Three Guns Every Prepper Should Own

If you could only own three guns, which would you choose for prepping purposes?

(1) A Rifle in .22LR
(2) A Concealable 9mm Handgun
(3) An AR-15 in .223/5.56

– A Rifle in .22LR –

Nothing beats an accurate .22 rifle for hunting small game. Higher calibers are over-powered for small game animals. And other rimfire calibers are more expensive and less available. You can still find plenty of .22LR ammo at reasonable prices. And it’s easy to buy and store a few thousand rounds.

After the SHTF, you may want to supplement your stored food and gardening crops with some wild game meat. Any number of economic or natural disasters could collapse our fragile food production system, resulting in empty shelves at the grocery store. And meat will likely be among the first foods to disappear. You may have some meat stored in your freezer, but that storage space is limited. Every prepper stores much more grains and dried legumes than meat and poultry. Wild game will not be your main staple food. But it can be a useful supplemental source of protein.

Larger game may be more desirable, especially because it provides more food with each kill. But small game animals are numerous and are widely distributed across the U.S., even in not-so-rural areas. Also, licenses to hunt small game are perhaps easier to obtain, if you need a license at all. Then, too, the amount of food from a small game hunt can be easily prepared and stored. Large game presents the problem of what to do with the large amount of meat.

Birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other small animals can be easily taken with a .22 rifle. You know that you can get within 100 yards or less of these animals. So you don’t need a firearm that hits beyond 100 yards. Most small game can be taken within 25 to 50 yards. Therefore, you don’t need a very expensive, highly accurate firearm. A Ruger 10/22 will do the trick nicely. And the gun has many third-party accessories to enhance the firearm later on. However, if you are on a budget, the Marlin Model 60 is a good choice. It’s semi-automatic, accurate, and inexpensive.

A .22 rifle is also useful for teaching youths to use a firearm safely. The low recoil and low noise is perfect for beginners.

Can you use a .22 for self-defense? Yes, but other firearms are better suited for that role. The .22 is rather underpowered for home defense purposes.

– A Concealable 9mm Handgun –

A long gun is best for self-defense and home defense in many different situations. The longer barrel and ability to shoulder the weapon give you greater power and accuracy. You know the saying: “a handgun is only good for shooting your way to a long gun”. Good point. But in reality, a handgun is much easier to carry with you, in and around your home. You never know when you might need a firearm for self-defense. And after a few rounds have been fired, the fight is usually over. There might be no time to get to your long guns. You can’t constantly have a rifle at the ready (or can you?).

My pick for a home-carry gun would be a semi-auto in 9mm. A revolver is reliable and accurate, and dead simple to use. But a 9mm semi-auto allows for fast reloads, more shots before reloading, and it’s not much more complicated to use.

I don’t have a single 9mm handgun to recommend. But I would lean towards a model that is designed for conceal carry. You don’t want your gun-phobic neighbors or passers-by to call the police just because they saw a legally open carried gun. I suppose it depends on what region of the country you call home. Open carry is socially acceptable in some places, and not-so-much in others.

Is it legal to conceal carry a firearm inside your home? It is legal, provided that you legally own the firearms and do not break any related laws. Washington, D.C. used to have a law that prevented home carry, but it was found unconstitutional (District of Columbia v. Heller).

What about outside, in your yard? I could not find a clear and convincing answer to that question. I think it depends on how gun-friendly the laws in your State may be, and whether a local prosecutor might be overzealous in going after a gun owner. Check your local gun laws. (I am not an attorney and nothing on this websites constitutes legal advice.)

My pick for handgun caliber is the 9mm. A top notch 9mm hollow point will get the job done, and the ammo is affordable and plentiful. This post at offers several good suggestions for concealable 9mm handguns. And has an overlapping but larger list of candidate weapons.

I would suggest deciding what method of concealed carry you will use first: shoulder holster, fanny pack, waistband, small of the back, etc. Then you can choose a firearm suited for that type of carry.

– An AR-15 in .223/5.56 –

An AR-15, also known as a Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR), is a highly modular weapon that can be modified in many ways, after purchase, to improve the firearm or adapt it to a particular purpose. You can change the trigger group, stock, rails, grip, and even swap the upper for a different caliber. The rails allows the addition of various sights, scopes, grips, lights, etc. It modularity and adaptability makes it a top pick for preppers and survivalists.

If you live in an AR-unfriendly State, condolences. But usually you can find a State-compliant version of the AR that is legal in your locality.

Should you buty a rifle chambered in .223 or 5.56? I would say get a 5.56 chambered AR. You can then shoot both .223 and 5.56 ammo. There are more than a few other calibers that can be fired from an AR-variant rifle. But .223/5.56 ammo is cheapest and most plentiful. That advantage can’t be overlooked. And the firepower is more than sufficient for home defense and taking medium game.

Later on, you can buy a new upper for your AR (and sometimes a new bolt/magazine), which will allow you to shoot another caliber. So you don’t have to buy a whole new firearm to shoot multiple calibers. But the cost and availability of the ammo causes me to recommend starting with the 5.56 caliber AR.

For home defense, an AR-15 with a 30-round magazine (where permitted by law) offers plenty of firepower and ammo to repel home invaders, robbers, and any other type of assailants. Even if law and order breaks down completely, so that you are on your own, you will be able to defense your home and family with that one firearm.

Hunting with the AR-15 is permissible in some States and not in others. Often a change to a larger caliber satisfies the State laws, allowing hunting with an AR. But check your local laws before any firearms related activity. Laws are constantly changing, and they are often not common sense.

What About Shotguns?

If I were to expand the list to four guns, I suppose the fourth would be a shotgun. You can use a shotgun for home defense and for hunting. But, controversially, I would prefer the AR-15. It has more rounds, is easier to reload, and has less recoil and muzzle blast than a 12 gauge. That said, shotguns have defended many homes for more than 150 years. They are used by the military and police, to good effect. If all you have to defend your home is a 12-gauge, you are well-armed.

– Thoreau

7 Responses to Three Guns Every Prepper Should Own

  1. Fellow Preppers:
    Your choices are basically sound for the United States but here in Canada things are a bit different. Handguns are very hard to come by and the permit process is long and involved.
    The price of ammo comes into play in a big way here. .556 and almost every larger rifle round here is sold at $1+ each, so the Soviet 7.62×39 at 12 cents each becomes attractive. Hunting with an SkS is easy enough, and oddly it doesn’t have much recoil.
    Almost every household has a 12ga. of some kind, so scavenging ammo for a shotgun would be convenient. A cut down .12 ga. is also a much better point and shoot close in weapon for inexperienced shooters, since accuracy doesn’t need to be spot on.
    Just my outlook, I know the situation dictates the prepping..

  2. DC,
    Behind my three 5.56 rifles is a 7.62X39 SKS. It is an effective caliber at moderate range for mid size game – up to deer. It is also an effective weapon for personal defense out to 300 yards, if that should become necessary. Overall, I must concur with the three choices specified in the article – if I were limited to having only three firearms. Thankfully, my inventory is much larger, and each one serves a specific purpose or need. If you are building your inventory around availability of ammo, then .22LR, 9MM, 5.56X45 and 7.62X39 are certainly top choices. The benefit of an SKS versus an AK variant is that the carbine/rifle is more accurate and provides a greater range.

  3. Greetings,
    Your article and this thread are a great service for those just beginning to think about when the SHTF. I’ve been at that for some time, and have just a little different perspective: I don’t want to have to worry about a follow-up shot if the first is largely on-target. So, while I have a dead-on autoloading .22LR and a trusty pump 12 gauge, I also have a high quality auto.45 ACP and an 11-round bolt action 7.62 x 51/.308 with a 20″ barrel. Stopping power, even at a distance – right now. After 64 years on the planet and a life-long student of history – and a ground-zero survivor of Hurricane Katrina – I submit that civilization is but a thin, thin veneer. And given the number of weapons out there in the USA, my home defense scenario starts well before “home” defense per se becomes necessary. If the aggressor is already in your home, given the way homes have been built over the last 50 years, you might as well be sitting in the open – walls are no defense, just obfuscation. [Likewise with cars if not situated behind the engine block.] Hence the .308 – start at the horizon line with defense, as necessary. It also may buy a little time, particularly if there is more than one perp, which may make all the difference. Close in, the 12 gauge and .45 go to work. The .22 is for making rabbit stew… This is just one guy’s perspective, and there is no ill-logic what so ever in the choice of 9mm and .556. Granted, there may be a bit more ammo for both available later on – generally speaking – but that’s really a very local phenomenon; no reason to assume the .45/.308 ammo won’t be, too. The 9mm and .556 may be a bit cheaper (now – but what then?), and the choice of .308 is for the same reason versus 6.5 Creedmore and similar exotics – availability and price… As I said, your proposition is a service to all, and mine is just a one-off spin on the same thing… One further thought: If your spouse and kids are “all thumbs” with firearms you’re a one-gun army. My little one got not necessarily comfortable, but reasonably acquainted, with the .45 at age ten (seriously – he’s a big boy); and my wife is ex-Air Force but rusty. The point is, neither is ‘gun shy’. Regular practice is essential – and fun!… May we never have to seriously worry about any of this, and that we can put these tools to work simply for the fun of sport shooting. Good fortune to all…

  4. why have 3 guns and have to 3 kinds of ammo when one will do with one kind of ammo sorry but im likeing a 12 gauge shotgun you can go from low power skeet shooting shells all the way to 3 inch magnums that will stop a truck

  5. John,
    I like your philosophy “start at the horizon line with defense.” That is an important statement that readers really should think about, relative to the area they are attempting to defend. In your case, a .308 obviously makes sense. For myself, it’s a 30-06, but I doubt that would want to engage a target at the distances that caliber is capable of reaching. My reasoning is more tactical than ballistic and is based on local terrain. The AR-15 certainly makes sense for threats out to 300 meters, where the value of large capacity magazines becomes more important. In other words, I’m not going to take a shot at 500 meters with my AR-15 because it’s pointless to do so. Given the urban/suburban environment that most people are stuck with, I’m guessing that the AR-15 is capable of fulfilling most needs when in the hands of a competent shooter.

  6. I like your choices but for the sake of discussion I’m going to suggest a list of four guns.

    The .22LR and like you I recommend the 10-22 and for the same reasons.

    A 9MM pistol. I like the Glock 19 but any mid size pistol should be able to conceal well enough.

    My third gun would be a 12Ga pump. With the right ammo you can hunt anything from quail to moose. They are a viable self defense gun from bad breath to 100 yards.

    My forth gun would be a .308 with a removable magazine and a scope. This will take any large game and a person to 800+ yards, if you can do your part.