If You Could Only Have One Gun | Which Would You Choose?

if you could only have one gun
Image Credit: Steve Woods

Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that a SHTF (shit hits the fan) event isn’t that unlikely. Climate change, natural disasters, civil unrest, or political tension could trigger one at any time. If you had only one gun for a SHTF event, which gun would you choose? 

Each type of gun is designed to serve a specific purpose. When a SHTF situation arises, the best gun to have is one that the user is familiar and comfortable with. The gun will need to be versatile since it will need to perform a variety of functions during changing conditions.

Read on to learn about the best types of guns to have in a SHTF scenario. See which guns may provide an advantage based on your skill level, emergency plan, and location.

What are the likely scenarios for SHTF?

Many scenarios can be described as SHTF moments that would require adequate survival skills and a gun. The most obvious scenarios are:

Widespread natural disasters 

  • Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, wildfires, drought.

Terrorist attacks

  • Cyber, biological, chemical, active shooter, explosion.

Political unrest

  • Riots, strikes, coups, assassinations.

In any of these situations, you may need to stay and defend your home (bug-in). Or, you may need to escape to a safer place (bug-out). Your choice of gun should be adaptable to quickly changing conditions.

What are the common issues?

There are common issues you are likely to face in these situations. Knowing these can help you choose which gun would offer the most assistance if you could only have one.

Loss of major utilities

  • Electricity, natural gas, water, sewer, and cell service may be unavailable for an extended period, or indefinitely.

Loss of supply lines

  • Gasoline and other fuels, food, ammunition, and consumer goods would disappear quickly.

Possible delay or loss of civil services

  • Fire, police, ambulance, and hospital services may be limited or non-existent depending on the situation. 

Other factors to consider

If you could only have one gun, here are some other things to think about. There are many possible scenarios and you won’t be able to plan for all of them. 

First, you need to identify some of the most likely scenarios. Then create your emergency plan and choose the gun that will adequately fill most of your anticipated needs.

City considerations

If you’re in the city, you’ll want a gun to defend your home, family, and supplies in the immediate aftermath. You’ll also want a gun that is easy to maneuver and reasonably quiet. 

  • Do you live or work in a city? 
  • Do you have an escape route planned if needed? 
  • Can you shelter in place in the city or will you need to bug-out immediately? Where and when would you do that?

In close quarters, you won’t want to alert anyone else in the area to your location. In this case, you may want a semi-automatic rifle or semi-automatic handgun preferably outfitted with a suppressor or silencer. 

Rural considerations

If you’re in a rural area, you may have to hunt for food and eventually travel for more supplies. You’ll want to discourage “visitors” on your property from longer distances. And you’ll need stopping power if you live near larger game (deer, moose, elk, bear). 

  • How large and easily defensible is your property?
  • What will you need to protect (animals, food supply, water)?
  • Do you have an escape route planned in a worst-case scenario?

A rifle may be the best option if you live in a rural area and plan to bug-in for any length of time. But when you have to bug-out, remember that they are more difficult to conceal and use in close quarters.

Immediate and long-term emergency plan

Here are some important factors you need to consider for your immediate and long-term emergency plan.


The greatest need for a SHTF gun will be home defense. But, you should consider that at some point you’ll likely need to bug-out.

If your plan is to bug-in initially, then bug-out later, you will need a gun that is quiet, lightweight, and easy to conceal and transport. Over time you will run out of food and scavenging will become limited. You may need a gun that is also useful for hunting small game.

You may have to acquire another gun for hunting later or learn to improvise with what you have. Choosing a versatile gun and learning to use it well can help.


Consider how much weight you and your party can carry in each pack. How much do the gun, ammo and any accessories weigh? Will you need to hunt to eat? If so, what size are the game in your area that you would be hunting?

In the case of natural disasters, sometimes the only option is to bug-out immediately. In that case, consider that you may be driving out, but may also have to walk at some point (traffic, blocked roads, break-down, no gasoline). 

Necessary gun attributes

As you’re deciding which gun is best, keep these attributes in mind for changing circumstances.

  • Easy to use: Able to draw or pull up and aim quickly, with a lighter recoil. It should also be quick to load, reload, and fire.
  • Reliability: Get the most reliable gun for your budget. It should withstand some abuse and need as few repairs as possible. 
  • Weight and availability of ammo: Easy to find and light to carry will be best. Heavy shells or less popular ammo are difficult to carry or find later when you need it. Carry a larger quantity of lighter rounds. You’ll need to become a really good shot.

Choose a gun that is reliable, easy to use, and easy to repair. It should also be light enough with shells and accessories to carry for extended periods. 

Gun types and uses

As mentioned earlier, each type of gun is designed with a specific purpose in mind. That gives them distinct advantages and disadvantages over each other. 

No single gun is going to be the “best” option in a SHTF situation. There are too many variables where you’ll just have to improvise or make do. With only one gun, you will need to be creative in your selection and strategy. If you already own several guns, you probably know which one you would pick.

Below is some general information for those starting to shoot or collect guns. When you are ready, you can start researching the type of gear you plan to buy for your SHTF scenario.


  • Types: Revolver, semi-automatic, carbine.
  • Advantages: Smaller, easier to conceal, lighter weight, and easy to point and shoot, inexpensive and readily available ammo, and it’s accurate enough for close to mid-range interactions.
  • Disadvantages: Not long-range.
  • Best for: In-home defense, concealed carry.


  • Types: Pump-action, semi-automatic, and break-action.
  • Advantages: Flexible ammunition types (buckshot, deer slugs, etc.), devastating power for each round.
  • Disadvantages: Heavier than a handgun, hard to conceal, hard to maneuver in tight spots, needs two hands to operate, relatively low ammunition capacity, bulky/heavy ammunition, not quick to reload, not long-range, heavy recoil.
  • Best for: Close quarters defense, fowl hunting, can be used to hunt larger game at short distances with slugs.


  • Types: Pump-action, bolt-action, semi-automatic are the most popular.
  • Advantages: Powerful rounds, higher capacity ammunition, great for long distances, some are good for hunting larger game.
  • Disadvantages: Heavier than a handgun, harder to conceal, hard to maneuver in tight spots, needs two hands to operate.
  • Best for: Some are best for home/self-defense, others are best for hunting larger game, and long-range defense.

Recommendations for each gun type

Since every hunter and sportsman has their favorite types, styles, and brands they prefer, below is a list of the most popular suggestions for guns that can perform well when SHTF.

There will be no single best plan for everyone when the SHTF. There are as many opinions, scenarios, and circumstances as there are people. In addition to the type of gun and its versatility, shot placement and bullet selection can be critical.

Glock 19

The Glock 19 is small, lightweight, and easy to handle. Nearly everything about it can be customized.

It is one of the smallest mid-sized handguns and is a favorite for concealed carry.

  • Holds 15 rounds + 1 chambered. 
  • Low recoil.
  • Also accepts Glock 17 magazines and 33 round magazines.
  • Effective range is about 25-50 yards with practice.
  • Not enough power to kill larger game (deer) cleanly.

Smith & Wesson 686

The 686 has been used by police departments since the 1980s. 

It can accommodate the 357 magnum rounds as well as 38 Special rounds. When used with 38 Special rounds, it produces less recoil and is more economical to shoot. This can be helpful for new shooters.

  • Holds 6 rounds + 1 chambered.
  • Weighs 2.8 pounds with a 6” barrel.
  • Ammunition is 33 rounds per pound.
  • Can also fire the cheaper and easier to find 38 special ammo.
  • Effective range is about 50 yards.
  • Debatable whether it has enough power to kill larger game cleanly.

Mossberg 500

The Mossberg 500 is manufactured to military specifications and has been battle-proven over the last 50 years.

It’s a beefy, reliable, pump-action shotgun. It’s easy to use, and the ergonomic configuration is great for first-time shotgun users.

  • Holds 5 (2-3/4”) shells +1 in the chamber.
  • Weighs 7.5 pounds.
  • Limited range to 50 yards
  • Easily reconfigurable with accessories for more versatility.
  • For home defense, bird, and light game hunting.

Ruger 10/22 .22 LR

The Ruger 10/22 .22 LR is likely the second or third most recommended long gun.  

The Takedown version is ultra-versatile because the barrel quickly separates from the action so it can be packed into a bag. The stock also opens to store 3 magazines.

  • Detachable 10 round rotary magazine.
  • Weighs 4.6 pounds.
  • Ammunition is light at 133 rounds per pound.
  • Good for small game hunting (squirrel, grouse, rabbits, possum, possibly deer). 
  • Effective range is up to 150 yards.
  • Can handle self-defense in a pinch if you’re an expert marksman.

AR-15 – Smith & Wesson M&P 15

The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America. Many gun enthusiasts believe this is the best SHTF gun because it is very versatile. 

The M&P 15 isn’t a top-of-the-line AR, but it will get the job done. The CMMG .22LR conversion kit is recommended for this rifle because it can be easily reconfigured to shoot cheaper and lighter .22 rounds. 

  • Magazines hold from 5 – 60 rounds.
  • Weighs 6.79 pounds.
  • Ammunition is 37 rounds per pound.
  • For defense and light game hunting.
  • Effective range is about 200 yards.
  • 5.56mm or .223 ammo is lightweight and readily available.


Ultimately, having a good plan and being comfortable and well-practiced with any gun can help you and your family stay safe when the SHTF. A single gun isn’t practical, but if that’s all you have, you’ll need to be creative. It is always best to choose the option that is easiest to use under pressure. Now, make your plan and practice, practice, practice.


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