Self-defense is a subject rife with danger, and yet the ability to defend yourself is an inalienable right granted to you by Nature and recognized by all of mankind. Your surest, most ready defense is not an army nor a police force, both of which may take time to get to you if they can get to you, at all. Defense of yourself, your body, your life, your liberty and freedom rests upon no society, no government, no one but yourself. Your religious beliefs or beliefs derived from personal morals may not want to let you defend yourself, and that is granted: that is also your right. There is a fine line between self-defense and harming others, and varying levels of harming others that fall far short of absolutely lethal or being lethal at all. It takes a skilled martial artist to know just how to hit you with bare hands to kill you and the necessary self-discipline of the martial arts instructs those who follow them to not do that save as a last and least resort. That form of skill and self-restraint are not only laudable, but demonstrate a profound respect for those you encounter in the martial realm. By practicing the ancient and modern Arts Martial, the practitioners demonstrate honorable utilization of their skills to the lowest, possible cost to those they fight. As practitioners they must practice, constantly, and always keep their skills at bay for merely civil disagreements: you are safer in disagreement with a martial artist on civil grounds than you are with nearly anyone else save clergy of the majority of Christianity.
The concept of self-defense, however, goes beyond just humans gone lawless or turned lawbreaker, and includes all of Nature in that category of 'potential threat'. Animals are one thing, but knowing the 'lay of the land' another, and the greatest way to defend yourself is to avoid confrontations that can be easily avoided. Nature does not 'have it in for you' nor is it looking to protect you: Nature doesn't care about you and you are on your own when in the confines of the Natural world, which is all of your life. Nature tells you many things in the landscape, itself. Do you have a nice, raising meadow area between two forested areas, all of which go uphill rather quickly? If so, just why are there no trees in that meadow all the way up to the upper reaches of that summit? If you see snapped off trees at the edges or large piles of dirt, stone and random natural detritus further down, you may have found yourself an avalanche area or landslide area, not the place to be when it rains or snows a lot. Likewise do you find a stream with abnormally wide and clear banks and see that trees do not go down past a certain point on both sides of the stream valley? Then you can see where large flash floods come through, and as you never know what the weather is 30 miles from you upstream, it is best not to stay there overlong. Mother Nature doesn't care about you, but the message is clear: these are dangerous places at certain times.
Knowing edible plant life, while in season, is a great survival enhancement and when out of season an essential way to maintain a balance of nutrients and vitamins. You do not need to lug around a huge wildlife guidebook, just some of the convenient decks of cards put out for that purpose: they pack small and are lightweight, and you can use the ones you know for starting fires. Always handy! That, too, is self-defense: eating properly over time. For a short period of time that doesn't matter, but as this series of articles uses the James Burke question of what happens if the lights go out for good, the longer range of survival must intrude on preparations. A 50 cent or $1 pack of cards purchased now may ensure your long term survival later. That is damned cheap insurance, in my book.
To get at such plant life you do need a way to render it into edible form. This doesn't start with cooking but with taking non-edible portions away from edible ones so that you lower cooking time. The very first and most useful invention of mankind, still existing with us to this very day, are knives. Originally flint chips used to scrape and cut, the modern knife is a wonder of metallurgy and has thousands of years of good sense behind it. As a category knives go from swords and spear points (of large and numerous variety) to the simple pen knife. Every stout warrior of the Middle Ages carried the utility knife with them: a blade of less than 5" and no less than 2" with them at all times. A modern Swiss Army Knife at 2.25" fits into this category as does a variety of 'fighting knives' and 'commando knives' all the way up to such things as daggers and stilettos. The utility pocket or pen knife of 2 or more blades is a basic and essential part of any survival kit, be it in an actual knife form or in a 'multi-tool' that is pliers, corkscrew, flashlight... Why 2 blades? You will break one. Murphy works with Nature, and that means you need a back-up. The broken one can be fitted to a long stick as a digging tool or simple spear! Yes, when Murphy breaks your knife you now have the opportunity to fashion a makeshift spear/digging tool. Isn't that marvelous? A cheap pocket knife with two blades can be had for $10 and should, with care, last a lifetime. I have two pocket knives from my father and one, if memory serves, bought by my grand-father for my father... that one has a broken blade... and if you add in a cheap hand sharpener and honing oil you are looking at possibly $5 and a few minutes of work to get the blades back into shape.
Thus for a $1 pack of cards on edible plants, a cheap $10 knife and $5 in maintenance supplies for the short term (<1 year), you now have a survival sub-set of identification capability and tools to do basic scavenging in the long term (>5 years), just so long as you take care of them in the mid-term (1-5 years). Your survival cost is: $16 on the cheap.
What a pocket knife/pen knife/multi-tool does, is allow you to become a tool maker.
The prime definition of mankind is that we make tools to make tools to make tools to make things we use. Many animals make tools: birds do, chimpanzees do, and rodents do (after a fashion). Making a tool to make a tool is limited, as far as I know, to the hominids. At third degree there is only humanity. Using a knife to strip bark and put points on sticks means that you will not be wearing down the knife digging, but saving it to make more tools. The tools you make can go into making traps, snares and fishing weirs, or towards creating other tools to do more complex tasks. Without a knife you are down to flint knapping, which is a damned useful skill as it will save your knife from being over-used... by the time you have gotten to making hammers, wooden wedges, and primitive chisels, you will not be using your knife very much at all.
Longer fixed blades, as opposed to folding blades which I put into the 'utility knife' category, are useful for fewer tasks and more readily used for self-defense against animals. A fixed blade at an end of a straight stick is a spear used to fend off animals. Really, do you want to do that up close and personal with, say, a black bear? Or a bull moose during rutting season? Although, come to think of it, that last will not really care if it is pricked with a spear... best give those a wide berth. Of course making a fire hardened tip out of wood is better, still, and saves your machined and tooled blade. With that said a cheap machete is under $20, and I have seen some very cheap, if not too trustworthy, blades at under $15.
Total survival cost to you: $36, tax and tip not included.
With these most basic of tools you can now cut down small trees, brush, make spear points, gut fish and game, and do the million and one things that your hands and fingernails aren't good at doing. You would have a hard time packing all of that into a purse but with care that can be done. Or put into a small bag or pack and kept near you, although on your person is far, far better survival-wise. There are other tools to be had on the cheap, especially in multi-tools, but for the most basic set of survival requirements you are set at the sub-$50 range unless you buy very well made goods. Something that is better made should last longer, with care, than its cheaper alternative and it is up to you if this is truly 'last ditch if I have to survive' or 'without this I will die' mentality.
I will skirt the area of steel traps, dead-falls and the like as they are the realm of decent knowledge on animal habitats, skilled making of impromptu equipment and being able to figure out the first so as to use the second. This is the realm of Les Stroud and Bear Grylls.
Defense from the Elements
Self-defense from the elements is a common sense thing: tarps, rain ponchos that can be made into tents, clothesline, cords, etc. All of that can be under $10, on the cheap, too, for yourself.
Each person that needs to survive with you needs equipment, too, so that $36 basic is per person. Defense from the elements is per group. Do note that most military surplus rain ponchos can be sealed up to provide fast tent space with lines or cords, so that anyone with a friend needs enough cordage in case of sudden bad weather. I have seen surplus military rain ponchos on sale at less than $4 each in packs of three. Cordage varies, but 50' lengths of nylon can come in under $2 and often far less when bought in 100 yard lengths. A tarp to go under an ersatz tent would be more expensive, up to $10 although I have seen them for $4 at local closeout stores, and another rain poncho can serve on the fly, also. A thick 'solar blanket' with strong backing, usually canvas or other material, can be found under $10 each.
If this is not to your liking, then an 'emergency tent' in blaze orange can be had for $4-$10 and comes with cord but without a tarp, allowing it to pack very tightly. That said it is not as thick as a rain poncho and less handy against the wind and the cold. This may do if you are surviving solo, as that and a poncho can pack into a very small sack or waist pack.
Emergency shelter, then, can go for as low as $8 (low cost tent and poncho) or just a bit more per person ditching the emergency tent for ponchos and cord so that just under $15 can serve two people and that increment can be brought down with more individuals.
Your total cost is now: $44, shipping and tax not included.
Cooking food is a matter of fire and ensuring you can have one in an emergency. For the long term people who survive the short term should have the skills to make fire, and in an emergency that must be instant without much skill. Folding solid fuel stoves (Esbit, et. al.) that can accept a wide range of solid or gel fluids are cheap (I've found them for under $10 for the stove, used, and about $10 for a package of fuel tabs). This is about as small as you can get as such things as a 'Commando Stove' or 'Pocket Grill' actually take up more space than this WWII German designed soldier's emergency stove. All the emergency stoves can take solid or gel fuels, so if you find the cost of the solids prohibitive, you can go with a cheaper gel (cost varies for solids from 80 cents per tablet and gels about 30 cents per package, although the tablet will last longer and heat more intensely). Thus your cost will vary somewhat depending on expected length of time you will need them. Either gel or tablet can be used in very small quantities to start fires with tinder, thus extending the use of such materials to cover more situations.
Cost for simple, basic stove and easy to pack refill on fuel: $20.
Total cost for simple survival: $64, although with the various provisos given on equipment quality, tax and shipping.
For absolute and positive emergencies, a 2" rod of flint plus your knife gets sparks, leaving you with something to catch the sparks that will catch fire rain or shine. The best tip I have for that is a pre-preparation DIY and involves having a big bag of cotton balls (actual, real cotton), petroleum jelly, and decent size sealable containers like old medicine bottles. The cost of this shouldn't run more than $5 unless you need to buy containers. The process is to smear a cotton ball completely in petroleum jelly and pack them into the sealable containers that will not leak petroleum jelly once it gets warm (like in a pack during a sunny day). With this cheap stuff you now have lots of prepared spark catching balls that have fuel and wick embedded in them, so should last long enough to add real tinder on them. Flint can cost you 50 cents per piece, so get a couple.
You are now around $70 for survival supplies, excepting those things that deal with the elements but adding in the one tool that makes us superior to the animals, which is fire use.
Defending yourself from more than the Elements
With the low end of self-defense taken care of (your self, tools, fire and the means to get them, we now head up into the higher cost range of self-defense, which is firearms. Mind you, if you are a boyer and fletcher, or a skilled atlatl craftsman, you already have the tools you need to survive, but most people don't. I heartily recommend spear tips (both solid and tines, especially frog gigging ends) for self-defense and small game as you only need a relatively straight branch and twine/cord to keep it on. Throw in a cheap mop handle that you can disassemble and for under $15 you have hand hefted self-defense at close to short range! A real bargain, that. But everyone concentrates on firearms and they are a flexible tool system if you have the right parts of the system, so I will start at the very basic, anyone can pick it up end of things.
As I said, this section gets expensive, quickly, but pre-made and useful tools and weapons come with the cost of having them made added into them. If you think about your needs now, then shopping for a decent bargain means you will find yourself with a slightly lower marginal cost, but at a slightly higher cost than the basics. I consider a single lightweight spear for fishing or frog work, and putting pointy things in the face of an animal to be very basic survival.
Cost for this section: $15.
Total cost: $85
From here, onwards, I will be discussing more expensive considerations. If you do not consider firearms and their use to be of necessity to you, then you have read as much as you are likely to need for survival.
Outside of the never so trusty 'saturday night special' guns made of zinc and likely to blow up in your hand, there is the rock bottom of firearms that is legal to have without any sort of proscription. Most folks don't consider them 'firearms', in the sense of Dirty Harry, but they are just that by definition and much more than that and have a multi-role place in a serious survival/rescue toolkit. Beyond that they are also useful for the longer-term, although they become 'last ditch' weapons. What is this category?
Not the cheap plastic Orion ones! What I am talking about are military grade flare guns, which range across a gamut of sizes and eras, so even an 'antique' flare gun can serve you well if you think ahead to get the right parts for it. That said I will stick with the modern 26.5mm surplus guns common from the Eastern Bloc and West Germany, that can range from as low as $30 used to just over $50 new, old stock. Something like the HKP2A1, from Hechler & Koch:
That is a one-shot, tip-up loaded flare gun. The cost of the flares for it are as much as the gun, per box of 10 flares, but a good part of that due to HAZMAT shipping, so buy a few boxes to bring the overall cost down. Yes there are cheaper flare guns on the market from Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic. I trust H&K. This is one simple, rugged design that you can clean with an old toothbrush and just a touch of light oil (I recommend Militec-1, but everyone has their own preferences). It is a solid foundation to work with. If memory serves it was made for a service life of 10,000 flare rounds and it is built to last with very little complicated on it.
Now for that 26.5mm flare gun you can also get a $15 adapter to 12 gauge flare rounds (not 12 gauge shotgun rounds, and don't try that with the insert!) and those 12 gauge flares you can find cheap, save for the HAZMAT fee. For aerial flare signaling the only thing better are single shot, purpose built high altitude flares that are for extreme distress maritime use and cost you, per shot, what this flare gun costs you. If not more. To make up for that you can get parachute flares (new, old stock) and other flares at 26.5mm and lesser altitude 12 ga. flares. As with all things survival, multipurpose and multi-capable is the idea here.
Flares are a burning pyrotechnic that are lightweight and have the extreme advantage of burning in nearly any weather. Get a large pile of logs with tinder in the center and an opening to fire into and the flare will happily burn anything on the inside of that pile. Make sure that you are in a decent clearing at a bit of distance, first, and that the flare can't shoot out through the other side. So for the price of gun plus flares you get a signaling device that can be seen at long distances and an ersatz emergency fire starting system (and a damned expensive one, too).
As you have guessed this is a serious piece of ordnance for survival, coming in at $50 for the gun and perhaps as much as $150 for three boxes of 26.5mm flares and one 12 ga. flare insert. This is a 'weigh and balance' concept: if you can't afford this, but can afford somewhat better initial gear (say a low cost ALICE pack for $30) then get the pack. Even if you can afford this, it is a step into an area that you may not be familiar with. If you are facing the unknown, then that is a choice you will make before disaster strikes, as you can't make it afterwards. However, I will go on to examine some other things this device is useful for to examine what that $200 gets you.
Section cost: $215.
Total cost: $285.
There are only a couple of 'alternate' rounds at 12 ga. for this platform and the best of those is the pepper gas/spray rounds made for flare guns (as opposed to 12 ga. shotgun rounds). That can be a life saver against large carnivores if you have nothing else (thus last ditch) or useful fired into an enclosed space like a room or car. Stand upwind of it if you ever have to use it. I have seen a three pack of these rounds for under $10.
Flares for 12 ga. flare guns do range a bit in price, but specialty pyrotechnics places sell them for $15 per 9 rounds. Orion flares can be used in such an insert, and I've seen those at the low end of $25 for 4 rounds.
So for simple self-defense rounds and a pack of 9 rounds of red/green flares, your cost is: $25.
Section Cost: $315.
Total cost: $340
For carrying around purposes, you can carry at least 3 of the 12 gauge rounds for every 1 of the 26.5mm rounds. The latter go about 3x higher than the former, so you are trading off number of rounds for vertical distance. Three very low altitude rounds don't matter if you are in a deep canyon as they won't clear the walls of it, thus you must take terrain into consideration for your expected survival needs.
At $225 you now have a variable altitude signal device, plus one that can do pepper spray to incapacitate a good sized room or convince a hungry carnivore that they really do not want to mess with you. Throw in an old Russian satchel made for 26.5mm flare guns and you add another $10 to the expenses, but I will keep that out for estimation purposes.
In the realm of inserts there is one man who makes a double insert system to adapt the 26.5mm gun to various pistol rounds. The idea is that each steel insert will take the pressure before it gets to the gun, itself. Once you get that and insert those into a flare gun you have created a deadly weapon, a true handgun, albeit single shot. This has been done in the maritime realm so as not to have a 'real' gun for those ports that don't allow them but to still have some sort of defense in the bridge. So long as the inserts are not inserted, you have a flare gun. This is not a toy, and your life is in your hands with that, which is the point of things. The ability of the frame of a well made flare gun to take firing even small pistol rounds is suspect, but if your life is on the line this is better than nothing. Cost for the double insert is a bit over $100.
I don't consider that as 'essential' unless you are thinking of 'last ditch' sorts of equipment or foresee your maritime travels going into areas where Pirates and other lawless people roam. At that point upgrading your foreseeable problems means weighing costs and benefits of such inserts. As it is I will not use the purpose built inserts for cost estimation, but examine another area that covers the same ground in the way of inserts.
Next up on inserts is a bit harder and requires just a bit of time and energy. The main problem with the straight adapter for 26.5mm to 12 ga. flare rounds is that it is chambered for flare rounds (short shotgun rounds) and isn't all that sturdy. To get to firing pistol rounds requires a multi-insert system, but if you are considering a wide range of possible survival settings and can afford inserts and pistol rounds, then you want something convertible to common 12 ga. for standard 12 ga. shotgun inserts for pistol rounds. The great wonder is that the 26.5mm flare gun is almost, but not quite, 4 gauge shotgun in size. For display cannons there is a 4 ga. to 10 ga. adapter, but it is just a bit too big to fit. So you would have to sand or grind it down just a bit to get a good fit and if you are handy with a dremel and have some good bits for attacking aluminum, you are looking at a couple hours of work to pare down the outer diameter and the base of the insert. Cost for this insert runs about $40, your time in grinding not included but makes for an interesting spare time project.
Why 10 gauge shotgun, which is a larger diameter than 12 gauge? At 10 ga. shotgun you can get a 10 ga. to 12 ga. shotgun adapter, but since the 4 to 10 insert is lightweight you wouldn't trust your hand with that idea: you like your hand, it likes you and you will not blow it off using a 12 ga. shotgun round. However, at that point you are now in a standard and relatively cheap market for (<$20) pistol inserts for 12 ga. That 4 to 10 insert is a bit steep to get you to something a bit more common and from 10 to 12 is no picnic ($30 or so). At that point you have 3 inserts to take the pressure of the pistol round 4-10, 10-12, 12-pistol. So you have a steel flare gun, aluminum 4 to 10 insert, and then two steel inserts (10 to 12ga and then 12ga. to pistol round of your choice) all of which should take the expansion of the pistol rounds used. For $80 or so, and some work on your part, you go from a flare gun to a deadly weapon able to take much smaller caliber rounds.
Do remember that this is not a nice firearm designed to fire these things! It isn't made to take a lot of punishment and you are the recoil mechanism. That is why this is 'last ditch' and far more expensive than a dedicated single shot shotgun. A shotgun, however, isn't that easy to carry around and is limited to the lower altitude 12 ga. flares, so your decision must be made on what the purpose of the firearm is and how it is to be made available to you in an emergency. A flare gun is a low-end, all-purpose tool for signaling, emergency fire starting and self-defense, but with limitations on the last. Any time it was used in that 'last ditch' role, and you survive, the entire firearm should be examined for cracks or expansion on the barrel, plus the inserts may have expanded to the point where you can't get them out of the gun. Making that call of having an all-purpose 'by god if I have nothing else with me, I will at least have this' gun against the ready-made 'bug out' kits by Smith & Wesson or Mossberg is one of choice, utility and expectation of events. You can do a lot with a dedicated 12 gauge shotgun and it can do things the all-purpose, lightweight flare gun can't. But the flare gun can do things the shotgun can't, too.
You can have the capability to do these things and never use them.
But if you ever need them and don't have them, you are SOL.
Defending yourself from the elements, providing shelter and food is low cost. When you step up in the level of considerations of what might happen to you, your expectations must adapt to that wider range of possibilities. As actual firearms vary widely in cost and personal needs, I can only ballpark a few things and examine what I have looked at.
Defending yourself and hunting, basic firearms and concepts
Beyond the basics you get to the dedicated (or insert adaptable) area of rifles, shotguns and pistols. Each have their pluses and minuses, they all require you to train yourself in being able to fire them, use them, clean them and think about them not just as weapons but as survival tools. Each realm is open to a wide range of individual tastes, attitudes and capabilities, but for general categorization they come down to ranges: short (up to 10 yards), medium (10 to 100 yards), long (100 yards+). Each area can be used in the others, to a degree, and a rifle is relatively handy all the way up to personal space defense weapon where the ability to quickly change targets is critical.
I can't offer you solid choices on these, just some that I have made for myself and the reasons why.
At long range the Mosin-Nagant line of Russian/Soviet/East Bloc bolt action rifles is my preference as they were designed for Russian peasants in the 1880's to use. If you have the ability to find the instructions and strip the bolt down using a purpose designed tool, cleaning and oiling the thing, then you have a dependable firearm. It was not made for the space age and is a 'no frills' rifle that is very basic in design, care and maintenance. The Finns bought them on the cheap, did some testing for accuracy and their version, based on the Soviet sent arms, allowed the much smaller Finnish Army to beat the Soviet Army during the winter war. A top sniper for the Finns was a farmer, and he used a Finn Mosin-Nagant and was a terror to the Soviets in that sector. Chambered in 7.62 x54R (Rimmed or Russian, but 54R is critical), this is the oldest '3 line' rifle round still in use today. The Eastern Bloc and Soviet military surplus ammo is cheap, but corrosively primed so you need to clean anything that touches the exhaust gases that is metal after use. There is a water based CLP available (Gunzilla), Aero-Kroil, and even a DIY mixture of Murphy's Oil Soap/Isopropyl Alcohol/Hydrogen Peroxide, plus quickly getting a patch or 10 through until you get the stuff out of the system. Or you can use water which dissolves the salts but really needs to be cleaned out so the thing doesn't rust.
These are cheap, reliable rifles and have cheap ammo available, plus a real confidence builder once you get something on the buttstock to help with the recoil or wear thick clothing. The major downsides are that the military surplus coming from Russia/Poland/Czech Republic/Bulgaria rifles are in cosmoline and will always have some come out when you fire them, unless you totally redo the stock. The upper forearms need some small pieces of material to help keep them in place, too, and original arms were found with paper stuck there, but I recommend very thin, cut with a scissors, brass shim stock. These weapons were made for Russian winters, summers, and soldiers who didn't take good care of them, which sounds like survival conditions to me!
Personal choice only, remember, and this is for survival, not fighting off the zombie hordes.
There are very few 'exotic' rounds for the 7.62 x54R, and they tend to be either tracer or incendiary. Thus, as a round, it isn't all that useful beyond moderate size game hunting and not adaptable to multiple situations.
I have seen used Mosin-Nagants for $80, arsenal packed in cosmoline from a 1950's check-over for $90-$120, and lovely Finnish rifles for $350 on up. Sniper versions cost much, much more. Ammo in a 'spam can' from Bulgaria can be had at 440 rounds for under $90. Modern non-corrosively primed I can find 20 rounds for $10. Bulk discounts can be found for the ammo, still, even with the various runs on other ammo this last year.
For under $200 you get a basic rifle, a spam can of ammo, plus a buttstock pad, and the joy of wiping cosmoline off the forearm and putting small strips of brass in to keep the upper handguard from sliding around.
Next up, shotguns.
Shotguns have one name to know: John Moses Browning.
From 1903 to 1999 the Browning Auto-5 sold continuously and there are millions of them out there. Likewise the various pump shotguns of Browning are still beloved of hunters and troopers to this day. From what I have heard the basic system of exchange in the back country of TN is 'The Browning' as those shotguns are a steady game-getter, easy to maintain and a necessary part of living.
No matter what the shotgun is that you want for survival, the idea is that this would be a primary multi-use gun at 12 gauge. As we have seen before there are 12 ga. flares and 12 ga. pepper rounds. In fact 12 ga. is the realm of exotic ammo from frangible copper slugs made to blow hinges off of doors to tear gas 'rockets' that are actually just finned delivery capsules. From blanks that go 'bang' to flechettes to flares to tear gas to 'less than lethal' flexible baton (bean bag) rounds... if someone ever said 'hey, can this be made into a 12 gauge round?' then it probably has been. For everything from high velocity sabot rounds to slugs to buckshot to bird shot to bolos to nails to salt to pepper... the reason that this is a survival weapon is that it is all-purpose gun, no matter if you have a single shot, side by side, over/under, pump or semi-auto in 12 ga., you have a full suite of options from 'less than lethal' to riot control to small game to big game to signaling all with one gun. If you can't justify a flare gun as a multi-purpose survival tool, then a 12 gauge shotgun is the gun of choice.
Make sure the barrel is smoothbore for as rifling really messes with exotic ammo and skews shot like you wouldn't believe.
If you pick up an antique, get it checked by a gunsmith to make sure it is sound and will work with modern rounds and their pressures.
I prefer a Browning Auto-5 with slug barrel that is Cylinder (no choke). Luckily the original barrel was a Cutts compensated full choke and the barrels are easy to swap out (just remember to change the ring positions!), so for under $500 I have an adaptable shotgun. The hunting and target rounds are damned cheap for 12 ga. and the exotic stuff can be anything from cheap (25 cents/shot for small game shot shells) to 'you want HOW MUCH for 3 rounds?' (getting into the $8+ per shot range). If you use it for home defense remember the ranges on 'less than lethal' and pay attention to where you really shouldn't hit. Plus it shows you though ahead of time and don't intend to kill. What this means is that a 12 ga. shotgun is the all-purpose firearm... save for the long barrel and weight of it. If it wasn't an Auto-5 I would have been looking at a pump action Browning.
A new Mossberg pump action can be had for under $400 (check to see if the survival kit is available), a used Browning Auto-5 with two swappable barrels for $500, and a Kimberly Safari Shotgun with gold scrollwork easily gets into the $10,000 range and up... way up. That old thing at the back of the antique store may only be $100, and once you pay a gunsmith to check it out, you probably dropped another $30-50, and you might have a 'wall hanger' that you will disable and cherish as the new family heirloom or a survival shotgun. With more modern weapons, like the Mossberg 500 pump action, you can get into all sorts of tactical arrangements, home defense set-ups and still have a decent hunting weapon.
My choice was a basic late 1940's vintage Browning Auto-5 that had a barrel for competition/small game and then a later Japanese steel barrel for solid shot, buckshot, and home defense needs. A semi-auto tends to raise the barrel up due to recoil more than a pump action, which is great for quail on the wing but not so hot for the zombie hordes.
Pistols run such a wide gamut it isn't funny, but keep in mind your ultimate needs when deciding if and what you need. Getting a concealed carry weapon (plus any legal documents to allow you to do that legally via training and such) is one thing. A pistol for survival needs is another. There are two calibers that are personally suited to my needs, yours will vary.
First is .22lr, which is a rimfire cartridge and suitable for small game and has been used for decades for just that purpose. Rifles for .22lr are very lightweight, compared to the Mosin-Nagant, and far better for small game at close range, so as a survival rifle (pure and simple) a Marlin 60, Ruger 10/22, Ruger Charger or, really, just about anything would do well for the close range/small game set-up. On the pistol side there are the Browning Buckmarks, the Ruger Mark series, plus the Baretta NEOS, amongst tens if not hundreds of designs, possibly thousands once you get back 70 years or so. A small game hunting pistol in .22lr should have a long barrel to it for better rifling effect and be a bit thicker than a self-defense barrel. A heavier barrel means fewer changes due to thermal expansion as you fire, thus allowing for greater accuracy. What you get is up to you, and if this is to be a CCW then a short barrel and slim-line design (like those from North American Arms) may be more your style.
The thing that must be done with any pistol, shotgun or rifle: practice, practice, practice. Practice on the range. Practice holding it at home in your copious spare time. Practice dry firing. Practice your stance. All of these are critical with a .22lr as it is a small round and the slightest movement by you is the difference between hitting what you are aiming at and missing it completely, and the smaller the target, the smaller the error on your part that will do that. Your survival depends on your skill.
As a survival round .22 lr is actually pretty good. There are shotshells for 'pest control' that won't go through things like aluminum siding, but are good against snakes and other very small animals. There are also tracer and incendiaries available of various types, plus a wide degree of pre-fragmented, sectional and other forms of projectile, that make the .22lr a prime survival round. For survival and getting small game .22lr is a pretty good round type and for long term survival a competent marksman can make a limited ammo supply go a long, long way at a very low up front cost. A Marlin 60 can be found for under $150 and a Ruger Mark III Competition pistol for under $400. Out of the box and with a good cleaning to get the factory gunk out of them, they are good survival weapons. The US Air Force has used a single shot .22lr as its bail-out gun for pilots since the 1960's as it is low mass, low cost and very accurate, plus isn't that noisy in the field. There is a good chance that someone within a mile will hear a 12 gauge shotgun blast, but very little they will hear a .22lr especially if it is a sub-sonic load. Cost for 500 rounds of .22lr is normally under $25 and often under $20. That is a 'brick' of ammo and weighs about the same as 30 rounds of 7.62 x54R or 25 rounds of 12 gauge birdshot shells.
I'm really quite surprised that no manufacturer has made a good 'bug out bag' based on a .22lr pistol.
Second for caliber is 45 ACP, the most favorite round for American pistols and even a few carbines. The Browning designed Colt 1911 has been a favorite on and off the battlefield since it was introduced and, when all the variants are taken into account, outsells any other handgun in the US, hands-down. With the run on ammo starting after the election of 2008, 45 ACP vanished off the shelves in a few weeks and the first wave of re-supply in AUG 2009 also quickly went down. Now there is enough to purchase without paying a premium and it goes back into the 'a good round to have' category. As a round the 45 ACP hits a 'sweet spot' between speed and mass, remaining sub-sonic in most loads and yet delivering a heavy system shock. The arguments on this are legion! Still 'In Browning We Trust' should be a motto for a coin. Here I varied from my recommendation of a 1911 variant for myself, as I didn't have a shotgun or rifle, at the time, and didn't know when I would have money for either, but the 1911 is what I recommend as there is not a gun shop in the US that hasn't seen a few dozen of them if not a hundred or more. A good 1911 variant is on my 'buy list' if I ever have funds for one again.
Surprisingly this is a survival round having a wide array of ammo types available for it: flare rounds (they won't cycle a semi-auto), shotshell, tracer, incendiary, explosive, 'spotter' that lights up on impact, frangible (lethal but doesn't over penetrate), segmented, and on and on. I picked up a longer barrel pistol version of the Kahr/Auto-Ordnance Thompson TA5 as its 10.5" barrel allowed for the most velocity as a standard load has expended its powder completely in that distance. That meant a general all purpose firearm that did none of the things specialized ones did (as a shotgun it isn't much, as a rifle it doesn't have enough range, as a pistol its too bulky) but did them all passably with a bit of style. I would not want it as a carry weapon as it isn't concealable nor lightweight.
But then most pistols can't use a 50 or 100 round drum magazine, either.
I had some work done on mine to allow it to use the older Auto-Ordnance and Government Issue magazines of 20 and 30 rounds. I refuse to mutilate pieces of history when I can perfectly well mutilate something modern with a good spare parts supply. The up-front expense for the Thompson has more than made up for the actual using it, and it has proven to be quite accurate with a smoothbore barrel far beyond what I expect for a pistol. Its mass means it is a weight lifting session, but the joy of getting round on target in tight groupings more than makes up for that. Additionally it is 'user friendly' if you can heft it and have good, reliable magazines.
45 ACP target ammo goes for under $20 for a box of 50 rounds. The cost of a 1911 or variant, or any other pistol using the round, varies so much as not to be funny. As a separate platform I was looking at the $700-$800 range, although Kahr has some nice slim-line variants for under $400. And that is on the new market... used I would prefer a historical arm, not necessarily war time issue, as I do have a fondness for historical arms.
Out of the list the cheapest to outfit is the Mosin-Nagant. For about $100 you can still get a great, clean bore military surplus rifle. For an extra hundred you might get someone else to clean it for you... but if you are willing to expend the time and effort to get the cosmoline off, then you have an inexpensive, relatively accurate rifle. Get up to the $350 range and you can get a Finnish surplus one, no cleaning necessary. The ammo is 20-25 cents per round in bulk 'spam can' amounts (440 rounds per can). A real deal for the cost and you get a piece of history, as well. It is the cheapest to procure and the second cheapest to actually use on a per round basis.
Next is the .22lr and a single pistol comes in well under $400 and a Marlin 60 rifle comes in under $150, and ammo is damned cheap (although during the ammo run of 2009 it was also absent, but so was 45 ACP and .22lr came back first). At 4 to 6 cents per round you can't go wrong, and buying in bulk can lower that price, too. Exotics cost more, of course. This is the second cheapest to procure, and the cheapest to fire on a per round basis.
For shotguns you can vary from $150 to... well what are those gold engraved, specialized pieces? Still at the survival end cost for the gun itself, $500 to $700 with a pretty wide variance at the low end, depending on your personal needs and ability. Cost per round is 25 cents to a dollar (from target shot to slugs) and more for a sabot and exotic ammo. It is a real investment useful for a wide range of applications and nothing can replace a good 12 ga. shotgun, and if you must have one gun, and only one gun, make it a 12 gauge shotgun. What you can do with it has no peer in diversity for a weapons platform.
The 1911 variants and older models range all over the map, but rarely under $500 for an older service weapon, although that is only a ballpark. A special-made custom with all sorts of goodies can reach $2,700 and beyond, and in-between at the $700-$900 range are good modern models. Cost for ammo is 36 to 45 cents or so per round at the low end with exotics cost more at the high round. Remember I paid more for something different.
Are these all the guns I have?
No, these are my survival ones that I consider to be good, multi-use weapons.
I do not consider myself to be a 'gun nut' nor someone who has a deep knowledge and history of firearms per model, per line and per type. I do like the history of arms and have the capability to take decent care of the mechanical end of things while being a pretty fair shot. And while I do work up a sweat at the range, the need to concentrate and understand what I am doing is, itself, a form of relaxation and honing a skill.
Next up on my list of skills to acquire: sewing.
Is it just me or has there been a run on jeans needles, lately?
I have an article I'm working on... about backpacks. Really the entire industry has undergone a revolution over the last 30 years. But adapting your equipment to YOU is a PITA. Thus I am off to the world of cloth, thread, needles, foam, ALICE, MOLLE and weight distribution. And the last time I even touched a sewing machine I was around 8 or so. Luckily I only need 'the basics'.
Just like firearms.
And I have this lovely White Model 565 from the 1960's...