What We’re Shooting For
This article is intended as a guide for preppers who want to buy their first or first few guns, but have very limited funds to do so. It will give specific recommendations for affordable and reliable firearms in the .22 Long Rifle caliber category, shotgun category, handgun category, and rifle category. It will also endeavor to keep Boredom Poisoning to a minimum.
For whatever reason, I’m betting that you've been thinking about getting a gun for the first time or expanding your gun collection to make it more comprehensive. Perhaps it’s because you’ve been watching C-SPAN. I'm also betting that the recession has put a slight dent in your discretionary income, and that you're a little confused and overwhelmed by the all the opinions on internet forums out there (as they say, a river that is a mile wide is an inch deep). We're often told to buy used guns to save money, but that can be hit or miss both in availability and quality. To help address all these challenges, we’re going to present a list of firearms that meet the following criteria:
Reliable: The gun has to work well.
Available: It has to be fairly common and in a common caliber.
Affordable: We’ll try to keep each gun under $300 out-of-box.
But first, a little gun philosophy for the first-time buyer or the skeptical significant other whom you forced to read this article.
Guns are tools. Much like other more familiar tools such as screwdrivers, hammers, and saws, different kinds of guns have different purposes and do well in some circumstances and poorly in others. Saws make poor hammers, but we don't criticize the saw for not being able to do the hammer's job, and vice versa. That's why it's ridiculous to expect one gun to handle all situations.
Here's where the analogy ends, because while guns are certainly tools, they aren't really very much like hammers and screwdrivers. You need to get proper instruction on the safe handling and effective use of firearms. Without that, a gun is a liability to you and your loved ones rather than a boon.
So what goes in the judicious, budget-conscious person's gun "toolbox," and what would it run them as an investment? Just like every homeowner should have a basic set of tools, there are certain basic categories of firearm tools that the prudent prepper would want to have. The order of purchase is left for the reader to decide based on his or her own prepping goals and situation. Here's my list of cheap-yet-stalwart guns, placed into four categories: .22LR, Shotgun, Rifle, and Handgun.
Your needs: Building shooting skill foundations, B.O.B. gun, taking small game
Why: Firearms in this category are cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and cheap to shoot. This caliber is the perfect training round for new shooters because it has virtually nonexistent kick and retort, allowing the shooter to focus on acquiring skills rather than the ringing in their ears or the sting in their palm and shoulder. It's also incredibly versatile. The twenty-two can take small game easily and can serve as a viable defense caliber in extreme circumstances. Of course, a fork can also serve a defensive role (and may be more appropriate in some circumstances), but don't let anyone tell you that .22LR is a wimpy round. Many, many people have been killed with a .22, both intentionally and unintentionally. This round can potentially kill from farther away than you can accurately shoot it. However, remember that while a .22 can serve a defensive role, it is far from an excellent choice for that job. Still, learning the basics of gun use and care with a .22 is top-notch preparation for all subsequent guns. Also, they’re a lot of fun to shoot. In the author’s opinion, no prepper’s firearm collection is complete without a .22 rifle. This is the Duct Tape/WD-40/multitool of your gun toolbox.
Recommended Rifle: Ruger 10/22.
Ruger knows its stuff. The 10/22 carbine is rugged, durable, dependable, and accurate. For accessories, I highly recommend the high-capacity 25-round magazines that come directly from Ruger, the BX-25's. Also, you can customize a 10/22 to your heart’s content. Some of the more useful options are slings and scopes. Other options include a kit to turn your 10/22 into a .22LR Gatling gun. Your call.
Recommended Pistol: Ruger SR-22.
Versatility, reliability, and durability are prized qualities for a firearm in a basic, barebones collection. Most .22 pistols fire only high-velocity ammunition. High-velocity ammo is both more expensive and more specialized than regular .22LR. The SR-22 can shoot the same .22 LR round that your 10/22 does. Interchangeability and a reduced variety of ammunition are desirable traits for a prepper, particularly in a Bug Out role. .22 pistols have long been the guns that military survival trainers have either recommended to their students or required them to have during their training and to keep in their Bug Out Bags while on missions (particularly to pilots). A .22 pistol can take any rabbit-sized game from reasonable distances and is relatively quiet. It is light and so is its ammo, allowing a person to carry far more ammunition per unit of weight compared to larger calibers. And, once again, it’s better than having a rock to defend oneself with. All of these traits come together to make this firearm an excellent choice for a B.O.B. gun.
Your needs: Home defense, hunting
Why: You’re going to want a pump shotgun, plain and simple. You will most likely want a 12-gauge due to its ready availability and higher power, but if you find that the 12-gauge kicks a little hard or is a little noisy for you, go with a 20-gauge. Either way, pump shotguns are cheap, durable, versatile, and seriously heavy hitters at surprising distances. Pump shotguns are true workhorses. With proper training, pump shotguns do not lose out to automatic shotguns in terms of rate of fire. For hunting, a longer barrel and either appropriately sized shot or rifled slugs can be used to take everything from widgeons to whitetails. For home defense, a shotgun can be stored with a shorter barrel installed and defensive rounds loaded, and one could not ask for a more potent boomstick in the confines of a bedroom hallway.
Recommended: Maverick 88, 12 or 20 gauge.
The 88 is based off of the Mossberg 500 and is owned and produced by Mossberg. These guns are reliable, durable, and cheap. Shotguns are quite cheap in general, but Mossberg maintains high quality in its Maverick line while keeping the price in the bargain basement. And if you bought the Ruger 10/22, you'll notice that the 88 has a safety mechanism that is quite similar to the 10/22, which should help to reinforce good gun safety by reducing complexity. Get it with either a 20" or 18.5" smoothbore barrel. If you plan on hunting with it, get the 28" barrel to go with a shorter home defense barrel. The barrels are easy to swap out.
Your needs: Home defense, concealed carry, open carry
Why: A handgun is the only type of gun that can be effectively carried in a holster, concealed on your person, and operated one-handed. This is valuable because in a dangerous situation you may be using at least one of your hands to do something besides use a firearm. Scenarios like these are where the handgun shines. Is it a first-tier gun choice? Not for most people. But is it a second-tier gun choice? Absolutely.
So should you get a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol? What’s the difference? Semi-automatic pistols give one the ability to fire rounds as quickly as the trigger finger will work, and to reload in a matter of seconds. However, they are more technically complex to operate and can misfire. Revolvers, on the other hand, are simple to operate: pull the trigger and it goes bang. If a revolver does not fire, all the operator has to do is pull the trigger again and the next round will rotate into position and fire. There is no need to deal with jamming issues as long as the right caliber for the gun is used. However, a revolver typically holds fewer rounds and takes longer to reload than a semi-auto. No free lunch, right?
Recommended Full-Size Pistol: Smith & Wesson SD9 VE or SD40 VE.
Good quality and high capacity (or modified California capacity) make either of these calibers a good choice. I included both because caliber choice is a matter of personal opinion and ability, and because there is no difference in price between the two gun variations. They’re not as slim as a single-stack handgun and at around 23oz unloaded they are perhaps a little chunky for some people’s EDC. While the cost doesn’t quite get under the limbo bar we originally set, the extra cash gets us pretty far.
Recommended Revolver: EAA Windicator .357 Magnum.
Regardless of manufacturer, this caliber is an excellent choice for a prepper because a gun that is designed for the .357 Magnum round can also shoot the lower-powered .38 Special round. And when you’re scrounging for ammo in some former suburb, you’ll want to have some options. Both types of ammunition are prolific and effective. The Windicator (German for "Vindicator") is not what most people would call a pretty piece of equipment. I, however, have a great fondness for tools that have a utilitarian and understated appearance - I find that I tend to use them more, and so they represent a greater value to me than collector's editions or show pieces. This gun has zero frills, a long trigger pull, and the sights are not exceptional. But it does have three very important things going for it: it's as reliable as a German train; it hits like a German train; and unlike a German train, it’s amazingly inexpensive.
Recommended Concealed Carry Handgun: Bersa Thunder CC.
This gun is .380 caliber, which for many people would mean that it is a “mouse gun.” This caliber is considered to be the minimum size for a defensive round, but with modern advancements in ammunition technology its effectiveness can’t be denied. Because the caliber is so small, it has a very manageable recoil and minimal retort, making it easier for a smaller person to shoot, and easier for anyone to put rounds on-target. The BTCC also enjoys a high degree of reliability. And because it is a small, thin, light gun, it is both easy to conceal and to carry (truth in advertising at last). Because it isn’t onerous to lug around, you are more likely to have it on you at all times, which is the whole point of having a concealed carry gun.
Your needs: Hunting, varmint control, “just in case”
Why: While some people may use or need a rifle for home defense, all the rifle owners I know use their rifles for either target shooting or hunting and varmint control. They use a different kind of gun for personal or home defense. However, for the sake of argument let’s say that the proverbial excrement has hit the rotating airfoil and that you, despite the fact that you get your meat from the grocery store and don’t run into coyotes at the bus stop, could be called upon to defend all that is categorically good from all that is categorically bad. In light of this potential situation, you should gravely proclaim to whoever is in charge of your bank account that it is morally incumbent upon you to own a rifle . . . just in case.
While semi-automatics are incredibly popular and effective, a good bolt-action rifle is the most rugged, durable, economical, and time-tested rifle platform available. Remember: this article is for the average person who does not need something like a battle rifle. That being said, my recommendation for a cheap, reliable bolt-action rifle is, in fact, a battle rifle. Oops.
Recommended: Mosin-Nagant 1891/30.
No, that number is not missing any digits. You, Comrade, need a “Mosin.” Sure, it kicks, but come on - it's a rifle. Did I mention that virtually every gun store sells or can order these in like-new, unused condition? Talk about a gift to the proletariat! The reason that Mosins are so inexpensive is due to the fact that they were made in staggering quantities to supply the vast Russian and Soviet infantry in the late 19th and early 20th century for what seemed like a never-ending era of conflict. The Mosin-Nagant, in various configurations, has seen consistent military service from its inception in 1891 through the present day, including both World Wars and 29 other major military conflicts across many countries and several continents. These firearms have proven themselves many times over. Because many more were made than could be immediately used or distributed, brand-new Mosins were mothballed and later sold at bargain prices to raise cash for strapped governments and individuals. It’s not much to look at and it’s not the best or the brightest – kind of like your buddies – but, like your buddies, it won’t ever let you down. To make a long story short, these are sturdy bolt-action rifles that fire the 7.62x54mmR round, and for the frugal gun purchaser there is no better bang for a hundred bucks. Did I mention that it comes with a bayonet? Just in case.