10 ‘Must Have’ Calibers and Platforms

Whether you are getting ready for the zombie apocalypse, anarchy, or the revolution — in today’s increasingly volatile environment — I believe there are some absolute, must-have platforms and calibers whether you like them or not. If things go south and even if they do not, it’s a numbers game.

What does that mean? It means, the items that will be available are the items with the greatest supply at that moment. If there is one red T-shirt it will be gone faster than the stack of 10 white T-shirts. If that makes sense to you, read on. If not, I can’t help you. If you understand the premise and are still here, read on.

Sturm Ruger Convertible Single Six .22 LR Revolver
A Sturm Ruger Convertible Single Six Revolver is my choice for the .22 handgun due to its versatility.

.22 LR

The most obvious must have by the numbers is the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Admittedly, it should not be anyone’s first choice as a defensive round but in a rifle platform, wielded by a proficient marksman, it can be formidable at 50 yards or less. It can also provide food in the form of small game and birds while doing it in a less obvious manner.

This is my first recommendation due to the amount of .22 Long Rifle firearms and ammunition in circulation. It can always be found, bought, or bartered for. The platforms for this are varied, but I would probably recommend owning a Ruger 10/22 rifle — again, because of the numbers.

The chances of finding parts or a replacement are greater, because of the percentage of the market it encompasses. Its semi-auto capability makes it more practical when used defensively. It also has acceptable accuracy for survival.

As for a handgun chambered in .22 Long Rifle, I do not have a recommendation for a specific model that stands out as far as numbers other than to say there are most probably more Strum Ruger handguns in circulation than those of any other manufacturer. My choice would most likely be a single-action revolver with adjustable sights and the longest barrel I could find.

The adjustable sights will allow you to re-zero for different brands and types of ammunition found or bartered for. The long barrel will get the most energy out of the cartridge and provide the longest sight radius to increase its practicality.

.223 Remington

My second choice, again only because of availability and the numbers, would be the .223 Remington. Notice I said .223 and not 5.56x45mm. The reason for that is weapons chambered in either caliber will all safely fire from the .223 Remington. However, those chambered in .223 cannot safely fire the 5.56.

Bushmaster AR-15 with A2 carry handle and red dot sight
This is a Bushmaster rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm which can fire .223 Remington with equal aplomb.

Additionally, without question in the U.S., more rifles are chambered in those calibers than in any other. Not only the various AR patterns but other designs including the Ruger Mini 14 series of rifles make it unquestionably the most numerous rifle caliber available. That said, I must add that it is not my first choice as a defensive caliber or weapon.

I believe there are much better choices. However, looking at strict numbers and availability, it remains number 2 on my ‘must have’ list. You will always find the ammunition. If you reload, components will also be around. Likewise, the weapons, parts, and components should be plentiful — if in no other place (not to assault any one’s sensibilities, but we are discussing worst case scenario’s here) than in battlefield pick-ups.

When choosing .223 ammo, try to avoid the thin jacketed, ‘explosive’ varmint bullets because of their lack of penetration. They will create very ugly, close to the surface wounds. If placed with precision, they can be deadly, but I would opt for a heavier jacket with more penetration before expansion is initiated. That said, I’ll take what I can get and shoot what I have.


The next choice is again strictly a numbers choice and that is the 9mm Luger, Parabellum, or 9x19mm. Whatever you call it, there is no doubt as to its popularity and availability. I will take a wild guess and say there are more firearms in circulation that fire the 9mm than any other. That means that although its use is limited primarily to the handgun, if you go by the numbers, you should have at least one firearm that is chambered for 9mm.

Browning Hi Power 9mm semi-auto pistol
My favorite 9x19mm platform, the Browning Hi-Power shown here, with some nice custom touches by master pistolsmith Jim Hoag.

There are also some carbines chambered in 9mm that will marginally increase its lethality. Personally, unless you are an exceptionally gifted pistol shot, I would not expect much from it other than as a close defensive weapon. There are almost too many choices available in a pistol chambered in this caliber to mention.

However, once again for the purpose of this discussion, I will recommend that your choice be a full-sized handgun to get the most return in accuracy and ballistics. My personal all-time favorite pistol is the Browning Hi-Power, so I personally have this one covered.

12 Gauge

I’m sure many of you have been waiting with bated breath wondering when, and if, I would mention the 12 gauge. Well, wonder no more. The 12-gauge shotgun is my next recommendation because of its popularity and versatility. There should always be 12-gauge shells available, but whether they will be in an appropriate load is debatable. Without question, more shells will be loaded in 7½, #8, or #9 shot sizes. Those shot sizes are most available because they are the most used sizes for trap and skeet shooting and the most popular bird hunted in north America — dove.

If you want to use the shotgun for larger birds, game, or defensively, the availability of those shot sizes and slugs become much less available and more expensive when found. That aside, it is unquestionably the most versatile platform.

My recommendation would be a pump, followed by a semi-auto of some type. That way, you give nothing away in the defensive roll. There are many good choices. However, by the numbers, there are lots of Remington, Mossberg, Winchester, Iver Johnson, and Benellis out there. I must mention some negatives, however, that keep the shotgun relegated to subservient rolls in my choices.

Remington 1100 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun
The 12-gauge semi-auto shotgun represented here by the versatile, reliable, Remington 1100 in its tactical configuration.

Conventionally-styled shotguns are more versatile, but they are slow and awkward to reload quickly (without many hours of regular practice). The level of recoil and muzzle blast take some getting used to and a fair amount of upper body strength to master.

.30 Carbine

I know my next recommendation will be very controversial. However, for the reasons I will state, I think one would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand would be the M1 Carbine. Because of the large numbers in civilian hands, thanks to the DCM, CMP, and NRA, hundreds of thousands of carbines are out there, not to mention the millions of parts to keep them running.

M1 Carbine with attached bayonet, rifle scope, and weapons light
As you all must know by now, this is the author’s favorite urban defense weapon — especially when decked with an Aimpoint sight, Surefire light, and bayonet (if case they get too close). With a 30-round mag, nothing is safe out to 150 yards.

There exists plenty of ammunition and all major ammunition manufacturers offer M1 Carbine ammo. But the best reason would be its versatility. Anyone can effectively operate and shoot the carbine. It is light, handy, easily maneuverable, accurate to 150 yards, reliable, and can be loaded with 30-round magazines.

I know that many will refer to bogus reports of unreliability and a lack of lethality, so I will address those. First, it was not designed to be a main battle rifle. It was adopted to replace a pistol. In that roll, it exceeded expectations. The pistol it was to replace carried 7 rounds and was not accurate or lethal between 25 and 50 yards, even in expert hands. The carbine bested all those stats.

The early reports of reliability problems arose from the new non-corrosive primers. Once the chemistry was corrected, reliability was no longer an issue. As for the lack of penetration of Chinese winter clothing in Korea, do you really think a 110-grain round nose full metal jacket projectile moving at 2,000 fps can’t penetrate quilted cotton fabric? What planet is that possible on.

The lack of effect was due in fact to both bad shooting and projectiles being deflected by brush. I have personally never met a veteran that did not have a place in his heart for the M1 Carbine, including myself.

.30-30 or 7.62x39mm

My next recommendation was a little difficult to make because availability and ballistically they are somewhat equivalent. They are a lever-action in .30-30 Winchester or a semi-auto in 7.62x39mm. Because we are talking the possibility of using it defensively, I went with the semi-auto platforms, SKS, AK clones, and the Mini 30.

Marlin .30-30 lever-action rifle
The .30-30. This one is a Marlin. It’s close, but no cigar!

The soviet cartridge is a better close-to-medium range round than the .223/5.56mm, and quite frankly, I prefer it. There is plenty of ammunition available in that caliber imported from Russia, China, and Korea. Normally, I do not recommend the use of ammunition from those sources. However, because the platforms we are discussing were designed for it, use the foreign for the SKS and AK clones only and not in the Mini-30.

Here are few more calibers and platforms I see as must haves and are in platforms and calibers:

M1 Garand .30-06 Springfield

As Lieutenant General Patton proclaimed, “The Greatest Battle Implement ever devised!” A must have for sure, but be advised to only shoot loads that were designed for its pressure curve, or you will damage the rifle. To increase its versatility, Hornady makes Garand specific ammo with its excellent 168-grain A-Max bullet. With it you can take anything in North America.

M1 .30 Carbine rifle, right profile
In the final months of World War II, on January 26, 1945, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. wrote the famous phrase, “In my opinion, the M1 Rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

M-14/M1A1 7.62×54/.308 Winchester

This is another great and versatile choice, especially for those in more rural areas. The options provide plenty of hunting or fighting power and .308 Winchester caliber ammunition is plentiful and versatile.

M14 or M1A1 .308 Win. Rifle, right profile
The M14 or M1A1 (whatever you call it). It was the last great battle rifle the U.S. fielded. It is still without a peer in my not so humble opinion. If it was all you had, you would be in fine shape.

Any High Quality 1911 Clone in .45 ACP

I can’t imagine a defensive battery without a 1911 of some kind, it’s just un-American not to own one. Plenty of guns, parts, and ammo will always be available. Think of it as basic to a shooter as the black dress and pearls are for a lady’s wardrobe.

1911 .45 ACP long slide gun
If you are lucky enough to have a 1911 ‘long slide’ similar to this Jim Hoag Custom, you’ll enjoy plenty of accuracy and increase the range of old “Slab Sides” considerably.

Smith & Wesson revolver in .357/.38 Special

A long barrel .357 Magnum can easily double as a hunting arm for non-dangerous, medium-sized game. With .38 Special ammo, small game doesn’t have a chance. You know there is plenty of .38 special that has been hoarded out there. If you don’t have one… get one!

We all have favorite guns for a SHTF scenario, but reasoning have you put behind your choice of caliber and availability beyond your personal stores? Share your choices and reasoning in the comment section.

  • long-barreled S&W Model 27, right profile
  • Russian SKS rifle with folded bayonet
  • Israeli Galil 5.56x45 rifle
  • M1 .30 Carbine rifle, right profile
  • Remington 1100 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun
  • Marlin .30-30 lever-action rifle
  • M14 or M1A1 .308 Win. Rifle, right profile
  • M1 Carbine with attached bayonet, rifle scope, and weapons light
  • 1911 .45 ACP long slide gun
  • Browning Hi Power 9mm semi-auto pistol
  • Bushmaster AR-15 with A2 carry handle and red dot sight
  • Sturm Ruger Convertible Single Six .22 LR Revolver
  • AK-47 rifle with attached bayonet

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