The 5 Principles of Survival Guns

FREE: Download AR-15 Maintenance Guide

AR-15 Disassembly and Maintenance GuideAn AR-15 isn't going to last long in a survival situation without proper maintenance. Enter your e-mail below for a free guide to AR-15 maintenance. You'll also receive more tips in the Gun Digest e-newsletter.

[form id=”129511″]



McMillan TAC-308 Tactical Rifle
Would this McMillan TAC-308 tactical rifle work well as a survival gun? Read the author's five principles to determine what makes for a good survival weapon.

by Scott W. Wagner

This post lays the groundwork for selecting the survival guns you will need, both lethal and less-lethal, as well as the equipment to support that weapon selection.

There are five basic parameters that a suitable survival firearm must meet.

1) Reliability

This may seem to be a no-brainer, but from what I have seen, it sometimes gets overlooked because of other factors that come into play, including the “looks cool” and/or “my buddy said…” arguments.

Your tactical preparation gun MUST be absolutely drop-dead reliable. Reliable right from the box is best. If your situation involves travel, whom are you going to get to fix it? Not likely to be a gunsmith nearby.

2) Ruggedness

Your survival guns need to be able to take a beating without damage, especially guns that will be traveling with you. They need to hold up to lowered levels of maintenance. These survival guns should not need replacement parts or specialized service.

3) Portability

M1 Garand: Survival Weapon?
The M1 Garand is the author's favorite rifle overall, but its bulk makes it unsuitable as a survival gun.

While I feel I am still in good shape, carrying heavy things around on foot over long distances in terrible conditions just doesn’t appeal to me.

The survival weapon(s) you choose must be portable and maneuverable. My favorite all-time rifle is an M1 Garand manufactured in 1942. It is highly reliable, extremely rugged and is simple to operate.

But who wants to lug it around over long distances at a loaded carry weight of over 10 lbs.? Not me.

4) Simplicity

Read more about survival guns
Click the image to read more about survival guns in the aptly-named, "Survival Guns."

The survival gun needs to be simple to operate in all facets, including loading, clearing, making safe and firing. How quickly can you go from empty to “boom” without injuring yourself or someone else?

Simplicity also means that you aren’t hanging bucketfuls of equipment off your weapon. That includes flashlights and most any other gadget.

In times of extreme crisis, you should be able to pick up the survival weapon, charge and immediately fire it. There should be no knobs to fool with or system to check, no batteries to test. This principle of simplicity is the same concept I use when it comes to recommending police patrol rifles and shotguns.

5) Effectiveness

The AR-15 is a good choice for tactical scenarios. But is it versatile enough to get you through a survival situation? The author thinks not.

The survival weapon must be effective in terms of completing the task assigned to it. This also means that you can only evaluate a particular weapon based upon what it is designed for to judge effectiveness.

For example, the 5.56mm AR-15 and its variants work very well for a number of tactical and defensive/offensive purposes. For dealing with single or multiple aggressors within 300 meters, it is hard to beat. In other words, its effectiveness rating for this purpose is very high. However, if it was the weapon you choose to take with you for say, protection against grizzly bears in the wilds of Alaska over any other gun, then its effectiveness rating, and your I.Q., would be very low.

So if your primary mission is addressing single/multiple human threats at ranges within 300 meters, there would be a number of possible weapons choices for this purpose, some being better than others. There are also survival weapons that may be selected for this purpose that are totally unsuitable, and that is what we are trying to avoid.

Effectiveness in terms of the tactical preparation firearm used for defensive/assault purposes would also include its potential ability to hold off, stop, or turn a large mass of people away from their goal. Some weapons are extremely effective in stopping single offenders due to the amount of destructive energy each particular round puts out, but due to lower ammunition capacity, would not be effective in dealing with larger groups of assailants.

Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need

Stay Alive: Survival Skills You Need
Click the image to check out "Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need." There's no time to lose.

Some books about survival skills forget that everyone isn't a Green Beret. Others are so basic or impractical that your chances of survival go down with each chapter. How about a book that balances easy-to-understand information with hardcore survival techniques?

Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need is just that book. Full-color photos highlight must-know information that won't leave you in the dark – literally.

Click to order Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need for just $15.46.