August 14, 2006

Violence Begets Violence Part Six: Queens

"One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that 'violence begets violence.' I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy." -Jeff Cooper, "Cooper vs. Terrorism", Guns & Ammo Annual, 1975

I used that quote in the first five posts of this series (which may be found here, here, here, here & here). If you haven't read them yet then by all means go take a glance.

Now we'll discuss a tool that trumps them all.

To quote Col. Cooper yet again:

"Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons"

I like rifles. I prefer them to any other type of implement that goes bang on command. But mostly we don't need rifles. The majority of our firearm needs can be met by some other type of firearm.

I'd say that 99% of the time you do not need a rifle. But the rest of the time nothing else will do.

If you're using a rifle in its intended role that means someone or something or a lot of someones or somethings means you no good. If you use a rifle in its intended role its because one or several people are very serious about killing you, or one or several critters are very serious about introducing you to the food chain personally.

You can use a rifle at contact distance. It’s not the ideal tool for the job but it will handle up close & personal encounters. Ideally a rifle comes into play when the range is greater than 50 or 75 yards. Hell with some rifles it takes the bullet 200 yards or so to fully stabilize. & if you have someone or many someones trying to kill you from greater than 50 yards away you've either messed up very badly in this life or you have incredibly bad luck.

There are only a few situations where I can imagine using a rifle for defense at its proper distance. All of them involve governments gone awry or organized criminals treating you like you're the star in a badly scripted 80's action flick. There is one exception; a person 50 or 75 or 100 yards away from you is being attacked & you don't have time to get closer. In that situation you would find the rifle cannot be substituted. Of course any of those situations is so extremely unlikely that if I weren't part Corellian I wouldn't worry about it at all (for the non-Star Wars geeks click here & scroll down to the last C-3p0/Han solo conversation). But I don't play the odds one way or the other. Assuming it's 1 chance in 200,000,000 that you'd ever need a rifle you could get through your life just fine as long as you weren't the 1.

But rifles capture the imagination of many like no other implement can. Using one to make a precise shot from 600 yards, laying down an effective field of fire at 300 yards or fixing a bayonet cause you're tired of playing around (or really low on ammo).

Colonel Townsend Whelen once said that "[n]o man is competent unless he can stalk alone and armed in the wilderness." When you read that did you envision someone traipsing about the woods with a handgun? A submachine gun? A shotgun perhaps? Most people think of a rifle when they hear that quote from Col. Whelen.

So let us discuss them briefly.

There are many different types of rifles. In their intended role almost any type of rifle will suffice as long as it's accurate. The good Col. Whelen also is know to have said "{o]nly accurate rifles are interesting".

If you have a problem that is 200 yards away & only 6 inches in diameter then a single shot break open rifle that will put 3 shots into a 2 inch circle at 100 yards is going to be much better than a semi-automatic rifle that can only do 4 inches at 100 yards.

You don't need a 1 MOA capable rifle (Minute Of Angle, roughly 1 inch at 100 yards & used to judge the size of a group, usually 3 shots or more) for most tasks. If your rifle will do better than 4 inches for 3 shots at 100 yards then it should tackle any human sized problem out to 300 yards or so. Plus the ugly truth is that most folks aren't good enough shots to tell the difference between a 1 MOA rifle & a 4 MOA rifle. It takes practice to use a rifle to its potential & most folks don't put in the practice time necessary. Most rifles are accurate enough for most people. If you're shooting 1,000 yard competitions obviously you'll need a rifle capable of higher standards, but then again you'll also be better versed in most of what I've written & will write about rifles.

Firepower is another consideration though. There are two ways of looking at this oft used phrase. It could mean a cartridge that's powerful enough for a task or it could mean a sufficient volume of cartridges for a task.

Again we must compromise. For defensive & offensive purposes (after all the best defense is a good offense) there is such a thing as too much gun. sure, a 20mm Lahti will put down whatever you hit with it (& the vehicles in front of & behind your target) but if there are multiple targets that aren't lined up in a row then a fast follow up shot is only a relative term. Conversely a Ruger 10/22 can really lay down the fire but if it's bigger than a good sized ground hog past 50 yards you'd just annoy your target.

People will tell you all day long about their favorite rifle cartridge & why it’s superior to anything else on the planet. Some of them probably have some decent fact based arguments to back their claims up. But for our purposes, which are defense & offense of a limited nature then I think we should stick to .30 caliber cartridges (give or take a few hundredths) in standard, not magnum (or short magnum) loadings. Roughly from .243 Winchester to .30-06 Springfield is what you'd want in a rifle for protection. Of course we must include the 8x57 Mauser & the .303 British round but I'd not think that the .300, 7mm or .338 magnums would make the short list. You want something powerful enough to put down a human or a good sized critter & you simply don't need to go above .30 caliber in a non-magnum length cartridge to do so.

Of course there are the adherents to the "assault rifle" concept & they have some valid points. A rifle chambered for the 7.62x39mm or the .30-30 Winchester will have more than enough knock down power for people or small deer to about 200 yards or so. If you're looking at ranges beyond 200 yards then a standard length cartridge (such as the .308 Winchester or .270 Winchester) will do all you can ask of it but with a bit more recoil.

If you're looking for a "just in case" rifle or a trunk gun or something to have in case civilization-as-you-know-it takes a time out (like during a hurricane or earthquake) then a lever action in .30-30 Winchester should be enough to tide you over. Or a semi-auto in 7.62x39. Or a bolt action in 6.8mm SPC. Or a host of other rifles chambering a short length non-magnum rifle cartridge. Just about anything above .22 caliber & below .33 caliber in a standard or short length case should do the job. Really what your choice will come down to is preference.

The operating system will be dependent on a few things, the chief of which is the cartridge you wish to use. If you really like the .303 British then you're not going to be looking at semi-automatics. If you like the .30-30 Winchester your bolt gun options will be very small. A few cartridges can be found in any type of operating system but there's a chance your cartridge choice will limit your selection. The good news is that most operating systems that don't chamber a particular cartridge have one that's very close (if not identical) to it ballistically. If you want a .30-30 Winchester but have your heart set on a semi-automatic then you simply get used to buying 7.62x39mm ammo for your SKS or AK. Ballistically it's just slightly weaker than the .30-30 Winchester & available in a few semi-automatic rifles including the aforementioned.

As you may have guessed I still advocate cartridge selection before anything else. Most rifle cartridges will give you the ability to reach out to 200 or 300 yards. That's all you'll need for the overwhelming majority of situations. If it becomes a situation where you need 400, 500 or 600 yard reach then you're in some sort of war.

If you stick with a 300 yard cartridge then you'll have some benefits to offset the lack of range. The chief one being the recoil shouldn't be as harsh as the more powerful cartridges. You'll also be able to carry more rounds of ammo for the same weight as more powerful ammo. The downsides are obvious - less range & not as flat a trajectory as the more powerful cartridges. But as I said if you ever need more than 300 yards you're almost always better off trying to escape or calling in artillery.

Of course the best situation is to have a few rifles in different chamberings to choose from. It's impractical on a solo hike but if you're in a house or vehicle then you should have enough room for a couple or a few trunk guns.

For example, a good semi-auto or lever gun in a medium powered cartridge (like the 7.62x39mm or the .30-30 Winchester respectively) would probably be the handiest choice. Complimenting that would be a semi-auto or bolt action rifle in a more powerful chambering such as the 7.62x51mm NATO or the 7x57mm Mauser). On top of that you could add a scoped semi or bolt action rifle in .30-06 or a similar cartridge. Those three rifles would make virtually anything you come across a skill problem instead of an equipment problem.

No matter what chambering you use or type of action you have in your rifle the most important thing you can do is practice at range. The 25 yard indoor range is great if it's close to your house & you can get in some trigger time to go over the basics (sight alignment, breathing, trigger control, etc..) but it's going to tell you nothing about what you & the rifle are capable of beyond 25 yards. Look for someplace with at least 100 yards to use between you & the target & the more yardage the better. You can't look at a ballistics table based on your 100 yard results & be sure about your 600 yard zero; you have to try your rifle with a particular loading at 600 yards to be certain.

Range estimation is as much a part of riflery as trigger control & using a sling. It's not easy & the longer the distance is the harder estimation will be. If you can't find a competent instructor then search for books on the subject & most importantly practice what you learn.

In case it's not clear it's very important to practice with your rifle. In fact I'd say you'd be better off getting a decent mid priced rifle & using the savings on ammo for practice than buying a top of the line model. So instead of spending $1400 for a match grade Garand you should spend $450 or so on a decent shooter grade CMP Garand & the rest on ammo to practice with. By the time you're through with the ammo odds are you'll be much better than if you had just bought the higher grade rifle & didn't have much left over to practice with.

Getting back to choices; where do you live? If you're in the center of a big city then odds are a .30-06 will be much more than you'd need. A 7.62x39 or a .30-30 Winchester will suffice & suffice nicely. Are you out in the boonies? Then maybe you need to think about something with more reach than an assault rifle cartridge. A .25-06 or 7x57mm Mauser will cover most if not all of your needs. Are you way way out in the boonies? Then maybe a .30-06 or 7.62x51mm NATO will be just the ticket.

Next is the operating system. Do you think very rapid follow up shots will be necessary? If so a semi-auto or lever gun is probably what you'd want. Is making a very precise shot past 200 yards important? Then a bolt action is the surest way to get there, though some semi-auto's can accomplish this. Are you on a budget? This will limit your options a bit but there are some decent semi-auto's, lever actions & bolt actions that can be had for under $500. Just about all your rifle needs can be met if you shop around a bit. As with all things though, the more you expect out of a tool the pricier it will be. Want a semi-auto in .30-06 that has a scope & can put 3 shots in a 6 inch circle at 600 yards? Just lay your $3000 on the table & you'll walk away happy. Only have $500? Then expect a CMP Garand that will put all 3 shots in a 6 inch circle at 200 yards after you learn how the open sights work. Or get a Remington 700 & add a scope so you can put those 3 shots in a 9 inch circle at 600 yards just as fast as you can work the bolt.

A word about sights:

The folks who taught me about riflery were still pissed about trading in their Krags (those bolts worked like butter I tell ya! Butter!) for those new fangled Springfields. They came from a time when scopes were not reliable if bumped real hard. Or kinda hard. Or looked at real hard for that matter. Modern scopes & mounts are ages ahead of what was around during & prior to WW2 so there's little chance of a scope & mount on your rifle that you know works well going to hell on you. That being said work out with your iron sights. If your rifle does not have iron sights then have them installed as a back up if nothing else.

But personally I don't see them as a necessary item. Unless you can shoot 3 or more shots (preferably 7 to 10) in a 2 inch circle at 100 yards then your effective range will be less than 600 yards for a human sized target. Only when you get good enough that 2 MOA from any field position except offhand (for offhand strive for at least 4 MOA) is something you can do at will should you really worry about a scope. Iron sights will be good enough for 100 yards or so on any human sized target. If not you need to practice much more or get stronger glasses. If you have a good receiver sight on a capable rifle shooting a capable cartridge then 600 yards is very plausible.

If you put forth a little effort into practice then barring any eyesight problems a receiver sight should be all you need to accomplish the tasks a rifle was meant for. As far as you can reasonably see a person you can hit him with a receiver sight. As I keep saying it is going to be a very rare occurrence that you'd need this capability. It's very rare that you'd ever be legally or morally justified in shooting a person beyond 100 feet, let alone 100 yards or more. But a receiver sight is a little quicker to use than a scope (I generalize so I acknowledge there are exceptions). It's typically more durable. It's also less likely to snag on something as you move through tight spots. It's almost as easy to use as a scope & though not as precise it is more than precise enough providing you understand & practice its use.

Scope 'em if you want to, but think about a decent receiver sight as back up for your scope if nothing else.

So by now hopefully you've figured out the potential use of your rifle(s) & its (their) respective chambering(s). You've settled on an action type (or types) & a sighting system (preferably 2). Now let's talk about slings for a moment.

Say Uncle has a nice write up on how to make a single point sling for an AR type rifle (with a link to an earlier post on making a two point sling). There are also slings with three points of attachment (the Ching sling being the most prominent example). Most folks see a sling as simply a means of carrying or retaining their rifle but as I point out in this post a sling's primary use is as an aid to accurate aiming. I prefer the military slings, either the cotton web sling or the M1907 sling but a three point system seems like it'd be a very viable & possibly improved method (alas I haven't had any experience with a three point sling system. Yet.) Learn how to use a sling to steady your aim & then purchase one accordingly.

Along with sling use it's helpful to know how to hold your rifle for different situations. Here's a post I did on the 5 main shooting positions for rifle. Also I can't recommend enough The Rifleman Series Parts 1 & 2 found on the left sidebar of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association blog.

I’ve made passing remarks that could have been taken as mere jesting but a bayonet adds options to your rifle. In the martial world a bayonet was used to facilitate a charge against the enemy. It was scary for all parties concerned. No matter how you try to rationalize it when a person is running at you & yelling with a knife on the end of a 3 foot club you know he’s not playing around. He means to kill you & he’s willing to get very close to do it. I’ll get into the martial uses of rifles in another post.

For a civilian a bayonet still has its uses. First of all if your rifle malfunctions or runs out of ammo a club with a knife on the end of it is better than just a club. The same psychological effect a bayonet has on an enemy soldier will most likely be seen in a burglar or other ruffian. A 3 foot long club with a pointy steel end will make someone think real hard about how badly he wants to stab you & take your VCR DVD player. It also helps if for some reason you shoot & the attacked doesn’t stop. You could either be missing him or hitting him someplace that will not incapacitate him. Having that knife at the muzzle means a few more inches between you & him which could save your life. So if your rifle is capable of accepting one by all means get a bayonet & try to get in some practice with it even if it’s just enough to familiarize yourself with the concepts involved. Besides, if it was good enough for Chesty Puller & Stonewall Jackson then it’s damn sure good enough for us. :)

There are volumes available on rifle selection, fundamentals, practice & use. Learn as much as you can & practice as often as possible. 99% of the time a rifle will just be a form of recreation for you. But that other 1% of the time you’ll not only need a rifle, but the skill to use it.

Next we'll look at scatterguns.

Posted by Publicola at August 14, 2006 06:19 AM | TrackBack

Kinda fond of my 1895 guide gun in .45-70. 450 grain slugs tend to knock things down quick.

Posted by: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner at August 15, 2006 04:56 AM

I totally agree. And I have the Buffalo Bore 500 gr. rounds if those 450 grain slugs aren't enough....

Posted by: S. Clark at August 16, 2006 09:45 AM

I would just like to speak up for the .357 mag lever rifle. Common ammo whether using rifle or handgun for defense and can be used for hunting.

Posted by: THOMAS at August 29, 2006 12:31 PM