What is your SHTF gun? Many will jump to defend the AR of AK platform with rugged hostility. No matter which side of the lane you end up on in the AKM vs. AR15 debate – looking at you Jeff Kirkman – they are both worthy rifles which can be efficiently used in a SHTF scenario. 

But what is SHTF? For some it’s a power outage for a week, a month, two months; for others it’s a total society and government collapse. For me, it’s a bit different. 

What is my SHTF? 

My SHTF is anything where I don’t have the proper tool for the job. It’s when I encounter a grizzly bear and I’m armed with a pen knife. It’s when an earthquake takes out all the roads between work and home while I’m stuck wearing only a suit. SHTF is a lack of proper training and preparation. 

This translates over to firearms, much to my wife’s chagrin. I have devoted a large part of my SHTF preparation to the skills and supplies necessary to properly and safely utilize these tools. However, I have noticed that even at home there are ‘mission specifics.’ No single tool solves every issue and I’d much rather have the proper tool at my disposal with the option to Gerry rig another tool if necessary. 

Notice, I use the word ‘tools’ quite often. 

What Are These Mission Specifics? 

Well, here’s the thing. Many mission specific needs are by category. For example: I’m not going to take a .45-70 lever action out to run room clearing drills. While it will work there are better alternatives. At the same time, I would not take a .22LR on a bear hunt. It’s just not the right tool! 

Classifying your potential needs and finding a tool which fits the classification most broadly will minimize the excess and bring your ‘needs’ into perspectives with your ‘wants.’ It appears that many who are preparing for some time disaster put a plan in place that unnecessary needs. Bugging out, for instance, may not be a possibility in an unforeseen earthquake. From my perspective, bugging out is a great option but not many are prepared for the eventuality of bugging in. Plan for both objectives. 

My Objectives: 

I’ve personally planned for a progressive bug-out. I would need to move from a high populated urban area into a rural area far away. As such, there are items that do not work well in an urban environment which are well at home in the open fields. As I have planned for a slow, methodical, location-to-location bug out bringing necessary tools and food is at the top of that list. What this has led me to is the realization that an AKM or AR can’t solve it all but can solve most. 

Many know I am a bushcrafter and survivalist. This means my main objective is to use as little as possible to do as much as possible and use nature to fill in the gaps. While difficult in an urban climate, it’s not impossible. What nature cannot help me with is other human beings who mean to harm me or my family. With that in mind, a plan was put in place with the best defensive tools for pre-planned objectives. 

Objective 1: Get Home and On-Hand Tools: 

This is not as cut and dry as some would hope. While a tightly packed, pistol caliber SBR seems like the best option for someone unable to drive home it’s not an option for many people across the United States. Local and federal gun laws make it difficult to carry a tool in all areas or obtain the best tool for the job.  

I always carry a knife, but am unable to carry any type of firearms in my vehicle. However, if I had to choose a specific rifle (pistol is an easy choice), I would probably go for the KelTec SU16B or pistol AR/AKM. Yep, you read that right, I said the SU16. While a pistol length AR/AKM offers some pretty solid reliability I’m more inclined to have a full 16” barrel if I’m far from my main defensive tools. The SU16 seems to fit that niche well. 

Personally, I don’t think the SU16 is a reliable gun, in the sense that it can be abused and still run. It’s a polymer rifle which accepts standard AR mags which folds in half to save space. It will fit in a duffle and use the same ammunition as those AR purists with accuracy and range a pistol setup can’t provide. 

Honestly, I think the SU16 is a horrible rifle. If it had even an aluminum upper receiver it would go from the bottom of my ‘guns I like’ list to the near top. Integrated magazine holders, foldable, easy to procure mags, long sight radius, integrated rail, non-threatening styling. The main area it seems to fail is the polymer construction. RIP durability. 

Objective 2: Urban, Close Quarter Movement and Home/Base of Operation Defense: 

This one seems pretty simple. Give me that AKM or AR15. It offers plenty of range, stopping power, and penetration to be useful. Weight and ammunition capacity is also a factor and each serves up more than most trained users will need. I love both platforms and lean more towards the AKM for the caliber only. The AR can be chambered in many other caliber options but it’s hit or miss on reliability and none of those caliber choices have been battle proven. 

When 200-500 yards is a maximum range of engagement the AKM really shines. Clearing rooms, defending your home, ease of use, ammunition costs; there all put the AKM ahead for me. However, I haven’t trained on the AKM as extensively as I have on the AR platform. Because of this, I still run to the AR platform for convenience and comfort. In addition, I want my loved ones to stay far away from the fight whenever possible. The AR platform (both AR15 and LR308 DPMS) have the ability to reach out and touch from farther away. 

As a secondary option I lean towards either a shotgun or a bolt action, with the former being my first choice. If a home is properly set up, having a tiered defensive system incorporating all three tools is a potential actuality. However, I would never choose a bolt action to clear a room and I would never use a shotgun from the rooftops. So, the easy conclusion is that an AKM or AR will fit my needs. 

Objective 3: Suburbs and Frequent Fields: 

Many think of this as similar to Objective 2. I disagree. An AKM or AR15 will fit the role well but supplies and coverage is less frequent. This is where woodsman skills come into play. Here an individual is moving from the congested and highly trafficked areas of a metropolitan complex to a rural and obscure location. This in between has challenges which incorporate rural and urban elements. Honestly, either an urban or a rural tool choice would work with minor modifications. 

Objective 4: Rural Environments: 

I’m hoping I run into more animals than humans when heading to a Rural climate. This means food is close by and potential danger is limited. While encountering humans is not impossible it’s more unlikely. I have decided that a CETME (or G3) and SKS are some of the best options in these areas. 

Bear with me here. I want something which will allow me to remain hidden in a prone position, give me the power to hunt nearly all medium game, have the capacity to engage hostiles if necessary, and durable enough to work through nearly all encountered debris. The CETME has proven itself for nearly 65 years and that delayed roller blowback system is near impossible to jam while the SKS is a cheap, reliable, and a common enough weapon to source replacement parts. 

Thinking realistically, both of these rifles could be put into an urban environment and do exceptionally well. Having ‘one rifle’ to do all seems to be the Prepper motto. However, I’m more inclined to take an SKS or CETME to ‘do it all’ than an AR or AKM. I think a close second would be an AR LR308 DPMS. I don’t think they’re as reliable as a CETME but they certainly can fill a lot of gaps. 

If I do encounter a bear or wild cat a 5.56 is not going to cut it, for me. Hell, a 7.62x39 might not even cut it. So, I would feel much more comfortable with a .308 platform above all else. Even still, waterfowl are a pleasant resource and a bird gun (single shot shotgun) would be a nice secondary, for me. 

Objective 5: Deep Woods: 

You know, I can’t think of the last time I wandered across someone deep in the woods of Wisconsin. When moving in the woods weight is the largest restriction someone has to move a long distance. At least, that’s how it is for me. I’m not planning on getting in any kind of firefight in the deep woods and would much rather have a .30-30, .308, or .45-70. Lever actions have been a leader in ‘bush gun’ setups and there’s nothing more ‘bush’ than the deep woods.  

What appeals to me about these types of firearms are the tools available to make and cast more ammunition. Lee makes handheld systems and Lyman recently did away with their hand-held system. Casting bullets over a fire, filling the cartridge with powder, and setting the bullet is not impossible in the deep woods. Some calibers (.308) are not as easy or common to do this with. 

The benefit I see with this type of tool is the ammunition. Limited range but easy to carry quite a few rounds without weighing a user down. The integrated tubular magazines make it easy enough to take just enough for hunting or defense. In the woods, weight is one of the biggest factors of safety. 

Objective 6: Farm or Homestead: 

Okay, okay. I said I don’t live there anymore, but I still know where it is and I still know what to do. On any type of farm or homestead it’s about defending your livestock from invaders (animal or otherwise) and defending your home. In this respect, I believe an AR or AKM would be uniquely beneficial. Even that horrible KelTec would fit the mold (pun intended). While I still want something more powerful for hunting and serious human encounters, an AR more than fits my needs. 

Objective 7: Pure Survival: 

I doubt it would happen, but a purely survival rifle seems to be a good idea. When I mean survival, I mean it would be used for personal, wilderness survival and not human enacted defensive survival.  

The concept behind Chiappa’s M6 is great. The execution falls short. If their M6 was well built and reliable I’d pack it away in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Their Little Badger and 10/22 are decent options, as is a single shot shotgun. Because of the unknown variables on wildlife encounters a shotgun feels like a safety blanket and a .22LR feel like my food source. Honestly, this is why I carry in my vehicle when travelling through largely uninhabited areas of the northern United States. 

Lessons: 

My wants and needs are in direct opposition of one another. I want multiple tools to fill the objectives. On paper – and in training exercises – this works. However, any plan made needs to be made, memorized, then thrown away. Having the plan in place is only the first step in a potential eventuality. More than likely, I will need to cut down any objective tools to just 1 and run with it. If that’s the case it’d be a pretty big toss-up.  

For me, I believe I would run towards the CETME C (not the G3), AKM, or SKS. Simply said, they could fit in all environments and terrain and be employed in any hostile encounter with wildlife or otherwise. As I said before, a SHTF gun is not a prepper gun, is not a homestead gun, is not a bush gun, is not a survival gun, is not a pistol. However, a SHTF gun can be a prepper hun, can be a homestead gun, can be a bush gun, can be a survival gun, and may be a pistol. 

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