Camping & Survival

Apocalypse Guns: Best Firearms for SHTF Scenarios

man shooting pump-action shotgun

The subject of emergency guns, or apocalypse guns to use the vernacular, comes up often.

I don’t call the pandemic or an ammo shortage an emergency. My emergencies have been personal, not civil, but just the same, memorable.

Folks who have never skinned a deer or used a gambrel have some idea they will live off the land. They may end up dumpster diving.

Canines are stringy, so let’s hope the impending doom doesn’t come anytime soon or some of the folks may be eating dog.

A popular TV show has generated a little different type of collecting.

Several of my friends, normally well balanced, have a small collection of ‘Walking Dead’ guns.

These are firearms that have been sought out because they are ordinary, well-used, rugged firearms that would serve in an emergency.

They look like some of what the good and bad guys and girls on TWD show have dug up. Well, me too. It is a fun thing to collect these old guns.

With that in mind, I took a hard look at a few of the best apocalypse guns.

Whether the emergency is a civil disturbance or a calamity caused by dangerous weather, a sturdy firearm is good to have.

Feral men and animals invading territory they do not normally inhabit is the primary fear.

Zombies are about in the same strata as aliens on my emergency list, so I tend to think more realistically.

double-barrel shotguns and pump-action .22 rifle apocalypse guns
That is an old double-barrel at top. The Savage pump-action .22, lower, is almost 100 years old and still functions well.

.22 Long Rifle

I like accumulating different guns rather than collecting a certain type.

That’s ok, but you can only carry so much. A simple functional firearm that isn’t likely to go out of whack is important.

You don’t need a trunk full of firearms, you need a versatile few that will accomplish several chores reasonably.

Let’s look at a few good choices beginning with .22 LR rifles. The Ruger 10/22 is just about everyone’s favorite semi-auto .22.

Reliable, accurate and easily upgraded, the Ruger is an affordable, but high-quality, rifle.

The new Winchester Wildcat rifle is an advanced and useful rifle well worth its price.

The Rossi RS22 is more than affordable, it is downright cheap. Yet, it is reliable and useful.

There is nothing wrong with a manually operated .22. The Henry and Rossi lever-action rifles are good choices.

If you own grandpa’s old pump .22, then it may be a lifesaver.

The .22 is useful for small game and even for defense if the bullet is delivered accurately enough.

Springfield Scout .308 Rifle
The author added a Galco sling and ammunition carrier to the Savage .308 rifle.

Rifles

In centerfire rifles, the bolt-action tends to stress accuracy and reliability.

The lever-action is reliable, accurate enough, and may be chambered in pistol calibers. A self-loader offers an instant backup shot.

I would stress that you do not choose an odd or hard-to-find caliber.

The .204 Ruger is a nice round, but the .223 Remington is far more widely distributed. My personal SHTF rifle is a Savage Scout.

With 10 rounds of powerful .308 on hand, it will solve many problems. A 200-pound animal at 200 yards is its capability.

It will cut through several car doors or light cover like a knife through butter. What it hits stays hit.

If the problem leans more toward gangs and a takeover robbery, there is nothing like the AR.

With a good ammunition reserve and fast handling, the AR is America’s rifle.

two pump-action shotguns
These are older shotguns from Savage and Remington. They are worn, but not worn out.

Shotguns

Shotguns are the single most versatile shoulder-fired firearm.

The shotgun may be loaded with birdshot and used to take tiny game weighing a few ounces, such as birds, squirrels and rabbits.

With heavier loads, turkey and duck may be taken.

With slugs and buckshot, the shotgun is remarkably effective against men and beasts at modest range.

Any reliable shotgun, even an old double-barrel, is a great gun for personal defense. A reliable pump-action shotgun is a good bet.

two revolvers and boxes of ammo
The .38 Special revolver is a reasonable choice for emergency situations.

Handguns

For most of us, the handgun is the personal-defense firearm carried on our person to meet an unexpected attack.

The situation may be reversed and the pistol becomes the backup in a SHTF scenario.

My choice is a .45 ACP pistol, either a good quality 1911 or the SIG P220.

A .357 Mangum revolver is versatile and useful for those who can fire the Magnum accurately.

For the shooter who doesn’t have time to practice as often as they would like, a .38 Special revolver makes sense.

If you have more than one handgun they should be in the same caliber, just in case.

front sight on apocalypse guns
The author’s double double-barrel shotgun features a ‘custom’ bead front sight.

Considerations for Apocalypse Guns

Many factors impact your choice. Shooting ability, finances and recoil tolerance are all important. The area you live will dictate the choice.

In an urban environment, a short, light, fast-handling 20-gauge shotgun might be ideal.

A rural area with abundant small game may beg that a quality .22 rifle be chosen.

With longer ranges in an urban environment, the situation would favor a trained marksman.

An urban fight may be unexpected and sometimes against heavy odds. You may need greater ammunition reserve.

A good AR may be the best choice, and the AR with a quality scope isn’t a bad choice in the outback either.

Don’t feel under-gunned if your rifle or shotgun is inexpensive.

If you can use them quickly and safely and hit your target, you are way ahead of most shooters.

Two slings for apocalypse guns
The shotgun shell holder, left, and Bianchi UM84, right, are important survival gear.

SHTF Support Gear

An overlooked necessity for apocalypse guns, are quality load-bearing devices. A quality sling is a must-have for the long gun.

A good quality belt that holds shotgun shells is something you should own.

My own emergency belt holds 25 Remington 12-gauge shells. That is a good reserve of ammunition.

The Bianchi UM84 holster may be worn on the belt or in a shoulder harness and offers good utility.

Its sturdy fabric construction is nearly immune to the elements. Take a hard look at your ready gear and narrow down the choices.

Hopefully, it won’t be needed in an emergency, but the times do get interesting.

What are your favorite apocalypse guns? Why? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. I dunno, I’ve got plenty of stuff to choose from but for simplicity, versatility, and mobility… I’d probably grab my plain Jane AR with irons chambered in 5.56… and… bear with me here… my single shot break action Stevens 301 in 12ga/changeable chokes (Mod installed) with an 8″ long Chiappa rifled insert chambered in 9mm. With the insert and just the shotgun’s bead sight I’m able to hit a 2.5″ target at 35-40yds with no problem. It’s a surprisingly accurate combo considering what it is. True, it’s only a single shot but it’s light, rugged, and allows everything from birdshot to slugs in 12ga plus the ability to use the same ammo as my S&W Shield Plus. Believe it or not, even though the 12ga/9mm combo is single shot it’s fairly easy to achieve accuratly placed shots every 5 seconds. May not sound like some awesome firepower compared to some other options out there but it certainly beats a sharp stick or throwing rocks. Figure with a 25 or 50 round bandolier you could carry and have easy access to a fair assortment of 12ga shells, plus a few mags for the AR and the Shield Plus you’d be decently equipped… plus whatever extra you may want to carry in your pack along with stuff like a miniature stove (the size of about 2 decks of playing cards when folded up), small mess kit, P47 (some of you ought to know what that’s for) straw type water filter, small handcrank radio/flashlight combo, emergency tent and blanket, extra knife, flint/steel, couple of BIC lighters, compass, some 550 cord, some Hot Hands, an MRE, washcloth, pocket Bible… and a gas mask (yup), with a IFAK attatched to MOLLE… overkill? Maybe, but it’s only about 30lbs and will get me by in the woods or whatever for a little while until I’m able to reach a safer location.

  2. Interesting array of opinions. I grew up in the Northwest and at 67 yrs of age have been a subsistence hunter all my life. Our ditch bag accommodates the little lady as well. Her preference is the 38 revolver that she shoots Very well. We’re both very efficient with our Glock 9mm’s. She’ll carry both along with her 30/30 lever action on a sling and a pistol gripped 12ga in a scabbard across her back. If I’m on point and must be left behind due to injury, I’m confident she’ll be well equipped.
    I’ll be doing the heavy lifting. Vest and pack with abundant ammo and survival gear. I’ll pack my 45Auto on my hip and Glock 19 in my shoulder holster. I’ll also have my little 22LR to take small game and snap shots when necessary. Here’s where I differ from most but along with the others at the same time. I’ve taken most North American Big Game out to 300yds and ground squirrels touching 400 with my left handed bolt action 30/06. Slung across my back I can deter those who want to persist in trying to follow and assault us. All mentioned rifles I’ve owned for nearly 50 years and are as reliable as the day I bought them.
    To sum my opinion up, I agree with the importance of common ammo. Most importantly to be able to scrounge up whats available. Hence the 45 & 06. The only thing else I would wish to pack along would be my 55lb Fred Bear Recurve for quite effect. But that’s for bow magazines.

  3. Great article. I have a lot of weapons and don’t forget the viability of the old Com Bloc weapons if you have them. I picked most of mine and their ammo up when they were dirt cheap. 3 Mosin Nagant 91/30’s and one M44 carbine, a WASR AK and two SKSs, on Norinco and the other Yugoslav and tons of 7.62×39 ammo. As for the Mosins, if civilization breaks down I’m pretty sure those tough old dinosaurs will be working 100 years from now!

  4. Just what are you so afraid of???? If you are so into body armor, “kitting up”, carrying guns on patrol, etc. Maybe you should join the military.

  5. The best SHTF firearms are the ones you already own, that is, if you own any. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you can reliably hit what you are aiming at. Stopping or knock-down power is a serious consideration, but shouldn’t be the primary reason for firearm or caliber choice. Use what you can shoot accurately and handle. All my pistols are in one caliber. I have an AR in 5.56/.223 and a 12ga pump shotgun with loads from slug to #6 shot. I, also, have a pistol caliber carbine that is the same caliber as my sidearms. The only thing I’m missing is a long range rifle in .308 or similar and a .22LR. Just remember that ‘if’ the time comes, you must have the mind-set to be able to shoot and stop the threat.

  6. Been carrying a 10mm for over 25 years. With the advent of the PCC, Coopers baby has become a mainstay. Numerous firearms, same caliber, same mags, same parts. I’ll let the “truly educated” figure it out….

  7. For me it’s simple. Glock 9mm, AR9, .22 rifle. My AR9 takes glock mags and shoots the same 9×19 round so everything I need between those two are the same. Glock .22 conversion for the pistol to share with the .22 rifle. Grab 3 guns, 2 different sizes of ammo and have a good combination of useage. Where I would be hunting would be very wooded. In the urban area I’d be fleeing I’d have interchangability if I dropped a weapon or it was damaged.

  8. Another fun and thought provoking article by Mr. Campbell. In keeping with the apocalypse theme, you won’t be able to run to the store for cleaning material/solvent so a consideration might be ease of cleaning/reliability when fouling starts to build up. A quart sized bottle of Hoppes #9 on the shelf might be a good idea. Also, semi-autos might start to fail before revolver, pump, or lever action weapons. As the author points out, using one calibre across the board is smart and also makes reloading easier. With that in mind, a .357 or .45 LC revolver and the same calibre in a lever action rifle might be a good combination. As a SASS shooter, I have seen some people get consecutive hits on targets out to 75 yards with a lever gun as fast as with an AR. We actually had a demonstration once. Of course it takes considerable practice but don’t under estimate the effectiveness, short range, of a pistol calibre lever gun. Lastly, the opening comment says it all. If you want to see what it would be like to live off the land in the wilderness, watch ALONE on the History Channel. Not as easy as one might think.

  9. My experience would suggest that confidence with a weapon is of greater value than budget. Many will go buy the most expensive gun they can afford and a box of ammo, shoot it once or twice and assure themselves they are prepared. The competitive cowboy action shooter will be far more prepared with a lever action rifle and a single action pistol than the person who buys a kitted out M4 and never shoots it. The other consideration is the scenario(s) that a person thinks will best describe the most likely SHTF environment. Urban may dictate a more defensive (immediate) need than very rural, etc. The author’s choices would be hard to argue with, but that gun your grandfather gave you, the one you have shot thousands of rounds with, that you have taken apart and cleaned many times – that is the one that will most likely serve you best. Your alternative if you did not have that advantage would be to choose a good training company or person – 100 rounds in training is probably worth more than 1000 rounds of untrained experience.

  10. Good article! Lots of useful info and food for thought for both new and experienced individuals, which I really like. I myself like to think more on the realistic side of things, so while preparedness for aliens and zombies is fun, if things really do go south, it would be more along the social and economic breakdown lines I think. This is a topic that comes up frequently at my work, and if it comes down to it, mobility will be key. I definitely agree with the have multiple handguns in the same caliber, because they will be your last line of self defense, so if one fails to function, you will still at least have the same amount of useable ammunition. My preference is 45 acp because when I hit something, I want it to go down for sure. I didn’t really plan for it, but I have 3 handguns in 45, two of which I can use in the same cqc holster, and I can put the full size mags of one into my compact as a sort of extended mag if need be because they’re both the same model. As for rifles, there are definitely very widely different opinions. I’m more of a ‘less is more’ kind of guy, so I’m looking for something that’s all purpose, with very common caliber rounds, because again, shtf scenario, mobility will be key and I don’t want to be lugging around 7 or 8 weapons with as many different calibers of ammo, I’m probably already going to be carrying enough weight as it is. My pick is an AR 15 platform because of its modularity and wide array of options I get with it. It’s semi auto, so I don’t have to worry about manual operation unless there’s a failure, faster follow up shots, and magazine fed so I can carry more ammo more compactly. Without really planning for it, I already furthered my options on my AR rifle a few years ago by having one rifle in two calibers, as I have both a 556/223 AND 300BLK uppers for it. Both of which are common calibers, so if I need to up and move out, whether it be through the woods to the next town or two over, or across the country, chances are high that I would come across more ammo for my weapon. Both calibers are also pretty all purpose, so I can use my AR for close to medium range, hunting, and defense or assault. I also intend to build an AR 10 platform in the same manner in both 308, and 6.5 creed. Again, common caliber rounds, great for hunting, defense/assault, semi auto, magazine fed, medium to long ranges. This idea came to me years ago when I had a 308 AR that I pretty much made into an all ranges rifle with a high power scope, and off set sights. Unfortunately I had to sell that one off last year due to the COVID scam the country was put in because I needed to be able to feed and house my wife and baby boy. I also have a 12 gauge that I can use as a multi role weapon like the article touched on, however applying the same mind set from my rifle picks: semi auto, magazine fed, common caliber, my saiga 12 fits that thought process very well. As for load bearing, you don’t need anything fancy, just something sturdy that will last. Backpacks are great. Belts, holsters and slings are a must because again, mobility will be key and if you have your hands full all the time with a weapon you can’t let go, then your limiting your effectiveness to move, carry, and interact with your surroundings and gear. Something that the average person might not think about would be a modular vest of some kind. Again, don’t need anything fancy or expensive. It doesn’t even have to have any sort of protective value like plates or soft armor, there’s just a lot of open space within hands reach on a persons central body that you can carry a lot of things which you might or could use in an immediate situation. Obviously I’m talking more about ammunition on hand, but there’s lots of other things too like knives, multi tools, first aid which I’ve hardly ever seen actually brought up in any discussion anywhere, and flashlights because the world and life doesn’t happen only in daylight. That’s just my thoughts, I know this is pretty long so sorry… whatever your choices are, or maybe whatever your just left with, at least do a little bit of training with your stuff. All the gear and preparedness in the world doesn’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use any or all of it. Hopefully any shtf scenarios will never happen because idk about you guys, but I like the stability I have in my home for my baby boy, and not have to migrate around the world for food, shelter, and survival. I’m also not excited or gung ho for WW3, or a second civil war like some guys are because I’d rather not have to go out and kill anyone just to make sure my family and I live for another day or so, but you better believe that I damn sure am not afraid to if it came down to it in a shtf world.

  11. I may be over-stocked.

    I have a bolt action .22LR an a Henry AR-7. I have two ARs in 5.56, along with a .22LR conversion kit that fits both. One AR has a 20 in barrel, the other has a 16 in barrel. I have a Remington .308, with a scope that is zeroed at 200 meters. I have a Marlin .45-70 lever action. I have a Benelli Nova in 12 ga and a 20 ga double barred coach gun. I have four 1911’s, two with 3.5 in barrels and two with 5 in barrels. I have a CZ-75 clone with five large cap mags. I have two .380 auto pistols for deep concealment. One Ruger .357 with a four in barrel. and two .38 snubs. I also have a Wrangler .22 LR six-shooter.

    I keep a pretty well stocked ammo bunker, although I’ve been getting short on practice ammo because of the current ammo stocking shortages. I’m picking up what ammo I can find on the shelves now at reasonable prices. Right now, it seems that .38 Special and 9mm are the most available handgun ammo. .45 ACP is the most difficult.

    I have a reloader set for .45 ACP, 9mm, .38/.357 and .45-70 Govt.

    My wife and I carry concealed 1911s. We have back-up guns locked in our trucks. Each nightstand near our bed contains a safe with two guns. The rest are locked up in secure cabinets, with the keys in separate safes. We have great grand kids living with us, so it is important to us to keep those weapons out of their reach.

  12. Arsenal Kalashnikov chambered in 5.56, old East German surplus magazine pouches that hold 4 magazines apiece. Hope it never comes to that but ready to rock if it does!

  13. 22 LR rifle (Ruger 10/22 Takedown) and pistol (Smith and Wesson semi-auto).
    9MM folding carbine (Kel-tec) and pistol (Sig P226), both using the same magazines.
    Mossberg 500 in 12 Ga.
    Two AR variations.
    Small 9MM Springfield and 45/410 Bond Arms derringer for pockets.
    Plenty of ammo for each.
    The Mossberg and ARs don’t tend to be as easy to store/hide as the others, but all can “on the road” and/or in use quickly.

    Living in a “non-metro” part of Florida, I think I can pretty much do whatever I need with what I have. All are packed (or have their place in the containers to be packed quickly) for a quick “Run For The Hills” (not that I have many of those nearby) situation.

  14. @ WOLFREAPERX222.

    Another possibility worth considering is either reloading you’re .223 ammo with a reduced propellant charge. The Germans in WW2 produced a subsonic 7.92×57 round for their Sniper Corps by reducing the propellant charge used for the 7.92×57 standard ammo. Which was virtually silent when used with a suppressor. Instead of having an ~2,700-ft/sec muzzle velocity, the reduced propellant charge muzzle velocity was dropped to ~1,050-ft/sec, which reduced the overall range to ~300-meters…

  15. @Wolfreaperx222, I have a CMMG 22LR AR conversion kit that I keep in my AR bag, along with the three 30 round magazines that came with it. It is compatible with 5.56/.223 barrels and is concerted by removing the BCG, swapping out the bolts and replacing the BCG. Easy Peasy. I have not checked what it will do with the new scope I just put on my AR 5.56 barrel but when I tried out the .223 barrel with the old style military carry handle sight, it was pretty close to what I got with the .223 ammo. But, YMMV

  16. To save discussion, yes I know a 223 and 556 round are basically 22 caliber ammunition and yes I know you cant used a 22 conversion kit on a 308. In relation to how common that each round is, I would assume it’s a good set up for shtf scenarios/survival.

  17. @ WOLFREAPERX222.

    I thought about that a few years ago, how do you do that on the fly! Swapping out the Upper Receiver at unpredictable times in the field…

  18. How about a ar with a 22 conversion kit on hand? Anyone ever tried one, if so how are they? My thinking is it’s not hard to throw a bolt carrier in my pack and change it out when the ammunition called for it. Wouldn’t mind hearing others opinions. Thanks.

  19. Ok, I have several .22 LR rifles, the one of which I favor the most for SHTF situations would be my 10/22. Also in my collection is my AR and I was able to amass no small amount of ammo both FMJ and HP for various applications. I have an old beat up SKS with an ammo situation almost identical to that of the AR. In addition to those two carbines, I have a Mossberg 500 in 20 gauge with smooth and rifled barrels and ammo for each. The AR and SKS are both great for short range (less than 200 yards) deer hunting in Oklahoma. For longer range, I have a .270 and a 6.5 Swedish Mauser with ammo for both. For handguns, well, I have more than one 1911, and for heavier targets, I have a 629 Classic Hunter by Smith. There is plenty of ammo for each.

    For years, I have hunted and cooked a variety of critters over which many would turn their nose up when shown the platter. But, when I was overseas, I ate a number of foods that are not commonly consumed on this continent. Some were tasty and some were, ‘no thanks, I will pass’ on that in the future. That being said, cats and dogs are still being raised as a food source on other continents. It is amazing what you can do with a little ginger, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, salt, pepper, and other condiments in the spice cabinets. There are some critters that low and slow is the only way to go.

  20. I’d probably go with a Scavenger 6 Revolver Rifle and a Medusa Model 47 Revolver Pistol and possibly even a Flintlock Rifle of some kind if and when ammunition availability becomes an issue. The Medusa will chamber .380 apc/7.62×25 Tokarev/9×19/9×23/.38 Spc/.38 SW/.357 Mag., whereas the Scavenger will chamber virtually anything available up to and including a .410-gauge. My goal is to survive, not to massacre with extreme prejudice…

  21. Nice thing about a .357 handgun & rifle combo is that they both use the same ammo, and can use either .357 or .38 ammo. The other combo would be a good .22LR revolver with .22 WMR cylinder and a .22LR rifle. However, with the current social upheaval, the .357 combo may be something you want here and now for when the “peaceful protesters” start to light up the night skies.

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