Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why a scout rifle, why a boltie, and why in .308

Okay, so yesterday I started talking about scout rifles, and got some useful comments and questions like:
"I must not be getting the concept of the scout rifle. What would be wrong with a Winchester Model 94 in this role?"
Well, the advantages of the boltie over the Lever are inherent strength, inherent accuracy, the ability to use a far greater range of ammunition, and more reliability of function.

That said, I'd have no problem trusting my life to a Marlin big bore guide gun (especially if massaged by wild west guns). If I were to spend any length of time hiking around Alaska, I would very much like one of their .450 or .50 alaskan guns; and one with a forward mounted scout scope would fit the bill just fine.

Of those issue the first we need to talk about is the inherent strength and reliabilty. While a lever isn't nearly as fragile as many semi auto designs; and they can (and now have) last over a century of solid use, the lever action concept is mechanically complex, and depends on several levers, pins, linkages etc... as well as some tight clearances inside the weapon.

A bolt action rifle by comparison (well, MOST bolt action rifles anyway) has less than twenty moving parts, many have less than a dozen; and the primary cycling of the weapon only has two or three (the bolt, extractor, and ejector). Additionally those parts are far stronger than in a lever gun (again, in MOST bolties, and MOST lever gun designs).

Most bolt action designs have far more leverage to act on a stuck cartridge, and a stronger camming action for chambering, as well as a stronger locking action for firing, a round.

That means if a round is very slightly damaged, or is a bit dirtier (or the gun is), the boltie is more likely to function.

Also because of these mechanical complexities, and the strength and rigity of the bolt action design, there is simply no more accurate repeater than a good bolt action. This isn't to say that lever actions or semis are inherently IN-accurate, just that a good bolite has a higher mechanical accuracy potential.

Remember, in accuracy and precision, errors are cumulative, are always at least additive, and may be multiplicative, geometric, or exponential (meaning that a 3mm error here and a 5mm error there don't just mean an 8mm error at the target, it can mean a 15mm error, or a 243mm error, 9" or so). Then when you multiply the mechancial imprescion in the gun by the biological imprecision in the man... well the finest rifle and optics ever devised won't get me to shoot well past 800 meters on the bench and between 200m and 300m offhand, believe me I've tried.

Another reader asks what I mean by minute of goblin, because his definition is different than mine:
"Minute of goblin could be defined as approximately 20" or the size of the torso. Another useful size (especially for pistols) would be the occular window -- call it 4" at 100 yards.

This is really just 4 MOA, which is easy to do, provided your rifle is up to snuff.

So maybe we should define the following terms:

Minute of Goblin: 20", or torso, whichever is smaller, at 100 yards.

Minute of Precision Goblin: 4" or the occular window, whichever is smaller, at 100 yards.
Heh, I like the way he thinks; but I define MOG as I do for a reason.

I consider MOG to be 8" at 100 yards, because a human torso varies from 16" to 24" (within 1 standard deviation of mean), and 8" is appx one full deviation to either side of your point of aim. This gives some allowance for uncorrected windage, some target motion, ammo variation etc...

If your weapon (or yourself) isn't capable of holding 8" at 100 yards, it is inadequate for defense at that range.

Thankfully thats a very easy target if stationary. Even the LEAST accurate rifle in reasonable working condition, and any centerfire caliber, should be able to hold 8 MOA at 100 yards. In fact, given a few ranging shots to figure the hold over, I can do it with most of my pistols.

Actually, assuming you can do your job as a shooter, any rifle should be able to do it at 300 yards as well, the OTHER reason I choose 8" at 100. If your rifle can hold to better than 8" at 100 it should be able to hold to 24" at 300 (presuming a chambering effective to that range of course), and again, thats about the max human torso size.

All of these issues are a matter of degrees (bad pun I know but appropriate); and I'd trust a good lever gun over most semi-auto designs; but when your life could be on the line against dangerous game that your backup pistol would merely annoy; you take every advantage you can get; and that means a solid bolt action design, capable of socring minute of goblin out to a minimum of 100 yards, and preferably out to 300 yards... assuming your chambering is adequate to those ranges of course, which brings up the next question.

Reader S.C. asks:
"I have a Remington 788 in .243... I am thinking of trying the scout concept on it... Is .243 a good caliber for that???"
Assuming your targets are humans or game up to small deer, then .243 should be perfectly adequate.

Given that the .243 is a small round, and the rifles built for it are generally light and handy, then it's a decent solution.

The true purpose of a scout rifle however, is to be useful for just about everything, and that includes the majority of small to medium/large game in the region; as well as at least partially adequate for dangerous game. Additionally, ammunition must be easily available in whatever region you carry the rifle.

7.62x51nato and .308 winchester are by far the most commonly available medium bore rifle ammunition anywhere in the world (this is excluding intermediate cartrdiges like 5.56n and 7.62x39 which are only suitable for small to medium game at 200 yards or less). You can get 7.62n anywhere there has been a war in the last 50 years (and I can't think of many places there hasnt) unless it is one of those countries where they make civilians owning military cartridges illegal. Personally I suggest not visiting those countries, especially not with guns. You never know what of your rights, person, and property they may try to violate.

At any rate, this means that your "true" scout rifles chambering should vary depending on your terrain, your local game (or local bad guys), and your supply situation. In most of North America, and in fact much of the world .308 would be the most appropriate chambering (unless you know you are going up against thick skinned dangerous game); and it is at least adequate and available in most of the world, so for versatility it is about the most approprpriate choice.