Tactical Weapons Firearms

Building the ultimate ‘SHTF’ rifle on a budget

Building an "SHTF" rifle on a budget has gotten easier over the years. Let's take a look at how to get it done!
Brady Kirkpatrick Avatar
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Photo credit: Michael Bordon (Getty Images).

Building an SHTF rifle on a budget has gotten easier over the years. Not only have manufacturers realized that there is a big market for high-end budget rifles, but they’ve taken the time to capitalize on that and give us some options. 

I’ve had the opportunity to shoot rifles in the budget category that gave me more than rifles twice the price. And some made me question why I spent twice the price on a rifle the day before. So, I’m here to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Let’s get into building the ultimate ‘SHTF’ rifle on a budget

What makes a rifle good? 

Reliability is the most crucial aspect of a rifle. No matter how good or accurate it looks, if you don’t have reliability, you might as well call it a day. 

Reliability is the result of high-quality internals. When you’re building a rifle from the ground up, parts that are directly involved in the rifle’s functioning should be carefully considered. 

The bolt carrier group, charging handle, gas system, the weight of your buffer, and spring are the makeup of a great rifle. As well as the barrel.  

The material of the rifle is essential as well. If the rifle can’t hold up to the scenarios one would face in an SHTF scenario, then it’s not a rifle you want. 

The rifle should be made of high-quality materials like 7075 T-6 Aluminum. There are plenty of manufacturers out there in the budget category that offers uppers and lowers in 7000 series aluminum. 

So far, we have reliability and durability, but we need a mounting platform. I suggest either Picatinny or M-Lok. No key-mod. M-Lok has won the battle between the two for a better mounting platform. 

You also want a full Picatinny rail for mounting optics or anything else that needs to stay zeroed. And M-Lok space, you can add a grip and flashlight to as well. 

Since it’s a budget rifle, we want to focus more on the functionality of the rifle and go mid-tier for the optic: no Aim Points or EoTechs. 


The bolt carrier group (BCG) is the heart of the rifle. It should be properly staked with tolerants that aid in efficiency. Make sure that there are no oversized spaces or worn-down gas rings that will allow gas to leak. 

Make sure the extractor spring is still springy, too. 

The list goes on, but the BCG should be a primary concern. 

The weight of your buffer and spring also have a huge role in allowing the rifle to cycle correctly. An overweight buffer may cause extraction issues. But the weight of your buffer is dependent on your gas system. 

Your gas system should be the appropriate length for the barrel size. If you want an adjustable gas block, this will help you fine-tune the rifle if you plan on switching ammo weights and things of that nature.

Lastly, your charging handle should be rigid. Just in case you get a stoppage that won’t clear unless you kick-start it. I’ve seen charging handles break in half, so make sure you get one that’s well-built. 

build rifle on a budget ar-15 SHTF
Photo credit: CaseyHillPhoto (Getty Images)


In this area of the rifle, you can have more leniency. You can run whatever is cheap but try not to sacrifice quality for price. You’ll pay for that in blood. 

If you want to run a mil-spec A2 pistol grip and a run-of-the-mill stock, then so be it. You can save some money there by not going to Gucci and buying stuff you see Garand Thumb running. 

We love the flannel dad, but he got some expensive toys that have influenced me a ton. 

Your optic, which will be the way you aim, should not be skimped out on too much. Again, this is a budget build, so we aren’t going for holographic sights and high-dollar red dots. You can keep it simple and get an LPVO and offset red dot for relatively cheap these days. 


Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m mentioning the caliber of the rifle. And the short answer to that is there are a lot of enticing rounds that have come out for AR-15s recently, and some may get caught up in that. 

The ammo is undoubtedly expensive. Like .300 Blackout, for example. When you compare that to the cost of 5.56×45, the dollars start adding up. 

Building an SHTF rifle does not have to be expensive. Just focus on the functionality and let the rest come second. And stay away from the Mil-Spec hype. 

Happy shooting.