5.  The Remington 700 is a great hunting rifle and is available in many different calibers.  I chose the .308 Winchester due to its proven military history and ability to hunt large game if needed.  There are currently 24 different Remington 700 models on Remington’s website.  The one pictured above is the SPS Tactical, which also comes in an AAC-SD version that allows you to attach a suppressor.  With enough training you could be accurate up to 1,000+ yards with a Remington 700.  Invest in a quality scope, however, or you will not be as successful.  Prices for the 700 range from $500 – $3,000 so do your research and choose the right one for you.

IWI Tavor (.556 NATO / .223 Remington)

Photo credit iwi.us

The Tavor is used in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Special Forces as well as other military and law enforcement agencies around the world.  It’s bullpup design allows the user to enjoy a full-length barrel accuracy of a standard assault rifle compacted into a shorter overall rifle length.  It is 100% ambidextrous and has an optional 9x19mm conversion kit. For those who want an urban rifle that still delivers great accuracy, the Tavor is among the best choices.  The flat rail on top of the firearm allows you to easily attach any optic you want.  It is also available in a Flat Dark Earth color scheme.  You can find a new Tavor for around $1,700.


Mossberg 590A1 (12 Gauge)

Photo credit mossberg.com

The Mossberg 590 and 590A1 series are good old fashioned pump-action 12 gauge shotguns.  One of the most popular home defense models, the 590 (590A1 Blackwater pictured above) is reliable and devastating at close range.  It can hold 9 shells and can be loaded with various types of ammunition including bird shot (hunting birds or small game), buckshot (hunting larger game), and slugs (single projectile), giving the 12 gauge shotgun a flexible array of uses.  You can find a new Mossberg 590A1 for around $600.

Remington 870 (12 Gauge)

Photo credit remington.com

Not mcuh different than the Mossberg 590, the Remington 870 is another favorite for those who need a trusty 12 gauge pump-action shotgun.  The hunting models hold 3 rounds while the tactical and home defense models hold 8.  The shotgun pictured above is the 870 Express Tactical.  It can also be loaded with birdshot, buckshot, or slugs, allowing you to adapt to the situation as needed.  You can find a new Remington 870 for around $500 – $800.

Benelli M4 (12 Gauge)

Photo credit benelliusa.com

In use by the United States Marine Corps (M1014), the Benelli M4 is a semi-automatic 12 gauge shotgun that can have a retractible/adjustable buttstock.  It can hold up to 8+1 shells and can deliver them as fast as you pull the trigger.  Some people prefer pump-action shotguns to semi-auto shotguns due to the possibility of jamming or other feeding issues.  The Benelli M4 is available for around the $2,000 mark.

So that about wraps this article up.  Remember, when choosing a firearm, take a look at the factors that affect YOU.  Invest in time at the range where you are comfortable with that firearm, and stock up on the ammunition it needs.  Also, don’t be scared to buy just one! Two or three SHTF firearms is a great idea.  You can meet the needs of short to long range situations, and you can let a family member or loved one use one while you use another. Keep one in your hands, one on your back, and one on your hip.  Stay safe.