I’ll admit it readily; I’m a gun snob of the highest accord. I like my guns classy, old, and made of walnut and blued steel, forged and carved by craftsmen from a different era. I’m not saying that I don’t have and use ARs and polymer-framed pistols – I do; they are my “oh shit” guns, and I use and abuse them properly.
What I am saying is that if I don’t need to be using that high-capacity new-age gun at a given time, I’m not gonna. Though the AR platform is great for a small-to-medium-game hunting platform, I’d rather ditch the Rambo vibe and carry something with a “soul” when I decide to head into the woods for an afternoon of scouting, hiking, or snowshoeing. A well-used and -loved decades-old rifle on my shoulder feels to me like it’s bringing company; call it corny, but I like to think that a small part of every man, woman, and child who ever had that gun in their hands comes with me when I carry these old firearms around. It’s comforting and warming to me – and modern milled-and-molded aluminum and plastic guns just don’t give me the same warm and fuzzy feeling.
by Drew Forge, a contributing author
To that end, I get picky on the guns that I buy; I’m not an accumulator like many other self-proclaimed gun snobs I know. I buy quality items sparingly, and use every gun that I buy. If a firearm doesn’t perform, just isn’t quite what I had in mind, or falls by the usage wayside, it gets sold or traded off. Too many guns is wonderful, but it’s a maintenance and security liability I don’t want to deal with. So I only buy firearms that I connect with – both literally and figuratively.
The “Walking Around Rifle”
Like the infamous “Scout Rifle” concept idea put to words by the immortal Jeff Cooper, the idea that came to be dubbed my “Walking Around Rifle” probably needs some explanation. While my conceptualization wasn’t quite as specific as Mr. Cooper’s to-the-letter explanation, the idea in my head had to fulfill certain requirements. The idea was kick-started by my sighting of a rifle at a local gun shop – a rifle I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. It was a Savage 23D, a featherweight middle-sized sporter in the elusive and under-appreciated .22 Hornet caliber, manufactured somewhere between 1923 and 1942. The smooth, warm oil-dark walnut with the worn checkering called to me, as did the detachable magazine and slightly worn bluing. The rifle sported an inexpensive Simmons 3-9x scope, probably weighed all of six pounds, and wore a price tag of $350.00. It was lust at first sight. Soon, visions of popping deer-chasing nuisance winter coyotes with the quick-handling rifle were dancing in my head.
I then committed a major gun-buyer faux pas: I didn’t put money down on the rifle. Heating season was coming up, the baby needed winter clothes, and I just couldn’t justify putting bill money down to nab the rifle. (being an adult sometimes isn’t all it’s wrapped up to be). So I put it back in the rack and justified my actions by thinking “surely nobody will want an old .22 Hornet”.
I was wrong. I went back a couple weeks later to find that surely someone did indeed want an old .22 Hornet, and they had wanted it the day before I walked in the door with money. So I was back to the drawing board to come up with a snazzy, lightweight firearm to fill the new hunting/hiking void I’d created in my head.
I sat down and listed my criteria. The needed requirements were few, but relatively specific.
- Caliber – centerfire, flat-shooting, capable of downing small and medium-sized game. I hand-load, so ammunition availability wasn’t too much of an issue as long as I could find brass and it was in a common bullet caliber.
- Bolt-action or break-open, for less moving parts and lower potential for breakage/wear. Likely higher potential accuracy as well over lever actions, pumps, and semi-autos.
- Provision to mount optics, namely a high-quality fixed low-power scope.
- Provision for backup fixed sights – because optics can fail, even good ones.
- Light(er) weight – I didn’t want to pack around a 9 pound rifle – so I was looking for a scaled-down action and lightweight makeup
- Unique if possible, made up of blued steel and walnut – I had to assuage the inner gun snob, after all. I could have sourced a new Remington Model Seven Synthetic in .223 and it would have fit this bill to a T – but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I wanted something less than commonplace.
Why Did I Want a Walking Around Rifle?
I realize some may not see the need for this rifle, and I can understand that. Why carry around a rifle that really is somewhat limited in purpose and versatility, especially when the bug-out AR-15 fits the bill? Why not a bigger rifle/caliber combination, like a .308, that is more capable over a wider array of situations?
Related: The Katrina Rifle
This rifle requirement all stems from what I like to do. My woods time is usually comprised of keeping up to date with bug-out locations, exploring, hunting coyotes, or – most frequently – scouting deer patterns for an upcoming whitetail deer season. A rifle is handy to eliminate pests, use as a signalling device, or even provide security. The rifle has range and accuracy capabilities that far surpass even the most precise handgun, at the price of added bulk. However, when snowshoeing and scaling mountainous countryside with a pack, the added bulk can be a burden – so I needed to be picky about the size and contours of the rifle. Semi-auto firepower wasn’t a requirement – in all likelihood, the rifle won’t even be fired on most excursions – so precision and unobtrusive carrying qualities take precedence over lots of fast follow-up shots.
To sum things up: My rifle’s mission was to be portable,and have more punch and range than a .22 Long Rifle or similar rimfire caliber. The .22 LR works well as a small-game foraging rifle, but just doesn’t possess the additional horsepower I wanted to have available.
So Why These Requirements?
Caliber – Here in Maine, the need for a large caliber to pull anti-animal duty only runs a couple of months – usually September, October, and November, when black bear and whitetail deer season are open, to the delight of local and imported sportsmen. The remainder of the year, most traditionally edible game animals are not legal quarry. Porcupines, woodchucks, coyotes, and red squirrels are the only critters that Maine allows sportsmen to pursue year-round. For these animals, a large caliber rifle just isn’t needed for clean kills. Certainly, a .22 Long Rifle can be considered viable for vermin dispatching duties at appropriate ranges.
However, once the ranges open up past 50 yards, the stalwart .22 LR’s and even the .22 Magnum’s meager ballistics start becoming a hindrance, and clean kills are not certain. So we need to start looking at the centerfire family of cartridges to carry the fight to undesirable fur bearing creatures (or even emergency anti-deer use) at longer distances. The .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, and .223 Remington/ 5.56x45mm are all cartridges that were squarely in my sights. Surely, the .22-250, .220 Swift, .204 Ruger, and .17 Remington would have all been good, even excellent, at what I wanted – but since I reload, I wanted smaller, efficient calibers that didn’t burn a ton of powder (eliminating the .22-250 and .220 Swift), and were in bullet diameters that I had on hand – namely the common .224” bullet (there goes the .17 Remington and .204 Ruger.).
I briefly considered older-though-still-cool-and-sort-of-useful calibers such as the .218 Bee, .25-20 Winchester, and .32-20 WCF, but the difficulty and expense of finding brass cases to reload, plus their lackluster long-range performance, put them out of the running once my brain overrode the romanticism of using the old calibers. So .22 Hornet, .222 Remington, and .223 Remington/5.56mm were the main focus. Rifles chambered in these smaller cased-cartridges also have the benefit of sometimes of having the action scaled down to the caliber – so you’re not lugging around a full-sized rifle that’s just a modified version of a full-sized short-action rifle meant for the .308 class of calibers.
Action Type – Again, though I had an AR-15 that would fill this made-up mission quite nicely, I just didn’t want an AR over my shoulder while hoofin’ it. I’ve shot deer with a Windham Weaponry AR-10, and while it worked very well on a certain 5-point buck, it just didn’t feel right to a guy who grew up carrying leverguns and bolt actions in the woods. Also, once I shot said deer, carrying the AR became a whole bunch of not-fun: the brass deflector and charging handle kept digging into my body, the Picatinny rails caught clothing and abraded it, and the tall profile just made sure there was more surface area to get in the way. Purpose-designed traditional hunting rifles are generally lower-profile, smoother, sleeker – easier to carry once you don’t need them anymore and you’re dragging 170 pounds of dead ungulate weight behind you.
Also – a reasoning that has somewhat more validity – bolt-action and single-shot rifles are USUALLY more accurate than their semi-auto, lever, or pump counterparts. Yes, I know that there are hideously accurate semi-autos, and I’ve shot running deer at 150 yards with a lever action – but the bolt gun will be a bit more effective on little target critters at further distances due to its higher level of intrinsic accuracy. There are always exceptions to rules, but this is a statement I decided to bank on, based on personal experience and expected usage for the rifle.
Optics/Sights– This is a no-brainer. I need to be able to scope the rifle for longer-ranged shots. However, I like redundancy in my firearm sighting methods, so I’d like to be able to have the provision for iron sights. Scopes fog up, batteries run out, slips and falls leave firearms crashing to the ground (probably onto the largest, harshest, most abrasive rock in three counties) and optics get jarred out of alignment or damaged. A backup set of iron sights – no matter how rudimentary – is just a nice piece of security to have.
Lighter Weight– Again, another no-brainer. The less your rifle weighs, the more likely you will have it with you, and the more convenient it will be. The scaled-down action size of the smaller calibers I was looking at help a lot in this department. I almost bought or sought several different firearms that neatly fit the bill; they were all quite capable and fully met my needs…I just never seemed to pull the trigger (pun intended).
I was drawn to the CZ 527. A nifty little scaled-down carbine with a detachable box magazine, it comes in .22 Hornet and .223 (and interestingly, 7.62x39mm Russian…interesting…). But they are difficult to find ‘round these parts due to their popularity and immense handiness, and I ended up finding my solution before I found one of these.
The H&R Handi-Rifle was a great option, too – and I almost ordered one up. They are rugged, dependable, no-nonsense, inexpensive break-open single-shot rifles that feature interchangeable calibers by swapping out the barrels. I’ve had a lot of fun with these rifles over the years, and they certainly hold a special place in my heart. They come in .22 Hornet and .223, (and lots of other calibers and gauges) with black synthetic stocks that lend themselves well to a beat-around rifle. I know it wasn’t walnut or terribly unique, so I kept looking despite the utility.
The Remington 799 is a scaled-down version of the fabled Mauser 98 action, and if I had seen one in .22 Hornet, .222, or .223 (all standard calibers for the rifle), I might have scoffed one up in a heartbeat if it was of decent quality – I had never actually seen one, but the specs look good. Of course, another Savage 23 or a Winchester 43 would have been lovely – but alas, not for sale in my neck of the woods – and terribly expensive when they are found.
The Solution Presents Itself
After the mildly devastating loss of the vintage Savage .22 Hornet, I was on the hunt. No gun shop in the locale was safe from my perusal. There were lots of options that would have fit the bill, but Captain Gun Snob was being fussy. I wanted something a bit different…
One day, my wife and I were skimming through the local Cabelas, and somehow she actually followed me into the gun library (it hasn’t happened again since, I’ve noticede). She was present at my side when I sucked in a deep gasp and quickly opened one of the glass cases to reach for the gloriousness of a rifle that had caught my eye.
A 1950’s-manufactured Sako L-46 “Riihimäki” in .222 Remington, complete with graceful full-length “Mannlicher” style stock, detachable 3-round magazine, and vintage steel-tube El Paso Weaver K4 fixed 4x scope in Redfield Jr. rings had my complete and undivided attention. I fell in such instant and complete lust with the trim, beautiful little rifle that I didn’t even care if my wife saw the $1,199.00 price tag (which she did). I put the rifle on layaway, and a few too-slow weeks later, the rifle came home with me. My wishes had come true and the fun began.
I stocked up on factory ammo and empty brass where I could find it, and I’ve spent a very joyful past few months developing a handload that shoots well. I also replaced the charming (but prone to fogging) Weaver K4 with a vintage Leupold M8 fixed 4x scope that is a perfect match for the rifle. A canvas sling was added, and the rifle has reached “perfection” status in my eyes. It propels a 50-grain Hornady soft-point varmint bullet at 3200 feet per second out of the 23-inch barrel, and can group 5 of them into a neat 1-inch cluster at 100 yards. The rifle has a hooded front sight, and I found an ultra-rare Redfield scope mount with an integral flip-up aperture rear sight. It rides delightfully next to a pack on my shoulder or in my hand, and fulfills every one of my requirements. I’m a happy camper, mission accomplished!
Yeah, But Does This Have Anything to do With Survival?
Some of you may just view this as bombastic gun bragging, and maybe it is to a small degree. But more than that, I’m trying to portray that there are other options – quality, graceful options – out there to fulfill the needs of the forager/scout/pest control mission. I know that for many individuals, the AR-15 or other military-type platforms are distasteful, impractical, unneeded, or unwanted, and commercial hunting rifle offerings punch the ticket nicely. The AR and other platforms are truly versatile and may be a better way to go if you’re on a one-gun budget for SHTF-type needs. However, if you have other plans for scouting, small-to-medium game hunting, or pest eradication post-SHTF, why not have another rifle that doesn’t use your stockpile of “oh no” ammo? Why not have a rifle that says “Hunter” or “Rancher” instead of “Prepper” or “Survivalist” or “Military”? And truth be told, the day may come when your AR-15 or similar rifle may not be able to see the light of day due to legislation; you’ll still want to be able to have a quality, accurate rifle on your shoulder that is capable of pulling off multi-mission duty and not set off alarms. A rifle that shares a common caliber as your SHTF rifle may be a great idea too (like the CZ527 carbine in .223 to compliment your AR). Just food for thought.
What do you think? Do you have a secondary/scouting type rifle in your plans? Or does your situation and prepping make a rifle such as this unnecessary? Sound off in the comments!
Photos Courtesy of:
Lauren Nicole Photography