Every expert on post-apocalyptic survival (oh, the existential irony) will tell you that you can’t expect to get by with only one gun. They all have different purposes. The best tool for garden pests is not the best for harvesting deer, 20 feet different from 400 yards, personal protection in the city different from a day hunting in the woods. The reasoning is sound for most long-term bug-in scenarios, however in certain situations – particularly, in the case of an INCH bag – space and weight constraints are a critical factor. One, maybe two, are all you can take. So what to pick?

A common recommendation for such a scenario – and one I circumstantially agree with – is that the 22LR cartridge is the ideal caliber for a survival gun. There are a number of excellent reasons for this:

  • Ubiquity: The most common ammunition in the world, it will be one of the most likely to be resupplied.
  • Weight: 22LR is one of the smallest and lightest rounds, and you can carry a lot of it in comparison to other calibers.
  • Price: 22LR is the cheapest of all gunpowder rounds, easy to stock and train with.
  • Versatility: 22LR is most suitable for hunting small animals – perhaps the primary inland survival game – where larger calibers would cause too much damage to otherwise useable meat. Given good shot placement, multiple shots, and/or some luck, it can be pressed into service for self defense or, potentially, to take out most large North American game.
  • Noise: Subsonic 22LR ammo is quieter and easier to suppress, in order to avoid unwanted attention. 

The firearm most often recommended is the Ruger 10/22, and similarly capable rifles of other makes and models. There are good reasons for this, as well:

  • Semi-automatic: The ability to make quick follow-up shots can mean the difference between a hot meal and starvation. Or the difference between a dead mugger or a dead you.
  • Magazine-fed: Fending off multiple assailants or laying down cover fire to make an escape will require lots of rounds. Detachable magazines can also store different types of ammo for different types of game.
  • Simple and reliable: As 22LR goes, the 10/22 is about as reliable as you can get short of a bolt action.
  • Accurate: As 22LR goes, the 10/22 is about as accurate as you can get short of a bolt action.
  • Portability: The Ruger 10/22 can be had in a breakdown model or with a folding stock that will fit into medium and larger packs.
  • Frankengun: The 10/22 has a plethora of aftermarket accessories available to it. 

Choosing a survival gun is a balancing act between the pros and cons of different calibers and platforms, since no one gun is good at everything. The 10/22 is a good survival choice in maximizing the pros for a hunting/hiding survival plan, but it still has some noteworthy drawbacks:

  • 22LR has finicky accuracy. If you hunt small game, you’ll probably need to keep it inside of 50 yards, unless you’ve accurized your rifle and stocked the specific brand of ammo your rifle likes.
  • 22LR has limited effective range. The U.S. Army claims 50ft-lbs of energy are required to kill a human (so I’ve read, but haven’t found a direct quote). 22LR generally loses this after 250 yards, if you can even hit a target at that range, given its accuracy and steep bullet drop. You’ll need to get close to the game, and will have little response to longer-ranged human threats except to run/hide and hope for the best.
  • 22LR has low reliability in comparison to centerfire ammunition, due to its rimmed design and the delicate balance of manufacturing requirements needed to create it. Duds, squibs, jams, and fliers are normal.
  • A rifle is much larger, heavier, and less concealable than a pistol.
  • If you want to join a militia, city watch, or government, nobody is going to take you seriously if all you have is a .22. 

No doubt, a semi-auto magazine-fed 22LR-chambered rifle like the Ruger 10/22 is an excellent choice, but I think there’s a better option: an AR-15 with a drop-in 22 conversion kit. The idea is that this setup can do most of what a 10/22 can do along with the advantages that the .223 offers. Those that survive are those most adaptable to change, and I believe that this setup adds significant versatility to your INCH loadout:

  • Can fire 22LR, and hence has all the advantages that come with it.
  • Can also fire .223/5.56, the second most common rifle cartridge in the U.S., significantly increasing the odds of finding something you can use from barter or scavenging.
  • .223 terminal ballistics are much better suited to defense and for hunting medium to large game (roughly 10 times more kinetic energy), drastically increasing  your success rate.
  • .223 extends effective range beyond 500 yards.
  • .223 is more accurate and has a flatter trajectory than 22LR.
  • .223 in an AR-15 is generally more reliable than 22LR in a 10/22.
  • Has more accessory options than a 10/22
  • Breaks down for portability nicely.
  • AR-15s are nearly ubiquitous among organized fighting forces in the U.S., and will integrate well into many militia, city watch, or government organizations should you choose to join one.

And, to be fair, some cons:

  • Not as accurate or reliable with .22LR as a dedicated .22 firearm.
  • More “scary looking” than a 10/22, may attract the wrong kind of attention.
  • Weight of the rifle itself and .223 ammo is heavier, will also need to carry extra bolt and mags.
  • Not as much range, not as suitable for large game as average, and typically more powerful, hunting rounds.
  • Still not as portable or concealable as a pistol.
  • Much more expensive.

So there you have it, my case for the AR-15 with a conversion kit. A bit more weight, but significantly greater versatility. In my INCH bag, I’d keep a few boxes of .223 for defense and medium-large game hunting, and a bulk pack or three of 22LR for rabbit patrol. Of course, you could just load up on 22LR as if you had a 10/22 and reserve .223 capability for resupply options, but I’d prefer to have my full range of options at hand. If you like this idea, consider a 1-in-9 twist barrel; slower twists work better with 22LR, but any slower than this and you may have trouble accurately firing military standard M855 ammo.

A strong case can be also be made for a break-barrel 12ga shotgun. Not only is shotgun ammunition itself common and versatile, but many caliber conversion adapters are available. With the right adapters and a 12ga, one could fire 20 and 410 ga shotshells, 45 Long Colt, 22 Long Rifle, 17 HMR, 40 S&W, 357 Magnum, 38 Special, 9mm, 45ACP, and even black powder. This is quite possibly the single most ammo-versatile setup in existence. The drawbacks, of course, are a lack of long-range reach and only one or two shots with a slow reload.

If you wanted to save on the weight of the firearm itself, I have also seriously considered a scoped semi-automatic target pistol. It is entirely serviceable for hunting and defense within the effective range of the .22LR cartridge, with the added advantage of being much more concealable, though you lose out on the capabilities of a centerfire rifle cartridge. It also takes more practice to shoot a pistol accurately enough for rodents.

All this said, if I could choose two guns (which is exactly what I’d do in an INCH situation), I would supplement the AR-15 with a modern striker-fired pistol in .40 S&W, and I’d carry a conversion barrel for 9mm and maybe .357 SIG. Glocks, XDs, and M&Ps are capable of this, probably several others. That’s five different types of ammo out of only two guns, including the three most prolific calibers in the U.S. If I were with a partner, I’d be a lot happier if he had an accurate .308 rifle and a .357 magnum revolver. If in a group, I’d hope someone has a .12ga, and .45 as well.

Thanks for reading, hope you found it useful, or at least entertaining.