I know that I am not the only one trying to get prepared for what is coming on a budget, and I thought I'd share some of the best bargains I've found in my searches.
Bargain Basement Budget:
Weapons tend to be in odd calibers at this budget level, but can use many common reloading components, less money = more work, as in most things. Semi-automatics are out of this budget range, so these are all bolt or similar actions.
Mosin Nagant, M-44, M-39, M-38. All in 7.62X54R 5 shot capacity Under $100 typically
ANYONE can afford one of these weapons, and ammunition is currently plentiful and cheap, but you may wind up having trouble finding it after a while if imports stop. Reloading can remedy or mitigate this to some extent if you stock up on supplies.
Hungarian ammunition is best, followed by Russian and Polish, followed by the really nasty Czec and Bulgarian. Any of it shoots fine, but the lower end stuff is very prone to fouling. This cartridge will kill anything that walks or crawls on this continent with a well placed shot.
K-31 (Schmidt Rubin) in 7.5X55 6 shot capacity Under $300 typically
These rifles are the absolute KING of quality and craftsmanship, usually in EXCELLENT bore condition, with wear on bluing and wooden furniture that is easily remedied at home. These rifles NEVER fired corrosive ammunition, and therefore retain pristine bores in all examples I've seen. GP-11 ammunition goes through cycles, currently a bit dry, costs a bit more than most ammo (60 rounds for $38.00 currently), but it's MATCH GRADE, shoots to sub MOA typically. This action is a push pull rather than a bolt action, so overlong cartridges will be an issue with lockup. GP-11 is berdan primed, so you have to convert the brass or buy boxer primed brass, Privi partisan makes a similar round to the GP-11 at reasonable prices which is reloadable brass. Ballisticlly comparable to the .308 cartridge
.303 Enfield, (if you can find a .308 one even better) 6 shot capacity Under $200 typically
These rifles have a quick loading magazine, action as smooth as butter, parts are not too difficult to find and can usually be had for less than $200. Ballistically comparable to the .308 cartridge
There are other guns that fit into this category but I don't have personal experience with them so I'll leave it t those that do to offer their opinions.
Middle America Budget:
AK-47, 74, 101, and other variants magazine capacities up to 50 rounds in box mags, prices vary from $300-$600
I am not going to get into the AK vs AR vs other rifle platforms argument, the fact is the AK-47 and variants are some of the least expensive reliable semi automatic firearms available today. I prefer more standard calibers like .223 even though the 5.45X39 is more damaging because there will ALWAYS be .223 and 5.56 ammo available and the others are not necessarily going to be if imports are curtailed. It can easily be reloaded, milsurp ammo is an option. The 7.62X39 cartridge is very inexpensive, as is the 5.45X39 and these weapons can shoot the steel cased ammunition as well as any other, they are actually built for it. If you go that route stock up on ammunition in a big way to ensure you will have enough to last you till you can find something else to shoot or more ammo. I figure if I've expended 1,000 rounds of ammo and am still standing, there ought to be plenty of hardware laying around to be picked up. I'd suggest having 10,000 rounds if you can afford it, buy it by the case, it's cheaper.
AK's are built in many countries and different levels of quality, Bulgarian isn't too bad, Czechoslovakian is better, Chinese is good quality but parts are hard to find so Norinco wouldn't be my first choice. The Kel-Tek looks attractive but everyone I've consulted says the quality is poor. The Russian AK's have the best reputation, Saiga (Russian American Armory) is also made at Ishmash, the same factory the military models are built in.
I personally have a .223 Saiga, I like the light recoil, ammo compatibility, and ease of finding reloading components, but magazines are expensive. I am getting around this by buying an AR conversion adapter that will allow me to use AR magazines, which are cheap and plentiful. Surefire ($40) magazines work, Pro mags ($15-$25) are junk, nobody recommends them that has bought them to my knowledge. Galil Magazines can be adapted, but many military mags need a bullet guide and minor gunsmithing. Many foreign built rifles fall under 922r compliance rules, so check to see that you aren't using high cap mags or other "evil assault rifle" components illegally.
Ruger Mini-14' .223 or 5.56 prices comparable to the AR currently
I have no personal experience with this weapon but magazines are difficult to come by, and if it breaks you have to send it back to the factory for repair, no parts are available for repair, so I'd steer clear of this one unless you get a REALLY good deal and consider it a throw away. It's certainly better than nothing, but don't count on it for the long haul.
AR-15 and variants, .223/5.56 caliber varying magazine capacities and prices range from $600-$1200
Yes AR's can be had that cheap, but they lack items I consider useful like forward assist and chrome bore. The US military standard issue weapon is probably the best choice, ammo and magazine compatibility with the current us military stockpiles, ease of reloading cases and finding components is good, reliability is something less than experienced with the AK variants but certainly acceptable if proper maintenance is followed. Parts are easy to find, if not cheap and as far as I know all AR's can fire both 5.56 and .223, but check your manual to be sure. Contrary to popular belief they are NOT exactly the same. .223 has a shorter throat and loading 5.56 ammunition into a .223 chambered rifle may work in a bolt gun but will likely jam in a semi, not to mention higher pressures may damage the weapon. Any weapon chambered in 5.56 can fire .223 ammo with no problems. Steel cased ammo is not recommended for these weapons due to the possibility of extractor damage over time. This weapon was not built for steel cases as the AK's and variants were.
Rifles like the AR-10 FN FAL, M1-A, and M-14 among others chambered in .308 are not bad choices but usually are even MORE expensive than the AR's in .223 and I have little experience with them so will leave that to someone with more firsthand knowledge. In addition, I can pick up a case of 1,000 rounds of .223 and walk out of a shop with it under my arm like a football. I'd like to see anyone other than John Rambo do that with 1,000 rounds of .308.
Shoot for the Stars budget:
Well like most of us, I have NO experience with this budget level whatsoever so I'm going to leave this category blank. Even IF budget were not a barrier I'd say getting too far off the beaten track is a BAD IDEA simply because you won't have any parts available for your “space gun” when you need them. I like to stick with standard issue type items, owning an orphan can be an exercise in the use of pepto-bismol.
Well that's enough to get those of you with limited budgets moving I hope, I started out with a Mosin, traded up to a K-31 and then bought a Saiga .223 with a windfall. I still have the K-31 and Saiga, as well as a single shot .22 and a 12 gauge pump shotgun left to me by my grandfather. I'd like something in a .308 but I am loathe to sell my K-31 and I can reload for it if need be so I'll keep it and hope something cheap in a .308 comes along. .223 lacks hitting power beyond 500 meters unless exotic ammunition is used, so something long range needs to be more like a 30 caliber. I strongly recommend everyone have at least some .22 long rifle ammunition (For trade or bater) even if you don't have a rifle for it, which you REALLY should. .22 shorts make less noise than an air gun if shot from a rifle and so can take small game at short ranges without alerting anyone to your presence. I won't get into pistols here because I have limited personal experience with the many varied handguns, but I will recommend that everyone consider 9mm rather than other calibers, while it may be a bit lacking in power, it is the most readily available cartridge in the world for handguns, and you can always shoot them twice. .45 is a better stopper with ball ammunition, but expensive and no longer issued to the US military, so no stockpiles to draw from. I have a Glock 19 for it's reliability and durability (anyone out there sensing a theme in my firearms choices?) Hope everyone finds this useful, for now signing off