The 5 best rifles for home defense?
In spite of my 34 years working with firearms (jeez, where does the time go?!?!), this is admittedly a more challenging topic for me to write about than of the various 5 best handgun articles I’ve written for 19FortyFive in the past year plus.
The reason being that rifles are generally not considered ideal for reactive home defense situations as opposed to proactive combat situations such as, say, a SWAT team making dynamic entry into a bank to rescue hostages or a Special Forces team going in like gangbusters to take out a high-value target (HVT); they’re more difficult to wield in tight close quarter indoor situations than a handgun due to their extra length and bulk.
Moreover, centerfire rifle calibers tended to be over-penetrative for home usage, whilst rimfire rounds like the .22 Long Rifle (LR) were decidedly lacking in stopping power.
However, shorter carbines at least partially mitigate the close quarters concern, whilst improvements in ammunition design have done much to address the overpenetration concerns in centerfire rifle calibers – as do pistol-caliber carbines – and in the case of the .22 LR, there’s that truism that “a hit with a .22 beats a miss with a .44 Magnum.” That said, let’s look at what I consider to be the 5 best home defense rifles.
SKS Carbine 7.62x39mm
The 7.62x39mm (AKA .30 Russian Short) cartridge that was made famous by the AK-47 is far from an optimal home defense caliber – its deadliness on military battlefields notwithstanding – but certain self-defense-oriented loadings such as COR®BON’s DPX® 123-grain hollow point (HP), Underwood Controlled Chaos (catchy name, huh) 123-grain lead free copper HP, or Wolf Military Classic 124-grain bi-metal HP do help the caliber considerably in that arena.
As far as the gun itself to use as the launching platform, as legendary as the Avtomat Kalashnikova is for sheer reliability and durability, the SKS carbine is the superior choice within the caliber for home defense due to its somewhat better accuracy, lower cost, and simplicity, not to mention the SKS is less likely to run into legal restrictions in certain states than the AK.
From a sentimental journey standpoint, my very first long gun purchase was a SKS, purchased in the summer of 1994, shortly before my 18th birthday, for $139.00. Nowadays, a decent quality SKS will run you about $400.00 and up (which is still barely half of what I paid for my WASR-10 AK variant back in late 2017).
M1 .30 Carbine
The M1.30 Carbine and its M2 offshoot were battle-proven in WWII, Korea, and even the early stages of the Vietnam War (in the hands of USAF Security Police – HOOAH! –and U.S. Army Special Forces alike), and were well-known for their portability, accuracy, reliability, and firepower. In its military-issue full metal jacket loading, the round had a reputation for poor stopping power, but with modern ammo options such as the Hornady Critical Defense 110-grain FTX loading, that situation has improved immensely.
Problem is, M1s are a bit on the pricey side. Gone are the days when one could obtain a surplus .30 Carbine for dirt cheap. Barring the hit-or-miss (bad pun intended) prospects of the used gun market whereupon you’re at the tenders mercies of the individual seller’s decision whether to sell on the cheap on engage in price-gouging – your best bet is the Auto-Ordnance/Kahr Firearms Group edition, which comes in two different variants, a fixed-stock version and a Paratrooper Folding Stock” version at $1,271.00 and $1,395.00 respectively.
Winchester Model 1892 Lever-Action .357 Magnum
Last I heard, the Winchester Model 94 lever-action carbine in .30-30 caliber remains *the* most popular gun & cartridge combo in America for deer hunting (if this is no longer the case, dear readers, please let us know below in the comments section). Now, .30-30 is overkill for home use…but if you take another Winchester lever-action rifle as the Model 1892 Carbine chambered in handgun calibers of proven effectiveness such as .357 Magnum or .45 Long Colt, then you have a pretty feasible and formidable home defense setup.
The manufacturer currently states an MSRP of $1,169.99.
Ruger 10/22 .22LR
Thinking back to the caveats I provided about .22 LR and rimfires in general, if one does go with this caliber for their primary home defense rifle, then it’s pretty hard to beat the enduringly popular Ruger 10/22 – which remains wildly popular with gun owners 59 years after it first appeared on the market – in terms of accuracy, reliability, relative compactness, and superb handling skills. These highly desirable characteristics mean that multiple effective hits can be delivered on a bad guy – or bad guys – in a short space of time. Though I haven’t fired mine in quite a while, I purchased one with a combination of stainless steel finish and synthetic stock back in 2008 and never had any problems with it whatsoever, and it also made a great teaching tool for a buddy of mine who was a first-time shooter.
Best Centerfire Rifle: M4 .223 Remington/5.56mm/9mm
The delightful compactness of M4 variant of the oh-so-controversial M16/AR-15, along with developments in frangible ammunition options for .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO, go a long way in making this weapons system a useful home defense tool, Beto O’Rourke’s protestations to the controversy notwithstanding. And for those who don’t want to deal with the extra expense of .223/5.56 ammo, the platform is also available in 9mm pistol caliber carbine options.
Colt’s basic edition of the M4 is listed by the manufacturer with an MSRP of $1,099.00. Meanwhile, scouting out competing brands, Daniel Defense’s well-regarded M4A1 doubles down on that at $2,240.00, but with a lot more proverbial bells and whistles for your extra bucks.
Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.