A Combat Rifle and a Prepper Rifle are NOT the Same Gun – Readyman

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A Combat Rifle and a Prepper Rifle are NOT the Same Gun

Posted on March 24 2019

“If it’s good enough for the military, then it’s good enough for a prepper.”

This statement assumes that the U.S. military makes only smart buying decisions, which we all know isn’t true (ACU uniform or black beret anyone?) But, the biggest assumption might be that life as a prepper in the apocalypse will be like life as a soldier in war.

With over 28 years in Special Forces, working in remote locations, I’m here to tell you this isn’t remotely true, and the differences between prepping and war should drastically alter rifle selection for a prepper. (We’ll talk about pistol selection in a future blog.) A prepper rifle should be a survival tool, which is not necessarily a war tool. 

Five Ways a Prepper Rifle is Nothing Like a Combat Rifle

1. Assumption: Preppers will primarily need their long gun for attacks or missions.  

The Reality: a prepper will probably need to have their gun on them while living everyday life. Think of life on the frontier in the 16th century. Contrast that to a warfighter that typically typically relies on their gun only when in war zones, or when they go outside the wire, where a fight could occur. A prepper scenario contemplates a person gardening, building, cooking and playing with his kids, hopefully with his rifle within arms reach every minute of every day and night. A war fighter usually (not always) returns to a place of relative safety within a base or a safe house.Then he carries a well-maintained weapon into the field for short periods of intense potential enemy contact. Surviving in war is only one, small aspect of survival in TEOTWAWKI.

Recommendation: A prepper rifle must be compact and light and fill multiple rolls. Does every prepper know what their rifle weighs?  Will the rifle take game if the chance presents itself? Will the gun serve as a defensive weapon on a homestead or bug-in location? Will the prepper still have their gun with them when a random fight or game meat presents itself? The difference between an eight-pound rifle and a six-pound rifle would likely be the difference between having a gun and not having a gun on-hand when trouble showed up. It also could be the difference between putting small game on the table or not, because wild game never waits for a man to get his gun.

2. Assumption: Preppers will understand their rifles like war fighters know their rifles. 

The Reality: unless a prepper was in the military or law enforcement or has dollars to spend on lots of training, it is almost impossible to know your rifle as well as a war fighter knows his rifle. Particularly among SOF operators, a rifle (and all its idiosyncrasies) becomes a well-worn, everyday tool. After tens of thousands of rounds in every imaginable condition, the war fighter knows each nook and cranny of his weapon system. On the contrary, a prepper has to divide his attention between family, farm, garden, solar array, livestock, food storage…a thousand things that never distract a war fighter.

Recommendation: A prepper rifle should be simple, and a prepper should settle into two or three weapon systems, probably for life. Many systems are designed for the soldier or law enforcement officer and have been designed with high-performance or added safety features. The AR and Benelli Super 90 shotgun come to mind. These systems are complex, even when they don’t break. Simplicity is probably worth the loss of some performance.

3. Assumption: Preppers will be able to pick their fight like war fighters often pick their fight. 

The Reality: day or night, preppers will get a fight whenever or however the fight finds them. Preppers probably will not have any concrete barriers or HESCO walls to protect them. Most won’t have twenty-four hour security forces with belt-fed machine guns. War fighters can also customize their rifles to the patrol or fight they’re seeking. The biggest place this comes into play is night fighting. In my extensive experience with ReadyMen, very preppers are equipped to find targets and effectively aim their rifles at night. Even fewer practice shooting and running their weapon system at night. And, if civil disorder in the past is any indication, most trouble comes at night.

Recommendation: A prepper rifle should provide the greatest chance of hitting a target day or night.  That may require an electronic sight or, at best, a laser or IR laser (with NVGs.)  Or it might require a shotgun with a larger shot pattern that increases the chance of hitting a target in the dark.

4. Assumption: Preppers will fight and win battles. 

The Reality: getting out of fights ("breaking contact" in military speak) should be the norm. Avoiding fights at all cost will significantly increase the chances of survival. In a world where tiny cuts can turn into deadly infections, prolonged fights are nonsensical. Preppers should either kill or intimidate an enemy into running away, or run away themselves. “Winning” a battle is an unlikely prepper scenario (but is commonly the objective for war fighters.)

Recommendation: Consider different rifles for different situations. The 5.56 round may be great in some prepper circumstances but certainly not all of them. Take into consideration distance, available game animals, options of resupply, reload-ability, and probable self-defense scenarios.

5. Assumption: Preppers will have enough ammunition to defend themselves like a war fighter.   

The Reality: There will probably be limited ammunition and almost no ammunition for training others. War fighters essentially have limitless resupply. The 5.56 round, in particular, is well-designed for suppression of enemy forces—where one soldier fires a high volume at the enemy while another soldier maneuvers. This application of firepower is usually beyond prepper scenarios because of limited supply, training and coordination. This one reality vaporizes one of the main reasons the Army likes the AR round. The 5.56 allows a shooter to carry more rounds, but one of the biggest reasons for carrying more rounds is to suppress and maneuver. During the Kennedy administration, a formula was used to determine how many bullets were being spent to kill “X” number of enemy. The more bullets a solider could carry the more enemy he could kill. This math does not pencil out in a post-apocalyptic, prepper scenario where “body count” does nothing to reduce the ambient threat.

Recommendation: Don’t count on fighting in a team. Count on fighting like an Old West settler, with limited ammunition for homestead defense. Rarely, if ever, will preppers train to fight like U.S. Marines, so don’t imagine that their service rifle will suit you as well as it does a Marine. Even if you were a serviceman, you won't likely be able to count on the rest of your survival community to fight like trained soldiers. Less than 7% of the population are veterans and 45% of them are aging—from the Vietnam era and beyond. The youngest Vietnam veterans are now in their sixties.

This conversation invariably leads to the question: “If not the AR, then what?” There are many good options, including some models of the AR, but those options will depend on the nature of your homestead and your bug out plan.

Are you bugging in near a big city? A shotgun might be a vastly better option than a rifle.

Are you fleeing to a farm with broad fields of fire? A scoped .308 bolt action rifle might serve better than an AR.

Do you have a liberal gun budget—a virtual “blank check” from the spousal unit? You might consider the 7.62 X 51 Robinson XCRM, The SCAR Heavy or the M14.

Do you live in California? Consider a Springfield M1A for bugging out. Your horrible gun laws might save you from buying an underpowered calibre, especially considering the open ground common to California.

In a future blog, we’ll drill down specifically on alternatives to the AR and the 5.56 round.

For now, don’t ever forget that the selection process utilized by the Army DID NOT consider the needs of citizen survivalists--not in the slightest. So, when you pick your next rifle, don’t think like a solider. Think like a survivor.

ReadyMen Closed Group
Learn more cool things at ReadyMan.com 


  • The Veteran: September 15, 2020

    I’m retired and in my mid 40’s…i have 4 young adult boys and my wife of 25 years. Im the only one that has a collection of guns and rifles and stored ammo in each of thier calibers. I have often thought about which rifle/gun choice i would take for myself. I find my challenge being not able to satisfy 100% of the scenarios i come up with. This article helped me narrow down my personal choice thinking about life back in the late 1800’s. Thanks for the great article…Besafe and God bless.

    Savage Model 24 DL (20Ga/22mag & Ruger Secuirty Six, .357mag) both my Grandpa’s guns handed down to me. Ill let my boys figure out who gets what of the rest. Head ache solved…haha

  • Atrisk1: August 24, 2020

    Colt AR15M4 with bayonet this is all around rifle. High quality magazines and spares parts. And My 25 years experience working with this platform. Be Safe Guys.

  • Dave: August 18, 2020

    What sat you now folks?

  • Blake Lindsey: August 14, 2020

    My wife and I live in a smaller urban setting (population under 100K) so survival armament is geared more towards defense in an urban setting. Currently, a Zastava M59/66 and a 1911A1 for me and a S&W Model 15 in .38 Special for the missus.

    I’m in my mid-50s and she’s in her mid-60s, so our long-term survival is not a primary concern, but defending our home and supplies until we can gather the kids and grandkids and get them kitted out and in survival mode is. I’m still reassessing, but I’m thinking of going over to a wheel gun in .357/.38 Special, and getting us a pair of lever-actions in the same caliber. We need reliability, ease of handling and maintenance, and sharing of ammunition.

    This was a good article, and gave me some points to consider.

  • Kenneth Jacobus: July 18, 2020

    My idea of a good SHTF rifle is , lite weight 7 lbs max. Easy to find ammo. easy to carry ammo. Being able to engage targets out to 100 yards. To my it wound be the Ruger 77/357 or Marlin level action in 357. Being able to shoot 38 SPL is a plus. . Having a manual operation of the bolt is a plus.and you would not be looking for 223/ 5.56 or 9mm like everyone else.

  • harold west: July 11, 2020

    one high brass number 4 or 6 shotgun shell is more likely to get a rabbit or brid in the cooking pot that a box of 22 lr in the few plaxes in the world where people do depend on hunting for food the shotgun is by far the most common gun used , the 22lr is more for putting down a animal cought in a trap .

  • Kenneth Fluhr: June 21, 2020

    You’re not taking into account that are many people who’s “preps” consist solely of their possession combat rifles, plenty of ammo, and their skill at using them.

    Your best bet is to have a mutual assistance group which maintains an armory with multiple platforms and ammo for all the different possible firearm needs you might encounter in a TEOTWAWKI situation. That includes combat rifles for self defense.

  • Church: June 18, 2020

    My rifle is a CVA single shot in 300 blk. Before you roll your eyes hear me out.

    It’s light. 5.8 pounds
    It’s cheap. Not a big deal if it gets scratched.
    It has a great trigger.
    It’s MOA or better with good ammo.
    It’s stainless to resist corrosion.
    It’s only 31 inches overall length.
    It can be taken down and be stowed in a backpack.
    It has a threaded muzzle for a silencer
    Super easy to clean and operate.
    300 blk is cheap and actually great under 250 yards.

    The downside? Slow to reload. That’s it!

  • Phantom30: June 11, 2020

    I have 1 to 3-4 gun solution. First for urban and suburban folks you only need one: A Hunt Group FD12 12ga Bullpup Semi-Auto magazine feed shotgun. Using Remington 000 Buck you can put out more fire power than a HK MP5A3 9mm sub-machine gun. With a Green and IR combo Laser you got all the pointing you need. An affordable sight-mark ghost hunter 1×24 NVG kit and you are good to go under 125yards day or night. Plus you can hunt deer and birds, or anarchists and drones. Ammunition is available and affordable. Rural you can add 2 or 3 things,
    a CCW pistol and a 20" 6mm ARC AR for long range sniping and tactical utility. Then the is the 300 BO AR CCW pistol truck gun for mobility and all around versatility.

  • Tom: May 17, 2020

    Pretty good article. I did my choices on who would be with me. Availability of ammo. Familiarity withgun. Expected use.

    If just me, customized ruger M III .22 pistol and either AR or ruger compact in .223. This combo will get me food and some protection if I can’t avoid a fight.

    If 2, AR and ruger sr9.

    If 3, AR and 9mm pistol.

    If 4 or more, at least one will have a 10/22, AR,9 mm

    .223 is adequate where I live for any game you might encounter. .22 is obvious for small game. Both use readily available ammo.

    9mm is last resort defense weapon.

    Run rather than fight. Get as far back in the woods so if you’re found, it was by mistake.

    Just my $.0.02 worth

  • Dr. j: April 27, 2020

    I really like my 6.5 Grendel pistol with sig brace. It’s lighter than any of my 7.62×51’s and it’ll reach out there with authority. Does good enough with Wolf too that I think 3,000 thirty cent rounds would be good for awhile.
    5.56 got more of, etc…but I’m looking at intermediate, easy, fast…dead…protection of mine.

  • AKEducator: April 18, 2020

    I made an earlier comment about hand loading and the concept has some value I suppose, but rereading the main article I have to agree that a military gun and prepper gun aren’t the same. I have chosen two different handgun calibers, the .357 and .44 mag. Living in the far north those two meet our needs, and all of our handguns are revolvers. I like the idea of .38 Special up to a hopped up .357 for the 2 Ruger SP101s giving us the versatility of ammunition. The .44 Special and even .44 Mag Garrette Hammerheads in the Raging Bull provide tremendous power with manageable recoil. I have two centerfire rifles, one in .308 and another in .338 Winchester, and both are bolt action. But except for a moose or sheep every few years, we have put more game on the table with a host of .22s from an old single shot, 1 Mossburg bolt action, and these days 3 10/22s. But I do own and shoot often, a Mini-14. It just seems reasonable to have a rapid fire capacity rifle in 5.56. I am ex-military and I do have to agree with the concept that our prepper needs are a lot different from a military need, besides, I am too old to run and gun and would rather melt from sight than have a shoot out. Great article, and I also appreciated the well thought out comments posted here as well.

  • AKEducator: April 10, 2020

    Lots of information in this article. I would contend that it would be useful to pick calibers that are common, choose your gun with historic reliability well documented, and learn everything about it inside and out – eventually you will have to work on it.

    But, ammunition will be an issue from second 1, so I advocate learning to hand load. Being able to “roll your own” as the technique is often called may well be your only option for long term survival. Besides, even if you can’t scrounge ammo to fit your gun, a bullet of the same caliber extracted from useless (to you) brass can be taken from an AK47 and may work just fine in your 30-06 or 308.

  • Dave Lever: April 07, 2020

    Well thought out scenarios. The fact is most people are not familiar with military weapons. The hunting rifles and handguns that are most common will be pressed into service to serve multiple functions. Lever action guns same calibre as revolvers simplify ammunition supply. For females and younger people pistol calibre carbines might be their best option. Low recoil with decent range and stopping power. As the ammo ages and becomes well used as reloads it might not work as well in semi auto’s . The basic needs are served by a 1 handgun per person, one rifle and one shotgun per adult. Develop a survival community locally, because alone you will not survive for long.

  • Daniel Miles: February 25, 2020

    very intersting approach to a person,s mind set … way too much Hollywood out there with “Johnny -Wannabe” soldiers …. which leads me to this … I trained yrs ago with the FNC1A , I like the simplistics of the SKS But for long term i believe in the 3030 lever action .. as a prepper of just a couple of years and at the age of 56 … this old dog is still learning new things … thanks for taking me to school . cheers from Western Canada

  • Greg: February 18, 2020

    I’ve always wondered what is a combat rifle.Is a military spec.M-16/M4,that sits in a warehouse never seeing combat,a combat rifle?Is an(SKS)Which has seen combat a combat rifle?Or is the term combat meaningless,as in my uncle(since passed on)Considered his M-1 Garland a combat weapon,but considered the(M-16)An embarrassment to use in actual war circumstances,he also considered the M-14,a combat weapon,I’m not not talking about civilian versions (M1A1/AR-15)Or is this all a matter of semantics.Is it actual combat,cartridge?I’ve never been in combat.But for the sake of argument.If a civilian version of an AK-47 sees combat in the Middle East for example,And an M4-sit’s in a warehouse Is the AK-47)Civilian a real combat weapon,vs the military spec.Rifle in storage,a combat weapon,and then who is the person who decides what combat is?

  • Guy: February 10, 2020

    Good article! I enjoyed it as well as Cache Valley Preppers comment.

  • Robert Davis: January 12, 2020

    My go to rifles are my SKS, .270 Bolt action and a .50 muzzleloader.

  • Fred: January 02, 2020

    The seething hatred for the AR platform is quite palpable here.
    The simple facts of the matter are first off that the AR platform is not the best ever wonder gun, that much is true. Choosing one firearm to be perfect forever and ever is like trying to figure out women: it’s not gonna happen, so just do your best and try to roll with it. The AR is quite versatile and can fit many roles, but it is far from perfect. An m1a or a SCAR, as recommended, will have just as many shortcomings and likely many of the same.
    Second, we live in America in the 21st century. Guns are cheap, plentiful, and training is widely available. A basic three gun battery of pistol, shotgun, rifle is available just about anywhere starting at around $400 at the low end for all three. By selecting weapons in each category with long term use in mind you can come to a much better decision, being able to choose by the day, what will suit your needs best, and having the option of a handgun always available.
    Third, lack of skill is no excuse. Again, we live in America in the 21st century. We have the money and the leisure time to become familiar with our weapons before shtf. If you can’t add shooting tin cans to your list of preps then you’re not seeing the forest for the trees. Anybody who can learn to farm and attend a solar power system should be capable of learning the manual of arms for multiple weapons. Any gun owner knows that you become familiar with all your weapons and you never have to think overly hard when transitioning.

    Is an AR15 my go to shtf gun? Depends where I am and what I’m going to be doing. My day to day is a ruger LCP. Why carry more gun than I’m likely to need in rural new England where I’m more likely to shoot a deer that got hit by a car than an actual person? My keltec sub2000 chills out in my trunk in case civil unrest or the like requires me to be better armed on the ride home. My AR pistol is just fine by my bed, or a mossberg 500, depending on my mood. A cruddy old 22 bolt action by the door is my go to for pest control. A ruger 10/22 or an H&R pardner single shot 12ga are my choices for general hunting.

    One gun to always have available? Yeah, it exists. It’s called a pistol. Police and citizens carry them every day, all over the world, because they know that when you need one, you need it on you. Not leaning on a fence post, but on your body at all times. That’s the true gun for the prepper, yet y’all blew right past it in your article, bound and determined to make a non AR platform rifle fit into a glock shaped hole. Get a versatile rifle, sure. SKS, Winchester 94, whatever, but don’t go acting like it’s gotta be your everygun. Unless you live under an anti gun regime there is no reason in the world why you would need to lean on a single weapon for every job.
  • Dannyboy53: January 01, 2020

    I am a former soldier, the wife and I are former Peace Officers. We have been prepping for several years and in addition to clothing, medical supplies, food, tools, etc we have three SKS carbines and two M4s (7.62×39mm) with almost 6K rounds as well as scoped bolt and lever action weapons and handguns (.380, .357 & .45ACP). We have a semi-auto .22 rimfire to take small game when meat is needed and available.

    We have spare parts kits for each of these weapons as well as spring kits for all the magazines. We have deemed our SKS carbines as our primary “go to” means of defense and they are our constant companions on the property.

    We do not give a rat’s rear end what the military or police are teaching at the moment, only what we feel we need to fit OUR situation! It goes without saying, however, we do rely on our past training and experiences. We live in a rural setting with some acreage, with few neighbors of course, and even fewer that we can count on to team up with. One simply has to rely on themselves!

    In tough times, hungry people needing medical attention become unstable and for the most part can not be trusted. It’s for this reason primarily that we do not believe in keeping “trading material”. To invite trading with strangers, in our opinion, is asking for serious trouble. Always keep your cards close to your chest never showing your hand. If one feels they must trade to obtain needed goods then you have wasted your time and efforts in preparing.

    We have no plans to “bug out”, our attitude is, we will take our chances on our property rather than go stomping around in the woods carrying backpacks and trying to live off the land like Daniel Boone. How many others will be doing the same because they have not prepared and have nothing but firearms and hunger, you are competing with these dangerous people. Basic items needed to sustain life will not always be readily available in the wild and will in all probability even become nonexistent.

    After much thought and planning this is how we plan to meet a degraded situation.

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