Choices, Choices, Choices – Part 2, by K.C.


Continuing with my previous article, I started to think about rifles. There are so many choices out there, and each has their fanboys who clutter the Internet daily with their endless debates—none of which gets anyone anywhere.

As I said in the other article, I dabbled a bit in 3-gun. I’m also former military, with combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m also a gun enthusiast, so I’ve owned or played with a wide variety of guns. I’m also a husband and a father, so I needed to consider what the wife and kids, along with the other people in my group, will wind up having to use in a SHTF scenario.

So, I went through rifle ergonomics and caliber considerations almost simultaneously, but I’ll deal with caliber first. I’m immediately discounting several rounds like .30-06, .45-70, .30-30, 6.8 SPC, .300 AAC Blackout, et cetera, because they are either rounds more appropriate for hunting or special purposes, or they are rounds not in widespread use.

So, will it be .308, .223 (along with their NATO counterparts– the 7.62 and 5.56), 7.62×39, or 5.45×45? I am a believer in the .308’s superiority to the .223. It shoots longer and more accurately, and it delivers much more at the terminal end. In a perfect world, it’s the right round.

However, I’m also a realist. It is unlikely my wife and kids will be able to carry a .308 rifle for any length of time for several years. It is also unlikely my wife and kids will be able to build up the endurance to withstand the recoil of a .308. The same is likely true of many people in my group, who are not experienced shooters (yet). I am also of the firm opinion that setting a dual standard for primary arms is a bad idea. The people who are the “odd men out” will find themselves behind the power curve, if push ever came to shove in a serious social situation.

Setting aside the .308, I’m left with the “intermediate” calibers. I deleted the 7.62×39 and the 5.45×45 next, because the geopolitical environment can rapidly shut down inexpensive and plentiful access to the ammunition. American-made ammunition for former Soviet rifles in prepper quantities is generally much more expensive. Additionally, much of the bulk ammo for these calibers is Berdan-primed and steel-cased, making it difficult to reload.

That left me with the .223. The ammo is ubiquitous in America for decent prices (during “non-crazy” times), and it shoots relatively softly. It’s also easy to reload. (Just watch out for the military crimp in surplus cases though.)

Turning to the rifle part of the equation, I’m going to discuss all of the rifles in the calibers I considered, simply to go over the ergonomics and why I arrived at the decision I made. Some may disagree with my decisions, and that’s fine. Do what works for you.

I owned an M1A for several years, and it was my “zombie rifle”. I outfitted it with a ******Troy Modular Chassis and mounted AR accessories on it. I liked shooting it…a lot. The detractors for the M1A in its base configuration are:

  • the cost of accessories to put optics on it (quality scope bases are at least a couple hundred dollars),
  • the magazine release (it’s SLOW), and
  • the safety configuration (you have to stick your finger into the trigger guard to turn it off).

In the configuration I had, it was even heavier to carry and slower to load. (Seating magazines is difficult in the Chassis without much adjustment to the rifle.) The charging handle is reciprocating, which means you can use it as a forward assist to ensure the bolt is in battery. However, it’s on the right side of the rifle, which means most people are going to hit it with their shooting hand. The M1A is also relatively expensive, as new rifles are in the $1400-$2000 range. I eventually traded this rifle away with some cash for an FN SCAR, which is even more expensive.

I owned a CETME for a couple of years, which is roughly analogous to the HK G3. (A debate exists as to which came first.) I liked the off-hand charging handle very much. I do not care for the safety (which is in the wrong position for me to sweep easily) or the magazine release (which has a paddle similar to the M1A that makes it somewhat slow to reload). The biggest issue I had with it was the fact that it scored my brass pretty severely, making me question whether it was safe to reuse. I have never found a satisfactory answer to this, but it’s something you should probably note if you consider this rifle. I also do not know whether the HK G3 does this to the fired brass.

I have not owned an FN/FAL and have only handled and fired one on one occasion. While it appears to be a decent rifle, the magazine release is also a paddle. (You may have noticed a theme—I don’t care for paddle releases. This is mostly because it makes the rifle slower to reload, because you generally have to grasp the magazine with your off hand and rock it forward as you hit the release. Yeah, there are high-speed reloads where you use the new magazine to hit the paddle and strip the old magazine, but that’s going to take a lot of time to master subconsciously.)

I have also not owned an AR-10 pattern rifle, which is the .308 AR. When I’ve handled them, I’ve often found that the bolt release and magazine release are in spots just different enough from the AR-15 rifle to throw me off. Your mileage may vary.

I briefly considered the AK-pattern rifle, as I considered their “normal” cartridges. Spares are generally not an issue with this rifle, because there are a large number of U.S. manufacturers of parts to get around import restrictions. My issues with the AK series have to do mostly with:

  • accuracy (accurate rifles are difficult to find without paying large dollars),
  • the safety (it’s a large stamped piece of steel on the right side of the gun, which you have to activate with your shooting hand), and
  • the charging handle (while it’s reciprocating and acts as a forward assist, it’s also on the right side of the gun and requires you to use your shooting hand to manipulate it).

Former Soviet and Warsaw Pact guns are generally of mediocre quality, and you’ll pay just as much for a quality foreign-built AK with U.S. parts as you will for an AR, and you’ll pay more these days, actually, thanks to Obama.

Although I purchased a SCAR, I do not expect to outfit everyone in my group with one, as they are expensive; the lowest price I’ve seen on a new one is north of $2100. The same applies to other .223 rifles, like the AUG, SIG, Tavor, and FN 2000. I also dislike three of these four, as bullpup rifles are ergonomically complicated, and the ability to quickly change magazines is important to me (as you may have noticed).

In the end, I decided on the AR-15. It’s relatively inexpensive (S&W M&P-15 rifles are less than $700, in many places), and spare parts and accessories are plentiful and can be found at good prices. Spending around $100 for a stripped lower receiver (even after FFL transfer fees) can get you a full rifle for around $600, if you’re willing to put in the work, and maybe less, if you scout for your own parts. You can put together a “better-than-MILSPEC” rifle for much less than buying the high-end rifles from places like Black Rain or Adams Arms.

Ammunition is easy to get, and if you buy a chamber built for 5.56 ammunition, you can fire either military surplus or commercial .223 ammunition through it. Magazines are once again cheap and plentiful. There is little difference between magazines; the aluminum MILSPEC magazines work fine, if you switch out the followers.

Depending on your ammunition choice, you can use the AR-15 for hunting most game. If your preference is for heavier bullets, get a National Match magazine, so you can single load longer and heavier bullets.

In coming up with specifications for the group rifle builds, I’ve mandated a barrel length no less than 16” and a non-competition trigger and bolt carrier group. (I’ve found people can sometimes have issues with light triggers or with triggers designed for non-MILSPEC ammunition. Competition bolt carriers can wind up being too light to reliably seat the bolt, especially when the rifle gets dirty.) All rifles must have a muzzle brake or flash suppressor and a collapsible stock (to easily exchange rifles between members). All guns must also have iron sights available.

All other options are truly optional to the rifle’s builder or buyer, including optics, handguards, grips, sight configuration, et cetera. I want the primary users to be comfortable with their rigs and be able to optimize them for their personal use.

Again, this is not meant to be taken as the end-all/be-all in the caliber debate or the rifle debate. Everyone has their preferences and prejudices, and we all (for the moment) have the freedom to choose what we want to buy and shoot. However, I did go through a somewhat lengthy and deliberate process when making these decisions and felt it was worth sharing. I tried to eliminate bias and look at my personal situation rationally. I hope this provides a basis of discussion for you and yours.