*Putting Together a Prepared Firearms Collection*
I broke the rifle category down even further to include Battle Rifle, Hunting Rifle and Training Rifle. With the game animals that I hunt in Alaska I at first thought to have separate rifles for hunting and defensive uses but then I had to think again.
Battle Rifles: In looking at battle rifles I was looking at the semiautomatic rifles since WWII not the many older military bolt rifles like the 1903 in its many variants, Mauser 98, SMLE, Mosin-Nagant or one of the many other good heavy duty military bolt guns. Of the available semi-auto battle rifles on the market, they are really divided between medium range (25-300meters) and long range capability (25-1000 meters). Representative of the medium range rifles are the SKS, AK variants (MAK, AK47, AK74 etc), M1 Carbine, AR15 variants and the Mini-14. They are subdivided into two groups the .223 and 30 calibers. Where the longer range rifles are well represented by the venerable and still very capable M1 Garand, the M1A Springfield, STG58 (a modified FAL type), H&K 93, and the FN-FAL and its clones. The long range rifles are found in 7.62 NATO or .308 Win and .30-06.
The M1 Garand is still one of the finest long range, reliable and well built battle rifles around. Mine has been a wonderful shooter, very accurate and easy to shoot well. They shoot .30-06 usually 150 grain ball and 173gr match. I have read on the internet that you should not shoot anything at higher pressures than military ball because it might damage internal parts. However, I did not ever shoot anything other than ball in mine. They use an 8 round enbloc clip and they are quick to load, just shove a full clip down from the top, shoot until the clip is ejected out the top after the last round. One of the only real criticisms that I can find is that it is a little heavy and you canít easily top off the clip while in the gun (you could eject the partially used clip and insert another but the loose cartridges are easily fumbled when Iíve tried it). The only other issue I had was that the "ping" sound when ejecting the empty clip alerted anyone within hearing range that you were empty.
The next generation step from the Garand was the M14. This rifle is mechanically a twin to the Garand but uses an improved gas system and 20 round magazines. I like that magazines in that you can drop the partially used magazine and put in a full one and when you have time you can recharge the mag. The M14 was a design change from the Garand that addressed the Garandís shortcomings, you can find the civilian version of the M14 in the M1A by Springfield or Fulton or others. They are well built, very strong and accurate. Magazines can be expensive but can be found at reasonable expense. The M1A is chambered in the 7.62x51 NATO cartridge which is basically a .308 Winchester. I have found both guns a pleasure to shoot and very accurate, the fact that they could also be used as hunting arms is a plus in my mind.
Another possibility is the FAL series of rifles, but I have no experience with them, thus no opinion.
In the .223 caliber rifles the AR15 versions and Mini-14s appear in most gun catalogs. Though the AK-74 is found in both the 5.56mm and the Russian 5.45x39, it is reportedly not as accurate as the AR types and accessories like magazines are somewhat difficult to find as is the Russian 5.45x39. I limited my search for a 5.56NATO rifle to the AR15 and Mini-14. I have found both to be equally reliable when using quality ammunition from good and tested magazines. My AR is a little more finicky preferring factory ammo and reloads assembled with high quality procedures (small base sizing and trimming are especially important). My Mini-14s have all been reliable with good magazines and at least as accurate as the AK and SKS rifles I have fired. They are less militaristic in appearance and would draw less attention than running around with an AK or AR. The wood stocks are strong and well suited to the rifle. However, they could prove fragile in the area of the magazine well. I would think of replacing the wood stock with a plastic or fiberglass one. Refrain from getting the folding stocks. I have found most to not be very comfortable when fired from the shoulder. If you need to use the gun from the hip you can just as easily tuck the stock under your shooting arm and actually provide a little better stability to your shooting, or perhaps install one of the collapsible stocks for the AR.
The 5.56mm NATO or .223 Remington cartridge has proven effective from Vietnam to Desert Storm and elsewhere. It is found in two basic loadings the M109 and the M566. The M109 is loaded with a 62 grain bullet and requires a faster twist in rifling (like 1 in 7 or 1 in 9) to stabilize where the original M566 loading was with a 55 grain bullet that was barely stabilized with the slower 1 in 11 twist. A 1 in 9 twist as adopted in most current production guns is very adequate to stabilize both with good accuracy to 400 meters. The newer loading is considered more accurate out to 600 meters and is still able to penetrate both sides of a soldierís helmet. Of course you must be up to the task of hitting a target that small at that range too! Currently military units are requesting a 77gr load for long range shots, but this has not yet become official issue.
Though the SKS and AK types are fairly well known for their reliability, their accuracy is left wanting. Out to 150 yards these rifles can hold their own for most uses. However, beyond that their "rainbow" trajectory and intrinsic accuracy leave much to be desired. In my experience the SKS has proven to be more accurate than the AKs that I have used. The 7.62x39 cartridge as used in the SKS and AK type rifles is usually compared with the .30-30 Winchester cartridge and is good for most uses out to 200-250 yards. I personally am not a fan of the Russian plow but there are many who like them. Before you write them off, shoot them, see for yourself then decide.
Regardless of which you get make sure to get plenty of quality magazines. Magazines are important to the proper function of any semi-auto firearm, I recommend you get at least 6 good magazines, 10 or more if you can find them and afford them and test fire every one numerous times. Donít keep a bad magazine, if they are guaranteed send it back and get another, if not throw them in the trash. The rifle system must be reliable and you must be familiar with its operation and repair or when you need it you will fumble.
Hunting Rifles: Hunting rifles are more opinion of the shooter than any others. A good bolt action hunter in the same caliber as your battle rifle would afford potentially a larger supply and use of your stored ammo. However, if you are using the 5.56mm or .223 Rem for your battle rifle, it would be to weak for a hunting cartridge in most places, but then again that depends on your abilities and what game animals are in your area. Your choice here would be as important and valid as anyoneís. The larger animals and big bears in my area have moved me to use a .338Winchester Magnum as my primary hunting arm. I hunt everything with it, but I do have a .30-06 as a secondary rifle or for hunting opportunities where it would be more appropriate. My hunting rifles are either bolt action or lever guns. Around the early 1900s most people who spent a lot of time in the woods carried a lever gun of some sort, with .30-30 being very prominent. I also have a couple lever guns that I use from time to time. I have a Marlin .45-70 Guide Gun and a Winchester M94 Trapper .30-30 sometimes while out hiking or as a camp gun that can be around and within arms reach. They could be used as hunting arms very adequately here but are not my primary hunting arms currently.
Training Rifle: The .22 LR rifle is the hands down choice as a training rifle. You can get it in any action type you can think of and it is usually very accurate for taking small game and target training. I would get one that mimicked the type of your battle rifle, probably a semi-auto. Bolt actions are nice but would not provide the same level of familiarity training.
Another use for the .22lr is for use while backpacking or camping. I prefer the takedown, compact, lightweight rifles that could fit easily in a backpack or other small kit. I have an original AR7 by Armalite that shoots well and fits nicely in my pack, I also have a Marlin Papoose that is very handy. Both are good for what I want in a pack rifle, something to take camp meat, fairly easy to pack and shoot; accurate enough to take the heads off of grouse at 40-50 feet or kill rabbits or squirrels. I have alternated between these two guns and a Ruger pistol in my pack. All three have served well and I would be hard pressed to pick just one.
My choices for Rifles:
Battle Rifle: M1A in .308 Win
Alternate - Bushmaster AR15 16 inch barrel in 5.56mm
Hunting Rifle: Ruger M77RS .338 Win Mag
Alternate - Ruger M77RSI .30-06
Training Rifle: Ruger 10/22 .22lr
Pack Rifle: AR7 Armalite .22lr
Or Marlin Papoose in .22lr
In Summary - I guess I did not get down to seven or eight guns. But you would do well to have a minimum of the following:
Pistol .45 or 9mm Semi-auto (Glock probably for minimal cost for quality, if I wasnít so fixed and happy with the 1911 I would carry a Glock)
Shotgun 12 ga Pump (870 Remington Express with spare slug barrel with rifle sights)
Rifle .308 or .30-06 Semi-Auto or a .30-30 lever gun. (For use in both hunting and defensive needs an SKS or a lever .30-30 would work as a minimum)
Rimfire .22lr rifle (Ruger 10-22, the rifle is much easier to use than a pistol for small game, pests and other uses)
Remember that you need to have a good supply of ammunition for each or they just become ornaments and not the tools they should or could be. The basic recommendation that you have:
500 rounds for your pistol
500 rounds of various buck shot, bird shot and slugs for your shotgun
1000 rounds for your rifle
2000 rounds for your .22lr
The choice is yours, this is what drove my choices.
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