There’s no questioning that most of us would prefer a reliable firearm than most other weapons in a survival situation. Whether we’re talking about a failure of the electrical grid brought about by an EMP attack or being overrun by zombie hordes, a gun offers security and in many circumstances, the means to hunt for food, but if you expect to have to feed yourself on a long enough timeline… there’s one more purchase you may want to consider: a high powered B.B. gun.

We all remember the Red Ryder air rifles we played with as kids, heck, if you’re anything like me, you may have even fought some neighborhood firefights with them (don’t tell my mom) but if those painful, but far from lethal, BB guns are the last time you laid your hands on these kids’ toys, you may be surprised to learn that there are some pretty nasty pellet guns available on the market – and under the right circumstances, they may be a better bet for prolonged survival than your souped up AR-15.

.177 caliber BB guns offer a few distinct advantages over the real guns their aesthetics approximate when it comes to getting by in a post-apocalyptic (or pre-rescue arriving) world. Chief among them being the low cost of ammunition, how quiet they are, and the relative ease of getting your hands on one. Once your food storage begins to run low, you’ll need to find other sources of important nutrients like protein, and as sexy as it might sound to go hunting deer with your rifle, chances are good you’ll have more opportunities to take down smaller game like rabbits and squirrels – animals that don’t quite justify the use of a 5.56 round when resupply isn’t an option. Further, you can even buy one of these BB guns if you live in one of the states that thinks the 2nd Amendment is more an “optional guideline” than the rule of law.

Using a spring or pump-action BB gun offers you the chance to take shots at small game without announcing your presence to the entire region like most firearms will, and at around $8 for 2,500 BBs, it can be pretty easy to stock up for small game hunting in a post-apocalyptic future. These sorts of air rifles likely wouldn’t do you much good as a defensive weapon, nor are they going to take down game much larger than a rabbit – but they can offer you with a reliable, inexpensive method of hunting small prey without the need to set traps or burn through your ammunition stores for weapon systems that might come in handy if you find yourself having to fight your way out of a situation.

It’s not all good news when it comes to BB gun hunting however. First of all, spring-loaded or pump-action air guns can be a bit of a pain to reload quickly, meaning a miss with your first round could cost you a meal. Further, ballistics for .177 and similar sized pellets (most calibers over .18 are technically classified as firearms in some states) don’t quite work the same as they do in firearms. With some pellet guns exceeding 1,600 feet per second nowadays, the odd shape and light material of most BBs can cause accuracy issues at a distance, even if they do have plenty of speed. That means that while your BB gun may cover 1,600 feet per second, you’re better off sighting in on small targets within just a hundred or so. In general, accuracy just sort of works differently with a high-powered air rifle that it does with a real one, but with a little practice, they’re easy to get the hang of.

Our unintentional BB gun collection, with a Mossberg 702 Plinkster at the top for scale.

My wife and I have four BB guns of varying power and use in our house that we’ve just sort of ended up with over the years – three of them sit on my back porch for target practice on a few metal targets I’ve got set up around the property. One of them, however, a big mean bastard that fires at around 1,400 feet per second, sits in the safe alongside its real-life counter parts. It turns out, even without gunpowder, I don’t have a lot of reasons to pull it out unless I’m looking to take out some neighborhood squirrels. If things were to ever get really bad around here, that rifle, not my others, would probably see the most use. It’s quiet, it’ll take out small game with a single shot, and I’ve got a canteen full of ammo for it that’d probably last me a few years.

So, while I have some legitimate recommendations about what kinds of firearms you should have on hand for a survival situation (I tend to follow the three-gun rule that includes a reliable sidearm, a powerful rifle, and an intimidating shotgun) I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest scoping out the high quality pellet guns available on the market today.

If things get bad enough, one may save your life, and if they don’t, you can still have some fun shooting cans in the back yard without giving your neighbors a heart attack.