You have only a few minutes to gather the family, grab what you can carry and get out. You don’t know when you’ll be back. You have to rely on what you can carry on your body – no guarantee that you’ll even make it far in your vehicle. The classic bugout scenario. SHTF. Sound farfetched? Maybe, if you’re thinking about the zombie apocalypse or invaders from Mars. But what about a natural disaster, a man-made disaster, or large scale loss of civil structure? All of these things have happened on various scales in the past, and all will almost certainly happen again… on some scale. You have room for only one handgun and some ammo. What do you take?
I am presenting this list in countdown order, so we’re going to start from the bottom. With one exception, they are all 9mm’s. While you might beat your chest about how that .357 magnum or 10mm is far superior, good luck finding ammo. I want the odds of any ammo I find fitting my gun to be high, and with 9mm they will be. And I love .45 ACP as much as anyone, but it’s heavy and bulky in addition to less available. Simple cost/benefit decision. No, for survival in the unknown it needs to be 9mm.
Elite military and law enforcement proven reliability. Personal experience – I can’t make one jam. With standard 15 round magazines for the 9mm, it is has adequate capacity. This gun will serve you day and night without fail. So why in the world is it sitting at the bottom of the list at #5? Mainly because of its complexity. The SIG has numerous controls that unfamiliar shooters might struggle with. And if you need to perform any maintenance beyond a field-strip, you’re in deep trouble. So, the P226 might be the most beautiful lady on the list, but she’s high maintenance.
This is the only gun on the list that is not a 9mm. I gave in to my own desire to have something more potent in the mix, and .40 S&W is popular enough with civilians and LE alike that there should be ammo supply. Why the XD-40 over many other good options? Federal LE and others have begun to note that the Glocks chambered in .40, particularly the G23, show accelerated wear and tear from the pressures of the round. The size of the XD-40 puts it very close to the G23 even though it carries one round less, but it has always felt more substantial to me. It’s a natural shooter, handles the recoil very well, and has minimal external controls. It is also a dependable duty-proven design. If I’m packing a .40 S&W it’s going to be the XD-40.
The modern M&P line is well proven as a duty gun, and is hugely popular in the civilian market. The ergonomics, minimal controls, and excellent reliability make this pistol a great choice for a bug-out handgun. Add the bonus of ambidextrous slide-stop control (and reversible mag catch) and thin feeling grip, and you have a flat shooting pistol that most anyone can handle well. Because remember – unless you’re bugging out alone, you may have others in the family or group that will need to be able to use this gun if the wolf comes to the door. I’m talking full-sized with a standard 17 round magazine and 4 ¼” barrel. There is a good chance of finding parts in the wild – the M&P 9 will get it done.
*Caveat: I am referring to the M&P without an external manual safety and without the magazine disconnect safety. Add either of those, and this gun comes off the list.
Hugely popular is not always a guarantee of quality, but in the case of the Glock 19 it certainly is. The G19 is the quintessential carry pistol and the one by which all others are still judged. With a combination of a 15 round magazine, thin and light frame, simplicity and reliability – the G19 rightfully earned its spot as the go/no-go gauge for concealed handguns. The drawbacks to the G19 as a sole survival gun though, are some of those very qualities. Smaller and lighter means a little bit more recoil, and if other family members need to “take the watch”, it might be more intimidating for them. Less capacity with standard magazines is also a consideration. Spare parts should be available in the wild, given the number of G19’s out there, and it’s a Glock – which means simple controls and easy maintenance. This gun was nearly in a tie with the #1 choice, but a decision had to be made…
There are a lot of handguns that are prettier, ones that chamber more powerful rounds, and models that bear brand names you might like better. But the Glock 17 is the best choice, and here’s why: It’s durable and reliable. The Glock 17 is the AK-47 of handguns. In unknown conditions for extended time, I want a gun that will run no matter what. It is also the single most popular (and therefore most plentiful) handgun ever made. This means that there will be lots more of them out there for parts, extra magazines, holsters, you name it. Whether Gen4 or previous, you should be able to scrounge parts. You can disassemble the entire gun with just a paperclip. Simplicity – there are two controls on a Glock, the slide stop and the trigger. Unless you’ve been on another planet you know what each does and where it is. Anyone in “the group” that needs to use it will be able to. Why did the G17 edge out the G19, you ask? Mostly because of the spare parts consideration, but also because the slightly longer barrel will give you a wee bit more velocity and energy and a longer sight radius. You might need to hunt small game with your handgun and the size and capacity advantages of the G17 are worth its slightly larger size. I don’t think deep concealment is going to be the biggest consideration in a survival situation, and the Glock 17 can still be tucked away pretty well.