I seem to have found a way to justify new gun purchases. I doubt I’m alone. So today, I’m trying to justify something to carry when out and about in the woods… that’s not a shotgun! I like to be armed and most the time, I like to be armed with a long gun. In the woods that I travel through, whether I’m causal hunting, scouting out a new area, or just staying in shape to carry a gun in the woods, I like something appropriate for multiple roles. For years, and for many still, the ultimate do-all woods gun has been the venerable lever action 30-30.Today, I think we can do better.
To start with, of course rule #1 must be observed: let the mission dictate the gear. In this case, location is also a function of the mission. So what is the mission? A long arm that can take down a mid weight animal – from coyotes and wolves to hogs and deer, as well as overly aggressive pot farmers or meth cookers. Across the country there are too many varied landscapes to list; plains, open forests, closed in swampland and everything in between so lets just say anything from 3 to 350 yards is “in range.”
So right now, 99% of the readers are saying, well thats simple. Any military style carbine like an AR15, AK, or even a 16″ FAL is the simple answer. Well I disagree… kind of. I’ve always believed there is a need for a militarily robust long arm in a civilian friendly package. Ruger thought so too when they dreamed up the Mini 14. Okay, so maybe they missed the boat on the robust part… and accurate part, but it remains that some guns fly under the radar better than others when seen being carried out in the world.
A straight, hunting style stocked gun, not necessarily made from wood, does not raise the hairs of the peasants as much as an evil “Assault rifles” does and there are times when its nice to keep perception a bit more calming, no matter how ridiculous it is to any of us who know there really is no difference. The fact remains though that the physical image a gun puts out there is sometimes less alarming than others. A teenager with a bolt action .22 wandering around the woods is not going to run the same risk of getting the sheriff called on him as if he has a belt fed M60 on his squirrel hunt. An overly extreme example of course, but you get the point.
Speaking of bolt actions, by this point at least a few people are saying, well what about a newer bolt action? Rugers Scout and Mossberg’s version, the MVP Scout are quite good possibilities. They’ve both proven, or at least are on the way to proving that they are capable guns for multiple roles such as what we’re talking about. My problem is, and its really just me being nitpicky because I want to be, but for this gun I don’t like the bolt action as much. A pissed off and charging boar… or meth head… can surprise you with its speed and half the time, you didn’t even know it was there. The ability to deliver quick, multiple shots on target is a lot better than sidestepping and losing your firing stance to release the spent case and chamber a new round. I love bolt actions. I love revolvers. Hell, I love black powder more than anything, but I’m not using a dial-up modem to access the internet anymore either. Time and place and all that; there just are some advances that should not be ignored and the semi automatic action is one of them for a serious gun that you may have to stake your life on.
Moving on. Part of the attractiveness of this gun is that its a very capable, reliable, and somewhat cost effective because, for lack of a better term, you’re not going to baby it. In days gone by this was the SKS before the prices of them went above $300. In all reality, ANY SKS is still only a $250 gun to me. Now that crappy ones go for $500 and up, no way. Plus it doesnt suit itself well to adding an optic. The M1A has never been “cheap” but it suffers from the same issue, too expensive and collectable these days to really push one into the role, plus again, optics. Seriously, I have high dollar and high value guns that I will sling on my back and let bump around uncovered as I hike or ride all day on wet or dusty trails and never think another thing of it, but I’m not doing that with a National Match M1A.
A good friend of mine got me turned on to the Saiga in 308 and as evident in my books, I like them a whole lot. the 308 Saiga is great for this role for me except in two big ways; Recent price and the trigger on the unconverted model. The 308 Saiga as a converted gun (back to looking like an AK) is accurate enough to hit a target a good ways off (after a new trigger and the obligatory finding what round it likes best) and is the standard AK tough – big points for it there too. Optics mounting is not great, but with a quality railed dust cover you can mount a scope or optic where it should be mounted and not so far forward that you have to make the excuse of following Cooper’s Rules for a Scout Rifle. The Magazine is a bit of a weak point, although less so than most make it out to be. The problem with it is the price. The dang things, unconverted, are going for over $600. For what the gun is, thats about twice as much as it really is worth especially considering what you have to put into it to make it right and usable and to do that, you lose the rare appeal of the hunting style stock on a military grade firearm. There is no putting a good trigger on an unconverted S308, plain and simple. So cross another option off the list.
By now, some might be seeing this idea gravitate more towards larger calibers than the 223/556. Well, you’re right. I love my SPR and a 77 Sierra tip will really F some S up, but its not for me in the woods gun. I want that many-times-proves-invalid blunt power of a bigger round. Yes, even me who 9 times out of 10 will reach for a 5.45 when I need a gun, does not want a small round, so .30 and up it is.
One last criteria to put out there: optics. I love iron sights and prefer them many times over anything else, but again, we live in a day and age when you can take advantage of things that only help make you fast, accurate and precise. Yes there is a difference between the two terms – Accurate is the ability to consistently be precise. A low fixed magnification optic or a simple large field of view red dot I think is just right for something you may need to snap shoot with in the low light of early evening as you’re walking back to your truck after a long day out of hiking the mountain sides.
Welcome to the 21st century:
New calibers get a lot of traction… until they don’t. A few stick, others pass by, or more accurately – heh, accurate, bullet, funny stuff – anyway, they get passed by. The 6.5 and 6.8 hit the mainstream around the same time, and while both very good calibers with their own separate attributes, only one really has stuck – the 6.8. For those unfamiliar, this round gets compared to the 7.62×39 probably more than any other and from the data I’ve seen, thats a fairly close enough comparison… for this article anyway.
“But wait, you said keep an eye on the money and 6.8 is not cheap!”
Too true, it is getting cheaper though. Large scale ammo companies have seen the rise in popularity and in recent years have begun offering off the shelf options for this ammo. The first link of a Google search I just did shows you can by 20 rounds for $15. Thats .75 cents per round. About the same as cheap 308 or quality .556. And as always, reloading only cuts costs and increases accuracy further.
For me though, I don’t want to have yet another caliber to deal with. So preferably, this gun is in 6.8 but until I finally take the plunge, I can live with a 308. That fact is helped out by the rise in available 308 AR uppers. Right now I can find a full on, ready to go AR10 upper with a 16″ barrel, complete with a bolt and charging handle for $400. A lower is another $150. If this is your only one and you dont have parts to swap around from another gun, you’re still only into this thing less than $600.
I have no problem admitting the quality of such an inexpensive set up is not going to be up there with a $3,500 Kinghts or KAC, for me though, for this type of thing, I can build something that will hold up to how hard I am on guns AND be accurate out to 350 or 400 yards? Pfft, done deal.
“But what about the straight comb, hunting style stock you keep going on about?”
To that I say this:
Absolutely ugly as sin in a “I must have one” kind of way. Look at it again and tell me I’m wrong.
– Ian Daniels