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You can slot guns into several categories. Some guns may fit in more than one category, but no gun covers them all. Here are the categories as I see them:

Practice Guns: This pretty much describes any gun that can shoot a .22lr round. The basic rule for this category: a gun must be cheap to fire. You buy a gun from this category so you can go out on a Saturday and throw 200 or more rounds down range without spending the entirety of the previous day’s paycheck. Why do you need one of these? Everyone needs to practice, if you never practice you won’t be ready for when you need to shoot. But you don’t always want to practice with a “real” gun that fires ammo that can cost as much as $15 a round or more . . .

Hunting Guns: This category contains any gun legal for hunting in or around your neck of the woods. Obviously, the best guns for this category are hunting rifles. But a Mosin is a legal hunting rifle in most parts of the U.S. (actually well suited and used to hunt polar bears). Equally obvious: the point of one of these guns is to kill Bambi’s mom, or some other animal you intend to eat. Special note on this category: there are lots of different subcategories here (e.g. varmint guns, big game guns, elephant guns, etc.). But for this article I’m just lumping them all together.

Why do you need one of these? Well, to hunt of course. You may say “but I am not a hunter Andy, so I don’t need one.” Well neither am I—until my family finds themselves starving. Then it’s sorry Bambi but the kids gotta eat and your mom looks scrumptious. So I own two hunting guns that never get used for actual hunting. Just in case.

Handguns: The primary purpose for a handgun: it can be carried easily and therefore used in an emergency to help buy you enough time to get to a rifle.

Why do you need one of these? For the smallness of it! Handguns can be placed on the hip or even in a pocket; they are easy to carry without getting in the way. They can even be concealed. And since always having a rifle is not practical, the handgun lets us carry something in those situations where we can’t have a rifle or just didn’t have one.

Shotguns: These are guns that don’t require much aim, but have a limited range and penetration. Often also used in hunting. They are the ideal weapon for home defense.

Why do you need one of these? Well, nothing says get the hell out of my house like the sound of actioning a pump shotgun. And if they don’t leave, the shotgun lets you take them out without killing the kid in the next room.

Assault rifle: These are your shorter range smaller caliber rifles like the AK or AR. They often can use large magazines and are usually fairly light and maneuverable.

Why do you need one of these? Because they are maneuverable and have larger magazines, they are great for taking out the bad guy on the front lawn. Way better at it than the shotgun or handgun unless you have a really small front yard. The tradeoff: they are less than ideal for cleaning up any that make it into the house.

Battle Rifle: These are your larger caliber less maneuverable rifles. Their main benefit is their range.

Why do you need one of these? I don’t know about you, but I don’t want badguys in my front yard, that is already too close for my liking. This lets me take out the badguys when they first turn down my street.

Sniper Rifle: These are the big boys that are designed to really reach out and touch someone. The tradeoff is they are pretty much useless at close ranges, and better used when wielded like a club for home defense.

Why do you need one of these? You probably don’t. But they are fun, and if you live by a river, lake or on the side of a valley or anywhere else where you have extremely long view ranges then they can come in handy.

Now, I would say you should get one of each of these categories before buying multiples in a category, except for maybe the sniper rifle. You need to prioritize your acquisition order the way that makes the most sense to you. I started with a handgun. Then I got the rest in this order: shotgun, practice gun, battle rifle, sniper rifle, hunting rifle, and finally assault rifle.

I love sniper rifles, so the battle rifle was a Dragunov which is almost a sniper, but still technically a battle rifle. My first sniper was a .338 lapua, and when I bought it I knew I should be getting an assault rifle first, but my love for snipers overtook me.

My first hunting rifle was a K98 and only reason I got it before the assault is it was like $150 and in great condition (plus I was planning to scope it and make it a sniper rifle as well). Now, guns come and go, but I always keep at least one of every category and lots of the snipers (they almost never go, only come).

Most people get an assault rifle first or near the beginning.

Why do I think you need one of each? Well, it is for worst case scenario. In other words, the zombie apocalypse. I want to be able to hit zombies getting in a boat across the river; for that I would use the sniper rifles. When they turn down my street I would use a battle rifle to pick them off. If they get to my front yard then the assault rifle. If any manage to get in my house, that’s what the shotgun is for.

The practice gun is for keeping my skills up without breaking the bank. The hunting rifle is for keeping meat on the table. And the handgun is for getting to the others when the Zombies first arrive on scene.

They are all guns, many fall into the “black” category, but they are all different tools meant for different things. Assault rifles suck for taking them out across the river, but snipers suck at take them out in the front yard, though both are considered “black guns.”

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  1. “Assault rifle”

    This phrase does not mean what you think it does. The phrase “assault rifle” implies select-fire capability, which off-the-shelf semi-autos lack. Until the Hughes ban is repealed or otherwise removed from the U.S. criminal code, not everyone will be able to afford an assault rifle.

    In any event, I think the phrase you were looking for is “Modern Sport/Utility Rifle.”

    • Actually assault rifle is the term I use to describe this set of weapons because they are more often then not civilian versions of military assault rifles. I know assault rifle is often used by the anti gun crowd to scare people about guns, but since I am not anti gun, and most of the audience isn’t either, who cares.

      But that doesn’t mean you aren’t free to call it whatever you want.

      • I think you have that backwards. Aren’t the M-16 and the M4 assault rifles military versions of the civilian “modern sporting rifles”? I was under the impression that the civilian models were first.

        • No, sorry but you have it wrong. The AR15 was developed first as a selective fire weapon. Thus making it an assault rifle. In 1963 the selective fire version was acquired by the military and renamed the M16. Later that same year colt made a semi auto version and named it after the original AR15 name. But the assault rifle version was first. Same is true for the AK, and just about every other black rifle.

        • Actually, the AR10 preceeded the AR15 by several years. The AR10 was designed as a select fire rifle.

      • The reality is, if most people call a semi-auto AR-15 an “assault rifle”, then that’s what it is. It makes no matter whether the gun in question meets a legal definition, the definition by someone knowledgeable of guns or the definition by someone who is anti-gun.

        No one person gets to define a word. Not the government, nor dictionary publishers, nor academic elitists. Language evolves by usage. It’s the most democratic process in the history of human civilization.

    • Yep….not even on the same planet as being correct.

      Actually – I am sure that a lot of thought and time went into this article. For that I thank you for the effort. Lot of good stuff.

      But it kinda reads like the booklet that came with that army style video game my son plays. Battlefield, COD, heck I don’t know which one.

        • Just wanted to point out that I did not add the picture, this article was originally a reply to someone stating they got an AK thinking it would be a catch all “black gun” but now wishing they had got an FN FAL instead as a catch all black gun. Robert cleaned it up, added the picture, and reposted it. Which is fine by me. But yes the picture does not help make it seem less like a game manual.

        • I don’t think that’s from CoD…never saw in that series an AUG A3, an MP7, or a G3.
          …….I’ll shut up now.

      • Thanks for the complement, but I actually wrote it as a reply in another thread. Robert must have liked it and turned it into an article, which is fine by me. But not much thought, just pretty much writing down what I have practiced for almost two decades now.

        The shotgun is tricky, and I thought someone might disagree and point out shotguns can shoot rifled slugs as well. It is true, you can shoot rifled slug shells and get decent range and crazy penetration. But where the shotgun really shines for home defense is with number 7 or 8 birdshot. Which I think you will agree pretty much matches exactly what I wrote above characteristic wise.

        Every year in November we have a tradition in our neighborhood where we take the pumpkins out in the woods and use shotguns to punish them for scaring the kids. You can learn a lot from this. Slugs make the pumpkins explode at any reasonable range. Buckshot does some serious damge up to even 35ft or more away. Birdshot does almost nothing past 25 ft does some damage and has real good spread from 15 to 25 ft, but is devastating at less than 15 ft. Most distances you are likely to shoot at someone in a home are less than 15 ft. But the amazing thing is very little of the shot will penetrate the two sheets of drywall that make up a standard wall, and any that do are not likely to be lethal. Buckshot will clear two sheets of drywall with enough power to kill, and a slug will probably tear through an entire house (note: I have never fired a slug at drywall, so I could be wrong, but I have fire birdshot and buckshot at drywall, and seen a slug splinter several 2x4s).

        So yes you can turn a shotgun into a rifle by using slugs, but unless you get one of those selectable tube shotguns, loading it with slugs means it is no longer ideal for home defense. So you will have satisfied the assault rifle category, but now need to go get another shotgun to load with birdshot. Unless you think badguys are going to wait for you to reload with birdshot after they entered the house.

        And I can’t believe there was disagreement on the sound of racking a pump shotgun saying get the hell out of my house.

        Yes it does sound like a manual I guess, but as far as I know those games don’t discern assault rifles from battle rifles. And as I hope I pointed out, there is a difference.

        Sorry if there are any strange words, I pounded this reply out on my Droid phone, and it sometimes replaces what I really said with what it thinks I should’ve said which usually leads to some strange things.

        • Yeah, you’re still incredibly wrong about shotguns. You have to aim them, birdshot isn’t an effective HD round, relying on the scary sound racking a shotgun makes as any sort of deterrent is ridiculous.

        • Birdshot won’t penetrate the minimum 12 inches of ballistic gelatin to be considered an effective self defense round. If you want enough penetration to guarantee a CNS hit or to cause massive bleeding you have to use something that penetrates far enough.

          If someone has broken into my house and is intent on doing me and mine physical harm the last thing I want to do is give my position away by racking the slide of a shotty “hoping” that he will run scared.

        • Actually, I’m really into the idea of using scary sounds and whatnot as home defense tools. I have one of those spring loaded cans of snakes that looks like a can of peanuts sitting on my nightstand. If the scary shotgun noise doesn’t do the trick, I elevate to the can of snakes.

        • This is actually an interesting question, perhaps not RF QOTD material, but interesting nonetheless: is the sound of racking a shotgun in itself an intimidating sound to a burglar or other predatory criminal?

        • I think at least a portion of the visceral reaction to the shotgun section is that it is misleading to state that a shotgun doesn’t “really” need to be aimed. At home defense ranges, with 00 buckshot, your shot will pattern at roughly the size of a pie plate… give or take. In a stress situation where you’re shaking and your hands are like slippery flippers, getting a solid 8″-10″ 9-pellet hit is a direct result of practice (with aiming) and muscle memory. Not just pointing it in the general direction as is so commonly believed.

          Birdshot creates a large and potentially painful, but ultimately very shallow and ineffective wound in humans. There are mountains of evidence to support this statement.

          While I have no intention of being insulting; to me the talking points listed about shotguns sound like gun store sales rhetoric. “Don’t have to aim” “Racking the slide will make Bad Guy No.1 crap himself and jump out the window”, etc.

  2. I appreciate someone wrote a “beginner’s guide to various types of firearms” but this article will do more harm than help to anyone who doesn’t know better.

    Shotgun_rack.mp3 will make a bad guy run away? You don’t have to aim shotguns? Birdshot is good for home defense? Shotguns don’t penetrate walls? Andrew, do you own a Judge by any chance?

    Those myths have been debunked over, and over, and over, and over yet people still keep repeating them. Wouldn’t be a big deal if this wasn’t the kind of information that people use in life or death situations. Please issue a correction.

  3. After having not shot much for the past ten years, and getting back into it more now that time and circumstance allow, it’s interesting to see how much the tacti-cool/black rifle/couch-commando movement permeates the gun blogs. I like an AR as much as the next guy, but from someone who came into shooting through clays, plinking and pest control as opposed to concealed carry/black rifles/zombies it’s alarming to see how narrow a field of vision many people have regarding shooting and shooting sports.

    Like any person’s top ten car list or anything, there is going to be plenty of room for disagreement, but here we see anything not black or military split into hunting or practice, while battle rifles (typically a magazine fed semi-auto) are split into a separate category from assault rifles (the same), and sniper rifles (probably 0.01% of guns out there) are given their own category. Seriously? It’s a rifle for hunting people, but as the author points out and clearly demonstrates, he knows little about hunting, or for that matter, shotguns in general.

    Military firearms are cool. Self-defense is important. Take a step back. There are tons of full length remington 870’s and 700’s out there for a reason, and for most people they’re not all about trying to shoot #8 at bad guys (horrible idea), or for putting on scopes with large turrets.

  4. Just wanted to point out that the “sniper rifles” used in Vietnam were mainly accurized hunting rifles. So … you can kill two birds with one stone there. Winchester bolt action. It wasn’t until very recently that the sniper rifle developed as a completely separate breed.

    Also, many many many small game animals are taken with a .22 rimfire. Thus another dual category weapon by selecting the proper practice rifle that can serve as small game hunting rifle.

    Battle rifles are largely obsolete, unless you’re just into antiques. Your black semi-automating sporting rifle is more than suited for any battle rifle work you may need.

    Shotguns are for shooting ducks. And you gotta aim. Carefully.

  5. Birdshot for home defense? I don’t like shottys for HD (to awkward), but if I used one, I wouldn’t trust anything less than 00 buck. YMMV.

    And that whole business about the noise of the shotgun being pumped and scaring off the BGs? If that was true, I’d probably be reading stories entitled “burglar hears shotgun, shits his pants,” instead of “man shoots burglar with shotgun.”

    • Read American Rifleman. Comes with a NRA membership. Has a section each month of self-defence stories. Quite a few of them end with no shots fired, burglar shit pants and run off. Really. I got the same story ‘cept mine is I pulled out a big ass shiny stainless steel revolver, 8″ barrel, bad guy shit pants and ran off. Happens. Don’t bet your life on it, but it happens quite often, matter of fact.

  6. The M-16 was adopted as a Service rifle, you’re wrong on the shotguns, completely, keeping a “hunting rifle” just in case you have to hunt for food, with no experience, will lead to heartache, Battle rifles don’t have anymore “range” than “assault rifles” and both are used mostly within 150 yards on average.

    The pictures jacked from a computer game, and zombie reference lead me to believe you have a long road ahead, one filled with new experiences, and much knowledge. A giant cube of knowledge, there for the gleaming.

  7. Birdshot or rabbitshot against larger animals at short range is devastating. Been there, done that. Actually, 22lr. can kill well, but bullet placement is critical. Lived on an Indiana farm as a kid, and the only guns we had were 12 gauge shotguns and .22 rifles. Later on we finally got a .243 Remington 788 rifle.
    One of the more versatile guns was the Winchester Model 12 shotgun, which I still have. Still think the shotgun is very versatile, but range can be lacking.
    Most farmers really did not have much in the way of handguns, mostly shotguns and smaller caliber rifles. I still think people should start with a .22 rifle.

  8. I knew a guy who kept his M-16 on semi-auto the whole time he was in Vietnam. He was in the A-Shau ? valley close to where the Hamburger Hill battle took place and shortly afterward with the 101st Airborne.
    I think full auto can be over rated. Dad taught me to fire a full auto weapon, but it really is not like in the movies. The weapon is fired in 3 round bursts and the point of aim is just a little down and to the left. Upon firing, the weapon will rise up and to the right. Dad handled many full auto weapons when he was in the war.

  9. Practice Guns:
    well in all honesty, its a good idea but practicing with a .22lr so you can keep your skills up with any larger caliber rifle isnt going to work.

    Hunting Guns:
    dont need to add much here, but a better description would be nice.

    one thing to note for handguns, over-penetration. when compared to rifle rounds, pistol rounds have significantly less over-penetration. which makes them for ideal for self defense than a rifle. with a handgun you can take out the bad guy(s) without shooting through the school 10 blocks down the road behind them.

    Shotguns: birdshot at point blank range is highly effective, but beyond about 15 feet i do believe just throwing the shell at the bad guy will do more damage and it has just above nothing in the way of barrier penetration. buck shot is good out to about 30 feet but has poor barrier penetration abilities, ie passing through a solid core door. also buckshot has a random spread pattern and through you may have it set to be in a tight group, you really dont want all those extra lead balls bouncing crazily around. slugs, this is what i prefer to use as home defense. i know for a fact that it will go straight through a 2×4 at 15 meters and take out 2-4 pumpkins behind it no problem. body armor be damned, getting hit with a 12 gauge slug may not go through it, but it will put the person on the ground.

    Assault rifle: ive lots of experience shooting these. i dont recommend them for civilian use without proper training. as a former infantryman, we only used semiautomatic and safe, we never used the burst capabilities of our M-4’s, we said it was reserved for people who didnt know how to shoot. this being said, a semiautomatic hunting rifle with a detachable magazine can easily replace this, as it has the same length as an M-16a4 and loaded theyre just about the same weight, but the hunting rifle will be more accurate. if youre worried about caliber, note that the M-16/M-4 family uses a highly over powered .22 caliber round (.223 remington/5.56x45mm), the Ak-47 style of rifles uses either a 5.45x39mm or the older 7.62x39mm rounds, which are moderately over powered .20 and .30 caliber rounds. though you can get an AR style in larger calibers: 7.62x51mm, .458 SOCOM, .50 beowulf, etc; these are less likely to be seen as an assault rifle, but more as a battle rifle.

    Battle Rifle:
    contrary to what the media, video games and the like, this style of rifle is typically the designated marksman rifle. typically a larger caliber rifle than the standard military rifleman carries, modified for accuracy and range. this is the rifle to bridge the gap between the assault rifle and the sniper rifle. all three of theses types are typically for the military setting. the typical calibers for the battle rifle are usually 7.62x51mm to .50 beowulf, as these are the current military used calibers, that im aware of.

    Sniper Rifle
    the most common type of sniper rifles used are typically heavily modified hunting rifles or supped up versions of assault rifles, the are highly sensitive to just about everything and not to be moved around a lot once set up. newer sniper rifles are coming into usage that are built from the ground up as sniper rifles. a sniper rifle is a very precise weapon that requires a high level of skill to use properly. yes a less skilled person can use a sniper rifle, as everyone thinks they can be a sniper, but to do so can damage the weapon.

    in all honesty i believe people only need as many guns as they are comfortable having. if you have only one, train with it often. become good with it. train your family in its use. become safe with the weapon. if you feel that you couldnt kill someone to defend yourself or your family, research less lethal ammo, rubber bullets, rock salt shotgun shells, rat rounds, bean bag rounds, etc.

    my advice:
    for a first gun, get something cheap, mine was a mosin nagant M44, loved it then love it still, cost me $125 in california 10 years ago, and thats with all the extra BS fees. why an inexpensive gun for your first gun? simple, as a beginning shooter, one tends to be a little overly rough with it. once youre comfortable with what a gun is and capable of, then upgrade to something a bit more expensive. i bought a remington 870 shotgun, not too much more expensive but i like it and its fun and inexpensive to shoot, $25 for 100 shells, $8 for 50 pigeons at wally world. if you still feel you need more, like me, buy something highly customizable, buy the add on toys and modify it up the wazoo. remember to have fun while practicing, as its a great stress reliever. and lastly, be safe out there.

    ps: be knowledgeable about what gun(s) you own. do your research before hand. buy a gun the feels good and comfortable in your hands before you modify it, and dont buy the one that looks good but just feels ok. also, dont use anything from TV and movies as a guide for firearms use.


  10. Many years ago, I killed my first deer with a barrage of 100 thirty caliber “rounds.” Those five 12 gauge Super-X #1B shells spewed forth a cloud of lethal lead on that buck running full out through the hanging vines of that swampy bottom some 25 yards away. Dropped with some 80 holes from stem to stern. Yep, buckshot works.

  11. Find me an incident – ANY incident – involving an armed citizen where he or she “used a handgun to fight his/her way to a rifle”. It sounds tacti-cool, but with all due respect to Clint Smith, who coined that phrase, it’s B.S. The trainer who has had the most students in real incidents – Tom Givens – reports that 0 of his 56 students “fought their way to a rifle” and in fact, they all “solved the problem” with the one gun they got into their hand first. Even cops carrying patrol rifles are not “fighting their way” to them.

    There are two main categories of handguns: service/duty/carry pistols (4″ bbls or larger in 9mm, 38 spec or larger calibers) and backup/pocket guns (sub 4″, any caliber).


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