I’ll cut right to the chase: What is the best SHTF rifle? There it is, the $64,000 dollar question. Well, if you’ve been a long-time reader of SHTFblog, you’ll remember my article on the SHTF Shotgun and how, in my opinion, it’s not so SHTF-ey. So, whether you agreed with that article or not, I’m going to give you my own personal spin on the best SHTF rifle – one gun to rule them all!
So, to get a handle on this entirely massive question, we need to boil down what this “Best SHTF rifle” needs to accomplish, right?
For the purposes of this treatise, we’re going to assume that this gun is IT for you. No accompanying handguns or secondary backup missile launchers, grenade launchers, chainsaw hands…you get the drift. This one rifle is all that stands between you and the great Hypothetical Situation in the sky. So, this rifle will need to perform several vital tasks, and do them all well enough to keep you from an untimely expiration.
What’s a SHTF Rifle Gotta do Around Here to Get Noticed?
First, the Best SHTF Rifle needs to be useful BEFORE SHTF. That’s right. What’s the use in having a gun you keep locked in the back of the safe while you pray for the world to end so you can deploy your apocalypse arsenal? There’s no practicality, and if the world never goes all Book Of Eli, then you just shafted yourself out of resources that could have been put towards other useful items or training.
For example: If your ultimate SHTF rifle, your one gun, has been deemed, after careful consideration, to be a .50 BMG Barrett M82 (If so, know that I wish I had your expendable dough levels), what real-life use does it have today? I’m not debating freedoms or gun rights or need (you needed it for SHTF, right?), I’m talking utter practicality here.
Let’s be honest: You’re going to dig out that monstrous rifle to wow friends and to take it to the range to annoy people on the firing line who are trying to carefully sight in their deer rifles or bullseye pistols. Maybe once every Fourth of July you’ll take it to a sandpit, wrap yourself in an American flag, and blow up a few pounds of Tannerite a half mile away. But really, that’s about it. The rifle is too expensive to feed, too powerful to hunt anything but light infantry vehicles, and just…too much.
So why have it taking up room in your safe and deeply denting your savings account when you could have bought a couple MUCH more practical arms, a few cases of ammunition, and a couple-few excellent training courses for the same amount of money? Buy a SHTF rifle that is reasonable to feed and own; you’ll be able to utilize it and train with it anytime you want.
Your best SHTF rifle also needs to be useful and sustainable AFTER SHTF. To this end, you should be looking at rifle platforms that are easily maintained, with ammo, mags (if the gun uses them), and accessories that are readily available in the area you think you’ll be populating… for instance, it would be super difficult to maintain and Grandpa’s old Savage 340 in .222 Remington that you saved because you’re a sentimental fool. No, once that magazine breaks or drops out of the gun and gets lost, the rifle is a really nifty single-shot rifle in a hard to find caliber (though admittedly really cool and one of my favorites).
People of the prepper ilk often romanticize and make decisions based on what they think scrounging and “battlefield pickups” will yield. But be honest with yourself. Go to local gun shops and see what they have for ammo, parts, and magazines on the shelf. Visit local ranges and see what calibers are being shot most frequently. Talk to the people in your SHTF group (if you have one) and standardize platforms with them to maximize parts and caliber compatibility. Check online bulk ammo suppliers to see what they offer in large volume. Read, read, read!
If you’re planning on robbing the bodies of the theoretical dead policeman that you think will be littering the streets when you come out of your bunker, well, you might be pretty disappointed. Be smart and do some homework and head-scratching first.
Your best SHTF rifle must be in an effective caliber and platform for your perceived location! If you’re planning on making a long pilgrimage and living in Ted Kaczynski’s old cabin in the Montana woods, but all you brought with you is a Ruger 10/22, you’ll likely immediately regret your firearms decision as soon as you realize – via close proximity – just how freaking big brown bears are.
On the flip side, if you chose a sweet NEMO Arms OMEN in .300 Winchester Magnum and you live in the close woods of New England, you’ll probably hate yourself as soon as you try swinging that beast of a boomstick onto a fast-running whitetail buck 25 yards away. Get out from behind your Xbox controller in your mom’s basement and spend some time scrutinizing your area and needs based on locale.
Suit Your Rifle to Your Surroundings
Are you in an urban concrete jungle? Do you live in suburban hell? Are the thick woods creeping into your lawn and destroying your outhouse and cousin Randy’s abandoned El Camino? These are things you really need to take into consideration before chasing that perfect SHTF rifle.
Your Best SHTF Rifle must be in an effective caliber and platform for your perceived targets! What are you thinking you’ll be using your rifle for post-SHTF? Be realistic with yourself. Everyone stares off into the sky and thinks their SHTF rifle needs to be capable of fending off mass waves of heavily-armed and odored raider bikers who are attacking your bug-out location in a riotous last stand. If that’s what you’re truly banking on, then fine. Slap that 90 round drum in your Norinco AK and go dump some mags from the hip in the sandpit at some Bin Laden targets and don’t look back.
However – if you’re rooted among the practical masses, then think about what your rifle will REALLY be used for. You may live in downtown Detroit and an SBR’d rifle with a lot of mags and a fast-running red dot may be what you need to get out of town with your life. Or, you could be like me and live in semi-rural small-town America, and a SHTF rifle will most likely be called upon to dispatch nuisance pests in a garden, or harvest game as needed.
Whatever you’ve got going on, be up front with yourself and realize that if just one gun is all that you can run out the door with, then that Mosin-Nagant M44 might be more of an impediment rather than an asset; a pedestrian CZ 527 in .223 with a good optic might be a better rifle for you. Look at options, look at your plans, then decide.
Related: Operation Peak AR
Your Best SHTF Rifle needs to be a mission-appropriate package. This statement runs in concert with the above parameters, but your rifle, and gear for the rifle, must fit into your regimen – physically and materially. We all (should) have a plan on our options after the balloon or mushroom cloud goes up. Where does your rifle fit in?
Of course, security is arguably the most tantamount of needs to consider first – if you aren’t safe from immediate harm, why bother looking for food or water? But here’s the deal – this “best” SHTF rifle needs to be with you to provide security or to harvest game. If the thing is too damned heavy to schlep along with your pack and other accouterments, it’s not going to be with you when you need it most. Many has been the time (you’d think I’d learn) when I have left a rifle behind with a pack while tracking wounded deer because the length and weight of the rifle is an impediment to tracking in thick brush – only to emerge from the brush to jump the deer on the other side. In my opinion, short and lightweight trumps beefy and powerful.
Also, your mission may require you to not raise hackles with your armament selection – maybe that old lever action or a wood-stocked hunting rifle might get you further without being harassed than a dressed-out battle rifle as you saunter around people’s property lines. People might not give a hunter a second glance – but someone dressed and armed like they just walked out of a Call of Duty video game will get attention,
The Best SHTF Rifle needs to be simple. The popular “KISS” (Keep It Simple, Stupid) concept will apply well to the rifle. A rifle bogged down with huge optics, heavy mounts, lights, rails, crazy slings, fat magazines that hold a lot of ammo, vertical foregrips, – you get the idea – simply has more junk bolted on it to fail.
As a suggestion, look at battle rifles from WW2 for inspiration. The US M1 Garand – “The best battle implement ever devised” – defeated axis powers across the world, and all it had for accessories was a determined rifleman, lots of ammo, a leather sling, and sturdy iron sights. That’s it. Don’t be drawn in by sexy, CDI (Chicks Dig It) accessories that you saw some guy who met a Navy SEAL once put on his spray-painted AR-15.
I took a tactical shotgun course a few years back, and one of the guys showed up with a pump shotgun with every conceivable bolt-on accessory you can think of screwed to the poor scattergun. Angled Fore Grip. Light. Big fat red dot. Bandolier ammo carrying sling. Collapsible stock. Heat Shield…you name it, he had it. The shotgun must have weighed twelve pounds when loaded!
However, over the course of the course, all that crap got in the way, and by the end, he’d whittled that shotgun down to its original configuration – just a straight-up pump shotgun with an ammo carrier and single-point sling. Everything else got in the way, impeded function, ruined handling, or loosened up and started to fall off.
There’s a lesson or two to be learned here – but the biggest takeaway is that sometimes, when it comes to rocking and rolling, simplest is bestest. My SHTF guns usually just have high quality slings, a lightweight but powerful illumination device like a Streamlight TRL-1HL, and sometimes a good optic. That’s really it.
The best SHTF Rifle and its accessories needs to be rugged. This goes without saying, really. And remember: metal does not always equal strongest! Take an aluminum GI AR-15 magazine and place it lovingly on a concrete floor. Now get your heaviest boots on and stomp on the magazine. You now have a useless, mashed piece of metal junk. If you try that same test with a Magpul P-Mag, you’ll have a working P-Mag.
Heck, I drove over a P-Mag, dragged it behind a truck on a dirt road, threw it down a dirt road, and shot it with a 12-gauge and a 5.56. You know what? It still worked. While I agree sights should probably be made of metal, preferably steel – don’t discount guns or accessories simply because they’re plastic or polymer.
Synthetic stocks are lighter and tougher than wood stocks. Steel rails and mounts are stronger than aluminum ones. Review the job of the accessories and parts, review what they do, and think about them being dropped on rocks when you slip on wet leaves. Sliding off the tree you propped it against and landing on a piece of granite. Slipping off your shoulder when you’re climbing a tree stand and dropping to the ground. You get the idea – if you think a part might not be sturdy, it isn’t. Upgrade to something better now before you find out the hard way while you’re in a hard way.
What’s the BEST SHTF Rifle?
What’s THE VERY BEST SHTF RIFLE EVER? There isn’t one. Sorry to make you read through my mental drivel to get to this point, just to find nothing definitive. The best SHTF rifle for me may not work for a Nebraska pig farmer or an Alaskan Bush pilot.
I WILL describe my SHTF rifle, which I’ve built on the previous parameters – but it’s not the gun for everyone! I have some ideas on honorable mentions though, and I’ll tell you why. But really – you need to soul search, mentally and physically walk around your part of the world, and review options for YOU. But enough about you, on to me.
MY SHTF Rifle
First off: Here in my little corner of Maine, I am within one day’s walking distance of two of the scummiest and drug-addled towns in the lovely Pine Tree State. A hospital with a pharmacy is right down the road, as is the county jail. Therefore, I do need to take into consideration that my SHTF rifle needs to be able to provide an elevated level of security, as the possibility is quite real that there will be multiple people leaving a small, trashy city en masse to head for the hills while robbing medicine cabinets and gun safes along the way.
Hunting for game up to a whitetail deer in size – though moose and bear are certainly possible in my area – is necessary. However, I also like to be able to hunt the more plentiful small game – squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, etc., as well. What’s a boy to do?
So, here we go: For my personal situation under the above circumstances, the venerable AR-15 is my choice for the best SHTF Rifle (go head and roll your eyes, I totally get it.) – but it’s the best SHTF Rifle for ME. Not you. Possibly.
My AR is fairly straightforward – 16” heavy barrelled carbine, with Magpul grip and ACS stock for a bit of storage. Lightweight Troy free-floating handguard to muckle onto and provide short sections of rail to mount the Sig Sauer flip-up back-up sights and the aforementioned Streamlight TRL. A Magpul MS3 two-point sling and Leupold Mk AR 1.5-4x scope on a Burris PEPR mount round it out.
I’ve selected P-Mags to take the trip with me out the door, and the coup de grace – a CMMG .22 LR conversion kit with a pair of magazines and a couple small boxes of ammo. The CMMG .22 LR conversion kit and its accouterments fit nicely into a MOLLE triple-magazine pouch.
This combination ensures I have the capability of providing security and food for my family with one rifle, without a ton of hassle. I’ve run the snot out of the whole works in the field, in dirty sandpits, and in tactical rifle training courses – the entire package works just fine, and I can maintain or replace most of the rifle’s various parts with a cut-down 1/16” punch (which lives in the Magpul stock, along with a selection of detents and springs). The setup works for me, and I’m confident it will fulfill all my perceived SHTF rifle needs until I run out of ammo.
What If I Lived Somewhere Else?
What about if I lived in an area (like Connecticut, NY, or CA) where I can’t buy what I want due to local laws? I would look to a Scout Rifle type setup (covered further in an upcoming article), and probably (laws depending) grab up a Savage 110 Scout Rifle in .308 or Mossberg MVP in .223, which takes standard AR magazines.
Jeff Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept has a TON of merit for the prepper/survivalist who can only consider one rifle, as the Scout Rifle idea was generated around the idea of supporting a “Lone Rifleman.” The rifle needs to be good at everything, even though it may not be THE rifle you’d pick to handle a certain specific scenario. Lightweight, effective calibers, accuracy, and ruggedness are hallmarks of the idea – attributes you should embrace when chasing the best SHTF rifle, no?
If I was the aforementioned Nebraska pig farmer, with wildlife ventilation at longer ranges being my primary reason for owning a rifle post-SHTF, I might look at the Scout Rifle here too. It straddles the line between precision hunting rifle and battle rifle. I might also pursue an early Ruger Model 77 or Remington 700 with iron sights and a good higher-magnification Leupold scope… probably chambered in .308 or .30-06. If I felt saucy, I might look for a good chamber adapter to fire low-powered .32 ACP pistol cartridges in my rifle – though the pursuit of multi-caliber adaptability can be frustrating once you get into the larger calibers. An AR-10 in .308 would be a great compromise for the gotta-have-a-semi crowd. Again, I’d try to stick to common calibers – no Short Magnums or Weatherby calibers for me, thanks.
In an urban area, a quick-firing pistol caliber carbine that’s easily and effectively suppressed could be a great choice to lead your charge out of Dodge. Nothing gives me the “yeesh”es more than watching Brad Pitt in “World War Z” duct tape a kitchen knife to the muzzle of a Remington 700BDL and try to clear an apartment building. He made do with what he could find, but it’s a good Hollywood example that the right tool for the right job should work way better than a completely inappropriate rig cobbled together in the hopes of surviving. A little forethought and preparation goes a long way!
Wrapping Up SHTF Rifle Selection
The best SHTF Rifle for everyone doesn’t exist. However, YOUR best SHTF rifle exists and you can likely find it after some careful consideration for your individual situation. Try before you buy where possible, and look everywhere you can before you succumb to instant gratification. That sexy accessory-encrusted AR or AK or SCAR would be cool for sure – but it might not be the best SHTF rifle for you.
I’m not telling you not to buy it (you totally should!), but if you’re searching for that ONE rifle that you can carry out the door with you when the shit hits the fan, don’t be afraid to come to the conclusion that what everyone else thinks you need is actually going to be the best rig for your situation. The coolness factor carries a lot less weight once you’re heading for the hills and one rifle is all you got.
Questions? Comments? What’s YOUR perfect SHTF rifle?