Which guns are best for prepping? The answer depends on the particular purpose of the gun. Here, we are excluding guns for target practice, plinking, or any type of recreational shooting. The purpose of a prepping or survival gun would be first of all self-defense, and secondly taking small game for food.
However, the question is not as simple as “Which guns are best for self-defense?” We are considering self-defense in a particular type of situation, during some severe disaster when many goods are in short supply. During a long-term disaster, there may be civil unrest, fear, and desperation, leading some persons to commit violent acts against yourself and your family. In addition, such a situation makes it highly likely that guns and ammunition will be largely unavailable..
I’ll add one additional factor here, to narrow the choice of guns further. Let’s suppose that your budget for a “prepping gun” is limited. Preparing for future possible disasters is not only about buying supplies, but that is an important part of the equation. The more you spend on guns and ammo, the less you can spend on other supplies, like food and water. You might not need to use a gun in self-defense, even in a long-term disaster scenario. But you will certainly need to eat and drink. So let’s set the budget for a prepping gun at $500 or less, including ammunition and accessories.
I know some gun aficionados will object to this limit. If you already own some guns for hunting and recreational shooting, one or more of those guns might work fine for prepping. You are essentially not spending any additional money on guns, except perhaps for a supply of ammo. Or if you own and are accustomed to shooting an AR in 5.56 or 7.62 NATO, that would probably be your go-to gun for self-defense also. But what I’m discussing in this article is more narrow. Suppose that someone owns zero guns. Which gun might be best, and also least expensive, for prepping.
Pistols and Revolvers
The advantage of a handgun for self-defense is that it is easy to store in a small gun safe, and easy to use in tight quarters, such as in your home against a violent intruder. The disadvantage is that takes a fair amount of practice to be accurate with any pistol or revolver. And short-barreled revolvers are very inaccurate. If you are not going to practice with your handgun on a regular basis at a shooting range, you should probably prefer a long gun for self-defense. Otherwise, you will not be accurate enough with the gun beyond about 10 or 20 feet.
For the purpose of taking small game, you definitively need a long gun. So if you want one gun for both purposes, I think you are looking at a long gun in some common caliber.
If instead, you only want a gun for self-defense at close range, a pistol might be sufficient. In order to keep the costs down, your pistol should be in 9mm (or 38 special for a revolver). Other calibers are more expensive. You will want at least a few hundred rounds of ammunition in storage, as well as ammo for practice. Hi-Point makes inexpensive 9mm semi-automatic handguns that have a reputation for reliability. And Taurus offers some inexpensive revolvers. But I would suggest that if you are buying only one gun for prepping, it should be a long gun.
I disagree with the common opinion that a shotgun is best for home defense. It has more than enough power, but perhaps too much power. Sure, an experienced shooter, who is well-accustomed to shooting a 12-guage can use the gun to great effect in defending home and family. But for anyone who is inexperienced, a 12-guage has too much muzzle blast, noise (especially indoors), and recoil. Even an experienced shooter will tell you that most 12-gauge shotguns will give your shoulder a bruising.
Then, too, as the range increases, the accuracy of a shotgun decreases. The shot spreads out in an ever-larger pattern, and some pellets can miss your target and continue on to harm someone else. Slugs are even worse for self-defense. Chuck Hawks: “Shotgun slugs are dangerously over penetrative for most home defense scenarios.”
My preference for a self-defense long gun would be a 9mm semi-automatic carbine, such as the inexpensive and reliable Hi-Point carbine. 9mm ammo is relatively inexpensive and available everywhere that ammo is sold. It is the most common caliber on the planet. And with a carbine and open sights (i.e. without any scope) you can easily hit a man-sized target at up to 100 yards. The ballistics of a 9mm round from a carbine (16+ inch barrel) are close to that of a .357 magnum revolver, but with less recoil and muzzle blast than even a 9mm handgun.
Another good option is a .22 long rifle caliber semi-automatic rifle, such as the Marlin model 60 or the Remington 597. (I think that the Ruger 10/22 is overpriced and less accurate out of the box, but opinions vary.) With a .22lr and an inexpensive scope (4x) you can take small game at 100 yards or more.
The Marlin model 60 has been around since 1960 with good reason; it is accurate, very inexpensive, easy to use, and has very little recoil and muzzle blast. The gun is currently under $200 (as always, prices vary and are subject to change). You can buy 1000 rounds of good quality .22 ammo for well under $75. And an inexpensive scope (e.g. Bushnell Banner) can be had for under $100. This combination is under our $500 limit.
Many people will tell you that the .22LR round is under-powered for self-defense. True, a 9mm carbine would be much more effective. But a .22 rifle is accurate enough to make up for the lack of power. It is much more accurate than a shotgun. I suggest that, for an inexperienced shooter who prefers low recoil and low noise, a .22 rifle can be used to great effect in home defense.
I would shy away from a lever-action carbine for self-defense. An experienced shooter could do well with this type of gun. But an inexperienced shooter, who is under the duress of facing a deadly threat, might have difficulty working the lever and then getting back on target quickly enough for a second shot. Also, lever action guns tend to be more expensive than the Hi-Point 9mm carbine or the Marlin or Remington .22 rifles.