Since the first settlers arrived from Europe, firearms have been an integral part of life for those trying to make a living from the land. Firearms can defend your livestock and garden and put meat on the table. Purchasing guns for the homestead is as critical a step as buying food.
My grandfather grew up on a small farm in northern Michigan during the Depression. His dad had one gun on the farm, an ancient 12-gauge single-shot shotgun that had been the farm gun since his dad was a kid. This humble weapon put food on the table and kept varmints out of the chicken coop for nearly one hundred years, being retired only when my great-grandfather passed away in the mid-1990s. That ancient shotgun was the definition of a homesteader’s gun – it was a jack of all trades that served reliably and had been affordable to purchase.
The needs of modern homesteaders are no different than that of my ancestors. They require reliable, inexpensive weapons to put food on the table, defend against predators, and dispatch livestock. There are many firearm choices, both new and used, available today. So, let’s look at some recommendations based on the experiences of my family and friends.
Table of Contents
I’m going to be slightly controversial here and not recommend a shotgun or .22 rimfire for the first weapon to acquire for the homestead. Instead, I recommend a centerfire rifle in an intermediate caliber like .223, 7.63×39, .350 Legend, or .300 Blackout. These calibers are big enough for hunting deer, plus defensive work against large canines or home invaders, while still not being overkill on small game or varmints like possums or armadillos. The ammunition is also less expensive than large centerfire calibers like the .30-30 or .308. All of these calibers are available in inexpensive AR-type platforms and can be found most days for under $450 on Gunbroker.
As your budget grows (and you decide that one is needed), consider adding a centerfire rifle in a larger caliber to your arsenal. Used deer rifles seem to sell cheap around mid to late spring. Plan ahead, and you can find a deal.
A rimfire rifle makes a great second gun for the homestead. It cannot take big game (not legally in most states), but it can take small game and barnyard pests cheaply and without blowing out your eardrums. I used to keep a bolt action .22 Magnum handy when I lived outside town. I could keep the clip loaded and ready, up on a shelf, and the gun stayed empty for safety. It was easy to load the clip and chamber a shell as I headed out the door, and was just as simple to clear the weapon and render it safe when I came back in.
The versatility of the shotgun cannot be overstated. That said, shotguns are handicapped by a lack of range and precision compared to rifles. Ammunition cost is another factor. While once relatively inexpensive, the heavy game loads required for most varmint work are almost as expensive as deer rifle ammo nowadays unless you reload. All that said, shotguns themselves can be inexpensive to purchase and can provide a one-gun solution for homesteaders whose budgets will not allow the further acquisition of firearms for some time. Shotguns excel as a tool for gathering small game and are the only option if you plan to hunt migratory birds. When loaded with slugs, a 12-gauge can take deer at ranges out to a hundred yards, and is capable of handling predators as large as a grizzly bear. You should be able to find a quality pump shotgun for less than $300 new from any big box store, and some older single shots are less than $150.
Depending on the quality of your neighborhood, a handgun may or may not be the last category of gun for the homestead that needs to be acquired. A sidearm really shines as a home defense gun or hanging out in a pocket or holster while doing chores. They work well for dispatching furbearers if you are running a trap line also. A co-worker carries an old High Standard .22 revolver as a “surprise gun” while out doing chores. He uses it to take care of the numerous possums, snakes, and other predators who slink around his chicken coop and garden. A good pistol is not a cheap weapon but is a handy companion if it is within your budget. (One exception to the rule is the Heritage Rough rider. They are very reliable and cost less than $175 for the plain model.)
Thoughts on other weapons
Years ago, small caliber rifles like the .25-20, .32-20, and .32 long (centerfire and rimfire) were popular guns for the homestead because the ammunition was inexpensive, cheap to reload, and small enough for small game, but had enough power to take on deer or wild pigs with careful shot placement. Modern pistol caliber carbines (PCCs) like the Hi-Point, Rossi 92, or Henry Homesteader in 9mm, 10mm, 40 S&W, or .357 Magnum can fill this role of utility gun very well. All are compact and lightweight weapons with reasonable accuracy at farmyard ranges.
If you have the dollars to spend, combination guns like the older Savage model 24s are great guns for the homestead. With a rifle round in the top barrel and birdshot in the lower one, you are ready for whatever is raiding your chicken coop.
Air rifles are another worthwhile purchase. They are quiet and cheap to shoot, with enough power for most garden pests. Look for something advertising over 800 fps in .177 caliber or 600 fps in .20 or .22 calibers as a minimum. I have had the best luck with heavy pointed pellets on ground-based vermin, but I love H&N Crow Magnum pellets for the starlings and other birds that plague my berry bushes.
Acquiring guns for the homestead is as much of a requirement as getting a shovel. They are tools that can protect your family and livestock and put food on the table. With careful thought as to your needs and by shopping around, you can build a well-rounded collection of good firearms without draining the budget.
Until next time…