Monday, June 13, 2011

The basic 3 (or 5, or 6, or 7, or 8) gun armory

The most frequently asked question I get is something like "I'm a complete beginner, and I want to start with shooting, what should I buy".

Well, the simple answer comes down to the "first gun" question, and I've addressed that before; but I think there's really a bigger question there, especially since the next most common question I get other than "what ammo should I buy for {insert gun here} is "Ok, I've bought my first gun, what to I buy next", or "What guns do I need to experience all aspects of the shooting hobby" or some variant thereof.

Really I think there is a longer and more useful answer than "the first gun" or "the next gun" (both of which I've answered on this blog before... and in god knows how many conversations); what I like to think of as "the basic armory".

To be honest, I don't consider that a beginners question necessarily. It's more of a general gun ownership question. I know folks who have been shotgun owners their entire lives, but who have never owned a pistol, or a rifle; or the reverse etc...

The details of specific brands and models will generally come down to user preferences; but I think just about anyone into shooting, be it for hunting, or self defense, or just for fun; really needs to build a collection with at the least these three firearms, and GENERALLY purchased in this order:
1. A quality full sized defensive pistol. Either a medium frame revolver (preferably in .357 magnum), or a good medium frame autopistol that you are comfortable with, in a suitable defensive chambering (SIG p series in 9mm or larger, Glock, a good 1911 etc...).

2. A quality pump action shotgun in 12 or 20ga, preferably with slug/rifle sights, and easily interchangeable barrels (you want a short defensive barrel, a medium game hunting barrel, and a wingshooting barrel).

3. A quality repeating bolt action or semi-automatic rifle in a militarily useful chambering, accurate to at least 300 yards (2 moa minimum accuracy), legal for hunting medium game in your state (which usually leaves out 5.56); with  a good scope, and if possible a backup optic or iron sights.
Now, I know those choices are going to be controversial, and I'm going to talk about each of them and why I think they are important in a minute.

First though, to lessen the beating I'm going to take from my commenters, I want to expand that armory a bit. There's a reason why I said "or 5, or 6, or 7, or 8" above.

The reason I chose those three particular guns in the order above, is because they are all useful for target shooting, self and home defense, and hunting; and if that's all the guns you're ever going to buy, and you need to do all three of those things, then those are the three guns you need.

But honestly, I really believe you really need at least five, not just those three.

See, I follow the Kim Du Toit school of thought that .22 rifles and pistols aren't really firearms, they're household necessities. As far as I'm concerned, every homeowner should get one of each on buying a house, and every kid should get one of each when they start high school. If a couple doesn't have them already, I think one of each is a great wedding present (yes, seriously).

Honestly, unless they have a specific and immediate need, I don't believe anyone should buy any gun beyond their first defensive pistol or shotgun, without also grabbing:
4. A quality .22lr pistol or revolver

5. A quality .22lr rifle, bolt or semi (or pump/slide if you like them, and can find one)
And finally, I'd like to add a couple more selections to round things out, focusing on self and home defense, and emergency preparedness:
6. A quality semi-automatic rifle or carbine, in a militarily useful chambering (possibly sharing a chambering with the boltie), short enough to be handled indoors, and light enough to be packed on a long hike; preferably with both iron sights and an optic (this presumes #3 above was a bolt action).
And optionally...

7. A quality revolver or semi-automatic pistol in a defensively useful chambering, of a size suitable to be carried concealed in summer without bulky covering garments, preferably with night sights.  
8. A quality pocket gun, either semi or revolver, in .380, 9mm, or .38/.357. 
So that's 4 handguns, 3 rifles, and a shotgun. For some, that sounds like a lot of guns, but I really think those are just the absolute basics.

That said, with the right selection of those 8 guns, the right ammo, and the right accessories (optics for example) you can do just about everything you might want to do with a firearm, barring some extremely specialized events.

Now, don't metaphorically shoot me for those selections, or their order (which is flexible depending on your personal needs and living situation). I've got good reasons behind them, and I'm going to explain in detail what they are, and what my personal choices are for each of them.

This is where the real fun (and the real controversy) starts.

First, a philosophical point (which I'm going to excerpt directly  from an earlier post ; much longer than just this section, and I think you should read it, but if you don't at least read this excerpt, because I think it's important).
Don't Buy Cheap Guns
That doesn't mean don't buy INEXPENSIVE guns; lord knows, I've bought some great guns for very little money

It means don't buy something cheap. Something poorly made. Something unreliable. Something made with poor materials. Something with poor quality control. Something with no support, and no parts. To a lesser extent, something unergonomic, difficult to shoot, or horribly inaccurate.

I get a lot of questions from people who read my posts for beginners, along the lines of "what's the cheapest .45 I can buy" or "What's the cheapest gun I can buy that will do this"

I have the same answer for all of them.

I believe in buying for value, not for price. I buy good things, because they are, in fact, better. I don't buy names, I don't buy fashion, I buy QUALITY, RELIABILITY, and CAPABILITY.
Most important, I buy things that get the hell out of my way and let me do the job; not have to worry about the tools I'm using to do it.

That applies to computers, tools, cars... It especially applies to guns.

When the job is putting food on the table, or defending your life, or the lives of others; buy the tool that will help you get the job done, and not get in your way doing it.
There is a difference between inexpensive, and cheap; and there is a difference between price, and value.

There's a saying "if you buy it cheap, you buy it twice". I'd say that's an understatement.
An oil filter company used to advertise their better but more expensive (at the time anyway, now they're all pretty much the same) oil filters with the slogan "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later".

When you need a gun, to take that shot on game, or to shoot someone trying to kill you or your family; you need it to go bang and put the bullet where you aimed it, first time every time. You don't need to have "saved" $50 or $100 or even $1000, just to buy a gun that won't do that, first time every time. Nobody ever regretted spending more to buy a reliable and accurate gun.

And yet... I still get people constantly saying "why would I spend $600 on a Glock when I can buy a Hi-Point for $200", as if there was no real difference between them.

Actually, given this site, it's more frequently "Why should I buy a $1200 1911 when there's this perfectly fine $400 Philippino 1911 over here".

Remember, you are holding in your hand, or worse putting up to your face; a metal tube with explosives in it, and then setting those explosives off. Why on earth would you buy something that might not be able to handle that, just to save a couple hundred bucks? (not to imply Hi-Points or RIAs explode in peoples faces. They sometimes crack, but they don't actually blow up. Also not to pick on them specifically or exclusively, they're just among the more common examples of the question).

There are people who are perfectly happy with their RIAs and their Hi-Points, and some of them are perfectly reliable. Some of these people tend to get very emotionally invested in their purchases. They wrap their ego up in them, and their "great deal" just as much as the guys who wrap their egos up in their $1500 guns. They get angry and self righteous, and lash out at anyone who criticizes their gun, that they now so closely identify with; but that's emotion, not reason.

What it comes down to is this: the metallurgy, machining, and quality control on cheap guns aren't good, so you never know if you're going to get a good one or a bad one (and sadly, there are some "cheap" guns, which are actually quite expensive). Worse, even if it seems you've got a good one, you never know if it's going to suddenly stop working. It might suddenly stop cycling for no apparent reason, or have a critical failure (frame crack, hammer crack, safety break, firing pin fail... you never know), when you need it to defend your life. It might even blow up in your hand, or next to your eye.

Why would you risk that?

Buy value. You won't go wrong. Spend the money.

With guns, it isn't even that hard; because for the most part, good guns don't wear out. Good guns are made of high quality steel and aluminum (and yes, plastics... but tough ones that don't melt or crack); and if they have parts that wear out with normal use, good guns have those parts available.

If you don't care about the state of a finish, or that you'll need to replace grips, or worn out springs, or broken stocks; you can get some spectacular value, for not very much money (especially in old revolvers, shotguns, and milsurp rifles).

If you have to... if you have barely any money and you need a weapon to put food on the table with, or to defend your life; buy a good but ugly gun, not a cheap one. They'll probably cost the same, but the ugly gun, that was well made and well used, will do the job better.

Even new, there are very good guns that are not very expensive. The typical retail price of the Remington 870 express 12ga shotgun (which I recommend) runs around $350, or $315 from the big discounters. It can be had on sale for as little as $280 if you hunt around, and wait for specials. Mossberg 500s (which I also recommend) typically run about $20-$50 cheaper than the Remington.

That's certainly not nothing, but compared to the value you get from that gun... It's a bargain. And frankly, that $300 shotgun... You can spend $3,000 or $30,000 and not get anything better. Sure, it'll be prettier, it might fit better, it might even feel better; but it won't be any better at putting meat on the table, or a bad guy on the ground.

That's value.

Cheap is an illusion. Cheap, ultimately, is expensive. Value is real.

Buy value. Buy quality. Buy reliability. Buy capability. Spend the money.

Ok, rant over.
So, as you can see, I'm not going to be recommending any cheap guns, or cheap accessories for that matter. Frankly, a lot of these guns that I am going to recommend are going to be beyond a lot of peoples budgets. Hell, right now, most of them would be above my budget... and certainly more than a couple at once would be above most peoples budgets.

That's Ok.

There may be less expensive choices, that will provide the same basic functionality, perhaps as well perhaps not. And there's nothing that says you have to buy all of these at once.

I have, or have had, every one of these guns that I'm recommending (or something very similar. An earlier model, a similar model from the same manufacturer etc...); and at least one gun for each of the roles I mention above, all at the same time... but it took me YEARS to acquire all of them.

These are my personal choices, and my recommendations for others. I try to take into account value over price. I don't ignore price, but if I think something is a good value, that's what I'll generally recommend.

If you're reading this piece, and you can't afford what I'm recommending,  ask in comments what I'd recommend that's less expensive; and if I can, I'll give you whatever recommendation I can.

Now... Onto the guns...

Ok, so let's take these in a slightly different order than my list above, and talk about the whats, they whys, and the whiches.

First, the .22s

One of the reasons I'm taking this out of order, is as I said, I don't consider .22s optional.

Unless you have an immediate need to defend yourself and your family, or feed yourself and your family with medium game (small game, that's one of the reasons to own a .22) I truly believe you should always buy at least one .22 first.

.22s aren't guns, they're household appliances. They're part of the minimum basic tools every person should have to deal with the day to day necessities of life.

Every homeowner or householder should have a .22 pistol and a .22 rifle just like they have a stove and a fridge, or a hammer and a screwdriver.

.22s are good for fun, they're essential for practice (have you seen how much ammo costs lately), and they're good for small game and pest control. Also, in dire circumstances, I don't think anyone is going to laugh at 10 high velocity .22s dumped rapidly into their face (or for that matter throat, upper chest cavity and lungs, diaphragm, liver, kidneys, or behind their ear).

Let me repeat: unless I lived or worked in a high crime urban environment, an area with a strong threat of animal attack,  or I needed to hunt medium game to feed myself or my family, I would buy a .22 before I'd buy anything else; because it's the easiest and cheapest to practice with, and good shooting matters far more than good chambering selection when circumstances get grim.

To be even clearer: If I could only have one firearm, ever again, and I didn't need to carry it for self defense; it would be a .22 rifle... though a 12ga shotgun wouldn't be far behind (if I did need to carry it for self defense, it would be a .357 revolver, and again, a 12ga close behind).

So, what to choose though. There are a lot of great .22 pistols and rifles out there... and a lot of not so great ones.

Also, should you go with an auto, or a revolver in pistols, and an auto or a boltie in rifles?

Well... I'd like to have all four... but let us presume you only get one handgun and one rifle.

My personal choices then, would be a revolver and a boltie; just because they are reliable with all types of ammo (sadly not the case with most semi-auto .22s), they're easier to clean, and there is less to go wrong.

That said, a lot of people prefer semis for plinking fun... and there is that whole "10 rounds in the face in 2 seconds" thing (and I have to admit, right now, I have a 10/22, and a .22 falling block lever gun, but no boltie).

  • .22 revolver: Smith and Wesson K22 of some kind. They aren't actually called K22s anymore, but that's the original name, signifying a K frame revolver in .22. The one below is a 6" barrel (4" is available) 617. The blue version is the model 17 (also available with 4" and 6" barrels)

I like the K 22, because it's a great training gun for medium and large frame revolvers, and they're a joy to shoot. Also, they have up to a 10rd cylinder, which is kinda nice (sadly, only one guy makes speedloaders though, at $25 a piece, out of his home shop). Even the newer production Model 617s in stainless have pretty decent triggers; and if you can find a pre-'69 K22... It's gold.

There are a lot of people who grew up with the Ruger single six or the Bearcat, and love them beyond all reason. Personally, I don't care for the feel of either, and I prefer an SA/DA revolver over a single action. That's both as a matter of personal preference, and as a training tool, because one of the primary reasons to have a .22 handgun, is to train yourself in trigger control.


I like the Buckmark, because it's pretty much the universal .22 semi. It's the second best selling .22lr auto pistol of all time (behind the Ruger Mark X series. Unfortunately the classic Colt woodsman isn't sold anymore, and the High Standard has been in and out of production over the years), and has the most options, accessories etc... available for it.

If you don't like your Buckmark barrel choices, Tactical Solutions makes some seriously nifty replacements, along with other bits and bobs (and they're a great company, good guys, good to do business with).

Some might go for the Ruger Mark X or 22/45 guns, but I don't like the way they feel... and I really don't like stripping, cleaning, and reassembling them. Tactical Solutions makes replacement top ends for them too... but they don't fix how much of a pain they are to reassemble. Also, unfortunately, on a Ruger, the barrel and upper receiver assembly is the serial numbered part, and is therefore considered a firearm by the ATF; so you can't just order a replacement barrel, you need to go through an FFL.

Oh and, there's also the S&W model 41, which is excellent... but it's also over $1000, vs the under $300 to high $400s for a Ruger or Buckmark (depending on model and options).

Also, High Standard pistols are back in production... for now... who knows if they'll go out of production again any time... or not... (really, they are great guns, but there have been entire decades where owners weren't able to get parts for some models... not sure if I'd want to depend on that).

The low priced S&W M22, Walther P22 and SIG Mosquito, I would generally stay away from. I've had them, they're all fun to shoot, but they've all got problems. They aren't that much less expensive than the Ruger or Buckmark (or not less at all, depending on model and options), and they have reliability issues. Really, you're going to be happier with a Buckmark or a Ruger. They're all just fine plinkers, but I wouldn't depend on them.

All that said the second someone shows me a 1911 in .22 that's as reliable as a buckmark (preferably one that doesn't cost more than a Buckmark as well), I'm buying it... I just haven't found one yet.

Now, on to .22 rifles... 

Again, boltie or semi... I choose boltie, but a lot of folks like the semi (including me. I own a 10/22... like just about every other gun lover in America [they're insanely popular]... I just think you should have a boltie first).
  • .22 bolt action rifle: CZ 452 or 455 (I like the 455 lux, because frankly, it's gorgeous)

Why this rifle? Because at around $350 street, there isn't a better bolt action .22 you can buy for less than twice the money. They're beautifully made and finished, and very accurate.  I list two models because, although they are very similar in the basics, CZ offers a huge number of options in function, fit, and finish; and the 452 is in the process of being discontinued in favor of the 455.

  • .22 semi-auto rifle: Ruger 10/22. The "stainless" receiver isn't, so don't bother unless you like silver paint and are going to keep the stock barrel. Otherwise, the other stocks look better. I personally kinda dig the "Target" model, but you're probably better off just buying the base model and then getting your own stock and barrel.

Don't bother trying to fight it. At some point in your life, if you own .22s, you will own a 10/22. It seems to be a physical law of the universe. There are certainly other choices, including some which are better guns (at least better out of the box)... but the 10/22 is so universal, you just have to own one.

The good news is, if you don't like your 10/22, they make every single part, including the receiver itself, in about 1000 different types, styles, materials, colors, and from a hundred different manufacturers.

It's worse than the AR. It's lego, barbie, and guns all rolled into one; because you can take the entire gun apart, including removing the barrel from the action, and fitting a new barrel, without any special tools or special skills, at all.

You want a 24" integrally suppressed barrel... somebody makes one, and you can fit it yourself.  You want a 16" ultra heavy bull barrel... somebody makes one and you can fit it yourself. Want a carbon fiber and aluminum bull barrel with a stainless inner rifled liner... yeah, somebody makes it... in neon pink if you like. You can even get a billett aluminum receiver anodized to match the carbon fiber color, and then drop it into a real carbon fiber stock, with anodized aluminum trigger and mag release.

Most important though, you can guy a good barrel, good trigger, and good stock for the thing, all at a reasonable price; and have a .22 match rifle you assembled at home, for under a grand (you can actually get two out of the three with the "target" model, if you want their twist rate, but it's $220 more than the base model [almost double] so again, you may be better off just buying your own)...

... Now if only Ruger would give you a great barrel, a great trigger, and a great stock all together as an option, so you didn't have to throw all the factory pieces away...

Oh wait... you can just buy a match grade 10/22 receiver and internals from someone else, and have a 10/22 without a single Ruger manufactured part in it anywhere (and be no more expensive than Rugers own higher end models).

Next up, defensive weapons

Unless you regularly travel through a high crime area, where concealed carry is lawful (and sadly, in many high crime areas, it is not); then I believe the most important first step in defensive firearms, is home defense.

Home defense weapons

The single most effective tool for home defense you can have, other than a prepared mind of course; is a 12ga shotgun.

You must have a 12ga shotgun (unless you have a problem with the recoil in which case 20ga is acceptable. .410 really isn't, and 16ga is fine, but you probably won't find a defensively suitable gun or ammo in the chambering), and if you're only going to have one, only a pump makes sense. 

If you have two shotguns, a pump and a semi work, but your first shotgun should be a pump (unless you are physically unable to cycle one properly. They make youth models if your arms are too short, but that wont help you if you lack the hand or arm strength. If that's the case, a break open double barrel is your best bet). 

You should, if possible also have three barrels, for versatility.  I recommend owning:
  • a short defensive barrel preferably with ghostring or large highly visible rifle sights 
  • a ribbed long barrel for wingshooting (preferably with interchangeable chokes)
  • a slug barrel,  for slug hunting medium game
You can wingshoot, and shoot slugs, with a defensive barrel (especially if it has interchangeable chokes) so it should definitely be your first purchase; but it will be suboptimal for either type of hunting. 

I also personally like having two foreends, one standard, and one with a cycling strap and weaponlight. They aren't necessary, but at 3am, in the dark, when you've got both hands on your shotgun, it's nice to be able to have a fingertip actuated light. 

12 ga pump shotgun: Remington 870 or Mossberg 500/590

Frankly, I consider them functionally interchangeable; but each has their partisans. 

The Remington is a bit heavier, but a bit tougher; and it has slightly more accessories for it; but it's more expensive. The Mossberg is a bit lighter, slightly less tough (not much. The military uses both), and is slightly cheaper (between $20 and $50 for comparable models).

Either are less than $350 street price for a basic defensive model, and usually less than $150 for each additional barrel (frequently less than $100 actually. You can even get the Mossberg in a combo with a defensive barrel and a wingshooting barrel together, for $350 from discounters):

Home defense pistol

For home and personal defense, you also need a defensive pistol. If I only had to have one, it would be a revolver, if two, a revolver and an auto pistol.

That is a personal choice, based on simplicity and reliability. In general, high quality semi-automatic pistols are very reliable, but not always. They are subject to vagaries of ammo that doesn't want to cycle the weapon, or springs that dont behave as they should. They are also more complicated to operate at 3am when you're disoriented.

It's not a big difference, and certainly I trust my life to auto pistols every day; but if I'm only going to get one handgun, it's going to be a revolver.

Whatever you choose, It needs to be suitable for home defense and concealed carry, plus extended range sessions. It must be in a versatile chambering, good for self defense, and taking small and lighter medium game if necessary; and defending yourself against predators. Also, the ammunition should be commonly available, with a large selection of loads, at a reasonable cost.

I strongly believe that ones primary defensive handgun should be in .357 magnum (which can also fire .38 special), .45acp, or 9x19mm (9mm parabellum); simply for reasons of effectiveness, combined with a huge selection of suitable weapons, ammunition availability, and cost (again, at least in the U.S.)

.40 S&W is also acceptable, but has fewer advantages and more disadvantages. That said, it would be my next choice after .357, .45, and 9mm.

I love my 10mm, and it's a very effective chambering, but it's incredibly expensive ammo compared to 9mm. Worse, during the post Obama election ammo shortages, there were literally months at a time when I couldn't find any commercial 10mm ammo anywhere, including online. .357 SIG faces similar issues.

In general, while of course .41 and .44 magnum, and .45 colt, are defensively useful; they are too large (requiring large frame revolvers to chamber them) and have too much recoil for many people to shoot effectively in a defensive situation. They are best used for hunting, woods carry to defend against animal attack (and as a companion to a lever action carbine in the same chambering), and long range revolver shooting.

I strongly recommend against having your primary defensive handgun in any chambering smaller than 9x19 or .38spl. Evidence has shown again and again, that while less powerful chamberings are fine for deep concealment weapons (where small size is a priority over power), they are two to five times as likely to fail to stop a threat. .380acp, 9mm makarov, and .32acp should be relegated to backup guns and deep concealment guns.
A note on .25 and .32acp: .25acp is the smallest centerfire pistol cartridge commonly available. However, it is also the least powerful; and weapons chambered in it are little to no smaller than weapons chambered in .380acp. It has proven do be an ineffective chambering for self defense, failing to create disabling wounds the majority of the time. It is in fact less effective than the smaller rimfire .22lr round. One should not choose the .25acp for any purpose except fun plinking, if any other option is available. 
.32acp is both more powerful, and more reliable than .25; but I still consider it on the low edge of marginal. For years, .32 was the best choice for a deep cover gun or backup gun; but that was before modern .380 pocket guns were developed. At this point, .32s are no smaller than .380s; and given the substantially worse performance of .32 over .380... Just don't bother. 

.357 revolver: S&W 686 plus, 4" barrel (this is a 7 shot revolver):

I personally find a 4" L frame concealable, and comfortable for both concealed and open carry (given proper holster selection of course) but I'm a pretty big guy. Not everyone is comfortable concealing a gun of that size and weight (about the same size as a 5" 1911, but thicker... though not as angular); though 2.5" barrel versions are also available.

I'm also a big fan of the S&W 386, which is the same frame design, but in aluminum, titanium, and scandium, for very light weight:

The 2.5" barrel version shown here is highly concealable, and weighs just 24 ounces. Unfortunately, it's also very expensive, because of the materials used in its construction.

.45acp full sized pistol: My personal preference would be a 4" 1911, half way between a full size and a compact. I personally like the balance of a 4" gun better than a 5" gun; though 5" guns often perform better and are sometimes slightly more reliable.

As to which one... that's a very difficult question. First cut, I always recommend S&W and STI:

The Smith and Wesson E series and performance center guns are excellent (and, they have scandium guns, for lighter weight - like the one below):

You won't go wrong with S&W or STI, but there are literally dozens if not hundreds of options in manufacturers alone. Just get some help with someone who REALLY knows 1911s when making your choice... and reading some of the dozen or two posts I've written on the subject might help.

As to why I don't recommend the two market leaders, Kimber and Springfield Armory first... Well, there's nothing in particular wrong with either; but I think you get better value for your money with one of the guns I recommended. Same with Colt actually. They make perfectly good guns, but I think their $900 to $1000 guns aren't good value. Their $1200+ guns are pretty good though.

Oh and let me just say up front, you aren't going to find very many good 1911s (unless they're used) under $1000.  Kimber and Springer both produce guns in the $850 to $1000 street price range, and I really think you should spend the extra $200 for an S&W or $300 for an STI ( though Kimber and Springers higher end guns, in the $1200-$1500 range are about as good as the STI guns selling in the same price range).

If that's out of your budget, or you aren't a 1911 shooter, a SIG P220 (this is the elite, they come in about 2 dozen variants):

or Springfield XD .45 (and they come in 4" and 5" versions):

would work too.

I would recommend either a SIG or XD to anyone, unless I knew they were very well trained with a 1911. I don't actually like the Glock 21 (and I have owned one), as I feel its grip is bulky and uncomfortable for most people; but if you like it, it's an excellent weapon.

9mm pistol: You really can't beat the Glock 19

Or the Springfield XD9, or the SIG P226 or 229 (I haven't put pics up because they're substantially identical to their .45acp brethren pictured above).

All three are reliable, accurate, easy to shoot, compact, comfortable, and easily concealable. You can get a full sized 9mm with a 17 or 18 round magazine, but I would rather go for the smaller, more concealable weapon with 12 to 16 rounds. They're just as good to shoot, and easier to carry and conceal. Go with whichever feels more comfortable to you, or if you like, something of equal quality and reliability. A lot of folks like the S&W M&P line, but I dont have much experience with them.

I won't say anything specifically about more concealable defensive handguns, because all of the recommendations I make above apply. I would recommend all the same brands and model series of pistols, I would just recommend you buy the more compact versions (which look roughly the same as their bigger brothers, just stubbier).

I will recommend that if you are going to buy a full sized and a compact gun; that they both have the same operating system, ergonomics, and if possible chambering and magazines. This basically means buying from the same manufacturer, if not actually buying the same model in more compact form.

This practice allows you to train for both pistols, every time you train for each pistol. This is also an extremely valuable advantage in a short supply situation; and if you need to make a mag change in a fight, you don't have to worry about mixing mags up by mistake.

A pocket gun isn't absolutely necessary, but I like having one; and if you chose a larger .357 revolver, it's nice being able to carry a pocket revolver in the same chambering. If you chose a full size 1911 on the other hand, it's nice to have something you can just slip into a pocket to get the mail, without having to toss a cover garment on. 

.357 pocket revolver: S&W 340pd or 640 (same gun, in scandium or stainless)

.380 pistol: KelTec P3AT or Ruger LCP (they are nearly identical, in looks and function, but I prefer the KelTec)

or the SIG P238 (which shares control layout and grip angle with the 1911)

There are of course many other options; but I think those are the best choices on the market today... And apparently the market agrees with me, because either the P3AT or the LCR have been the best selling centerfire handgun (excluding military and police purchases) in the U.S. each year, for over five years (or at least their manufacturers tell us this is so... numbers aren't officially tracked). 

Rifles, for defense and hunting

I personally believe you need at least two centerfire rifles; preferably both in militarily useful and widely available chamberings. One should be suitable for close in defense, and vermin and pest control; the other for long range, and medium to large game hunting. I would generally prefer one to be semi-auto and one to be bolt action.

Both should have commonly available parts. If they use detachable magazines, the magazines should be commonly available at a reasonable price.

It would be useful if both were the same chambering, but not necessary. Also, there is some advantage to having two chamberings in that if the supply of one gets low, you still have the other.

In the United States, this basically means one in 7.62x51(.308 winchester) and one in 5.56x45 (.223 Remington); in the presumption that, being two of the four most common centerfire rifle chamberings (the other two being .30-30 and .30-06) in the U.S. you can almost always find a supply of at least one of them.

Of course, in any country outside of the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe, it's probably easier to find 7.62x39 than 5.56x45 (and in many places you can't legally own guns chambered in either, or in .308 for that matter). 7.62x51/.308 however IS very widely available in most non-soviet bloc/soviet client countries, because most militaries around the world adopted it as the NATO chambering in the late 1950s (if they weren't members of NATO, and they weren't soviet controlled, they were probably buying guns from members of NATO), and then didn't change to 5.56 until long after the u.s. did (if at all. Most African and South American countries either kept the .308 or went to 7.62x39).

In an ideal world you'd have a semi and a boltie in each (4 guns), but to maximize utility with as few purchases as possible, let's split them.

Since the 5.56nato/.223 Remington cartridge has only limited long range capability in the 300-600 yard zone,  and is not legal for medium game hunting (deer and the like) in most states; it is naturally limited to the short range role. However, it is probably the better choice for this role anyway, as it is small,er lighter, cheaper, can be shot form a smaller and lighter weapon, and is easier to shoot (a 10 year old girl can handle the recoil of a .223 easily... by the by, I know the guy whose daughter that is. I haven't met his daughter, but knowing Mike I'd say you don't want to mess with her).

As far as it goes, I'm an AR guy not an AK guy, or a mini-14 or SIG etc... etc... guy (there are as many 5.56 carbines out there as there are gun manufacturers).  I know it well, I like the ergonomics of it. There are more accessories and parts and training for it than all other firearms combined (yes, I mean that literally).

Oh and of course, an AR is a great rifle for varmint and pest control, and taking game too big for a .22lr but not big enough to need a .308 (if it is legal in your state to do so anyway). And of course, put a long range barreled upper on your carbine for a few hundred extra bucks, and you've got a decent varmint gun out to 600 yards or so.

If you want something else because you know it well, and prefer it; great. Otherwise, just get an AR.

5.56nato defensive carbine: AR15 (as described in detail below)

It seems like literally everyone makes an AR these days. Even Ruger and Remington. Their prices, features, and quality levels diverge radically, so shop around, with someone who really knows about the AR platform. Really, any reputable manufacturer will do, but I would prefer to pick one that keeps to Mil-spec or higher standards (which usually means paying over $1000 for even a relatively basic gun unfortunately).

Personally, I don't like anything under a 16" barrel, because you lose too much velocity; and even on a carbine, I think an 18" barrel is preferable, unless you live in tight quarters and expect to have to be shooting indoors for defensive purposes.

You can get a piston gun if you want, I personally don't think it's worth it, because there isn't a big advantage to them, and  they don't have parts commonality yet. Until one system becomes the standard and parts become interchangeable across vendors I say stay with direct gas (though the pic above shows Rugers piston gun).

My personal preferences are a flat top, preferably freefloat with monolithic full length rail and quadrail forend, with heat shields and rail protectors.

I personally like Ace fixed stocks, and VLTOR or Magpul collapsing stocks. For a defensive carbine, I would generally choose the collapsing stock. Also, the Magpul grip is a useful thing, if it is comfortable to you, otherwise I like the ergogrip.

I like having both optics and irons (I'll take an aimpoint, eotech, or Trijicon reflex, plus a magnifier on quick detach mount), a foregrip (I actually prefer a magwell grip, but having a foregrip doesn't prevent the magwell grip, and gives you another option, plus a place to mount a light switch), LED weaponlight with a momentary switch, and a convertible 1.2.3 point sling, with three QD attach points (stock, forend/gasblock, and stock plate).

Also, it's very useful to have a long range capable spare upper for your AR. I have a completely separate long range AR, but a 24" heavy barrel upper with a decent scope will shoot almost as well on your carbine lower if you put a good trigger in it. Then, as with the shotgun, you get two guns in one.

7.62nato bolt action hunting and marksmans rifle: Everyone has their favorites here...

My preference would be to build a custom gun; off a Surgeon, Stiller, or Nesika action, with a Jewell trigger, 24" Krieger 1:10 heavy barrel,  CDI bottom metal, and a McMillan stock. All of the above actions are Remington 700 style actions, and use commonly available parts. Altogether, the build would cost something like $2500 before optics though; not an inconsiderable sum.

If I had to pick a factory gun, I personally would take a Savage model 12. There are many variants of it, but I think the BVSS pictured here meets the requirements of this role the best:

as it's probably the most accurate and best built non-customshop factory rifle, in .308 with a repeating action; out there for under $1500. Parts are readily available, replacement stocks, barrels and triggers are readily available, and their quality is better than either production Remington or production Winchester.

That said, there's nothing wrong with a Rem 700 sendero or SPR, or the Weatherby SubMOA line (actually Howa 1500s that have been accurized, but still a great rifle).

Unfortunately, FN/USRAC (Winchester arms parent company) has decided to discontinue all the models of the Winchester Model 70 line that I find suitable for long range shooting. There are still some great hunting rifles in the line, but nothing I would buy to shoot beyond 400 yards.

They do still offer a model 70 actioned long range gun under the FN police line, using McMillan stocks. Any of these would be acceptable, but they are quite expensive (over $1500 retail up to $3000).

As for optics... Personally, I would spend the money for a very good optic, something along  the lines of a Nightforce 5.5-22x56. Yeah, it's $1700, but your rifle will break before it will.

If your budget won't allow that (and true, most won't) then I recommend the Vortex Viper HS or Viper PST lines. I personally like the 4-16x50 models. The PST runs about $700, the HS about $500. Also recommended is the Burris XTR line (about $850 for comparable models).

Ok... that's a lot to buy... what comes first?:

So in general, if you know how to shoot already, I say buy your defensive weapons first:
  • S&W 686plus 4" .38/.357 revolver
  • S&W 340pd .38/.357 pocket revolver
  • Remington 870, 12ga, 18" defensive barrel (light, and mag extension if you want them)
  • AR-15 carbine, 16" in 5.56 with defensive accessories
Then your practice weapons (buy these first if you need to learn how to shoot):
  • Browning buckmark .22 auto pistol
  • CZ 452 .22 bolt action rifle
Then your hunting/marksman weapons:
  • Second barrel for the 870, 24" 3" magnum ribbed wingshooting barrel
  • Third barrel for the 870, 20" slug barrel
  • Savage model 12 in 7.62x51 plus scope
Then your optionals and secondaries:

Keltec p3at in .380
Commander length 1911 in .45
SIG P220 carry elite in .45
Precision upper in 5.56 for your AR (or in 6.5 or 6.8 if you want to play around with ammo)
5.56 bolt action rifle
7.62 semiautomatic battle rifle (M1a, FAL, g3 etc...)

...BUT this order is very flexible based on needs.

If you live in an area where it is important you have the ability to hunt, or defend against large animal attack; I strongly recommend putting off the defensive carbine, and buying both the bolties in .22 and 7.62, and the slug barrel for the 870. Small game and practice are more important than a short carbine when the 12ga can take on most of that role.

If you live in an area where self defense is your primary concern, and hunting isn't a factor, then buy both .22s before any hunting weapons. Practice, Practice, Practice.

If you aren't going for concealed carry or hunting, and you can afford it, I say get your .22s either first, or immediately after your home defense handgun and shotgun.

And remember, leave room in your budget for ammo. I like to budget at least the full cost of the gun, for enough ammo to carry and practice with to get proficient; and include that in my affordability and cost calculation when I buy the gun. If I can't afford to buy at least 200 rounds for a gun, I cant afford that gun.

So that's like... a minimum of $5000 worth of guns if you buy new... and that's really the basic armory?

Well... Kinda yeah. But as I say in "Don't buy cheap gun", it's not about the price, it's about the value... and of course, you can get great value buying used. Plus as I said above, you don't need to buy all of these if you aren't interested in the type or the activities for a specific weapon; and you certainly don't need to buy them all at once.

Have fun, buy guns, and then shoot them; as much as you possibly can.