Like a lot of guys I did some shooting and hunting while growing up, only to set it aside in early adulthood as the frantic task of making it in life overcame interest in such ‘boyish’ pursuits. When I returned to shooting later on it was with an emphasis on self-defense, particularly pistol shooting, which provided a fresh and stimulating way to ease back into it, as I had previously never fired a pistol. I quickly settled on the Glock models in .45 ACP, keeping it simple and relatively inexpensive, and have kept at it steadily ever since, wanting above all to maintain proficiency and competence should I ever need to defend myself, my family, or other innocents.
This along with a shotgun or two kept me busy and satisfied for a while, until I decided I should get a rifle to work with, and the AR-15 seemed the logical choice. It was then I started to learn more about our rights and freedoms, our direct link to the American Revolution, and the threats we face by those hostile to the whole idea of citizens as ‘people of arms,’ and my responsibility and role in exercising, preserving, and defending those freedoms. It was an eye opener. In retrospect it’s easy to see I was naive, one of the ‘sheeple’ we often allude to, but having always hated and successfully avoided fighting situations in my adult life, like many modern people the idea of needing to fight with a gun seemed remote and distant, and years of martial arts training filled what would otherwise have been a void in my defense needs. But suddenly I recognized that ‘gun rights’ are really human rights, rights that are always at risk by forces that never quit.
And so I got the bug and started reading a lot as well as shooting regularly, enjoying my new hobby and the educational experience, always with an eye towards what is practical, limiting my interest to common types of firearms in common calibers. When I first picked up Boston’s Gun Bible by Boston T. Party, I figured I’d read only parts of it, treating it as a reference, as it is a large book and covers a wide range of subjects. But I must have read the whole thing several times. I was especially fascinated by the main body of the text, having to do with .308 (7.62x51mm) semi auto Battle Rifles. He goes into it in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail, comparing the three main versions, and while some parts of it are more interesting than others, he explains his reasoning and motivations, and he’s a good writer. Many of you, perhaps most, are already quite familiar with it, and I won’t rehash any of it here. If you haven’t seen it, and are interested in Battle Rifles, it can serve as a good reference, particularly if you’ve yet to choose a particular rifle type (or ‘platform’) or make a first purchase.
As lengthy as Boston’s book is on the subject, it is not the final word nor does it provide a complete picture as to the options presently available to us. New models and manufacturers have come on the scene since the book was written, and all of these have an evolving track record potential buyers should be aware of. I actually own at least one version of each of the three types, as well as a couple of other types, all acquired in recent years. And while I do have preferences I enjoy shooting them all. I like getting to know them, understanding the different mechanisms, keeping them running, troubleshooting problems as they invariably arise, and learning their strengths and weaknesses. They can all do the same job almost equally well. It is the magnificent capability and proven track record I admire and appreciate; shooting comfort and enjoyment is secondary – choosing a good, solid weapon comes first, and then I learn to get comfortable with it. So I won’t be praising one type of rifle and disparaging the others, as you often see on various forums. I’ll do my best to give them each a fair shake.
Briefly, let’s look at some of the reasons why a citizen would consider a .308 Battle Rifle worthwhile or even essential to have at their disposal. The rifle, in general, has been called ‘liberty’s teeth,’ and with good reason. Just as we all have rights to life and liberty, we all have a responsibility to safeguard and defend our lives and our liberty: rights and responsibilities go together. And while a pistol or shotgun may suffice for personal or home defense, any broader mission, whether it’s defending our immediate community or something larger, requires a group or populace armed with rifles. So part of having a rifle – as a weapon – is just a matter of good citizenship. And among the capabilities of rifles of all sorts, there is little that a semi auto .308 Battle Rifle cannot do. Ballistically similar to the .30-06, the .308 can punch through cover that the 223 (5.56x45mm) cannot, and a Battle Rifle, with its 20-round magazine, can be used to hit man-sized targets in excess of 500 yards as fast as you can aim and fire. Nothing else can hit that hard, that fast, and with such a reach. In my opinion it is the ultimate hand-held weapon, the most powerful weapon a citizen can wield.
So the goal of this article is to provide a useful review of the rifles and my experiences with them, to help you navigate your options in order to find the right fit for you or your group, and in general hope to give you an interesting read, regardless of your level of shooting experience. And while any prepping subject can seem overwhelming at times, with firearms and shooting it’s possible to keep it simple and fun as we acquire our expertise and our gear. It’s the fun and thrill of a great discipline, a treasured freedom and legacy of our Revolution. And even if you are working in isolation, as we often are in our prepping efforts, without a lot of helpful or sympathetic people around, you can make progress in your shooting.
Knowing how to shoot a rifle accurately is of course more important than what kind of rifle to get, so we’ll start here. The road I took was instigated by a chapter in Boston’s book, where he recommends Fred’s Guide to Becoming a Rifleman, available at www.fredsm14stocks.com. In Fred’s Guide you will find instruction on how to successfully complete the Army Qualification Test (AQT) with a score ranking of Expert, making you a ‘Rifleman’ (and until then you’re just a ‘Cook’), along with a lot of other interesting information, articles, and some rudimentary targets. (Shooting instructions are also available on the site for free: Shooting Tips and Errors.) You can also order AQT targets which include reduced sizes allowing the course of fire to be conducted at 25m (or 25yd, as the difference is very slight), a service sling for the support arm, and a simple shooting jacket with padding for the elbows and shoulder. You can find pictures and videos showing how to loop up with the service sling on the net. This is the type of training taught in the excellent Appleseed Project shooting clinics that appear all over the country. Due to restrictions of time and mobility I have not had the opportunity to attend one of these events, but I trained using the method with the materials and information available. (There is also an online weekly Rifleman radio show.) It can all be done with a semi auto 22lr at a range of 25yd; a timer is helpful for scoring. You can do it too. In fact, if you get a chance to go to an Appleseed, it would greatly improve your chances of making Rifleman if you do some work beforehand.
Marksmanship fundamentals for rifle shooting are well described in Fred’s Guide. They include: physical posture to relax and achieve natural point of aim (NPOA), sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, eye focus on the front sight (if using irons) while keeping the sight on the target, squeezing the trigger straight back (trigger control) to get a surprise break, keeping the eyes open so you can ‘call the shot’ when the hammer falls (taking a ‘mental snapshot’), and holding the trigger back (follow-through). Fred tells you exactly what you can expect to achieve with a Battle Rifle and, by following the steps, exactly how to do it. Equally important, he insists that you can do it and that it’s not that hard. What more can we ask from a guide?
I got a shooting mat and set up for dry practice in the basement. On the other side of the room I set a target, shrunk in size to correspond to a 1in square at 25yd, and learned to hold the sights steady inside it while prone, which is the rifleman standard. One inch at 25yd is about 4MOA (minutes-of-angle), which would be about 4in at 100yd, 8in at 200yd, etc. Other positions include sitting, kneeling, and standing, but the prone is probably the most challenging one to get into and get comfortable with. It’s also the most satisfying since it is the steadiest and allows you to shoot the most accurately. It just takes a little time to get used to. I’ve had lots of trouble with neck and upper back pain, and was surprised I could stand it at all, let alone get reasonably comfortable with it. I can’t do it for very long without getting fatigued, but I can do it long enough to make hits, as I’ve demonstrated at the range.
For most of my training I use a semi auto 22lr, what the Appleseed Project calls the ‘Liberty Training Rifle’ (LTR) at 25yd. The 22lr ammo is of course much cheaper than .308, allowing us to put lots of rounds downrange economically, and also it has the benefit of letting us avoid sensitivity to recoil and flinching. At 25yd we can develop most of our basic shooting skills. Important factors left out are range estimation and wind drift. To some extent range estimation can be simulated on reduced size targets, while windage effects cannot. The classic example of an LTR is the Ruger 10/22, though just about any good semi auto 22lr rifle will do fine. The 10/22 dovetails nicely with the Army tradition and feel of the M1 Garand and M14/M1A, and can easily be modified with aftermarket parts to operate almost identically to the M1A. I have a 10/22 Compact Rifle with a Hogue OverMolded stock, which works okay but is a bit lightweight for precision work. I think a better choice would be something like the full length Sporter, or maybe a Target. The other 10/22 models have a band attaching the barrel to the stock (including the new Takedown), and if you put a rubber stock like the Hogue on it you might pull the barrel off zero when shooting using the tight service sling; it’s something to consider. I always like to eliminate sources of shooting error where possible, and the rifle I have lets the barrel free float.
I wanted to train with a pistol grip rifle, so I got a dedicated 22lr upper for the AR-15. A simple conversion kit for the 223/5.56×45 is cheaper than a dedicated upper, but not as accurate, and not accurate enough for our purposes. So I got an upper, and put a free float tube on it so I could use a tight sling or bipod. I bought it from a well-regarded manufacturer, and yet I had trouble – rounds wouldn’t go where I aimed them. Part of my problem was just that I was naive about ammo; I thought the popular CCI Mini-Mags should give acceptable accuracy. It just did not occur to me that ammo could be inaccurate enough not to hit a squirrel in the head at 25yd! Silly me. I went to the manufacturer’s forum and looked up the ammo threads, and found over half a dozen pages, virtually all of it dedicated to cycling, not accuracy. But someone pointed out to me that the ammo was high velocity plinking ammo, and suggested alternatives for greater accuracy. I tried CCI’s Target ammo, which helped some, but I needed better, and the manufacturer (Spike’s Tactical) kindly offered to replace the barrel, so I took the opportunity to upgrade to a more accurate barrel. That did the trick. Suddenly I was in the black, putting all my rounds in a 1in dot at 25yd. I only recount this story here because you might find yourself in a similar boat, wondering why your rounds aren’t going where you think they should. There are a lot of reasons why that can happen, and shooter error is usually considered the default culprit, but it’s not always you that’s at fault, and we want to zero in on the culprit and solve the problem and move on.
One piece of gear that has proven quite valuable for me is the 3-9x Leupold EFR Scope. The Extended Focus Range feature lets you set the parallax anywhere from a range of 10m to infinity. This eliminates any parallax error at the short range of 25m. This can be important: I have a good quality 1.1-4x CQB (Close Quarters Battle) scope, and when I tested it by eye, looking through it at the target and moving my side to side to move the line of sight off the center axis, I could see the reticle move enough to affect accuracy on the 1in target. This explained why my zero seemed to change when I’d take a break and come back to the firing line. A little change in cheek weld position and parallax moved the reticle. The EFR scope eliminates this source of error. And although it is marketed as a rimfire scope, it is built to the same toughness as other Leupolds, and can be mounted on an AR-15 or a .308 Battle Rifle as well. I use scope rings with quick-release levers, and a couple of quick-release riser rails, and this allows me to use the same scope on all my rifles. I keep a data book so I can zero it quickly when I make a switch. (The one thing I don’t like is the adjustments have to be made with a coin or screwdriver, rather than just turning the turrets by hand, but this is a minor quibble.) The risers are a little pricey, but it beats buying a scope for each rifle, and getting the right scope height helps keep my neck and back from screaming at me.
With the scope I can not only call the shot, but I can see where the bullet went. Calling the shot means you know where the sights/crosshairs were when the shot broke. Provided your trigger pull and follow-through are good, the bullet should go pretty close to the point of aim if your rifle is zeroed. Just how close depends on the accuracy of the weapon. This is how I was able to diagnose ammo and equipment contributions to the error. With the scope at 9x and the target at 25yd (the limit of my local indoor range) I could see exactly how steady my hold was, which is within about 1/4in, or 1MOA. So now, for example, if my group size is 3/4in (3MOA), then I know the accuracy of the weapon (rifle & ammo combination) is 2MOA, since the group size is the sum of shooter wobble and weapon spread.
It’s important to be able to distinguish these two contributions to group size: weapon (i.e., rifle & ammo combination), and shooter. It took me a while to shake the notion of blaming the shooter first. This notion seems to be somewhat ingrained in our thinking, and my being a beginning shooter and lacking in confidence didn’t help matters. But with the scope I had the feedback I needed, and I learned to believe what my eyes were showing me. I should emphasize that ‘iron sight discipline’ and proficiency is always an important skill to maintain. We should know how to use and adjust the irons for windage and range, out to the effective limits of our weapons. But clearly the scope, besides being a force multiplier on the battlefield, can also be a very useful training tool.
A final word on use of the shooting sling. There are other methods of training with a rifle, not all of which include a sling. And in tactical prone shooting a bipod or rest of some kind is the normal type of support. The few WWII and Korean War veterans I know, who carried the M1 in combat, trained with the sling but never used it in combat and never saw it used by others. However, it is a good method of training, and the marksmanship fundamentals learned will carry over into any type of shooting. The sling joins you ergonomically to the rifle in a way that a bipod or other rest does not. There is less bounce of the rifle from shot to shot. It can also be used in positions other than prone such as sitting or kneeling, which are often necessary when prone is not feasible due to terrain or other conditions. In the field, a bipod is fragile and a rest is not always available, but a sling can be fashioned from belts, paracord, or even rags. Moreover, there are ‘hasty’ methods of slinging up that are very quick and don’t require a tight cinch. For example, one method I found makes use of the ‘Ching Sling,’ a sling that attaches to the rifle’s studs, but consists of a long loop extending from the front back to about the midpoint. The shooting support is effected by simply slipping the loop up behind the upper part of the support arm; it’s very fast, and while not as tight or as steady as the service sling method, it does aid in accuracy. I found a simple way to improve on this. Rather than just slipping the loop up, I stick my left arm through it and then out to the left (I’m right handed), and up and over the top of the sling, and place my palm up under the rifle’s foreend. Again, not as tight and steady as the service sling, but better than before, and more accurate than no sling at all. It’s a good feeling, slinging up and steadying your aim, so if you haven’t tried it yet give it a shot, as it were. It’s a good skill to have in our toolbox. It’s also widely used in shooting competitions, such as NRA High Power Rifle.
.308 BATTLE RIFLES
The focus here will be on the three types of .308 Battle Rifles that were initially fielded by the Western powers. (The powers have since replaced Battle Rifles with assault rifles such as the M4, and many of their Battle Rifles were subsequently sold off to third world countries.) These were select fire (capable of full auto) weapons, but the ones chiefly available to us today are semi auto, and include: HK91/PTR91, FAL, and M14/M1A. The major commercial manufacturers in the U.S. are PTR91, DS Arms FAL, and Springfield Armory M1A. These are the ones I have and will discuss here, except that instead of Springfield’s M1A I have the LRB Arms M14SA (M14 Semi Auto). I will also discuss the AR-10 types and the Saiga .308. And although there are a number of other, more ‘modern’ semi auto .308s now available (FNAR, FN SCAR, SASS, etc.), we are mainly concerned with the three ‘traditional’ Battle Rifles, for several reasons.
First and foremost, they have been around a long time and are well proven in terms of ruggedness and reliability, and while like all rifles they have their weaknesses, we at least know what they are and how to compensate for them. Parts and magazines are widely available and inexpensive relative to their more modern counterparts. The rifles themselves are generally less expensive as well. These are the considerations that are important to us as preppers and survivalists. We can stock parts and magazines for weapons that are well understood, and keep them running even in times of stress, when outside support is not available.
It is particularly important to stock up on magazines, so price is definitely a factor. The magazine is the weak link in any semi auto rifle; they can break, wear out, get damaged or bent, or discarded in the heat of battle. How many is enough? Well, the more the merrier. You just never want to run out of them, ever. At least a couple dozen per rifle is ideal, but you can get by with less. As with everything else having to do with prepping, consider your mission requirements, and likely scenarios, to determine your needs.
A survival group can adopt a particular Battle Rifle type that all members use, ensuring uniformity of parts, mags, and expertise required to keep everyone armed and ready. Using a common rifle platform among members has the same benefit as it would for an army in the field. They can form rifle teams that can coordinate fire in a multiplying effect: the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. In fact, this is one of the best ways to employ the Battle Rifle. A three person team can send 60 rounds of .308 aimed fire downrange in 60 seconds at distances out to 500yd+ before the first mag change. This is some pretty decent firepower. Multiple teams firing from different directions multiply the effect even further. Having a common rifle platform has obvious benefits.
Barrel Length. While a 16in barreled carbine in .308 makes a great, hard hitting CQB weapon out to 300yd+, and they are quite popular these days, I do not recommend one as your primary Battle Rifle. The reason is that too much velocity is sacrificed in going to such a short length. It certainly has enough velocity to be effective at the ranges we are interested in (though you’re subject to greater drift from windage, and this effect is more pronounced the longer the range), but the trouble is that estimating the range and compensating for it becomes more difficult in the range window of 300-500yd, which Fred calls the ‘Rifleman’s Quarter Mile,’ and he figures this is the ideal distance at which to engage targets. Keeping such a distance from the enemy exploits your rifleman’s skill – something the rank and file shooters among the enemy may be unlikely to have, making their return fire less effective – while taking advantage of the full reach and effectiveness of the .308 Battle Rifle. According to Fred, the three components involved in making hits on targets may be arranged in decreasing order of difficulty as: target detection, range estimation, and making the shot. That is, range estimation is more difficult than making the shot, so it behooves us to reduce the margin for error as much as possible. One way to work on range estimation is to carry a laser range finder: guess the range to an object, then see what the rangefinder says. Trust me, your estimates will improve quickly!
On the other hand, an 18 in model gives up roughly only about 7% of velocity relative to a full length version of 21or 22in. We can expect a comparable increase in bullet drop to go with the velocity loss, so the effect on range estimation is slight. Moreover, all things being equal, the shorter barrel is sometimes more accurate than full length as there is less barrel whip. While I wouldn’t count on better accuracy with the 18in, it makes sense for us to trade a little bit of velocity for a little bit more accuracy. The .308 round is combat effective well beyond 500yd, but a rack grade Battle Rifle does not have the accuracy to exploit the .308’s full potential of 800yd+. So if we can squeeze a bit more accuracy at the cost of a 7% loss in velocity I think it’s worth it. And of course we also have a shorter overall rifle for ease of a handling, and we’re only talking about 2in longer than the 16in carbine. Many people feel that 18in is the sweet spot. What we have available is 17.7in for the HK91/PTR91, 18in for DSA FAL, and 18.5in for the M14/M1A.
If you already have a .308 carbine, and/or consider ranges beyond 300yd unlikely for your needs, you’ll still be well served with your weapon. Also, mapping out ranges at your retreat in advance is a good idea in any case. If you’re sure of your ranges then barrel length is less of a concern. Bear in mind, though, that the carbine is quite loud, and if you have muzzle brake on it (instead of a flash hider) the muzzle blast will be downright brutal, especially for anyone who happens to be alongside you. While the muzzle brake makes it easier to shoot (less muzzle climb), it does not help conceal your position the way a flash hider does, so a flash hider is much preferred in a combat weapon. If you don’t have a Battle Rifle yet, consider getting one with at least an 18in barrel.
Weight. The typical Battle Rifle is over 9lb unloaded, and a good scope will likely put it over 10lb. Some commercial versions have heavier weight barrels (medium contour, bull barrel, etc.) for increased accuracy and steadiness. The tradeoff is that the extra weight is a hindrance for carrying in the field, and for movement between positions during shooting engagements. Most Battle Rifles should give acceptable accuracy without a heavier barrel. Under rapid or sustained fire the barrel heats up, and the groups will tend to string slightly and/or expand more with the lighter barrels. But whether this would really make a difference in a fast moving combat situation is debatable.
I have found I need to resist the temptation to go for the heavier, more accurate rifles. In these pre-SHTF times we can go to the range and shoot at our leisure, we drive there and back, not needing to carry the rifle very far, and when we shoot we like to see tight groups on the target. Tight groups are satisfying. But I think of the Battle Rifle as a field weapon, something that can and may need to be carried all day, and can be handled effectively in combat even when the shooter is tired, weak, and scared, at times moving rapidly from one position to another, trying to stay out of harm’s way, trying to catch his or her breath. And while a heavier rifle is easier to shoot accurately and more controllable, I don’t think it’s worth the drawbacks the extra weight imposes. The rifle should be a friend to the shooter, not a burden.
So we are not just interested in range accuracy, but combat accuracy, which depends on a number of variables. The shooting sports can provide a good testing ground for our combat capabilities, such as the 3-gun Heavy Metal competitions, where the rifle used is a .308 Battle Rifle. This can help give you an idea what kind of rifle handles well for you in terms of weight, etc. But be aware that competition rules don’t always conform to sound combat tactics. If you use the competition to conscientiously train for combat your scores may suffer for it. “Those motivated by a desire to improve their gun fighting skills, as opposed to a quest for trophies, must be willing to bleed ego on the match results to avoid shedding real blood in combat.” – Andy Stanford, in Surgical Speed Shooting
Scope. As mentioned, a good scope will likely put your rifle over 10lb. You can keep the weight down using a CQB scope like an ACOG or a red dot sight with bullet drop compensator (BDC), but you want to consider the target detection advantage scope magnification gives you. Remember that according to Fred, target detection is the most difficult task: more difficult than estimating the range or making the shot itself. Once the shooting starts, people will want to show as little of themselves to their adversaries as possible, and some decent magnification and field of view can go a long way toward helping you see what you need to see. Considering the effective range and our combat needs, something like 3-9x40mm seems about right, not too much magnification, not too little; not too big a scope, not too small. But as always, consider your mission requirements to determine what’s best for you.
Accuracy & Ammo. Despite some of the wild claims you might see on the internet, any good Battle Rifle should give you 4MOA or better with military surplus or military grade ammo (147gr ‘M80’ ball rounds); that’s the basic standard. While accuracy depends on a number of factors, a reasonable expectation is about 2-3MOA. The ammo I use most often is Prvi Partizan. (I have no financial stake in it.) It is commercial production, almost always available, and fairly consistent from lot to lot. Prvi also makes relatively inexpensive Match ammo in 168 and 175gr. I get the best results with the 168gr; all my Battle Rifles do 1-2MOA with it. You can experiment with different types of ammo to see what your particular rifle likes. Visiting the forums can also give you some idea what to expect. Much of the military surplus you see out there was produced years ago, probably being brought out now to be sold at a profit, and whether your rifle likes it or not is hit or miss. And when the supply dries up you have to find something else. That’s why I like something like Prvi, where there’s a steady supply. Buying in case lots of 1,000 is by far the most economical, but the up-front cost is high, so try some before you buy, if possible.
Part of the enjoyment of Battle Rifle shooting is being able to put a lot of hard-hitting rounds downrange without breaking the bank, and the ability to sustain a rapid rate of fire against multiple targets is a vital part of our skill set. The M80 ammo is the Battle Rifle’s meat & potatoes diet, accurate enough to hit a man sized target out to 500yd+, and among the least expensive choices available. However, the effective range can be extended with match ammo or handloads. Excellent match ammo is more than twice as expensive as M80. (Prvi match is not as good but costs only about 50% more.) It’s a good idea to have at least a small supply of ammo of this type, either for extended range or increased accuracy, in case you need it.
Many people use steel cased ammo which, though often not as accurate as brass cased, is less expensive. I’ve only used it in my Saiga .308, as the rifle was designed for this kind of ammo. The only manufacturer’s warning I’m aware of is from DS Arms, which says not to use it in their FAL rifles, period. People use it in the HK91/PTR91 and M14/M1A apparently with no problems. Steel is harder than brass (although the steel used is said to be ‘soft’), so it may put a little more wear on the extractor, but otherwise there seems to be little or no risk involved in using it. Still, I’m only comfortable using it in the Saiga. I suggest you do your own research on it before using it in your rifle.
.308 vs. 7.62x51mm. For the most part we can consider these two to be equivalent, both safe to use in our rifles. The only exception I’m aware of is some types of commercial .308 which use higher pressures than normal, hunting ammo for bolt action rifles, that would not be safe to use in our semi autos. The military rifles were chambered for 7.62x51mm, which has looser tolerances and harder brass, as the rifles were designed to operate in full auto and with tracer rounds, and the ammo has been produced by a number of different countries, which varies in consistency with respect to the tolerances and general quality. If you see a good deal out there for a case of this stuff, do a search on the forums before you buy – make sure it will cycle in your rifle, have decent accuracy, and not gum it up with tar, lacquer, or powdery filth (unless you think it’s worth it).
Most modern, commercially produced Battle Rifles are chambered in .308 Winchester, or just stamped ‘7.62.’ Similarly, much of the current production commercial ammo, such as Prvi, is in .308. This corresponds to tighter tolerances than the military surplus, for generally better accuracy and consistency and, with few exceptions, no loss of reliability in cycling. But there is still surplus ammo out there that could be quite accurate in your rifle. For example, Santa Barbara works well in the M14/M1A. So look around, know what you’re buying and know your rifle.
Ammo vs. Gear. Most people I know are not preppers and do not stock up on cases of ammo. But we recognize the importance of doing so – .308 ammo as well as 223/5.56×45, shotgun, and pistol ammo, etc. – any weapon we might trust our lives to must never be allowed to run dry. You never want to run out of ammo or magazines; there is no such thing as too much of either. And yet, dropping $500 for 1,000 rounds of .308 here and there hurts. Perhaps the biggest impediment is thinking what else we might buy with the money. There are always more guns we’d like to buy, scopes to put on them, all kinds of cool gear, items or ventures that give us pleasure. Crates of ammo sitting around just isn’t very sexy.
But I find it satisfying. Once acquired, it cannot be taken away easily, so there is some sense of security in that. We could experience significant inflation in the near future; I do not have to worry about the price of ammo getting beyond my reach. I have plenty for my practice, plenty for the future, whatever the future may hold. And if the future turns out to be benign, and the ammo is not needed for fighting, it can be passed on to future generations of preppers and patriots. It’ll still be good long after I’m gone. Or it could be used for barter. It’s like gold or silver, only I think it’s even better. It has a function, it will do a job for you, and the price of ammo has not been bid up nearly so much as precious metals. A home invader may be willing to smash my skull for a gold bar he can grab and carry off. But half a ton of ammo? Good luck with that. Ammo may eventually achieve such precious status, but that will only mean my investment was sound in more ways than one. Lead. The other precious metal.
So I would say, don’t skimp on ammo. Take the pain now and you will find lasting comfort knowing it’s there for you, just like your rifle, standing by, lending potency to your vigilance.
We will be concerned here with the modern commercial versions: PTR91, DSA FAL, and LRB M14SA (or Springfield Armory M1A). Their pros and cons have been debated elsewhere. But our focus will be through the eye of the prepper and survivalist. Reliability, cost, ease and speed of operation during a firefight, are of first importance. And while there is no perfect Battle Rifle, if you look carefully, you will likely find one that is close to ideal for you.
When it comes to Battle Rifle selection, most people seem to prefer the FAL or M14/M1A, with the PTR91 a close third. The M14/M1A has the most accuracy potential; the PTR91, to the extent it reproduces the HK91’s quality, would be the most reliable; the FAL is often regarded as the sweet spot between the other two, with its ergonomic friendliness among its chief attractions. However, the PTR91 has become popular with the prepper community, as it is a good value and can be counted on to keep working under tough conditions.
From a strictly utilitarian point of view all three rifles do pretty much the same thing and do it well. And it is a matter of ‘respect and gratitude’ for what they do that guides this article. You can find plenty of forums where people will praise one and bash the other two, but this is not the place for that. I like them all because I deeply appreciate the job they can do for us. These are survival tools, not weekend joy sticks. If one feels awkward I just try to adapt to it and make it comfortable to handle and shoot.
At the risk of oversimplifying I would like to borrow a slogan from the real estate business, in which the value of a property depends on three things: location, location, location. And that is that a Battle Rifle’s reliability depends on three things: parts, parts, parts. We already know that the designs of these rifles are sound. Usually they are assembled properly. That leaves tolerances and quality of parts. The manufacturers are all good and they all offer good warranties, but from a survivalist point of view this just means they can afford to replace defective parts and still make a profit. Sometimes military parts dry up and new ones have to be made, some parts get outsourced, or production errors happen. So it’s a good idea to keep up with any news on the user forums and the manufacturer’s web site. (I found a recall notice for one of my FAL lower receivers just by chance on DSA’s site; even though I am the original owner I was not notified of the recall.) If you’re buying used, review the history for the serial number range of the rifle before you buy. Some details on PTR91 changes are discussed below.
I first bought one of these because it was such a spanking good deal. It was not my first choice in a Battle Rifle, but it shares the ruggedness, durability, and reliability of the HK91, and magazines are inexpensive (sometimes only $1 each). Its poor ergonomics are well known, but it does its job and doesn’t complain, and I’ve wound up liking it more than I thought I would.
Like the FAL it was initially designed to be used with a bipod, and the charging handle is on the left side. And like the DSA FAL, the barrel is not chrome lined. I got one with the Bull Barrel, which seems more like a medium than a heavy weight barrel, and metal handguard which is drilled and tapped for rails. This allows mounting a bipod, vertical grip, sling stud for use with a service sling, or other accessories. Tension applied to the handguard through the grip or sling does not affect the point of aim since the barrel is free-floating, an attribute that contributes to the excellent accuracy of the HK91/PTR91.
[There is some confusion in the web-sphere over the free-float nature of this rifle, but this can be explained fairly simply. First of all, there is no gas system so there is no need to attach anything (such as a piston tube) to the barrel (‘delayed blowback’ mechanism). The only thing that is attached is the ‘tri-ring:’ the bottom ring is on the barrel, the top ring encloses the front sight post, and the middle ring encircles the end of the cocking tube – but is not fastened to it. You can see this by removing the end cap from the middle ring, exposing the hollow end of the cocking tube, to verify this. Now, the handguard is attached to the cocking tube, not the barrel, and while tension on the handguard will cause the cocking tube to flex slightly, it is not enough to bring it into contact with the tri-ring and affect the point of aim, at least not on any of the rifles I looked at – PTR91F, PTR G.I., PTR32KF. (However, a laser mounted to the handguard could be pulled off zero by the tension.)]
Now on to the shooting. The forward sling loop is attached to the barrel, so to avoid putting tension on the barrel I attached a rail to the underside of the handguard, and a sling stud (from Yankee Hill Machine) to the rail. When I first started shooting it, slung up and using iron sights, the feeling I had can best be described as claustrophobic. The way I tend to shoot, with my nose down and cheek well forward on the comb, I was treated with a good stiff punch to the cheekbone by the hump on the buttstock. The first time I just kept firing anyway, since the range was about to close and I didn’t want to take the time to find a new groove. I got a decent bruise out of it, but my groups showed I did not flinch, even though I knew it was going to hurt me – a challenge for my ego I couldn’t resist.
So obviously I have to keep my chin up and head back away from the hump, which feels claustrophobic and awkward. Even with that I still got a slap on the cheek, rather than a punch to the cheekbone. It was an improvement, but I was still in an abusive relationship with my rifle. However, when I put on a Brügger & Thomet scope mount, and a canvas cheek riser pad, presto! No more pain. In fact, it’s quite a comfortable shooter in this configuration. The felt recoil may be stiffer than for the other Battle Rifles, but shooting a few mags at a time is not bothersome, nor is there any noticeable pain afterwards. (I weigh 175lb so I don’t have much natural padding. The only padding I have is on an inexpensive shooting ‘jacket’ from Fred’s.)
This rifle is plenty accurate with good ammo (sub 2MOA groups with Prvi Match 168gr), and the setup I described is solid, comfortable, and versatile. I thought I would just buy this rifle and then forget it, save it for when I might need to be humping a rifle through the swamp for months on end. And here it turns out to be the cat’s meow! I guess you just don’t know until you give something a fair shake.
The ‘PTR’ in PTR91 stands for ‘Precision Target Rifle.’ I always thought this was odd, as the HK91 was designed to be a Battle Rifle, not a semi auto sniper rifle. Then again, I’m not in charge of marketing the thing, and I suppose ‘Pretty Darned Accurate Battle Rifle’ doesn’t have quite the same ring. The rifle differs from the HK91 in one important respect: the barrel. It’s a heavier profile for one thing, and although it’s called a ‘bull barrel’ it seems closer to a medium weight. But more important, it has shallower chamber flutes than the original design. This may have been to reduce felt recoil, and/or to tighten tolerances for better accuracy. (The flutes are grooves cut into the chamber to aid extraction; it’s a necessary part of the blowback mechanism.) But from our perspective the important question is whether this makes it less reliable than the original. The answer is apparently no, unless you’re using lacquer coated, or particularly tar-sealed ammo. Many of us may not care to use this type of ammo in our rifles, as it produces a gummy residue that’s hard to remove, but a ‘true’ HK91 can handle it and we expect a PTR91 to do so as well. In response to this PTR91 recently came out with the GI version.
Aside from the furniture it appears virtually identical to the HK91. They were offered on CDNN for $900 new (compare this to a used HK91 for around $2300). It’s easy to see the difference in the chamber flutes between the different PTRs: the GI’s are much deeper and more distinct. This is a welcome development, as many people regard the HK91 as the ultimate TEOTWAWKI weapon: no matter the ammo, the environment, or the duration of the crisis, it won’t quit on you. So, for good reason, the PTR91 GI is getting a lot of attention among survivalists and preppers these days.
I thought all PTR91 models were now being made with the deep chamber flutes, not just the GI version, but I have been unable to confirm this. (Note, chamber flutes are not to be confused with barrel flutes, which are on the outside of the barrel, for aesthetics and heat dissipation.) I know for a fact the new PTR32 (in 7.62×39) has them. The issue is important, because some folks might want the heavier barrel for better accuracy and heat dissipation, but only if they can get it with the deep flutes. [Can JWR or someone else chime in here with a reference and settle this question?] Also, some PTR91 models come with a scope rail welded to the receiver, which is better than the bolt on type, but I haven’t seen it on the GI version.
I haven’t scoped the GI rifle yet, but the groups I get are similar to what I get with the other PTR91 using iron sights, and in any case the GI should give whatever accuracy we can expect from the HK91. The GI is lighter and felt recoil is naturally stiffer but I didn’t find it uncomfortable (with padded jacket); it just needs a little padding on the shoulder or buttstock. I like the challenge of using it just the way it is brutal, tough, simple – with iron sights, even though I’m a little nearsighted.
Reloading the PTR91 can be a bit slow, at least in comparison to the other Battle Rifles. A paddle mag release can be installed, but this is a gunsmithing job. There are good quality 50 round drums available which look great, but they’re expensive. Are they worth it? It depends. If you’re light on riflemen (or working solo) and you think the drum would help sustain fire in the fight, then maybe. It’s a heckuva capability. As always, balance your mission requirements with the resources you have.
Okay, some of the cons. Bore is not chrome lined, but this is in the interest of greater accuracy. It’s the stiffest recoiling of the Battle Rifles, due to the blowback mechanism. However, this can be tamed in a number of ways, chiefly with a little padding and optimal positioning on the shoulder. As a general matter I don’t think recoil should be a game changer when it comes to selecting a Battle Rifle, unless you have some special need (shoulder problems, etc.). There’s a huge industry out there serving the needs of shooters, and they’re always trying to dream up new types of gear to make our lives better, and it’s probably just a matter of time before someone makes a new buttstock or other gizmo that helps with the recoil. Remember, the actual momentum transferred to your shoulder is the same no matter what rifle you use (the momentum is the bullet mass times muzzle velocity). What we want is to smear out the force transferred to us during the recoil impulse, making it more like a shove than a kick.
I had a couple of minor problems with my rifles. The first one suddenly started failing to extract. This was due to a bent extractor spring, which was probably bent during factory installation (which is pretty easy to do). I straightened it out and put it back in and it worked fine until I got some new springs. They are inexpensive, and a necessary item in your spare parts kit. Another thing that happened was both rifles had the flash hiders come loose, easily remedied with blue loctite. Though minor, these are pretty stupid problems to have. PTR91 really ought to do better.
There are more serious issues to be aware of. A limited number of rifles were manufactured using wrong sized pins which could result in cracked trunnions. Check the serial number of your rifle against the serial number range posted on PTR91’s web site, and if yours matches, check your trunnion for hairline cracks. If you’re buying used, avoid those in the affected range. I’ve also seen one or two reports (with photos) of cracked bolt heads, and while it appears to be rare it’s a very serious failure. There is some question as to whether the metal being used is hard enough. There may have been a change in manufacturing, or a shift from surplus to domestic made bolt heads (my GI’s bolt head has ‘PTR91’ stamped on it, while the one from the older rifle has no markings). Some people like to swap out parts for original German ones (bolt head, carrier, trigger parts, etc.), but this can be expensive. It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the ‘bolt gap,’ which is related to the head space, and it’s easily checked using a feeler gauge set like we use to check spark plug gaps. If it’s shrinking rapidly, and goes under spec, that would indicate a problem. On the good news front: in 2012 PTR91 announced a lifetime warranty on these and all other internal parts.
Before leaving the subject of PTRs entirely I want to mention the PTR32. This is a new model rifle chambered in 7.62x39mm, with a 16in ‘bull barrel,’ aluminum handguard, and deep chamber flutes. While it does take AK47 mags, most of the common steel ones do not work well – polymer mags are recommended. Though I like AKs well enough, I like the PTR32 because of the better sights, the handguard is all ready to go for rail attachments, and the barrel is free-floating as with the PTR91. It’s heavier than an AK (a GI profile barrel might have been better) but feels well balanced. Shooting it is a dream, as the recoil is more like a spongy push than a kick. It comes with a fixed stock, but can be fitted with one of those retractable stocks which, while quite a punisher when used on a .308, would work nicely on this one and make it more portable. If you like the PTR platform and you’re looking for something to throw in the truck, it’s something to consider.
This was my top choice, at least initially. It was a bit of a toss-up between a DS Arms FAL or an M14/M1A. My preference was tilted toward the FAL for several reasons. (1) I was impressed with the quality of DSA, which offers FAL models as good or better than the original. (2) Scoping the FAL is simple: just order it with a railed top cover (I like the extended scope rail version). (3) The ergonomics is similar to the other rifles I have, such as pistol grip and safety position. (4) It can be cleaned from the breech end (I’m spoiled).
Before I really got into Battle Rifles I got a DS Arms SA58 16in carbine with the medium contour barrel. Those of you who have had the chance to shoot one of these know what a sweet, handy little piece it is. And although it’s only a 16in and therefore not technically a Battle Rifle as defined here, it’s a good hard hitting CQB weapon.
My first DSA FAL Battle Rifle had an 18in medium contour barrel, fixed stock, and Robar NP3 coating on the bolt & carrier, which has a silky, teflon-like feel, requiring little or no lube, something which could be important in a SHTF situation. The heavier barrel adds a little bit of weight, which I thought I would not mind for the sake of greater accuracy, but as we’ll see I eventually settled on a different model. I still like this one but it is better suited for shooting from a fixed position with a bipod.
To further enhance accuracy and to allow the use of a tight service sling, I installed an aluminum “free float” foreend. While not strictly free float, since it clamps to the thick base of the barrel instead of the receiver, it does the job required of it, which is to isolate the barrel from sling tension and contact with the bipod. However, the foreend as provided by DSA suffers from several drawbacks, the most serious being the open top design, which exposes the piston and spring. The tube is open on top so it can clear the front sight block on installation. But instead of an uninterrupted piston tube, DSA’s has a long gap which, while good for ventilating fouling gas, exposes the piston and spring. With the foreend attached this is actually visible, not only exposing this part of the action to the elements but also allowing gas and barrel heat to rise into the line of sight and in front of the scope. This is absurd – DSA really needs to get its act together on this. I would have preferred a (ported) solid piston tube instead of the open design, but all that’s actually needed for the foreend is a top cover, and so I made one from a galvanized steel cable organizer. Bending it into a suitable shape took some doing (a vice and set of aluminum barrel blocks came in handy), but it came out nicely. Another drawback of the foreend is the lack of any drilling and tapping and supplied rails, but this is easily remedied. I put a small (Yankee Hill) rail segment on the bottom front for a quick detach (QD) bipod, a sling stud farther aft, and a pair of screws securing the tube to the lower barrel clamp to prevent the tube from rotating.
The result is a bit heavier than I would like – what’s really needed is a lighter free float foreend – and while it would be hard to find a more accurate FAL, like many accurate semi auto rifles it’s too heavy to be considered a ‘carry friendly’ field weapon, which is our main focus in this article. Still, I love the damn thing and I’m keeping it.
I’ve since picked up a DSA PARA FAL rifle – folding skeleton stock, Robar NP3 coating on internals, sand cuts on bolt carrier (now standard on all new DSA FALs), extended scope rail. The barrel is 18in, but unlike the other rifle it’s standard weight. I’m considering putting my free float tube on this one but for now I think it’s heavy enough and fine the way it is. The primary advantage of the folding stock is enhanced covertness and ease of portability – you can put it in a suitcase instead of a gun case, for example – and yet, unlike a partially disassembled rifle, the stock can be unfolded and the rifle brought into action quickly. If you think that feature would be important for you it’s worth considering the PARA. Also, in the event of a jam the PARA action can be opened up immediately, but this may not be the case if you have a fixed stock, which has the ‘rat tail’ (a thin rod attached to the back of the carrier) extending into the buttstock during cycling.
However, folding stock is an additional expense over the fixed version, and while it looks ‘cool’ it is not as comfortable to shoot. For one thing, the recoil spring mechanism is different (note that it is not easy, nor is it inexpensive, to interchange folding and fixed stocks on a rifle), and for another, the folding stock butt is all aluminum and thus hard as a rock – definitely could use some rubber back there. In fact, the difference between shooting the PARA and shooting my Saiga .308, which has the ACE folder that includes a hollow rubber pad on it, is substantial; the Saiga is much milder. If you do put on a thick rubber pad, the PARA stock can be cut shorter by the user, in order to maintain the same length of pull. Something like this will probably be necessary, at least for me. It’s a superb weapon, don’t get me wrong, and I really like it. But if someone asked my advice about getting a FAL, I would say DSA’s 18in, standard weight barrel, fixed stock, with or without Robar, would be a good bet.
Besides the extended scope rail option, I like the Hampton lower, which has a rear sight just like that on the AR-15. All my FALs have Hampton lowers, as well as the Speed Trigger upgrade. I haven’t had a chance to fire a rifle with a stock trigger, but I can tell you I would not want anything less than the Speed Trigger, which gives a lighter, shorter, crisper pull for enhanced practical accuracy. I consider the trigger upgrade and scope rail to be the most important upgrades you can get for the FAL.
And finally, some pros and cons. The FAL is unique in that it has an adjustable gas system, allowing you to tune it to your particular ammo, and this is generally regarded as a good thing. It helps reduce wear and tear on your gun as well as your shoulder. But you wouldn’t want to go into battle with it on the wrong setting, which could render it a single shot rifle. [JWR Adds: Ditto for assembling the rifle with the gas plug installed upside down.]
Like the HK91/PTR91, it has the charging handle on the left side (which is what most right handed shooters seem to prefer), as it was designed to be used with an integral bipod. It is a ‘non-reciprocating’ handle, meaning that it does not move during cycling (unlike the M14/M1A), and consequently does not allow for a forward assist should it be needed (which could happen if the rifle gets dirty enough). Last time I talked with DSA in mid-2012 I was told a forward assist option (similar to that on the Israeli heavy barrel FAL) might be offered in the future, as a number of people had been asking about it. You might be able to make this mod yourself (or you might consider getting an M14/M1A). Most people don’t seem to think it’s necessary, but like a lot of things, having it and not needing it is better than needing it and not having it.
The charging handle knob itself is made of hollow aluminum, and it can break (don’t ask me how I know). Just don’t drop it on a rock. Barrel is not chrome lined, but this is in the interest of better accuracy. DSA ordered a recall on a range of lowers a few years ago. I was not notified (I noticed it on their web site), even though I’m the original owner and they have my email address.
Having decided in favor of the FAL I figured I had no need to get one of these. Besides the expense of the rifle itself, I like to stock mags and parts for the rifles I have, and the cost for this system is unfortunately high. But it was the one thing missing in my collection, and in many ways it can be considered the best of the bunch. So about every six months I would get a real hankering for one, even start having dreams about it. Finally I could take it no longer. I bought an M14SA, LRB Arms hammer-forged receiver, the rest of it is USGI M14 parts except bolt (TRW) and barrel (Criterion, chrome lined). This is not a match rifle, but it’s about the best plain Jane semi auto M14 you can find, and at the risk of comparing apple to oranges, I consider the quality on a par with DSA’s FAL.
It came with a beautifully restored USGI walnut stock, which I immediately replaced with a fiberglass one. Being able to swap stocks is one of the advantages here, and the USGI fiberglass can be repainted in any number of camo patterns. Because I like the extra rigidity and strength of the old ‘big red’ birch stocks I bought one of these too, and refinished it. I had to get several new tools for cleaning and working on the rifle. I will accumulate more mags and parts as opportunities arise.
Because I’m a little nearsighted I installed a National Match (NM) rear sight, and dropped in a corrective lens from B Jones Sights. This allows me to see the target well enough while still keeping the front sight in focus. I also put in a front globe sight, which shrouds the front sight in a small cylinder, reducing eye fatigue and minimizing the effects of lighting. (As a side note: the rear sight with lens is legal in NRA Service Rifle competition, but the front globe sight is not.) This allows me to shoot almost to the rifle’s potential (less than 1.5MOA with Prvi 168gr). If you like shooting with iron sights this is a great setup. Being able to shoot this rifle very accurately using iron sights is one of the most fun things about it.
I was not planning to scope this rifle, due to the high cost of the better mounts, and the reported problematic nature of doing so. But then I heard about the Bassett Machine mount ($150). The High model allows use of the iron sights. It goes on and off easily with a hand tool, with minimal torque needed – only the weight of the rifle is used to tighten it – and boasts a return to zero within 1MOA. It sounded too good to be true, but I read enough endorsements from users to take the plunge. Though my experience with it is not very broad thus far, it does perform as advertised, so if you’re shopping for a mount check this one out. Naturally, whatever mount you may choose, if you are using a scope you’ll probably want a cheek riser to help raise your line of sight. I use a removable soft pad on my birch stock so I can switch back to using iron sights easily.
This rifle is a very comfortable shooter, the softest recoiling among the three traditional Battle Rifles, and with the familiar feel of the hunting rifle and shotgun. Probably the biggest drawback is the lack of a pistol grip. Particularly in prone, where the elbow of the trigger arm is down, the angle the trigger finger makes with the trigger is not ideal. Also, the wrist is bent back – not good for relaxing. However, it doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would, and the rifle delivers exceptional accuracy. Many a good sniper, after all, has made do with this type of traditional stock on a scoped bolt action, so it should be no obstacle to most of us on our Battle Rifles. There are of course after market stocks that feature a pistol grip, but good ones are expensive, often require bedding, such as the McMillan (and occasional rebedding, depending on how much you shoot), and may add substantial weight, such as the J Allen Enterprises stock.
For a “field grade” stock I like the USGI fiberglass. (Some shooters reinforce the foreend to make it more rigid, but I haven’t yet found this necessary, even when using a tight sling). The only mod I made was to install a Sadlak heavy duty bipod rail in front of the sling loop. With this setup using a bipod, scope, and cheek riser, you’d essentially be equipped just as many of our troops are fighting overseas with the M14.
As far as available ‘upgrades’ for this weapon – stocks, parts, accurizing, etc. – the sky’s the limit, but then so is the price. I plan to do some basic accurizing, but that’s about it. It already does what it needs to do, and what I need to do is spend time shooting it.
It’s easy to see why people’s objectivity breaks down when it comes to this rifle. It has the look and feel of a traditional rifle; it’s designed for use with the service sling, with controls on the right hand side; iron sights are superb; recoil is gentle; and it has the home team advantage, as it is the only American Battle Rifle, and a direct descendant of the revered M1. Very much a rifleman’s rifle, user friendly in all important respects.
More recently I got a tanker version, built on an LRB M25 receiver which has the scope rail built in, with a number of upgrades. This was to be my go-to Battle Rifle, my pride and joy. But it doesn’t work – numerous cycling problems, and I have to send it back. It’s an excellent builder that made it so I have no doubt they’ll make it right. But it just goes to show that you can run into problems no matter what you buy, even in the high end market.
AR-10 & Variants
This platform has a lot going for it – the same excellent ergonomics of the AR-15, outstanding accuracy, modularity, ease of customization. The rifle has gotten better, as more manufacturers have come out with more choices, and magazines aren’t as wildly expensive as they once were. It is unfortunate that, unlike with the AR-15 parts, particularly mags, are not standardized, but this is a fairly minor concern.
It may be argued that it also shows some of the weaknesses of the AR-15. But as long as we know what they are, we can make an informed choice as to whether the AR-10 is appropriate for our mission. Certainly we would want to make sure we have plenty of lube since, while fouling may be an issue with the direct impingement mechanism, it can get pretty dirty and not quit, provided you can keep it wet. Keep plenty of spare parts on hand, and know how to rebuild a bolt.
But I think where the AR-10 really shines is as a semi auto sniper rifle. You can easily build one with sub MOA accuracy, and if you have a need for such a capability this would be an excellent option.
This is a good, robust budget Battle Rifle, but with certain drawbacks. It’s available only in 16 in and 21in barreled models; many say the 21in is markedly less accurate due to barrel whip. It is not threaded for a flash hider, and with the front sight positioned all the way out at the muzzle, no easy way to thread it (see instructions at Dinzag Arms), though some sort of bolt on device may be possible. No pistol grip, crummy trigger. Mags – both factory and hi-cap – are expensive. But factory mags are 8-rounds, so you could think of this as roughly equivalent to a .308 M1 with detachable mag, which ain’t bad, unless of course you lose the mag. And though it can be upgraded (see below), for the cost involved I would suggest you take a hard look at a PTR91 instead. If you like the Saiga the way it is you’re in good shape, though I consider a trigger upgrade a must. It has a side mount for a scope rail which is inexpensive, so scoping it is simple. The iron sights are the usual lousy AK type, so for excellent aftermarket peep sights check out Tech-Sights.
Like the AK47, the Saiga .308 has relatively mild recoil. However, there is one difference in the action that bears mentioning. There is an extra lug on the bolt to handle the higher pressures of the .308. It’s on the bottom, and it rides directly over the case of the top cartridge in the magazine, and depending on how sharp the lug is, it puts a good dent in the case shoulder on the return stroke, particularly when the top round is on the left side. This could be an issue in performance, especially if you’re using brass cased ammo (steel cased won’t dent nearly so much), as the case could be punctured before firing. There is only one way to see this effect. Firing the round irons out the case and removes the dent. Therefore, start with a full 20-round mag (for maximum upward pressure), making sure the top round is on the right. Load, and fire the first round. Then remove the mag, extract the chambered round, and inspect. My rifle made such a severe dent I sent the bolt back to the distributor to have it filed down. When it still made a big dent I sent the whole rifle back and they worked on the bolt some more. They did it free of charge, although with a note saying it shouldn’t have been sent in since it had been converted to the pistol grip configuration – voiding the warranty. As if the pistol grip has anything to do with the bolt! Anyhow, it helped, enough so that I’m no longer worried it might actually punch a hole in the brass. I’m still not too crazy about the design, with the lug riding over the case and bumping the shoulder.
As for the pistol grip conversion, there are a few differences from the Saiga 7.62×39. The mag well is farther aft due to the longer round, and the trigger guard I got for it needed to be squeezed and shaped a bit, and a new hole in the receiver for the front screw. If you’re putting in a fixed stock there’s not much too it. But for a folding stock, where you cut off the rear tang, you’ll need to drill and tap holes in the receiver to secure the receiver block, as the two holes on each side used for this purpose when converting the 7.62×39 or Saiga 12 are absent on the .308. I used the block that comes without these holes already in it; that way I could just drill the receiver and block together so things line up easily. I also needed to cut the cross bar off the bottom of the block, and do some grinding on top edges to provide clearance. Lastly, there was a hole in the bottom of the receiver near the back where I put another screw into the block. I used an ACE folding stock. The result is very solid and looks great.
One other thing I should mention about this rifle is that I had to grind the receiver rails a little bit in order to get the bolt and carrier group in and out smoothly. It works smooth as grease now, but when I first got it I couldn’t see why it didn’t behave just like all the AKs I was used to handling. So if you have trouble with yours, take a careful look at the receiver rail clearance, and if you must take a dremel to your receiver, go slow, taking off only a little bit at a time, trying the bolt & carrier insertion and removal as you go.
Overall I like this baby (I have a 16in). It shares the good traits of an AK-47 – simplicity, reliability, light weight, mild recoil – in a semi auto .308. With the folding stock, it’s hard to see how you could get more firepower in such a small, light weight package. So if you like the AK platform, and don’t mind doing a little work and tweaking to get it the way you like, give it a look.
No Battle Rifle is perfect, but it’s possible to find something that is ideal or suitable for you, your group, your family. All of those discussed here will do the job and will serve you well. Selecting a Battle Rifle is like becoming part of a club or community. You can avail yourself of the tremendous amount of information and help online from others using the same platform. There is so much experience and expertise on these weapons out there, and it’s constantly being updated on the forums. Being a part of it is one of the most satisfying benefits of Battle Rifle shooting. But the best of all, of course, it the shooting itself.
One final note. As preppers, we have long been concerned with the state of our world, its fragility, and the various means and trends that threaten it. Now suddenly we have a new threat to our freedom and culture, to our right to life and liberty, the specter of infringements to our right to keep and bear arms. We have already seen a lot of panic in the marketplace. But as preppers we do not panic, we take heart. Despair is not an option for us. While we may have to adapt to new circumstances, we are secure in our faith and our mission, and remain active in the face of change and adversity. We all know this won’t be the last crisis we’ll have to deal with. But we are here now, in this time and place, for a reason. We are the beginning of a new America and a new freedom, remembering and recapturing the old, but with an eye to building a new future, a vision to be admired and remembered to the end of days. The way is tough, but that is always the way of the pioneer.