Choosing a Survival Pistol: Applying the Five Principles

Choosing a Survival Pistol: Applying the Five Principles
The Beretta 92FS gets the author's seal of approval as a survival pistol. Image by

In this survival guide blog from Scott Wagner, choosing a survival pistol is covered. What makes for a good survival handgun? The author picks the Beretta 92FS.

The Beretta 92FS gets the author's seal of approval as a survival pistol. Image by

Let me put the five principles from my previous post together in making a decision concerning a pistol. Clearly, I am examining only one selection, because there are MANY pistols available that would work in this role, which I will discuss in the future. The pistol I am going to examine is my all-time favorite combat pistol: The Beretta 92FS. This is known to the military as the M9 or M9A1.

There is no questioning the reliability of the original Beretta 92FS. It has been given the ultimate field test since 1985 as our Armed Force’s standard issue pistol, and the M9 and has passed with flying colors. The latest rendition purchased by the military is the mildly modified M9A1, which has a light rail on the frame.

Beretta Exploded Gun Drawings
Click the image to download Beretta exploded gun drawings.

With smoothness of operation rivaled only by custom pistols, the 92 was for much of the 1980s and into the 1990s second only to Smith and Wesson autopistol designs in terms of police service use. That dominance changed with the advent of the Glock design and its widespread acceptance for police use due its somewhat simpler design. But the 92 just runs and runs and runs.

In terms of ruggedness, the same qualities that make it reliable bolster its ruggedness. Its design has stood up to the worst environmental conditions on earth, and the worst neglect possible by men in combat. It would not still be going strong some 27 years after it was adopted if it wasn’t rugged.

Portability is less of an issue when discussing defensive handguns then it is when talking long guns. While the 92 may not be the best choice for deep cover carry, it still can be done. I know because I have done it. There are many ways to carry the 92 concealed. Backpack, sling pack, fanny pack or IWB holster work well just to name a few.

I mentioned simplicity of operation as a factor earlier. This is an area where the 92 gives up some ground to designs such as the Glock. There is a manual safety/decocker, and the standard DA/SA trigger requires transition practice. While some find this a problem, I haven’t, as the first duty auto’s I carried in my law enforcement career were the early Smith and Wesson series with the same design, starting with the elegant Model 39.  Training and practice will overcome any such concern when using a DA/SA auto.

Finally, we come to effectiveness. Yes, clearly the 9mm in FMJ bullet profiles is not as effective as the .45 in the same configuration in terms of raw potential to stop a determined assailant.

However, the 92 carries more rounds in the magazine vs. the .45. That's 15 per magazine rather than seven or eight. Get proper hits with all those smaller bullets and you will be effective.

Keep in mind, too, that all pistol calibers fail. The much-vaunted .40 S&W can claim quite a few rather spectacular failures. If you need close-range protection from large amounts of people, warding them off from my position, be it in the open, in a structure, or in a vehicle, I want to put as much ammo downrange.

The high capacity of a 9mm Beretta 92 will allow me to do just that.

What type of survival pistol are you choosing? Leave a comment below.


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  1. Wow……he states that he knows the 9mm isn`t as good a stopping round as the .45, but he counters with, the 9mm carries more rounds? Unbelievable.

    While it`s true that I`m a dyed-in-the-wool Glock guy, and a for-sure .45acp dude, it`s still asinine to tout yourself as some sort of survival expert, then tell the average guy that spraying more rounds is better than being under control with a much better stopping round.

    After this, plus the silly advice on CQC shotguns, I don`t give this dude much credibility.

    • You must have read a different article than I did.I read this:
      “Get proper hits with all those smaller bullets and you will be effective.”
      He also states using FMJ rounds arent as effective,but you seem to missed that too.It’s not a fact that a .45 stops “much better” than a 9mm or .40.

  2. The Berreta has always had a habit of breaking after so many rounds. Our military sent them back to the armory after so many rounds to have the slides replaced. I have a TZ 75 in 9mm, a Star PD and a sig sauer 220 both in 45acp. My right front pocket always has a Charter arms bulldog in 44 special. I always carry speed loaders and extra magazines just in case. I rarely carry the 9mm as it just doesnt have the power needed in Alaska to stop a grizz or a moose. The best gun to carry is the one you can use the best!!!! Make the first shot count and you wont need a second shot.

    • Nmgene, our military did have a problem with the slides cracking, but that problem was fixed long ago. There was a problem with the metal composition of the slides causing them to be weaker and crack or break in half in the thinner area of the slide where the locking block would slide into place. Anyone who has taken a beretta apart knows exactly where I am talking about. Beretta tried to fix the problem with making a thicker and heavier slide called the brigadier. Talk to anyone in the military who used one and they all hated them. Heavy as could be and wouldn’t fit properly in any molded holster due to their thickness. These came around the later 90’s and eventually went away around early 2000. Beretta was able to correct the flaw in the composition of the slides and the new M9/92FS slides are back to the original size and twice as strong as the beefier brigadier slides. I have personally shot well over 5,000 rds through an M9 in a week and never had a problem. The most common problem with the pistol now is locking blocks breaking, but this was due to a bad batch sent to the military and have mostly been replaced. I’ve never seen any other pistol hold up to the amount of abuse the M9 has taken over the years. As much as I like Glock pistols, I will gladly take a Beretta as a survival pistol any day of the week. It is the AK-47 of pistols.

    • The .45 nor the .44 special would not be on my list as bear of moose rounds.Also,you can make the perfect shot w/ a pistol and in certain situations follow up shots may be needed.

  3. The Beretta is a very reliable handgun however it is not for everyone. People with small hands have a very difficult time shooting it well. I am one of those people and I think it feels like I am holding a brick. The military took a one size fits all stance when they picked it. Since that time there are some units that use the Sig, Glock and 1911. As for caliber I think that any military or law enforcement makes sense, these would be the 9mm, 40 cal, or 45 cal cartridges. As for what is a better cartridge, well books could be filled with that argument. The best cartridge is whatever you can handle that is done by choosing a weapon that fits you.

    • Quite correct, and that’s why we are fortunate that there are so many pistol choices that would work in these circumstances. Above all, I believe that high capacity in whatever caliber you find works best for you is critical, and there are a lot of great Hi-cap .45’s now that work well right out of the box, such as the Springfield XD series.

      Thanks for your comments

  4. I prefer my CZs. However, after it has been out in the field for a while and been used under the worst conditions, I suspect the KelTec PMR-30 may be the hot item. There is a lot to be said in favor of 30 rounds per magazine, and the teminal ballistics of the current self-defense ammo is impressive. The gun is also very light, so you could carry more loaded magazines.

  5. Thanks for the write up – m9 is a good argument, although I say the future is in plastics. My choice would be a Glock 19 for all around use – indestructable, accurate, light, concelable, and for my hand more comfortable than the full size. 9mm is probably the most universal ammo, and Glock the most universal pistol to include LEO (carrying model 17s, which magazines will work in the 19). Not the prettiest, nor comfortable, but the title is survival…

    • Glock of COURSE, is an excellent choice-and for LE is universal, although the .40 rightly or wrongly, is the number one choice of caliber among agencies. At my former agency, testing showed that the Glock 31, in .357 SIG caliber, would be our best choice, and it was. Great caliber-for awhile we were the only agency in the state to issue it-and I still have a couple of examples in .357, the 32 and 33 specifically, they wouldn’t be my primary survival pistol choice, unless I bought .40 cal barrels for them, which is a good solution.

  6. Maxim. Sounds like an excellent choice to me-CZ design has been around for a long time, and was the basis for the first 10mm pistol, the Bren Ten.

    Plenty of ammo on board. I am not aware of Beretta warning against +P ammo on the 92 series and a bit confused that you would get that response from someone. 92’s are designed to handle the hot official NATO loading on a regular basis, for many thousands of rounds. IF you mean the 96, I understand that, as it is an adaptation to that larger and much higher pressure caliber. As far as reloads go, there is probably NO manufacturer that will in writing or verbally these days recommend the use of reloads for liability reasons. Glock was one of the first to recommend against lead bullet reloads due to their polygonal rifling and lead build up.

  7. My survival choice (assuming no concern for weight/size) would be my CZ 75b, .40cal: all steel so can handle any ammo [a phone call to Beretta produced a warning not to use +P or reloads]; can safely carry at half-cock & just pull trigger to fire; as fast as 9mm & was the KGB’s gun of choice (a nefarious endorsement, but reliable nonetheless), 10+1 mag.


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