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Choosing Your Battle Rifle


by
Columba

This article is intended for freedom-loving folks who already know the basics of shooting. I'm going to assume that you are already familiar with gun safety and have experience with rifles. If you don't have that type of knowledge and experience, I encourage you to keep reading, but to go get a .22 rifle and learn how to use it before you acquire a battle rifle, for reasons I will elaborate later on. Of course, if it looks like battle rifles are in immediate danger of being banned in your area, then grab what you can, while you still can.

What is a battle rifle?

A battle rifle is a potent and versatile tool with a primary purpose of allowing a single rifleman to engage and neutralize multiple human targets at ranges of up to 500 yards, even if they are behind light cover or armor. In a pinch, a battle rifle can fill most other roles required of a rifle - it can be used for hunting large game, for self-defense, and for short-range combat. While many other types of firearms fill those roles as well, only the battle rifle is an effective combat tool for long ranges and protected enemies.

Why battle rifles?

Why do we want such a potent rifle? Because as private individuals, we have no backup to resort to. The military can always bring out artillery, guided missiles, and air strikes when their soldiers' small-caliber carbines are ineffective. We can't. We can only use what we can carry. So we need to have the most effective weapons available - which are the battle rifles.

Human history is chock full of times when the common people were forced to choose between fighting and being enslaved, and we have no reason to expect that the future will hold anything different. An armed society has the option of fighting against oppressors - and often wins (the Scots of the early 14th century and the Americans of the late 18th century are excellent examples). At the very least, an armed people can go down fighting. An unarmed society is in the pathetic and pitiable state of being unable to even attempt to retain its freedom. I, for one, will fight for my freedom if that time comes.

So, what elements make up a battle rifle?

Cartridge: Our requirement for the battle rifle is to be able to engage a human target at 500 yards through some cover. That's not a trivial matter. Furthermore, we need our rifle to use readily-available ammunition, preferably military surplus. That leaves us only one choice: .308, also known as 7.62x51mm. There are a few other cartridges which meet our performance requirements, including 8mm Mauser (8x57mm), .303 British, .30-06, and 7.62x54 Russian. We will consider the .303 British and .30-06, but the other two simply are not used in any weapons worthy of being modern battle rifles.

Action: Because we want to be able to engage multiple targets simultaneously, we need a fast action. Semi-automatic is obviously the best, but a bolt-action can do in a pinch.

Magazine: Bigger is better, as long as it works properly. Time spent reloading is time when you can't be shooting. For that same reason, quickly detachable magazines are almost essential, as they allow much faster reloading than guns with fixed magazines and stripper clips.

Reliability: If it doesn't go bang when you pull the trigger, it ain't worth it. Period. It doesn't matter if you can hit a gnat in the eyeball at 800 yards - if your gun doesn't fire, all your skill is a moot point. Our rifle must feed, fire, extract, and eject perfectly every time. We're looking for a serious piece of machinery here which we plan to entrust our lives to. This is no place to save a few bucks on a fixer-upper that "just needs such-and-such, and it'll work great!" If you buy a used gun, test it extensively before you rely on it.

Ergonomics: A battle rifle (or any other gun, for that matter) has several controls needed for proper use - the trigger, stock, magazine release, bolt release, bolt handle, sights, and grip. These controls should be arranged in a manner that allows the user to manipulate the rifle as efficiently and effectively as possible. A good rifle, like a good car, should feel like an extension of your body.

Accuracy: A battle rifle does not need to be able to hit a 1" bullseye at 1000 yards, it needs to be able to hit a person at 500 yards. For that purpose, we need about 2 or 2.5 MOA. MOA stands for 'minute of angle' - 1 MOA is 1/60th of a degree. Handily, the width of an arc 1 MOA wide at 100 yards is almost exactly 1 inch. Thus a 1 MOA gun will put all of its shots into a 1" circle at 100 yards, a 2" circle at 200 yards, and a 5" circle at 500 yards. Our 2-2.5 MOA requirement means a 10-12.5 circle at 500 yards, which is sufficient to hit a human torso. As important as our rifle's mechanical accuracy is it's practical accuracy - if your target is moving and dodging 500 yards away, can you actually make a hit? Practice is part of it, but good sights will make that task much less difficult.

Alright, what rifles can meet all those requirements?

Not too many. But definitely enough to give you a good field to choose from. I have omitted a few because of their rarity. While they may be very good rifles, I simply don't have enough experience with them to be comfortable making a recommendation for or against them. These omitted rifles include the Belgian FN-49 (aka SAFN), Italian BM-59, Israeli Galil, and Swedish AG42 Ljungman. What I will say is that these guns range from uncommon to very rare, so if you use one, get tons of spare parts, because even if they aren't banned they will probably dry up naturally. Now, let's get on to the battle rifle finalists. I've listed them in order increasing quality as battle rifles (note: my practical experience with several of these rifles, mostly the AR-10 and HK-91, is limited. Iíve used information from the excellent Bostonís Gun Bible to supplement my personal knowledge of those weapons. I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in firearms Ė you can get it at www.javelinpress.com).

Vepr .308

Description:

The Vepr is a current-production variant of the AK-47 made in Russia. They are available in a variety of calibers, but only the .308 version is a possibility for a battle rifle. They are well-made guns, and use RPK receivers, which are 50% stronger than normal AK receivers. They are imported by Robinson Arms of Utah (www.robarm.com).

Pros:

  • Reliability. Like other AK varients, the Vepr's simplicity makes for a very reliable rifle.
  • Ruggedness. The Vepr also inherited the AK's sturdiness. It can shrug off most abuse without a hitch.

Cons:

  • Sights. Like other Aks, the Vepr uses a forward-mounted notch as a rear sight. Not only is this much slower to use, but it also has a sight radius too short (19-20 inches) for good long-range shooting. You can buy a replacement rear peep sight (Kreb's Custom Guns, www.krebscustom.com, $50)., but you're stuck with the short radius.
  • Magazines. Because it was introduced after the 1994 magazine ban, the only magazines available are proprietary 5- and 10-rounders. For a battle rifle with detachable magazines, 10 round simply isn't sufficient. Kreb's can, however, retrofit your Vepr to accept M14 magazines ($150). For anyone planning to use a Vepr as a battle rifle, I consider this modification absolutely essential.
  • Safety. The Vepr has a standard AK safety. Yech. It can't be operated from a shooting grip, it's stiff and loud, and when disengaged, it leaves a gaping hole for dirt to get into the action (although this last problem is minimized by the gun's reliability). Kreb's also has a replacement safety which can be used without altering your grip ($50).
  • Bolt. The Vepr has no bolt hold-open at all. You will have no indication that you're out of ammo until you pull the trigger and it goes click!. Also, the Vepr's bolt handle is on the right side of the receiver, which is awkward for you right-handed shooters.

Final Comments:

With enough modifications, the Vepr can be made into a tolerable battle rifle. But for the same money, you could get rifle that is better than the Vepr in nearly all respects. For our purposes, there's no compelling reason to buy a Vepr.

Enfield

Description:

The Enfield was the main combat rifle of the British Empire for more than 60 years, and with good reason. It is a rugged and durable rifle, and much faster to operate than any other military bolt rifle. There were many variants made, but for our purposes the No4 is the best. The earlier No1 rifles are hampered by bad sights, and the No5 jungle carbine is lacking in accuracy. There were also a number made by the Indian government which were chambered in .308, rather than .303. While the .308 is advantageous (it's a more powerful and more common cartridge), I believe that the inferior sights of the Indian rifles (they're all of the No1 variety) outweigh their better cartridge.

The .303 cartridge used by Enfields is a rimmed round, and has about 90% of the ballistic power of the .308. For our battle rifle, this is perfectly adequate. However, the rimmed ammo can cause feeding problems. To avoid these, ensure that the 2nd and 4th rounds in your stripped clips sit up on the rims of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th rounds.

For in-depth information on the Enfield, I suggest http://www.geocities.com/lee_enfield_rifles/ .

Pros:

  • Action. Because each round is manually fed into the chamber and extracted, the Enfield in unaffected by ammo of varying power and much less vulnerable to feeding malfunctions. When the rare malfunction does occur, the bolt action of the Enfield is far quicker and easier to clear than any semi-auto.
  • Sights. No 4 Enfields have two sights to choose from. One of a fast battle sight for ranges out to 300 yards, and the other is a more precise micrometer sight adjustable out to 1300 yards (some No4s have a second non-adjustable peep sight for 300-600 yards; I would avoid these in favor of micrometer sights). Because the No4 Enfield rear sight mounted behind the action and has a long barrel, the sight radius is a very impressive 29 inches, which is a definite boon to accurate shooting.
  • Price. You should have little trouble finding a good-quality No4 Enfield for $200. Gun shows are the best option, as you can inspect a rifle before buying it there. If you can't find any at shows, try online auctions and surplus dealers.

Cons:

  • Action. Because you must manually load every round, you will never be as fast with an Enfield as you could be with a semi-auto. With enough practice you can keep up an acceptable rate of fire, but you'll have to work hard to do it, and an equally skilled rifleman with a semi-auto will always be able to out-perform you. The gun can do it - the record in the "mad minute" of British rifle training (number of hits on a 24" target at 300 yards within 60 seconds) with an Enfield is an eye-opening 38, set in 1914. Just imagine what that shooter would have been capable of with a good semi-auto!
  • Magazine. Although the Enfield magazines are detachable, they only hold 10 rounds, and it is faster to reload the rifle with stripper clips (the mags were not designed for rapid changing). This is still slower than reloading any other battle rifle, any you'll have to practice with the stripper clips to be able to reload reasonably fast. Finally, having only ten rounds puts you at a significant disadvantage to shooters with 20 rounds at their disposal.
  • Age. When shopping for an Enfield, make sure to carefully check the condition of the bore and the headspace. These are old guns, and many have seen combat and lots of corrosive ammo.

Final Comments:

The Enfield is an excellent rifle, and a joy to shoot. However, it only barely meets the requirements of a battle rifle, and is only a good choice for a person who simply cannot afford anything else. If an Enfield is truly all you can afford, then get one, practice extensively with it, and save up for one of the semi-autos. A skilled shooter with a bolt-action Enfield isn't unarmed, but could be much better off.

AR-10

Description:

The AR-10, produced by Armalite (www.armalite.com), is a scaled-up AR-15 in .308 (many AR-15 parts are interchangeable with AR-10 parts). The first version was made in the 1950s and 60s, and only a few exist (only 100 semi-auto ones were ever made). The new version is what we're looking at for a battle rifle. They are available either with an AR-15-type carry handle or a flat-top for scope mounting.

Pros:

  • Accuracy. The AR-10 has excellent sights. Like the Enfield, it has two apertures, one for fast short-range work and the other for more precise long-range shooting. Also, the AR-10 is capable of very good mechanical accuracy - more are 1-1.5 MOA rifles.
  • Ergonomics. Like its brother the AR-15, the AR-10 handles fantastically. The safety, mag release, and bolt release are all quickly and easily accessible to the shooter.

Cons:

  • Reliability. Unfortunately, this is a real killer for the AR-10. It suffers from the same dirty operating system as the AR-15, and cannot go as long as other rifles without cleaning. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for AR-10s to have problems feeding, extracting, and (especially) ejecting shells. To run salt in the wounds, Armalite's customer service is not up to par, and parts are difficult to get.
  • Price. AR-10 magazines are modified M1A mags - expect to shell out at least $65 or $70 for a good one. Yowch!

Final Comments:

The AR-10 has the potential to be a great choice, but so-so reliability kills it. Reliability is the most important qualification for a battle rifle - no matter how comfortable and accurate it might be, it's only a mediocre club if it won't fire when you pull the trigger. I'd pass on the AR-10 and spend my money on a more dependable gun. Of all our rifle candidates, only the AR-10 has never been issued by any military, and that's no coincidence.

M1 Garand

Description: The Garand (named after its designer, John C. Garand) was one of the first mass-issued semi-auto military rifles. It was adopted by the US military in the 1930s, and served throughout World War II and the Korean War. It is a gas-operated rifle, and feeds from 8-round clips inserted into the top of the receiver.

Pros:

  • Trigger. Shooters will really appreciate the Garand's fine trigger pull. It's a two-stage affair, with a 4.5-5.5 pound pull. Designed for the true rifleman.
  • Sights. A long sight radius and well-designed aperture sight make the M1 a fine shooter.
  • Cost. At half to a third the cost of the other rifles, the M1 is a good rifle for someone on a limited budget.

Cons:

  • Caliber. The Garand was designed for the .30-06 cartridge. While its slightly more powerful than .308, it's significantly rarer, as it was only ever used in a few military rifles (none in active service today). Handily, a new barrel is all you need to convert your Garand to .308 (though unless you're a Garand expert, you should send it to a gunsmith to have this work done).
  • Clips. Obviously, the Garand's 8-round clips leave you at a disadvantage to the rifles using 20-round mags. This can be minimized with lots of practice loading. Also, the clips cannot be partially reloaded - where a rifleman with mags can easily swap a mostly-depleted mag for a full one, you'll have to shoot your clip empty before you can reload.

Final Comments:

The Garand is a treat to shoot and a great piece of Americana, as well as a very competent battle rifle. If you can get past the unfortunate 8-round clips, you'll be very happy with the Garand. If you can't afford an M1A, the Garand is a good alternative.

HK-91

Description:

Designed in the early 1950s by a team of Spanish and German engineers, the CETME/HK-91 was one of the first battle rifles chambered in 7.62x51. It uses a roller-locking operating system which is exceedingly reliable, and is the standard combat rifle for more than 50 nations worldwide. Like other battle rifles, it uses 20-round detachable magazines.

Pros:

  • Reliability. It will work, every time. The operating system is based on delayed blowback, and has no gas system to get dirty and clogged. Furthermore, the HK is nearly immune to parts breakage. Even the vaunted AK is not as reliable as the HK-91.

Cons:

  • Bolt handle. The bolt handle on the HK is a fold-down design, and located forward on the handguard. A normal handle like the FALs would be much easier to use (especially for a lefty).
  • Trigger. Because it is designed to withstand a 12-foot drop without firing, the trigger pull on the HK is both long and heavy, hindering accuracy.
  • Sights. Not too bad, but not up to the standard of the M1/M1A/FAL/AR-10.

Final Comments:

The HK-91s faults are all fairly minor, but they add up. While it's by no means a bad choice, it's not the best choice for your battle rifle. Nothing else is as reliable as the HK, and that is a major redeeming feature for it.

If you decide to get an HK, be wary of the post-ban clones (Hesse and CETME). Many have sights which are horribly misaligned (up to two feet off at 100 yards!). An original will give you far fewer problems in the long run, which is worth the extra cost.

FAL

Description:

Having been adopted by 93 different nations as a primary combat rifle, the FAL is the most common of the battle rifles. Designed by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium in the 1950s, it is a superb weapon. The best available are from DSA Arms (www.dsarms.com), and they are of excellent quality.

Pros:

  • Accuracy. A good FAL is a very accurate rifle - 1.5 MOA isn't uncommon at all.
  • Reliability. With a 7- or 11-position (depending on model) gas regulator, the FAL is very reliable.
  • Mags. Good 20-round FAL mags are readily available for only $8 each. Any FAL owner should seriously stock up on these while they're so cheap.
  • Ergonomics. Unlike the HK, the FAL's controls are quite well arranged. A lefty will find the bolt handle awkward to use, but for righties (who make up ~90% of the population) the rifle is a pleasure to use.

Cons:

  • Sights. Standard FAL sights are not the most precise, thanks to a large and rounded front post and some wobble in the rear sight. This can be fixed by a good gunsmith, however.
  • Trigger. The FAL trigger is usually fairly long and sloppy. This can also be easily fixed by a good FAL gunsmith.

Final Comments:

The FAL is a truly excellent battle rifle. Nearly everything is done right to start with, and the few remaining shortcomings are easily corrected. It's seen combat everywhere from Vietnam to the Falklands and is very much liked by its users. What more can you ask for?

M1A

Description:

The M1A (or M14, as the US military called it) is basically an improved M1 Garand which uses quick-detach box magazines. It was the successor to the Garand as a US issue rifle, but only for a few years (it was replaced by the M16).

Pros:

  • Reliability. The M1A goes one step beyond having an adjustable gas system - it has a self-adjusting gas system. This makes it superbly reliable.
  • Trigger. The M1A inherited the excellent trigger from the Garand. You'll love it.
  • Sights. The M1A also inherited the sights from the Garand. They're not quite as good as the AR-10's, but darn close. Made by riflemen for riflemen.

Cons:

  • Accuracy. The M1A doesn't have quite as much mechanical accuracy potential as the FAL, but its great sights make up for that in the field.
  • Bolt handle. The bolt handle on the M1A is on the right-hand side of the receiver, making it slightly less handy for righties. However, it's not a major hindrance, thanks to its good design and placement (and if you're a lefty, it's a fine bonus).

Final Comments:

The M1A is another fine battle rifle. It has no serious flaws, and only a couple minor ones. You really can't get much better than an M1A.

So...now what?

All of the top three rifles (HK-91, FAL, M1A) are mechanically fine choices. Once you have decided on which rifle to purchase, make sure to read up more on it and investigate the different models available. Avoid junky clones - you'll end up regretting it. Buy a quality gun the first time. If we are forced to fight, your life and freedom will depend on your battle rifle. Don't skimp on it!

Whichever one you choose will serve you well, as long as you practice with it. So get the one that feels the best to you, because you'll enjoy it the most and consequently practice with it the most. If you go buy a FAL or M1A and just let it sit in your closet, you'll be easily bested by a shooter with an Enfield who practices regularly.

Ok, I've got my rifle. What else do I need?

Like any other piece of complex machinery, your battle rifle will need periodic maintenance and repair. You'll need a good comprehensive cleaning kit (which should be used after every shooting session). This includes a cleaning rod, bore snake, solvent, oil, toothbrush (for those little places) and patches. Any decent gun store can set you up with everything you need.

You should also get a set of spare parts for your rifle. Do you think that in 15 years you'll be able to call up a mail-order company and order a new bolt for your high capacity semi-automatic military assault sniper weapon? Yeah, I don't think so either. Buy at least one spare for every part, and do it now. Only one little dinky part needs to break to turn your best weapon into a rather clumsy club.

If you have a semi-auto, you'll need magazines. Lots of magazines. Over time, they will break and get lost, and I expect it won't be long until detachable mags (and their associated high capacity semi-automatic military assault sniper weapons) will be strictly verbotten. We need to buy up a lifetime supply now - at least 30 mags for your gun is a good place to start. You can't have too many. Yeah, I know that's pretty expensive, especially for the M1A and AR-10. If it makes you feel better, I expect those mags will be worth their weight in gold some day (if not worth more). If you have an M1 Garand, you'll be using 8-round clips instead of magazines. Buy oodles of clips - when they eject in a fight, you won't have the time to find them, and they hold fewer rounds than detachable mags as well. How many? Start with about 600.

Last (but certainly not least), you need ammo. There's plenty of surplus military .308 on the market, which is just fine for our needs. Buy it by the case, and save some money. You should have at least a couple thousand rounds. Ten thousand is a good goal to go for. Once you have that much, stash it away and don't use it. That way you'll have a good supply in the case that ammo sales are cut off by new laws. The more ammo you have, the more you'll be able to shoot. How long do you want to be able to shoot? Buy that much ammo, then buy some more.

Now, the most important part:

Practice! Practice more! Keep on practicing! Learn to use your battle rifle, and use it well. There are many great resources for learning to shoot well, includes several excellent gun schools. Read as much as you can, and then go out and shoot as much as you can. If at all possible, take classes. Nothing compares to having an expert instructor show you what you're doing right and wrong.

Our battle rifles are, as George Washington said, Liberty's teeth. Should we be forced to fight for our liberty, we're going to need those teeth well-honed. Let me close with a quote from the movie Braveheart:

"Aye, fight - and you may die. Run and you will live - at least for a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance - just one chance - to come back here and tell our enemies that - they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!"

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