Rifles are a subject that I’ve always been fascinated by. I am rather bored by the macho fascination with military style guns. It seems like the grown man version of playing with G.I. Joes to me. I prefer to think of rifles as being in the same category as cars, guitars and surfboards as handsome instruments of impressive engineering. The craftsmanship that goes into a well-built rifle is lightyears beyond that of even the nicest surfboard. (That said, even the nicest things that man has created doesn’t even sniff the awe of God’s creation. Sometimes I think we forget how small we are, and how insignificant our creations are in comparison.)
Back to rifles… Machismo and preconceived notions aside, there is a tremendous value to a well-built rifle in capable hands. If I were lost in the woods, I would like to think that I would have a chance in heck of surviving.
One of my favorite Gun-Writers is Jeff Cooper, who had his fair share of experience and opinions. “The progress of modern technology has been curiously uneven. We have conquered polio and smallpox, but not the common cold. We have landed on the moon, but we cannot move conveniently around our cities.” He is rather critical of semi-automatic rifles, holding to the opinion that the primary objective of a rifleman is to strike with the first shot. Rifle design has remained largely unchanged since the turn of the 20th century. But during the later years of his life, Jeff Cooper was advocating for handy, multi-purpose rifles that accomplish their intended purpose with reliability and ease. No flash, no gimmicks, all function. “A general-purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of delivery a single decisive blow, on a live target up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in the vital area of the target.”
His answer to that calling is what he calls a “Scout Rifle” which is not necessarily more powerful or intrinsically more accurate than the modern sporting rifles, but it is much, much handier. Shorter, lighter, and quicker to operate. The scout rifle features a shorter action and barrel, lighter overall weight, and a low powered long-eye relief scope mounted forward of the action. In Cooper’s opinion, this made for the most versatile and practical rifle to date.
Example: Ruger Frontier Rifle
It’s a bit funny looking, when compared to long, elegant sporting rifles of the last Century. But what it lacks in timeless beauty, it makes up for in practical versatility.
My Dad and I embarked on a Scout Rifle project a couple years ago, and customized a .357 lever-action (a naturally shorter rifle, that shoots handgun ammunition) by adding a long-eye-relief scope and a sling. It’s incredibly fun and easy to shoot. Much more comfortable and natural than a typical hunting rifle. The downside to the one we customized is the fact that it shoots a far less powerful hand-gun cartridge. Which has a much shorter effective range than a rifle cartridge. Jeff Cooper is famous for saying “the only thing a handgun is good for is fighting your way back to the rifle you never should have left.” In order to be a truly effective multi-purpose rifle, versatility and availability of the caliber is of paramount importance. The most universally-available ammunition exists where hunting calibers crossover with military cartridges. A prime example would be the .308.
the .308 is widely used by sportsman, but is also common for military use. It’s a short-action mid-sized round, with reasonable knock-down power, and minimal recoil. Effective on deer-sized game.
Browning makes a lever-action in .308 that is designed for a long-eye-relief scope, called the BLR. Easy to operate, handy to shoot, and the lever-action makes it reasonably quick to prepare for the next shot, without the carelessness that often plagues the shooter of a semi-automatic. This model featured a 5-round box magazine, rather than a tube magazine like most the old Western lever-actions. (They even make a version that accommodates long-action cartridges, like the .270.)
If I could pick one versatile, survival rifle for all purposes, this would be pretty much it. Easy to operate, easy to shoot, accurate for all intents and purposes, nearly universal availability of ammunition.