SHTF Guns and Ammo

C. Davis
By C. Davis August 7, 2014 12:57

SHTF Guns and Ammo

SHTF Guns and Ammo

This article is the interesting opinion of Dyspeptic Gunsmith commenting on a similar article. Reading these comments kinda change my mind about my SHTF guns: AK, AR-15 and a M-1 Carbine. It really gets you thinking. And I would like to spread the word a little bit.

Choosing your SHTF Rifle

If I’m thinking SHTF Guns and Ammo, I’m thinking in terms of ammo bartering, ammo reloading, weight and reliability in all environments. I’m thinking when SHTF there is no more ammo to be had. Everyone is going to buy as much Ammo as they can. Remember the panic buying in the first half of 2013? That was nothing! And with a box of 1000 rounds (5.56×45 Ammo – AR-15) costing more than $300 not everyone can afford stockpiling in time.

The Brass

Limited or no ammo availability for my SHTF Guns meant the brass has to last as long as possible. Semi-auto rifles are harder on brass than bolt, falling block or other type’s rifles.

With semi-autos, you have brass elongation; you need to trim your brass frequently, full-length size on every load. And after a few reloads, you basically run out of brass life.

On a bolt action rifle, your first shot on new brass will form the case to your chamber. You won’t need to trim nearly as often, and you need only neck size after your first shot. Your brass properly treated and not loaded to wicked hot pressures, will last a long, long, long, loooong time. Just anneal the necks ever half-dozen loadings and your limiting factor will likely be how well your brass retains the primer in the pocket. Pick the right sort of brass, and you’ll get easily a dozen or more loadings out of a set of brass.

Traveling Lightly

Now, let’s talk traveling lightly: If you need to full-length size your brass, you’ll need a reloading press. You won’t be able to full length size your brass with a hand loading tool. But if you don’t need to full-length size, you can decap, neck size and seat with a hand press – just a little tool you can practically fit in your back pocket, plus a couple dies, and you’re reloading. An example is a Lyman 310 tool.

The other tools I’d need would be a Lyman bullet mold for my caliber of choice. It would be perfect for my SHTF guns. I’d prefer to be dealing with something like .30 caliber (or larger) bullets, just because it’s versatile and there’s lots of molds out there. Now for making my own bullets, I can find raw lead (old pipes, roof flashing, wheel weights in a junkyard, linotype, etc), melt it down and cast my own bullets. You can use pork fat (or something similar) for bullet lube.

Now suddenly, my ammo availability is much more under my control. I can stockpile or cache’ canisters of powder. Look at the size of a package of 5,000 primers – it’s very small relative to 5,000 rounds of loaded ammo. A can of 8 lbs of powder isn’t much larger. The capability to load 1,000 rounds of centerfire ammo is smaller than an actual 1,000 rounds of centerfire ammo.

Net: net, by choosing a bolt action, falling block or other non-semi rifle, you can carry the ability to create your own ammo much more easily than you can carry thousands of rounds of loaded ammo. When SHTF, one needs to think about “how much crap can I carry?” – and there’s not too many people who can carry all the ammo they’re thinking they want, plus water, food, weapon(s), tools, etc. The people looking at .22′s are on the right track, but being as I’m in the west, I’d like the ability to put an elk on the ground. One elk on the ground would feed a bunch of people at once or a small group for months.

Want to think about SHTF? Our “SHTF” is what folks 130+ years ago called “daily life:” No electrical power, no Internet, no computers, no TV, no hyper-active law enforcement, no Safeway or Walmart, etc.

They got it done, or else we wouldn’t be here!

People really should avert their gaze from the modern plastic-n-aluminum guns for just a bit and look at how the guys who wandered the west 130 or so years ago did it. Sharps (and other falling block sporting rifles) often came with a set of dies, a bullet mold (or two) and a hand loading tool. The rifle companies just assumed you were going to get black powder, primers and lead locally. Hunters and marksmen bought these rifles, loaded their own ammo and laid down some quite credible shooting in their day with this equipment.

And, BTW – the Po-Po, should they become hyperactive, are more likely to seize an AR-15 or other modern rifle, than an old BPCR or muzzle-stuffer. Oh, and BTW – you can still order a kit to build a muzzle-stuffer with no background check, 4473 or other paperwork. In other words, by reverting to the past level of technology, you’re no longer of interest to Uncle Sugar’s bunch of proctologists in uniform.

Related: Building Your SHTF Gunshot Survival Kit

SHTF Guns – My First Choice

If I were pressed to pick one of the SHTF guns for this exercise, my reply should now not come as a complete out-of-left-field surprise:

Ruger #1 in .45-70. Second choice would be same rifle in .30-06.

SHTF Guns 2Why Ruger #1? As much as I love the old falling block rifles, the modern reproductions are expensive, the real Sharps from the 19th century are highly valuable and collectable and shouldn’t be taken afield just for thumping around, and, quite frankly, they’re heavy as lugging around a flak gun. The Ruger #1 is light, allows you to use the full loading range of the .45-70. Put a recoil reducer into the buttstock to help tame it.

If all I had were a real Sharps 1874 rifle, then I’d take that over a lot of modern rifles. They’re pud-simple to work on. Accurate. Easy to clean. If I had to, I could revert a 1874 rifle back to a paper cartridge – you pull the falling block for brass cartridges out, make up a block that takes a percussion cap and has a knife on the front side to slice open the back of the paper cartridge. They work. With an 1874, I can keep moving backwards in technology and still have a gun that works – even when I no longer have brass or primers.

SHTF Ammo – My first Choice

Why .45-70? Most people don’t think of the .45-70 as a “modern” cartridge – but what you can do with the .45-70 depends mostly on what SHTF guns you’re going to use to fire the load in question.

The straight-walled cases of 100+ years ago are very amenable to improvised reloading, lead bullets, paper patching, easy (or easier) cleaning, etc. .45-70 is the easiest to deal with and has the most load development done on it.

A .45 Colt, used in a modern single-action revolver or modern lever gun, can be loaded to much more power than it ever was in a Colt SAA. Best single action wheelgun for the money today: Ruger Vaquero or New Model Blackhawk, esp. the latter. They’re very strong, and you’re going to exceed them only by going to a Freedom Arms revolver, which will cost you twice (or more) as much. You can also shoot pretty stout .45 Colt loads in a modern lever gun – and take deer-sized game all day long up to perhaps 125 yards with 200+ grain pills.

How to Make Black Powder for your SHTF Guns when you Run Out of Ammo

Should you really have to, you can make black powder. The nitrates you need will be found in manure and urine, including human urine. After that, you need charcoal, which is trivial, and sulphur, which isn’t absolutely essential.

Add Water, Alcohol, Dextrin(only 1-2% max) for better results and follow these instructions:

DIY Black Powder for your SHTF guns and ammo


Again, if people start a serious study of how we, Americans, did things in the 19th century, all questions will be answered. It’s all there.

We’ve just become soft and spoiled. Everyone wants an AR-15 that costs $250, is available at Walmart, and an endless supply of M193 ammo at $0.10/round, and in their pursuit of same, they’ve forgotten lifetimes of learning of firearms technology that answers all of these questions about SHTF guns.

You don’t have to search a lot to understand that the most reliable SHTF Guns are not the most modern, good looking, bad ass rifles. But the ones that shoots no matter what! It’s a good comparison between a Mercedes M-Class 4×4 (which I like a lot) and a Willy MB that never gets stuck, is lighter, consumes less gas, has a longer autonomy, etc.

Again, thanks to Dyspeptic Gunsmith for sharing his thoughts. Here is the original article about the SHTF Guns and comments: NRA’s top 10 disaster guns.

My personal (SHTF Gun) choices now:

  • Ruger #1 (on top of my list – SHTF Guns)
  • Winchester Model 70 Featherweight .22-250
  • AK
  • AR-15
  • M-1 Carbine

But it’s not even important, since it’s pretty clear you’ll probably need/use/take only one of your SHTF guns. So if you have to throw your SHTF guns into a river (but one), which one will you keep?

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C. Davis
By C. Davis August 7, 2014 12:57
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  1. muscoe February 4, 06:27

    “Everyone wants an AR-15 that costs $250, is available at Walmart, and an endless supply of M193 ammo at $0.10/round,” When was this written….1970?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Grampa April 16, 12:13

    Could you include in your list of survival guns the easiest to repair along with what usually fails. If we knew this and purchased spare parts the gun wouldn’t become a paperweight. Recommend the type of tools one needs to keep a gun in good repair and a schedule for the regular care of the guns and what is needed. Thanks

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  3. Enigma September 22, 00:11

    The best SHTF firearm, that with real endurance, is a single- or double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun.

    After that, one of the 12-gauge pump shotguns a better choice. Very versatile loads, and non-magnum plastic hulls may be reloaded at least once.

    If there’s real need to ‘reach out and touch someone’, a bolt-action .308 (7.62mm NATO) is useful. Cartridge is useful for any game (and defense purposes) except small stuff. Will also see off panthers, wolves, and coyotes, whether four and two-legged.

    When human population reduced 90%, can expect all wildlife of the Americas to come roaring back.

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  4. Forewarned76 October 27, 21:21

    Stoeger Condor Outback 12ga
    Ruger Blackhawk Convertible 357/9mm

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    • Enigma October 27, 22:12

      Blackhawk nice simple revolver; .357/9mm calibers much cheaper than traditional ones. Recharging however is via a gate or cylinder-change.

      Ruger’s new list price far too high. Realistic use requires carrying several pre-charged cylinders

      My pistol preference is for older all-steel 9mm semi-autos, like S&W 649. That has both positive safety and an external-hammer partial-cock position. Due to safety setting and spring easing, magazines each contain 15 rounds, with an initial 16th chambered.

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  5. runna muck August 18, 00:55


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  6. One Highly Pissed American Veteran! September 24, 01:37

    Bartering ammo has to be the absolutely dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!!! What do you think that ammo poor person is going to do with his newly acquired ammo? Load his gun and shoot YOU dead. That way he now has all your preps, your guns and ammo along with whatever he wants to do to your wife and children. Think before you ever consider this wrong move!!!!!

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