Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Light Rifle, Scout Rifles, Trunk Guns OH MY!

Tam and Josh chose today to write about light rifles/scout rifles, which is a subject I have some interest in.

I'm not a big fan of the Steyr "Scout Rifle", which the good Col. loves so much. One, it's ugly, and two it's UNGODLY EXPENSIVE at something like $2500. A lot of folks have been building scout rilfes on Mosin 91/44 carbines lately, and while that strikes me as a good solution, I'm not a big fan of the Mosin action (though I do appreciate it's indestructible nature).

Now I've got (if it ever re-appears) a 6lb superlight AR, which is a great light rifle, but it's stil 5.56 and its really not much good past 50 yards. It's a house to house carbine, not really what I'd call a light rifle or scout rifle.

I've also got a detachable mag conversion (a good reliable one, not junk) Yugo 59/66 in an ATI folder as my trunk/truck gun. I plan on cutting it down to just in front of the front sight, which should result in about an 18" barrel (losing about 6" of OAL including the grenade launcher). I'mna grab a resaonably cheap but tough red dot for it as well (maybe one of the OK sights). It should be good for exatly what I want it for, which is the basic purpose of a truck/trunk gun; be more effective with longer range than a pistol, by which I mean longer than 25 yards but really no more than 50, or MAYBE minute of goblin (call it 8") at 100 yards.

All that is great, but it's not by any stretch of the imagination light, weighing in at 11lbs loaded (the loaded detachable 30rd box weighs about 2lbs). I'll probably lose a pound with the barrel trim, but I'll get most of it back with the red dot, so no, not a light weight choice.

And still neither of these are an accurate boltie in a reasonable hunting caliber, which is after all half the purpose of the scout rifle.

Lets list Coopers (an Andy Langlois, and Eric Ching, and Tom Kratz, and David Kahn, and Geoff Beneze, all of whom helped refine and build the idea) criteria for a scout rifle:
"Let us attempt it by declaring that a general-purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target."
Now that's a fairly generic description. There are certainly quite a few different rifles out there which can fit the bill, and that's all well and good. The Col. had something more specific in mind though; and what emerged was this spec:
1. Weight: 3 kilos including "all accessories" but no ammo.

2. Length: Max 1 meter (39")

3. Telescopic sight: an intermediate eye relief of low power, generally 1.5-3x. This scope is mounted forward of the magazine.

4. Generally the stocks will be synthetic

5. Scout barrels will be short and light (approx. 19".)

6. Actions:
a. Bolt
b. two-lug, ninety-degree rotation
c. Mauser style claw extractor and positive ejector
d. Bolt knob should be round and smooth
e. Safety should disconnect trigger mechanism and should work from front to rear.
f. Magazine: should protect the points of soft-pointed spitzer bullets
g. The action should offer some built in aperture sight.
h. Magazine cutoff.
i. Trigger: smooth, clean break at 3 lb.
7. Accessories: Flush sling sockets, rounded heel of the butt, butt magazine, either cuff style or built in, some form of retractable bipod.
Now that's a pretty specific description, and other than some minor quibbles of personal preference, a very useful rifle.

Personally I'm not a huge fan of LER forward mounted scopes, but I certainly see their utility under many circumstances; one of which is rapid acquisition in a patrol or scouting environment (whether it be for game or for folks). My personal preference is to have a rifle capable of mounting optics both forward and rear, and having a good set of backup peep sights (preferably with a hooded front).

Scout scope mounting has one disadvantage that I find irritating, in that with a scout scope of any magnification, you can't really cowitness irons as a backup, nor can you mount the scope on a look through mount easily, without messing the balance of the gun, and causing bore offset sight issues. This is especially true when used with a sometwhat higher magnifcation than suggest (I presonally prefer a 4x or 6x fixed to a 3x).

If you are going to have a forward mounted optics wtih magnification, my preference on sights is that they don't have to be permanently mounted to the rifle; instead it is entirely acceptable to me to have QD mounts on the rear sight.

In fact I have a preference for QD mounts for almost all of my optics, and I dont mind swapping the rear irons for the optics rather than having them fixed in place. Yes there is more stuff to break; but the fact that I can change things out quickly and without (or with minimal) tools is too useful an advantage for me to want to give up.

If the main optic breaks, and is on a QD mount, it's pretty quick to pop it off, and pop the rear irons on. No it's not quick enough if the target is 50 yards away and coming towards you, but in that siutation the scout scope would still interfere with the backup irons, so I dont think you are really giving up anything. If you are really worried about not having your irons available, put the rear optic on look through rings, mount the rear BUIS, and have at it.

I also prefer a detachable box magazine to a fixed (especially blind) magazine. I like to be able to change my ammo quickly, as well as reload quickly, if that is necessary. That part however can be worked around with a rifle that has a decent internal magazine capacity, a releaseable magazine butt plate, and can accept stripper clips (like a mauser 98 for example). I do see the value of a magazine disconnect, but I dont think it is absolutely necessary.

For a while I was trying to get one of the Tristar arms imported australian enfields. They were new built rifles on old castings, chambered in .308 and converted to feed using M14 mags (of which I have plenty). They had a full length reciever rail, and a forward rail avaialble for moungint optivs, and came in decent furniture.

Since I already have an M14, and a preference for 7.62x51 ANYWAY, I figured the tristar was the ideal platform to make into my light/scout rifle project. Unfortnuately the Aussie company making them nearly doubled their prices, so tristar and Sabre stopped importing them.

I'd still like to build my own scout rifle, off a decent but relatively cheap base gun; either a cosmetically trashed but mechanically good used sporting rifle, or a similar condition surplus gun.

I'm not sure what I'm going to use as the basis for it now; maybe pick up a beat to hell 98k with no collector value left, and build from the ground up. Really any solid action will do I suppose, but you can still pick up a cosmetically junk 98k with a well worn out barrel and trashed furniture but in otherwise mechanically good condition for a reasonable price.

You could do the whole thing (less optics and acessories) for something like $500 with a $200 mauser, one of the .308 conversion kits in the brownells catalogue (about $200), and a $50 stock from ATI; and that'd be a great trunk scout.

But why do it OK, when you can build it DAMN GOOD?

A half decent composite stock, harris bipod, mojo sight, an XS forward rail, a Burris or Leupold LER scope (say a fixed 6x42), a good three position sling (ching sling probably), a shillen .308 barrel, a timney trigger, and a trip to Robar later; and you've STILL spent less money than a comparable brand new rifle, and you're getting EXACTLY what you want (well, except the feeding from M14 mags part, but I can live without that).

Lets break out the numbers for a sec (just counting what is included in a stock factory rifle), assumign all the work being done by a top quality smith and finisher (I'm quiting Robar retail prices here)

1. Action - $200 or less (like I said, beat up and cosmeticlaly ugly but mechanically sound)
2. Hart or Shillen Match Barrel - $500 including fitting and headspacing from Robar
3. Stock - $350, including fitting and pillar bedding from Robar
4. Refinish - $300 from Robar (includes complete NP3 and/or roguard on the entire gun - including bolt and internals - much better than any factory finish).

Ok so why do that when I can get a decent factory rifle for $700-800 bucks (or my minimum cost buildup proposed above for $500)?

Well how about the fact that this is for a full custom rifle job, with GOOD pillar bedding, a premium match barrel, and a better finish than factory; all for $1350. You literally cannot get a rifle of that quality from the factory at that price.

The other accessories and optics will probably run you another $650 for either rifle (if you figure the cost of a trigger job vs. the cost of the timney trigger); so for a full on top to bottom custom rifle with all the acessories, you are still looking at $2000; vs. a factory rifle that ISN'T as good, and ISN'T exactly what you want for $1350-1450 or so.

And EITHER are still $500 to $1000 (or more) less than the Steyer scout rifle.

Personally, I'd take the custom mauser myself.

Now if I could jsut find an action that was easy to convert to M14 mags...