This is the author’s personal defense rifle, a variation on the M-4 rifle that he built. It has a 3X Trijicon ACOG as the primary sight, with a red-dot reflex sight on an offset mount for close work.
This is the author’s personal defense rifle, a variation on the M-4 rifle that he built. It has a 3X Trijicon ACOG as the primary sight, with a red-dot reflex sight on an offset mount for close work. The gun is also equipped with a Crimson Trace CMR-204 Rail Master Pro Universal Green Laser Sight & Tactical Light. author photo

Anybody who is paying attention knows that the world is becoming a dangerous place. The smart people are preparing for the trouble ahead.

I am still hopeful that the grownups will soon be back in charge and can turn the world off the path it’s been following, but we can’t be sure of that happening. So, prepping is the smart approach. If things work out, what’s the worst problem you will have? Too much food? There are millions of people in the world who would not see that as a problem. If you have too much, donate some to a homeless shelter—problem solved. Too much ammo? Donate it to me—problem solved. But if things take a bad turn, you will be in a better position to survive if you plan ahead.

Survival means dealing with reality. It’s a terrible thing to consider, but the truth is, if you have prepared and put away food and other supplies and trouble comes, there will be bad people trying to take it all away from you. If the cities empty and the number of hungry people increases, you can expect attempts to take what is yours and possibly kill you and your loved ones. If you try to defend your home with a deer rifle or shotgun, you will probably fail. Failure means death.

That’s why the personal rifle is the most important firearm that preppers will buy. It is the gun that is most likely to be called on in a survival situation to save yourself or a loved one. Not any rifle will do, and a hunting rifle is actually ill-suited for the task.

Prepper Rifle
Make sure the rifle or carbine you select is marked to handle 5.56 ammo as well as .223 Remington. author photo

There are plenty of reasons that trying to defend your home against an angry mob with your hunting guns will not work, but the primary reason is simply that they do not hold enough ammo and are much too slow to reload. You will be overrun as soon as you run out of ammo and pause to reload. Also, hunting rifles are designed to fire a few shots at a time, not sustain a high volume of fire for a long time. They get hot and dirty and they can seize up and stop running. The last thing you want (or likely will experience) is to have your gun go down in the middle of a fight. There is a reason why you never see a solider with a hunting style gun.

The AR-15

A much better choice for defending home and family would be any of the guns that were originally designed as fighting rifles. This class of rifle was designed for battle, and most of them had a full-auto option, so they can run sustained fire and continue to operate even when dirty and overheated.

While the AR-15 style rifle is under siege with the media and many politicians today, there is no question that it the best firearm to defend yourself and your family in a serious crisis. The magazine fed, semi-auto AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America today, not only with civilians, but with the military and law enforcement. Because the rifle and ammo are so popular you will be able to find parts, magazines and replacement ammo in times of unrest. It uses common ammunition, 5.56 Nato/.223 Remington. (Make sure you buy a gun that is marked 5.56. That way it can fire both .223 and 5.56 ammo. Any gun chambered for .223 Remington should not be fired with 5.56 ammo, but a gun chambered for 5.56 can use both. )

Prepper Rifle
The best thing to spend your money on is ammo. Practice makes perfect. author photo

Covering all of today’s AR-15 style rifles and carbines in an article would be nearly impossible. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Most of the guns being made today are fine. I have had good luck with JP Enterprises, Bushmaster, DPMS, Rock River, S&W, Ruger, Stag and a few others. If you stick with a proven brand name, it’s hard to make a mistake.

Barrel Length

Probably the most popular design today mimics the military M-4, and that is likely the best option for an “off the rack” personal long gun. The civilian M-4 has a short 16-inch barrel, but is still legal. Our government long ago picked that as an arbitrary allowable length for a rifle barrel. A short barrel makes it easier to move in and out of vehicles, and to use inside buildings, but I don’t see the point in picking one shorter than 16 inches. It brings little to the table and it will reduce bullet velocity and increase muzzle blast. It will also require permission from the government and a $200 tax.

A 1-6x scope, as is used in 3-gun matches, will serve well for defense.
A 1-6x scope, as is used in 3-gun matches, will serve well for defense. author photo


A personal rifle is something you will carry every day during a survival situation. I think one of the best features to look for is light weight, so that carrying it isn’t a huge burden. While the original AR-15 concept was for a lightweight 6-pound rifle, weights have crept up over the years, and it’s not unusual for a gun to weigh close to ten pounds today. I find that unacceptable in an everyday carry and use rifle, because in a survival situation you will probably already be carrying a lot of other gear. Rifles are like fire extinguishers—when you need one you really need it, and you cannot predict when that will be. If your rifle is so heavy that you hate it, it won’t be long before you are finding reasons to leave it behind.

Most M-4 style carbines will run on one side or the other of seven pounds, depending on who makes it and how much bling comes with it. For me, the closer to six pounds the gun gets, the happier I am. Don’t forget, you will be adding optics and a full magazine to the basic rifle’s weight—not to mention a flashlight, laser, or any other accessory that you may want to bolt on. It all adds up.


The adjustable-length stocks on these guns adapt well to body armor or bulky clothing, and can reduce the length of the rifle to make it easier to maneuver. It will also allow a wide range of shooters to use the gun, as any shooter can pick a length of pull that fits them best. For a personal gun, you will usually just set it and be done, but it does keep some options in reserve.

Prepper Rifle
Back up iron sights, or BUIS are a good idea on a survival rifle. author photo


Your personal gun will need a good sighting system. There are many optics on the market, and it’s tough to say which is best. The 1x-6x scopes that are popular with 3-gun shooters work well. Traditional battle optics include the ACOG, Mepro or Aimpoint, which are good choices. No matter what style of optic you choose, buy high quality. Low price is a siren song that can lure you, but with optics, you get what you pay for. Low price usually means low durability. Remember, this gun is for survival situations, which means the local Cabela’s is not going to be open to buy a replacement. Don’t skimp on guns or optics.

I know that some tactical-shooting aficionados get apoplectic if you suggest that a rifle does not need to have back up iron sights, or BUIS as they like to call them. Most of my guns do not have them, because I think they are an unnecessary redundancy for general use. But I’ll admit that hey do make sense on your primary survival rifle. I like the flip-up kind so they stay out of my way unless I need them. It’s also a good idea to mount any primary sighting system with a quick-release mount. That way you can jettison it in battle if it becomes disabled and use the irons.

Competition shooting with your personal rifle makes for excellent training.
Competition shooting with your personal rifle makes for excellent training. author photo


The very best accessory for you to spend your money on is ammo. Practice and train with your gun until you know it backwards and forwards. Know the offsets— the distances above or below your intended point of impact that you must take into account when aiming—from in-your-face ranges out to 600 yards, so you don’t have to think when you shoot.

The personal rifle is the gun most likely to keep you alive, so run it hard, and find any flaws or defects early. Make it prove itself to be dependable and then learn it like it’s your best friend, because it may well be.

*Bryce M. Towsley is the author of the new book Prepper Guns, a 255-page hardcover book that details the guns, ammo, tools, and techniques used for survival during a calamity. It has hundreds of color photos and is a rich source of information on self-defense firearms, including those for concealed carry. Go to for details.

Prepper Rifle
This Mepro MOR Tri-Powered Reflex Sight with Red Laser combines a red-dot sight with a visible and an IR laser. The reticle illumination uses a fiber optic collector system during the day, a miniature self-powered tritium light source at night and a 3-position LED enhancer for different ambient light conditions. This allows the sight to work without batteries in any lighting condition. author photo