Monday, November 10, 2008

The $1000 Arsenal

This will be, I think, my longest post yet:

Every now and then I'll see a forum post that someone wants to buy a gun but they don't have one. They'll generally have a few hundred dollars and want to know if they should buy a certain gun or wait till they have more money and buy a different gun. Typically the gun they are thinking of buying is a sub $500 gun of some flavor and the other gun is a $850 or more gun. The answers are usually split. I'm personally in the "get a gun now" camp, then save your money for another one.

Let’s say for the purpose of this exercise the person owns no gun at all and has $1000 to spend. What should they get?

I say more than one gun!

We're going to call this the $1000 arsenal. Now it's not really an "arsenal" as it really isn't very many guns. However the Main Stream Media (MSM) will say an amount of guns greater than 1 is an arsenal.

This arsenal is not for the serious shooter that needs the top end gun for competitions. It's not for sending a lot of ammo down range. There are no battle or service rifles listed. This is for people that don't have much money to spend, but want to get a good mix of firearms together.

Every household should have three firearms at MINIMUM. A pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun. This is NOT optional.


The shotgun is the first purchase any household should make. For utility purposes nothing beats a good 12-gauge shotgun. It can be used to hunt birds, small game, deer, fish (yea don't ask). It can be used as a club, a walking stick (not recommended), a snorkle (don't ask). Finally in a pinch if you really gotta do it, it can be used for home defense. Don't even need to fire a shotgun for home defense as sometimes all it takes is the shnick-schnak sound to scare would be house burglars away.

For the shotgun go with a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500. Both are extremely common so parts are available to order or through cannibalization. Both have several aftermarket accessories available to customize your gun.

Where to buy? Walmart if you really want one brand new. It's going to run you about $350 for a new one on sale. Both are so common that you can pick a random pawn shop and they'll probably have one for well under $200 (I recently paid $79 for a HD model Mossberg 500 and $89 for a USMC Remington 870 short barrel at a pawn shop). They are also very reliable pump-action so even if they seem beat up give it a good cleaning and it's probably gonna fire fine. For shotguns pawn shops are your friend.

For barrel length if you are looking to do any hunting with it get a 26 to 30" barrel. I use a 28" on my shotgun for hunting. For more squirrelly critters a shorter barrel will give you a faster pull time, important if the time you can visibly see the animal can be measured in seconds.

If you are looking at strictly home defense get a 20" barrel. It's short enough to be able to navigate hallways with, but long enough that extension tubes don't stick out past the barrel. Also the 20" can still be used to hunt critters in a pinch if you're good.

R870 or M500 Shotgun $175 estimated


This is the second purchase any household should make. Where shotguns are the best utility purpose weapon the pistol is the best portability and concealment weapon. Typical forum posts will say get a .40 or .45 for stopping power. Forget it. The major calibers have two problems. First to get a decent amount of ammo in the magazine the gun is BIG. With a smaller gun cutting down on the ammo amount the recoil will really mess up you're accuracy if you aren't familiar with it. If you don't enjoy shooting the pistol you will never practice with it and it will be nothing but a noise maker if you ever have to use it.

Go with a 9mm for an automatic (semi-automatic really they are NOT full auto) or .38 special for a revolver. Both calibers are large enough to provide stopping power with accuracy, both are fairly common, both are small enough that a compact sidearm will carry more ammo (well the revolver is kinda fixed).

Another trick with pistols is getting one that fits your hand. The ever present, ever popular Glock for example is notorious for its larger grip making it uncomfortable for many people to shoot. Since revolvers don't have a mag well in the grip, they tend to have a really skinny grip, again uncomfortable for some.

For pistols pawn shops are NOT your friend. The markdown for a pistol at a pawn shop is almost non-existent and chances are any pistol sold there is in poor enough condition that it may be unsafe to fire...ever.

Not to mention that the dangerous pistols (Bryco, Jennings) are pawn shop staples. The price tag on a Bryco will look attractive $100 tops, but the price tag when it fails to fire, fails to eject, fires when dropped, fires at random, falls apart, etc etc isn't attractive. And a Bryco will do any or all of the above within the first 50 rounds fired if not sooner. Don't do it.

Find a good local actual gun store that has reasonable prices. Stay away from Cabelas and Sportsman's Wearhouse. Cabelas occasionally will have use pistols but again the markdown for used anything at Cabelas is almost non-existant and sometimes more expensive then new at a good gun shop.

Personally I recommend an automatic pistol as reload time is faster with a spare mag then it is to open the cylinder, dump the brass, put more ammo in, close cylinder. Revolvers are more reliable though as they have less moving parts and don't have to eject brass before putting a new round in the chamber (revolvers don’t have “chambers” per say, yes I know).

Take your pick, but I'm going with the auto.

Brands? Look at Kel-Tec. They are inexpensive enough to buy on budget, yet reliable enough to not be in the same field as Bryco/Jennings. Many will complain that I'm not saying the big names, but really we're on a budget, but still want reliablity. Most people I've run into that say "get a Glock" and put down Kel-Tec will have a hidden Kel-Tec as backup that they aren't telling you about. Kel-Tec also carry a lifetime warrantee.

Get the Kel-Tec first, worry about brand names later.

A new Kel-Tec PF-9 will cost you about $270. Used if you can find one won't be much less, expect $220 to $250.


For a rifle we want to go with a large caliber. The purpose of the rifle is two fold. First taking larger game in hunting, and second taking shots at targets at a longer range than they can fire back accurately. The typical 30-06 will do double duty here. It's a very popular round and will take any large game found in North America. Even a marginal 30-06 is accurate enough. We aren’t talking competition shooting where you want to hit a quarter at 500 yards 5 times, we’re talking shooting man sized or larger targets and hitting once. You can get larger ammo of course, but the gun and the ammo gets heavy fast. You can go smaller ammo (like the ever popular .223) but it's game taking capabilities are limited and the effective range is diminished. Save the smaller ammo for another rifle.

Get a bolt action rifle. Stay away from semi-automatic for this rifle. We're looking for double duty firearms and many States do not allow semi-automatic for hunting. A bolt action will also better teach you firing and trigger discipline as you can't just squeeze off a magazine for fun.

Again here where do you purchase? Walmart is your friend if buying new if there isn’t a decent sporting goods store in your area. However much like the shotguns a good bolt action rifle in 30-06 are so common you can pick a random pawn shop and they are probably going to have one available.

A rifle/scope package will run you about $300 if you pick up a Mossberg ATR and scope. For another $100 you can pick up a Remington 700. Either is fine on a budget.

Rifle again

For the second rifle pick up a .22LR. Here we want to pick up a Ruger 10/22. Why a 22LR? They provide little to no recoil, can take small game, getting shot with one will still ruin someone’s day, and most of all you can buy a box of about 1000 rounds for less then the cost of 20 rounds for that 30-06. You can shoot one of these all day long to practice shooting techniques without blowing your wallet.

A Remington 10/22 you can also get several after-market accessories for it including super-sized 50 round magazines.

Remington 10/22 - $250 at most sporting goods stores.


Shotgun - Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 - $175
Pistol - Kel-Tec PF-9 - $270
Rifle – Mossberg ATR - $300
Rifle – Ruger 10/22 - $250

Total ~$995

Now start picking up ammo. Either buy large at one time or spend $20 to $50 a paycheck on ammo. Either way you want to build up a stock of at minimum 1000 rounds for each firearm, 5000 for the 10/22 (just because it’s cheap).

Rotate your ammo when you shoot. Buy a box, put it in the stock, then shoot from the stock instead of what you just bought. Like food ammo doesn’t like to sit around for long periods of time.

Once you’ve got the $1000 arsenal down then fill in the gaps. A 5.56 or 7.62 rifle of some flavor should be the next purchase you make. On the next purchase buy either the 5.56 or 7.62 that you didn’t buy.

Also consider a battle or service rifle of some form. It doesn't have to be a $2000 modern firearm, even the lowly SKS is acceptable. It ain't the most accurate thing, but they can put up with some abuse. Dirt cheap you can pick up a Mosin-Nagant for about $100 that covers your battle rifle and large caliber.

EDIT: Somehow I missed ruger 10/22 over several reads over the last year /boggle

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