What Is the Best All-Purpose Gun?

Best All-Purpose Gun
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What Is the Best All-Purpose Gun?

Many people look at guns as tools, each with a specific purpose.

You can’t use a hammer as a screwdriver, and the same is true with guns. You wouldn’t (or shouldn't) try to do long-range shooting with a shotgun, and you shouldn't try to walk around concealing a rifle for your everyday carry.

But we do all have certain tools we do use for multiple things.

Whether it's a multitool or just something specific that we’ve found works well for other uses, we all have one or two go-tos that we grab first before moving on to more specialized stuff.

That’s the idea behind having an all-purpose gun.

But before we can address what constitutes the best all-purpose gun, it’s probably a good idea to figure out what criteria such a gun would need to meet. 

Setting Criteria for the Best All-Purpose Gun

What Do You Want an All-Purpose Gun to Do?

Yes, we’ve established that we're trying to find the best all-purpose gun. The snarky answer to the question would be: everything.

But finding one that can truly do everything is transparently impossible to do.

So what functionality should a firearm which meets multiple needs have? Should it be able to be used for hunting? Should it be concealable?

Just with those two, you can see a bit of conflict will arise: Most concealable firearms aren’t going to be well-suited to hunting.

So, let’s set some realistic criteria ahead of time to avoid issues like that. A good all-purpose gun should be able to be used in a variety of situations, like survival, hunting, self-defense and home-defense (yes, they’re different).

In addition to that, it should have sufficient caliber to deal with everything from small game to defense against hordes of zombies (or at least a home invader).

It would need to be capable of taking down large game but not be such a large caliber that it obliterates small game.

In addition to all of that — and this is really one of the biggest factors that should be considered — it needs to be easy to use.

A good all-purpose firearm should be intuitive. It should be blatantly obvious how you use it from the moment you pick it up.

It can’t really be utilitarian if it takes time to figure out how to work a complicated action or loading procedure.

It also needs to be reliable and as maintenance-free as possible, because you want to be able to use it as often as possible and not be constantly working on cleaning or fixing it.

Then there’s portability. You need to be able to travel with it easily, so it can’t be unwieldy.

There might be a need to conceal it to a degree, but again, that would likely rule out hunting, so there may need to be some compromise here.


Since this all-purpose gun needs to fit a variety of uses, that narrows the range of calibers to be considered.

Smaller calibers like .22LR and .380 ACP are definitely out. Similarly, things on the other end of the spectrum like .50 BMG and .454 Casull would also be out.

And while a handgun might be excluded generally, pistol caliber carbines might fit the bill in some ways, so something like a 9mm isn’t necessarily off the table.

The reality is that you’re probably going to want things that fit within military or hunting rifle categories such as 5.56 or 7.62.

There’s a reason these calibers are used by militaries all over the world.

Battle conditions for the world’s infantry units are as close to all-purpose as you can be, so these would likely be the best choices.


Even though we don’t want something small, we don’t want something too big. It should be something that's easy to carry.

It can’t be too heavy, too thick or too long. We’re looking for the Goldilocks-accessible gun here — it has to be just right.

A gun like this will serve multiple purposes, so it needs to realistically fit in most anywhere you’ll be.

It won’t just be sitting in a safe, under a bed or in a closet.

This will be the go-to firearm for a number of scenarios, so it needs to be able to come with you everywhere. That includes being reasonably maneuverable inside your vehicle.

Just to be clear, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a large gun. There are plenty of rifles that fold, collapse or break down in some way that are still a good size when put together.  

Ease of Use

Let’s face it, to truly be considered an all-purpose gun, your firearm needs to be essentially point and shoot.

There shouldn't be a learning curve. All-purpose is the goal here, and you can't predict what those purposes might be.

One possible scenario is that you're injured and someone else has to use your firearm to defend you.

In that case, you don’t have time to stop and give them a class on how to work the custom action you had designed by a random gunsmith your uncle knows. 

What Is the Best All-Purpose Gun?

Over the course of reading this far, you might have started to pick up on where this was going.

Based on all of the criteria outlined above, there are two rifles that fit this bill. They are usable for hunting and defense, versatile, adaptable and portable.

They’ve been used in battlefields and can fit easily in most vehicles. They are the AR and the AK.

These rifles have been through just about every possible adverse condition known to man.

From the deserts of the Middle East to the frozen taiga of Siberia — from underwater and maritime operations to urban combat — these two rifles have seen it all.

Both rifles are available in either 5.56 or 7.62, making them a great fit in the caliber department.

While some states in the US don’t allow people to hunt with 5.56, that doesn’t mean it won’t work for that.

Or, if you’re concerned, just go with the larger 7.62 round. 

The AK and AR are also extremely portable. There are numerous takedown variants for AR models, and the AK has long had versions with foldable stocks.

The AR platform has recently been able to incorporate that as well, and both rifles can also have adjustable buttstocks.

In many cases, the collapsed or folded versions of either firearm will easily fit into a vehicle, and in some cases, they even fit in a backpack. 

Both of these guns are user-friendly. The safeties on both are in obvious places and easy to figure out.

Aiming with both is extremely self-explanatory, and they’re both reliable enough that when you pull the trigger, they go bang.

You’d be well served in any scenario we’ve discussed here, and plenty of others we couldn’t even imagine, if you’re carrying either of these guns.

So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments and tell us why or what your ideal all-purpose gun is.

Keep in mind that something like this is extremely subjective and no gun can truly do all things for all people all the time.

With that being said, these two seem to be the best options.

Now the only thing that’s left to do is to figure out which is the best between them.

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Thomas Hinkle
I agree that it's a hard choice, and depending on the time of year, I change what I use up in the hills above the house. During the summer, I use a Mossberg 500 20 gauge with a Choate side folding stock, and a Ellzeta light mount with a Streamlight attached. In these hills during the summer, visibility is about 10 yards, so the shotgun does great, but when the foliage dies off, I use my Winchester 30-30. That being said, no matter what time of year it is, if I know I'll be in the woods after dark, the shotgun rules supreme for me.