Choosing the Best Caliber for Survival / Bug Out / Hunting

Imagine you are in a survival or bug out situation and are only able to carry what you have, on your back. In this scenario, what caliber of weapon is the best for survival hunting and self defense? Let’s take a look at a few options.

Weight is Your Enemy
First let’s do a reality check.  The average person in reasonable physical condition can only carry 15%-20% of their body weight for an extended period of time.

So many who think they are going to carry a 10 lb. or (4.5 kilo) weapon, 10 lb. of ammo, plus water, shelter food, and everything else… well, this may not be realistic. The bottom line is that weight is a big factor to consider for a bug out weapon.

Be Invisible
Next, I believe one of the keys to surviving a worst case scenario and actually getting to your bug out destination – (which will probably be on foot – since major roads are likely to be closed) is to be invisible.

If you have a “house” on your back with weapons and ammo in open sight, you are toast.  In a disaster you do NOT want to attract attention.

You want to blend in and appear as though you have nothing worth steeling. You want to look like everyone else. Think, “Gray.”

4 Keys to a Survival Weapon
Now that we’ve had our necessary reality check on weight and size for a survival weapon and ammo… we know that a lighter weight, concealable weapon that is chambered in a caliber good for self defense and hunting is preferable.

Favorite Survival Calibers – Pistol
Because most pistols are concealable and some ammo calibers are excellent for self-defense and hunting… let’s start here.

.22 LR Pistol
With weight being such a huge factor it’s hard to ignore the .22 LR cartridge when chambered in a proven target or hunting pistol like the Ruger Mark III.

With around 133 rounds of .22 ammo per pound compared to: 9mm @ 38 rounds per pound – .357 Mag. @ 28 rounds per pound and .44 Mag. @ 22 rounds per pound – it’s easy to see how many could find security in their trusted pistol chambered in .22 long.

Although the .22LR has marginal stopping power vs. other calibers, a well placed shot is still lethal making a quality .22 pistol a reasonable consideration.

9mm Pistol
For high capacity, conceal carry self defense many prefer a nice pistol chambered in 9mm.  At around 40 rounds per pound, the 9mm is of moderate weight making box of 50, with pistol and a few extra magazines a reasonable load to carry for self-defense.

As hunting caliber the 9mm cartridge is what I call a “tweener.” It’s a bit big for a lot of small game and a bit small for big game.

Although a 9mm is part of my EDC and bug out bag, I pair it with a Henry AR-7 survival rifle chambered in .22LR for good measure.

.357 Mag. Pistol
My favorite hunting and self-defense caliber is the mighty .357 Magnum. Loaded in a 4 to 6 inch revolver – like the Smith & Wesson Model 686 – a .357 Magnum can have great accuracy beyond 100 yards and wields great stopping power.

On the downside, we get about 30 rounds per pound and revolvers have a capacity limited to 6 shots and are a bit heavier and bulkier than many pistols.

But when you consider the formidable, man-stopping power or the .357 Magnum and the fact that you can harvest deer sized game, it’s a caliber well worth considering.

Survival / Bug Out Rifles
As I mentioned before, having weapons on the outside of your gear spells TROUBLE.  So I recommend that any rifle purposed for a survival or bug out situation / be easily broken down for transport concealed.

.22LR Caliber
With 500 rounds of .22 ammo weighing as much as 100 rounds of AK-47 ammo – and a quality rifle (like the Ruger 10/22) pushing the effective range well over 100 yards, and it’s easy to see why .22 caliber ammo is a perennial favorite of survival-minded folks.  Several .22 rifles with folding stocks are able to fit in medium to large sized pack.

.223 Caliber
With folding or collapsible stock, and concealable, it’s hard to pass by a good AR chambered in .223 / 5.56 for survival / self defense and hunting. The .223 is effective at long and close range, and about even with the 9mm round for weight at 37 rounds per pound.  Add to this, new composite materials pushing the weight of ARs down… and it’s hard to beat the .223 for a survival caliber.

7.62×39 Caliber
At around 30 rounds per pound 7.62×39 ammo is cheap, abundant and has excellent stopping power although an AK type rifle may be hard to conceal.  But if you don’t give a rip about concealing your bug out rifle the proven 7.62×39 cartridge may be a great choice for you.

Considering a 12GA Shot Gun
Although a good 12 gauge shot gun is one of my favorite, up close and personal, home defense and hunting weapons – it’s HUGE downside is that on average you get only about 10 rounds per pound – and each round takes up a considerable amount of room in a limited sized pack. But the versatility of  ammo available in 12GA from slugs, to various sized shot for game and birds – may be enough to push those with a strong back over the edge.

For more information on hunting specific calibers I’ve included this cool inforgraphic from Hunter-Ed (See Below)…

Here’s a Few Great Books on Hunting Rifles

Here’s a Few Great Movies Featuring Top Hunting Rifles...

Best Hunting - Survival - Bug Out Rifle Caliber

19 Responses to “Choosing the Best Caliber for Survival / Bug Out / Hunting”

  • Mick

    This was mostly about hunting… the title was “Best caliber for bugout/hunting/survival”… but the chart is all about hunting. Bigger game, bigger bullet. That’s not hard to figure out.

    How about if you re-do it to actually match the title of the supposed article?

    • Hi Mick, Thanks for the comment. I can see your point/s so I have modified the introductory paragraph and title slightly. Yes, the article is hunting specific but the concepts apply just as well to a survival or bug out hunting scenario. We will discuss bug out / survival weapons in much more depth in future articles and videos as they apply to a wider range of survival specific uses and considerations.

  • Dan Jones

    Have you ever considered the 10mm as opposed to the 357? You get the same, maybe a little better, stopping power but, in the case of the G20, you get it in a lighter more compact frame plus the higher capacity of 15 rounds. If you get full power loads you have plenty of stopping power for man and even medium size game. I know it is an odd caliber but I think one that is often overlooked.

  • Bruce

    I live near Denver for now, but am moving to remote AK in the near future. Though my EDC is a .45 acp, I have been gravitating more and more to the .22 magnum for reasons of ammo and gun weight while getting a bit more out of it than the 22 long rifle. I have purchased a convertible (22 l.r. / 22 mag) single action revolver, and am looking into finding a Kel Tec PMR 22 mag pistol. Along those lines I have also considered looking into the FN 5.7 pistol, which can be coupled with a carbine a-la-AR with a 5.7 upper, or a very spendy space-gun carbine by FN. A lot of this consideration is how you are going to move (on foot / bicycle / motorbike) how far, where do you live and who or what you may encounter.

    • Pat

      5.7 not a good choice for protection.

  • You have good knowledge about best budget hunting rifles. Thanks for sharing this information.

    Keep posting.


  • Bob Doyle

    Taurus makes a Judge revolver model with a 6 inch barrel and either 2.5 or 3 inch chamber, capable of shooting 410 shot shells or .45 long Colt. It weighs about 2 lbs unloaded, and, truthfully, I don’t know what the ammo weighs or rounds/ lb. . While probably not the easiest to conceal in a pack, and on the heavy side, it gives great versatility to take small game/birds or even a small deer, if needed . I’d appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks

    • Don

      “The Judge” is a novel idea until you see what it does on paper. That thing is very short range. Look it up on you tube and “judge” for your self if this is the SHTF weapon you want to trust your life/future with.

      Me? I would probably opt for 2 guns for bugout. First would be:
      -available in 5.56 and .308-

      7lbs, relatively accurate to 300-500yds,reasonable caliber for hunting, you can find .223/5.56 ammo everywhere as AR’s are very popular, takes AR mags, compact size to fit in rifle sling on my

      Second, would be to protect my immediate space/area/person/high ground from bigger critters and zombies with belt holster containing:

      under 2lbs,reasonable knockdown/lethality (Though I would not try to challenge a Kodiak or bull moose), super reliable, Accurate as hell (I can hit grapefruit at 75yds, and I suck), easy to clean/strip/maintain in the field. So,…there you are into it for @9 lbs. of iron. One on hip and one on pack. Throw in another 10 lbs. of ammo, couple of bore snakes, gun solvent and oil. and you should be good to go for the short term (depending on where you are and where you are headed)
      I realize that this has been debated to death, and really I don’t want to get into any kind of flame war over it. This is just my reasoning for my situation and where I am headed.
      If it is a true uber”SHTF” scenario, I am heading into a rather unforgiving mountain range. The Sierra Nevada mountains.

      • Good and helpful thoughts! Thank you.

  • steve

    what about the m1 carbine .30 cal. its small, light 5 lbs., battle proven, ammo should weigh about the same as 357 a good shot should be able to take anything from a rabbit to a whitetail and probably squirrels if you could get good head shots

  • Dan

    I will be carrying 3 weapons, Maybe a little extra weight but I think it will be worth it.
    I have and old savage 24c 20ga/22lr pack gun , an old H&R 22/22mag and then my XD9 with 4 loaded mags and 1 box of extra shells,
    The Savage I will have 25 rounds of 20 gauge 10 slugs 5 #1 Buck and 10 #6 shot
    150 rounds of 22lr in which 50 will be subsonic and 100 will be Aguila interceptor.
    Then 5022mag 40gr fmj and 50 soft points, most likely Hornady 45 grain.
    I havn’t weighed it all out because I don’t have a scale for small stuff yet, but I don’t tink it will be to much.
    I already have it all in a hunting backpack I got from Academy sports and has pockets in the waist-belt.

  • Dan

    I do wish Choate had the Survivor Stock like for the H&R break open shotgun.

  • Your infographic is very useful and informative,
    Thanks for sharing this!

  • Very useful advice and I thank u

    • I will be counting on by bushmaster .22 with a couple of different quick change optical set up, given the versatility of the weapon I thought it was a good idea to keep weight down and only have to carry only type of affective ammo, I would appreciate any feed back

  • Bob

    Where can I get a copy of that poster?

  • Choosing the actual makes and models of your SHTF guns is only half the part of choosing; the other half is choosing the calibers that those guns will fire.

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