A Short List of Survival Cartridges You Must Have


A Short List of Survival Cartridges You Must Have

There are far more firearm cartridges available than we will ever need. Just flip through the pages of a copy of the renowned book Cartridges of the World by Frank Barnes. You will enjoy reading details and specifications on over 1500 individual cartridges and some more have come out since the latest edition of Barnes’ book

Even within this exhaustive volume Barnes lists current American rifle cartridges, obsolete American rifle cartridges, wildcat cartridges, proprietary cartridges, handgun cartridges, military rifle cartridges, and several other chapters covering a wide spectrum of foreign cartridges as well. There is plenty enough of them to satisfy any shooter.

But truthfully preppers and survivalists don’t need near that many cartridges to handle a multitude of SHTF scenarios. Accordingly though, I fabricated this list of highly recommended cartridges that every prep planner should strongly consider adopting. My suggestions are based on over fifty years of shooting and thirty-five years of writing about guns, cartridges, hunting, personal defense, and gun collecting.

That does not make me an expert in the field however, and having even ventured forth in writing this piece, I do so knowing full well that it will be highly critiqued and criticized. Everybody has their favorite guns and cartridges and my list will not encompass them all by any means. So, consider my recommendations and look at others, and then make your choices. Trust me, though. This minimal list will cover all your necessary bases.


For plinking, fun shooting, potting for the skillet or BBQ, you simply have to have a rimfire rifle and ideally a rimfire handgun or two. Pick the long rifle rimfire cartridge and don’t bother with the others.

Rimfire guns can be used for an endless number of roles for a survivalist. For teaching, learning, passing on safe gun handling skills, shooting practice, and minimal self defense protection, a good rimfire rifle or handgun is essential. Teach the wife and kids to use them safely and effectively as well.

Use them for hunting, taking out varmint intruders near camp or around the Bug In residence and for potentially chasing off other bothersome uninvited guests, trespassers, or poachers. Any shot fired is better than no shot fired when appropriate.

Up until the past year, rimfire ammo was cheap. There is no cheap ammo of any kind any more. Still rimfires are cheaper to use than centerfire guns, so plan on having a good quantity of ammo and several rimfire guns in stock.

9 mm

Many will argue the 9mm is too light and ineffective. I keep reminding myself that the U.S. Military chose the 9mm for universal use. That is an endorsement I find difficult to ignore. Numerous law enforcement and other government agencies use it, too. And a double stack magazine can sure put a lot of firepower in your hands.

The standard 9mm load uses a 115-124 grain load pushed to 1225 MV. There are so many 9mm ammo loads from the factory available, I cannot list them all here. Winchester’s ammo catalog alone lists seventeen different loadings for the 9mm in bullet weights from 105 grains to 147. Additionally there are all types of bullets available and many new self-defense loads as well. The 9mm is highly respected and trusted.

One of the main reasons to use the 9mm for prep plans is the sheer fact of its universality in that the ammo is widely available and fairly affordable. I have never been in any ammo store anywhere or any ammo web site that did not have multiple selections of ammo for the 9mm. During a SHTF grab, 9mm will be the first to go.

This is my personal favorite centerfire cartridge in a semi-auto pistol. The 1911 Colt and clones are my own choice to deliver these heavy 230 grain pills. I found the 45 ACP just as manageable to shoot as the 9mm with less snap at the wrist and less hyper velocity muzzle report. Any intruder or undesirable chest centered with one of these will certainly alter their thinking about forward aggression.

45 ACP

The 45 ACP ammo is nearly as prolific as the 9mm. Winchester has twelve offerings and other manufacturer add greatly to that list. Usual bullet load in the 45 ACP is the 230 grain Full Metal Jacket or “Ball” ammo. There are hollow points, Silvertips, flat nose, jacketed flat points, and other bullet choices in weights from 170-185-230 grains. As with the 9mm, ammo makers have brought out a bunch of choices in personal protection rounds, and self defense loads.

The 45 ACP is a top choice for a heavy duty close quarters personal defense and protection cartridge. Though there are a few revolvers that can handle it, it is best launched in a semi-auto pistol package. I will not deny that the 45 ACP takes some practice to use well, but then to my way of thinking all firearms do.

223 Rem

The first SHTF prep rifle cartridge of choice is the .223-5.56. Say what you want but the .223 is widely available in dozens of AR-15 rifle platforms in all price ranges and customized accessory combinations. The .223 can also be mated to a classic bolt action rifle and large scope for a rifle package perfect for targeting longer range targets.

The usual .223-5.56 cartridge load handles the standard 55 grain bullets. There are also 35, 40, 45, 50, 60, 62, 64, 69, and 77 grain bullets in many styles. The full metal jacket bullet is the standard but loads can be found in hollow points, boat tails, match, green tip steel penetrator, flat base tip, plus some hunting loads like the Sierra BlitzKing, Barnes TSX, and many other choices. Muzzle velocities range from 2500 to 3600 feet per second.

Because I personally lean toward the AR-15 platform, I think the .223-5.56 is the ideal mating for a great SHTF rifle set up. Add a red dot, conventional scope, or an electronic optic like an EoTech and you have a perfect rifle for property protection, defense against uninvited two-footers or others.

The selection of both rifles and ammo here are endless. Pricing right now is good since the post election panic rush is over. Literally dozens of accessories are marketed to make up your AR just the way you want it. And that is half the fun of this package.

308 Win

Also known at the range bench as the 30-06 mini, the .308 can do anything its bigger brother can do, but is also more accurate. Every SHTF plan needs a heavy duty centerfire rifle in either a semi-auto MSR (modern sporting rifle) and/or a bolt action sniper type/hunting rifle rig. The .308 is the “king of takedowns” and should be considered for serious defense work and a serious hunting round for supplying fresh meat to the Bug Out camp or other alternative SHTF living arrangements.

Weapon wise there are now several great MSRs in .308 as well as some excellent bolt action hunting rifles and combat type bolt rifles coming on the market. Look at Ruger, Springfield Armory, Rock River, and others. Exceptional bolt actions can be found at any gun shop, gun show, or firearms outlet.

The standard .308 Winchester utilizes the basic 150 or 180 grain bullets. The tradeoff of course is that the lighter bullets travel faster and shoot somewhat flatter. The heavier bullets produce greater terminal energy. Factory loads for the 308 are simply too numerous to list here. Check into ammunition by Hornady, Remington, Winchester, Federal and others.

Mate a quality .308 rifle with an equally quality riflescope like a Leupold, Nightforce, Zeiss, Nikon, Bushnell, or similar high end optics and you will have the foundation for an exceptional rifle rig for serious heavy gauge work.

12 gauge

You will need a shotgun and the 12 gauge is it. Find yourself a high quality pump action, or semi-auto action shotgun that is well built and has a reputation for reliability and easy maintenance. All of the name brand manufacturers have at least one model.

A good shotgun with a standard length barrel of 28-inches that uses screw in chokes can be used for bird and small game hunting, bigger game, or deer hunting with a barrel suitable for buckshot, or slug barrel for big game hunting. Shotguns are exceptionally good for close quarters self-defense, defense of property, and for handling cocaine addled zombies banging at the front door.

There is no reason not to have a shotgun for which the barrels can be changed out to suit the immediate job at hand. The Remington 870 is perfect for this as extra barrels of all types are readily available in the marketplace. If you’ll stick with barrels that use a change out choke system you add further flexibility to your various missions.

Stock up on several kinds of 12 gauge shotshells. Get light loads for small game and bird hunting. Get shells for waterfowl and turkey. Buy additional loads using buckshot and slugs. Keep on hand loads for self defense, guarding, and protection. These should cover all your shotgunning essentials.

Well, there is my list of the essential SHTF cartridges you might want to consider compiling for a wide variety of survival tasks. Are there others to consider? For sure you can add to the list for consideration the .380 ACP, 40 Smith and Wesson, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .357 SIG, .41 Magnum, 10mm auto, 45 Colt, the 7.62×39 (AR-47 round), 300 AAC-Blackout, 6.8 SPC and basically any “deer” rifle, including the 30-30 if that is all you have or can afford.

Certainly you will want some kind of self-defense, personal, and property protection arsenal as part of your prepping plan. You can go basic or you can go overboard depending on your budget. Just keep in mind the cost factors each time you add another cartridge to the mix. You will be talking extra ammo, magazines, cleaning supplies, holsters, and everything else that goes along with practice to keep proficient and prepared. Consider the list offered here as a solid starting place or the end all you will need.

Avatar Author ID 67 - 106854374

Award winning outdoor writer/photographer since 1978. Over 3000 articles and columns published nationally. Field & Stream Hero of Conservation in 2007. Fields of writing includes hunting most game in American, Canada, and Europe, fishing fresh and saltwater, destination travel, product reviews, industry consulting, and conservation issues. Currently VP at largest community college in Mississippi in economic development and workforce training with 40 years of experience in Higher Education. BS-MS in wildlife sciences from MO. University, and then a PhD in Industrial Psychology. Married with two children and Molly the Schnoodle.

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