Many shooters consider a pistol or a shotgun the best home defense weapon, but the modern rifle is a major player in that market segment as well. In fact, one can make a great case that the rifle is every bit as applicable as a home defense weapon as the pistol and the shotgun. Rifles as home defense guns make a lot of sense, if you understand the dynamics that come along with the home defense equation.
The best home defense rifles will be robust in durability and customizable to the user; they will have a moderate to large caliber projectile and they will have excellent stopping power, without too much concern for overpenetration. That’s why they often aren’t the first choice for home defense, because it’s hard to find some of these (lower penetration) unicorns in the high-powered rifle space.
That said, rifles are the first choice for accuracy, stopping power and handling under stress, so they should occupy a frontline spot in the minds of those looking for the best home defense firearms.
Best Home Defense Rifle Comparison
25.25 - 37.25"
300 AAC Blackout
35.5 - 38.5"
Home Defense Rifle Review
Century Arms RAS47 Zhukov Rifle
While there is a bit of concern for some overpenetration, it is less than many other calibers, and the rifle and cartridge have been proven, perhaps more than any other gun in history on the battlefield against human targets. No more proven rifle exists on this list than this one. The AK platform’s reliability is second to none and the ease of use makes it super-efficient for those who need something simple and straightforward.
- This is an exceptionally reliable firearm – a must have for home defense use
- Easy to understand, used by millions for battle/defensive/tactical scenarios
- No Cons really
This is best for:
The bullets are proven on many battlefields, the rifle style and build is proven by millions around the world – it’s a perfect gun for stopping human targets.
Q - Honey Badger
Yes, it’s a bit pricey, and to get optimum performance out fo the platform you will need to get a tax stamp, a suppressor and shell out even more money. That said, if you do this, you are getting something so perfectly suited to home defense that there may not be another gun that can even compete. You get .30 caliber ballistics, in a bullet that travels slow enough to properly be suppressed and to virtually eliminate all risk of overpenetration or friendly fire.
Small, maneuverable, lightweight, with hard hitting, but perfectly matched ballistics from a intermediate caliber projectile that travels slow enough to give optimum stopping power without other drawbacks of a high powered intermediate cartridge. The same form factor as a 5.56 AR-15 makes this easy to learn, easy to hold and easy to stop a threat with.
- Made for 15-50 feet close quarters engagement (can go out to several hundred yards too), but offers high powered rifle ballistics for both depending on the load used
- Suppressible without a sonic crack (subsonic)
- Ticks every box for the home defense crowd
- Can be expensive
This is best for:
For those who understand what they are getting, you cannot beat this rig. Paired with a suppressor, a heads up optic and the proper training, this could be the most effective short range engagement rifle of all time, if you need the risks of overpenetration mitigated.
Springfield Armory M1A SOCOM CQB
A great take on the reliable M1A design and utilizing one of the best man-stopping cartridges of all time by volume of use and terminal ballistics, which is still mostly suitable for a well-planned defense of your domicile. The heavy weight might be a bit of a drawback, as will the heavy price point, but the short overall length and the great accessories from factory make this a legitimate choice.
- Powerful threat stopping
This is best for:
The user who knows they want a .308 but doesn’t want the AR-10 or similar design.
Marlin Model 1895SBL
This lever-action is rugged, proven, almost single-handedly revitalized the levergun market segment when it was released, and is built around a cartridge that has historically, and can currently, be used for game from 200 lbs to 1400 lbs, from deer to the largest North American Bear. It is fast to fire, easy to handle and built to last. If there was a single gun in contention for most versatility, this would be high on the list.
These capablities would seem like overkill, if it weren’t for the slower-moving projectile of massive proportions and the huge variety of loads on the market which can be made or bought that will be good for home defense. Hard hitting, large projectiles, and less chance of overpenetration than a much faster bullet: that’s all good for the home defense guns. The lever action isn’t as fast as the semi-auto, but it’s still fast, shoulder-able and deliberate in its use. This helps tactically.
- Easy to carry and maneuver
- Incredibly versatile cartridge with factory loads ranging the entire spectrum
- Very durable
- Slower than a semi-auto
- Requires different training than the other options on this list
This is best for:
When you need a legitimate stopping round and want to have a gun that isn’t built like every other modular rifle.
Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine
This is the fun plinking and target gun that has nearly perfect home defense rifle ballistics. It’s got a fast moving, but not too fast projectile, that has some heft to it, and the bullet designs are made to avoid some of the over penetration concerns that come with close quarters use. The volume of accessories on the aftermarket is good, and the gun is easy to shoot, use and control.
- Great cartridge for close quarters
- Also good for hunting, plinking and having some fun too
- No recoil pad for the daintier shooters out there (though the recoil really is only moderate to mild)
This is best for:
Those who want a gun that isn’t just a dedicated home defense rifle and has some nostalgia behind it.
The 6.8 Is a near perfect close quarters battle cartridge. It is faster and heavier (generally) than a .300AAC Blackout round (our hands down favorite if configured properly), but it has better ballistics, easily. It is also very good for sound suppression, which can be a huge benefit in a home defense setting if you are committed to going through the process of getting a sound suppressor.
The best performance for the close in proximity across the board, if you don’t count the chance for overpenetration. Terminally efficient and built on a great platform that LWRC has nearly perfected. A serious contender for your dollars on the best home defense rifle list.
- Serious performance
- Great gas operated gun
- Well-designed platform
- Tons of accessories available
- Getting pricey
- Heavy ballistics could be a concern for some
This is best for:
The person who wants the absolute best designed cartridge for the use case and needs absolute reliability and terminal ballistic potential.
What makes a great home defense Rifle
In our view: penetration is really the biggest concern. A huge, fast moving projectile that is made to penetrate a human being on purpose, will most certainly have the potential for increasing friendly fire risks. Even with specialty ammunition, the velocity and energy of most centerfire high powered rifles will carry enough to cause this problem.
With loved ones in the next room, or neighbors in close proximity, the risks are high unless you understand how to protect against them. Very important also, is a legitimate training regimen and understanding of the right protocols for the situation when you actually must use your home defense rifle.
Having a shoulder-able stock will increase accuracy and steadiness in the heat of the moment, and the heavy stopping power of a fast moving, hard hitting projectile of substantial size will be a huge benefit to your home defense arsenal.
You will want to opt for bigger bullets, with lower velocities when possible and utilize frangible, soft point or hollow point projectiles as well (based on your personal preference). Having a red dot sight or laser and a flashlight, may also minimize the chances for overpenetration by getting you on target easier. Positioning, and understanding the tactics of a home-bound situation will go the furthest to ensuring safety, however, so make sure everyone knows what to do, and you understand how to check for obvious risks.
Semi-automatic rifles are the best option for in the home defense rifle category because of the fast follow-up shots, the ease of reloading, and the higher capacity magazines. Generally acceptable as well, will be lever action guns, and you may even consider a pump action rifle, though, the most risk averse in handling is a proven reliable, semi-auto.
Many people feel the 5.56x45mm or .223 Remington is a very good home defense caliber, and while we agree it is a battle proven caliber, it is somewhat fast moving and has a lot of risk for penetration compared to some other cartridges that might make more sense. It’s not our first choice, even with its storied history, but we cannot deny the ready availability and the potency of the round, so we admit it fits the scenario in some cases. We just urge caution for friendly fire concerns, and we note the lower grain weights and smaller ballistic performance matrix on large human sized targets.
Is there any innovation in home defense rifles lately?
We feel that some of the best recent innovation comes in the form of calibers that are well suited to the best home defense rifles. Our favorite is the .300 AAC Blackout, hands down. It offers the best of all aspects needed for a unicorn platform, and it is readily available. We also like the 6.8SPC, even if it does have some of the same penetration concerns. In fairness and absolute transparency, a properly outfitted shotgun and the proper loadout of shotshells makes a very high-end home defense weapon, even if it isn’t a rifle, like this list champions.
We are also fans of specialty tactical loads for the .223/5.56 and the .308 Winchester for home defense where you can control the setting a bit more to prevent overpenetration concerns.
By far the biggest innovation is in the .300 AAC Blackout and the 6.8SPC, both right in the sweet spot for home defense, especially for those that opt for and follow through on getting a suppressor that makes it usable in the middle of the night without hearing protection and lessens the risk significantly, for hearing damage.
Another aspect of innovation is modular buildouts that allow for customization, and this is no more evident than in the AR 15 platform and associated clones. You’ll see a few of those here in this list of best home defense rifle builds.
Is a rifle really a good home defense gun?
It’s by far the most effective means of stopping a threat, if you are OK with the legitimate overpenetration concerns. Don’t think for a second that pistols and shotguns are not also at risk for overpenetration. We cannot stress this concern for penetration enough. The high-powered rifle and associated ammunition were made for performance, it is not made to stop in a target, it’s made to go through it to create two wounds: entry and exit, to maximize blood loss. The projectile of most fast-moving rifle rounds is very capable of penetrating multiple targets or going through wallboards and can travel very far before it loses momentum and terminal ballistics.
We’ve harped on the concept enough though; if you know the concern, and you are still reading, you recognize the major benefits that the best home defense rifles will have in keeping you safe, and we know you’ll take the necessary precautions and do the proper planning to keep your family safe from projectiles for your rifle.
It’s simple: if you want the best home defense weapon and the maximum stopping power, you want a large projectile, a shoulder-able weapon, and something that has high power, larger capacity and an easy sight plane to align with the target. The rifle fits that to a “T”.
Below are listed what we believe are the “best home defense rifle” builds on the planet. We highly stress the points laid out above. If you disagree fundamentally with our assessment on what makes a good home defense rifle, you may not agree with our choices below. We will also explain nuances in each of the list items as they are showcased.
Note, a few of these rifles are featured on other lists of ours because of their versatility or their impressive attributes/capabilities. We have no qualms about listing them in multiple articles for the same or similar reasons as covered in this article. The market is too broad to get caught up in, if you don’t look at just the best performers the closest. Why waste your time with the monotony that sometimes is showcased in the market, when we can showcase top tier choices that deliver the best value for the money? That’s why you may see some occasional carryoner between our articles.
The .223 Remington and 5.56x45 are NOT the BEST home defense rifles
When someone says they want to know what the best home defense rifle, or the best home defense cartridge, or any number of BEST lists, it should be a serious challenge to the content provider to seek out the actual best products, not just the convenient products.
Sometimes that means the product will be very expensive. Other times it may mean the author has a responsibility to give information that refutes common misconceptions, or challenges common industry practices.
Here are some points to consider:
The .223 Remington and 5.56x45 are NOT the BEST home defense rifles.
Let’s explore that commentary a bit:
The AR-15 is amazing. It’s modular, easy to customize and very durable. It is accurate, and reliable and offers a lot of great options. It has even been proven in battle as a potent rifle for use against human targets.
That said, it doesn’t mean because millions of people use the gun successfully for the things they like to use it for, that it is the optimum cartridge or platform in that caliber for home defense use. There are many drawbacks.
- The gun might be perfectly suited to the home defense task, but the cartridge leaves a lot to be desired.
- The goal of home defense or defensive tactical shooting in general is to stop the threat as soon as possible with as little risk as possible. This is hard to do with a .223/5.56 sometimes. It moves very fast and can offer great ballistics on a human, but it can also cause overpenetration issues and friendly fire concerns.
- It is still a lightweight bullet and many people have been shot with the round and not gone down immediately. Sure, comparing the ballistics to a .22LR or a .38 special, the .223/5.56 offers a relatively better stopping profile. But in an article titled: “The best home defense rifle” to classify the .223/5.56 as “the best” would be disingenuous and unrealistic, when you could find a 7.62x39 or a .300 AAC Blackout or a 6.8 SPC on the same list.
- All three have less concerns about over penetration, friendly fire or lightweight projectile concerns. Particularly, the .300 AAC Blackout is a hands down winner in shorter CQB type scenarios. The other two still have high velocity and high penetration drawbacks in certain conditions. But they offer a much better wound channel potential, and much more energy delivery, all things considered.
Yes, it would be easy to make an article loaded with easy to sell/easy to convert links to great AR-15 builds to try to take advantage of the market trend to buy these types of firearms, but it would be intellectually dishonest, and it would not be serving the readership as well as it could be.
No one is saying there is anything wrong with the 5.56 or .223 Remington, many animals and countless human targets have been dispatched with the caliber. The rifle itself is a fantastic platform for tactical or defensive use, especially given its strong suits. We just don’t feel it’s “So good for home defense” that we would list 5 out of 10-12 rifles as variants of the AR-15. You’re free to disagree, that’s OK, we aren’t perfect. But if you look at the arguments we make here we feel sufficiently confident that you will also see that the AR-15 in 5.56/.223 is good for home defense but may not be OPTIMUM.
Either way, we are glad you read our content, and we want you to understand we have extensive experience and training in the fields we write about, and that there is a method behind our madness when we make choices in the articles we write. This just happened to be a very good opportunity to address it.
Our final thoughts
You can’t control everything, but with this list of the best home defense rifles, you can rest assured you will be able to stop the threat, and you will minimize the risk of friendly fire. In the end what you want is absolute reliability, great ballistic performance, good magazine capacity, an accurate, easy to control rifle and, if possible, the ability to run your gun suppressed.
These are all top tier candidates if you agree with our philosophy laid out above. Even if you don’t agree with all our commentary, it’s hard not to admire the guns on the list - they truly are well rounded, threat stopping performance machines.