Friday, March 7, 2008

Part Two: What Rifle For a Rifleman?

Courtesy of Fred's M14 Stocks (

Assume you were just born.

What would be really important to learn, once you reached a certain level of maturity?

That 401(k) accounts might be useful to retirement? The various competing prescription programs in Congress? Arguments about school class sizes? What a great and progressive president Bill Clinton was? What?

Well, some of us think it is simple.

You should learn freedom -- about what it is, and most importantly, how we got it. Just as important, you should learn how we keep it, help it to grow, protect it, and - in too many instances - how we get it back again.

Stripped to the bone, it's really a simple story:

We have freedom because somebody fought for it.
We keep it because we are willing to fight for it.
We lose it because we are not willing to fight for it.

We are fortunate that the people who fought and won it for us starting back in 1775 also gave us a written guarantee (that is, the Bill of Rights) that we would have the tools to protect that freedom. But, of course, they couldn't guarantee that we would have the sense or the will to do the hard work of defending Liberty.

It doesn't hurt to recognize how far we have slipped in the battle to maintain freedom here in 21st century America. It's even more important to understand how far the war on terrorism is going to further erode our freedoms. We have to have the sense to know the fight is HERE, and NOW. Once we know that, then we must be convinced of the rightness of our cause, and have the firm determination to use all of the tools available to us in reversing 70 years of creeping socialism.

If we can win the 'soft' fight in the political arena, we'll also win the 'hard' one by avoiding it entirely. Believe me -- you DON'T want to have to fight the 'hard' war. There's no joy in running for your life from people that want to kill you. Win the 'soft' fight by winning the political game, and there'll be no lying in the mud bleeding, no separation from home and family, no interrogation of your children by government agents, no lifetime prison sentences, no public demonization of "those domestic gun-nut terrorists".

The first step in fighting and winning the 'soft' war is mental: knowledge, determination, even anger - at what they have done to our country, to our freedoms. You should be angry -- really angry -- at being required to live in a world of both 'tolerance' and 'zero tolerance'. A world where at the same instant, 'tolerance' means "love every socialist, UN flunky, drug addict foreigner" - and 'zero tolerance' means that patriotism, achievement, love of freedom, and mistrust of government are scorned, punished, and finally, eliminated, mostly in psychiatric facilities. Yep, the Center for Disease Control is already into guns, inevitably leading to treating your political views and your exercise of Second Amendment rights as a 'medical/psychological' problem.

But anger alone won't solve any problem. You need to use that anger to motivate you into taking concrete action.

Let's assume you've already started to fight the 'soft' battles. Sure, you start to educate others - in your family, at work, wherever - to wake them up, get them out of the boiling pan, and into protecting and saving freedom. Some will scoff - but you have to wake them up to save America, so don't give up! And you vote, and get others to vote. And you write letters - 'to the editor', to your politicians.

You also get people down to the range, rifle shooting with you, as you finally learn how to shoot yourself. You do it gladly, because once you recognize that you may someday have to defend freedom, you have a duty to get ready.

Look at it this way: You have life insurance, fire insurance, and health insurance. Now, as you learn to shoot well, you've got freedom insurance. Of course, you hope you never have to call on any of them. But at least the paying the freedom insurance premium -- by learning to shoot yourself and teaching others -- is fun! And the money put into premiums can be gotten back out as dividends, later, if needed to defend our country against foreign enemies and their quisling allies.

But if you ever have to do it, you want to do it with minimum risk and maximum impact, and that means working at distances from 300 to 500 yards, where you are outside their effective range, but inside yours. If you never have to do use those skills in defense of Liberty, if it turns out to be insurance only, which you never have to use, at least you keep the tradition alive, and pass it on, a role secondary to none in importance.

So, with the stage set and you looking for an accurate, hard-hitting rifle to use in the 2A context, where do we go?

It's a favorite pastime amongst shooters, debating the 'best rifle' issue. Most times, the debate is over good and bad points of each firearm. But actually, the debate should be first over the projected role of the firearm. Like golf, with different clubs for long and short ball movement, the best tool you can select will be designed for the specific task you envision. It¹s the crowbar or wrench question. Which is better? Well, it depends on the task, naturally. If you have to open the lid of a wood box, the crowbar fits the bill. If you have to loosen a nut off a bolt, the crowbar is number 10, and the wrench is the choice.

Now, if the hammer ever falls, are you gonna face long-range shooting, beyond 600 yards? Or short-range, urban-style shooting, at 300 yards or less? Or will you be able to work mainly in the 300-500 yard distance, if you so choose? Short range stuff can conceivably be handled with an SKS, AK, AR-15 or other reduced caliber rifle, although the .308 gives a superior punch when obstacles are involved. In addition, the .308 offers better tracer performance for signaling or incendiary effect. According to reports from Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you also get a knock-down performance with the .308 that the lesser calibers, especially the .223, lack. As one guy says in "Blackhawk Down" regarding intense urban close-quarters shooting, "when I shoot them, I want them to go down. I don't want to have to shoot them over and over."

As a budding Rifleman, you can appreciate the desire expressed in that comment - to do the job once, not again and again. Long range (that is, farther than 500 yards) is clearly .308 territory, with accurized rifle and ammo. But 'rack-grade' rifles can still be effective out there. That being said, it's in the 300-500 yard area where your standard .308 and surplus ball ammo really shine. Over 300 yards, so you are beyond effective range of their popguns, and out to 500, where you are still laying almost a thousand pounds of energy on the target. If you can set it up so you catch your opponent in this area, you'll dominate him, assuming you acquire Rifleman skills - the ability to hit a torso-sized target rapidly with every shot, at ranges from 25 meters to 500 yards.

If you have ever seen one of those WWII weapons training films, where the narrator talks of a machine gun replacing 6 riflemen in fire effect, you might question this approach. Here's where the narrator gets it wrong. First, those 'riflemen' in the film are not real Riflemen - probably no more than 5% of military-trained shooters are 4 MOA to 500 yard genuine Riflemen. So you are really replacing 6 'area-fire' weapons [the not-so-accurate infantrymen] with one 'area-fire' weapon [the machine gun]. And a machine gun is, by definition, an area-fire weapon, meaning you spray bullets in an area, like casting a fishing net, and hit whatever is unlucky enough to be in the area and to catch a bullet. An actual Rifleman is superior to an MG at Rifleman distances, because 90%+ of his shots will be a hit, whereas the MG will be lucky to get 3% hits. For a real-world example, see John George's WWII memoir "Shots Fired in Anger", where an unlucky Japanese Nambu gunner loses when he meets a rifleman.

Six no-kidding Riflemen can equal the firepower - the number of rounds per minute - of an MG, but that six-man team will quickly run out of targets. For the MG, the limit is the number of rounds you have; with riflemen, it is the number of targets. Look at it another way: a bullet from an MG is like a dumb iron bomb. A well-aimed bullet from a Rifleman is like Precision Guided Munitions - addressed to the target, speeding straight and true, with the target its destination.

As an illustration, someone recently shot the granddaddy of all assault rifles, the StG 44, at the RWVA range. In semi-auto mode, every time he pulled the trigger, a popup target at 200 yards went down. When he switched to 2- and 3-rd bursts, he went thru a mag without hitting a single target.

But wait, you say. You don't use full auto at 200 yards, you use it up close. Right?

So, my friend, the enemy is 'in the wire', even past the wire, and on top of you, in numbers. That's when you are going to start wasting ammo with full-auto fire? That's when you are going to wind up with an empty mag only a few seconds after firing your first shot? What sense does that make? One shot, one kill, at 25 yards, right?

As a Rifleman, you're not likely to let them get that close. 300 yards is more than close enough. My point is just that full-auto fire is pretty useless in the 2A context. There is real meaning behind the term 'toys for big boys'.

But what kind of rifle should a Rifleman use? Well, the good news is that most of you guys already have a rifle suitable for training to be a Rifleman. Starting with a very limited budget, the choice is clear. There is no faster bolt action rifle in the world than the No. 4 Enfield with its long-radius peep sight and ten-round magazine. The older No. 1 Mark III model is no slouch, but the No. 4 has a heavier barrel, and peep sights much superior to the open-sighted Mk III. They're cheap -- around $125, but try to get the No 4 Mk 2 or Mk 1/3 with the late trigger modification. Ammo runs about .15/round, and while most remaining surplus .303 ammo is corrosive, these rifles are simple to strip and clean, which you'll need to do that day to keep rust from forming in your barrel. In a pinch, any firearm will have to do, but if you have the time (and smarts) to pick and choose beforehand, and are on a tight budget, this classic is the one to get.

Second up the ladder is a semiauto, the SKS. If you practice with the Enfield until you can get 20 or more hits on a 4 moa target in a minute, you should be able to do 30 or more with an SKS. An SKS will run you up to $50 more than the Enfield, but the ammo is half the price. It is reliable, accurate, lightweight and very effective out to 300 yards, dropping off considerable past that (but still, in a pinch, usable). However, if you're serious about shooting at Rifleman ranges on a tight budget, just note the British .303 is still going strong at 500 yards or more. On the other hand, one of the RWVA regulars uses his stock Yugo SKS and commercial Russian ammo ($90/1000 rounds) to get consistent hits on the popups at 400 yards.

Next up: a big price jump to $400-500 for a CMP M1 Garand or an FN-FAL, both powerful and effective past 500 yards. Garand ammo and clips are getting a little tight, but you still find ammo in the .16-.22/rd range, whereas .308 is in the .12-.15 range. The M1 has the better sights - longer sight radius, better sight adjustment - and has the forward assist bolt handle, but the FN has a 20-rd mag, and extra FN mags are cheap. Add the bolt handle from the heavy barrel version so you have a positive forward assist, and you've cured biggest fault of the standard FAL.

Some people will stop there, with the FAL, as FAL prices range up to over $1200. Kinda raises a question about what you are getting with the cheap ones. But let's go one step farther, for you guys who have the bread and want the best. In my view, that's the M1A. You can still find them at gun shows for about $1100 new in the box. Used American-made ones might go for a hundred or two less than that, most of them are not used much at all. There is no better rifle in the defense of liberty than the M1A, under the standards anticipated above:

maximizing your impact while minimizing your risk,
keeping the other side in your 300-500 yard 'kill zone', while
keeping out of their 200 or 300-yard kill zone.

Where to begin? Why not set a goal? Get a British Enfield or SKS now, if that is all you can afford. Learn to shoot it like a Rifleman. Save up for an M1, or, better yet, an M1A. Make it a goal - a resolution - that you are going to get one. And don't assume you can take years to do it. They may not be around forever, and time is not on your side.

Buying an M1A requires choosing between rack-grade and match grade. You make this choice based on, first, your projected accuracy needs in the defense of the Second Amendment, and, second, selecting the most reliable and long-lasting rifle. Four MOA is good enough to hit a man at 500 yards, and a rack-grade out-of-the-box using surplus ammo should give you 3-4 MOA. Maybe, if you are lucky, and go to the trouble to 'match' various types of ammo to your rifle, you'll find one it really likes and maybe get 2-3 MOA.

Compare those results to the 1 MOA of a thoroughly accurized M1A. On the other hand, the match-grade rifle is much more expensive, requires handloading to optimize performance, and you'll likely give up some reliability - bad in life-and-death situations. In addition, that gilt-edge accuracy can have a short life-span of only a few thousand rounds, at best. On balance, you're better off with the rack-grade, putting the money saved into more ammo and shooting. Repetition is the mother of skill, and you'll want to put your new rifle through its paces -- again and again -- until you and your rifle are a well-practiced team in defense of Liberty.

Note: Everyone interested in becoming a Rifleman would be well advised to pick up a copy of Boston T. Party's Boston's Gun Bible (see Along with inspirational and hard-hitting chapters on Second Amendment issues, Boston has compiled an exhaustive comparison of all battle rifles and .223 carbines. His intensive evaluation says the M1A beats out the FAL by a small margin, but the lack of positive forward assist chambering on the FAL - potentially life-threatening -should be given far greater weight. You need to be able to correct a ammo feed problem quickly and with certainty if it occurs; a failure to feed/chamber is not a rare occurrence. However, add the forward assist modification from the heavy barrel version, and the FAL is back in the game.

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