Which guns should I get?
September 24, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

What, or where could I find out, are the most common guns and ergo the most common types of ammunition in the United States?

If I were to procure firearms I'd be curious to know which ones would I have the easiest time finding ammunition for say, in the instance of infrastructure collapse. Or, interchangeably, which guns have ammunition that the price isn't prohibitively expensive. I'd be talking about shotguns, rifles, and handguns.
posted by ZaneJ. to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of stating the incredibly obvious, have you tried going to a gun store and asking the salesman?
posted by randomstriker at 2:00 PM on September 24, 2009

If you want specific info on registered sales, you probably need to go to the ATF. If you want anecdotal info, I'd tell you that the common sidearms are quite probably the most prolific---the 9's, and the .40's in particular.

However, currently in the US, the "most common" calibers and gauges are the ones where people are having the greatest difficulty finding ammo, whereas the less prevalent (but still extremely capable) ammo's are fairly easy to find.

Case in point---good luck finding more than 1 box of 9mm's, but you can buy sardine packs of 7.62 x whatever packs of antique Mosin-Nagant's all day long.

I haven't seen any shortage of ammo's for any shotguns, fwiw.
posted by TomMelee at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2009

One thing that people who shoot a lot do is learn to reload (I think that's what it's called) their bullets so they can save money. Probably a useful skill if the infrastructure were to collapse.
posted by drezdn at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2009

According to this, the most common handgun in the US is the Colt 1911 pistol. It was a .45 and standard military issue, which meant that millions of soldiers were trained with it. Dozens upon dozens of other handguns were designed or retrofitted to accept the .45 due the ready availability of the ammo. Based on this, I believe the most common caliber in the country, at least for handguns, is the .45 ACP.

SPOILER: Side note: in the book The Road, the father carries around a .38 or .22 revolver with only two bullets in it. But at one point, father and son happen across an undisturbed bomb shelter filled with boxes of pristine .45 ACPs, but no guns.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2009

In my estimation, the most common ammo calibers in the US (in bullet diameter order) are:

.22 (very low power caliber)
.40 S&W
.45 ACP

.22 (again, very low power)
.223 Remington / 5.56mm
.308 Winchester

12 ga

Aside from the .22 and the 7.62, these are the rounds that are most commonly used by the US military and law enforcement. As such, they are widely produced and stockpiled by the government. In the event of a continuing infrastructure collapse, this ammunition would likely be the most available.
posted by dbolll at 2:27 PM on September 24, 2009

The ATF's 2007 firearm manufacture & export report:
TO .22  180,216   TO .22 91,963 
TO .25  11,309    TO .32 3,509  
TO .32  43,905    TO .357 MAG 93,320 
TO .380 138,484   TO .38 SPEC 104,498 
TO 9MM  390,380   TO .44 MAG 46,719 
TO .50  452,185   TO .50 51,325 
News articles on the current handgun ammunition shortage - apparently it's hard to buy any ammunition lately due to stockpiling.
posted by GuyZero at 2:46 PM on September 24, 2009

One thing that people who shoot a lot do is learn to reload (I think that's what it's called) their bullets so they can save money. Probably a useful skill if the infrastructure were to collapse.

A reloader still needs to procure primers, brass, bullets, gunpowder, etc. It's not as simple as picking bullets off the ground and shooting them. It's probably better to stockpile ammunition if you're concerned about infrastructure collapse.
posted by meowzilla at 3:24 PM on September 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

If I absolutely had to choose two Zombie Apocalypse calibers, I'd go with 9mm and .223 Remington. I'd prefer .40 S&W over 9mm simply because it's got better knockdown power, but I think 9mm would have the edge in a infrastructure collapse situation.
posted by signalnine at 3:30 PM on September 24, 2009

You know I just asked my brother about this last night (he's a police officer) because I read something about there being an ammunition shortage and I was curious.

I think GuyZero's link probably has it right. If you read that, then apparently revolver ammo is the way to go. According to my brother however, "reloaded" ammo is pure crap unless you really really trust the person, or do it yourself (and therefore trust yourself obviously).

I know crap all about firearms but I've heard from many folks who do know about all that stuff that if you really want to prepare for the apocalypse etc, revolvers or bolt action rifles are the way to go. They have like two or three moving parts as opposed to a semi-automatic and generally use different ammunition? (Feel free to correct anyone)
posted by elendil71 at 3:32 PM on September 24, 2009

The ammunition situation has been interesting the last year. Once it became clear that Obama had a chance of winning the election, ammunition sales skyrocketed. Once he did win there was a huge run on the stores, and it's been going on ever since.

Interpret that however you wish. My opinion is that it's people stocking up out of fear of gun control legislation.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:40 PM on September 24, 2009

Shotguns are better for zombies than pistols!
Also for unskilled hunting, and getting revenooers offen yer damn property.

Aside from the metal primer and powder unit in the back, you can make your own shotgun ammo with a ladle of molten lead, a bucket of water, and some paper. They can also be loaded with nonlethal ammo (the traditional load of rock salt to the backside is quite effective) And being larger than rifle/pistol equivalents, those metal shotgun primer units would be easier to fabricate with limited tools.

Breechloading double-barrel shotguns (the kind that break open in the middle to load by hand) only have a few moving parts, as opposed the the pump-action ones.

Since the explosive load, pressures, and need for accuracy are lower in shotguns, you could conceivably make one out of a board and a piece of pipe. If you did that with a rifle, it would explode in your face.

So if I were choosing a SUSTAINABLE post-apocalypse firearm, I'd go shotgun.

But it seems like your question might be about what ammo you'd most successfully be able to scavenge; to which I defer to the posters above. I'd go with military calibers, as they would seem to be produces in mass quantities for both the military and for recreational shooters, and you'd be more likely to come across a stockpile as opposed to a box of .357 Magnum here and there.
posted by bartleby at 4:02 PM on September 24, 2009

Great answers all. bartleby paraphrased my question a little bit better; what ammo would you be most successful in scavenging. I guess I should trim it down even more; I'd be interesting in guns and ammo that would be used on humans. No zombie apocalypse or anything silly; just other people mostly. I guess in the end a rifle would be the most useful for defense as well as hunting.
posted by ZaneJ. at 4:27 PM on September 24, 2009

Today, the .30-06 is No. 1 in sales among all big-game cartridges with the major ammunition manufacturers, and it is seldom out of the top five most popular chamberings among builders of bolt-action rifles. It's not really attributed though, just stated.

The same page states: "Among calibers larger than 6mm, the .308 is by far the most popular short-action big-game cartridge among hunters worldwide" which has a few too many qualifiers to be useful, but this is the 7.62x51mm NATO military standard so presumably it's popular what with all those armies using it.
posted by GuyZero at 4:43 PM on September 24, 2009

Well, I can tell you that the calibers in use by the Military and National Guard are primarily .223 and 9mm, with some .308 in heavier weapons. But there's a trick with both of those rifle calibers. Military .223, known in that case as 5.56 NATO, is loaded hotter than some civilian .223 ammunition, to the point where the civilian versions are unsafe to fire with military ammo. I bet most civvy AR-15s can shoot military ammo, so the only worrisome guns are the more unusual ones. Also, some NATO-standard .308/7.62x51 rifles can't fire safely with some civilian .308 ammo, either because the head-spacing is designed for a bolt rifle and won't cycle in an auto, or the bullet is the wrong weight, or the powder load is off. If you have a 7.62 NATO rifle, you want ammo that has the little NATO symbol on the case-head. It's a circle with a crosshairs through it.

Generally, however, I don't know if there is a simple one-gun answer. A .22lr is a great idea, probably in something like a Ruger 10/22, since that ammunition is cheap, common, light, and useful for small game. (When you're hunting for sustenance, you'd probably be better off killing small game instead of a 400 lb animal whose meat you can't store. I mean, kill it if you have to, but remember that small game is more common and tends to live closer to humans.)

For two-legged predators, a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is a good idea, ideally with a 3-inch chamber. Semi-autos need a correctly-loaded shell to cycle the action, while pump-actions just don't give a damn. My choice is the Remington 870 Express with the 8-round magazine. Fudd guns are very simple and reliable, but less combat-effective.

Rifles are the dominant players on the battlefield. In that case, you're looking at a .223, a .308, or maybe a 7.62x39 (the AK chambering). Semi-autos are vastly more combat-effective, but you've got to make sure your ammo is right for your gun. (7.62x39 is probably an exception, as that caliber is essentially only made for AKs and SKSes. It isn't used in any official capacity in the US, but it's staggeringly popular among civilians.) For these, I'd plan on an AK clone, or maybe an M1A. The AR-15 is a great gun, but it's more work to keep clean. Still, they're EVERYWHERE in the US, and that commonality means something.

Handguns have even more options. 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are the big players in the autoloader game. In revolvers, get a .357 magnum, since they can also fire .38 special. (.38 special was intentionally misnamed by Smith & Wesson for marketing purposes. It's actually a .357 caliber bullet in a cartridge that's 1/10th of an inch shorter than a .357 mag. Therefore, a .357 Mag revolver can fire both cartridges, but a .38 spl revolver can only fire .38)

As much as the 1911 is an absolute joy to shoot, and any gun owner should have one, the end-of-days gun is almost certainly the Glock. When you can't order parts, and cleaning is a luxury, you want one. They're insanely common, so there are parts all over. They're simple, so you can take them apart. They're ridiculously durable, so it probably won't even come up in the first place. Also, they have a lot of magazine interchangeability within calibers. The tiny Glock 26 9mm, for example, can use the magazines from the 19 and 17. Caliber selection is trickier. Try looking around at online ammo sites and local stores to see what everyone's got. But any one of the big 3 auto-calibers will be around. The only difference is that the bigger calibers work better but are more expensive.

Bottom line: Get more than one gun. If you're serious about preparation for such a brouhaha, you shouldn't put your trust in only one of anything.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 7:22 PM on September 24, 2009 [5 favorites]

So far as expense is concerned with current pistol ammunition, .40 cal is usually 50% more expensive than 9mm. .45 cal is even more. The same holds true on the rifle front. .223 is about half as expensive as anything in the .30 cal range (.308, 30-06, 7.62xanything). A friend of mine described shooting his .308 rifle as throwing a quarter down range with every shot.
posted by ericales at 7:47 PM on September 24, 2009

@ericales: If it's a quarter a shot, he's getting a great deal. Even Military Surplus is now going for about 55 cents a shot.

Eric is mostly right about price, although 7.62x39 is considerably cheaper simply because those Russian-designed guns are hardy enough to use Wolf Brand ammunition, which is too narsty to use in most guns but which is fine for AK and SKS chambers.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 9:54 PM on September 24, 2009

2nd-ing Doctor Suarez.

When the zombies come for me I'll be on top of the family barn, and I'll pick the scouts off with an M4 carbine (5.56mm). When they start getting thicker and closer you can switch over to 3-round burst modes and fully auto when they're getting within 50 feet of the barn or so.

Once I'm out of 5.56, I'll pick up a pump-action 12 gauge and go to town as they mass the last 20 feet or so to the foot of the barn. Buckshot, not bird.

I'll get as many as I can with the shotty, but with the reload time, I probably won't be able to more than twice.

At that point its the 2 glock 9mm on my hips. Aim for headshots. Fast reloads, tons of ammo. With any luck I'll last a good while at that stage.

When the ammo's all gone, its down to the machetes, but there's so much blood flying around at that point I'm probably going to get infected anyway.

Always save one last bullet for yourself.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:27 AM on September 25, 2009

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