AR-15: The Ultimate Survival Gun?

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Power, speed, accuracy, capacity, ease of use, versatility and reliability all go into making an ideal survival gun, and the AR-15 has these assets in spades.

Why the AR-15 is an ideal survival gun:

  • Mid- to long-range accuracy
  • High-velocity cartridge
  • Lightweight
  • Common and inexpensive ammunition
  • Large magazine capacity
  • Easily configured
  • Abundant parts
  • Light Recoil
  • Relatively simple maintenance

When it comes to survival, the best choice is a rifle that combines power, speed, accuracy, capacity and reliability, ease of use, versatility, accessories, and lightweight. To me, there is only one choice: the AR rifle. Its popularity ensures the availability of plenty of spare parts for repairs. Its modularity makes it easy to repair and work on. This modularity allows the versatility to change barrels and cartridges within a certain range.

AR-15 Survival Guns

The AR is the single most versatile rifle available. It can be adapted to fire over a dozen different rifle and pistol calibers. The design makes it easy to install optics and scopes; the collapsible stock allows the length to be adjusted so different-stature shooters can comfortably use the same rifle. All of these features help explain why it is so popular.

The AR serves primarily for self-defense, used to quickly and accurately engage multiple assailants should the need arise. You could certainly use other rifles for such tasks, and I will recommend many, but the AR stands above them all. It is true that the AR may not be the best firearm to use in all defensive situations. Sometimes a shotgun or a pistol will be better suited for specific jobs.

The AR is traditionally chambered in the 5.56x45mm NATO (interchangeable with the .223 Remington caliber) cartridge. Some have questioned the effectiveness of this cartridge, but the U.S. Military has been using this round as their primary rifle caliber for 60 years, through many wars and other interventions. If it were not effective, we would not still have it. As with any firearm, the weight and type of bullet can be easily changed to deliver better performance, and while not all loadings may be ideal for hunting, many are used effectively on deer, feral hogs, coyote, and other game animals.

Some have argued that a 5.56mm AR is bad for home defense because the round will over penetrate and pass through walls, endangering other occupants or neighbors. Yet Police SWAT teams are increasingly switching from 9mm submachine guns to 5.56mm ARs exactly because they penetrate less than the 9mm, especially with proper ammunition selection.

The AR is extremely weather resistant and was designed that way from the start for military use. The receiver is aluminum, the stock polymer, the barrel and bolt carrier chrome lined and phosphate finished. The rifle is not completely rust or corrosion resistant, but it is almost as close as it gets. It was designed to be lightweight at about 6.5 lbs. The carbine version is very compact and can be easily broken down into two parts for ease of transport.


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When it comes to parts and accessories, manufacturers are busy producing almost anything you can imagine. It is very easy to take a 6.5-lb. AR carbine and turn it into a futuristic 11-lb. powerhouse. There are many AR manufacturers, and most of their guns are built to Mil-Spec, meaning that they have complete parts interchangeability. I will include a few full reviews below, but first I’ll give a round-up of some of the popular AR manufacturers.

Note: When it comes to survival, don’t try to get fancy. Many ARs are sold specifically for competition, varmint hunting, in odd calibers, or with non-standard features to appeal to select shooters. That is not what you want. You want the standard Mil-Spec AR carbine. Keep it simple. When it comes to accessories, add only what you think you really need and will actually use. Special coatings or treatments are fine and even the use of custom drop-in trigger kits is OK, as these can be easily replaced with Mil-Spec trigger kits.

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from Modern Survival Guns: The Complete Preppers' Guide to Dealing with Everyday Threats, available now at GunDigestStore.com.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. AR’s are notoriously persnickety with cleanliness. The flexibility created through the variety of accessories, radically increases the complexity of the firearm. Also, as an ambidextrous shooter with no dominant side, the whole industry of side eject guns is problematic (there are a couple of bottom eject rifles out there that make life easier 🙂 In a building clearing scenario, the ability to trade hands for left and right hallways is invaluable, and a gun that does not lend itself to that, has self-imposed limitations.

    I know the AR’s have come a long way from the junk we had in Vietnam days, but Garand mechanisms are far more tolerant of FOD, and are far simpler in design, reliability, and operation. From that perspective, I’ll take an M1, M14, Mini-14/Mini-30 over any AR personally (go read the history of initial AR military selection; it was far more political that practical). SPECOPS may carry an M4a1 on specific missions, but it is only one of a number of rifle selections, albeit it almost all 5.56

    For the typical untrained homeowner for self defense, a shotgun, with its’ aiming “tolerance”, may be a far better home defense weapon.

  2. I would agree that the AR-15 is a near perfect choice for most people, if we limit the discussion to home defense and social unrest. I would stop short of calling it the perfect survival rifle. I would not care to try stopping an angry Grizzly with one, never mind several of the African species that might escape from zoos and animal parks to establish themselves here after a total collapse. I also wouldn’t expect it to function for more than a few rounds if all I had to feed it was home made black powder. My personal issue with it is that most AR’s have a reputation for being lefty-unfriendly, case deflector or not. Yes, I could go with one of Stag Arms’ excellent mirror image offerings, but that defeats the author’s argument about spare parts availability. ‘Perfect’ is a very personal choice. For myself, I’ll have to stick to my lever actions.

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