From the do-it-all to home defense rifle, we cover the timeless dilemma of what to buy if you could only have one rifle.
The question comes up a lot, which is the best option to buy if you could only have one rifle. That’s an understandable position to be in. Maybe you’re on a budget and you need a do-it-all rifle. Maybe you’re going off-grid for a while and living a truly minimalistic life and you need one to get it to don’t for all jobs off-grid.
Maybe you have a family, live in the suburbs and just want one rifle in the house for protection, or maybe a hunting trip but you don’t want a lot of guns in the house. In reality, the individual scenario for each person will greatly influence which rifle is best for you.
First Things First
I don’t recommend having a single rifle to do it all. I know this is titled “if you could only have one rifle”. However, there are so many variables, scenarios, and things to consider when selecting a rifle. From where you live, to who you live with.
What your plans are to do with the rifle. Will it be strictly for fun? Will it be only for hunting? Or maybe you just want an easy option in an emergency home defense scenario. Having just one is definitely an option and good for you for doing your research beforehand. However, based on your goals, it may be a better choice to consider at a minimum, having two options. But, I digress, let’s check out your options if you could only have one rifle. Spoiler alert, there’s a lot of options.
The Tactical Elephant In The Room
The biggest gripe, bitch and moan will instantly be the fanboys screaming “GET an AR15 if you could only have one rifle, it’s all you will ever need!” I hear you loud and clear, I have enough of them myself (well maybe not enough) and I love them. From carrying one daily 6 days a week outside the wire in Iraq to this present day in 2020 civilian life. AR15 just feels like an extension of my body (for the liberals reading this in disgust, no, not that body part).
AR’s move well in tight quarters (like a home or thick brush), its highly accurate, its time tested, its highly reliable (assuming you didn’t cheap out on ebay parts) and its highly customizable, its fun to shoot and frankly, just looks good. You can hunt with the AR platform, you can defend your home and come to think of it, why not just end the article here, get a AR15 if you could only have one rifle, right? Possibly, yes.
Take a look at this video below by former Navy SEAL and CIA Contractor, Shawn Ryan over at Vigilance Elite. This is an excellent breakdown with real live fire examples of the pros and cons of each popular home defense gun option out there, worth your time to watch, he’s a no-nonsense guy that presents real data.
According to 2017 write up by the NRA.com Blog, the choice to buy if you could only have one rifle is the Scout Rifle. Let me be the first to say, I love the Scout rifle platform, however, if you truly can have only one rifle, that may not be the best choice. Are you going to defend your home in the modern suburbs with cheaply made thin walls and your children potentially on the other side? Sure, if you hope deep down inside your bullet only hits the bad guy or wall studs. Otherwise, the AR can be a risky choice to your loved ones. Single? Live alone. AR-15 all day.
Rifle vs Shotgun: The Other (smaller) Tactical Elephant In The Room
Now wait a minute, you said this was about which to buy if you could only have one RIFLE! Now you’re talking shotguns? Valid point, I’ll keep this short but it’s worth toughing on.
Shotgun Points To Consider:
- It’s a Long Gun (that’s close, right?)
- It can shoot a wide variety of ammo, from birdshot and buckshot to slugs and all sorts of other cool boutique shells, check out Dragon’s Breath shells below).
- You can protect your home with a limited wall pass through.
- You can take it hunting big game with buckshot or slugs or even pheasant, duck, or small game hunting with smaller bird shotshell varieties.
Caliber choice will again be heavily weighted by your personal situation. If you live alone, as I said above, the AR platform with the .223/5.56 will be a great choice for you to use in all of the scenarios above from home defense to hunting. However, if you live out west like me, you’re hunting with a .223/5.56 will be limited.
You won’t be shooting Elk, Moose or Bears with a .223. Shut up, I can hear you through my keyboard “I can take an ELk at 500 meters with my .223 at 77grn if I take a head/heart shot. Listen up bucko, you’re not getting a head/heart shot at 500m while under adrenaline on a moving target. There are lots of people who can do it…..but lots more who try and only wound the animal, and never recover it. Don’t be that guy.
I don’t care what youtube video you saw or how many times you ring steel on your farm at 500+m, it’s not happening 99/100 times in real life in real conditions. If you’re relying on that, you’re making a poor choice. However, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not that guy.
Options like the .270 or .308 start to become the do-it-all options for hunting only scenarios. If home defense isn’t an issue, consider options like the .308 in a Scout rifle platform (more on this below).
Pistol Caliber Carbines (PCC)
If you could only have one rifle, I suggest taking a look at PCC’s. A Pistol Caliber Carbine will provide you with a stable long gun shooting platform that can be shoulder-mounted. A PCC also uses a pistol caliber ammo (hence the name). This gives you a rifle (carbine) that can be used effectively in a home defense scenario as it has little wall pass through. Also, a 9mm PCC can effectively be used in many hunting scenarios from small game to larger game like Deer and Hogs.
Pistol Caliber Carbines have one of the lowest learning curves. If your emphasis is home defense and you have a family, this is a strong option to consider. Because the PCC uses handgun (or pistol) caliber projectiles, the rifle has a greatly reduced physical recoil effect. The PCC will also be quieter (relative) than a .223 or .308.
Since it’s hard to narrow down one rifle to blanket each person’s scenario, let’s look at some choices for a few common different scenarios.
The 22LR Argument:
While I don’t recommend a 22LR for reliability reasons, however, if you could only have one rifle, the 22LR is a solid choice overall. I’ve heard this offered to new gun buyers many times. Let’s say you’re new to guns and you have very limited experience. You want to learn to shoot, you want to protect your home and you may want to go hunting someday.
A 22LR will work, here are some things to consider: It can handle all of the above. It has a low learning curve for basic handling and effectiveness. Keep in mind, a 22LR will work for home defense, however, it lacks stopping power due to its lightweight. There are many stories online arguing back and forth regarding this. Some say the bullet enters the body and will literally bounce off bones internally and create even more damage to the bad guy than a standard round just passing through a single time. Others argue that the 22LR lacks the impact energy to shock and damage the body at entry like a larger heavier bullet will do.
Argument aside, if it’s your first gun, it can put a hole in a bad guy and it can be taken to the field for hunting. It’s not expensive and will get the job done. A 22LR will also have a greatly reduced wall passthrough in your home. The Ruger 10-22 is an excellent choice and has been the king of 22’s for some time now.
The 22LR options are really an article for itself, however here is a good rundown of the 22LR effectiveness.
If You Could Only Have One Rifle (Don’t Have a Family):
You guessed it, the AR15. It is the do-it-all if you could only have one rifle. Whether you have a family or not, you need one. The AR-15 has the needed stopping power for a bad guy and most game animals. It’s lightweight, modular, and effective. AR15’s are used to this day in daily operations all over the world. They have proven their effectiveness (when built correctly) in countless scenarios. If you like the tactical look and want a do-it-all, get an AR15. Also, once you go down the AR platform rabbit hole, you will realize you can get these built-in .22LR, .223, .308, 450 SOCOM and many, MANY more options.
Although many will tell you to build your own, I would recommend buying a prebuilt from a reputable company as the tolerances and reliability are often better in a quality built AR, check out Bravo Company, they have been doing it right for a while now.
If You Could Only Have One Rifle (Have a Family):
If you have a family and you’re not willing to take on the increased risk for wall penetration, I recommend the Pistol Caliber Carbine. As stated above, the PCC will give you all you need for most people getting into a do-it-all option if you could only have one rifle.
OffGrid Living / Minimalist
Let’s say you don’t want or like the tactical look of the AR15 and you don’t care to tote that around in any scenario. Then my friends at the NRA had it right in their recommendation. The Scout rifle is an excellent choice.
Scout Rifle concept was created by Jeff Cooper as the rifle to have if you could only have one. A scout rifle is a bolt action, magazine-fed, compact, and accurate rifle that uses either iron sights (ghost rings) or a designated optic like a Long Eye Relief scope or Red Dot forward mounted.
Scout rifles chambered in .223 or .308 will be effective in almost all hunting scenarios including the largest game like deer and Elk.
Final thoughts on what to buy if you could only have one rifle. Well, it’s tough. As you can see, depending on your goals and panned uses, there are a variety of options.
Ideally, you get a AR-15 and a Handgun or PCC, that will literally do it all. From civil unrest SHTF scenarios, home defense, fun range days and hunting trips. Also, as mentioned above, a shotgun is still an excellent option. It can do it all and it has limited risk regarding wall passthrough in a home.
If you have a family, and this one rifle you own will be used for home defense, then I strongly consider not getting into the .223/5.56 AR platform as your only rifle. The wall penetration concerns to injure a loved one are too great. If that’s your situation, I suggest getting into the Pistol Caliber Carbine platform. This will give you long gun accuracy, limited wall pass through, and the ability to protect your family and still take it out on a (limited) hunting trip.
If wall penetration isn’t a concern and you just want a traditional do-it-all, the scout rifles are the way to go.
Last, if you could only have one rifle, it doesn’t matter so much what you get. What matters is how you learn the weapon. Learn everything you can about the rifle you choose to carry. A rifle is simply a tool. If you don’t know what you’re doing with it, you can kill yourself or someone you love with it. Its effectiveness, reliability, tactical factors, and sexy level don’t matter at all of you don’t know how to operate effectively and safely.
Mike is a Colorado resident, a combat veteran, and a former Police Officer, and an avid outdoorsman. Mike has camped, hiked, and Overlanded all over the United States. From backpack Elk Hunts on Public Land, solo truck camping to Multi-week Overlanding adventures with his family, Mike is very familiar with these outdoor topics.