What is the Best One Gun? (If You Could Only Have One)


If you want to generate a lot of discussions and hear many opinions, ask this question to a group of shooters, hunters, or survivalists. Deciding which is the best one gun to have if you can only have one is a familiar topic. It would be best to have many cold drinks and snacks on hand because this discussion will continue for a while. 

Finding the best one gun if you can only have one requires a lot of compromises and thought. In general, the opinion of most shooters is that if you are limited to one gun, it should be a shotgun. Shotguns are, by design, versatile firearms. A shotgun can be a hunting firearm, a self-defense firearm, or a survival firearm.

For many years a shotgun has been the go-to choice of families who depend on one gun for hunting to provide food and protection from wild animals or other threats. Shotguns do not require the training that many other guns require to become proficient. We’ll discuss how many ways; shotguns are much simpler to use than other types of guns.

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What is the One Gun You Should Own

A shotgun makes the most sense when you can have only one gun. Every other type of firearm will leave you lacking in one area or another. A good shotgun can fulfill various roles no matter if you need to hunt, protect yourself, or find yourself in a survival situation.

Consider the various roles that a shotgun can fill, and you will understand why a shotgun is your best choice in a one-gun situation.

A One-Gun Shotgun Solution for Hunting

If the role your one-gun solution must fill is for hunting, a shotgun is a natural choice. A shotgun can function effectively for hunting game birds, small animals, or larger game animals. With the right choice of ammunition, a shotgun becomes a versatile hunting tool for almost any game category.

Man shotguns are available with interchangeable barrels. Changing a barrel on most shotguns is a quick and easy operation.

  • A longer barrel with the proper choke makes an excellent choice for birds. The same gun is useable for small game such as rabbits and squirrels.
  • Add a slug or rifled barrel, and you have a shotgun that will serve to hunt most larger game animals in the United States.

Can You Use a Shotgun for Self-defense?

A shotgun can also fill the role of self-defense effectively and efficiently. The nature of a shotgun makes it a perfect tool for most people concerned about home and self-defense. Several factors work in favor of a shotgun in a self-defense role.

  • Ease of use– Shotguns are inherently simple to operate. Almost anyone can learn to use a pump or semi-automatic shotgun in short order. Aiming a shotgun at the distances usually involved in a self-defense situation in a home is almost a point-and-shoot affair. The nature of the shot pattern from a shotgun at these ranges almost ensures a hit on a target.
  • Downrange safety– Downrange safety is one great concern with using a firearm for self-defense in your home. Most modern high-power rifles and pistols can easily penetrate multiple walls, furniture, and in some cases, appliances. Penetration issues raise concerns about others in your home or even your neighbors if you need to use a gun for self-defense. Shotguns are much less prone to penetrating walls and other structures, making the downrange safety issues much less.
  • The intimidation factor– Many people say that the scariest sound they have heard is a pump shotgun being charged and cocked when you are in the dark. Anyone facing the muzzle of a 12- gauge shotgun knows the possible outcome if that gun discharges. Often, the sight and sound of a shotgun are enough to stop a potential threat.

In A Survival World, Versatility is the Key

If prepping for a catastrophic event is part of your one-gun scenario, a shotgun makes perfect sense. As we have discussed, the versatility of a shotgun as a hunting tool makes a perfect tool for survival. Additionally, from a self-defense standpoint, a shotgun is an efficient and effective tool.

What is the Best One Gun for Small Game?

If you only hunt small game such as rabbits or squirrels, your gun choice should be the .22 LR rimfire. It offers many advantages. With small game, you probably don’t anticipate making very long-distance shots or needing the power of large caliber rifles. 

The .22 LR rimfire is economical to shoot. Of all the rifle calibers, .22 LR ammunition is probably the least expensive. Keeping the expense of shooting down allows you more opportunities to shoot and practice.

  • A reasonably priced .22 LR rifle can deliver very high accuracy and good reliability. When fitted with a moderately priced rimfire scope, most .22 LR rifles are accurate to more than 150 yards under most conditions. 
  • The low recoil and moderate noise of a .22 LR rifle is a plus when hunting. For the training and education of young hunters, the low recoil and low noise help develop proper habits for accurate results. 

If you can only have one rifle and you aim to hunt small game successfully, you won’t go wrong with a rifle chambered in .22 LR rimfire. The .22 LR is economical, easy to shoot, accurate, and effective on small game animals.

Which Rifle is Best for Upland Game Animals?

If your hunting includes the most popular game animals on the North American continent, you need a larger caliber centerfire rifle. There are hundreds of choices available, and almost all will serve well in this capacity. Narrowing the field down to one gun is challenging because of this variety. The terrain and cover where you hunt affect this decision on one gun as much as any other factor.

Which is the Best One Rifle for Wooded or Brush-Covered Terrain?

Much of the US hunting areas are in wooded or brush-covered terrain that poses some special challenges. Often your quarry is partially obscured by plants and trees that make a clean shot hard to find. In this case, you need a rifle and cartridge with some advantages.

  • If you stalk and hunt in heavy brush, a short rifle that you can easily maneuver around obstacles is essential
  • Your gun must be well balanced and quick to bring to use when your quarry suddenly appears as you stalk.
  • The action on your gun should be fast to enable quick follow-up shoots
  • The cartridge you choose must be heavy enough to punch through leaves and small twigs without being overly deflected.

The best gun for hunting wooded or brush-covered terrain, is a lever-action rifle chambered in 30-30 caliber. This style of rifle has long been popular with hunters. These rifles are quick to bring on target and short enough to handle easily. 

What is the Best One Gun for Long Range Hunting?

If your hunts happen on open areas or over longer distances, you need to consider several factors in choosing a one best gun solution. The game you hunt is another factor to consider. 

  • If you hunt smaller upland game such as antelope or deer in areas where shots over 200 yards are common, you need a rifle with a fast and flat shooting cartridge such as a .243 caliber or a 6.5 Creedmore rifle.
  • Many hunters in the US consistently stalk mountain quarry such as elk or Aoudad sheep. These hunts often involve very long shots across mountain valleys. A larger caliber cartridge is usually the choice. Many hunters opt for a rifle chambered in .308 caliber for these types of hunts.

Many other caliber choices are effective for these kinds of hunts. You should consider recoil, weight, and the size of your target when choosing your one best rifle. If you are considering a larger caliber rifle, we recommend the Remington 700. This well-respected Remington line of rifles is available in a wide range of calibers and configurations to fit into any budget.

The choice of calibers in a hunting rifle, if you can only have one rifle, is .308. This caliber is quite popular and can give you the range and stopping power to take any game animal in North America. A Remington 700 chambered in .308 paired with a good scope can give your ranges over 1000 yards.

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What is the Best One Gun for Self-defense?

Selecting a gun for home defense is often a delicate subject. If you must have one gun in your home for self-defense, the factors for consideration are varied. The options include a pistol, a shotgun, or a rifle. You should look at the pros and cons of each choice before deciding.

Our recommendation for the best one-gun for home defense is a pump shotgun chambered for 12-gauge ammunition. We have discussed the benefits of shotguns for home defense. Shotguns are not expensive, making acquiring a shotgun much easier if you are limited to one gun.

Our recommendation for a home-defense shotgun is the Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun. The Mossberg 500 offers several advantages in addition to its budget price.

  • The Mossberg 500 is a reliable and rugged pump shotgun. In a self-defense situation, the reliability of your firearm is one of the most critical features.
  • You can purchase a Mossberg 500 in a variety of barrel and caliber configurations. Mossberg offers several kits that include a longer barrel for hunting, a short barrel for self-defense, and options for the stock style you prefer.
  • An optional rifled slug barrel adds the capability to hunt with your Mossberg 500 shotgun.

On the downside, many people consider the Mossberg 500 a less than appealing gun design. Many shooters call the Mossberg 500 clunky and ungainly. If your goal is a reliable and rugged shotgun for home defense, looks may be less important than other considerations.

Which Gun Is Best for Preparedness and Survival

Picking a single gun for survival and preparedness purposes presents a whole new set of considerations. There is a range of possibilities that preppers and survivalists look at when choosing a firearm. Add the restriction on having only one gun complicates that process. 

The possible constraints include:

  • What kind of survival preparedness situation is your priority? Are you getting ready for civil insurrection, being lost in the woods on a camping trip, bugging out to a safe location, or a total collapse of civilization?
  • Will you need to hunt to survive, or is your gun mostly for self-defense?
  • How much weight can you manage, and how much ammunition do you anticipate carrying?

There are also considerations about whether to choose a pistol, rifle, or shotgun. Caliber choices also figure into this equation. 

If you can only manage one gun for survival and preparedness situations, a rifle with a large magazine capacity and an easily available caliber makes sense.

One of the most popular rifles among survivalists and preppers is the AR-15. The AR-15, a civilian semi-automatic rifle patterned after the M-16, is a versatile and easily available rifle.

An AR-15 chambered in 556×45 (.223 Remington) makes an excellent hunting rifle suitable for self-defense. The ammunition is relatively light when compared to larger calibers and is readily available. 

The cost of an AR-15 can range from $500 to well over $2,000, depending on the manufacturer and the accessories included with the rifle. You can easily outfit yourself with a quality AR-15 on a modest budget.

Final Shot

Whether your goal is hunting, self-defense, or surviving in the wilderness, there are an endless number of gun choices.

Finding that one gun that fulfills all the requirements for your situation is a huge challenge. Such a decision always boils down to a series of compromises. Compromises always mean giving up some needed features for others. Unfortunately, you can’t fit every priority and need into one compromise. The best you can hope for is a satisfactory solution for most of your needs.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

For more, check out How to Safely Store a Gun for Home Defense | Best Practices.

Jim James

Hey, I'm Jim and the author of this website. I have always been interested in survival, fishing, camping, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!

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