VIDEO: If you only had one gun: A survival kit pistol


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Text and photos by Peter Burlingame

So, you’re putting together your survival kit. It might be a Bug Out Bag, it might be a Get Home Bag. You’ve got shelter, food, water, fire, first aid, even a couple of snivel/comfort items. But what about a gun? Does a gun have a place in your survival preparations? If so, what type?

A firearm can provide security and put food on the table. When the SHTF, the only ‘law’ is that which you are willing and capable of enforcing yourself. I’ve lived through a category 5 hurricane and a couple of cat 1s and 2s. In my view, the lawlessness in the aftermath of a natural disaster can be just as dangerous as the storm itself. Having a firearm for protection can give you the means to keep yourself safe in the absence of regular law enforcement.

Additionally, when disaster strikes, regular food supplies will be disrupted. You many need to harvest game from your area to put protein in your belly.

Now the question is what type of firearm should you have in your survival kit? Rifle, shotgun, or pistol? Rifles tend to be powerful, accurate, and capable of making hits at long ranges. Shotguns are powerful and versatile. There are many types of ammunition available for shotguns that let them perform many different functions.

I believe your most important firearm is a pistol. While it is not as powerful as the shotgun, tire carbingnor as capable of long range hits as the rifle, the main thing, the most important thing, is that the pistol is easily portable. It is easy to ALWAYS have it on you. It will be there when you need it,not leaning against a tree, or propped in the corner. It is comfortable to carry and you can perform your everyday duties with it on your side. A pistol, in a good holster, is also quicker to be brought into action than a long gun even if the long gun is slung in front of you on a ‘tactical sling’.

Now we have to ask ourselves: “which pistol”?  tire pistolThere are many  good, reliable, accurate pistols on the market. We are truly blessed in our choices, which allow us to pick those that best fit our needs. In the role of ‘survival gun’, the best choice is the Glock 23. Here’s why:

Glocks are utterly reliable out of the box. And they stay reliable. Feed them reasonably good quality ammo and they will always go bang. They aren’t fussy about being kept clean or lubricated. They resist the elements extremely well. I was always dealing with rust on my stainless Colt Commander. Not so the Glock that I’ve been carrying every day for the last 12 years. Of course the plastic frame isn’t going to rust, and the Tennifer finish that they use on the slide has resisted all attacks by the tropical elements that I live in.

Glocks are incredibly simple to operate. Load a magazine, shove it in the magazine well, rack the slide, and you are good to go. No extraneous controls. One consistent trigger pull. It has simple construction with only 28 parts. Spare parts are readily available and easily replaced.  Aftermarket parts and accessories are also widely available.

The 23 is light and compact enough to be easily carried, whether openly or concealed.

Based on my own experience, as well as watching the civil unrest after Katrina and the Rodney King verdict, I really, really, like pistols that hold a whole bunch of ammo. Standard capacity for the Glock 23 in .40S&W is 13 rounds, but it will accept the 15 rounders of the G22. 28 round magazines are also being made.glock 3 barrels

The reason for picking the Model 23 over all the other Glock models is this: Survival is about being adaptable and versatile and there is no more adaptable and versatile pistol that the Glock 23.

The .40S&W round is one of the better cartridges for defensive use. The 23 can be easily converted to fire 9mm or .357 Sig simply by changing the barrel.  This gives you much more versatility.  9mm ammo under normal situations is widely available and less expensive than .40 and has less recoil, easing the strain of practice on you and your wallet.

My personal experience with replacement barrels are with those from Storm Lake. My 23 gets used as a personal training gun as well as a frequent loaner for students. All of this shooting is done in 9mm with the Storm Lake barrel. It has multiple 10’s of thousands of rounds of 9mm through it, with all of the reliability that you expect from a Glock.

While you can use a .40 magazine to shoot 9mm butI have experienced a few failures to feed. Not many, and it tends to be towards the bottom of the magazine, but it is enough that I recommend having a few dedicated 9mm magazines on hand.

Ceiner and Advantage Arms both make .22LR conversion kits for this size Glock. My ceiner decalpreference is the one form Advantage Arms.  These give you even more versatility. Shooting .22LR from your Glock provides even less expensive practice than shooting 9mm. It is easy to carry lots of .22 ammunition in your Bug Out Bag, allowing the ability to easily put meat in the pot. Low power rounds like the CCI CB cap and Aquila’s Colibres are very quiet, which can be a virtue in a number of circumstances.

The Colibres are a light weight bullet pushed only by the primer of the cartridge. Fired from a pistol it makes about as much noise as a high powered air rifle. It is absolute death on rats, and has enough power to ceiner opentake squirrels and rabbits. The downside is there isn’t enough power to cycle the slide, so you have to do that manually for every shot.

You can take the versatility one step further by getting a MechTech Carbine Conversion Unit. The CCU mates the frame of your Glock to an ‘upper’ barrel/receiver/stock unit. This turns your pistol into a very accurate carbine capable of quick hits out to a bit beyond 150 yards.

glock rifleDespite claims of “Glock Perfection”, there are a couple of weak points. The first are the sights. The standard model comes with sights made from the same plastic as the frame. Change the sights! The plastic sights will get dinged up or knocked off. My absolute number one choice for replacement sights are Tru-Glo’s Tritium Fiber Optics (TFO). They are bright in any type of light, from sun, shade, to full darkness. I tend to stay away from adjustable sights on practical pistols. If you have good quality fixed sights and know where your pistol/ammo combination shoots, you can make torso hits out to 100 yards with little problem.

The second ‘flaw’ is the grip. It is a little boxy and the angle is slightly off from what is natural for most people. Most Glock owners learn to adapt to the angle and just become accustomed to it. If you are in the least bit handy you can perform a grip reduction on the pistol. A great step by step tutorial on this is located here.  Be warned however that doing this work will void the warranty.  I have done this work on all three of my Glocks, a 19, 23 and a 26. These three pistols have a combined total of close to 200,000 rounds through them with no signs of problems with the work on the grips. However, there are millions of Glock owners that are perfectly happy with the grip as it is.

So we can see that a Glock 23 in a good holster, several spare magazines, a 9mm and .357Sig barrel, .22 conversion kit gives you the versatility to shoot 4 different calibers out of the same gun.  You now have a pistol  that can fill a wide variety of roles from inexpensive and  low recoil training, quiet shooting of small animals for food or pest elimination, hunting of medium sized game as well as self defense.

In the last several years we have seen normal ammunition supplies become unpredictable and unreliable. Having a pistol that can chamber 4 different popular calibers means you are more likely to be able to keep it fed in these uncertain times. An important consideration in a survival gun.

Disciplina renumenor fidelis!

Peter Burlingame is a nationally recognized instructor in the dynamic use of firearms. In addition to running his own school, The Self Defense Initiative, based on St Thomas, in the Virgin Islands, he also volunteers his services providing instructor development classes for the International Association of Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.  You may contact him at via email.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Pingback: Preparing An Emergency Survival Kit | Exactly What Items Will You Place In Your Bug Out Bag?

  2. I understand the benifits of the Glock. I own several Glocks and like all of them, however i think this question is as much about the situation as the weapon.
    Where are you bugging out and why?

    A city in chaos with many potential targets: I would choose a shotgun. Easy to carry, shoot on the move, and hit multiple targets.

    If bugging out in an open environment and worrying about being pursued or defending a position: A rifle would be my choice. The ability to eliminate hostiles from a distance while keeping your position unknown could be critical.

    If bugging out of a city or populated area with the intention of blending in: I would choose a 9mm Glock. It’s. Light weight, easy to conceal, and has decent stopping power. 9mm ammo is extremely common throughout the world. Wherever you are or end up, you should have access to 9mm. One way or another.
    I would save the space and weight of the extra barrels for extra magazines.

  3. “Glocks are utterly reliable out of the box. And they stay reliable. Feed them reasonably good quality ammo and they will always go bang. They aren’t fussy about being kept clean or lubricated. Not so the Glock that I’ve been carrying every day for the last 12 years. Of course the plastic frame isn’t going to rust, and the Tennifer finish that they use on the slide has resisted all attacks by the tropical elements that I live in.”

    Check Six friend,
    I begrudge no one there choice of fire arm but even Glocks need cleaning and lubeing or your setting yourself up for a failure. On that may cost you your life.

    Any weapon has to be checked and have routine maintenance and any weapon must be checked for reliability.

    Most things in life are a compromise. You keep a and carry just because there might be trouble, you carry a rifle if you know there’s gonna be trouble.

    The Militarys of the world have tried to get away from the pistol hence the WW2 .30 Cal Carbine, the Current FN P90 and the HK MP7 as they don’t want to take the time to train but yet the pistol still survives just because not even the PDW can cover all bases.

  4. North and Tam: The CIA used to make a disposable .32acp out of paper mache refreonced with fiberglass strands. It was water soluable after you took a key or penknife to the varnished exterior, leaving nothing but a rusty sashweight and a nondescript spring. Nothing much for accuracy, as the smoothbore barrel eroded more with each shot, but at the distances planned for it’s use I don’t think it mattered much. Lets see, if we substituted ceramic for the material in the slamfire bolt, and used a pneumatic cylinder made from plastic to cycle the bolt, some of those plastic cases Speer used to sell for their primer activated plastic bullet load, and plastic coated ceramic bullets, then had it carried through the airport clanger by a female companion in burka….. Also, I really want somebody to bring back the .41 Swiss rimfire cartridge. A Ruger .44 Mag kind of carbine with a ballistically better 330 grain bullet at 1900 fps, cheap ammo, and a simple delayed blowback action. Not bleeding likely, but a really handy $300 deer rifle so profitable it might bring WallyWorld back into the gun business. Pardon me, I lost my Ritalin.

  5. Beretta 92FS on

    Seriously, the Glock 40 S&W have the worst record for failure. I know that law enforcement carry them and there are endless amounts of accessories for your pistol. But before you run out and buy one watch this:

    A 9mm makes more sense, larger capacity and availability of ammo are reasons enough.

  6. YOu want both a fighting rifle and a pocket pistol. Only the pocket holster lets the gun be concealed, accessible, out of the weather/debris and out of the way of both the rifle and a backpack. A pocket 9 works fine for daily ccw and for shtf, too. I prefer the Keltec PF9, cause twisted Industries makes a .22lr conversion unit for it, and also a longer, threaded barrel for silenced use (.22). the Rifle should be an 11″ barreled, 1 in 9″ rifling twist AR15, with a Ciener .22 lr conversion unit. For a $200 tax to the Feds (in 30 states, some states have laws vs silencer) and $100 for work at a local machine and welding shop, you can have a fine silencer on your 223. Use deep penetrating, 60 gr NOsler Partition softpoint ammo and the 223 will be just as effective as the 30-30 ever was. Use 60 gr, subsonic Aquila .22 ammo and it will sound like a BB gun, fired thru the AR,. 22 unit and 223 silencer. The “can” makes the full power 223 rds sound like a “normal” .22lr rifle.

  7. I own 2 357 revolvers a trr8,686p s&w no worry about feeding problems or certain ammo be it company or bullet weight.I can fire any 38 or 357.get that (ANYTHING)but I only have 8 and 7 round capacity.u guys have the more is better philosophy.would rather have 1 Ferrari in my garage than 10 Yugos.

  8. Sorry dude. But the best firearm to own is a long gun first and foremost.
    Your sidearm is just that, a sidearm. A backup gun.

  9. My brother wanted to purchase a gu survival kit for certain emergencies. Thank you for stating the usage of guns such as rifle is a powerful, accurate and it’s great for hitting long ranges. Survival kits are necessary especially we may never know what may occur during long trips and adventures in the wild.

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