20070616

If I could only have one.

Rifle that is.

The Cabinet Man here. Long time, no post. I hope Fuze's offer to guest-post on occasion still stands. We'll know soon enough, I guess.

Fuze and I have more than once had a discussion that starts with the question: "If you could have only one rifle, what would it be?" [ed note: Can of Worms alert!!] Fuze is enamored with the AK platform and he has the nicely-done home-builts to show for it. But my impression of him is that he's an FAL guy at the core. He may choose to chime-in at a later time and prove me wrong. But I'm not here to speak for this blog's owner.

I too have strong affections for the AK and, for the no-notice, "Molotov cocktail hoodlums in the front yard at 2:00 AM" scenario, the milled Bulgarian SLR-101 tactically positioned at the front of the gun safe is my go-to gremlin repellent. I took that sweet piece of post-commie legacy to Gunsite and for five days held my own against all manner of Gene Stoner's Finest. Not once did the little carbine fail me and every pop-up hit out to 200 yards fell solidly with one round. The trigger is no work of art and, in its current form, it lacks any means of a bolt hold-open. But for the purposes of clearing my little 1/6-acre urban homestead of gang-bangers, Neo-Cons, zombies, Socialists, and other foaming undesirables, I'd rather have that Bulgy in my hands than any AR-15 I own. Not to mention that it's fun to shoot!!

I also have a soft spot for another Bolshevik import: the Mosin-Nagant. I have a number of these lying around, half of which are the superior Finnish-captured M39 variants. They are simply and soundly built and, when properly fed, reliable to a fault. The upgraded Finn sights are no small improvement over the Russian originals, though I went one step further and dressed-up a couple of the Finns with Mojo ghost rings. The 7.62x54R cartridge hits hard - and I mean 30-06 hard!! - and can be found in a good range of bullet weights. With Wolf Match Extra, one of my scout-scoped M39s shoots 1 MOA. Which means if it's acting hostile, using two legs for mobility, and under 750 yards distant, I own it. 'Nuff said.

But I digress. Sorta...

The reason for that little train of thought derailment was to highlight the fact that certain rifles do certain things very well. Equipped with a Surefire light and an Aimpoint red-dot, the Bulgy SLR is a hella' CQB weapon. When my eyesight is up to the task, the M39s can really reach out and touch someone. (Only onerous malcontents, of course...) But I wouldn't want to clear the house with the Mosin nor perform counter-sniper chores with the AK. We're talking compromise here, not perfection.

If I could have only one rifle...

...it'd be a Yugoslavian 59/66 SKS. The wretched commies win again!!

As with most things for which I have strong affections, there are a few SKSs lying around the house. Most are Yugo 59/66s but there's also a lone angry Russian. (I recently sold-off an odd-ball Albanian. Curious to look at but I never grew attached.) The SKS is by no means glamorous. It's a bit on the heavy side and when compared only to the compact form factor of the AK/AR, it borders on unwieldy. But it's commie-simple, as dependable as gravity, and actually looks like a rifle. There's wood and metal and leather: the three basic elements of the universe. The AK-47 was designed for rough use by largely uneducated and wholly unmotivated conscript soldiers. On the other hand, the SKS gives its operator some credit for understanding his role in the man/rifle pairing and, thusly, I suppose it's a truer proletarian weapon. For example, the SKS is considerate enough to lock back its bolt after the last round, signaling the rifleman through a subtle change in its recoil that renewed attention must be paid to its on-board ammo supply. And that's a good thing. There's no detachable magazine to misplace - nor extras to carry - and nothing to grind in the dirt while shooting from prone. The stripper clips, while imperfect, perform well and with adequate practice, can be employed as quickly as detach-mags. While a step or two more involved to field strip than an AK, the SKS requires no additional tools. Some folks don't like the look of the 59/66's grenade launcher gear and choose to remove it, replacing it with a muzzle break, flash hider, or other such Bubba-junk. Nossir. As is, the rifle has plenty of character so I leave that stuff alone. I don't ask my women to get boob jobs, either.

One of my 59/66s in particular has proven itself especially endearing. Its trigger doesn't completely suck, its stock is perfectly clean with no carvings or pock-marks, and its bore gleams as if it had been newly minted just yesterday. Fully de-cosmo'ed, it has never jammed nor slam-fired. It sports a Williams ghost ring rear sight and an OEM front post. On most days, even from a half-assed shooting position, I can put ten rounds in groups of ~5" at 100 yards. Certainly no medals will be awarded. But that's OK because it's not a target rifle and no amount of aftermarket froo-froo is going to make it one. And it doesn't seem to care much about its diet. It shoots Wolf as well as it shoots Winchester or Cheetah. (Yes, I still have some stores of Robert Mugabe's best 7.62x39 Cheetah ammo. Envy me.)

"But TCM, why the 59/66 for The Only One?"

Let's do the math, Grasshopper.

The middleweight 7.62 round is not ideal, but it's not the total slouch the AR banner-wavers would have you believe. From a 16" AK, the stubby 125-grain x39 bullet is - at best - a reliable man-stopper out to, say..., 250 yards, which is right about where its energy drops below 750 foot*pounds. But the 59/66 has a 22" barrel. That extra six inches is good for an additional 135 feet/second at the muzzle. (I have chronograph-sourced empirical data to support that claim, so don't argue with me.) That means the little commie caliber can still hit Plenty Hard Enough To Stop out to 300 yards, maybe 350 with a tail wind and a lot of holdover. Those ranges are no big deal to the Mosin, but we might wanna' clear the house, too, remember??

Now I know the 7.62x51 guys are already smugly asking how I'm going to engage the infamous 600-yard target. Well, folks, I'm not. We're talking your basic (mid-40s) visual range, hombre-a-hombre self-defense situations here. The evangelists of "The 600-yard Hit" are primarily concerned with (semi- or non-) organized civilian groups encountering organized, hostile forces armed with 5.56 NATO weapons. That's all well and good and I completely understand that way of thinking. For that kind of situation, nothing beats a true MBR: an M1A, an FAL, an HK-91, or a Garand. You'll get zero argument from me on that. But one of the criteria of this scenario is that I'm down to only one rifle, which means things have truly gone to hell. It's safe to assume that my problem is not 600 yards away with a crypto radio and mortars at the ready. I'm more concerned about the classic Zombie Biker threat. Maybe they're well armed, but probably not. Maybe they're well trained, but probably not. Maybe they're well organized, but probably not. So at 300 yards, I'm feeling pretty confident with ten rounds in the SKS and a clear exit strategy.

"Then why not stick with one of your Mosins?"

So, we're back to that, huh?? OK. Five-shot mil-surp bolt-action rifles are wonderful things. They're gifts from God and I can't own enough of them. But how about our Zombie Biker threat?? Or the group of agitated, trigger-happy squatters that won't move along?? Or the pack of wolves or a rapidly approaching bear?? I have to assume that I'll be facing these challenges by myself - I always assume that - and the process of engaging multiple, close-range targets with a bolt-action Mosin (or Mauser or K31 or 1903A3) is no minor problem. For that kind of work, I'd love to have my Bulgy AK. But we are talking one gun, aren't we??

Gimme' the SKS already!! I get ten shots as fast as I can aim, all while keeping both hands on the stock. I can quickly reload ten more rounds in a few smooth motions. I'm throwing out mid-power 30-caliber whoop-ass without 8mm or x54R recoil knocking me about the four corners of Central County. And I can still hit reasonably hard at 300 yards if need be. For additional assistance with that 300-yard target, the sight radius on the 59/66 is about 2½ inches longer than an AK's. I'll concede that that's not much but it is an improvement.

"Ha!! You're gonna' kill a bear with an SKS??"

A charging bear will get as many rounds as he needs to be dissuaded. All ten if that's what it takes. (The same goes for two-legged goblins.) And I'm likely to do a better job of changing the bruin's mind with 7.62x39 rounds than with 5.56 NATO. That said, I'm not going to hunt bear with a x39 chambered rifle. But given that little extra "oomph" afforded me by the longer barreled 59/66, at moderate ranges I could safely hunt deer, antelope, and wild hogs - assuming there are any left after the SHTF - and maybe even drop an opportunistic elk target that's up-close and personal. Predators such as coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and feral dogs are no match for the 7.62 middleweight champ. Excepting alligators and the infrequent moose, that about sums up the four-legged critter issue for the Lower 48.

Let's not forget a couple of easy-to-overlook features. Assuming Bubba didn't remove it, the SKS has a permanently attached, collapsible bayonet. Don't underestimate its utility. How would you feel if at what appeared to be the final moments of a good brawl, your opponent initiated a bayonet attack?? Not scared, huh?? Ask a WWII Pacific Theater front-line combat vet what he thinks of desperate Japanese suicide charges. I'll bet he won't be laughing when he tells his story. And, as a last resort, the heft of an SKS would make it a formidable club. The AR - and maybe even an AK - could sustain terminal damage after a heart-racing bout of head bashing. The SKS loves that kinda' stuff!!

And lastly, there's the issue of cost. What are essentially unissued 59/66s can still be had for $200 and change. For that price, forget about a spare parts kit. Just get two rifles. Or three. And while 7.62x39 ammo availability was a big problem the last couple of years, that's no longer true. It's available in quantity today. It's not priced at $90/1000 like it was in 2003/2004 but it is affordable. And the prices are tolerable enough to justify a little stockpiling for the next drought. While the 7.62x51 folks are forking over 50¢ or more per round for their bit of the rarified supply of mil-surp x51 fodder, you're at the range getting in good practice time for 15¢ a pop. Few of the Average Joes can afford (the Pure Joy of) a $2000 Fulton Armory or LRB M14, a $250 Sadlak scope mount, a $1000 Valdada BDC scope, $800 worth of USGI 20-round magazines, and enough ammo to practice with 150 rounds every other weekend. As the saying goes, it's better to have $2000 worth of training and a $200 rifle than to have a $2000 rifle and only $200 worth of training.

So that's my take on the problem of Just One Gun. Gimme' an SKS, a Yugo 59/66 to be more specific. YMMV...

TCM

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