- As an audible signaling device
- Fire starting
- Providing meat
When an audible signal is what you need, louder is better. The sharp report of a big-bore rifle or large caliber handgun carries farther than the puny “pifth” of a .22-caliber. Shots fired in groups of three are recognized as a distress signal. Don't fire into the air — The sound will be just as loud if you fire into the trunk of a tree, and nobody will have to dodge gravity-propelled rounds as they fall back to earth. Don't waste ammo firing signal shots unless you're sure there's someone within earshot to hear the signal.
It’s possible to use ammunition as a means of starting a fire. Carefully pry the projectile off the cartridge and collect the gunpowder. Use the powder as an accelerant for tinder when igniting a fire. Larger ammunition contains more gunpowder. There is controversy about the effectiveness of this technique. My personal belief is that anything (within reason) that will help get the fire started should be used. Sacrificing a round of ammo in the interest of ensuring that your fire is successful is a worthwhile gamble. The fire is an effective signaling device and will do a lot of other things to promote your survival.
You can’t always count on a survival situation happening in big game country. If you find yourself stranded at a time or place where there’s nothing bigger than squirrels or small birds to subsist on, a big-bore rifle will be less useful from the standpoint of food gathering than a small shotgun or a .22 would be. When possible, match your “survival gun” to the area and season. If you’re going into bear country, a large-caliber handgun would be comforting to have along. You might have the first two rounds loaded with snake shot, so you can still use the pistol to bring down small game, and the rest of the loads could serve self-defense duty or drop larger game.
Unfortunately, the streets of the inner city are not the only place where psycho nut-cases do their nefarious deeds these days. It’s possible to run into a crackpot tending his weeds in the woods and find yourself in a tough situation. I’m not going to tell you what to do about that, but it doesn’t hurt to have this scenario figured out in advance and be prepared.
A different scenario includes the possibility of an encounter with an aggressive bear or mountain lion. If you’re facing the wrath of a large predator, and it comes down to shooting the beast to save yourself, you want the biggest and most powerful slug you can send his way. At ranges beyond 15 yards, a shoulder-fired long gun (be it shotgun or rifle) will greatly improve accuracy, but in close quarters, a handgun might be easier to manage.
Our conclusions? In some cases we need a high-powered rifle. Big ammunition is handy because of the amount of gunpowder it contains and the knock-down power of the projectile. But at other times, a shotgun or small-caliber weapon would be preferable. So, what is the ideal survival gun? All of the above.
The trouble is that you can’t carry all of the above into a survival situation. In fact, any equipment you’re hauling around should be as lightweight and compact as possible, because every pound you have to carry drains your energy. But at the same time, the equipment needs to be able to do the job.
Obviously, no perfect firearm exists for every survival situation. We each have our personal preferences when it comes to manufacturer, style of firearm, and caliber — and that's fine. But in real life, what inevitably happens is that the survival situation finds you with whatever gun you happen to be carrying (if you're lucky enough to have one at all), and then it is up to you to know how to use it to your best advantage.
In the end, it isn’t the gun the counts, it’s what you can do with it.