Survival—it is the primary objective of every living thing. For most people, most of the time, survival is centered around mundane things like making money to buy food and shelter, and occasionally avoiding speeding cement trucks when they cross the street. But for some people, certain situations can best be survived with use of an appropriate firearm.

For the estimated nine million Americans who legally carry a concealed handgun, survival is primarily about stopping a deadly attack by another person. In many other cases, however, survival guns must do extended duty as a means of harvesting animals for food or perhaps signaling for help, in addition to actual self-defense. Survival guns don’t need to be sniper-accurate or have a high rate of fire. What they do need to be is rugged, reliable, easy to maintain, and devoid of small, easily lost parts.

The most practical survival guns are also chambered for the most common, readily available types of ammunition such as 12 gauge; .308/.30-30/.223; 9mm/.38 Special/.357 Magnum. And let’s not forget the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle cartridge—in pistols and rifles, it has probably killed more critters and criminals than any other single cartridge. When carrying a load, pound-for-pound the .22 gives more shots than any other cartridge. Likewise, the 12-gauge shotgun offers great versatility simply by selecting the appropriate ammunition—birdshot for small game, buckshot for protection at short distances, and slugs for penetrating tough hide, fat, and muscle out to 100 yards.

The choice of a survival gun depends to a large extent on the environment in which the survivors may find themselves and what general requirements they have. Is hunting rabbits and squirrels for food a greater priority and likelihood than defending against bears? Does walking to safety across vast distances demand only the lightest of firearms to be carried, or do we sit tight, load up the nine-pound assault rifle, and wait to see if the hyenas (four- or two-legged) show up before the rescue chopper arrives?

Let’s explore a few different options and various designs:

Stag Executive Survivors Kit

No longer just another military-style rifle available to civilians, the AR-15 platform has become known as America’s Rifle. The design lends itself to almost every type of cartridge and every application from hunting prairie dogs to moose, competition shooting, self-defense, law enforcement, and homeland security.

While most manufacturers are content to provide the rifle and perhaps a few optional accessories, Stag Arms also offers a mission-specific, comprehensive kit built around a Stag Arms flattop AR-15 Model 2 (direct impingement gas system and collapsible stock). In addition to the rifle, the Stag Arms ESK is comprised of Silent Sling, EOTech 517 Holographic Red Dot sight, Stag Arms Field Repair Kit, Otis AR-15 Cleaning Kit, two 30-round magazines (10 rounds for restricted states) Gerber MP 600 Multi-Pliers, Gerber Omnivore LED Flashlight Dual Purpose, Human/Pet first aid kit, MRE field ration meal, and 60 rounds of quality ammunition, all enclosed in a hard side Pelican model 1700 long case.

The ESK is designed to provide extended security for the owner via the rifle and ammunition, comprehensive maintenance of that security with the repair and cleaning kit, and additional support via the light, MRE and first aid kit. Even the family pet gets first aid.

Alaskan Co-Pilot
For this next gun, please allow me to lean on a quote from the late Colonel Jeff Cooper: “The Alaskan Co-Pilot is one of the three most noteworthy steps in rifle design.” Now that’s quite an endorsement.

The Alaskan Co-Pilot is a Marlin model 1895 lever-action rifle that has been heavily customized by gunsmith Jim West of Wild West Guns, Anchorage, Alaska. In the Alaskan wilderness, survival is the goal. Imagine surviving in a region where access by small plane is the only option. A survival rifle has to be capable not only of providing food, but also protection from bears; it must be short, light, and able to be stowed in a small space such as a backpack or under the seat of a small aircraft.

Customization of the Model 1895 begins with conversion to a takedown design. The barrel and tubular magazine are separated from the receiver and a steel block is machined to allow easy detachment and re-attachment of the barrel/magazine assembly to the receiver while maintaining the rifle’s zero and the correct headspacing. Barrels are cut to the customer’s choice of 16.5, 18, or 20 inches and then ported and re-crowned, and the buttstock is cut down to fit the customer correctly. The action is tuned and fiber-optic front and ghost ring rear sights are added.

The factory standard chambering is the .45-70 cartridge, but Wild West Guns lengthens the chamber to also accept .410 shot shells loaded with birdshot, buckshot, or slugs for small game, and the custom .457 Wild West Magnum cartridge for bears. The .457 Wild West Magnum uses a .45-70 case that is lengthened by almost .165 inches and is loaded with a 350-grain bullet at 2,200 fps. The rifle still accepts the standard .45-70 cartridge. That’s five different loadings in one rifle! The CoPilot is also available chambered for the .50 Alaskan cartridge with a 450-grain bullet at approximately 2,000 fps.

Henry U.S. Survival AR-7

Henry Repeating Arms Company is the latest manufacturer of a .22 caliber, semi-automatic survival rifle that started out as the brainchild of famous gun designer Eugene Stoner, and was first produced by Armalite in 1959. Since then the rifles have been produced at various times by other companies such as Charter Arms and AR-7 Industries. The AR-7 is currently manufactured by Henry Repeating Arms and known as the U.S. Survival AR-7 Rifle.

Stoner’s design borrowed from his previous model, the AR-5/MA-1, which was also designed as a wilderness survival rifle for U.S. Air Force crews, but never adopted by the Air Force.

The Henry AR-7 with its Teflon-coated receiver and coated steel barrel makes an ideal take-down rifle for backpackers, boaters, recreational fishermen, and bush pilots because the barrel, action, and magazine can be stored inside the watertight ABS plastic stock, which floats. The rifle also features conventional iron sights and a top rail for mounting a scope.

The AR-7 is reliable and accurate enough with the standard sights. The blaze orange front sight is fast to acquire, and at 25 yards I found it will hold minute-of-squirrel from an unsupported shooting position with ease, although I expect it will shoot well to greater distances. With all firearms chambered for the .22LR cartridge, some brands and bullet types are more accurate than others, and some feed more reliably than others in autoloaders. The trick is to find the brand of ammunition that each individual firearm likes the most and then stock up with an ample supply!


The M6 is a small, light rifle developed by the U.S. military for downed Air Force crews and first appeared in 1951. The original version sported a pair of 14-inch barrels in an over/under configuration. The upper barrel was chambered for .22LR, the lower for .410 shotgun. The all-metal, parkerized M6 had a skeletonized stock and folded into a very compact package. Subsequent models vary slightly in design and chambering, and were built by Springfield Armory in 18-inch barrel lengths for sale to civilians in either .22LR or .22 Hornet.

It is no longer in production, but used models may still be found at gun shows. One of the survival features is that spare ammunition can be carried on the gun itself; typically four .410 shot shells and 15 .22LR cartridges. The trigger is an unconventional bar underneath the stock, and is squeezed upward by all four fingers with the thumb placed on top of the stock. It can be fired even while the shooter is wearing gloves. There is no magazine or feeding device other than the shooter loading one round at a time into each chamber. As a classic survival rifle and game getter, the gun is light, compact, and versatile.

Just In Case 500

Mossberg has taken its tried and trusted 12-gauge pump-action shotgun—the Model 500—and replaced the traditional shoulder stock with a simple, synthetic pistol grip. The gun retains its five-round magazine, and the 18.5-inch barrel sports a simple brass bead front sight. Think of it more as a big pistol than a traditional sporting shotgun. There’s no doubt that aiming is a bit more of a challenge, but I’ve personally shot clay birds in flight with a similar setup, I just had to get on the bird quickly while it was still quite close. One benefit I have found is that when the shoulder stock is removed perceived recoil is reduced.

Slightly bent arms holding the forend and pistol grip act as shock absorbers and soak up recoil that would otherwise be directed into the shooter’s shoulder with a regular stock attached. The downside is that accuracy at extended ranges suffers. In short, the JIC is a close-up and personal weapon as would likely be suitable for self-defense in the close confines of, say, a small boat, inside the average size home, or a thick forest or jungle.

What makes the Mossberg JIC a survival gun? It’s short and light; it shoots a wide range of easily available 12-gauge ammo; it is simple to use, quite rugged and reliable. The JIC models are available in three finishes that appeal to specific markets—blued for standard home security; desert camo for…well, sandy conditions; Marinecoate for maritime use. A waterproof storage tube is included. In addition, the fourth model in the range, the JIC II is a blued takedown model that fits into a minimal, low-profile, black cordura case once the pistol grip and barrel assembly have been removed from the frame.

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