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What Do I Need to Know About Ammo in a SHTF Scenario?

Last Updated: July 21, 2022

The Essentials of Ammunition

Shotgun rounds

Why Preppers Should Own Guns & Ammo

You can’t plan for something before first clearly identifying what you are planning for. Most preppers own guns so that they can defend themselves/others and hunt for food. Whether it’s hunting, survival, or home defense, the few hundred dollars you spend on your defense weapon, and your bullets, will become priceless. On the other hand, those same exact dollars will be useless in a defense or survival situation.

.223, 9mm, .22 LR

Calibers, The MVP of Bullet Selection

Choosing the right caliber is the most important factor in determining the guns and ammo to stockpile for prepping purposes. When choosing calibers, you’ll want to consider:

  • The Use Cases
  • The Cost of Ammunition
  • The Commonness of said Ammunition and the Firearms That Shoot It
  • The Size and Weight of Ammunition and Guns

With these factors in mind, we believe the best calibers for prepping are .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, 9mm, and .22 Long Rifle (LR).

For you AK supporters, 7.62x39mm could potentially replace .223, but it doesn’t fit our weight and commonness criteria (explained more below). Other calibers like 300 Blackout add an additional downside of cost.

Beyond these calibers, you should strongly consider a hunting caliber or two, based specifically on what game is available in your area.

It’s also never a bad idea to add a shotgun or two to the mix!

The Use Cases of Ammunition

.22 LR is useful for hunting small game. While certainly not optimal, it could also be used to defend yourself if absolutely necessary. The real benefits to .22 LR, though, are its cheap cost, small size, and lightweight.

9mm is our go-to choice for sidearm self-defense and concealed carry. It’s cheaper, more common, and more readily available than any other self-defense handgun caliber.

.223/5.56mm is our go-to choice for a self-defense rifle caliber. While this is in part due to the relatively affordable cost of ammunition, it’s largely due to the benefits the AR-15 offers preppers.

Though not optimal for humanely hunting most game, it could generally get the job done if absolutely necessary. Moreover, thanks to the popularity of the AR-15, many ammunition manufacturers have also created cartridges specifically for deer hunting. With all of that said, in a true SHTF life-or-death scenario, you’re going to be able to kill something to eat with any type of ammunition of this caliber, if necessary.

Hunting Cartridges – This one can be left up to you, based on the region where you live.


Cost of Ammunition

Throughout this guide, ammunition is just as important or arguably even more important than the firearms you’ll own. You, of course, can’t use a firearm without something to feed it.

Since you can never have too much ammunition and will want to have as much as possible, the cost is a very important factor.

.22 LR is the cheapest ammunition you can find. You can regularly find deals of 5,000 rounds or more available for under $200.

9mm is the cheapest handgun caliber that should be used for self-defense.

.223 is the cheapest self-defense rifle caliber, with the exception of 7.62×39. 7.62×39 also benefits in terms of cost because the AK-47 actually works better with steel case ammo, which is generally cheaper than brass case ammo.

The prices shown are some low-cost bulk prices for each cartridge. All prices for handgun calibers are for brass case ammo.

.22 Long Rifle (.22 LR)$0.036Handguns/Rifles
.380 ACP$0.26Handguns
.40 S&W$0.245Handguns/Carbines
.45 ACP$0.30Handguns/Carbines
.38 Special$0.28Handguns
.357 Magnum$0.38Handgun
.44 Magnum$0.60Handgun
.223 RemingtonSteel – $0.195 / Brass – $0.285Rifle/Carbine
5.56X45mm NATOBrass – $0.31Rifle/Carbine
7.62×39Steel – $0.189Rifle/Carbine
300 BlackoutBrass – $0.56Rifle/Carbine
.243 WinchesterBrass – $0.75Rifle
30-30 WinchesterBrass – $0.75Rifle
.300 SavageBrass – $1.75Rifle
25-06 RemingtonBrass – $1.10Rifle
.270 WinchesterBrass – $0.775Rifle
.308 WinchesterSteel – $0.32 / Brass $0.46Rifle
.30-06 SpringfieldSteel – $0.56 / Brass – $0.675Rifle
7mm Remington MagnumBrass – $1.15Rifle
.300 Winchester Magnum$0.92Rifle
.338 Winchester Magnum$1.85Rifle
.375 H&H Magnum$2.60Rifle
.444 Marlin$1.64Rifle

We find ourselves shocked, saddened, and humored when people tell us how many guns they have ready for the worst-case scenario, who then get sheepish when we ask them how much ammo they have.

The truth is, you really should have a ton of ammo if you want to truly be prepared for some of the worst scenarios imaginable. Not only do you need it for hunting and potentially even protecting yourself, but you should also have enough to continue to be able to practice after SHTF.

Buying Bulk Ammo

There’s no getting around it, ammo is expensive…but we’ll try to help.

If you find yourself buying single boxes at the range or Walmart, you’re probably not going about it in the smartest possible way.

You can save substantially by purchasing bulk quantities of ammo online. Blazer Brass, a local gun range, costs $14.03 for a box of 50 rounds after tax or 28.06 cents per round.

Alternatively, we could buy 1050 rounds online right now from my favorite online ammo store Lucky Gunner and receive them in a few days. After tax and shipping, it’ll cost $232.02 or 22.10 cents per round — more discounts with rebates.

You still may not be convinced, but this can literally save you thousands of dollars when talking about stocking up on ammo, especially when you get to ammo that’s more expensive than 9mm (the second-cheapest ammo there is).

The point is: Buy ammo and be smart about it.

Reloading Ammo

Reloading ammo is a DIY way to make your own ammo and reuse your cases. This topic requires an article of its own, but we’d recommend checking out this guide if you’re interested.

The Commonness of Ammunition and the Firearms That Shoot It

Aside from cheaper prices, popular calibers offer additional benefits to preppers.

First of all, the guns that are chambered in these calibers are also more popular and generally more affordable than firearms chambered in more unique calibers.

Another benefit is, that if you plan to meet up with any like-minded folks in the event of a SHTF scenario, there’s a greater chance of you having an overlap in guns and ammo.

The Size and Weight of Ammunition and Guns

It’s not just a coincidence that our calibers of choice and the most popular calibers in the world are all smaller cartridges than most of their competition.

There’s been talk of the U.S. Military switching from the 5.56 cartridge, but that would create an issue of magazine capacity and weight for soldiers.

In addition to felt recoil and shooting speed, the FBI stated magazine capacity as a major reason why they went back to the 9mm cartridge from .40 S&W: larger cartridges mean less magazine capacity, heavier loadouts, and greater difficulty storing ammunition.

Furthermore, the guns that are chambered in .22 LR, 9mm, and .223/5.56 are generally far lighter than their competitors. Focusing on the most defensive-minded of these, 9mm is commonly used in polymer-framed pistols and lightweight carbines, while .223/5.56 is the most common chamber of the AR-15 platform, which was created specifically to be a lightweight rifle.

Stick to Your Guns

In addition to standardizing the chamberings of your firearms, it’s also a good idea to stick to the same guns and weapon platforms. There’s a good reason the U.S. Military doesn’t just buy random weapons.

These are M16s, but you get the idea.

For civilians, the best example of this is the AR-15.

Having built and bought numerous AR-15s, we’ve unintentionally piled up enough parts to replace anything that breaks on any of our rifles… or build multiple new ones from spare parts.

Even if you don’t have as many guns as a guy who runs a gun website, the advantages of the AR-15’s modular platform can start benefiting you at just two AR-15s.

Both of them both have a broken part? So long as it’s not the same part, you can make one complete rifle again.

You also benefit from the fact all of your AR-15s, as well as any of your friends’ or family’s, can use the same magazines.

While not as awesome as the AR-15, you can also benefit from sticking to the same pistols or at least the same pistol manufacturer. For example, a magazine that came with your Glock 17 will also fit in your Glock 19. This only works for the shorter-framed pistol, but is true across all generations, so long as they are both double stack.

You should also consider the SIG Sauer P320, which has a modular trigger chassis, which allows you to swap it into another frame and/or slide/barrel combo in less than a minute. If you have the “X-Change” kits, you can even swap between calibers.


To recap, we think it’s best to stick to a handful of calibers (.22 LR, 9mm, .223/5.56, and .308) and limit the number of different weapon platforms you choose. Also, don’t forget to stock up on ammo, as that’s arguably more important than guns themselves outside of your first few guns.

“Always Be Ready” Max

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