The first gun the survivor should get is a good rifle.  Most survival experts recommend military and para-military semi-automatic rifles as the epitome of versatility.  The governments of the world have spent millions of dollars developing rifles that can operate under extreme harsh conditions and still deliver good performance.  That is why I generally recommend military rifles for survival when you have a choice. 

If you set aside specific collector's models, decent surplus and rebuilt military rifles are cheaper than ever compared to what they were in 1985 dollars during the heyday of the survivalist movement.  As long as you stay with common models, you can equip pretty well on a reasonable budget.  High grade current issue military equipment is always going to be costly, but they generally hold their value well and they are not threatened with obsolescence the way electronic equipment is.  

Older surplus military bolt action rifles are useful as extras or low budget stash guns as they are reasonably accurate, tough and cheap enough to be almost expendable. They are simple to operate and can be legally purchased in most of the western hemisphere with a minimum of fuss but don't count on one to be your only rifle. Consider it to be a last ditch choice or short term substitute until something better comes along.  It is common for survivors to keep theses types of guns stashed in vehicles. Many cost less than a decent jacket and it is more convenient to just leave one in a vehicle all the time than to carry it into the house or retreat every time you come in or go out.  Quality and condition are a mixed bag with these.  I have had good luck with a few.  Note that these rifles commonly take ammunition that is harder to obtain through regular channels.  Sometimes, when it is available, the best thing to do is buy it by the case.  Check the price and availability of ammo before you buy a surplus rifle. 

Lever action carbines were fine for settlers in the old west when hunting was the main use of a firearm and the bandits of the day were equally armed, but these days your chances of needing a rifle for defense are about equal to your needing it to gather food.  The bandits of today are likely to be well armed, and as always, willing to you harm. Some companies have offered custom "tactical" versions of classic lever guns that are intended for people who cannot otherwise acquire or use semi auto rifles.  I can't say they are bad guns, but I have never met anybody who has ever won a gunfight with one either.  On the other hand, they may be a survivor's best legal choice within the law.  Given this, you may have to look at one as an option. 

The lever action rifle can be a tolerable option for the survivor with serious legal considerations and the need for a compact lightweight rifle.  I highly recommend getting .44 magnum if you are going this route.  The traditional .30-30 cartridge is not particularly cheap, accurate or easily available and I do not recommend it for much of anything.  The .357 is too weak in a rifle and other proprietary lever gun or cowboy caliber ammo may be hard to come by.   The .44 magnum had plenty of power when fired from even a 16 in barreled rifle like the "Trapper" rifle pictured above.  Marlin and Rossi lever gun in this caliber tend to be good performers also.   With nine shots in the magazine and one in the chamber, this rifle can spell the difference at 150 yards or less.  One advantage to the side loaded tubular magazine is that you can top it off as you pause between strings of two or three shots.  Most people who use box magazine fed guns usually wait until the magazines are empty or nearly empty to reload.   An efficient lever gun operator can keep it fully loaded while maintaining a respectable volume of fire.   The key here is skill, it will take considerably more skill and practice to handle this rifle efficiently than it does a semi-automatic. 

Lever guns are halfway decent for most purposes.  The average "pistol caliber" lever gun is very lightweight, legal for most people to own in most places and delivers more accuracy and power than a handgun in the same caliber.   Like revolvers in the same chamberings, the lever gun will function with shorter versions of the same caliber. For example, the .44 mag will work with .44 special and the .357 mag will work with .38 special.  In many cases, a compact lever gun can store in less space than an assault rifle with a folding stock.  Better yet, rifles are not considered to be concealable weapons in most states, so a basic short barreled lever gun kept in a vehicle should not usually provoke the wrath of the law.  There are far more toy lever action rifles and BB guns than the real thing in public circulation.   Many people have seen my lever rifles and assumed that they were not real firearms.  Also, from an image standpoint in scenario one or two situations, the lever action rifle may be less of a liability if a shooting incident ever gets to court.   They will put less lead down range than a semi-auto, but they are a decent choice a moderate ranges against enemies armed with handguns.  Folks living in cities with strict anti-gun ordinances may want to opt for such a rifle.  I also recommend such a rifle to younger survivors who cannot legally possess a handgun.   A short barreled lever gun with a sawed off stock (overall gun must be over the legal limit) can be almost as handy as a handgun and will usually cost less.  You can enhance portability with a takedown model, although the stock of the Winchester is fairly easy to remove for transport.  This is an important consideration for those who travel by plane.  Long gun cases can attract the wrong kind of attention at airports. 

In many long term social breakdown or disaster scenarios, game animal populations will be seriously depleted by people who do not have access to stored food, thus hunting may not be a realistic option anyway. In personal survival lifestyle scenarios, the semiautomatic rifles can be outfitted for legal hunting with little modification (usually a reduced capacity magazine).  Manual action rifles are fine for hunting and can be a good option for the survivor who wishes to simplify ammo supplies by using the same ammo in rifles and handguns.  Most of the more powerful rifles on the market have manual, rather than semi-automatic, actions.  Thus, if high power is important to you, these make a better choice.  I know some folks from Alaska who swear by the .444 Marlin for defense against hungry bears. 

Repeating rifles fare well in some combat style target shooting scenarios, but this is mainly because the targets neither move nor shoot back.  Manually operated repeating rifles (pump, lever or bolt action) should only be the survivor’s second choice for combat if something better is not available.  In scenario three or higher situations, you can use this type of rifle to obtain a better one - as was the case for many Croats during their war for independence from Serb dominated Yugoslavia.  Most Croat men owned a sporting rifle - usually a modified Mauser bolt action. The Croat militias had only limited access to military style arms, but they were able to storm Serb held arms depots with good tactics and sporting guns. Bosnian militias, on the other hand relied almost entirely on smuggled, donated and captured military weapons.  Most Bosnians did not own guns at the outset of the war, although their determination to be independent was stronger than that of the Croats.  They were mauled badly in the early parts of their war for independence and only survived with the help of outside intervention.  

Some people favor lightweight repeating bolt action rifles with fast aiming pistol scopes mounted on the barrel. These are commonly referred to as scout rifles.  The original concept is credited to the old gun sage Jeff Cooper.  Scout rifles guns offer about the same firepower and versatility as a lever action rifle but some trade off giving up a little firepower for longer range.  The advantage of these rifles is their light weight and low ammo consumption.  They make a good second string choice when an assault style rifle is not available.  The scout rifle concept has an advantage where the survivor must travel light and has other weapons at his or her disposal. A metropolitan apartment dweller may have little use for a rifle capable of reaching beyond 200 yards.  The big city survivor may be faced with the possibility of evacuating on foot, so in this case it could make sense to limit the rifle to a lightweight portable repeater like the scout rifle and rely on a good handgun for close range protection. 

I expect more scout type rifles to enter the civilian market as semi-auto rifles become unavailable, contraband, or priced out of the range of most buyers.  Eventually, some makers will be coming out with ways to make the rifle more compact for storage.  While folding stocks are almost unheard of on bolt action rifles, most can be modified so that the barrel section can be easily removed.  Since the scope is mounted on the barrel of the scout rifle, this will not badly affect accuracy the same as it would on a standard hunting rifle with the scope mounted on the receiver.  As it is, takedown conversions are costly, but the market for this custom work is becoming more competitive. 

Shooting gurus are quick to assert that manually operated rifles (as opposed to semi-automatic) perform better in the hands of an expert than semi-auto in the hands of an average shooter. Of course, these people are also usually connected to the commercial enterprises that provide expert levels of training. This level of expertise is costly in terms of both time and money to attain. Once it is attained, it must be maintained through constant training and fine tuning. This means a greater, not lesser, portion of your life must be devoted to firearms and shooting. If you are into it, fine, otherwise, basic familiarization and training with a good semi-auto rifle and annual re-familiarization should be adequate.  Most people can get up to speed with a semi-auto rifle in just a few weekends of training.  

The near future may show more and better alternatives to the traditional semi-auto rifle for many different survival scenarios. Advancements in materials and manufacturing methods could bring very lightweight compact rifles to the market that are both powerful and have light recoil. Short stroke pump or lever actions may also provide decent firepower in a legal configuration.  Unfortunately, some recent designs fall short of the mark.  

One alteration that is becoming increasingly popular and in many cases, necessary, is the camouflaging of the rifle.  Long the practice in the UK, camouflage on the rifle not only helps a survivor avoid being seen, it makes the weapon hard to identify at a distance.  This is especially true with assault rifles, which are traditionally black in color and easily identified at a distance.  The modified L1A1 in this picture is shown against a neutral background for illustration, but against a normal wooded backdrop or laying in the grass, it is hard to spot, let alone identify.  Using a more or less standard woodland pattern also makes the rifle harder to spot when you are holding one while wearing camouflage clothing and carrying other woodland camouflaged equipment.   Normal camouflage spray paint is available at most hardware stores and is durable enough for your purposes.  Again, this is for your survival guns, not a pristine collector's piece.  Do not forget to paint at least a few of the magazines you plan on using with the rifle.  Click on this link to learn how to camouflage your guns.  

Another factor to consider is that most combat shooting and survival hunting is done at night. It is good to have some sort of flash hider, if feasible, and some sort if illuminated sight system.  Do something to make the rifle a viable weapon at night. Options include tritium sights, scopes with battery operated illuminated reticules, lasers, and electronic night vision scopes. Newer generation holographic reticule scopes will probably prove better than their dot only predecessors.  On the low end will be a tritium front sight. On the high end a night vision scope.  Most night use optics tend to have a limited service life and or shelf life.   Flashlights and dedicated weapon lights are becoming fashionable among combat arms professionals and law enforcement.   This has evolved from taping a D cell maglite onto M16 handguards to dedicated weapon lights topping $600.   The more advanced (and costly) models from sure-fire put out as much or more light than a car headlight.  

Flashlights and dedicated weapon mount lights can help with night shooting.  These are illegal for most hunting, but are legal for most self-defense uses.  Flashlights made to be mounted on weapons tend to be costly, but they are durable and dependable.  Most of the higher quality units, like the Sure-Fire and Tac-Star, use powerful compact camera batteries.   These batteries are costly to replace, but newer rechargeable models are emerging on the market.   Flashlights mounted on guns can be a fairly important item since it is often critically important to determine friend from foe in a night time gunfight or potentially hostile situation.  I personally would rather risk revealing my position than risk shooting the wrong person by taking blind shots in the dark.  Even the best night vision equipment is not that good for clear identification because it only offers a monochrome image.  One should exercise caution when in hunting areas with a flashlight mounted on a gun.  Hunting at night is illegal in most places and game wardens often consider possession of a gun mounted with a flashlight to be evidence of poaching.  Since this is a critical safety issue for people intending to protect rural homesteads of campsites at night, it may be worthwhile to argue your case (in court if necessary) if a game warden attempts to take issue with your defense gun. 

Electronic night vision scopes have a limited service life meaning that internal electronics eventually wear out after being on for about 10,000 hours. Granted, you may never use the scope that much, but it is a factor to look at.   Most of the night vision scopes on the market cost between $600 and $1200 but better specimens like the one to the right can run several thousand, with certain 'liberated' military units running under $1,000.  Reconditioned surplus models can be had as low as $2,000 but are usually more money.   One advantage of the cheaper, usually Russian, scopes is that they can more easily be adapted to a variety of weapon mounts.  High grade night vision scopes can cost up to $3500 when new.  Like other electronic devices, they do not hold their value as well as the firearms themselves, but the technology tends to have a fairly long service life.  The PVS4 shown here dates to the early 1980's and has only recently been eclipsed by newer scopes that are more compact and adaptable to a wider variety of weapons.   

Tritium night sights are the cheapest viable night sighting option at around $30 to $80 per set. The radioactive glow of the tritium element gets dull after about seven years and is about useless after ten years regardless of use.  Some expert talk about tritium sights like they are the best thing in the world since they do not need batteries.  Sure, ten years seems a long way off when you are buying the gun, but what if it was in storage for a year before ever being shipped to the dealer? Then ad a few months on the dealer's shelf.  What really galls me is how they charge extra for tritium sights on police surplus handguns that are usually at least five years old, if not older. I personally have not seen a set I really like.  In fact, it think they stink.  Maybe my opinion will change after getting a better set.  But I still do not like having a gunsmithed in part of a gun that has a built in expiration date. 

Comp M & Comp ML Red dot point style scopes are a decent option. They last about forever and battery life is good with them.  I have had batteries last longer in an Aim point type scope than a set of tritium sights.  The batteries are relatively cheap and it is easy to keep spares. The down side is that you usually get no magnification with a red dot sight and precision shooting suffers even though it makes the rifle no less accurate. Red dot scopes can be used in daylight hours while electronic night vision scopes are about useless in the daytime.  My only complaint about them is that you do not get very good image clarity when looking through the scope.  The lenses are usually plastic (lightweight, low cost), set in a prism like configuration, and they scratch easily.  More costly models do tend to offer better image clarity.  I have been impressed with the Bushnell holosight which uses a laser to illuminate a reticule that shows on a single glass lens.  This type of scope is compatible with night vision goggles and the combination is unbeatable at short ranges. 

Regardless of how you go with it - Absolutely positively outfit your rifle to operate at night, even if it just means putting glow paint on the front sight.  Expect night time shooting to be at closer ranges than during the day, typically under a hundred yards.   Target identification is very important in night shooting.  Most military training accidents and friendly fire incidents happen at night when the shooters are unsure of the identity and location of their targets.   Only lights and night vision sights will aid in nighttime target identification.  Tritium sights, "dot" sights and lasers will not.  

This rifle has a flashlight and a laser mounted on it in order to enhance night operation.  Although the laser can be mounted on the RIS, the best place to mount a laser is on a rigid mount directly above the barrel.   The flashlight is a fairly powerful 9 volt model that assures good target identification and will silhouette the sights well in low light.  It is attached with standard scope rings and is easily removed.  Target identification is extremely important in any night time shooting scenario - even for training.  The pistol grip is a quick-detach type that can be easily attached or removed for operator comfort.  The RIS is definitely good gear, but it carries a hefty price tag, usually over $300.   One advantage is that the operator can use relatively cheap scope rings to mount items to the RIS rather than costly proprietary mounting systems like the Sure-fire forearms.  Other items that fit this system, like thermal scanners and laser range finders may prove affordable and practical for survivors in the future.  

So now you have an Idea what the picture should look like. In short, the rifle should ideally be semi-automatic, of a common military caliber, and should ideally take a detachable magazine. The survivalist is encouraged to optimize the rifle's versatility by adding accessories that enable the rifle to be used in a wide variety of tasks. Do not be afraid to make some modifications if you think that they will enhance the utility of the gun. Resale value should take a back seat to versatility and utility. The availability of spare detachable magazines should be a significant factor in choosing a rifle or semi-automatic handgun as one would expect to have several on hand to be used with the gun. Spare magazines can be the weak link in a semi-automatic rifle based arsenal because magazines can be lost or damaged. Remember, the rifle is often considered the survivalist's first weapon. It will usually be the most often used gun of the bunch in a serious survival scenario. The availability of ammunition is very important. Most survivors prepare by buying guns in military calibers in order to take advantage of bulk pricing that is commonly available on military surplus ammunition. This popularity of military calibers has even spawned a strong industry of ammunition manufacturers and importers for the civilian market. The most desirable and common military rifle calibers fall into two main groups, Medium and large.

A few words on the most popular semi-auto rifles. 

Medium powered rifles are the U.S. .30 carbine and 5.56mm (also known as .223 Remington), and Soviet 7.62X39mm which is used by the SKS and most AK-47 variants. Semi auto and full auto rifles that take a large capacity detachable magazine are commonly known as "assault rifles" although much argument surrounds the legal definition. Most assault rifles are military in origin, although many have been modified through "delete" options for civilian sale. This usually means elimination of the full auto capability and other modifications mandated by government gun control laws. Almost all of these mandated modifications are aimed a limiting the rifle’s utility as a combat weapon.

Assault rifles tend to be lighter in weight and less costly than battle rifles but their lack of power at longer ranges is a limiting factor for some uses. The most common rifles can be modified with an almost infinite range of accessories. I most highly recommend the AR-15 (in 5.56mm) pattern rifles because of the easy availability of spare parts, magazines and cheap ammo. Most AR-15 type rifles are no longer made by Colt, the traditional maker of military contract M16 rifles and AR-15 civilian rifles. The quality of the other manufacturers varies from gun to gun, but the non-Colt guns tend to be more interchangeable in parts.  This means that one Olympic Arms gun may be perfect and another identical gun may have lots of problems.  The Colt guns are not always the best, but they have consistent quality. These moderate powered rifles are not particularly effective against armored vehicles or aircraft. They are somewhat effective against light skinned civilian type vehicles.

Spare parts and knowledgeable gunsmiths are common and plentiful when it comes to rifles like the AR-15 and its clones.  A nearly infinite number of configurations are available. The Semi-auto version is probably the most popular civilian and law enforcement assault type rifle in the US and Canada.   They are characterized by good reliability and accuracy at moderate cost.  Priced higher than the AK series and Mini-14 but less than most European imports, the AR is commonly a status symbol among patriotic shooters.  Most were traded around in the 1980's for around $500 but now can range as high as $3,000.  Most models scrape in under a grand on the commercial market with cheaper parts bin kit guns still going for $500.  While the guns are available in several calibers, the .223 (5.56 mm Nato) is the most common and recommended.  Spare magazines, parts and accessories tend to be plentiful and cheap on the US market compared to other rifles. 

The HK93 is a derivative of the G3/HK91 rifle.  It had some popularity in the 1980s as a fashionable weapon for well funded police departments and survivalists.  Actually lacking a lot of features of the AR15, like automatic bolt hold open, gunsmith friendly barrel replacement and cheap, readily available magazines, the HK made up for it with legendary accuracy and reliability.   The semi-modular design was also popular among those who liked to convert the guns to select fire.   The most common and popular modifications did not require alteration of the receiver itself, so although costing considerably more than the AR-15 conversions, the key HK conversion parts could be switched from gun to gun fairly easily.   This means both registered and unregistered conversion parts have circulated on the market in parallel to the guns, but the guns themselves tend to be vastly overpriced in relation to their performance.   Being heavy because it is made almost entirely from steel, the gun is steady on full auto fire.  The availability of a true telescoping stock, as opposed to the adjustable model of the CAR-15 series made this rifle a little more desirable for people who valued compactness over light weight.    Genuine HK accessories are plentiful, but very costly.  One alternative is to upgrade to a rail interface handguard that allows for use of more standardized rail compatible accessories.  

The Old M1 Carbine was a favorite for survivalists in the 1960's and 1970's.  Many were purchased by mail order but they were never really that cheap.  Trading for more than a week's union wage, the carbine found its way in to a lot of homes in the turmoil of the late 1960s.  It was favored by Malcolm X and the KKK.   It has more power than a 9mm but less than most other rifles.  The gun lost popularity in the late 1980's at the height of the assault rifle boom and the market was flooded with Israeli surplus guns retailing as low as $159.  Full auto and select fire models sometimes surface in the market and conversions are available.  The drawback is that high capacity 30 shot magazines are not as reliable as the 15 shot military surplus mags.  The carbine is less powerful than other rifles in its class, but it is more powerful than 9mm.  

We have seen skyrocketing popularity of the SKS rifles and there is a never ending secondary market of spare parts and service to serve the millions of SKS owners worldwide.  This was an immensely popular gun in the early 1990's.  Prices hung around $125 for a decent Chinese model.   They quickly gained a reputation as the "Saturday Night Special of assault rifles".  Cheap, accurate and reliable.  The SKS is not the best of anything, but it is fairly decent for almost everything. Out of the box, the SKS is a little more accurate than the AK but not quite as durable.  It is still more durable than the mini-14 and has light recoil like the AR-15.

The AK-47 and its variants are so durable that they rarely need any serious repairs (although some spare parts should be available to replace parts that can be lost during routine field maintenance). As the legal availability of these weapons begins to decline, one may expect black market availability of to rise. The world market supply remains very high and very cheap.  Nearly all black market models are military select fire and intended for full auto use.  Be careful with full auto in one of these; they overheat easily outside their natural near arctic habitat.  This is a rifle that will be around in one form or another for the next few hundred years. Click here for a link to the savvysurvivor AK pages. 

AK variants are very popular but some are better performers than others. Accuracy varies from gun to gun and manufacturer to manufacturer. Watch out for some of the newer European models that will not accept the high capacity magazines. The Chinese rifles tend to be of lower quality than most of the East European rifles but they are more compatible with most of the spare parts and accessories on the market. Egyptian rifles are roughly finished but they are made from better materials than the others and will last longer, which makes up for the fact they will not accept many of the spare parts that are on the market. Most of the semi-auto AK type rifles on the market can be converted to select fire with varying degrees of difficulty with the Chinese being the easiest and Russian Siaga being the most difficult.  

On the world market, the AK is cheap, reliable, deadly, and available.  Street price of a used AK in some parts of the world is less than $50.  Even in "gun free" western Europe, a deserter from the Russian Army will gladly take $200 for his rifle.  Deserters from various rag-tag African militias will sell an AK for $5.  Given the sheer number of AK type rifles built and distributed over the last 50 years, it is important to at least be able to handle one since it will probably be the most readily available military rifle you can get outside the US and Canada. 

The Ruger Mini-14 is worth mentioning as a viable gun but it is not necessarily the most durable of the bunch.  But good looks, light weight, moderate cost, ease of handling and the availability of accessories keep it strong on the market. Some versions of the Mini-14 are made of stainless steel which is great for long storage with little maintenance; especially in places where other guns may rust away without attention. The down side of the Mini-14 is that the barrels can wear out quickly under heavy use and they are very difficult to replace. Most spare parts for the Mini-14 are difficult to obtain. Full auto versions tend to wear out quickly and full auto conversions for the Ruger are almost never select fire or very reliable.  I recommend against full auto for the mini-14 whether or not it is a legal issue.  Since the gun's action does not extend into the rear part of the stock, it is a perfect candidate for a folding stock.  The gun even works well with a couple inches of barrel cut off.  

The Ruger company has generally marketed the rifle as a "sporting" rifle and has been overlooked by most legislation aimed at restricting the availability of assault weapons.  While some people do modify the Ruger in ways that make it very much like an assault rifle, none of these modifications deal with the underlying issues that make it less suitable than the AR-15 and clones.  The gun still overheats easily and wears out quickly under hard use and the core functional parts are hard to replace.  I have seen plastic warp and glue melt off of a Mini-14 after two 30 shot magazines of rapid fire. On the plus side, the guns are generally always available and stainless steel versions stand up well to long term storage and neglect under harsh conditions.  That makes the Mini-14 a supreme candidate for a boat stash rifle.  Given a choice, spend the extra $50 and get the stainless version.  Save your money by skipping the ranch model and get a standard, you are giving up the built in scope mount, but are gaining a superior iron sight.  Use B-square (or copy) mount that allows use of the iron sights if you do add a scope later. 

If you decide to get a Mini-14 for your arsenal, don't bother with any more than three or four high capacity magazines.  That is all the gun is good for firing before it needs cooling, cleaning and a rest.  Granted, it still represents more firepower than a manually operated rifle but it is not a true assault rifle, even with extensive modifications, the gun cannot handle high volumes of fire without cooling.  

The common large full power military calibers are 7.62mm NATO (which is largely interchangeable with civilian .308 Winchester) and the less common .30-06 Springfield. Semi-auto rifles chambered for .308 (7.62 NATO) and .30-06 are usually referred to as battle rifles. Some older WWII German and Russian rifles may come available from time to time, as may be a few early cold war European guns. Most of these take ammo in odd calibers that is not in regular production, but there is probably someone somewhere with a large supply of the ammo that they want to get rid of at bargain basement prices. Heavier caliber battle rifles are moderately effective against some low flying aircraft and lighter armored vehicles.

The .308 (7.62 NATO) rifles are more common calibers among battle rifles and have more accessories available for them. I generally lean toward the FAL, M14/M1A and the HK G-3/91 pattern rifles. There are some new AR-15 pattern rifles in this caliber that have been gaining reputations for high quality, although the guns tend to be costly. The .30-06 M1 Garand of W.W.II and Korea is a fine battle rifle that resides in a class of its own. It does not normally take a detachable magazine but uses semi-disposable one piece clips that hold eight shots. Some Garands have been modified with new barrels or chamber inserts to use more common .308 ammunition. Ammunition for battle rifles is more powerful than assault rifles and it is suitable for all species of North American big game, an important consideration if the rifle is likely to double as a hunting tool. Battle rifles almost always have heavier recoil than other kinds of semi-auto rifles.

Depending on market pressures, ammunition for battle rifles, especially .308/7.62 rifles, can cost less than or about the same as assault rifle or handgun ammunition which, incidentally, takes less material to make. This is usually due to the large number of cold war stockpiles of 7.62 NATO ammunition that European governments are willing to sell cheap on the open market. Reloading costs tend to be higher with these rifles than smaller calibers because of the larger requirements for raw materials. These rifles tend to be a bit more versatile because of the wide range of available ammunition and the fact that simple military "ball" ammo is fairly versatile in itself.  Using the more powerful .308 rifle usually means carrying fewer rounds of ammo than with the .223 caliber.  The .308 rifles are also more difficult to fire accurately in rapid fire and very difficult to control in full auto.  The advantage of the higher power round makes the gun more effective at longer range and more likely to damage a target when hit.  While advance .223 bullets are just as effective against personnel, the .308 round is far more effective against large animals, vehicles and armored targets.  It is also less prone to the accuracy degrading effects of wind and light cover, like light vegetation and rain. 

Battle rifles are often modified into sniper rifles by the installation of telescopic sights, high quality barrels, and hand fitted trigger assemblies. Serious shooters tell me that repeated stiff recoil common to rapid firing battle rifles causes internal damage to telescopic sights. This damage is not immediately noticeable, but is manifest in what is known as "wandering zero". This means that internal parts of the scope are knocked from one alignment to another during rapid fire, thus degrading the accuracy of the weapon as a system. This is the same reason that laser sights have had only limited success as precision aiming devices on powerful firearms.

Battle rifles have also been modified by various militaries to fire full automatic and function as squad automatic weapons or light machine guns. These weapons will often have thicker barrels to help aid cooling during extended bursts of fire and heavy bipods to steady the gun while firing. There are a few rifles that have been built and marketed primarily as hunting rifles but still can fit the definition of a basic battle rifle. It has been my experience that these hunting rifles are of high quality but are not quite as durable as rifles that are variants of true military rifles.

 

Questions you need to ask about your survival rifle

Is the rifle accurate enough for YOU to consistently hit a 10 inch pie plate at 100 yards with standard grade ammunition?

If the rifle takes detachable magazines, how much do they cost and are they readily available? (if they are not readily available, you will have to stock up with expected replacements. 

Is the rifle tough enough to do the job but still light enough to carry? 

Does it have accuracy modifications that will make it too fragile for rough use? 

Will it reliably feed and eject through a full magazine without jamming?

Are spare parts available and how much will a basic set of spare parts cost? 

How easy is it to transport the rifle in your vehicle? 

Can you fire it from inside the vehicle? 

Is it a legal model that you can let people know you have or an illegal model that you have to hide? 

Is any component vulnerable to water? 

Does some component have a limited service life? 

What is the replacement or upgrade cost of that component?

Can you effectively use the rifle at night?

Recommended accessories for your rifle, attached or added to the rifle package

Recommended - Sling, six magazines (if military style semi auto), butt stock shell carrier (if it does not take a detachable magazine), illuminated sight of some type, soft case and a hard case, cleaning kit, spare parts including anything under two ounces that is removed during routine maintenance, sight adjustment tool. 

Worth considering - Bipod, brass catcher, muzzle cover (disposable), telescopic sight, laser, quality compact weapon mounted light, muzzle brake, sound suppressor, any unique tools needed for higher level maintenance and repair.  

Don't bother - scope level, overly complex sling, sliding sling mount rail, soft camo zip-on cover, spare magazine holder, fragile target sights, caliber conversion kits, complex adjustable target grips, large flashlight or spotlight, weighted recoil reducers, tear gas launcher. 

Recommended modifications - usually performed by a gunsmith or handy hobbyist

Recommended - Add sling mounts is the rifle does not have them, basic trigger job, basic action tuning, install muzzle device (Flash hider or muzzle brake).

Worth Considering - Barrel fluting (or buy a fluted barrel), Heavy barrel (fluted is better), takedown conversion, select fire conversion, improved quality springs and action tuning. checkering or stipling on grip areas. rubberized grips or stocks, folding stock, camo finish, custom hard metal finish like Metalife, longer or shorter barrel depending on individual requirements. 

Don't bother - Lightweight target trigger, set trigger, metal engraving, bull barrel (the super heavy target type), full auto only conversion, folding bayonet installation. 

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