If you’re expecting me to recommend one gun above all others that, hands down, is the best for survival, it’s not going to happen.

While that’s a great subject for a lively—and endless—debate, the truth is that there is no one ideal gun. Each has advantages and disadvantages. What I am going to suggest, however, is that the handgun in your bug-out bag or survival kit should be a .22-caliber rimfire.


The Hunter Model of the Ruger Mark IV is another variation of the company’s new rimfire pistol. It features a steel frame and longer, 6.88-inch barrel.
The Competition model of the Ruger Mark IV has a 6.88-inch barrel and commemorates the 100th birthday of the company’s founder, William B. Ruger.


Ideally, your disaster preparedness and wilderness survival arsenal should contain a flat-shooting rifle, 12-gauge shotgun, defensive handgun and a .22 pistol at minimum. Depending on the circumstances, you might not be able to take the rifle and shotgun with you, especially if you’re traveling light or if it’s not wise to advertise that you’re armed.

If you do have room for a long gun, your first choice should probably be something more powerful than a .22. A rifle, such as a .308, would be more effective on distant targets and more capable of cleanly taking big game. A shotgun is better than a .22 for defense, for taking flying or running game and, when loaded with slugs, for taking large game.

The defensive handgun should already be on your person. That leaves the .22 handgun for your pack.

Many .22 handguns used to be described as “kit guns”—small-bore handguns tucked in among the items carried by hunters and fishermen or anyone who ventured outdoors. They were easily carried utility guns that were just as likely to be used for recreational plinking as they were for taking small game for the cook pot.

These days, the “kit” idea is expanded to include survival preparedness, but the little guns are just as useful for this expanded role. My idea is that if you are going to use this “kit” gun as a substitute for a .22 long gun, you should go a little bigger than the pocket pistols that traditionally have fallen into this category. You want to maximize your hit potential, and the midsized guns are much better for that.

The Ruger Mark IV Target pistol is available with a subdued blued finish.

Ruger Mark IV Target

  • Type: Semi-automatic pistol
  • Caliber: .22LR
  • Capacity: 10
  • Barrel: Blued alloy steel, 5 inches, bull (stainless steel also available)
  • Grip frame: Aluminum
  • Grips: Checkered synthetic
  • Sights: Adjustable
  • Weight: 6 ounces

MSRP: $529

A key feature of the new Ruger Mark IV is that the upper receiver hinges at the front of the grip frame. A takedown button at the rear of the frame allows easier access to the inner workings of the gun.


There are many key reasons to include a .22 handgun in your kit:

❰ You can carry lots of ammo. Compare the space and weight of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge with centerfire cartridges, and it’s obvious you can carry much more .22 ammo. Depending on the ammo brand and bullet weight, you get about 133 rounds of .22 ammo per pound. By comparison, you’ll get just 38 rounds of 9mm, 21 rounds of .45 ACP, 28 rounds of .357 Magnum and 20 rounds of 44 Magnum per pound. If you’re on the move, space and weight are important considerations. Additionally, if there’s a chance you’ll be in an extended survival situation, that extra ammo could be a lifesaver.

The ammo is less expensive. The ammo shortages finally seem to be lessening. And while .22 ammo isn’t as cheap as it once was (after all, what is?), it’s still cheaper than anything else you can shoot.

These handguns tend to be very accurate and effective. That’s important when you’re trying for a head shot on a squirrel or rabbit. If you do your part, a .22 with good sights and a 5-inch bull barrel is an effective game-getter. While a .22 isn’t your best bet for large game or defensive purposes, you can make do with one in a pinch—especially if you can place your shots with precision. I’ve known farmers who used nothing more than a .22 handgun when they had to put down one of their cows.

They are virtually recoil free, and they’re easier to shoot well. The bonus here is that anyone in the family can learn to shoot it, even family members who aren’t gun enthusiasts. Combine that with the ability to carry lots of inexpensive ammo, and you have the ability to train new shooters in the field without using up your supplies of centerfire defensive and hunting ammo.

.22 handguns are durable. A good one, if you take care of it, can last for generations.

They are less noisy. That can make a big difference if you are forced to shoot indoors or from the inside of a vehicle. Some models are available with threaded barrels, making them suitable for a suppressor where allowed.

Smith & Wesson introduced its Victory model .22 semi-auto pistol last year. It features easy takedown and the ability to quickly swap barrels.

Smith & Wesson Victory

  • Type: Semi-automatic pistol; enclosed hammer
  • Caliber: .22LR
  • Capacity: 10
  • Barrel: Stainless steel, 5.5 inches; bull
  • Grip frame: Stainless steel
  • Grips: Textured synthetic
  • Sights: Adjustable fiber optic
  • Weight: 36 ounces

MSRP: $409

The S&W Victory comes with a removable interchangeable Match Barrel for excellent accuracy at the range or in the field.
North American Arms is well known for building quality mini-revolvers. This Mini-Master model, with a 4-inch barrel and adjustable sights, would make a good addition to any survival kit.
North American Arms Mini-Master
  • Model number: NAA-MMT-M
  • Type: Single-action revolver
  • Caliber: .22LR (.22 Magnum and combo models available)
  • Capacity: 5
  • Barrel: Stainless steel, 4 inches with ventilated rib
  • Grip frame: Stainless steel
  • Grips: Checkered synthetic
  • Sights: Adjustable
  • Weight: 10.8 ounces

MSRP: $328


When selecting a .22 handgun, choose a quality gun with adjustable sights and a barrel between 4 and 6 inches or so, which gives you the best compromise between shootability and portability. Remember, this isn’t a gun primarily for concealed carry. Smaller 22s that copy the designs of centerfire defensive guns are great for practicing defensive drills, but they’re harder to shoot accurately. And larger guns designed more as target guns might be too long and heavy for your kit.

The adjustable sights are better for zeroing the gun for specific ammo and a specific distance. I sight in my gun for 50 yards, but I know the settings for as far as 100 yards. If your life depends on bagging small animals to eat, you don’t want to depend on Kentucky windage. The longer barrel gives you a better sight radius, a bit more velocity and usually a more stable shooting platform.

It takes practice to become proficient with a handgun. There are no shortcuts. While you should practice from both supported and unsupported shooting positions, in the field, when you’re shooting for food, you should use a supported position whenever you can. A tree trunk, branch, rock, your pack and improvised shooting sticks can all help to provide a more stable platform for you when you’re taking a shot.


There are many good guns on the market; some of the best have been introduced just within the past year. So, there’s never been a better time to buy. The ones featured here are some of my top recommendations.


Back in 1949, the fledgling Sturm, Ruger and Co. introduced its first product: a semiauto pistol with a grip frame reminiscent of the renowned Luger. The gun was a success.

Through the years, it underwent various changes while maintaining a reputation for accuracy, quality and value. I’ve owned a Ruger Mark II for years, and it remains one of my favorite companions when I’m wandering through the woods.

In September 2016, Ruger unveiled the Mark IV. The biggest change is that the new gun features an upper receiver that’s hinged to the front of the grip frame. A takedown button at the back of the frame unlocks the receiver that makes field-stripping the gun a breeze, compared to earlier models.

The basic Target model is available in either blued or stainless finishes. It features an ambidextrous manual safety and a push-button magazine release. It has adjustable sights, but the receiver is also drilled and tapped to allow for mounting optics.

Ruger didn’t waste any time expanding the Mark IV lineup. It has since added all-steel Hunter and Competition models with longer, 6.88-inch barrels, as well as a .22/.45 Lite model with polymer frame and aluminum-shrouded barrel.

The Mark IV isn’t the only new Ruger .22 handgun. For revolver fans, the company now offers a 10-shot .22LR version of the GP100—a gun built on the same sturdy frame as the company’s .357 Magnum revolvers. I had a chance to test one a few months back and found it to be excellent overall. Another double-action revolver in the Ruger lineup is the 4.2-inch SP101 with an eight-shot cylinder.

Of course, Ruger still makes the Single-Six series of .22s. These are single-action revolvers that come in blued or stainless steel and in various barrel lengths. Some come with a second cylinder that allows you to fire .22 Magnum rounds from the same gun. There is also a 10-shot version in .22LR and a nine-shot version in .22 Magnum. Also available is the smaller Bearcat single-action revolver with six-shot cylinder.

The Browning Buck Mark Camper is the company’s basic .22 pistol, but it offers good value.
This Browning Buck Mark Contour Stainless URX features a 5.5-inch barrel and an optics rail.
Browning Buck Mark Camper
  • Type: Semi-automatic pistol
  • Caliber: .22LR
  • Capacity: 10
  • Barrel: Alloy steel, 5.5 inches, bull, matte black
  • Grip frame: Machined aluminum
  • Sights: Adjustable
  • Weight: 34 ounces
  • Grips: Synthetic

MSRP: $389.99

The Buck Mark’s gold- plated alloy trigger gives this gun a uniquely refined appearance.


Smith & Wesson has had various .22 handguns in its lineup over the years. The Model 41, for instance, has been a long-time favorite of target shooters.

Last year, S&W introduced its Victory model, a landmark modular design that allows you to swap barrels quickly and easily so you can change the configuration to suit your needs. Takedown is easy, with just one screw. It features a 5.5-inch barrel, adjustable fiber-optic sights and an optics rail. The gun is available in the standard stainless steel or with a Kryptek camo finish. A model with a threaded barrel is another option.

For revolvers, Smith & Wesson still offers its double-action Model 617 in barrel lengths of 4 or 6 inches. There’s also the Model 317, a lightweight revolver with an alloy frame and 3-inch barrel.


I’ve always been impressed with the quality of Browning firearms. Many of its rifles can be quite expensive, but its extensive line of Buck Mark .22 semiauto pistols is a good value. The basic Camper model, for instance, sells for a suggested retail price of $389.99. The guns in the Buck Mark series are all excellent pistols and are available in a variety of configurations. Some, like the Contour Stainless URX 5.5, include optics rails.


Tactical Solutions began operations 15 years ago by offering lightweight aftermarket barrels for Ruger .22 pistols. It now sells barrels for Browning pistols and suppressors, as well as complete .22- and AR-style rifles.

This year, the company will offer its first complete .22 pistol: the TLP-22. It will feature an aluminum frame and barrel shroud, G10 grips, Picatinny rail, fiber- optic front sight and adjustable rear. It will be available in barrel lengths of 4 and 5.5 inches, with matte black, matte OD green or gunmetal gray finishes.

Also available from Tactical Solutions are conversion kits for 1911 and Glock pistols. Just mount the slide/barrel assembly and magazine to your existing pistol’s frame, and you’re able to shoot .22 ammo.

Tactical Solutions, a company known for its aftermarket barrels, will be offering its first complete, newly designed .22 pistol this year.
A conversion kit has been installed on this 1911 pistol frame to allow it to shoot .22LR ammo.

Tactical Solutions TLP-22    

  • Type: Semi-automatic pistol
  • Caliber: .22LR
  • Capacity: 10
  • Barrel: Aluminum-shrouded barrel, 4 or 5 inches, matte black, matte OD or gun metal gray
  • Grip frame: Aluminum
  • Grips: G10
  • Sights: Adjustable with fiber-optic front, optics rail installed
  • Weight: 22 ounces (with 5.5-inch barrel)

MSRP: $1,150

Tactical Solutions also offers .22 conversion kits so you can fire .22LR ammo through your 1911 or Glock pistol.


The author considers a .22 handgun to be an essential part of any survival kit or bug-out bag.


North American Arms is best known for its mini five-shot .22 revolvers. Last year, I tested the company’s Sidewinder model and found it to be of excellent quality and surprisingly shootable for its tiny size.

Of more interest to our purposes in this article is the company’s Mini-Master revolver, available with a 4-inch barrel and adjustable sights. It weighs a mere 10.8 ounces and would be an excellent addition to your kit, especially when you need to travel light. One model comes with both .22LR and .22 Magnum cylinders.


The shortage of .22 ammo a few years ago caught many people by surprise. I’m not one who makes a conscious effort to hoard ammo, but fortunately, I was unaffected by the shortage.

Why? Because it’s useless to own firearms if you don’t have ammo to go with them. So every two weeks (when I received a paycheck), I’d go out and buy a box or two of ammo. Sometimes, it would be rifle ammo, shotgun shells or training rounds for a centerfire pistol; usually, whatever was on sale. I’d often buy a box of .22s—not to hoard, but to shoot, because if you’re going to be effective with your firearms, you have to practice.

When the shortage hit, I had ammo for all my guns, .22s included. I might have cut back on shooting a bit, but I had ammo. The lesson is that you can’t wait for unexpected events to then suddenly go out and buy ammo.

In an emergency situation, whether it’s a natural disaster, man-made catastrophe or social upheaval, ammo will fly off the shelves. Then it won’t matter what guns are in your arsenal if you don’t have any ammo.


If you can find an old Colt Woodsman or any of the old High Standard pistols, these used guns are excellent for a survival kit. The downside is that many of them cost more than the newer models today.

A .22 might not be my only gun, but I will always have a .22 revolver or pistol available in my kit as part of my survival strategy. The numerous capabilities of this type of gun and the ability to carry lots of inexpensive ammo make it too valuable to leave behind.



North American Arms

Smith & Wesson

Sturm, Ruger and Co.

Tactical Solutions


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the May 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.


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