Survival Carbines

In the comments section on my Homeland Defense Rifle topic the subject of pistol caliber carbines was broached by a fearless reader. I have always held a soft spot in my heart for pistol caliber carbines, despite the fact that I know that a rifle is almost always a better weapon. Be that as it may, I have below a breakdown of the carbines I would take, in the order I would take them if the SHTF. Same as the last list, I’ve broken them out by action type.

One of the biggest reasons to take a pistol caliber carbine instead of a full on rifle is that you can pack one kind of ammo for both your weapons. Even though the pistol rounds from a rifle are less powerful than a true rifle round, it’s generally easier to make accurate shots with a rifle than with a pistol.


  • Ruger PC9 – Ruger’s excellent carbine chambered in 9mm. This rifle is fed using the same magazines from the standard Ruger P-series pistols, which gives you the additional advantage of only having to pack one kind of magazine in addition to one type of ammo. I owned one of these for a while (and foolishly sold it for a song), and I loved it. Big, ugly, and tough as hell; one of the best points of the Ruger is that I felt like if I needed to, I could beat a yak to death with it.
  • Kel-Tec Sub2000 – Kel-tec’s 9mm carbine gets excellent points for a couple of note-worthy features. First off, it folds in half which allows for much easier storage. I can vouch for the fact that when folded, it will fit nicely into my backpack. Additionally, it comes in three different models, one of which takes Glock magazines, another takes Beretta 92 magazines. If a Glock is your Go-To gun, and you’re looking for a pistol carbine, look no further. My only complaint about the Kel-Tec was that it didn’t heft as well as the Ruger, it just seemed a little light in the ass.
  • Hi Point Carbine – These things get rave reviews from almost anyone that actually shoots them. It shoots well, handles well, and doesn’t seem to FTF. The reason why it’s third on the list is because it doesn’t share magazines with anything other than Hi-Point pistols. That is pretty much the only strike against the Hi Point carbine.

Bolt Action

Uh…off the top of my head, I can only think of one bolt action pistol caliber carbine, which is the 9mm Largo Destroyer Carbine. While I love the name and the cartridge, it’s not really practical in my opinion. 9mm Largo isn’t easy to come by, and unless you happen upon a stash of Spanish ammo somewhere you’ll probably just end up with a shitty club.

My deep love for bolt actions wishes that someone would make a 10mm or .45 ACP fixed magazine carbine with an 16 inch tube that can be loaded via stripper clips or single rounds, with nice ghost ring sights on it. I don’t know what I’d use it for, but I’d buy two.


Oh yeah. This is where it gets fun. Since I believe that revolvers are the ultimate survival pistols (for reasons which I’ll enumerate in a later post), this is where the game is at for carbines.

  • The Marlin Cowboy rifle – This would be my first and basically only choice in this category. You can get it chambered for whichever caliber you like, be it .45 Colt (my favorite), .357 Magnum (my 2nd favorite), or .44 Magnum. Plus, lever rifles have the advantage of being able to be topped off in mid firing. You shoot 7 times, there’s a lull in the action, you can plop 3 more rounds into the magazine to bring you back up to full capacity without having to swap removable magazines.

Honestly, with lever guns the biggest debate is what caliber to take. Personally, I’d take a .357 Magnum, since it gives you the ability to shoot the magnums as well as .38 Special. Plus, it pairs oh-so-nicely with my GP100. My 2nd choice would be my favorite cartridge, the .45 Colt. I’ve got a couple of guns chambered for this round, and a matching carbine would go quite nicely. The biggest concern would be the fact that ammo is relatively heavy for this chambering, which limits the amount that you can carry.


I didn’t include single shot rifles on the Homeland Defense Rifle post mainly because they would face serious limitations in the tactical aspect. Survival situations on the other hand are where single shot rifles can truly shine. H&R makes two different rifles chambered for .45 Colt, one of which will also accept .410 shotgun rounds. I’d recommend the latter, since it gives you the ability to carry a shotgun without packing a second gun.

The drawbacks to a single shot carbine in a survival situation are pretty obvious, namely a slow rate of fire, no magazine for cartridge storage, increased recoil due to lighter weight, etc.
However, they do some have advantages. While the lighter weight does increase recoil, with .45 Colt rounds it’s not going to matter. The lack of an immediate follow up shot forces you to make your first shot count, which in a SHTF situation helps conserve your precious ammo supply. I would not feel at all underarmed packing a Ruger Blackhawk and an H&R .45 Colt rifle.

As I said in the thread on Homeland Defense Rifles, if you do choose a single shot as your go-to gun, make sure you practice the manual of arms regularly. Personally, I’d buy a bunch of snap caps in whatever caliber you have and practice reload drills until I could do it in the dark while blindfolded. But then again, my wife says I’m paranoid. Your actual mileage may vary.


  1. I like the fact that you are reasoning things out and explaining your logic. I disagree to some point with your logic but at least you are thinking about it.

    “A pistol is something you use to fight your way back to your gun.” –Clint Smith…director of Thunder Ranch shooting academy

    I personally think that having the same ammo for both pistol and rifle is less important than having the best of each for their purpose. To gain the advantage of a single ammo type, you give up a significant amount of capability in your rifle choice. While it is true that most engagements occur at short range, rifle cartridges work at short range too; whereas, on those rare occasions when you need to reach out and touch someone, a pistol caliber carbine would be a liability.

    My homeland defense weapon of choice is the AK/SKS. They are simple, reliable, accurate enough and powerful enough out to about 300 yards. I can’t see much farther than that anyway any more. In a SHTF situation, I would primarily concern myself with rifle ammo. I would carry a couple or four extra mags for my sidearm (.45acp) but primarily I would be worried about having as much rifle ammo as I could comfortably carry. The rifle is the primary weapon, the sidearm is basically a last ditch or short term weapon.

    The basic point is: if I get to the time when I need to be able to use my pistol mags in my rifle, I’m in pretty deep caca already. I hope that having a more effective rifle would prevent me from NEEDING to use my pistol ammo.

    Not saying that you’re wrong…only that our philosophies differ.

  2. Thanks a lot for introducing me to a whole new class of firearms. My credit card had just about stopped smoking from my last purchase and now I’m back to square one. I can hear that Marlin calling my name. I guess I’ll just have to suck it up like JW and head out to the nearest gun store.

  3. I definitely see what you’re getting at, SC.

    In a SHTF situation, if I was armed with a carbine and a pistol, but I had a friend with a rifle, I would certainly welcome his company. Oddly enough, I had that quote from Clint in my mind while I was writing this post and the one regarding the Homeland Defense Rifle.

  4. In a SHTF situation, if I was armed with a carbine and a pistol, but I had a friend with a rifle, I would certainly welcome his company.

    Now you’re talkin’. IMHO in a true SHTF situation, a group of well armed, prepared, survival minded individuals in an easy to defend location would have a much better chance of survival than a bunch of individuals or families looking out for themselves.

    I really liked the fact that, during Katrina and her aftermath, some of the neighborhoods in New Orleans banded together for mutual protection and, according to the reports I read, mounted an effective defense. Kind of a neighborhood watch on steriods. Or perhaps the “militia” that our forefathers had in mind?

    In any case, a good diversity of weapons, although a liablity in terms of standardization of ammo, is a good thing in small unit tactics. Everyone and every arm has their role.

    I just had a thought. I’ll ponder it and if I blog it, I’ll shoot you a line to get your input.

  5. I agree with sailorcurt, a rifle is a rifle and a pistol is a pistol. For me that is an AR15. Good range, decent penatration, and I am really familar with the system. For others it is the AK/SKS, which also a great mid range rifle. Also, a good battle rifle is in the planning. That would be something in .30 calibler, like .308,.303. or 7.62mm. Bolt and semi are both good to go.

  6. I certainly wouldn’t be crying if I just had to take a rifle instead of a carbine with me.

    Like I said in my post about Homeland Defense Rifles, I certainly would not object to carrying an AR15, an AK47 or an SMLE mkIV.

    Of course, I think we can all agree than even a .22 LR is better than the guy next door whose defense consists of a pocket full of rocks.

  7. The only advantage of pistol caliber carbines is that they suppress better. I’m nearly done (waiting on my form 4 for the last part) working on my answer to the “scout rifle” concept. This project is an AR15 grease gun lower with an integrally suppressed 45 acp upper and a 4x scope.

    The current scout rifle concept seems to be a jack of all trades with no real mission in mind. Its biggest sin, IMO is that all of its features work against one another. It takes a powerful cartridge and shortens the barrel to the point that it is barely a 300 yard cartridge. It’s super loud, but not capable of putting up a fight against any adversaries that hear it and decide to come looking for you. It can strike a decisive blow at 100+ yards against a single target. Any more than that and you get mowed down.

    IMO, an ideal SHTF firearm should give one the ability to strike decisively out to 100-150 yards without attracting attention. It must be semiautomatic and magazine fed in case you run into more than one person up close. It must be heavily suppressed so that unless you choose to attack them you essentially do not exist.

    But you can’t run around like rambo with a gun like this. The idea during SHTF is that calories will be scarce and moving about will be risky. You position yourself inconspicuously and mostly stay put. You can harvest local food animals without drawing the attention of other humans and you can defeat potential human adversaries without having to reveal your position or even your presence.

  8. One of the things that I really like about this concept is that it’s gotten people talking.

    Not everyone’s going to agree, but I wouldn’t want that anyway.

    I honestly never thought of the suppression angle when it comes to the pistol caliber carbines out there.

    Now, I will make a definite statement of my opinion here. If I knew that I was headed for a gunfight, and my choices were an MP5 or an M1 Garand, I would pick the Garand every single time.

    You know, that gives me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Pros & cons of a carbine vs. a rifle in a SHTF scenario.

  9. Hi Point Carbine – These things get rave reviews from almost anyone that actually shoots them. It shoots well, handles well, and doesn’t seem to FTF. The reason why it’s third on the list is because it doesn’t share magazines with anything other than Hi-Point pistols. That is pretty much the only strike against the Hi Point carbine.

    I have one of these too, and it does shoot well, and is reliable. There are a few parts that really need to be made of stronger steel, but as long as you keep an eye on them, it’s a reliable gun. It wouldn’t be my first choice for self-defense or SHTF situations, but it you don’t have a lot of money to spend you could do a lot worse.

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