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Best Urban Rifle Builds When SHTF [Guide]

Can you imagine anything more difficult than having to defend yourself or your family while surrounded by potential invaders?

This problem is one worth considering during a SHTF or end-of-the-world event if you live in an urban environment.

Urban Prep Tips Traffic
What’s your urban plan?

While, yes, pistols are an obvious choice within a city limit, they’re not adequate against an invading armed force or anarchy when push comes to shove.

Defensive tactics rely heavily on observing, identifying, and defending against an attacking force from a longer distance.

So, today, our focus is going to remain on long arms.

We’re going to take a look at urban environments and the challenges they face, talk about some things to consider, then tell you what rifle parts you’ll need to accommodate.

Table of Contents


Some Things to Consider

Before we start throwing random gun gear your way, let’s examine the things you’ll need to keep in mind before hitting that buy button…


Are you surrounded by tall buildings, or are you in a residential or mixed-use zone?

If leaving, what will the new location look like?

Density and population have a great effect on what to carry and when to carry it.

Urban Prep Tips Lights
What’s near you? Industrial spaces? Skyscrapers?

No one person will answer this the same way.

But it’s safe to say that an urban area is more likely to be overrun by both hipsters and invading armies than the fields of Iowa.


Oh yes, caliber is important. No matter the size of your projectile, shooting blanks isn’t an option.

Historically, most defensive and even combat scenarios in an urban and suburban landscape are found within 200-yards.

Common Rifle Calibers
What are you choosing?

Location is clearly a factor here, as are the potential threats you may be worried about.

In the US, it’s safe to assume that 5.56×45 is one of the most common calibers chosen for this purpose.

While I don’t disagree with others’ reasoning for using 5.56/223, it’s not for me. Other caliber choices that may be easier to find in the land of COVID.

.300 Blackout

300 BLK
.300 BLK

Why not go all out on the price while we’re here? .300 Blackout, ballistically, is great, and the range it offers is perfect for 200-yards.

A 30-caliber projectile offers so much energy, even if it is moving slowly.

In addition, it’s able to shush.

Subsonic loads are where this caliber shines. Lastly, it comes in the AR platform. So, if you need a caliber for hunting or defending against zombies, it’s a go-to.



Ballistically, it’s near-identical to the .300 BLK with slightly more punch.

It’s also significantly cheaper.

.300 BLK vs 7.62x39mm
.300 BLK vs 7.62x39mm

Steel cased and bi-metal are going to be some of the only options, but who cares?

At least you can utilize it in an SKS!

.308 Win

Popular .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm Ammo
Popular .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm Ammo

AKA the obvious choice. In my opinion, the .308 is the “do it all” cartridge.

A good .308 rifle can handle moving from an urban environment to the middle of a rural hunting ground.

It’s super powerful, comparatively, and also has a significantly extended range.

Depending on personal preference or just awesomeness, other caliber options might include 5.45×39 (i.e., AK-74), .22 LR, or pistol calibers.

Firearm Parts and Optics

Optics could be a whole series in and of itself.

Most optics will fall under red dots, holographic, prism, or LPVO.

Urban Firearm Setup Optics
All the optics!

Depending on the use or environment, the optic varies.

There’s WAY too much to get into here. That said, I like employing them based upon the intended use, which I will outline later on with specific builds.

Barrel Length and Material

Generally speaking, the longer the barrel, the better accuracy you’ll get.

In most states, 16-inches is the minimum.

Faxon 16 Gunner Barrel
Faxon 16-inch Gunner Barrel

If you feel like getting frisky with grey areas, “other” firearms, SBRs, and AOWs might also be within reach.

However, in places like LA, Detroit, NYC, or other populated areas in between, you might be stuck with 16-inches.

Another option, in many areas, is 14.5-inches with a pin and welded muzzle device making 16-inches overall.

Brigand Arms and Faxon 14.5-inch pinned pencil barrel

Check your local laws and yell at your local ATF agent…or not…don’t do that.

Material is also worth considering.

For me, I prefer to use Nitride barrels due to their accuracy.

Depending on your purpose, barrel material needs to be considered.

Faxon Barrel Assortment
Faxon Barrel Assortment

Gas System/Action Type

There are lots of arguments here, but it’s safe to assume that a semi-auto firearm is recommended.

You’re then left with direct impingement, piston, and blowback systems. All of which are acceptable.

LWRCI IC-SPR uses a piston system.

I prefer piston systems due to their reliability and cleanliness, but they have the drawback of being front heavy and heating up a handguard faster than other gas systems.

My second favorite is roller-delayed blowback (think CETME) due to the reliability in harsh environments.

PSA’s MP5 is a roller delayed system.

Bolt actions and lever actions are basically universal.

They’re quite dependable for this role in an urban environment for several reasons.

Henry .45-70 Gif
You want reliable? Lever and bolt guns are pretty darn reliable.

Both are incredibly reliable, and bolt actions are so easy to maintain. Most bolt actions will be in larger calibers and can accommodate urban and suburban environments. 


Other accessories greatly impact the overall usability of any firearm.

This includes slings, QD attachments, handguards, grips, stocks, and a plethora of pointless money-making ideas. Check out our list of the Best AR-15 Upgrades.

The Marines still use the M16A2 with some pretty success; PJs may disagree.

VTAC and Vickers Slings
VTAC and Vickers Slings

No matter what you get as an accessory, train with it. You’ll find if it’s good or not, based on how everything wears in.

I’d dare say that a weapons light might be one of the most useful accessories for an urban environment, especially for CQB. But do they make you a target? Find out here!

Lights for everyone!

Urban Rifle Setups: CQB, Mid-Range, & Long Range

The best firearm for defense is the one you have readily available.

It’d be great if the one you have available immediately has already been put together and set up with defense in mind.

A dual-purpose is even better! This dual-purpose can also drive the caliber choice for something useful for hunting as well as defending your home.

Now that we covered some options, it’s all about putting them together for your specific needs. I’ll offer some suggestions on different setups, but these are in no way for one gun to be outfitted for every unique situation.

This all depends completely on what your goal is for the rifle.

Goals Punch

Is it something you want to use only in close quarters? Perhaps you want to make it more of a midrange rifle?

Undoubtedly, the options are unlimited, but here are some suggestions.

CQB Rifle Builds

A CQB rifle is wholly a defensive firearm meant for confined spaces or frequently getting into and out of vehicles.

Caliber doesn’t matter here unless there’s a concern about over-penetration. When it comes to optics, magnification is a secondary thought and unnecessary.

Build #1

If you want small to become smaller, nothing is better than a bit of arctic air when naked; or Deadfoot Arms.

Unlike other folding stocks, a user is able to continue firing even with the stock/brace collapsed. It may be essential to go through the ATF to register the firearm as an AOW in the current configuration.

Urban Firearm Setup CQB Build 1
Build #1 in AOW configuration.

With the CTS-1400 field of vision is unrestricted.

If using 5.56/223, a simple swap to the Crimson Trace CTS-1100 turns this AOW into an effective midrange platform with 3x magnification.

Build #2

Yes, it’s 16-inches, but an AK also allows the users the ability to add a folding stock. Shorter AK pistol options are available and will effectively function the same.

The beauty of the 7.62×39 caliber is that all the powder is burned in about 10-inches of barrel or less.

Urban Firearms Setup AK Build Midwest Industries
Midwest Industries mount

This will definitely fit into a midrange category if needed, but what sets it apart is the ability to be fired from a folded position. Transporting this rifle is exceptionally easy.

Instead of 7.62×39, the 5.45×39 is a great caliber but might be better suited for mid-range due to the tumbling a 5.45 can achieve at distance when striking a target.

Build #3 (Trouble State Friendly!)

I’m a big fan of .45 Colt, as shown here, and think this platform is capable of handling CQB.

With the addition of the Crimson Trace CW-102, the only missing component is semi-automatic use.

19. Henry Big Boy X Group Shots
John tested out the Henry Big Boy X. Check out his review here.

With Henry’s new addition of King’s Gate lever actions, reloading is very simple, even if time-consuming.

Mid-Range Rifle Builds

A mid-range rifle can easily handle tight spaces similar to CQB.

When not in a confining environment, it can reach out to a decent range.

Choosing a caliber that can mix distances of variable engagement is essential.

I would dare say that Pistol Caliber Carbines are arguably inefficient for this purpose, as is .22 LR. Pretty much any other caliber choice would be acceptable.

Build #1

If 14.5-inches isn’t a possibility, a 16-inch with magnify-able optic is a highly versatile option.

The magwell flare of an M4E1 lower makes reloading super easy and fast enough for the KE Arms trigger.

Urban Firearm Setup Mid Range Build 1
Urban Firearm Setup Mid Range Build 1

Believe it or not, this whole rifle weighs in at 8.8-pounds with all optics and accessories.

If weight wasn’t an issue, I’d probably recommend an LPVO like an ACME Machine 1-8×28 as it covers all the needs of an urban, suburban, rural environment.

Build #2

It’s technically considered an “other” firearm and not legal in all areas even though it fits the role defined.

The piston system on the BRN-180 is adjustable for a wide range of uses.

Urban Firearm Setup Mid Range Build 2
Urban Firearm Setup Mid Range Build 2

While I love the piston system on the BRN-180, the side charging handle makes it difficult to adapt a side folding magnifier without being struck by the handle when being fired.

Build #3 (Trouble State Friendly!)

Pretty simply, it’s the Winchester 94 in 30-30.

The 30-30 cartridge has been around as long as smokeless powder. It really packs a punch and can hit out to 200-yards with enough practice.

Urban Firearm Setup Henry 30 30
.30-30…it may be old, but it’s reliable.

Having a fast reload – I’m guessing you can move your arm up and down pretty quick – makes follow-up shots possible with little training.

It’s an old gun platform, and these guns also come with old eyes. While not optimal, an optic can be affixed to the Winchester 94.

Urban Firearm Setup Winchester 94
You can slap an optic on if you choose.

If you hate the look, go for a non-existent Marlin – come on, Ruger!

Long-Range Rifle Builds

A long-range rifle is just that, a long-range rifle. I use the term “long-range” liberally as most firearm enthusiasts consider 800-yards long-range.

Let’s just say, anything that can reach out to 500-yards in a city is considered long-range.

The size alone would be a huge determent to CQB but could easily fill a mid-range role.

Build #1

Nothing says “SCREW YOU” more than a .308.

While not a lightweight rifle, any .308 is capable of taking medium to large game.

Urban Firearm Setup Long Range Build 1
Urban Firearm Setup Long Range Build 1

I’m of the opinion that a .308 rifle can carry a person from a volatile urban area to a safer rural area and offer the ability to hunt along the way.

See our full review of the Aero M5E1 Rifle here!

Build #2

An FCM rifle is a scout rifle, so this is a unique bolt gun.

It’s not the only scout-style firearm, and the FCM has long been discontinued, but current options are available.

Urban Firearm Setup Winchester 94
The Scout, on the right.

What makes scout rifles unique is the ability to utilize both magnified and iron sights without needing to adjust the platform or mounting or limiting immediate peripheral vision.

This rifle sets the optic high enough that the irons are visible below.

Essentially, this setup allows for two or three different optic zeros depending on range

Build #3 (Trouble State Friendly, Almost!)

The Springfield M1A 18-inch Scout Squad really is a set position rifle and not something to carry on the run. It’s a highly debated rifle and, outside of Maryland, legal nearly anywhere.

If the goal is to defend your home in the event of complete civil unrest or invasion and still be used for hunting, the M1A offers it all.

Scout Squad M1A Rifles
MIA Scout Squad

The downfall of this rifle has historically been weight and accuracy.

Yes, it is a heavy rifle, and used in a static position is incredibly accurate.

.308 packs enough punch to handle nearly anything encountered short of Grizzly Bear or someone hopped up on PCP.

Urban Firearm Setup Springfield M1A
Springfield M1A

Worth mentioning, our office had some mixed feelings about the M1A in the field, so read more about it in our full review.

Honorable Mentions

While nothing to write home about more than I already have, the SKS is one of the all-time great rifle setups for ALL environments.

Nothing more can be said about the SKS than what has already been said. It’s a versatile platform that adapts easily to wherever you need to go.

Type 56 SKS Using Bayonet
Don’t want to pew pew, you can stab stab.

My ultimate preference? A JMAC Custom Rifle. Because why not.


There are a lot of variables to consider when setting up an urban firearm. While I’ve shared personal preferences, ultimately, a user will need to do what’s best for them, and their environment as well as follow all local laws.

Urban Firearm Setup Long Range Build 1
What we’d call the essentials.

While the scenarios that would employ these rifles may never happen, it’s fun to think about, plan, and train for any potential eventuality.

Using an urban firearm during range drills will expand skills and understanding in accuracy, handling, optics, mounting systems, and all basic functions of a firearm.

Urban Firearm Setup M1A Shooting at Range
Make sure to get some practice in at the range.

Any choice is a good one if it works for you!

What is your end-of-the-world setup? Share your builds and favorite models in the comments below! Also, check out our Tips for Urban Survival for some pointers on how to stay alive in the city. And don’t forget about Ultimate Resource on Survival & Prepping for literally everything you need to survive.

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24 Leave a Reply

  • Steve W.

    Well I kinda built an 18" Barrel 6.5 Grendel with quick release scope base the a 4-12 x 40 Athlon Neos Scope. I can remove the scope for urban and use flip up iron sights. Reattach the scope ones out in the hills and have range and accuracy for hunting. I would suspect most of the hunting would be done with my Ruger 10-22 Takedown.

    March 31, 2021 2:58 pm
  • Chris Beast

    I saw someone else poi t this out but it bares repeating...
    Where on earth are you finding .300 Blackout, .308 in times of COVID, Biden, Riots, etc...? I work at a local gun/ammo shop and we can't get our hands on any. And that's from manufacturers, distributors, local reloaders, anywhere... but we have been able to find 5.56/.223 a hell of alot easier and have had it on the shelves for purchase. So if this is during the current political/societal situation if SHTF then I would go with something chambered in 5.56 or 7.62X39 cause those are the easiest calibers to find right now from what I'm seeing.

    March 31, 2021 11:00 am
    • Frank Jameson

      I don't disagree with you but I've found 308 a hell of a lot more than 556/223. It's $2 a round, but it's there.
      If you're planning for a societal collapse, wouldn't you stockpile the ammunition of choice before there's a run?

      April 1, 2021 7:41 am
  • JWH

    Nice article thank you.

    K.I.S.S. = always
    7.63x39mm was designed for "Urban Survival".
    308 Win is probably the easiest ammo at this time to obtain of all the listed ones.
    Based on a few decades of "real life" patching up leaky people, any .30 cal is going to be better than any .22 cal for "defensive" purposes.
    Any rifle is better than no rifle.
    12 ga Whilst not a rifle is a never a bad choice for "Urban" situations.

    March 31, 2021 8:16 am
    • jonathan kilburn

      I can't disagree with you.

      May 16, 2021 1:06 pm
  • Ivan

    intresting considerations..... stay safe !!!!! from Italy

    March 31, 2021 3:42 am
  • CH


    March 30, 2021 8:02 pm
    • jfjdevinc


      March 30, 2021 8:33 pm
    • jonathan kilburn


      May 16, 2021 1:07 pm
  • Wayne Mueller

    OK, Sorry guys I will take the coming beating. IMHO, find a rifle, I like the 200 yard idea, get a common caliber available most areas. Get something that feels totally natural to you, optics, sights, lights are a confirmation of the shooter, weapon interface. Practice, but most important to me, God forbid it gets to that point but, learn to use what the other guy brought. Learn multiple weapons platforms and ballistic performance. Use the stuff the other guy no longer needs. Your stuff gets you started and out of the worst situation. Again just my opinion.

    March 30, 2021 5:34 pm
  • Danger Close Defense

    I have to agree with Silky Johnson on this one, on several points... And forgive me, as I hate to "troll" people in our firearms and tactical space who are trying to help everyone out. I like the IDEA of this article, and so I clicked on it when I saw it in my inbox. The problem is... there are several. I think it also comes to a lack of experience, or forgive me, "real-world" knowledge and experience in some cases. And yes, the choices and combos here seem to be pretty random.

    Also, where in the heck are you finding .300 Blackout or .308 in "times of COVID?" Because my buddies and I are not seeing any. haha! And if COVID is the basis of justification for finding those rounds, I think that is a huge miss. While 5.56 has certain and well-known shortfalls, the sheer fact that it is and would be the easiest round to find or come across when the SHTF scenarios possibly emerge one day, it cannot be ignored. It will be way easier to find than .300 Blackout, for example, and especially since these days, most ammo manufacturers have stopped making it in favor of 5.56. And I am sorry... there are very few real-world scenarios where I would chose 7.62x39 over 5.56 - also based on real-world experience. The 5.56 is on it's way out here soon... and it's also killed a lot of badguys and done the job all around the world. In an urban or SHTF environment, it has also has its merits (apart from hunting) and should not be readily dismissed the way it has been here. Practicality also matters if we are talking about end-of-the-world/society scenarios.

    This article would be better, with much better insight, better vision, planning, options, and incorporating more real-world experience and examples. Food for thought. Stay safe.

    March 30, 2021 5:10 pm
    • Frank Jameson

      Well, I know the author personally and he has quite a bit of real world experience.
      That said, it sounds like you're advocating preparation after the threat has arrived. Did you stockpile your ammunition of choice? If not, why not?

      You might not be able to find 300blk or 308, but i know i have. Or, you could just reload it yourself. Are you positive manufacturers have slowed 300 blk to focus on 556? Do you work or have real-world experience in the ammunition business? Do you understand the tooling necessary to do that swap?

      I have to agree with you that SHTF 223/556 will be easier to find. But 308 and 762x39 will be very close behind. What about about an invasion? Most for NATO forces would be carrying 308, Russian forces would be carrying 545 and most chinese backed forces would becarrying 762x39.

      April 1, 2021 7:52 am
    • jonathan kilburn

      I'll take: my real-world experience for $500, Alex.

      I get your point but this isn't meant to be storytime. My experience is not others' experience and theirs is not mine. I tried to give a wide range of options based upon people's own personal needs, budgets, and potential uses.

      If you'd like my experience, 7.62x39 or 7.62x51 can solve all issues pretty quickly if you can handle the firearm weight - compared to an AR - and the weight of 308 ammunition. In an urban area, a 308 can turn cover into concealment, although a non-exploding 50 BMG would be good too. If attacked by an opposing force - as per my experience - 7.62x39 has been far easier to find in-field than 5.56.

      May 16, 2021 1:15 pm
  • CBRNE Sanders

    My SHTF, go-to, is a Norinco MAK-90, with a DoubleStar skeleton folding stock, iron sights, and a two-point sling. I sanded down all of the wood, and stained it flat black. I really like the 7.62x39 round, it is great for 2 and 4 legged animals, and it is the most plentiful ammunition in the world. Steel, brass, or bi-metal, it eats them all. I have shot thousands of rounds through this rifle, with no misfires, feeding problems, or ejections issues. Optics can fail, but iron sights don’t have glass or take batteries. You can shoot offhand and ring steel at 100 yards all day; takes a bit more support at 200 yards, but still consistent. I have not been able to buy or build a more reliable rifle for the money. And, it just runs, always.

    March 30, 2021 2:46 pm
  • Silky Johnson

    I think the author should stick to martial arts. I like the idea of this article, but some of these builds would not be my first choice. I’m not putting any of the suggested cheap-ass optics that will break on my rifles. Basically it’s just a list of common calibers using a common barrel length and putting random crap on them. Try harder.

    March 30, 2021 1:01 pm
    • Danger Close Defense

      I kinda have to agree with you on this one, I think...

      March 30, 2021 5:19 pm
    • jonathan kilburn

      Which optics are those? EOTech? Holosun? DI? Crimson Trace? Acme Machine?

      Ken Whitmore did some great articles looking at the durability of Acme optics, and the optics are made in the same place as many of the 'high end' options.

      DI is what the South Korean military and some of the US Military uses. Holosun has a well earned respect in the industry. EOTech is fun.

      I'm glad you've decided what you don't like. The whole point is to provide options for others based on preference and budget. I'm glad this has helped you eliminate some optics from your own lineup.

      May 16, 2021 1:20 pm
  • Chris Peterson

    Can you do more scenario based build projects like this? This is hands down the most interesting blog article I’ve seen in awhile

    March 29, 2021 2:07 pm
  • LostMyPLAinaBoatingAccident

    Uhhhhhhh did you guys post an AOW on accident? Pretty sure that vert grip and the pistol brace aren't compatible lol

    March 29, 2021 9:06 am
    • Jacki Billings

      We mention in the text that that configuration does qualify as an AOW but that you can swap some things around to make it a regular 'ole compliant gun.

      March 29, 2021 1:34 pm
  • RGP

    Nothing to worry about in an industrial area because any local zombies would be expected to either get a job or get out.

    March 28, 2021 6:12 pm
  • sound awake

    i have a pretty big household
    so here it goes:
    2 x 10.5 inch ar pistols = 1 in 5.56 / 1 in 7.62x39
    primary arms 2 moa red dot on the 5.56
    holosun 2 moa red dot on the 7.62x39
    500 lumen streamlights on both
    both shoot 2-3 moa at 300 yards
    3 x 16.5 inch ar carbines = 2 in 5.56 / 1 in 7.62x39
    vortex 1-6x and bushnell 1-6x on the 5.56s
    primary arms 1-4x on the 7.62x39
    illuminated reticles on all 3 scopes
    1000 lumen streamlights on all 3 carbines
    all 3 shoot 1-2 moa at 300 yards
    1 x 18 inch ar rifle mk12 spr clone in .223 wylde fluted barrel mid length gas system
    vortex 4-16x strike industries j comp
    rock river arms 2 stage match trigger
    shoots sub moa to 300 yards with factory match ammo
    no light...its too heavy already
    i hope to God it never comes to all this...

    March 28, 2021 4:41 pm
    • MPops

      i'm coming to your place if there's ever a zombie apocalypse!

      March 29, 2021 6:11 pm
    • Frank Jameson

      Have you had feeding issues with your AR in 762x39? I can't get mine to feed properly.

      April 1, 2021 7:54 am
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