Prepper Guns on a Budget

money_budget_gunsIf you were charged with putting together a basic 3-gun set of weapons for prepping and survival use, how much money would you need to spend to get the job done.  If you are new to this game, then this may be a perplexing question.  It is one I highly recommend for some judicious research, reading, inquiry and shopping. After all, in a tight situation, your life may depend on the answer. There are a multitude of choices. Think of this guide as a baseline for your budget picks.

Let’s suppose we gave you $1000.  Could you assemble a weapon’s set including a basic handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun with that amount?  We’re talking good, serviceable guns, too, not rusted junk either.  Let’s explore the options.

A Presumptive Assumption

shotgun_prep_budgetBefore we wrestle with the suggestion of a mere three gun weapons set, know we are simply laying out the most basic defensive weapons deployment for personal and property security, hunting, and other prepper uses.  We know full well that most preppers will have many more options, but we have to start somewhere, then build on it.  For the purposes of these recommendations, we are limiting our selection to one handgun, one rifle, and one shotgun.  The idea is to suggest that such a cache could be acquired for at least $1000, possibly less.   And we are not necessarily talking used guns either, but that option should be left open.  There is nothing wrong with used guns in great condition.  

Our choices may not be your choices, as there are many, many options in today’s gun market.  Enough so as to be rather confusing to those just getting into prepping and deciding that some form of personal protection in the manner of firearms may be needed.  To that end, our suggestions are focused to fit these restrictive budgetary limitations.  

The Basic Prepper Handgun

For practical purposes here, we are not going to engage in a full or detailed dissertation on all the potential choices as to handgun type, brand, model or caliber.  Thus we are not going to mince words either.  

Read Also: The Katrina Pistol

handgun_bug_outThe recommended choice for a first prepper handgun or rather pistol to be used primarily for self-defense is a semi-automatic pistol chambered for the highly common and widely available 9mm.  Sure there are other choices, but this is a solid middle of the road choice between the .380 ACP and a .45 ACP.  Sorry, but the .22 rimfire is not on the list for defensive purposes.  

Why a pistol and not a revolver?  For a one gun choice, the capacity to quickly change out loaded magazines is paramount.  Indeed, revolvers may be easier to learn to handle and shoot, but they are too slow to reload under most conditions.  A pistol is a better choice when used correctly.  

With very careful shopping, a consumer can find a 9mm pistol in the $300-400 range, $500 tops.  Among the list to inspect would be the SCCY (pronounced sky), Beretta Nano, Glock 43 (used), Hi-Point, Kel-Tec, Ruger LC9 (used), Ruger P-Series, Smith and Wesson (used), Stoeger, Taurus and perhaps some others.  There is no evaluation of these models here, just cost considerations.  

As with all gun purchases, a trustworthy gun dealer can steer you to a quality gun either new or used to suit your purposes.  Just do your research, inquire of other shooters, and go into any gun deal with eyes and ears wide open.  

The Survivalist Rifle

ar_15_budget_rifleNow it gets a bit tougher.  It would be easy to simply suggest getting an AR-15 platform rifle in 5.56/223 or even perhaps the .300 Blackout or 6.8 SPC for a bit more power.  You make that choice, but know the AR-15 would be a good choice.  For some, a bolt action rifle would be good, too.  An AR could be used with basic open sights, but likely a bolt action will need a scope for an extra cost.  Optics could be added later of course.  Either can be used for hunting.

Right now AR prices have moderated especially since the election and the 2nd Amendment scare is over for now, we hope. Dealers overstocked thinking Hillary would win.  Now they are trying to sell off their inventories.  Right now is a good time to buy an AR.

Working gun shows regularly, I have seen new, in the box ARs selling for slightly under $500, $600 tops depending on the exact model.  Check out these brands: DPMS or Bushmaster.  They offer utility bare bones models.  Used ARs can be found, but inspect them thoroughly before buying or get a return guarantee if possible.  Avoid buying somebody else’s trouble.  

As with the pistol, the AR rifle offers quick change magazines that can be pre-loaded and ready.  Under dire circumstances sustained fire can be critical.  The AR accessory aftermarket is loaded with options.  For a basic first prepper rifle, the AR is hard to beat.  

The Elementary Smoothbore

shotgun_stock_ammoBuying a decent shotgun is probably the easiest of the triple threat.  Recommendations are easier, too.  Buy a pump action shotgun, either a classic Remington 870, a Mossberg 500 or Savage in 12 gauge.  Get serious and forget the 20 gauge.  Stick with a basic hardwood stock, but synthetic is OK if the price point is right.  An ideal defense shotgun would have a barrel of 26-inches or less.  The 20-inch tactical barrel is easier to handle indoors and around barriers.  Make sure the barrel accepts screw in choke tubes so the shotgun can be used for multiple purposes such as hunting.

Related: Survival Shotgun Selection

Good, serviceable used pump shotguns can be found for less than $200.  New ones can be found for $269-329 with some companies offering rebates as well.  I just saw an H&R Partner Protection model at Academy for $179, new.  There may be additional sales after the New Year begins.

If you work hard, shop smart, and have some luck, this 3-gun set can be bought for $1000 or close to it.  Next as appropriations become available start stocking ammo.  How much?  At least 1000 rounds each of pistol and rifle ammo and 500 shotshell rounds.  Again, these are starting places.  

Undoubtedly, these recommendations will spark debate, criticism, and opinions.  We welcome that.  The ultimate goal here is to outfit new preppers with the basic gear they need to survive a host of SHTF scenarios.  

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.

21 thoughts on “Prepper Guns on a Budget”

  1. I would suggest looking seriously at used police trade in pistols in .40 S&W. High quality service quality handguns are available for under $300 easily. Even Sig Sauers can be had for under $400 for the classic models and under $300 for the polymer models.

  2. All good stuff Dr. Woods

    General principles sticking with international calibers is the way to go 12 ga. 9mm 5.56 7.62X51 —

    22LR is a choice, it is that T-bone shots are not effective for many years most stealth organizations have used this with 100% success rates recent hollyweird pablum has created a fetish market for 9's and the side angle hold.
    22 is a crotch, belly shooter and it is not the .45 in your car it is what you have on you. I have seen small framed people carry a .45 and they look like they shoplifted a microwave oven not inconspicuous in any sense of the word.

    Look up the North Hollywood bank shootout in 1997 — your never out gunned unless your unarmed, you may be outnumbered but I have never seen anyone fight their way out in a fetal position or like a bobble head jabbering to their selves. if your mind drops into neutral your about to have a bad or last day on this earth IMHO. Criminals do not care about collateral damage you will or do time for a major felony up to involuntary manslaughter !

    if counting on caliber S&W makes a 500 if you want really wicked the 7.62X25 talk is cheap but here is a video and you can find these in the 250+ dollar range. BUT you better buy plenty of ammo or buy a 9MM barrel, recoil spring and mag and change over.or vice versa.

    • Jerry Miculek uses highly customized revolvers with hair triggers, not one that was just removed from the shelf at a gun shop. Try what he did with one that you just bought….you wouldn't even come close to his time and accuracy. Then try it with a semi auto that just came off the shelf…you may come close to his time. The only advantage a revolver has is ease of maintenance and you can leave them loaded indefinitely.

  3. I'm a bit confused, are you talking prepper or survivalist, you appear to use them in the same context. If this list is for beginners, then if "Indeed, revolvers may be easier to handle and shoot" isn't that the smart way to go; anyone can pull a trigger but it takes practice to consistently hit your target. "too slow to reload", really, why don't you check out some of Jerry Miculek's video's. In one, he fires (and hits his target) with 8 rounds (from an 8-shot revolver) in ONE second and also 12 rounds (6-at-a-time) with one reload in 2.99 seconds! Yes, he shoots semi-auto just as well! If you're teaching a child to shoot, do you hand him a gun with one round loaded or a full-auto AA12 with 20 round mag.? The only real advantage that a semi-auto pistol has IMHO over a revolver is the ability to shoot suppressed! An AR for a first-time rifle, well maybe, if they have a good instructor. But again, is the rifle to be used as a combat weapon or a hunting weapon? IMHO, a well-made bolt-action rifle in a medium-to-large caliber will outshoot an AR at any distance, except maybe point blank (about 50 feet with a long arm). It took the average soldier in Vietnam about 100,000 rounds to kill each VC, it took about 1 1/2 rounds for a military sniper of that era, so the lesson is that only the rounds that hit their target count! Spray and Pray is just a waste of ammo! Also, unless you're already in a SHTF situation, you should remember that the 5.56/.223 caliber is too small to legally use for deer-sized animals and up in most, if not all states! I definitely agree with the pump-action 12 gauge shotgun, but I wouldn't turn down a double-barrel break-open one either, mainly because of the sub-caliber inserts that are available; say in 22LR (for small game) or the same caliber as your handgun (just-in-case) and hopefully in the future, the rifle caliber of your choice! Finally (breath easy now), I think your first purchase should be a long arm whether semi-auto, bolt-action, level-action, or even single shot (if that's all you can get!), then at least 200 rounds (hopefully more) for that rifle since an empty gun doesn't shoot very well! Then your handgun or shotgun, depending on perceived need, each with ammo at the same purchase time. Sorry this is so long, but sometimes it's hard to get off that damn soapbox! GLAHP!

    • Jerry Miculek uses highly customized revolvers with hair triggers, not one that was just removed from the shelf at a gun shop. Try what he did with one that you just bought….you wouldn't even come close to his time and accuracy. Then try it with a semi auto that just came off the shelf…you may come close to his time. The only advantage a revolver has is ease of maintenance and you can leave them loaded indefinitely.

      ARs are inherently accurate, the accuracy difference between the AR and a bolt action at standard distances would be negligible, with the edge going to an AR for rate of fire for follow up shots. It took 1,000,000 rounds per 1 VC killed because of full auto area suppression weapons, not because of the M16/AR. The .223 is too small to LEGALLY kill deer, but poachers use .22LR so legalities should mean nothing to you. Oh, and many states and provinces in other countries have gotten their heads out of their asses and made the .223 legal.

  4. I have a carbine rifle and pistol that use the same .40 ammunition and magazines, and a pump shotgun. The pistol was bought used, but the other guns were new. Total cost of about 1000.00

  5. A .223 / 5.56 is 22 caliber– its jacketed 15 grains heavier 2,000 FPS faster than a HV 40 grain 22 LR, at 500 yards a 5.56 is 1200 FPS and a HV 40 grain 22LR at 100 is 1000 + both are just as deadly. Stopping power is a misnomer if a bullet exits the energy is displaced, some people do not know they are shot caliber may not be a factor vital shot placement is,
    watch North Hollywood bank shootout, then the 1986 FBI Miami shootout, proof you can have all the training experience and weapons and things can still fall apart. In Houston a man doped up was shot over a dozen times and lived.
    There are no magic bullets, best caliber or perfect jury life is a crap shoot, just hope you get as little crap on you as possible.

  6. All of these posts are interesting and I can see the experience behind these comments. Myself as a Combat Vietnam Veteran in the Infantry witnessed and experienced the M-16 as what we all called….."The One shot Missile Projector." It was a Matel plastic toy. Useless up against the awesome AK-47 that simply never jammed. Jim, Pocono Mountains, pa.

    • I'm sorry that your M16 in Vietnam was junk, but that is not the case with modern AR15s. One of the main reasons for the failures for M16s in Vietnam was due to rounds being loaded with incorrect ball powder and not the stick powder that the 223 is designed with, as well the lack of a chrome lined barrel.
      Modern AR15s negate both of these things, with melonite treatments replacing chrome lining on some ARs (retains the benefits, without the accuracy penalties).
      A modern AR blows the AK away.

  7. Thank you for the article & for all the comments. We are very new Preppers. We have struggled to make sense, any sense, out of the information we have been assaulted with. Every one, it seems at times, sees one and only one thing. When we try to ask questions – Dollar signs! You have given us oldsters our first concrete starting point re weapons. This is probably both my first & last comment about anything online. But just had to say thanks from both my husband & myself.

  8. Bersa Thunder 9; 13 Rd. Magazine; DA/SA.
    Rail for laser. Loaded chamber indicator.
    Ambi controls.
    Also available in .40 S&W. <$400. May
    find one in the $300 range.
    Where have the experts been on this pistol?
    Mossberg 500 2 bbl, $200 12 Ga.

    • Totally agree on the Bersa. IMHO it is the best buy price/quality/reliability wise out there. Besides the UC9mm, they have a 17+1 HC model.

  9. I would argue, as would many others in the survival/prepper community – that the .22LR or .22 Magnum, is an absolutely essential caliber of weapon to have in your limited arsenal. Obviously, pistol and revolvers in these
    calibers are less effective than having a solid and reputable semi-auto rifle – such as the Marlin Model 60 or the Ruger 10/22. But, if one needs a reliable and reasonably inexpensive weapon to use for harvesting small game such as squirrels, rabbits, or birds – and being able to physically carry large amounts of ammunition due to its size and relative lighter weight than larger calibers, .22LR and/or .22 Magnum are the ideal choices.

    Adding a decent quality scope to a 22 semi auto rifle and, in a pinch, you could have a fairly effective sniping weapon at your disposal, if no other weapon was available. Also, there is the 'noise factor'. I do not know the precise decibel levels of the 22LR or 22 Magnum, but I am pretty certain that they put out a lot less noise when fired than would a .223 or 30 caliber rifle. And, in a SHTF/WROL scenario – the one thing that could get you killed by hostile, two-legged predators as fast as almost anything else – is for you to draw attention to your position or presence.

  10. Wow, Dr Woods might have a Doctorate degree but can't figure out a revolver and Jerry Miculek and Hair triggers really!!!!! First off I've carried a revolver in harms way in recent history (2001-2007) working in the 17th most dangerous city (and HUD Housing to boot), in the nation according to the FBI. First off if you don't have a clue what your doing, learn from some one that does!!!!! I and many other competitors ICORE and IPSC can reload revolvers faster than the average bad ass wanna be with a Hi-Cap. And I use garden variety HKS speed-loaders, not moon clips or Safariland "jet loaders".

    HOW / Why????!!!! You ask…. For one if you have a revolver, one worth while combat modification is get the the charge holes chamfered by a knowledgeable gunsmith. This simple "breaking" of the chamber mouth edge ,makes for a world of difference in reloading of SWC-HP or JHP rounds, to get the case mouth in just a little quicker, than a unmodified gun.

    A "hair trigger" and a revolver is laughable. The NRA declares a "Hair Trigger" in their competitions at anything lower than 3 LBS let off. It's unsafe for completions. A Double Action revolver has over 1/2 inch of travel and at it's lightest maybe a 8 LBS double action pull, which Jerry shoots almost exclusively in comp. Most revolvers are 10 LBS at the lightest, using a Wolff Spring kit, 13 LBS is the middle and 17-18LBS factory. and guys running around with, Glocks with 2.5 LBS triggers, and only 3/16 of a inch travel have no room to throw stones. The only time a hair trigger can exist with a revolver is if a smith stones a cocking notch on the hammer wrong….many are wise enough to leave it be, but the kitchen table amateur smith…….

    Next thing to know in reloading a revolver fast is economy of motion, this is hard to explain with out a video, but when I was asked by a State instructor to demo how to do so before a class. I had to really slow things down and get them to learn the steps, and then get them to speed it up. It took about 20+ minutes and then the only thing stopping them was, their own physical limitations, and gaining experience through reputation. I bought 30 Dummy rounds of .357 Magnum set up at the same weight as loaded ammo, and loaded up all 4 of my speed loaders and then set to work, simulating, firing all six in a stress fire situation and then, effecting the reload, as swiftly and as fluidly as possible. Watch the fat guys at a IPSC revolver division event, an learn. I gravitate to the revolver for in .357 Mag and .44 Mag, when teamed with a carbine I can, shoot with rifle power energy levels and still have the rounds chamber in a PRACTICAL platform. I can also vary the power for near squib loads for small game to Grizzly busters, and everything else in between.

  11. Survivalist Handgun, either Glock 19 (ammo everywhere) or suppressed .22 for multi function.
    Long gun, .22 or 223 in bolt action. AR is cool but bolt action will never fail you.

    • Agreed. For the $1000 limit in the article I have a Ruger Takedown, extra mags and a few thousand .22 LR rounds.
      My other gun is a Gen 4 Model 19, with Trijicon night sights, extra mags, holster, dedicated gun belt, and hundreds of rounds of ammo. Bought both new so right around $1k with everything.

  12. A Prepper's Guide to Advanced Tactics by Max Cooper is an excellent resource especially when society goes south. Everyone talks about owning guns and ammo but there is very little talk about tactics. This book fills that gap. Highly recommended.

  13. My personal preferences are at odds with some of the suggestions here, but not my intention to criticize them. There are factors to consider in making your choices; Budget usually means limited funds, so buying decent used firearms should be considered. If you have no military training and are not a firearms enthusiast, a revolver, shotgun, and .22 rifle will take you a long way to being prepared. Look at your area of concern, what dangerous wildlife are you likely to encounter? A properly loaded 12 gauge will kill anything on the North American continent. Small game? .22Long Rifle and or 12 gauge. Close personal protection a 12 gauge or 38/44/45 revolver can be left loaded and ready, needs little servicing other than cleaning, and is simple to use, easy to carry. The best additions would be a .30 cal rifle with a scope. As your situation changes add more choices, but don't feel like you are unprepared with the minimum. Practice, Training, Hunting, Family/Community/Friends are what you need to survive. The old cowboy rifle and revolver in same caliber works well, add a good coach gun and you have all you really need for most situations. If you are facing a horde then you need friends or a good radio to call in an air strike on your location.


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