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.
7.62x39 Caliber At around 30 rounds per pound 7.62x39 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 7.62x39 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...