Building the World’s Most Versatile Gun *

*your opinions/results may vary

 

Okay, you may be thinking to yourself as you read the headline, “what crock of crap does he have cooked up now?”  Maybe you think it’s an AR with interchangeable uppers in different calibers. Maybe a rifle like the Thompson/Center Encore, with interchangeable barrels for all manners of hunting? Or a carbine like the Marlin 1984 that can use pistol caliber cartridges like the .38 Special/.357 Magnum or .44 Special/.44 Magnum? Nope sorry. Wrong on all counts.

 

I guess maybe before I get the rifle described, I should define “versatility” to me. A versatile rifle, in my book, is one gun, in one caliber, that can handle almost everything that is thrown its way that the user is LIKELY to come across, terrain and circumstances depending…before and even after TSHTF. I live in rural Maine, where the populations are spread out, the terrain is extremely varied (I could be watching over a blueberry field plain, scouting an oak/hardwood grove, or sneaking my way through a close-in hemlock glade within the course of a  hunting trip, all within a few minutes’ walk of my house.  It should be chambered in a caliber that is easily obtained, useful in an array of situations over varied ranges, powerful enough to take game up to moose and bear-sized, yet accurate enough to plug that woodchuck that’s been chowing down on your crops, at 100 yards. It should have multiple sighting systems, not just for operational redundancy, in case one breaks, but also to adapt the rifle to the terrain. It should also be simple, rugged, of quality workmanship. It should also be able to defend your home and family if needed.

 

Here are two rifles that are my take on this principle, one a Winchester I put together for myself, another a Remington I set up for my brother. Both are chambered in .30-06 Springfield.

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My Winchester Model 54 (upper gun) was made in 1926, and has a 4-digit serial number. It was given to me by my father as a graduation present. It was a Texas rancher’s rifle, and the stock had been bleached almost bone white by the sun. It originally sported a 1920’s-era Zeiss 2 3/4x scope on Western Mounts. I have many, many hours rubbing raw linseed oil into the stock to bring it back to how you see it, and it now has a Leupold Vari-XII 3-9x scope on Warne Quick detachable mounts.

 

The Winchester Model 54 was the immediate predecessor of the fabled Winchester Model 70, and was manufactured from 1926-1936, in several calibers. It was a less-expensive derivative of the “Imperial” model 51, a hand-made rifle made in the late 1910s. It took the best features of the Mauser M98 and the Springfield 1903, and combined them into a svelte, quick-handling sporting rifle. My rifle will shoot 1″ groups, even with its dark, old bore, with Federal 180-grain factory loads at 100 yards.

 

My brother’s Remington is a model 721, which is the predecessor of the modern Remington Model 700. They are known for quick lock times, fine accuracy, and dependability. 721s were introduced in 1948, and utilized a push-feed system to get the cartridge from the magazine to the chamber.

 

This particular rifle has Leupold QD rings and bases under a Leupold 3.5-10x scope, and it is extremely accurate. With a chosen handload (49.0 grains of IMR-4064, and a Speer 180-grain bullet) it will shoot 3/4″ groups at 100 yards without even trying. I stripped the stock of the factory gloss finish, and re-finished the uncheckered stock with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil. I also inletted Dakota Super Grade-style sling swivels into the stock.

 

“Yeah, okay, I see a couple old bolt-action rifles. Yawn.” I’m guessing that is something similar to your response upon first inspection. But what makes these rifles extra versatile? First off, the .30-06 caliber is one key. It can shoot bullets from 100 grains all the way to 220 grains with fair to excellent accuracy (rifling twist nonwithstanding). It can handle varmints, coyote-sized game, deer, antelope, elk, moose, bear, and it served our country with distinction as the main service rifle caliber from 1906 up through the 1950s, serving through WWI, WWII, and Korea…like my grandfather always said, “if you can’t kill it with an ’06, it probably doesn’t need to die.” Both of these rifles are accurate enough to hit deer sized game out past 500 yards if conditions are right. Plus, .30-06 is one caliber that’s still relatively easy to come by, even if you have to scrounge for it. Everyone and their moms have a .30-06.

 

But what else? Well, both of these rifles have quick-detachable scope rings for a reason. Both rifles mount Lyman receiver sights as well. The Winchester has a Lyman 48 longslide, and the Remington has a steel base Lyman 57.

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These receiver sights are kind of an old-school setup. With the advent of the modern scope that magnifies, the receiver (or “aperture” or “peep”) sight is a fantastic piece of gear for a variety of shooting. It is incredibly quick and accurate at long distance (1-2″ groups at 100 yards are possible on a good day). But, as the biggest bonus, they are extremely rugged. All-steel construction means they will stay in good shape even if dropped, something that cannot be said for many scopes.

 

The Winchester has a weakness, where I need to pull the bridge of the sight out to mount the scope:

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But, once the scope is off and the sight is set up, the rifle (which was designed before the heyday of the scope) has a low stock comb that  allows your cheek to come right down low, in line with the low profile of the sights. It is very, very quick and intuitive, and I have taken several running deer at medium ranges with this setup. As a bonus, without a scope, it is a delight to carry around in the woods. So much so that I almost never bring the scope with me when hunting with the rifle, unless I know that I will be sitting over a field or places I can shoot over 200 yards. With the scope off, it is quick enough to handle close-in hemlock groves on fast-moving short-range whitetail, and accurate enough to make a confident shot on a deer out to 200 or so yards. It also has stripper-clip guides (a throwback to the 1903 Springfield/98 Mauser heritage) that makes reloading with a 5-round clip a one-second proposition. With the scope mounted, (yes, the Warne rings retain scope zero when removing the scope) it is all set to shoot out to extreme distances if needed, whether taking that antelope on the North Dakota plains at 400 yards, or long-range targets of opportunity from your bug-in location.

 

The Remington 721 is set up with modified Leupold QD bases.

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I found that if I ground down the rear base and mounting screws, it resulted in enough clearance to keep the Lyman 57 permanently mounted, even with the scope on. As long as you use high rings, it leaves enough clearance to mount the scope. Pretty slick. Since the 721 was designed with scopes in mind, it has a higher stock comb that makes you have to work a little bit to get your cheek down further to look through the aperture, but it works far better when you have a scope mounted. (The Winchester’s low comb makes a high-mounted scope a little tough to use.) The Leupold rings also retain zero, and are fast and simple. Good stuff, and highly recommended. If you find that your travels take you through closer foliage or in mountainous terrain, or (God forbid) you drop the rifle and smash a scope lens or knock the zero out of alignment, simply pop the scope off, throw it in your pack, and you still have a quick-handling, accurate rifle that’s powerful enough to do what you need to do. What’s wrong with that?

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Also, due to the fact that these rifles were overshadowed by their descendents, they are relatively inexpensive (at the local Cabela’s, there is a 721 in .270 for $395 in almost perfect shape. A Winchester 54 in average shape will be more like $500-1000, depending on caliber…however, the Remington will probably be more accurate. Just sayin’.).

 

If this theory piques your interest, a few other rifles can be adapted the same way, since they have receiver sight mounting holes drilled into the rifle’s receiver. Some examples are the Winchester 54, Winchester 70 (earlier models, through late ’80’s production), Remington 721, Remington 722, Remington 788, Remington 700 (earlier models). Lyman and Redfield make my favorite receiver sights, but Williams, Pacific, and a couple other manufacturers can be found who made sights for these rifles. Also, Redfield made a one-piece scope base that had a pop-up aperture sight that was built right into the base. Just another option. Some manufacturers (you’ll have to do some hunting) make aperture sights that bolt onto Weaver/Picatinny-type bases…just another option to look at.

 

For my uses, these rifles can do 95% of what I need a rifle for…where I am. I’m not going to go into a post-apocalyptic Detroit with one (unless it was all I had) but it suits my philosophy of harvesting game and avoiding unnecessary human conflict just fine.

 

What are your ideas on the most versatile rifle for your needs?

 

-TRW

 

13 comments… add one
  • Templar June 26, 2013, 7:55 am

    I’m sure this’ll have you & most of the readership rolling on the floor, but here’s mine–
    Eschewing long-distance (>150 yards), my all-purpose long arm is a shotgun, interestingly enough. A Parkerized Remington 870 pump, to be precise. It has a “deer barrel” (20″, improved-cylinder choke, bead sights).
    This barrel is optimum for single projectiles (slugs), but does just fine with birdshot & buckshot. It has a pistol grip in addition to the traditional buttstock, so it can be fired one-handed. Maybe someday I’ll change it to an AR-style collapsible. It has sling swivels and a multipurpose sling. It’s got an extended tube magazine and a 6-shot sidesaddle shell carrier. From a bench rest, I can consistently fire 100-yard groups of 1-oz. slugs that can be covered with a coffee cup.
    I can use this gun as a rifle, CQB assault/defensive weapon, small-game tool, as well as bringing down any game on the North American continent from 150 yards. Yeah, it’s a compromise, but you said one gun.

    Reply
    • Steve suffering in NJ June 30, 2013, 8:30 pm

      Yep +1 on the 870. I was thinking the same thing while reading the article.

      Reply
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. June 26, 2013, 8:25 am

    Those are pretty sweet rifles up there sir. Those peep sights are da bomb, I have a similar setup on my Savage 99 .308, except I stuck with irons only for that. I do agree that iron sighted rifles sure are fun to carry, easier than scoped rifles. My only comment would be you MIGHT find ammunition for the .308 Winchester to be easier to find, but that is what makes a horse race. :^)

    My canidate for ‘Does It All Rifle’ – the humble .22lr. Scoped, demonstrates fine accuracy and if scope is damaged, the irons will do it justice. Ammunition USED TO BE very common (if you don’t already have a lot of this kept back, you weren’t paying attention), and carrying a box of 50 cartridges is very easy to do. Small game and vermin are well within reach, and many people in the past and present have taken big game with it as well. Its pretty quiet in the woods and rimfires keeps it that way – nothing to telegraph ‘I am here’. And easy enough for EVERYONE to shoot well, even the very young and/or older individuals. Versatile indeed.

    Reply
  • Ray June 26, 2013, 8:32 am

    The one ammo that has stayed available is 30.06. It is still THE most common Cal. in the US. “The best rifle?” The one in your hand when you need one. R.W. LOVE them rifles THAT’s some FINE old shootin’ iron.

    Reply
  • Lumberjok June 26, 2013, 1:46 pm

    You have to admire the trusty old ought six….or in government speak…..US caliber .30 model of 1906….107 years old this year and still going strong.

    In some future post you might consider discussing Savage Arms excellent line of rifles. Bare bones guns are available for well under $400. If you move up to the 110 and 111 package series you can pick up an ought six with a Nikon 3-9x40mm scope with the bullet drop compensator reticle, detachable mag and Accu trigger for a street price of roughly $540…..less if you can find a good used one.
    The 2 Savages I have owned were easily capable of inch groups at 100 yds.

    Another interesting feature of these rifles is that you can do a caliber
    change. The barrel is held in place by a barrel nut….just unscrew the barrel and pop a new barrel into the action….and presto you have a new caliber. There are limitations of course governed by overall cartridge length. You couldn’t unscrew a .308 barrel and replace it with a .223 for example.

    Do a bit of research and you will find that Savage enjoys an excellent reputation for versatility, accuracy and high value for the money paid.

    Reply
  • The Road Warrior June 26, 2013, 2:35 pm

    Ray: thank you! As I was writing this, I thought, “I bet Ray will like these guns.”. Gimme pre-WW2 American crafted blued steel and walnut over a plastic CNC made gun anyday…

    Lumberjok: I will admit, I have a negative bias towards Savage bolt guns, due to miserable experiences trying to get them to shoot back in the late’90s, early 2000s. I know they’ve been revamped, with their rifling redesigned and action improved, butI’m gonna stick with Winchester and Remington and early Rugers for my bolt guns. I hope you can forgive me. :-)

    Reply
    • Lumberjok June 26, 2013, 5:47 pm

      Consider yourself forgiven.

      Reply
  • sput June 26, 2013, 4:10 pm

    Nice! The Rem 722 &721 were noted for great accuracy right out of the box. I have a plain looking Rem 721 in .308 that drives tacks, and eats the same fodder as some racier stablemates. Have a beautiful Win 70 in 7×57 that does the same, but no common companion. For the ’06, hard to beat an old ’03 or 03A3. Lot’s of cheap bubba sporterized ones out there overlooked, and untouched mil ones going for big bux. I have each in original mil, and you can put a sticker on the end.

    Reply
  • Michael June 26, 2013, 4:31 pm

    For me my Marlin 1984 (.357) with see through scope mounts and peep sights fits your definition just fine.

    Reply
  • highdesertlivin June 26, 2013, 7:13 pm

    I wanted a similar platform,w/backup iron sights.I opted for the ruger gunsite in 308. Recently savage came out with there 111 hoghunter in 308 w/irons, that I think might be a better answer for me. I do have a savage mod. 24 20g/22mag over and under,that will cover most bases.

    Reply
  • Expat June 27, 2013, 11:29 am

    Ah survival guns. What a great topic.
    I lugged a Rem 742 in 30-06 up and down the Colorado mountains for decades. Loved that gun and the weight made it real steady for offhand shooting. Think my right shoulder is still an inch lower than the left. Right now it sits here in the cabin with a 10 round mag. and a big 2×10 50mm scope. I had to remove the iron sights and use an extended base to make it fit but the extra light gathering of the 50mm hopefully is worth it.
    Being of sound mind, I bought other guns. First a Browning 78 in 25-06. Very pretty but the light weight made for poor offhand performance. No follow up with a single shot.
    Then came a Custom Rem. 700 in 7mm mag. The blaster. Wish I had bought it in 243 instead.
    Then a Browning lever action in 308. with a Leopold 2.5 scope and post reticule. Love that gun as does everyone who shoots it.
    There’s something about lever actions that just feel good.
    But – the gun I’d take running out the back door into the woods is the other loaded long gun in the Cabin. That’s a 12 ga. H&R single shot with survival butt stock and forearm. There’s paracord wrapped around the stock with the shell sock over that. The 7 rounds total have various loads and there’s another couple of shells in the stock along with most all the survival stuff I’d need, including a very nice 5″ blade flat hunting knife, etc. Even a little food and clean water tabs.
    With just that gun and nothing else I could shoot a turkey or deer, cook it and make a more or less decent camp wrapped up in the heavy duty survival blanket that was in the stock.
    Course with the 06 autoloader standing next to my easy chair, I don’t plan on running out the backdoor.

    Reply
  • Pineslayer June 27, 2013, 10:33 pm

    Nice rifles. I have to admit that I am partial to the 30.06, gold standard projectile. I have a Rem 700 that has been equipped with a Redfield Lo-Pro w/ range finder, gosh is it accurate. If I have to hit a target at any distance, it is the one that I reach for. Every time that I go to the range, it gets 2 rounds, just to make sure that nothing has happened to the zero. It never has failed me. It is light and kicks like a scalded mule, I love that gun. But, if I have to arm myself with one rifle, no going back, no supply train in the field, pure survival, my Marlin 60 with ATI stock and kit attached will be on my shoulder. Probably due to weight and reliability more than anything. Not that the 700 has any issues with function, but bullets are big and heavy.

    Reply
  • Chuck Findlay July 1, 2013, 12:28 pm

    The World’s Most Versatile Gun from my point of view / use is my Savage 24. It’s an over & under rifle/shotgun. A 22 long rifle over a 20 ga shotgun. I can kill anything from birds to black bears with this one gun. You can also get inserts for the shotgun barrel for numerous calibers that allow you to shoot all hinds of handgun and several rifle calibers.

    Reply

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