By: Tom Claycomb

When GPM editor Teresa asked me to write an article about what one gun I would own if I could only own one, I stupidly jumped at the chance. Now that I’m actually setting down to write the piece, I realize how hard this is going to be. This is like you have 12 kids and you have to get rid of all but one!

Whoa, this is an impossible subject. It’s like asking a mechanic if he could only have one tool, what would it be? A gun is a tool, and not one size fits all. But if I had to choose to have only one gun, I’d have to first list out the criteria of what tasks it had to be capable of completing.

So to begin, it’d have to be big enough to kill dangerous game, and I’d have to concede that it’d be an overkill on the rest. And somewhere in the mix, it’d have to be a good survival gun and be adequate to gather food in a crisis.

But then what about self-protection? That’s a big reason why most people own a gun. So that narrows it down and means my first choice would have to be a pistol, but it’d have to be a large caliber so I could ward off bears, wolves, cougars, and moose in the mountains.

So, without further ado, I finally decided that…


…a .44 mag. is my pistol of choice if I can only have one gun.

I like to shoot the big Ruger and Taurus .44 mags, but I don’t want to carry all of that weight. I’d have to go with the S&W Titanium .44 mag.

But… after thinking on it more deeply, I decided that a pistol is nice, but I’m not that good of a shot with one, so I’d go hungry. Granted they’re nice for self-protection, but for overall survival I’d want a long gun.

I thought on the topic for a few days, and I decided that what would work best is a rifle. My .338 Win. Mag would be a way overkill on smaller game and even on antelope and whitetails. So I settled on the good old reliable 30-06. It is big enough to kill anything in North America and has. If you want to shoot something small, you can go with the 55 gr. Accelerator, and if you want to shoot something big, use a 220 gr. bullet.

I’ve shot everything from prairie dogs on up to moose with a 30-06. And another factor in the 30-06’s favor is the availability of ammo. You can buy 30-06 ammo in any podunk town in America. Despite all of the nay-sayers and haters, the 30-06 is still the king.

I felt comfortable with my decision to choose the 30-06 if I could only have one gun. But then I woke up the next day, and it hit me: a shotgun is actually the most versatile gun in the world. When trying to nail down the one gun to choose, you have to consider all of the tasks you would encounter. Self-protection, bird hunting, big game hunting, and survival. That is a pretty wide range of tasks, and yet a shotgun can nail them all. Especially when you consider all of the options offered in shotgun ammo.

You have bird shot for shooting birds, 2-shot up to 4-shot for ducks, and slugs for big game. Then you have HEVI-Shot for turkeys that is devastating out to 60-70 yds., and HEVI-Shot Dead Coyote loads that can roll a coyote out to 70 yds. Or what about OO buckshot, which is a .33 cal. Pellet (and the shell usually has about nine pellets)?

In case you’re not familiar with slugs, they are devastating. I’ve dropped charging cows on up to 2,000-lb. bulls with slugs. And I don’t mean kinda dropped. I hit a 2,000-lb. bull, and he dropped like the proverbial sack of potatoes.

And once I had a psycho cow charge me, and I hit her with one shot between the eyes, and it looked like you knocked her legs out from under her with a telephone pole. She hit the ground and went sliding.

I repeat: Slugs are devastating.

And even in a shotgun as puny as the .410, the Winchester PDX1 ammo is deadly with its three disc and 12 pellets of plated BB shot.

I guess after weighing out all of the options for survival, self-protection, and hunting of all kinds, the shotgun wins out. And now we must ask, which model of shotgun? Pump, double, or semi-auto? I know everyone will say pump, due to its reputation for being reliable, but I’ve had plenty of autos that I have put through the mill.

With my Mossberg 930 Pro Series Waterfowl, I did a face-plant while duck hunting in Alaska, poured the water out of the barrel, and kept on hunting. My old Remington 1100 has fired I can’t even guess how many cases of shells with only two malfunctions. Once the spring broke, and the other time I was shoving in half feathers and half shells before it finally jammed. And then my Winchester SX-3 is a shooting machine. When I was trailing a wounded brown bear, what do you think I trusted? My Mossberg 930 Pro Series Waterfowl, of course.

So, there you have it. If I could only have one gun, it’d be a semi-auto shotgun. Now let the arguments begin!

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.