I decided to write an article identifying and singing the praises of the ten best survival rifles to own. And that’s what the title says at the top of this article.
That being said, listing the 10 “best survival rifles” requires real compromises. It’s a cold hard fact that a single perfect survival rifle doesn’t exist. There are too many unique survival scenarios to consider.
Plus, owning ten survival rifles won’t do you much good, unless you have a very large family or a caddy to carry all your guns. So I decided to fight conventional wisdom and focus primarily on the top five (or what I consider the best of each survival category) and then give you five runner-ups.
But again, let me be crystal clear. One weapon can’t do it all and ten options leave a lot of room for less than stellar performance in various roles. It’s sort of like expecting a dump truck to accelerate from zero to 60 MPH in 4 seconds. In the right application, a dump truck is extremely useful, just not when acceleration is the goal.
The bottom line is survival situations vary, as well as the tasks required of your survival firearms. So what are the roles we expect out survival rifles to play?
I like to break down the main survival tasks into 5 broad categories:
- Hunting Small game
- Hunting Large game
- Perimeter-defense beyond 200 yards
- Self-defense inside 200 yards
- Self-defense in close quarters
So let’s take a look at each task and the best survival rifles to accomplish them.
Hunting Small Game
In an actual wilderness survival situation, you may need to live off the land, and that means we can’t overlook small game.
There are a lot more squirrel, rabbit, possum and other varmints around than there are deer. Dropping a ten point buck might feed the family for weeks, but those will be few and far between if times get tough.
Squirrel, on the other hand, are rats with cute tails, and we have no rat population problems. Dropping three or four squirrels (or rabbits) every few days can get your family by in a pinch.
But in the small game arena, there are many excellent rifles, each firing a variety of respectable calibers.
You could look at the .17 HMR cartridge, a very flat shooting, very high velocity round and realize it’s the be all and end all of the varmint rounds.
You may also become intrigued by the .22 Magnum for its power over the standard .22LR. This cartridge is fired by great rifles and is excellent as long as you can run down to Academy Sports or Wal-Mart and buy another box of shells.
When the big box stores run dry, these more exotic calibers will be useless unless you’ve got a large stockpile of ammo storage. But wait, you say. These cartridges are available at the local big box store, and the .22 LR is always sold out. And you’re right – however, let’s look at the reasons why.
Reason 1 – The .22 LR is never in stock because people recognize this cartridge as the most versatile, desirable, and affordable survival round. People hoard them by the thousands when they do become available.
Reason 2 – It’s the only cartridge I know where you can walk around with a thousand rounds in your pocket – or a lifetime supply in your backpack. They don’t weight much.
So it’s a well-established fact that the .22 LR makes the grade for best survival small game caliber. So let’s choose our small game survival rifle to match the best survival ammo. And there’s only one choice:
1. The Scoped Ruger 10/22 Take-down
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To be honest, I personally own a Remington 597 with a good scope and love it. However, having taken it down for cleaning and discovering all the small and seemingly fragile internal parts, I have to say the Ruger seems like a more durable design in the long run – and that is what the Ruger has been in for decades – the long run.
The Ruger and the Remington are competitors in the semi-automatic .22LR regime, however, over the years the public has voted with their pocketbooks and the Ruger comes out on top.
Plus, the newer take-down versions break down into component pieces. So you can easily store it in a backpack to be reassembled later as the situation requires. Perfect for those who’s survival plan includes bugging out.
Hunting Large Game
So your family is sick of squirrel and rabbit stew, and suddenly that ten point buck presents itself at 300 yards. Which rifle do you wish you had in your hands in that situation?
Well, you need a cartridge that can reach out and stay lethal at 300 yards or more. You also need to kill that deer with one shot. You don’t need to wound him and then lose him.
Remember, he’s got a 300-yard head start, and he’s a deer—which means he’s fast, even when injured.
If you get off a bad shot and hit him in the left front leg, you want the leg blown clean off. That should slow him down somewhat. So we’re not talking about mid-sized cartridges, like a 125 grain 5.56 or 7.62 x 39mm traveling at 2100-2400 FPS.
Instead, we’re talking something in the 170-220 grain region in .30 caliber soft-point or better traveling 2700-3000 FPS. We’re talking .30-06, .308 Winchester or .300 Win Mag.
(If you find yourself flush with surplus Soviet ammo, the 7.62X54R is also an excellent choice – though now we’re talking surplus military hardware and surplus military rifles. That’s a topic for a future article.)
So what is the best rifle for delivery of this type bullet? Call me a traditionalist, but the US Army and US Marine Corps are pretty good references.
2. Remington 700
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The Remington 700, in various forms, has been the mainstay of the bolt-action sniper world for decades. When the Army began sniper school during the Viet Nam War, it had no weapons designed for the role, so they pulled scoped Remington 700s (and Winchester Model 70s) from the shelves of local sporting good stores for use in combat.
Decades later, the Remington 700 in military trim is still a frontline bolt action sniper rifle. A high-quality scope is a must for this long range survival rifle.
Let’s face it; perimeter defense means keeping the bad guys away from your people by killing them at long range.
Maybe effective signage will keep them away or perhaps you’d prefer the incoming rounds be a complete surprise. That’s your personal moral choice. However, you do want whatever lead you send their way to have the proper impact in the desired location.
That means you need accuracy and lethality.
So why not pick the Remington 700? Surely, if your survival rifle can take down a deer at 400 yards, it can take down a man at 400 yards. No doubt. However, the benefit of the bolt action on accuracy is also a liability when it comes to quick follow up shots or multiple moving targets.
The deer might stand there wondering what the kicked up dirt next to it means and wait there for a second follow up shot, but humans will realize immediately what’s happening.
So a semi-automatic option is your best choice when hunting the “most dangerous game”; Man.
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When we’re talking semi-auto, lethal and accurate at these ranges, we’re talking a scoped AR-15 in 5.56 NATO – or maybe a scoped AR-10 in .308 NATO. The AR-10 has the better knockdown power, however, the recoil of the 5.56 mm round fired from an AR-15 with a quality buffer is negligible, so your aim is less affected.
The AR-10 has the better knockdown power, however, the recoil of the 5.56 mm round fired from an AR-15 with a quality buffer is negligible, so your aim is less affected.
Your shots should come fast, with easy acquisition of your second, third and fourth targets. Quality AR-15s are cheaper than the AR-10 and so is the 5.56 mm round.
You can carry quite a few rounds on your person as opposed to the .308, .30-06 or the like, and they are readily available and affordable – at least before the excrement hits the fan. So stock up.
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Self-defense Inside 200 Yards
Let’s say you don’t have the advantage of a wide field of fire. You live in the dense forests of Georgia, not the plains of Kansas. In this case, perimeter defense might shrink to an uncomfortably close distance of fewer than 100 yards.
In close quarters, you need a weapon that is both accurate and reliable.
Now we’re not talking 400 yards accurate. We’re talking guaranteed lethal hits on man-sized targets at less than 100 yards. There is one other significant problem at this distance – you can expect the bad guys to shoot back.
So every round you fire must count, and the weapon cannot jam. An AR-15 stovepiping a spent round at 400 yards takes just a moment to clear – a moment you might not have at 50 yards. So what do I recommend?
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There is only one choice – the favorite weapon of every despot, dictator, and communist in the world –the AK-47.
Now, to be fair, I’m not talking about a real AK-47. You can’t just pick up a full auto AK-47 on Gunbroker. I’m talking an “Americanized”, semi-automatic AK-47 variant.
Realistically, the full auto function of the original is relatively useless, unless you are fighting in a small room or spraying and praying to provide covering fire for someone else. Accuracy goes out the window in full auto.
Oh, you’ll kill that guy at 100 yards, might even hit him two or three times, but you’ll also empty your magazine in 3 seconds, spraying the surrounding trees with the rest of your precious 7.62x39mm rounds.
The AK design is tough and designed for the mechanical torture of full auto operation. In semi-auto operation, everything is simple, over-engineered and reliable.
I’ve owned a cheap Romanian AK variant for four years, have fired thousands of rounds through it, only clean it every five or six times I go to the range and have never experienced a jam.
The 7.62×39 mm round is lethal and even cheaper than the 5.56 mm. Inside 200 yards the AK has adequate accuracy. However, the one concession I would make is to add a holographic sight – even a cheap one enhances the shooting experience.
I have a little $30 unit on my AK and, although the open sights are fine, I love having the fine cross-hairs to lay across the target.
Most AKs come with side rail scope mounts. At one point I had a 9-power scope on my AK, but I had mixed results. The side rail mount of the large, somewhat heavy scope, along with the significant slamming of the mass of the gas piston and bolt within the rifle, prevented the scope from holding a reliable zero.
The small holographic sight offers no magnification, but it is so light on the rail that holds up better to all the steel being thrown around inside the old Soviet design. It holds a pretty decent zero and my follow-up shots are right where they are supposed to be.
With the 30 round magazine as standard, you may want to invest in some these gems – and keep them loaded and ready in your gun safe.
Another option is the large 75 round drum magazines available for the AK. However, these don’t hold any attraction for me. They just look heavy, and attached to an already heavy AK – makes the weapon freakin’ heavy.
Plus, with 75 rounds at your fingertips, the temptation to spray and pray, rather than carefully aim, may cause you to waste a ton of ammo unintentionally.
So in summary, quoting Samuel L Jackson from the movie Jackie Brown, “AK-47. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every MF in the room”.
Self-Defense In Close Quarters
Let’s say you not only live in a heavily forested area with no long line of sight, but you also fell asleep on your watch, and the bad guy is now inside your perimeter or even inside your house.
At this point in a perfect world, you could choose to engage the bad guy with a handgun – but the word handgun does not appear in the title of this article. So let’s assume you are grabbing for something larger. So what would you prefer?
When you’re startled close quarters combat, you naturally begin to spray and pray. If you have the AR-15 or AK-47 variant, you can make a lot of noise and poke a lot of holes in your walls, possibly killing your family members in the next room, however, if you want to remove doubt at close quarters – use a shotgun.
5. Mossberg 500
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A tactical, pump 12 gauge, such as the Mossberg 500, can take spraying and praying to a whole new level. You fire a couple salvos of this bad boy down a hallway; you are going to hit your target – multiple times.
Regular, long hunting shotguns are at a disadvantage in these conditions since they are not as conducive to mobility in an enclosed area. The little street-sweeper holds this nickname for a reason. Go tactical.
So the next question now becomes – shot or slug?
Double aught buckshot increases your likelihood of a hit, but a slug delivers an exceptionally deadly blow at close quarters. Here are the two big differences.
A shot pattern does not guarantee involuntary incapacitation. Now if the intruder gets hit with shot in a vital area, then the matter of his withdrawal doesn’t matter. He’s going down.
However, he can be hit several times, even mortally, and still decide to scram on his own volition or he may decide to fight back for his few remaining minutes in this life.
You’d prefer him to be unable to make this choice since it could turn out bad for you. If on the other hand he’s hit with a 12 gauge slug – he’s not going to be able to make this decision.
Any head or torso shot with a slug is going to blow a significant hole in him, and all the walk is going to go out of his feet. Even if he is hit in a leg or arm – he’s still in little position to fight back. It’s likely his arm will be blown clean off (though it could hang on by a few tendons) and, although it’s less likely to blow off a leg, it’s more likely he’ll bleed out fast with the largest artery in the body running through that part of the anatomy.
Regardless, the shock of his injuries will prevent his choice to continue the fight. Slugs deliver devastating blows. However, they also defeat the purpose of the shotgun – the large pattern of projectiles that virtually guarantee a hit. You can miss with a slug.
So it’s your choice. Or do you have to compromise at all? There are self-dense shotgun shells that incorporate a slug along with buckshot.
My shotgun of choice? The Mossberg 500 in its many variants in 12 gauge, which also happens to be the shotgun of choice for the US Army.
So here’s a quick recap of my 5 top survival rifle choices:
- 1 – Ruger 10/22
- 2 – Remington 700
- 3 – AR-15 (reputable brands include: CMMG, Inc., Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Ruger, Colt, Daniel Defense)
- 4 – AK-47 (semi-auto variants-Krebs, Mossberg, CAI, Kalashnikov, Saiga, etc.)
- 5 – Mossberg 500 Tactical Pump Shotgun
My Vote For All Around Best Survival Rifle
So if I could only take one, what do I consider the best all-around survival rifle?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and not choose a .22 LR rifle. I do think there may be a better choice – or at least a marginally better choice.
Do you want range? Reliability? Lethality? Readily available ammo? Do you want one best survival rifle that can do it all?
Well, that weapon does not exist – HOWEVER – I do have a good candidate:
- 6 – Ruger Mini-14 (check out today’s price)
This little jewel is a compact carbine, packs a 5.56 mm punch, is semi-automatic, reliable, durable, and optics ready. If I could only take one rifle with me—and a few hundred rounds of ammo – it would be this one.
Runner Up Best Survival Rifles
So how about some runner’s up? Here are some other best survival rifles to consider:
- 7 – Remington 597, Marlin Model 60 (in .22LR)
- 8 – Winchester Model 70, Savage XP Trophy Hunter (in .30-06, .308 Win, .300)
- 9 – Sig Sauer M400 SRP (in 5.56mm), Ruger Mini-30 (in 7.62X39mm)
- 10 – Winchester SXP Defender Shotgun (in 12 Gauge)
That puts me at this article’s goal of the 10 Best Survival Rifles.
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