A handgun would not be my first choice for a primary survival arm. If Im cold, wet, tired, lost and hungry and missing my target means getting hungrier still, Id like to stack the odds in my favour and have the added reach and accuracy of a longarm. However, a rifle or shotgun cannot be carried all the time. It may be put down or stowed in a camp, so has a chance of being lost. What put you in an emergency situation in the first place may have been being separated from you camp or pack, including the rifle. One of the advantages of a handgun is that you can keep it on your person nearly all the time, and carry it in addition to any longarms.
Probably the most important role for a survival handgun is that of self defence against both two and four legged threats. This requirement usually requires a large bore handgun, although medium bore high velocity rounds such as the .357 and 10mm have the advantage of better penetration against animals. Their flatter trajectories are also useful should you need to hunt with the pistol.
There may be occasions when hunting is a more likely requirement than defence and in such situations a small calibre pistol such as a .22 may be preferred. Not only can such a weapon take the small game more likely to be encountered, but a useful number of rounds can be carried on your person without becoming a burden. Such a pistol can also save longarm ammo by being used for mercy shots or Capsticks insurance*.
Some of the most interesting of small calibre survival pistols are those that a member of the US Rescue and Spec Ops group described once on the Equipped to Survive forum:- 6 to 10 Ruger Mk2 or S&W 22A Stainless 22s with match grade sites (sights) and 40mm Red dot scopes. Under the barrels are mounted Surefire or Streamlight tactical lights with amber lenses. The gun and user should be capable of hitting a golf ball sized target at 35 measured yards.
It's worth pointing out that the personnel using these guns were full-time survival instructors (i.e., well practiced) and RSOG is a company that teaches military personnel, who tend to have plenty of alternate defensive weapons.
While reflecting on how convenient a .22 pistol might be for survival situations it occurred to me that you really wanted a weapon that was accurate and versatile but robust and as simple as was practical.
What this suggested to me was a single action colt revolver scaled down to use .22 rimfire rounds. Many rimfire revolvers are in fact larger bore weapons with a different barrel and cylinder. These are often heavier than their centrefire brothers since less metal is removed to create the chambers. Suppose instead you made a single action revolver with the cylinder just big enough to hold 6 or 7 rimfire rounds. The cylinder frame would be about the size of that of a J-frame Centennial and it would be of a good weight for extended wear, even with a relatively long barrel and full sized grips. The grip frame and grips would be full-sized, such as used on K-frame revolvers. The fact that the bore would be lower in the hand would also aid accuracy.
I floated this idea to Ed Sackett and he pointed out that Ruger are making the Bearcat again. This looks like the ideal starting point for the sort of survival revolver that I'm thinking of. Alternately the gun might be based on a scaled up Black Widow Mini-revolver. Features for such a gun would be:-
A barrel of around 5-6 ½. On the smaller frame this may give the gun proportions similar to the classic 7 ½ barreled 1873 Colt .45s.
The Gun should be constructed of stainless steel.
Fully adjustable iron sights should be fitted.
Provision for mounting a scope should be made, and this should not require disassembly of the iron sights.
Grip should be full sized to allow use by large-handed shooters. A trigger guard that will accommodate gloved fingers is also a good idea.
Provision for mounting a tactical light should also be considered.
Another important feature would be the option of a .22 magnum cylinder. It's a great pity that cylinder that can't handle all rimfire cartridges is not available. .22 magnums will be required for larger small game or for when ranges are longer. .22 Stinger rounds use a slow burning powder, so using them in short barreled weapons does not always produce a marked improvement over the performance of other .22LR rounds.
Bullet Weight (gr.)
Muzzle velocity (fps)
Muzzle Energy (ft-lbs)
Fed. HV .22LR
Win. HV .22LR
Rem. HV .22LR
CCI .22 Stinger
Win. .22 WMRF
CCI .22 Maxi-Mag
The above data was gathered from chronographing of rounds fired from a 6 ½ barreled Ruger Single Six revolver. It can be seen that using Stingers gives some increase in velocity over normal .22 LR rounds, but in such a short barrel the lighter round has about the same energy. Of course, this doesn't consider other factors that effect terminal ballistics, such as penetration depth and tendency to mushroom. The other .22 LR rounds are in the transonic velocity range when fired from this length of barrel, and this can be expected to effect accuracy adversely. The magnum rounds have from 45-110% more energy than the LRs and Stingers, so it can see why a .22 mag cylinder for this weapon would be useful.
*Peter Capstick was a hunter who was well aware that an apparently dead animal might be just stunned or shamming. Rather than end up on a set of antlers he advocated placing a second bullet into the heart or CNS as Insurance. back?