The idea of the general purpose / do-it-all rifle is not a new one by any means. It’s an idea born out of wanting simplicity, and who doesn’t like that? The issue is though, that one platform may be ok to good at most everything, but great at not anything at all and the more effective something is in one area, the less so in every other application. So, we end up with compromises. It’s hard to find something that will work as good at 50 yards as it will at 500, let alone 0 to 500.
But first, let’s back up a little. A long time ago people only had one gun and they pushed it into working for every role they needed it to. From loading a flintlock with bird shot to developing an over/under rifle shotgun combo, to utilizing a lever gun against game too big – and too small – for the .357 or 30-30 it was chambered in, and finally to developing a ‘modern’ platform like the AR15 which can be infinitely modified and personalized. Since the time that apes began smashing their thumbs with rocks, we have always looked to make one tool work for multiple jobs.
In recent years, people have come back around to the general purpose firearm. Most of them are looking at it all wrong though… in my opinion. Specific tasks NEED specific tools. A person grabbing something for direct contact is going to want a drum fed, quick aiming blah blah blah. Nine times out of ten, that same gun is not going to be what a guy grabs to go hunting, or bump in the night checking around, or to have sitting around camp in a remote spot. And that’s ok too; specific tool for specific uses and all that.
In the last ten years or so with this recent resurgence, the Main Battle Rifle (MBR) has reared its head yet again as a top contender for a general purpose rifle. The M1A, CETME/PTR-91, FAL, AR-10(debatable) are the usual suspects, and these are all good choices, good for a general purpose COMBAT rifle, which is the main distinction here. A good combat rifle is not a general do-it-all gun.
And of course the guys that don’t want to admit the utility or a robust design, full power gun will begin to widdle down, complicate, and justify the issue to suit their opinions on the matter touting that a 75 grain Vmax bullet out of AR15 will stretch out to distance, is of lethal weight and design, is shot out of a more compact and lighter to carry… etc ad nauseum, just because that’s what they have and what they know. Honestly, I can’t find a whole lot wrong with that. The AR while maybe not as stoic as the MBRs above, is undeniable. The platform’s best advantage is how many different ways you can change it. Still though, as adaptable as it is, it is lacking in a certain confidence inspiring something that the MBR gives. Subjective yes, but also I think more than a few will agree. In turn, what the MBR lacks is plenty. Usually they are heavy, and referred to as ‘combat accurate’ which to me is anywhere from 3-5 MOA. Not the type of accuracy a person should aspire for. This is not about the merits of those platforms though.
What I am talking about is my idea of the do-it-all one gun. Forgetting the General purpose COMBAT rifle, my one gun is probably most akin to the ‘truck gun’ concept. And here is my rationale: As alluded to above, this is not your go-to-a-fight weapon. Picture this: Taking the family up for a day drive to the cabin and you don’t feel like cramping the kids space in the back seat of the truck with your four foot long bolt action scout rifle. Yes it rides in the back seat, not in the bed… that’s just not even in question. You also don’t want to haul your AR and thirty pounds of mags and chest carrier and all the accessory gear you seem to think you need with your AR. You’ve already got your too heavy backpack full of the best budget survival items thrown in, even though chances are if you break down it’s the first thing that gets left cause you have to wear the kid carrier and diaper bag instead. Now at the cabin, you spot that elusive coyote that you were trying for all winter, or that pesky black bear that hangs out up there has finally worn out its welcome when your wife is trying to pee and it sees her as competition… ok I’m obviously stretching for a specific here so let’s just say for family defense at the cabin. Then on the way back home later that night if an EMP sponsored apocalypse doesn’t stop you first, you get to your house on the outskirts of town and notice the garage door ajar…
While each of these scenarios all would best be handled by a niche gun for their specific situation, they can all be handled rather well by the one gun. Caliber wars aside, for my idea, it’s in 308. It just is. It’s the best all purpose caliber for the role of this gun. That said, let’s look at the platform. You need something that is relatively compact to best be able to be used around a vehicle and structure in a CQB role, as well as having a barrel long enough to carry the bullet velocity out to make that 600 yard coyote shot, with a conservatively sized 1×4 or 1×6 scope on top of course, all in one package.
This subject has not so coincidentally come up for me during the week of the 2017 SHOT Show. No, I haven’t hit the self-publishing puny author big time and been invited to attend, I am like the 99.9% of the rest of the gun guys in America and watching it in not so real time on various forums and on YouTube. I did have a few heads up ideas to wait until SHOT though to see what innovations to my specific item(s) of interest would be. Namely and notably, a bullpup firearm calibered in 308. As of right now, there are 2.5 offerings out there to consider.
Yes a bullpup in a heavy caliber. First let’s talk about the bullpup design. It’s really pretty simple; a bullpup is compact. Look, take a sledge hammer and hold it out at arm’s length by the end of the handle. not so easy right? Now choke up and hold that sledge right up by the head. It’s simple physics. The best part about a bullpup is that it stays compact while still retaining the characteristics of a long barrel that are needed to keep velocities up at range. NO they aren’t as intuitive, but mostly because Americans didn’t grow up shooting them so they seem awkward and weird due to simple unfamiliarity. Also, bullpups aren’t meant to be shot off a bench for accuracy. They are carry and shoot guns, not bench stable, slow fire contest winners. I don’t bench shoot much but do sling up a lot, so that’s just fine by me.
First is the Desert Tech MDR. Desert Tech is a small, quality company which has been around in the market here and there, but two years ago when it announced their bullpup design, they finally caught fire. Unfortunately, they also found out just how hard it is to get a 308 to work in a bullpup design. This isn’t as easy as supersizing an AR15 to make an AR10… which few companies get right anyway. Literally every part of this idea has had to be created from scratch… and then tested. Desert Tech pulled through though it seems and has had a good showing at SHOT 2017. Estimated pricing is in the $2,250 range. That’s a pretty penny no matter who you are, but in this arena you have to pay to play. There is no cheap option and I don’t know if you want to shoot a 308 bullpup where the manufacturing came in under budget. The MDR weighs 7 lbs, is 26 inches long with its 16” barrel. Oh and remember how I said bullpups aren’t for bench shooting? Well this one comes in on the verge of sub MOA accuracy.
The second is the K&M M17S. A newer and not always well thought of company, the K&M bullpup weighs in just over 8lbs, a little over 26” inches long with its 16” barrel, uses AR style 308 magazines and is generally pretty well though of. It is mostly all aluminum and not as ambidextrous as the others, takes a lot of AR parts and has a good length top rail. The trigger is adjustable from 3.5 to 5 pounds of pull, easily the lightest of the 3. Asking price is right at $2,000.00.
Finally the Kel-Tec RFB. Yes Kel-Tec. Hence the .5 of my 2.5 offerings available. Kel-Tec as a company are leaders of innovative design as much as they are leaders of un-surety in the public’s mind. Substantiated on not, questions of quality control and product availability abound when talking about Kel-Tec anything. Kel-Tec is actually on the second generation of RFB’s and the kinks, for the most part, seem to have been identified, if not worked out. The RFB was the first of its kind, making its debut in 2008. It’s caliber distinction almost out shown by its innovative forward ejecting tube that the brass gets deposited down. THE RFB uses FAL mags, weighs in at 8lbs and is 26” long with the 18” barrel. The RFB does only has 10” of rail space up top, and the trigger is thought of as exceptionally good although heavy around the 6 pound range. Its short gas stroke piston, and non-free floated barrel along with everything else generally produces 3 MOA groups. Asking price these days is about $1,300.00.
The one-gun for me needs to have a few attributes that they can hang their hat on. First , it needs to work. Period. So far, the Desert Tech is un-tested, the K&M is making a good name for itself and the Kel-Tec, once fiddled with to find the right 1 of 18 gas settings for a specific ammo, well it works for most people if they have the patience to keep it long enough to get it dialed in. Also, this gun needs to easily be able to accept an optic that doesn’t require a chin weld to be able to use it because it’s mounted so high. Along that line of thinking, it might be nice if it doesn’t blind you if on the off chance you choose to shoot it left handed. The Kel-Tec and Desert Tech ejects cases out front and the K&M has a pretty effective deflector, although you have to change its positioning for where you want the ejected casings to go. Now one big issue for me is the barrel length. I’m no long range shooter but I want this to be capable out to as far as possible. 308 out of a 16 inch barrel is just fine for 400 to 500 with the right bullet and hold over. I think 18” is the sweet spot for a 308 gun myself, but this is already not a very traditional idea so a few rules can be bent. Either way it’s not like this is some 11” FAL spitting fire blooms and deafening half the county.
No, bullpups aren’t AK simple to take apart for inspection and cleaning, and no they aren’t AR simple to clear a jam, but they don’t have to be, remember? This is not a gun you are going to put 5,000 rounds through probably in its entire lifetime (that’s $2,500 of the cheap ammo btw). Not that any of these three can’t take it, but it’s like that truck gun, carried with you a bit, and shot enough to know you can use it and it’ll work for you. The Kel-Tec is the best budgetable offering to be affordable and know that you aren’t going to be blasting away every weekend with it. Somehow that doesn’t sound as promising as I thought it would. If the Desert Tech actually works, given their company rep., they are worth a few hundred extra bucks over the K&M imo, but there are some pretty big ‘ifs’ in there.
If a guy found a used Kel-Tec RFB with say 5 mags, a sling, and an optic of some kind for $1300, I would buy that in an instant. Is it worth $1300 bare bones one mag, right out of the box? Maybe, but after tax and transfer, that’s still a chunk, then you have to outfit it on top of that. The Desert Tech coming in just above the K&M in pricing puts it as the probable winner for over all quality. Is it a winner for $2,250 plus tax, plus mags, sling, scope and mounts? Well hell, when I put it like that, that AR you already have with a mag of good ammo is starting to sound better and better…