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By July 6, 2012 Read More →

The top three firearms choices for under $1000 for beginner prepper/survivalists

A consistent ” Where do I start?” firearms question keeps coming in from beginner outdoors people/preppers/survivalists.  If you don’t have any firearms, what should you buy and what do you need?  Here are my top three choices.
by Leon Pantenburg

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I like and enjoy shooting anything that goes “boom,” with a special affinity for traditional blackpowder long rifles.  I support the National Rifle Association, and the Second Amendment.  Every year, time permitting, I hunt elk, deer, upland game, waterfowl and whatever else I can legally pursue.

These three long guns are good, reliable choices for the beginner with no experience.

The Ruger 10/22 (top), Remington 870 pump action shotgun and Remington 700 bolt action rifle are my choices for the beginner.  (Leon Pantenburg photos)

But I try to stay away from writing about firearms.  There is so much of it, good and BS, on the internet, that anything I contribute will be adding another drop to an already overflowing bucket.

But readers keep asking.  So, here’s my top three long gun choices for people starting out.  IMHO, you need a .22 caliber rifle, a shotgun and a centerfire hunting rifle.  You can worry about handguns, black rifles and tactical guns later, once you get the basics.

Also, variations of these firearms are easy to find.  If you shop around and watch the sales, you may be able to acquire all three of the suggested firearms for under $1,000.

Here’s were to start with building your prepper/survival battery:

.22 caliber rifle: Everybody needs a .22.  A beginner needs a manageable rifle to start out with, one that doesn’t deafen and belt them in the chops every time they pull the trigger.  A .22 allows a person to learn the basics of marksmanship, which will transfer over to centerfire rifles.  For the beginner, a .22 is perfect.  It has no kick, low noise, and ammunition is on sale all the time.

In addition to target practice, a .22 could be used for self-defense.  In the hands of a cool marksman who places his shot correctly, a .22 rifle can take deer or larger game.  Pick the action you like best, but some experienced shooters recommend getting the same action in your .22 as with your centerfire hunting rifle, so the muscle memory and training carries over.

Shotgun: A shotgun can be a close range weapon and a tool for harvesting small game.  But properly loaded with buckshot or a slug, a well-aimed shotgun can put down any big game animal in the western hemisphere.  For the newcomer, the choice of gauge narrows down to 12 gauge or the smaller 20 gauge.  Any of the less common gauges might make it harder to find cheap ammunition.

Bolt action centerfire rifle: I like bolt action rifles and have hunted with them all my life.  Even in the thickets of Mississippi while hunting deer, I never felt handicapped with the slower operating bolt action, as opposed to a pump or semi-automatic.

The bolt action is the choice of many top snipers and marksmen, and in addition to being a fantastic hunting rifle, the bolt action also tends to be very accurate.

My personal choices for the beginner battery are the Ruger 10/22 .22 caliber semi-automatic, a 20 or 12 gauge Remington 870 pump shotgun, and a scoped, bolt-action Remington 700.  Here’s why.

Ruger 10/22: I bought my Ruger in 1966, when I was 14, at Red Fox Sporting Goods, in Boone, Iowa.  The Ruger cost $54, and I worked 54 hours, chopping corn out of bean fields to buy it.

The Ruger 10/22 is a rugged, reliable .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

The Ruger 10/22 is a rugged, reliable .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle. I've had this one since 1966.

Since then, I have shot tens of thousands of rounds through that little carbine.  Plinking at targets was one of my favorite past times when I was a kid.  I also shot rats at the dump and hunted small game extensively.

While I frequently rely on iron sights on other traditional-styled rifles, I like a four-power telescopic sight on my .22.  In brush, the magnification allows you to see holes to shoot through. The scope helps you place your shots more accurately, making for more efficiency.

Remington 870: If I could only have one gun (Perish the thought!) is would be a 12 gauge Remington 870. Properly loaded, this gun can put down anything from flying doves to big bears.

It would be my weapon of choice in virtually any close range gunfight, and it is the weapon I reach for when things go bump in the night.

The Remington 870 Wingmaster 12 gauge is a good choice if you could only own one firearm.

I bought this Remington 870 Wing Master 12 gauge initially for deer hunting in thick brush.

This classic American-made pump shotgun has sold over four million copies, and is the standard for many law enforcement and military agencies.  A 12 gauge is the standard, but for small framed people a 20 gauge might be a better choice.

In 1982, I bought my first 870, a 12 gauge, for hunting deer with buckshot or slugs in the thick brush of Mississippi. That gun got used hard during all hunting seasons.  It was also my waterfowl gun, and never failed in the mud, water, cattails and swamps.  I liked it so much, I later bought a 20 gauge 870 Wingmaster for upland game.  Then I bought a synthetic-stocked 870 12 gauge for my son.  He can use any of my guns for hunting, but prefers the black one because of the looks.

There are any number of aftermarket upgrades that can make the 870 look badder and more tactical.  But as a perpetrator deterrent, nothing quite matches the 870’s signature “slicky-slick”of a round being chambered.

Remington 700: This bolt action rifle uses the same basic action as the U.S. military’s M-24 sniper rifle.  I own a model BDL in 7mm-08 for deer, and a synthetic Remington 700 in 7mm Remington Magnum for elk and everything else.

This Remington 700 synthetic 7 mm is my bad weather rifle and has been carried extensively elk hunting in the west.

This Remington 700 synthetic 7 mm is my bad weather rifle and has been carried extensively elk hunting in the west.

I also own other bolt actions, including a Ruger Mark V in .223.  A Winchester 670 went through my hands a few years back.  My brother Mike’s Winchester pre-64 Model 70 remains one of the most accurate 30.06s  I’ve ever fired.

No American manufacturer can afford to make a shoddy, junky bolt action centerfire rifle.  If you have a favorite major manufacturer, stick with them and you won’t go wrong.

As far a caliber goes, find one you can shoot, and that the ammunition will be easy to find.  The.308 and .223 are military rounds and the ammunition is common and cheap.  A 30.06 is never a mistake.

For a slight framed person, the light kicking .223 or .243 will be good calibers to start with.

I’m sure my personal list will cause debate (and isn’t that half the fun?)

But I believe we can all agree on this:  Before you buy any firearm, get some training so you are able to handle it safely.  Have the means to secure the firearm in your home, and always treat every gun as if it loaded! Widgets

Posted in: Guns

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20 Comments on "The top three firearms choices for under $1000 for beginner prepper/survivalists"

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  1. Paul Hayden says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this author, and I have one of each of these guns. And yes, they all can be purchased for well under $1,000 total. is a great website to find almost any gun you can think of, as are gun shows around the country. On this website you can join, bid on guns, and buy long distance, with the guns being sent to an FFL dealer close to you to legally complete the transaction. Do your homework first, be aware, and ask as many questions as you need to be sure you are getting the best deal for the money, and it can be to your advantage. I would say that many or most sellers would be glad to help walk you through the process. Be aware there are some deals with returns possible. There is a very high degree of honor among legal American gun owners that I can proudly say I am one. Owning a firearm is not only a right, it is a responsibility when taken as such to help provide not only food as the author mentions, but also self-defense for yourself and your family. We provide “insurance” in so many ways, from car and health and life insurance, to fire extinguishers, alarm systems, phones to use for 911, and so on. This is another way we can “be prepared” as the old Boy Scout motto says.

  2. RGR 9-76 says:

    Great selection of weapons. Each one has a place in anyone’s battery. When it comes to the Rem. 700 or any similar long gun I would go with the .308, may not hane the range as the 06 but the ammo is carried by the military which gives the owner a larger resupply resource. I only have one fault with the article I own an 870 and yes it has a real smooth action and distinctive sound but that myth of a chambering shotgun will deter the bad guy is just that. The best way to deter a bad guy is a loaded weapon well aimed with the shooter trained on correct engagement techniques. Again good article .

  3. Cecil Roper says:

    Your selection is ok, but if you want to be serious, you need to consider getting a pump 22 caliber rifle instead of the Ruger10/22. The 10/22 is a good rifle, I have two, but, if you want a rifle that will shoot and function with 22 shorts, longs, long rifle, shotshell, and many other specialty cartridges for the 22 long rifle, then you need a pump. Your centerfire rifle is a great choice, but the critical consideration for this rifle is “one that will do it all & one that I can get ammo for during a collapse”. The 223 Remington is an excellent choice, but is lacking in alot of areas; unless everyone in your area will only have this caliber.

  4. Steve Smith says:

    Thanks for the lesson Leon. I actually did buy your choices except for the Remington. I bought a Marlin bolt action in 30:06. All 3 guns are of the black persuasion & the ruger is stainless. These were advice from friends before I read this article. Counting up it was just north of $800 for all three within the last 3 years. I will also learn the ropes from these friends, who have decades of experience between them. I’ve been a handgun owner for 25 fun years. I’ve never gone hunting so that’s next on the list. Happy hunting everybody.

  5. Great article relating to choosing firearms for “hunting”. None of them would have been my choice for self defense other than the shot gun cut down to 18 inches. Guys, if it really gets bad like it looks like it is going to, you will need a lot more than a bolt action hunting rifle to defend yourself and your family. The latest FBI statistics show the murder rate in small town America up 18% in the last year – these are towns of less than 10,000 people! People are desperate and losing their sense of moral values. Yes, hunting is important but if things continue to go south, your main job will be sitting on your homestead protecting what is yours.

    Remember people, the most important thing above all is MINDSET and training!! All else is supplemental.

    • Mark Powell says:

      Hello ExtremeDefenseUSA,
      I am genuinely interested in your recommendations for homestead defense weapons (I am the guy with the shotgun having an 18″ barrel…). But not only that. What is really going to be involved in a fire-fight in the future in America? Will training and one or two well-placed bullets dispatch the rare urban intruder in a lawless society? Will home-owners have to keep 24-hour vigil, operating in shifts, just to ward off the zombie hordes? Will we have to hide the goodies in “Clinton Caches”, in which case they would be useless in acute attacks? Is it enough to have a couple of automatic pistols with some high-cap mags? Should we all get several semi-auto carbines? I don’t pretend to have the answers, and am willing to listen to any reasonable opinion.

    • Mark,

      I don’t have all the answers either, but from my experience I’ll give it a go !!
      As a firearms and self defense instructor , I get to work with a “LOT” of different guns and people !! What works and what doesn’t !

      First thing on my list is a good semi auto handgun, minimum 9mm !! This is #1 priority and should be carried on your person at all times !!
      Second is a good semi auto carbine : 223, 308, 5.45×39, 7.62×39 any of these will suffice ! AR or AK platform , I prefer because of the availability of parts and mags ! But there is other good choices out there like the mini 14 , the FAL , and the list goes on !!
      These first two weapons are my priority and I go no where without them! They are light and easy to pack with extra ammo!(ever try to hump with 12 guage and 100 rnds of buckshot and slugs!)
      Realize this is what I do for a living “training ordinary people to survive in Extreme situations” !! This is my focus , self defense , not food procurement !

      I’m not down playing the importance of the shotgun , I own 3 of them. They have a wide variety of uses , but there is a reason the shotgun was replaced in most L.E. vehicles with carbines of the 223 or 308 caliber ! Plus the wives and Kids will do a hell of a lot better and have more fun training with an AR or AK then a shotgun that beats them up !
      Also don’t forget the importance of a good 22 rifle !! You can even get them in the same configuration as most carbines , so you can train with the same type of weapon on the cheap !

      I know I broke the budget , but I can’t put a price on the safety and security of my family!!
      Remember all the “Hardware” is useless without the “Software” !! TRAIN,TRAIN,TRAIN !!!

      None of us will rise to the occasion , all will do is fall back on our training ! Look for instructors that focus on Mindset and realistic training , you don’t need to learn how to Shoot, you need to learn how to fight with a gun !!

      I know this may sound graphic to some but its a cruel world out there and its not getting any better.
      Latest FBI stats said murder was up 18% in small town America this last year , that’s towns with a population of 10,000 or less !!
      People are getting desperate.

      I hope that helps out some, Train hard, like your life depends on it , some day it might !!

      Extreme Defense USA

    • Mark,

      As I was reading your email again ,I realized I didn’t answer all of your questions !!

      First off let me say ,none of us really know how bad its going to get ! There is people out there who have come from other countries that have gone thru and witnessed first hand horrible things we as
      Americans cant imagine ! They tell us it’s going to get REAL UGLY !!

      A group of people you train with and trust , I believe is a priority to cover one anothers back !!

      As for training with firearms , Yes its important !!
      History has proven that fate favors the PREPARED !!
      Hope that helps answer some of your questions.

      Extreme Defense USA

  6. Mark Powell says:

    I echo Mr. Pantenburg’s recommendations. My own personal variations on this trio are the CZ 452 in .22 LR with a Mannlicher stock (just because it looks good), a Mossberg 500A with 18 and 28 inch inter-changeable barrels, and a Remington 700 CDL in .300 Win Mag with a Nikon Monarch 3-12×42 atop it.

  7. Greg Gondella says:

    AS was stated by others in their comments, this selection of firearms is great for a beginner “hunter”. If I had the choice to be well worth the while to start as a prepper, these guns would not even be in my selections. There are two main reasons you are looking for firearms when it comes to prepping. 1. Is to defend yourself and your family. 2. to help put food on the flame. SO you have to take these things into account. The three guns I would have put in the article are 1. Savage Axis packake in .223 or .270, these are a great beginner gun, and do not have a tone of recoil. This is what we call your meat gun, drop down your game so you haev something to eat. 2. A mossberg 500 or Savage 350 Shotgun, great home defense gun and if properly used can be used as a bird gun. 3. Glock 17 9mm handgun, personal protection. Really all you have to say about that. All of these can be purchased for well under $1000.00.

  8. Tactical G-Ma says:

    My husband and I are both disabled, I 59, He 64.  Our limitations are obvious and we are easy marks. We traded in some bigger guns for more manageable ones.  We chose a Marlin .22 mag bolt action w/scope, a Marlin .22 semi-auto w/scope and a Rem 870 20 ga junior w/ an 18.5 in barrel.  I changed out the stock w/ a tactical adjustable stock.  We joined our local NRA gun club and practice at least once a week.  We have several other larger cal rifles, hand guns, and shotguns.  The best part is that our entire family, even the 11 and 12 year olds can proficiently use and maintain almost every gun in our arsonal.  If your gun isn’t sighted in or well maintained or if you don’t practice regularly, it doesn’t matter what you buy.  Do your homework, know your capabilities and know what your end use is.  Good luck and pray your target never has to be another human. 

  9. George says:

    Mr. Pantenburg,

    I have a question about your three choices. In my current situation, I will not be bugging out in probably 90% of the situations I think I will face. I will be in a urban environment and and I do not see a bolt action hunting rifle having much use. I can shoot tree rats (squirrels) with the 10/22, but that is about the largest game I will face.

    What rifle would you suggest for those of us in an urban setting? (I know the easy answer is an AR-15 platform), but I would like to keep it under $1000 for all three.

    • Leon says:

      Everybody – call me Leon!
      A couple thoughts, here George. An accurate, scoped bolt-action rifle could serve very competently as a “sniper” rifle. As such, a practiced marksman, with the survival mindset, could effectively use a bolt-action in an urban setting to engage armed aggressors at a distance of up to several blocks.
      One of the American military sniper rifles currently in use is the bolt action 7.62x51mm M40, which is based on the Remington 700.
      Last year, I had the honor of interviewing Kyle Thompson, USMC, of La Pine, OR, when he returned from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Thompson was in Recon, and his squad was frequently on extended deployments. All the squad members were sniper school graduates, and frequently, their weapon of choice was the M40.
      There reasoning was simple: it was the best tools for the job. The Taliban were usually armed, Mr. Thompson commented, with fully-auto AK-47s. Their spray-and-pray combat methods could be defeated by precision, long-range marksmanship.
      I believe a bolt-action is very useful in a variety of circumstances, including urban settings. I’d get a common caliber such as a .223 and/or .308, since military ammo might be available and cheap.
      Since the goal is to keep all three long guns under $1000, here are some other good choices I own or have used:
      Ruger Mini-14: A short, fast shooting carbine, this weapon is a standard with many police departments. Look around and you might find one for about $500 to $600. You can get extended magazines. All Rugers are durable and very reliable.
      SKS: This semi-automatic carbine uses the 7.62x39mm cartridge, and if you go to gun shows or shop diligently, you might find one for a few hundred dollars.
      30-30 lever action: Winchester and Marlin both make handy little cowboy rifles that generally start at about $300. They are light, durable and fast shooting and don’t underestimate the 30-30! Ammunition is also pretty plentiful.
      Let me preach to the choir here a moment: Buying a sniper rifle doesn’t make you a sniper, nor does owning a fast-shooting rifle ensure home security. Practice makes the difference, and you need a rifle caliber that you can afford to shoot.
      Nobody should buy any firearm unless they will commit to learning gun safety, have a safe place to keep the gun, and practice shooting!

    • George says:


      Thank you for your reply. It tells me that I am on a common sense approach. I already have a 3 gun battery of an AR-15, Mossberg 500, and a 1911A1. I am now looking to fill in the gaps. The first purchase is the Ruger 10/22 with 4x scope. Then I am undecided. I am leaning towards a bolt gun in .223 or .308. My back up choice would be a Ruger Mini-14.

  10. Leon says:

    The challenge of writing this story was coming up for the best three all-around firearms and then limiting the budget to $1000!
    Your choice of the 10/22 is a sound one!
    I have a Ruger Mark V in .223, since I already have a Remington 700 in 7mm-08. My reasoning on the bolt action .223 was that it would work well for handling varmints. My wife and daughter can handle that combination very nicely, and it makes a great urban defensive weapon.
    I also have a lot of experience with the Mini-14, and like them a lot. A friend was in the Mississippi Highway Patrol and their issue weapons at the time were an 870 12-gauge, a Mini-14, and the handgun of their choice. If all you ever buy is Ruger products, you will be well-served!

  11. Thomas Kemmett says:

    All good choices. I have the 10/22 with an aftermarket folding stock. This is a great little backpack gun. I have owned a few 870’s. The latest has a composit AR-15 type factory stock with a 20″ slug barrel with rifle sights. Perfect brush gun. I can hit a pie plate at 150 yards. The rifle I have is a 30/06 Savage with adjustable trigger and a black composit stock and Harris folding bi-pod. This gun came with a 3×15 scope for under $500.00. All of your guns are solid choices.

  12. Troy says:

    THE most important bit of advice I got when starting my shooting collection:  Pick your calibers carefully – buy with the cost of shooting in mind.

    I started with three calibers – 9mm, 12 gauge, & 30-30.  Each shoot relatively cheaply but are very versatile.  I bought a case of 9mm for less than $0.25 per round – if you’re concerned about stopping power, I have a double-stack Ruger SR9 and I’ll put my 17 round magazine against 8 rounds of .45 anytime.  Besides, those higher calibers are VERY expensive to shoot – when I go to the range I can shoot 150-200 rounds without going broke.  (The best gun in the world is useless if you can’t afford to shoot enough to get good!)

    Shotgun loads are available in a wide variety, they often go on sale after hunting season so I pick up a few extra boxes cheap.  And though I keep a pistol nearby, when things go “bump” in the night it is my pump 12 that I grab.  I’ve had multiple police officers who believe that the mere sound of racking a shotgun has stopped many invaders and sent them scrambling back out the window they came in!  And if he doesn’t stop, well – I know how to repair holes in drywall.

    My lever action 30-30 is great for hunting and “longer range defense” – especially since hunting with a semi-auto is illegal where I live.  I had a higher caliber bolt action that I traded for my first – again I went from a rifle that costs $2.75 PER ROUND to one that I can shoot for $0.90 each.

    I’ve also moved up to a couple “prepper” guns – I bought my teens Mosin-Nagants and myself a Dragonuv.  They are all 7.62x54R – purchased in bulk I pay about $0.17 per round.  We can easily shoot 200+ rounds a day at the range – try that with just about any other large caliber rifle.  By the way, the Mosin’s cost about $100 each and are very accurate and reliable (especially for a surplus gun that has spent 60+ years in storage!)  My 15 year old son can put 5 rounds in a 3 inch circle at 100 yards – with iron sights, no scope.  You have to clean after using the corrosive ammo, but that also becomes a good lesson in equipment maintenance for the kids.

    Basic advice – don’t buy the hype, buy what you can afford with your budget.  A gun that you can buy 1,000 rounds of ammo for is better than the “best” gun that with only 10 rounds!

    • Dave says:

      “Basic advice – don’t buy the hype, buy what you can afford with your budget.  A gun that you can buy 1,000 rounds of ammo for is better than the “best” gun that with only 10 rounds!”  Dead on right!  However you missed another important piece of advice in the same vein…that is…buy the gun with which you can “carry” the most ammo!  I believe in the .22.  It can kill about anything, the variety of ammo is broad, from snake shot, to hyper-velocity rounds and everything in between.  One can purchase rounds for the .22 that are nothing but “primer” loads that make the same noise as an air rifle and travel only about 600 fps for making clandestine shots.  But the most important part, is that in a “bug out” you can carry about 5 times the amount of ammo of a .223, because a .223 has about the same bulk as 5 .22 caliber rounds, so that means, more chances to hit, disable, and kill your target.  My recommendation is the AR-7 Survival Arms, Henry Arms, or Charter Arms version.  It floats, when stored in the butt, it is water tight, it is super light, very reliable (according to Shooters Bible and my own experience) quite accurate, super cost effective, breaks down into the stock so it conceals very easily, and it is mainly aluminum so it is very low maintenance.  It is not quite as reliable as a Ruger 10/22 but with all the other advantages, would outweigh the Ruger, but I would recommend both.  As a prepper, the fewer types of ammo you must stock, the better, so I would also recommend several .22 caliber weapons, from handguns up!  But in a perfect world, this article is really good!  One long range rifle, one shotgun, and a .22 is a pretty good starting point!  So I like your post, agree 100% but surprised you didn’t mention any .22’s they are cheaper than .17 a round!

  13. ProphetPrepper says:

    I doubt anyone else will stumble upon this thread but since I am here I will drop my .02 cents in the bucket. I agree with Extreme Defense USA. My mentality is defense first, hunting second and versatility ALWAYS.

    Keep the Remington 870, great home defense weapon, extremely versatile and a TON of aftermarket parts.

    Sidearm: Glock 22 Extremely reliable and plenty of aftermarket add-ons.

    Carbine: This may make a few people cringe but, I got a Kel-Tec Sub 2000 in .40. This helps me keep my shopping trips easy, just a box of .40 please. Takes the same ammo and mags as my pistol how sweet is that. Has more than enough power to take a deer as well if the need arises.

    A .22 is still a must as well.