Rebuilding From Scratch

(I wrote about this very topic many years ago, but I can’t find the original article.  So I’m going to start from scratch.)

A Reader once wrote to me, telling me that he was moving out of NYFC and back into the United States.  He’d been a gun owner before, but had sold all his guns prior to moving to Manhattan.  Now, smelling the taste of freedom, he wanted to buy some guns again.  He had $5,000 set aside for the purpose, and wanted my ideas on what I would suggest he look at.

I don’t remember what I recommended, nor can I access the original post;  but it’s a fun mind game to play on a Saturday.  Before I get going, though, let me say that the guns I’d choose would not only be “serious” guns — self-defense and so on — but because I consider shooting to be fun (what a concept), some of the guns I pick would have to cover that part as well.

The categories of firearm, therefore, are:  self-defense (carry), plinking, home defense (however you define it), sporting and all-round utility.

Here, then, is my list of new “starter” guns I’d either buy or consider buying, with a budget of $5,000 (granted, five grand won’t buy you as much as it did back in 2005 or whenever, but that just adds to the challenge).  They’re not necessarily my favored choices, but they are the best choices in terms of utility and price.

And on the latter topic:  I’m mostly going to use Bud’s Gun Shop for pricing and pics, because his prices seem to be reasonable on most guns and I don’t want to spend hours and hours looking around the various gun shop websites just to save $5 on, say, a plinker.  I’m also going to ignore accessories like spare mags and such — this is about guns, and they’re listed in the order that I would buy them.

 1) Carry piece
This the very first gun I’d buy because it’s the one I’d most likely need the soonest, all things being equal:  the Springfield Armory 1911 Defender  Mil-Spec .45 ACP 5″ ($510) — it’s the cheapest Springfield 1911 on the market, and while there are lots of cheaper .45s (and 1911s) out there, the Springfield is the one I’ve used and trusted for twenty-odd years, and for me this is no area to compromise on.

2) Semi-auto rimfire rifle (.22LR)
It’s a commodity item, like a kitchen knife.  I’d choose the Marlin 795 .22 LR 18″  ($170) — I’ve shot one before, and for the money, it’s fantastic value.

3) Do-it-all rifle (.30-30)
What’s the best centerfire rifle you could get that, in a pinch, could do everything, from home defense to hunting?  My choice would be the Marlin 336C .30-30 Win 20″ ($565) —  it’s been doing it all for well over a century, and who am I to argue with tradition and heritage?  With practice, the lever action can be worked almost as fast as a semi-auto.

4) Bedside gun / backup carry (.357 Mag)
This is the gun you buy when you absolutely, positively have to depend on it to work, every time.  I’d get the inexpensive but reliable S&W LE Mod 66 .357 Mag 4.25″ ($650) — I’d love it to be a Model 65, but they’re unavailable nowadays, and forget about a Colt Python.  (A close second would be the Ruger GP100 for just a few dollars less, but the Mod 66 just seems to fit my grip better, and has a better trigger withal.)

5) Shotgun (20ga)
Here I’m going to ignore the pump-action type and go for a double-barrel instead, because I prefer to use a shotgun for sport, not home defense (sporting clays being one of my favorite fun sports, of course).  There’s really only one choice in the inexpensive-but-quality category:  the CZ Bobwhite SxS 28″ — ($695).  It has all the things I want in a shotgun:  double trigger, long barrels, “English” (not a pistol) grip and splinter forearm.

6) SHTF rifle
You all know my feelings on this topic.  As the man said, “When civilization falls, the gun you want in your hands is an AK.”  Hence the semi-auto AK-47 7.62x39mm — ($650)

7) Long-range scoped rifle
Everyone should have a “reach out and touch” rifle, capable of consistently hitting a target at 500 yards.  Given the budget constraints, I’m going with the Savage 110 Tactical .308 Win — ($630) Still the best value for money.  The nearest competitor is the CZ 557 Heavy Barrel — and that’s nearly $900, which would leave little money for a scope.  And speaking of which:
Minox 3-15×56 ZX5 30mm — ($680) I love this scope (it’s the one I have mounted on my Mauser M12).  For what is really a “mid-priced” optic, the clarity is outstanding, the light-gathering stupendous, and it’s as rugged as hell.  If the money was there, I’d spend an extra $150 on the illuminated reticle, but such is life under budgetary constraints.

8) .22LR Pistol
Every home should have one (or two, or three) of these… and I’m going with the gun I know, with the best trigger:  Browning Buck Mark Plus Stainless 5″ ($500).

…and that, in covering all my bases, takes it to $4,950.

Note that in working with so small a budget on “must-have” guns, I was not able to indulge my passion for old military surplus rifles… and man, does it hurt.

Feel free to take issue with me on my choices, in Comments.  Obviously, everyone’s going to have different likes / dislikes / preferences, but if you keep my categories in mind as you suggest others, I don’t think you’ll go wrong.


  1. Great piece, and no quibbles. One could quibble IF the was no budgetary restraint, but not surprisingly, given your encyclopedic knowledge of small arms, you nailed this one, but good. It did cause me to remember one of my two biggest firearms transaction regrets, however. Selling my AK. 🙁

    Probably more than 15 years ago, my son and I got a WASR-10 for $325, IIRC. They were abundant and cheap then, and we and three other father/son pairs bought one at the same time. We lovingly sanded and finished the furniture in a reddish stain with a glossy varnish. I bought Lee reloading dies for the 7.62x39mm. We bought a bunch of brass cased Wolf fodder to play with. Alas, my son and I lost interest in it after shooting it a couple times, and when I had to get gun safe #2 because #1 was full and the wife was less than thrilled about us stashing the AK and several other guns under the guest bed and in the guest closet, he and I both looked at the AK and wondered why keep it if we don’t shoot it. At the time we were in an AR building craze, one basic carbine for him, one for me, another one for me that I would have had in Chicago if it was not illegal (glances around furtively), SBR for him, SPR for us both, and a retro, triangular handguard and original pistol grip for me just because it reminded me of the gun I qualified with in Air Force officer training school. We still have about three stripped lowers left, but ran out of ideas or wants for them, so we’re simply holding them as a hedge against a future Democrat slide into a situation like Venezuela.

    Sooooo, one of son’s friends from military school, then in the Army, offered us $600 for it and we foolishly sold it to him. I still have the stupid reloading dies (never did use them) and I’ve regretted not having an AK variant ever since, but, given that I have all the “necessary” gun boxes checked, and since we still have two full gun safes and don’t shoot as much as we would like, I can’t logically justify buying another AK for $600-900 at today’s prices. Not that logical justification has to be a huge factor in gun purchasing decisions, but still … I’m getting older and so many guns to shoot, so little time. Which reminds me I haven’t had my Persian Mauser out in over a DECADE! Sigh. I’ll rectify that as soon as the weather warms up around here.

    But, terrific list, as one would expect from you. Just felt I had to get this sad story off my chest, and I feel better now. A little bit, anyway. And I fondly remember your description of the AK from the old site, where you said (I paraphrase), “the sound of the bolt going home on an AK-47 is bit like hearing a refrigerator being pushed down a set of concrete stairs — very reassuring.” Something like that. Your descriptive abilities are second to none, Mr. D! 🙂

    1. Unfortunately in today’s market when you look at new AKs you’re paying $700-800 for what is basically a $300 gun. I have an 80% AK receiver and about half the parts I’d need to build one but that project isn’t too high on my priority list.

  2. A very nice starter kit. But….if ya want to save money on some guns I want to recommend heading over to the gun auction sites. Over the last half dozen or so yrs I have picked up a couple of guns a yr. Last one was a pre war (1937) win model 12 shotty in 16ga. Beautiful condition for 275 bucks. Before that I picked up a 1952 rem 121 pump 22lr that looks like it was hardly shot. Also an all matching Russkie SKS for 500 bucks. These days that aint a bad price for an excellent condition SKS.

    I have determined that once I figure out what I am hunting for it may take 2 or 3 months of searching but what you can find out there is stunning. A lot of folks have zero respect for their guns and they are rusted, pitted, broken stocks and scratched to hell. But some folks do take good care of them. When the time comes to part with them, estate sale, financial needs, give up the hobby, whatever – they are looking for a quick sale or nobody but me bids on it.

    So just a thought to save a few bucks.

  3. I like your choices. I might disagree in a few very minor points but that’s what makes a horse race.

    I also own a Springfield Mil Spec. I carried it as a duty weapon for quite a few years when just about everybody else had gone the Glock route. I carried three eight round McCormick magazines on my belt and of course one in the pistol. Gun people have long memories and there isn’t much love in the shooting community for Springfield because of political games they played in Illinois some years back but they make a solid 1911 that feeds everything and goes bang every time. Hey some people still spit on Bill Ruger’s grave over things that he said and did over thirty years ago. Before I retired from the sheriff I broke down and went 9mm (XD-9) because the arthritis monster came to live with me and I just couldn’t shoot the heavy .45 well. Right now I’m good for about 25 rounds and then some pretty severe pain sets in.

    My Smith revolver is an older 4″ 686 – again a duty weapon from some very far off days. Any of the Smith wheel guns are solid performers. To keep the budget at reasonable levels I’d look for a used one and I wouldn’t be afraid to consider a good 4″ .38 special. Not much difference between being shot with a modern .38 load vs .357.

    Another vote for the Buck Mark although the Rugers aren’t bad either.

    If you can spend a few dollars more I’d go for a Ruger 10/22. I know that everybody’s got one, but the reason is that they work.

    No problems with the Marlin 336 as long as you can find a good one. I understand that the quality is starting to come back. The .30-30 isn’t a fashionable cartridge but it will give excellent service on beast or man out to 150 or maybe 200 yards.

    I don’t feel qualified to speak on side by side shotguns (when has that ever bothered anybody on the internet?) so I’ll go with your choice. The two shotguns in my inventory are a Mossie 500 which I paid $95 for in 1975 and a police model 870. If I had to pick one today I’d probably go with the Mossberg.

    AKs are great. Lots of us went the AR route because of cost – you can do lots better on a serviceable AR these days – and familiarity from their military service. Another factor to consider would be ammunition supply. Should the stuff ever actually hit the fan I suspect that 5.56 will be easier to find than 7.62×39.

    I hear lots of good things about Savage. Good choice.

    Thanks for a fun mental exercise. I don’t know if I’d make the $5000 limit but I think that I could come pretty close.

  4. Good choices. Can’t go wrong there.
    However, instead of a box mag on the 22 rifle, I would choose the tube-feed version.
    You don’t have to worry about extra mags or losing a mag, and the tube holds about twice as many rounds as the box.

  5. I found myself nodding in agreement all the way down the list and then I started thinking about it. First, I thought just the choices were different than the ones I would make, then I started to question the categories, too. I wondered if the $5000 budget implied that’s all you could ever have, ever. Would that change the calculus? Anywhere here’s my list.
    1) Glock 30 in .45
    2) Ruger 10-22
    3) Do-it-all. What does an obsolete LA rifle do that the AK doesn’t?
    4) Glock 21. 14 rounds of .45 beats 6 rounds of .357. Item 1) shares the same mags … bonus.
    5) Like item 3) this seems selected more for aesthetic than practical reasons. Mossberg 500 here.
    6) AK … complete agreement, but without the wood furniture.
    7) Savage … also agreement. Hard to beat Savage on price/performance.
    8) Ruger MkII Bull Barrel. Not pretty, hard to take down. Indestructible.
    9) New category: deep conceal or hideout gun. When you absolutely need a gun that you can hide in your vagina … Ruger LCP, of course. (I am partial to the Beretta Model 20, but that’s an aesthetic not a practical choice, and .25 is useless.)

  6. OK, I’ll play. My choices are based on what I already have and am familiar with.

    1. Glock 17 with night sites. It’s my current carry gun. Is gun, is shoot. Easy availability of parts and accessories. Having carried a Browning Hi Power for years, I am confident in the 9mm with the right round selection. 9mm is also widely available and (relatively) cheap.

    2. Ruger 10/22. I could also go with the Marlin, but I’m already familiar with the 10/22

    3. Will go with your choice. Never had a lever action, but that’s just never happened to get one, not due to any problems with the concept.

    4. Glock 17 with night sites. Same as my carry gun, so same manual of arms. back up if something happens to my primary carry piece. Only one type of ammo, mags, holsters etc. to stock. At any rate my bed room gun for 30 or so years has been #5 below.

    5. Mossberg 500 combo in 12 gauge. 18.5″ barrel for home defense. 28″ ribbed for sporting/hunting use (which I never do). I have shot skeet and trap with my Mossy and it performed well (any issues were my lack of skill). Never got into it enough to justify getting a specialized gun (such as an over and under). spare parts (and barrels of various configurations) readily available.

    6. AR-15. Been using/carrying one (or the M-16 during my .mil years) for over 30 years. Know it inside out. Can perform most adjustments and repairs on my own. Accessories, mags etc. readily available. Picked the S&W M&P15 for a price point, but could probably build what I want cheaper from parts.

    7. Went with your choice due to your superior experience. I don’t have much experience with scoped rifles. No complaints with the .308 cartridge.

    8. Browning Buckmark,. ‘Nuff said.

    My total came out to $4,639.00. Would use the remaining $361.00 for ammo, mags, cleaning/tool kits, etc.

    1. Hence the Buck Mark and the Marlin. I must have taught over five hundred new shooters how to handle guns with my old Buck Mark.

  7. I am pretty much right in there with Kim,

    #1 1911 for number one, nuff said.

    #2, I would add an extra $130 and get a S&W M&PAR15-22 because that’s what I shoot in Steel Challenge and I have had the Marlin and the Ruger 10-22 in the past, all good guns.

    #3 Marlin, I have that gun in 45-70 for a hog gun, just because and a good lever gun is great.

    #4 I would get a 9mm Glock, my little one is a 43 but any of them with the right ammo will do the job.

    #5, here is where I would differ, there are some decent single trigger 20ga. O/U out there in that price range and I have shot O/U’s for years with a lot of success, skeet, sporting clays, quail, pheasant and dove and the few times I tried a side by side with double triggers I was not nearly so good. But that’s just me.

    # 6, here I would go with an AR .223 Wylde, optic ready, I have owned a couple of AKs but the price value is not there and ARs are so easy to keep running and upgrade with all sorts of options and good sales on ammo.

    # 7, I like the Savage but I would go with a Savage 110 Tactical 6.5 Creedmoor Bolt-Action Rifle with 24-Inch Threaded Barrel for $540 and then add a good scope that costs more than the rifle. For those of us who are older the 6.5 Creedmore is a little easier on the shoulders and it is a crazy accurate round.

    # 8, the Buckmark is an excellent choice and the pistol I used in Steel Challenge competition this morning, a damn fine trigger on that gun and a red dot is easy to install.

  8. I’ll play, but my choices and logic will be very different. Partly because where I live, there isn’t a lot of rifle hunting…it’s either shotgun slugs or a muzzle-loader. And if you think I’m going to sully my hands with some pseudo-muzzle-loader designed for Bubba Deerhunter, you’ve got another think coming.

    1. Carry piece/Bedside gun. Make the thing do double duty. Sig P365XL (~$600), plus a Romeo Zero red dot ($200). Small enough to be concealable, big enough to shoot decently.

    2. Shotgun. Remington 870 Express Combo. $500. This gives me a barrel for slugs for hunting, a shot barrel for sport and birds. Not my first choice for either…but there’s one in my closet right now.

    3. General-purpose rifle. Probably a S&W M&P 10. ($1350). This gives me a rifle suitable for SHTF, or for longer-range shots. Let’s assume the same Minox scope, brings this rifle to $2000 even. I’ll be quite honest, there is a large part of me that would trade this off for a decent AR-15.

    4. .22 rifle. Probably a Ruger 10/22. This is an area where I’d be inclined to not buy, but save my money until I had a bit more cash.

    5. .22 pistol. S&W Model 41. $1150 from Buds. Mind you, this is not my first choice in a .22 pistol…and I’d be terribly inclined to ditch the rimfire rifle and the GP rifle and buy a GOOD .22 pistol. Feinwerkbau AW-93 or a Pardini SP.

    1. Good calls in several areas, I’ll differ in others.

      1. Spot on with the P365XL. Just shot my second IDPA match with mine yesterday and did better with it by far than I have with supposedly much more sophisticated irons. It’s just an amazingly shootable gun for its size, and totally reliable in my experience so far. I see no reason for it not to be both the EDC and the bedside gun. And I beat the other guy there shooting one with a Romeo Zero shooting iron sights by 2 seconds overall – 202 to 204.

      2. You just cannot go wrong with an 870. Mine lives on a rack in the bedside closet stuffed with 7 rounds of 12 ga. #4 Buck.

      3. Here I’ll start to diverge. I can see a separate need for a SHTF urban combat long gun and a really long range rifle. For an urban combat gun I’d take a 10.5″ barreled AR pistol from PSA at around $500. Very light, very handy in and out of vehicles, surprisingly accurate and effective out to 200 and a little beyond with a red dot sight or low power variable scope. I’d take one of these over any lever gun any day.

      4. There is a need for a hunting/sniping rifle as well, that would be well filled by Kim’s choice of any of the Savage 10 series, an owner myself of a Savage 10T .308 that I shoot in 1,000 yard matches from time to time.

      5. Agree on the need for both .22 rifle and pistol. I’d lean more toward a bolt action rifle of which there are many many suitable choices, and a semiauto pistol. While I have and cherish a High Standard auto they are regrettably as unavailable as Colt Pythons. Rugers are OK. Brownings I have heard are good, although I have never had one. I’m pleased with the S&W Victory I currently own. A 41 would be nice but gilding the lily AFAIC.

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