Homesteaders rely on tools every day. Firearms are an important addition to the belts of those who have chosen to do for themselves. When used safely and properly, firearms can perform a multitude of tasks that no other tool can. We have mauls for splitting the wood. We have wheel hoes to tune up the garden rows. We have knives to butcher the meat, and wrenches to fix the equipment. Our guns fill the freezers, as well as protect our families, homes and livestock. Each and every job is important.
A homestead firearm lineup doesn’t have to include dozens of guns. In fact, a handful of carefully chosen tools can perform a majority of the tasks at hand. When choosing the proper homestead guns, there are three major considerations: gathering food, varmint and predator control, and protecting home and family. These duties can be achieved with a small assortment of shotguns, rifles and handguns.
What’s the point of growing all those potatoes and ears of corn if you’re not going to have a freezer full of wild game to complement them? Sure, not every homesteader enjoys a rare red-meat steak as much as I do, but to those who like their food to go from pulse to plate, guns are as important as the shovel that helped grow the sides.
Shotguns: The list of available shotguns is a long one. However, the list of shotguns that a homesteader needs to gather food is relatively short. A single-shot, break-away .410 is a great starter shotgun. This setup is easy to learn and use, making it a great hand-me-down for the next generation of providers. It’s a small game machine that has turned countless rabbits, squirrels and up-land game birds into breakfast, lunch and dinner. The .410 is a great little gun for protecting the peach tree harvest from squirrels while at the same time supplementing your protein diet.
The most popular and efficient shotguns for gathering food remain the same old 20-gauge and 12-gauge models that have been around for decades. They offer a bigger bore than the .410, allowing the homesteader to take down bigger game. The 20 gauge damages less meat than the 12 gauge, so it’s great for most game birds like quail, grouse, pheasant and turkey when chambered with birdshot. It’s also powerful enough to take down medium game like coyotes and even high flying waterfowl.
Twelve-gauge shotguns come in many shapes and sizes. They’re most commonly offered in pump-action and double-barrel break-away options with both side-by-side and over-and-under barrel configurations. Some 12-gauge models can also be fitted with rifled barrels, allowing the homesteader to use them with slugs to increase the bullet’s stability and accuracy. Many a 12-gauge slug has penetrated the kill zone of a whitetail deer, filling the freezer with meat to feed the family through winter.
Handguns: Handguns are less common for gathering food, but there’s one pistol in particular that performs well in that arena. That pistol is the .22 short. Many homesteaders supplement their food bill and income by running a trapline. A .22-caliber revolver has long been a trapper’s best friend, whether the game will be eaten or sold for its fur. An experienced trapper can dispatch an animal quickly and humanely with very little damage to the hide using a .22 short.
Rifles: The decision of which rifle to use while gathering food should be made by bearing in mind the size of the animal you wish to kill. Smaller critters like rabbits and squirrels can easily be taken with a .22 long rifle, but to send a round that small at a deer or bigger animal like a bear or moose could be considered inhumane and is illegal in most areas. Jobs like this require a larger caliber and more power behind the projectile.
The big game rifle field can be overwhelming. Numerous cartridge sizes and calibers have been transplanted from military use into the realm of food gathering, for good reason. They’re accurate at long range and offer great stopping power. The rifle chosen for big game hunting depends largely on personal preference, but a few options have been proven to perform. The .30-30, .30/06, .308, and 7mm are the top choices for many. A look at your hunting grounds can help make the decision. If long-range shots are plenty, the level trajectory, manageable recoil, and long-range capabilities of a 7mm are ideal. If the quarters are tight and the deer are in close, the .30-30 might be the best choice. A practical assessment of a homesteader’s personal situation is necessary, and often caliber choice can involve such factors as past experience, what your hunting buddy says, what the folks at the local gun shop say, and what sort of luck you’ve had during previous hunts. And don’t forget to check out availability and price of the rounds before pulling the trigger on a purchase.
Predator and varmint control
Imagine a quiet evening on the front porch. You’re listening to old country music and enjoying an ice cold mason jar full of well water. There’s a rustling in the brush near the meat house, where your plump fryer chickens are resting peacefully. A big boar raccoon emerges from the depths of a shadowy timber stand, with the smell of chicken in his nose and his predatory instincts have taken hold. What do you do? One solution is to grab the .22.
Rifles: The .22 long rifle tops my list for best rifles in the predator and varmint control category. It’s a great multipurpose rifle that can handle a large majority of the pests a homesteader will encounter. Raccoons, porcupines, squirrels, chipmunks and all sorts of other damage-doing, food-stealing critters can be dispatched quickly and humanely with a trusty .22 long rifle.
For the folks with a coyote problem, a .243 can come in handy. Imagine a pack of coyotes prowling a hundred yards away near the back fencerow, creeping up on the sheep. A .22 isn’t the ideal weapon in this scenario. A .243 is plenty capable enough to reach out and touch a coyote at long range – a true nail driver that combines accuracy and power, and doubles as a sufficient deer gun at short to medium ranges.
Shotguns: Just as important as protecting the homestead from predators and varmints, is protecting the homesteader from such threats, specifically when the homesteader leaves base camp and ventures into the outer reaches of the property. In many cases, bears, wolves and other dangerous animals rule where the property lines end.
In this scenario, a single-barrel pump-action 12 gauge is my first pick. I’d take a rifled barrel and a magazine full of slugs, or a power barrel capable of singing a ballad of buckshot. I like my chances in a forest full of black bears while carrying either option.
Handguns: For predator and varmint control and protection in big critter territory, the-bigger-the-better principle applies.
Don’t startle a momma bear while carrying a BB gun. Higher pistol calibers like the .45 and .357 are recommended in this instance.
For small-critter confrontations and protecting property and livestock close to camp, a .22 short often performs well.
Fur-bearing nuisances can be live-trapped and dispatched using a .22 short with little damage to the hide. Ammunition for the .22 caliber has historically been readily available and relatively inexpensive.
Home and family defense
The homesteaders of rural America are often their own first line of defense. There are no police a block over – help is often miles away. And although there are a multitude of other options for home defense, the firearm can fill this role in the country home and provide another layer of security in the unlikely event that you’re tasked with defending your home and those in it. Shotguns: There’s something about the sound of a 12-gauge shell being fed from the magazine into the chamber by way of an authoritative pump action that might make intruders think twice. In the event that a scary shell racking isn’t enough, you need a shotgun that has knock-down power. That’s why a 12 gauge is my choice. However, a well-placed shot from a .410 or 20 gauge can be devastating as well. A buckshot load tends to penetrate better than bird-shot, and only rely on shotgun slugs for home defense if the tussle is taken outdoors. This is for the safety of the people inside the home you’re protecting.
Rifles: Rifles for home defense are a relatively new conversation, as shotguns have long been the ruler of the home defense realm. Rifles that chamber a handgun caliber can be effective in home defense, too. Pistol caliber carbines may sacrifice a bit in the high-performance rifle category, but the short-range accuracy and stopping power of a pistol caliber round will certainly defend the homestead.
Many pistol calibers are available in the assault rifle platform today, including the 9mm, .40 and .45 caliber. Standard carbines are available, too, and may offer easier handling during under-pressure deployment by more members of the family, specifically less experienced shooters.
Handguns: When it comes to handguns for home defense, usually the bigger the bullet the better. Of course, a larger caliber pistol is only suited for those who can handle a bigger gun. How many people in the house have the training and grit to discharge a .357 accurately and confidently? The recoil alone may take this pistol out of the conversation for certain folks. A practical homesteader should make considerations like this before choosing a weapon of any kind, and the safety of you and your loved ones should be at the forefront of the conversation. In all cases, make sure guns are properly stored for the safety of everyone in the home. To gain familiarity and training, check out your local gun shop and sign up for a gun handling and safety course.
Multitaskers increase efficiency. Whenever a firearm can perform all three main considerations, it needs to be in the safe. The top multitasker remains the single-barrel pump-action 12-gauge shotgun. Its ability to knock down a deer, deter or incapacitate a trespasser, and protect your life and property from predators make it a must-have for the practical homesteader.
Guns are among the most valuable tools for country life. The options are endless in our world of arms. There are many considerations to be made, but one fact remains: Homesteaders are practical people who should take a practical approach to arming the homestead.
Black powder firearms are still used frequently by old-fashioned homesteaders and hunt-ers, if for nothing more than nostalgia. They pack a lot of power, the smell of freshly spent powder excites many, and the giant cloud of smoke that follows the bang is just plain cool.
Most importantly, black powder rifles, or muzzleloaders, greatly extend the deer hunting season in many states. Homesteaders can continue to pursue wild game well into the winter, offering more opportunities to provide lean, nutritious meat for the family; to go with the potatoes and corn, of course. A black powder firearm is a should-have for the practical homesteader.
Brandon Hodgins lives in northern Michigan with his wife, Becky, and 3-year-old daughter, Bella. Together, they seek self-sufficiency on their 10-acre homestead by growing, hunting and preserving much of their own food.