Low Budget Firearms Selection for a Novice, by S.G.

As a new ‘prepper’ on a budget, I would love to get the latest gadget gun in multiples, but have very limited disposable income to invest. Most of us are not independently wealthy or have a six figure salary to support our new found hobby. Emotionally, there is a gun collector inside all of us that likes the latest and greatest gadget to show off to our friends and that we know outperforms everything else on the planet. However, the rational brain must govern over the emotional appeals of these wonderful objects. Therefore, visualizing the likely uses for a firearm is a handy way to narrow your search before making a firearms purchase.

While firearms are an important and necessary part of any prepper’s purchase list, other acquisitions also have priority. If your entire budget is spent on guns, you will have no money left over for such things as food, water sources, shelter options, communications, etc., all of which are just as critical if not more so. Also, under the philosophy ‘two is one, one is none’ a less expensive firearm will allow you to double up on your firearm purchases so that if the first weapon fails, you will have a backup. Since there are basically three types of guns: the rifle, the handgun and the shotgun, doubling up will mean purchasing at least six guns. All of those purchases add up to a lot of money. I also understand that I am not an avid shooter, nor do I have the time, budget or ability to become a master shooter. “A man’s got to know his limitations.” I therefore set my goal as becoming someone who can safely handle and shoot a few selected firearms with moderate proficiency.

With these limitations in mind, I began to think about what the actual threats we may face as a family that would require the firearm tool. By listing these possible situations and thinking critically about what would be the best and least expensive yet reliable firearm to address each scenario, my firearm purchases would be guided by rational thought rather than emotional appeal or marketing strategies of the gun stores and gun manufacturers.

Prioritizing concepts of personal importance.

The first concept that I applied to my purchases was the idea of rule of law, partial rule of law or post collapse, without rule of law (WROL). The idea here is that today, we face a society ordered by the rule of law where police forces are usually minutes away from a 911 call. It is not hard to picture a situation where the rule of law breaks down and police forces are not responsive. This has happened in the aftermath of hurricanes, during riots, and possibly during the aftermath of terrorist type events. In the most extreme situation, all functioning of government is terminated and you are on your own. This could happen in the event of hyperinflationary economic collapse as discussed in the James Wesley, Rawles novels, in an EMP or nuclear war situation such as Pat Frank’s novel Alas, Babylon or in planet changing asteroid strike such as was laid out in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s great novel Lucifer’s Hammer. In such situations, having a reliable firearm will be a matter of life and death.

The second concept is location of use. In the home, the ability to conceal the firearm is not important. However, outside the home, the ability to conceal your firearm is primary. A concealed firearm allows you a tremendous advantage when a confrontation occurs, as well as allowing you to function in public without having to draw unnecessary attention to yourself. The first rule of any gunfight applies here – bring a gun. While having the highest caliber, largest capacity handgun may look great on paper, when applied to everyday use, these handguns are often to bulky to conceal and too heavy to carry comfortably. The reverse is true inside the home. In a true home defense situation, bulkiness will not matter since you will not be carrying the weapon long distances and will not need to conceal the weapon. What will matter is simplicity, power, capacity and reliability. Related to this is weight. Simply put, as an office guy my ability to carry weight is a big issue. If the gun is to be used in static defense of the home, weight is not as big a factor, as long as it can be handled. If you are going to carry it around for any period of time, weight becomes a big consideration. While I love the idea of an M14, the reality is that the gun is too heavy for me to carry around for any distance. So generally, lighter is better.

The third concept was interoperability and cross functionality, or the ability to utilize various ammunition calibers between guns and different guns for different uses. Having more of a particular caliber is probably more important that having the absolute ‘best’ caliber for a particular situation. Low cost ammunition facilitates bulk purchases. Also, go with what is available. If the absolute best caliber for a particular situation is not readily available, then it is not the best caliber. A hole in the target is what is required, and I am willing to compromise some level of specialization for low cost, availability and interoperability. If you are in a desperate survival situation, then any gun is better than none. Good enough is what I aimed for, limiting myself to as few different calibers as possible.

The fourth concept was simplicity. The more complicated the weapon system, the more likely it would fail in a high stress situation. I know that I go to the range probably one every couple of months – not enough to be a highly trained snap shot shooter. Instead, I focus on being comfortable with my weapon so that I know how it works and can get the bullet on the target calmly and quickly. I always think about one situation where a particular person had a quality, high capacity semi-automatic handgun, but was only able to fire off one round because he limp-wristed the gun,  jamming after the first shot. When a firearm is needed, it will be needed immediately. The simpler the system, the less there is to go wrong.

Visualizing firearm tool use scenarios.
The first scenario I visualized was varmint defense in a rule of law situation. In a city or suburban environment, we are talking about dogs. Having been attacked by a very large dog in my neighborhood, you should understand that your reactions will not be sufficient to prevent the dog from biting you. Dogs are very fast and you will instinctively react by protecting your face with your arms. The dog will bite at our extremities and latch on before you will be able to do anything. Thus the question, what do you want to have when the dog is biting on your arm? Of course being a gun guy, you are going to say a handgun. However, I would suggest that this is not the best choice for a person in a rule of law situation. Firing a handgun in public, even in this situation, can subject you to a felony charge. There is the danger of the bullet striking things unknown, including yourself. In the event that you do kill the attacking dog with your handgun, there will be an upset dead dog owner who will be telling you and everyone else how “Toro” is a loveable house pet that would never hurt a fly. They will be perfectly willing to call the police and press charges, and you will at least have a nasty neighbor situation. This kind of run in is easily avoided. Instead, get a re-chargeable touch stun gun. These devices can be had for less than $30. Make it a part of your walking routine to remove the stun gun from its charger and take it along whenever walking on foot, and recharging it in the wall socket when you return. If you do confront a territorial dog, the sound of the electrical discharge is often enough to scare them away. If the dog attacks and you have to stun them, the dog will flee but will be none the worse for wear. Of course, rural varmint defense is very different and should be assessed according to the wild animals that are likely to be encountered. Varmint defense in a without rule of law situation differs only in that you will not have to face the police scrutiny if you happen to kill a dog with your gun. Also, if the power grid fails your stun gun will be useless. Thus, bring your handgun.

Another scenario that I visualized (which is unfortunately far to common) is the need for suburban home defense from criminal intrusion while rule of law is still functioning, even if partially. This scenario involves a person or small group of persons forcibly entering into your home, usually at night. Most of the time, the home invader will attempt to have you open your front door or physically breach your front door by means of a kick. This is surprisingly easy to do, and you should train your mind to immediately react to the invader by making a bee line for your firearm. The home invader can also attack your rear door. Make an assessment of all possible points of entry in your home, and run through in your mind how you would react to different home invasion situations. Place your firearms at locations where you can quickly employ them. Know what condition of safety they are kept. Keep them loaded. If you are having to load to shotgun while the bad guys are busting down the door, you will be nervous and fumbling with ammo as well as behind the curve in reacting to the situation. That being said, the presence of children in your home should always effect your gun storage situation. You must revise your placement plans based on the presence of kids. For example, you may wish to carry your handgun on your person when in your home, if you cannot keep a loaded shotgun stored safely. You may wish to store your firearms in hidden locations throughout your house so that you are never more than a few steps from them. Five long guns locked up in a gun rack will do you no good in the home invasion situation.

Another situation that can be easily visualized is personal defense outside the home during a rule of law or partial rule of law situation. The key to this situation is having your firearm on your person and concealed. This situation contemplates a criminal attacking you or accosting you as you are walking to and from your vehicle. Car jackings commonly occur at gas stations, often near the highway, or near high crime neighborhoods. Having a gun that can be quickly employed is paramount. Because of this, make sure to include as part of your carry package a good holster. The concealed carry holster is a vital and often overlooked part of the system.

Looking forward to the possibility of without rule of law or partial rule of law, things get very dicey. Suburban home defense in a ‘without rule of law’ or in a post collapse situation differs from rule of law situation in that you may have to repel borders for a longer time, or deal with larger, more organized groups of invaders.  Ammunition capacity and supply are more important in this scenario. Extremely long term home defense is rather unlikely, but planning for a week of home defense would not be too much. For example, the six day long L.A. riots in 1992 witnessed an evacuation of police authority from the streets leaving many to fend for themselves.

Personal defense outside of the home in a ‘without rule of law’ situation is probably the riskiest of all of the scenarios. Even in the event of societal breakdown, some normal life will continue, and you will need to travel outside your home to get supplies or for other necessities. Key to this situation is the fact that you and the bad guys are aware that there is no organized police protection afforded the citizenry, therefore the likelihood of being attacked is greatly increased. Further, you may be confronted with armed attackers who will get the drop on you to disarm you. This scenario can also be applied to mass riot situations, which I suspect is closer to the surface in our society than most people realize.

While it is unlikely, in my mind that hunting for food in a post collapse situation would ever be necessary, it is a possibility. Where I live, I suspect that in a desperate survival situation every deer will be quickly wiped out by the local hunter population. What may remain will be birds and squirrels. Both can be taken with bird shot or the .22 round. It would be preferable to draw as little attention to yourself when hunting, therefore, adding a suppressor to the end of your .22 firing subsonic rounds would make the acquisition of these sources of protein quite silent.

Any visualization of offensive operations would by definition be in a ‘without rule of law’ or post collapse situation. Basically, widespread lawlessness and long term societal collapse will lead to civil war. Throughout history, war is the natural state of man. It is moments of peace that are the exception. The Liberty gifted to us by our Founding Fathers has allowed the societal delusion that civilization is without cost. We may be seeing the waning of Pax Americana, and the relative 60 year stability it brought. If the time comes where we are in a true state of nature, the need for force from a rifle will be clear. Personally, I have determined that there is no way that my family can or will in any way take on a professionally equipped military or police unit. Thus, I will opt out of trying to best the military and look at what best fits my abilities.

You are probably saying, okay enough already. What guns did you get? Well, my first purchase was a .357 Magnum stainless steel Model 60 Smith and Wesson revolver. On the down side, it is five shots and not a super quick reload, and moderately pricey (~$500). However, it is super dependable, simple, relatively lightweight and concealable, and relatively maintenance free. The ammo has remained available during the recent ammo runs since .357 Magnums are pretty much revolver only. I love revolvers because after sitting for years, you could pick it up and it will fire. They are also not picky about the rounds you are using – if they fit in the hole they will fire it. If they misfire, you just pull the trigger again and the next round rotates and fires. Offsetting the initial price of the revolver  is the fact that it can eat both .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammunition. Thus, when target shooting, you can use the .38 Special ammunition. For defense loads, you can fill it with high power .357 Magnum rounds. While there are pros and cons to every caliber, there is wide agreement that the .357 Magnum sets the standard for the heavy hitting self defense round. It is also capable of being reloaded, which is also an advantage in a SHTF scenario where resupply is inconsistent.

When purchasing any handgun, make sure that you also buy a good quality holster. The idea of concealment is great, but until you actually put it in a holster and wear it, you will not know what it actually looks like or feels like under your clothes. Personally, I like a leather, pancake type holster in the small of the back or, for larger guns, a crotch holster.
My second purchase was a Ruger 10/22 rifle. This is on the top of the list for most preppers, and is one of the few guns that almost everyone can agree on. This American made gun is relatively cheap (~$250), super dependable, five and a quarter pounds in weight, and very simple to operate. I was lucky enough to get four of the twenty five round BX-25 magazines before ‘firearmageddon’ hit, but even the small ten round magazine works flawlessly and would probably be enough in most situations. This gun can be used for small game hunting such as squirrels, mice, pigeons, etc. if needed. In a situation where the rule of law is non-existent, the rifle can double as a sniper weapon. If you get a 10/22 with a threaded barrel, with a little creativity you can add a suppressor for very little cost. Note that it is a Federal criminal offense to possess or attach a suppressor without the proper $200 tax stamp from ATF. The other .22 rifle that you could consider is the Marlin Model 60, a tube fed rifle that competes with Ruger’s offering at a lower price. An even less expensive option is the Mossberg 702 Plinkster in .22LR. At only four pounds, this gun is extremely light weight so even a child could carry it. It is fed with inexpensive 10 round magazines. The best part is that these rifles can be had for around $150. I have not yet purchased a scope, but that is next on the list.

I like the concept of a handgun / rifle combination firing the same caliber round. As the cowboys noted, they back each other up in the event one should fail, and the common caliber lightens your ammunition load. So to go with my 10/22, I decided to purchase a companion handgun in .22LR. At first, I wanted a revolver for the simplicity. The fact is that semi-autos in .22LR can be temperamental when using the many different sizes of ammunition available for .22LR. The blowback required to cycle a semi-auto is tricky when dealing with a light .22 load.  I therefore looked at some S&W .22LR revolvers, but was turned off by their high cost at around $500, (the same as .357 Magnums). I decided to give the semi-autos a second look. Sticking with Ruger, I initially looked at the Mark III, a ten round capacity semi-auto that you can get for around $350, a good but not awesome price. I was resolved to get the Mark III when I found a used nine shot revolver in .22LR for $125! Hi-Standard Sentinel revolvers are commonly available on the used market. These American-made guns were sold in the 1950s at local hardware stores and are now very inexpensive. As the price was right, I got the Hi-Standard.

Since the .22LR is such an inexpensive and versatile round, it is wise to stock up on ammunition. For suppressed fire, make sure that you purchase a healthy supply of sub-sonic ammunition. You can also purchase bird shot .22 ammo for taking out small critters. Being the most versatile rounds, I made my goal to stockpile 3000 rounds in a variety of configurations. Every week, I would purchase a hundred round box of .22LR paying with cash. Very soon, I had lots and lots of .22 ammunition, stored in military surplus ammo cans.

One interesting diversion I took was when I found a Marlin Model pre-2007 1894CS lever gun in .357 Magnum. My favorite gun store showed me the gun and I fell in love, buying it immediately despite its $550 price tag. The gun has a nine round capacity and weighs around six pounds. A quick firing lever gun can be loaded before having to empty out all the ammo, although reloading is slow. This rifle is fully capable of taking down deer or bad guys up to 150 yards. Thinking about this, I added a Skinner ‘peep’ sight for $85. These sights are high quality, low technology simplicity at its finest. It also has the huge advantage of using the same ammunition as the revolver. As I said earlier, I love the idea of the rifle / handgun combination. The lever gun can also double up as a home defense gun. If you had to use this gun in self defense, there is a hidden advantage to the lever gun. If you happen to get hauled before a jury after an unfortunate shooting incident, the lever action has that ‘All-American’ look to it. If you have to dispatch a bad guy with an AK-47, the gun looks ‘bad’ to the jury and will be paraded before them by the prosecutor. In a rule of law home defense situation when the courts are operating, this jury appeal should not be under estimated.

Over time, I found that I tended not to carry the .357 revolver because even at 24 ounces, it was a little heavy. I became aware of the concealed carry “ultra compact” handguns for personal protection. These guns are often called ‘mouse guns’ and are made with maximum concealment in mind. The old school mouse gun was the derringer, but these are heavy and only fired two shots. Being from Florida, I looked at the Kel-Tec offerings, the 32 ACP P-32(~$230) and the .380 ACP P3AT(~$260). Of course, I went for the cheaper one. I also got four spare seven round magazines. What I failed to consider was the cost of ammunition. .32 ammo seems overpriced compared to other calibers. You should look at the cost of .32 versus .380 in your area and factor that cost into the equation. The fact that this is a concealed carry, self defense only gun means that you need not stockpile thousands of rounds of ammunition for this gun — 250 rounds should be more than adequate. I know many of you may say that more ammunition should be purchased, but just how many times are you actually going to be using your mouse gun in self defense?

I noticed that at this point that I did not have a shotgun, one of the three types of firearms. A shotgun can be used for short range home defense or for hunting. At short range, such as within a house, bird shot is just as effective as buck shot. Further, a bird shot load will not generally travel through walls within a house, possibly killing friendlies. Often, the sound of the pump racking will be enough to scare away would be intruders without firing a shot. If you do have to fire at an invader, a 12 gauge shotgun fired at close range is probably the deadliest weapon you could have. In a hunting situation, you are much more likely to encounter birds than you are to encounter larger game such as deer or boar and all birds are edible. Thus, for stockpiling purposes, I weighted my ammo purchases towards bird shot. Buckshot is useful for hunting boar, deer, or really any non-bird larger creature that could serve as dinner.

The most common and easy to find shotgun caliber is the 12 gauge, so I limited myself to 12 gauge guns. Many gun folks recommended the Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun. However, I am a price conscious guy, so I kept looking. Ultimately I settled on the less expensive Mossberg 500. This American made gun has all the functionality of the Remington at lower price. You can get the basic version for around $350, but I was happily able to pick one up used for $250.

So I had my most basic needs covered and I started thinking about weaknesses of my firearms battery. A good read on the proper use of the rifle is the late Jeff Cooper’s Art of the Rifle. After reading this book, I became painfully aware that my firearms battery did not include longer range capability. Handguns, that are so highly favored in the United States, are short range weapons only. The rifle is the primary weapon used for longer ranged defense. So I set out what I was looking for in a longer ranged rifle.

Even though the idea of 1000 meter shots was appealing, in reality I could not see myself taking shots out further than 200 meters. For one, my eyesight is not that good. Second, target acquisition would be a problem, and I might shoot somebody I do not want to. Further research into modern rifles revealed that the development of the modern military rifle was influenced by the German’s finding in World War II that most firefights happen within 300 meters. Thinking about it, I could see why this is so. While Jeff Cooper was a firm supporter of the bolt action rifle, I wanted a quicker firing semi-automatic so that if I missed on my first shot, the second could be on its way with a minimum of movement. I wanted a rifle that was simple and reliable, and most of all inexpensive. I wanted a higher powered rifle round that was also less expensive and commonly available.

With those criteria in mind, I started looking around on the internet. The big debate seemed to be between the AK-47 guys and the AR-15 guys. But some other options also peaked my interest, including the M-14 derived M1A, the World War II M1 ‘Garand’ and the various bullpup designs that seemed very light weight and compact like the FN2000. With this in mind, I traveled to my local gun store to see what was what. Sticker shock fell upon me when I looked at the options available. The [semi-auto] M14 was in the $1,500 range and heavier than I had expected. An M1 ‘Garand’ goes for $800. The AR black rifles were all in the $1,000 range. Even the AK-47 was over $800. Forget the FN2000 at $3,000!  I thought I was out of luck when I came across a motley looking semi-automatic rifle in the rack with a $330 price tag – an SKS.

The SKS is an extremely reliable, semi-automatic rifle that fires the same round as the AK-47, the powerful 7.62x39mm round. It also comes with an attached bayonet which could be handy in the right situation. The ammunition is relatively cheap and available. I didn’t have to buy magazines, since it is reloaded using ten round stripper clips. Holding extra ammunition in stripper clips also reduces the weight when carrying spare ammunition. While the gun was a little heavier than I wanted at eight and a half pounds, at that price I was sold. When you start calculating gun multiples, the value of the sub-$350 SKS becomes apparent. Three AK-47s with four spare magazines each will cost you around $3,000. Three AR-15s with four spare magazines each will cost you more than $3,200. Three SKS’s with four stripper clips each will cost you $1,000.

Looking back at my purchases rationally, what would I recommend to the budget conscious prepper?

I. Handgun. Keltec P32 .32 caliber mouse gun with 250 rounds of ammunition and four magazines. $250 for gun, $75 for magazines. Uses: Concealed carry self defense.

II. Rifle. Ruger 10/22 .22 caliber rifle with 3,000 rounds of .22 long rifle and four magazines. $250 for gun, $100 for magazines. Uses: Hunting. WROL home defense. WROL offensive operations.
III. Shotgun. Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun with 500 rounds of bird shot shotgun shells. $250 for gun. Uses: Home defense. Hunting.            

So for less than $1,000 (excluding ammunition), you have all of the basic firearm tools you need (as opposed to want.) Once you get these items, you can double up by buying duplicates of the same firearm.

If budget allows, you could get the cheap Hi Standard Sentinel revolver to companion with your .22 Rifle. If you are concerned about long term, without rule of law situations, then go for the SKS with 1000 rounds (or more) of ammunition in stripper clips at $350 for each gun.                        

As a newly-minted gun guy, I love my S&W Model 60 and companion Marlin lever gun, both in .357 Magnum. I feel like a real American cowboy, and this pairing definitely has a place in my collection. But looking at the prices paid and the functionality, you could probably save this money and go with the minimum above. Just how many guns can you carry at one time, anyway?

JWR Replies: I’ve written several times in the past about the detractors to rifles and handguns chambered in common cartridges. While it might outwardly seem to be a logical approach, in my opinion the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. If I weighed 95 pounds, then I might consider buying an FN PS-90 and carrying an FN FiveSeven pistol as a companion piece. (Both are chambered in 5.7x28mm.)