What gun should I buy?

I get this question a lot from friends that were brought up in cities or larger towns where you don’t find as many gun owners. “What gun should I buy?” My friends who ask me this usually did not grow up around guns, their parents didn’t own guns, and they’re new to the concept of owning a firearm. A lot of folks who didn’t learn about firearms when they were young now see them as mysterious and a little scary and dangerous.

Me, I was raised in a very small town that backed up to a state forest so pretty much every family had at least a couple of guns. I recall sitting at my kitchen table eating breakfast and hearing gunshots from hunters who were clearly not very far away. I never thought this was unusual nor was it any reason for alarm. I simply wondered if someone had just nailed a large buck or was just shooting at cans out in a nearby field.

And so it is that my friends who are less acquainted with firearms come to ask me my advice. It’s a weighty question and one that I could drone on and on about forever but here I’ll try to be reasonable.*

“Why do you want to buy a gun?” is the first question I ask in return. Why? Are you suddenly taking up hunting or target shooting?  Unlikely.  Almost every time the answer is, “For home defense.” Excellent. Let’s just be clear about the reason you want to buy a gun. There are lots of great guns out there. Reliable, accurate, etc… but they fall into many different categories and are not all, or even mostly, the right choice for home defense. (Although I will say having any gun is better than having no gun at all)

So first off, before you get a gun, Get A Dog. Yup, when you’re considering general home security there’s nothing like a big angry growling dog to let any visitor with less than pure intentions know they’ve got the Wrong House. No permits required**. A good guard dog will keep badguys away so there is less likelihood of a confrontation or potentially dangerous situation happening at all. For everyday security for my family, I’ll go with a good strong working dog every time.

Still, a dog doesn’t fit everyone’s lifestyle and the need to have a firearm and to be well trained on how to use one safely is important. Now I’ve been shooting for a long time and own a variety of firearms but if I were to do it all over again my first purchase would be a 12 gauge shotgun. There are lots of great makes and models out there but personally I prefer a nice reliable pump gun. Something like the Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch would be top of my list today. You can check it out here. More inexperienced folks may question the choice of a scatter gun as a first purchase but to me it’s a no-brainer. The shotgun is reliable, easy to point and shoot, offers a wide range of options for ammunition, and is intimidating as hell. The sound of a shotgun shell being racked into the chamber is universally terrifying and will hopefully have the badguys retreating before you’re forced to fire a single shot.

Next on my list would be a good high quality revolver. This is the one piece of advice I give that brings out the most immediate protests. It seems these days everyone wants to start out with a semi-auto, which they view as “cooler” and they’re disappointed by the fact that a good revolver is really the smarter choice and therefore should be their first purchase. To me it’s clear that for a first handgun purchase by an inexperienced shooter the revolver is superior. In my opinion they’re generally easier to operate, more reliable, and less likely to jam up. Have a problem with one round and the gun doesn’t fire? Just squeeze the trigger again. This is much simpler for the average person than trying to operate an automatic that has a malfunction.

While I’m partial to the Colt King Cobra, which fires both .357 magnum rounds as well as .38 special, there are some great new products that are currently tempting me. Chief among them would have to be the Taurus Judge. You can check them out here. The Judge is a medium frame revolver that is capable of chambering Both .410 shotshells as well as .45 Colt ammunition. You can even mix and match both types of ammo in the same cylinder allowing you to fire a couple rounds of buckshot followed up by a few rounds of Colt 45. A great self defense weapon made even more effective by some of the new self defense loads by Winchester that fire special “self defense discs” mixed with plated BBs.

If/when you’re ready to move up to an automatic there are a ton of great choices out there. Personally I like the Beretta PX4 Storm in 9mm. I find it to be reliable, accurate, and just plain fun to shoot. I also like the 9mm round in general. I’m trying hard to keep all of my firearms in just a few easy to find and inexpensive calibers. .22 Long Rifle, 9mm, and 12 gauge are all very common and even in tough times there should be a decent supply of them around. This is probably the biggest reason I haven’t purchased the Taurus Judge yet. I’m shying away a bit because once I buy it I’ll have to stock up on two additional calibers of bullets. I’m trying to keep it simple here so probably my next purchase will be a second PX4. Having two of the same guns is nice because in addition to sharing the same ammo, the magazines are interchangeable and if one happens to break you can always use it for spare parts to keep the other one up and running.

Once you’ve got your shotgun and a pistol or two you’re going to be in the market for a rifle. This is Prudent, Reasonable Emergency Preparedness, so I don’t recommend running out to get an AR-15 style battle rifle in a heavy caliber. I do, however, like several of the rifles in .22 Long Rifle, another very common and extremely inexpensive ammunition. I recently purchased 1,000 rounds of high velocity hollow point .22 ammo from AmmunitionToGo.com for just under $60 including tax! One of the ways I think about a gun purchase is to take the price of the firearm and add the cost of 1,000 rounds of ammunition. After all, one is no good without the other and you need to regularly practice with your weapons to remain safe and proficient with them. Keeping enough .223 or .308 ammo around for this can be quite costly. Meanwhile I’m out blasting away with my little .22 every weekend and knowing that I can make a bull’s-eye from 100 yards with almost every shot. Sure, many people will say there’s just not enough (or hardly any) stopping power with a .22 and those people would be right but I’m thinking more about taking down small game than anything else. For rifles in this category I like the Volquartsen line, a link to which can be found on our site. They’re a little pricey but super cool and accurate. I also like the little Henry U.S. Survival Rifle. This is a neat little gun that comes apart into three pieces all of which fit inside the butt stock. The whole thing weighs about two pounds, assembles in under a minute, and puts out pretty accurate shots at decent distances. It’s the perfect gun to have in a backpack to take along with you on a camping trip or if you ever had to actually Bug-Out.

If you feel like you absolutely need a heavy caliber rifle around for a more serious emergency situation or because you live in an area where there may be larger game to hunt or even bears to defend against then I recommend the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle. You can take a look at it here. It’s reasonably priced, accurate, and fires a very nice .308 caliber round. There are also a lot of options in AR-15 style rifles that are extremely popular these days I just haven’t moved in that direction yet. I think Thoreau may know quite a bit about them though. We’ll all have to look for posts from him on the topic in the future.


*Expect more articles on this topic in the future from me though…

** Okay fine, you need a dog license and a rabies vaccine.  Man, our readers are tough….

6 Responses to What gun should I buy?

  1. Butch,

    I agree with much of what you are saying, but I suggest that an inexperienced shooter might be better off with a pistol-caliber carbine, rather than a handgun or shotgun. A pistol-caliber carbine is easier to shoot with accuracy, especially when under duress from a threat to your life. It takes quite a bit of practice with a handgun to be accurate. Compared to a shotgun, the pistol-caliber carbine has less recoil, less noise, and less muzzle blast.

  2. For a large caliber rifle I would suggest going with something that fires 7.62x59r. A good mosin can be bought for under a hundred bucks. Finding surplus ammo for it is cheap and easy. I got 880 rounds for less than a 100 bucks.

    A good bolt action is a great addition to your firearm collection. I say collection because as you buy a gun you will end up with more. Recently had to go through the collection in the house and sell off uncommon calibers or ones we weren’t going to stock up on. Get everything down to what you know and what you know will be used.

  3. 1. Dog. +1. A dog has better ears and nose than you do, and is unimpressed by sweet talk from bad strangers. A dog will die for you, maybe wound a BG, and buy you 30 seconds.

    2. There are essentially 2 pump shotguns and their variants to consider: Mossber 500/590 and Remington 870. Saiga is a very good magazine-fed self-loading shotgun that should be tried before buying a first shotgun.

    3. Pistol: revolvers can and do fail, hold fewer shots than a same-size magazine-fed self-loader. If a person can spend the money for a pistol, they deserve 17 or 33 rounds before reloading. They should also be motivated enough to get proficient enough to be effective with that handgun. Self-loaders recoil and flash less than the same caliber revolver, so a follow-up shot can be on-target quicker. 9x19mm is cheaper than .38spl and WAY-CHEAPER than .357Mag so lots of training can be done within budget. I like big hand cannon like Ruger Blackhawk in .45Colt for handloaded fun, but not for concealed carry or any practical reason.

    4. Taurus Judge: -1. Complex “gizmo gun”. .410 is nearly useless. .45Colt is expensive. Spend this money on a Glock 17. Spend change on cleaning supplies and some bird shot for the 12 gage.

    Ruger 10/22 +1. Having several 10/22′s is not a bad thing, ever. Add TechSights adjustable peeps, if not fancier optics. Folding stock is good, too.

    AR-7 is more compact than 10/22, even with a folding stock.

    .22LR pistol like Ruger MKII or MKIII target barrel with threaded crown. Apply for suppressor tax stamp and stop bothering your neighbors. Get a bunch of extra magazines, which are only 10 rounds capacity. Not really a “self defense” weapon, except to defend against an empty belly and expensive-heavy high-power ammo use.

    .22LR is about $33/1000 at my local **-Mart. Buy some and try it out, then stock deep on the best for your guns. Mine seem to like Federal #510, which is not “bulk” packed, but still inexpensive. Having 10000 rounds of .22LR is totally reasonable as far as cost and space are concerned. That’s only 7 .50cal cans in the bottom or back of a closet. “Ballistic wampum”, if need be.

    .223 AR-15 (style) rifle may be perfect for smaller-lighter people who are recoil-sensitive, or for when every oz counts. Reliable, accurate, effective, practical, repairable, when the user does their part. Gas piston variants are worth considering. Common-as-dirt in the USA, with widely distributed parts and armorer knowledge. Own some, maybe as a first auto-loading rifle.

    AKM (semi): Non-US Army standard cartridge, so you are the source of supply. Many variants, including excellent Finnish and Israeli remade and inspired weapons. 7.62x39mm is highly effective inside 200M. Soviet and Chinese versions of the AK should be inexpensive (once were $79 in cosmoline, with $99/1440 case of steel ammo) on the used market, but political considerations have sometimes made better rifles like M-1G cost less.

    M-1Garand. A bunch of these are coming back from South Korea and should be available through CMP. This is the most-proven design in a US military .30 self-loading battle rifle, and a very good deal. FN/FAL is also a very good design (tied with the M-14 in the late-1950′s, but “not invented here”) and worth having IF you can get an arsenal-made complete-rifle imported during the pre-ban era. 7.62 NATO has considerable reach beyond the .223, if the situation dictates and the user can make hits. M2AP cartridges are available for the M-1G.

    Mosin-Nagant M91-30 in 7.62x54R is a lot of bolt gun for a tiny bit of money. Clunky & peasant-sturdy, with bayonet. Safety plain sucks. Mil-surp ammo is cheap, so stock it deep. It’s mostly corrosive, too. This is good stuff to fill the extra-large gun safe with. Hunting ammo is available through the regular channels.


  4. The Ruger Gunsite rifle is pretty nice, if that’s what you need. If you have a pile of magazines already, that would help.

    For $999, I’m going to consider vintage military alternatives. First to mind would be a very nice K98 action to build, something in Swiss 7.5mm, or maybe a modern thing in SS, like Weatherby/Howa 1500 in .308 or .300WM (with a better stock and basic optics, still under $1K). Stripper-clip fed is highly effective and strippers weigh less than magazines.


  5. For a first time or new shooter I would have to recommend the 20 ga pump over the 12 ga. I have seen too many novice shooters spend a session shooting a 12 ga, be pummeled by the recoil, and never come back. A 20 ga gives you 75% of the lead at 40-60% of the recoil, plus you can carry more rounds for the same weight. Add a 22 rifle and perhaps a 9mm revolver as a sidearm and you have an excellent beginning. In the event of either a SHTF or TEOTWAWKI event, we will find ourselves in labor intense situations where carrying a long arm all the times is not possible, so a good self defense handgun is an an essential. With the many great self defense rounds in 9mm today – espeically coming out of a longer barrel revolver – you will be prepared for all but the largest (2 or 4 legged) predators you may encounter.
    I concur with your AR7 recommendation – I carry one in the trunk of each of my vehicles and have for year, and they have never let me down.
    Good luck on your new endeavor!

  6. A year a go I might have agreed with most of these recommendations but the way things are looking I’d personally say the time for taking baby steps is over.
    Get yourself a semiautomatic rifle in a caliber of no less than .223. Then, book in a day or two at a professional training camp like Thunder Ranch. If things are still peachy in six months then you can look at broadening your horizons. Until then, if you think racking the pump on a shotgun will scare the bad guys, putting a round of 308 winchester through your ceiling will make them positively crap themselves. (indoors it sounds like lightening just struck, and it’ll be worth it to fix your roof). To boot, you’ll have 19 to 29 rounds left in the mag.
    It’s hard to argue with those numbers.