We take a look at the traits that make for a good survival rifle and share with you some specific rifles you might consider to help you thrive in a pinch.
Hunters, hikers, homesteaders, and even modern preppers already understand how a good firearm could potentially save a life. If you could choose only one weapon to have with you in a wilderness survival situation, you would probably want a quality rifle.
Once you step out of the comforts of civilization and into the wilderness, you become just another link in Nature’s food chain. Thankfully, humans have developed tools to help keep us at the top of it. A survival rifle is one of those tools.
A good survival rifle should be precise and reliable enough to put meat on the table, as well as protect the people sitting around it. Whether you find yourself stranded in the remote backcountry on purpose or by accident, you’ll want a lightweight, packable, practical rifle there with you. Read on to see what traits make for a great choice in survival rifle or click here to jump right to our recommendations of the best survival rifle.
Why a Rifle?
While some outdoor adventurers may choose a sidearm or shotgun as their preferred survival weapon, there are several key advantages to choosing a rifle. A rifle allows you to shoot more accurately and comfortably at longer distances. Rifles also score higher in versatility, working well for both hunting and perimeter security.
What We Mean by “Survival”
Different people hear different things when they hear the word “survival.” For some, the word conjures apocalyptic scenes of zombie outbreaks and extensive social collapse. Science fiction movies and dystopian literature have certainly helped fan the flames of these end-of-the-world concepts of survival.
Our suggestions for finding a survival rifle may work in those extreme “hits-the-fan” scenarios. However, when we talk about a survival rifle, we aren’t thinking so much about zombies. Instead, our guidelines are meant more for backcountry campers, hikers, pilots, truck drivers, or anyone else who regularly spends time (or could find themselves stranded) in remote areas.
Keeping this in mind, our suggested weapons are better suited for popping rabbits, coyotes, and snakes than for defensive situations that involve confronting actual humans, zombie or otherwise.
What Makes a Good Survival Rifle
While there are plenty of good quality rifles on the market, some fit the bill of “survival rifle” better than others. Let’s take a look at the qualities that make a rifle ideal for survival situations.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to pack and carry everything you need to survive, you’ll quickly understand the importance of choosing lightweight gear. Ounces can quickly feel like pounds, when you have to haul them on your back, even over short distances.
When choosing a survival rifle, look for one with a lightweight stock and barrel. Your back will thank you for it.
You also want a rifle that takes relatively lightweight ammo, since you’ll be carrying that too. Bonus points for a rifle that takes common cartridges. Readily available ammunition could be a lifesaver in a survival situation. Generally, I consider the best selling calibers out there, or one the military leans on, to be one that you’ve got a decent chance of finding when times are really tough.
Easy to Pack or Carry
If you don’t mind slinging your survival rifle over your shoulder, that’s fine. Just make sure you have a sturdy, comfortable sling. If you do choose to carry your rifle on your shoulder, you’ll definitely want to skip the big bulky scope and extra long barrel. The extra size and weight can easily get in the way when you’re hiking through thick woods or over rough terrain.
If the thought of lugging a rifle on your shoulder is more than you can bear (pun thoroughly intended), find a rifle you can easily stuff into a backpack or bug-out bag. A takedown rifle is perfect for packing.
The last thing you want with you in a survival situation is a firearm that doesn’t work. You might as well be carrying a baseball bat. A good survival rifle needs to be capable of withstanding extreme temperatures, wet or icy weather, and rough handling without skipping a beat. You want a rifle you can drag through the mud or bang on rocky boulders and still trust to load and fire ammunition properly.
You may need to compromise a little in the accuracy department. Don’t expect match grade accuracy from a rifle you can fold down and stuff into a pack. However, a rifle that can’t hit what you’re aiming at is pretty useless.
The typical survival rifle doesn’t have a long barrel or a hefty, expensive long distance scope, so don’t expect miracles in accuracy. You won’t be dropping moose at 500 yards with your rifle. Leave that task to your hunting rifle. Your survival rifle just needs to put small game in your stew pot and then frighten off any predators bent on stealing it.
Don’t wait until you find yourself in a dangerous survival situation to shoot your rifle. As with any firearm, you need to practice with your survival rifle. The only way to gain proficiency and accuracy with any firearm is to send lead downrange in practice.
Best Survival Rifle – Our Picks
Unfortunately, there is no one survival rifle that will be absolutely perfect for everyone or every situation. However, here are some of what we consider the most reliable and versatile survival rifles on the market today.
Ruger 10/22 TakeDown
The Ruger 10/22 is probably the most popular rimfire rifle ever produced. The 10/22 is lightweight (4.6 pounds), inexpensive, and versatile. While any model 10/22 makes a great survival weapon, we are huge fans of Ruger’s TakeDown version.
The 10/22 TakeDown is fast and easy to disassemble in the field without any extra tools. Reassembly is also a breeze, and once the action and barrel are secured, the rifle consistently returns to zero, even with a receiver-mounted scope.
Because the 10/22 is a semi-automatic rimfire rifle, you can quickly crank out multiple rounds in a dangerous situation, which is a good thing since it’s chambered for .22 long rifle ammunition.
2. Henry AR-7
The Henry AR-7 was originally designed as a survival rifle for pilots in the United States Air Force. The Henry AR-7 has been around since the early 1950s, making it one of the earliest takedown rifles in history.
One of the coolest features of the AR-7 is that when it is disassembled, components conveniently fit inside the watertight, floating stock. The rifle comes with two eight-round magazines, which you can also conveniently store fully loaded inside the stock without compromising floatability.
The whole rifle weighs about 3 ½ pounds and assembles and disassembles in less than a minute without any extra tools. The only drawback is the lack of any handguard or forestock. Although the design is necessary for easy storage, the barrel heats up pretty quickly, even when firing rimfire .22 LR.
3. Chiappa Little Badger
There’s nothing fancy about this survival rifle, and that’s the whole point. Basic and barebones, the Chiappa Little Badger is a skeleton of a rifle that weighs just under three pounds. It packs down to an easily packable 16 ½ inches just by folding in the stock.
Available in .22 LR, .17 HMR, .22 Magnum, and 9mm Flobert, this single shot rimfire weapon is super simple to operate. Just load it, close it up, cock the hammer, and pull the trigger.
Although you shouldn’t expect anything close to rapid fire shooting, the Chiappa Little Badger is incredibly reliable, and with a little practice, offers enough accuracy to drop rabbits and squirrels for the stew pot.
The bare wire stock can make a decent cheek weld problematic, but you can wrap it with a couple layers of 550 paracord to get something more substantial to work with. Plus, cordage can be a lifesaver in a survival situation.
4. Kel-Tec Sub 2000
The Kel-Tec Sub 2000 hearkens back to a time when western outlaws and lawmen carried a sidearm and rifle that took the same cartridges. The Kel-Tec Sub 2000 is unique because it comes in common pistol calibers (.40 S&W and 9mm specifically), and it feeds from a wide variety of common pistol magazines (Glock, S&W, Canik, Beretta 92/96 series, and SIG). This handy feature allows you to seamlessly shift from shooting your handgun to your survival rifle.
If you’re skeptical about hunting with 9mm ammo or .40 S&W, don’t worry. The 16-inch barrel turns common handgun rounds into a totally different beast. Think you might need to drop medium game with your survival rifle? A 180-grain expanding .40 S&W bullet to the vitals does a fine job.
5. Henry Arms Lever Action .45-70
Although a small caliber rifle will work in most survival situations, there are places .22 rimfire just doesn’t cut it. If you find yourself stranded or wandering in bear country, you’re going to want something that packs a heavier wallop. A compact, short-barreled, fast-shooting lever action is more than adequate for big predator country, especially if it’s chambered in .45-70 Government.
Any lever action carbine in a heavy hitting caliber will work well for areas with large and dangerous game. However, we’ve added this one because Henry rifles are well-known for their reliability, accuracy, and rugged durability.
This is by no means a small gun. However, the Henry Arms lever action .45-70 strikes a decent balance between portability and stopping power.
If you need one, a good survival rifle will quickly earn its keep. Adding a new rifle to your arsenal is never a bad idea, even if you never need it for an actual survival situation.
All the rifles on our list are surprisingly affordable, and can be used for plenty of shooting applications beyond wilderness survival. Even if you only ever use them to plink cans off fence posts, these are high-quality rifles that are just plain fun to shoot. However, if you ever need one to protect yourself from dangerous backcountry predators, you’ll be glad you have one.