Building a Basic Defensive Arsenal

oil_well_americaTimes are tough. The economy is rolling, but not like a freight train. The country is in heavy debt from social spending and the support of conflicts abroad that are not really our conflicts. The middle class is taxed to death. The oil industry is still dragging. Ironically, we continue to import oil from the Saudis just as we discover a huge new oil field in Texas. Families struggle to support themselves with two or more jobs. Medical care costs are out the roof and insurance is crazy expensive. The post-election turmoil continues. Who knows how that will turn out?

With all this going on, how can any person, family or team interested in prepping afford to supply themselves with essentials much less build a decent protective weapons cache? It can be done. It has to be done with consideration for a bare bones approach. Here are some suggestions to formulate a plan if you are just getting started.

Begin with the Basics

chevy_truck_articleA good Ford F-150 or Chevy pickup will get you to work, and to bug out camp just as well as a $100,000 Land Rover. Actually, the pickup is probably the better choice anyway. It is the same concept in putting together a starter kit for personal protection prepping weapons. You don’t need the top bill guns to start out. What you need to do is shop smart and buy wisely.  With all kinds of debates on this topic, everybody has their own thoughts and opinions on what to get. The bottom barrel scratch kit should include a basic defense handgun, a good pump shotgun, and a defensive rifle. Again, this is not a wish list, but a base set of guns to get the job done.

Handgun of Choice

In the realm of handheld weapons there are base choices: a 5-6 shot swing out cylinder, double action revolver, or a magazine fed semi-auto pistol. The choices for a newbie are overwhelming. If you are so new to this game that you know virtually nothing about guns, then do your homework. There are plenty of resources: shop a good prepper gun book, the internet,  and seek out advice from firearms professionals.

Related: Best Handgun Calibers for Survival

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As for revolvers, I suggest you find a good .357 Magnum, six shot, 4-6 inch, double action. With this handgun you can also shoot less recoiling .38 Specials in the same gun. There are two bonus features to that. Learn to shoot with less powerful loads that are cheaper to shoot, then have the full power .357 when needed.

9mm_handgunsIf these revolvers are too large to be comfortable for your grip, then opt for a smaller .38 Special with a four or six inch barrel. This is a protective wheel gun, not a concealment firearm. Go with fixed sights such or quality adjustable sights.  If you want to tackle the more complicated semi-auto pistol that is magazine fed through the base of the grip, I highly recommend the 9mm. This is a widely available, mid-range power pistol cartridge. I also recommend professional insurance and shooting instruction from USCCA. Pistols have various safety mechanisms and other factors that demand instruction. Reading the owner’s manual is not enough.

There are dozens of choices for this type of pistol on the market. Choose a high quality pistol brand such as a Beretta, Glock, Colt, Smith and Wesson, Ruger, SCCY, SIG, or CZ. Handle as many full-sized pistols as you can. Steer away from the pocket pistol for an initial handgun.

Handgun costs vary widely for new and used guns. Revolvers can be found from $300 to $1000. Pistols are the same pricing from $400 on the low end to $1000. If you shop carefully, I think you can find a good pistol for $500 or less. Add a couple extra factory magazines and at least 500 rounds of ammo.


shotgun_stock_ammoLet’s go simple here. Buy a pump action, 12-gauge shotgun. The 26-inch barrel is good, but some can handle an 18-20 inch barrel. Get screw in chokes so you can hunt with the gun. Choose either plain hardwood or black synthetic stocks. These shotguns will only have a bead sight up front to align when looking down the barrel. I am biased toward the Remington 870, but other brands are available.

In regards to bird hunting, buy several boxes of hunting shells with shot load sizes in #6, 7 ½, and 8. For defense, get some loads in buckshot or high brass #2s or 4s. Add a box or two of shotgun slugs for heavy hunting or heavy threats.

A good used 870 can be bought for $150-250. A brand new one can be had for $289 at Academy or other outlets. Buy the base model with matte finish and wood stock at this price.

Prepper Rifles

There is plenty of content available on prepper rifles. Treat this purchase as mentioned above for handguns. Again, let’s cut to the chase. If you could only have one defensive prep rifle to start with, then it needs to be a basic AR-15, 5.56 Nato/.223. There are dozens of options to buy.

See Also: The Katrina Rifle

ar15_purchase_gun_storeThe basic AR that offers the most versatility is an “optics ready” version or a model with a flat top Picatinny rail for mounting open sights or an optical scope. The hand guard should offer an accessory mounting system, Picatinny rail, M-Loc, or KeyMod arrangement so you can add sling mounts, flashlight, or handstops as needed.  Don’t go wild with accessories on a first, primary rifle. Learn to handle it, shoot it, maintain it and carry it. Accessorize it later. A good AR should cost no more than $800. At present there are nearly 500 AR rifle makers. Stick with a well-known, common factory rifle. Buy a manual on its upkeep, running, and maintenance.

For basics, add at least 10 high quality polymer magazines. Build your ammo stock up to a minimum of 1000 rounds. Add some practice, hunting, and defensive rounds. Load all your mags and mark them accordingly.

This is your basic piecemeal prepper gun kit. At the very least, this is a good place to start: one handgun, shotgun, and a rifle. The options are many. Wade into the swamp as soon as possible, get instruction, and practice. Advance your strategic and tactical skills with time. Soon you’ll be ready.

Photos Courtesy of:

John Woods
Diane Webb 



John J. Woods
Written by John J. Woods

John J. Woods, PhD, has been outdoor writing for over 35 years with over 3000 articles, and columns published on firearms, gun history, collecting, appraising, product reviews and hunting. Dr. Woods is currently the Vice President of Economic Development at a College in the Southern United States. Read his full interview here. Read more of John J.'s articles.

8 thoughts on “Building a Basic Defensive Arsenal”

  1. Good post Dr. Wood.
    Reminding one arm needs to be semi auto leaning toward a 22LR rifle.
    to round out a pistol and palm size in the same 22LR and plenty of fodder (all the same mfg that works) no matter, if all you have is the 22 rifle and ammo your not naked. I have never heard it's only a 22 get em' boys, or a deer walk away from a head shot with one when culling fields.
    for home use collect them all lean toward international calibers like 5.56 .308 and 9MM and 12ga even during the ammo drought you could find them but have enough as seen some droughts last years and there are always profiteers and hoarders that can afford to buy a pickup load just as the bottom drops out.

    I posted 5.56 as it will shoot .223 and .308 will fire 7.62X51 but neither would be advisable the other way round it is a bit confusing. the 5.56 is hotter than 223 and 308 is hotter than 7.62X51 make sure barrel markings confirm this. semi auto 7.62X51 rifles can be damaged by heavier bullets at max velocities of hunting rounds of .308 Before you put down money research and know what your expecting is fact some battle rifles can eat most anything others cannot and with the mucking around with the 5.56 heavy bullets and barrel twist rates more research before you buy IMO.

    • you dont want to be stuck with just a centerfire rifle or just a rimfire. Get an shorty AR with a Ciener. .22lr conversion unit, and you can have either one with a 10 second parts-swap. And you dont want a rifle that doesn't offer takedown concealment in a backpack, or which wont snipe effectively to 1/4 mile, pierce soft armor and stop a man with a single hit (60 gr softpoints) The shotgun is a waste of time and money. you want a silenced 223 for fighting, with the option of braining sentries, livestock guard dogs and scouts with the subsonic Aquila 60 gr .22 rds, which is put up in .22 SHORT cases. If you know to hold shut the bolt with your non firing hand, the .22 can be BB gun quiet. With a silencer, the 223 is far, far superior than the shotgun for combat, especially at night and indoors. The flash and blast of the 12 ga are nearly bad enough to make you drop that pos. The shotgun can't do the job of the rifle or the pistol and you can't carry the needed 30 lbs of survival gear water, etc, two longarms and the ammo needed to make them both worth having. So dont bother with the shotgun.

  2. yea a good .22 rifle should be the starting point for any budget prepper. ruger 10/22 is by far the most popular. keeping thousands of rounds is cost effective. next i would go for the .22 ruger handgun. got a backup and already and have the ammo. both firearms will work well suppressed.

    • .22 rifle is a specialty gun. You can hunt with it but you can't defend yourself with it, unless you are a highly trained marksman. All the other firearms listed here can essentially perform both functions. This article is for the budget minded.

  3. "If you want to tackle the more complicated semi-auto pistol that is magazine fed through the base of the grip,"

    As I a 20 plus years firearms' instructor I find statements such as this concerning. There is nothing complicated concerning a semi-auto pistol over a revolver. Example: how many novice who have never held a revolver, will be able to open the cylinder without training. So my point is it's a training issue not a firearms issue. New shooters need to obtain training regardless of their choice. Choosing a revolver or a pistol, for a novice will be complicated because they have no experience in the use of firearms. I will not recommend one over the other, I will recommend someone first get some good quality handgun training where you're exposed to both options. Then and only then should you decide which is best for you. Never listen to internet experts who give their personal opinions to which firearm is best for novice. Now, Doc if I miss read your intent here and that wasn't what you meant than I apologize.

    • I appreciate your experience and voicing your concern over the statement. However, I think he was talking about the "big picture" between the revolver and pistol. I believe you with your experience know there are more inherent things that can go wrong with the pistol as opposed tot he revolver. Ain't no thang!

  4. Where I live we have things with claws and teeth so a handgun larger than a 9mm would be very handy. We have black bears and some cinamon colored bears. Someone with a 9mm and a poodle shooter may be seriously under gunned in some situations. I am not a leo or a veteran though I am a muricin citizen.


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