Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Black Rifle Hunting in the modern era

As most "gun nuts", "firearm aficionados", "crazy mother****ers with huge arsenals" will already know, every modern "sporting" rifle used for hunting today is based on a design used for killing other human beings on the field of battle.

While some choose to look at this as some sort of sinister ploy to gain acceptance of war machinery in the hearts and minds of us nasty civilians, I choose to look at it as reappropriating battlefield tools for humanitarian uses such as the hunting of food.

In case you don't know me personally, I am very much "anti-war". I know war happens, and it sucks...but to deny the technological advances regarding firearms simply because they were born of war is something I see as no different from denying the advances in modern medicine that also resulted from armed conflict. My point is, the shit works so there's no reason not to use it for our purposes.

Moving right along, I'd like to point out that two of the biggest names in "sporting purposes" firearms have introduced their own line of so-called "tactical" rifles. These are, of course, the Remington and Mossberg brands, who have entered their respective R15 and MMR rifles into the firearms marketplace. While Mossberg appears to be catering more to the small-agency/private-owner tactical market, Remington is catering directly to the hunting crowd by producing rifles with finishes done up in name-brand camo patterns the typical hunter is already familiar with. The R15 rifles also come from the factory with a five-round magazine necessary for hunting according to many states' hunting regulations.

While some may see this as a ploy to get "JoeBob the Militia Nutjob" to buy a new deer rifle, I see it as a natural progression into the era of modern technology. My grandfather, a veteran of WWII, had declared the M1 Garand to be the greatest battle rifle ever devised...while the krauts racking their bolts, he was able to get a round off and then start picking out another target. Today, the Ruger corporation markets the Mini-14 and Mini-30 line of rifles that are based on the action of the Garand and utilize a detachable 20rd magazine, and they are chambered in the Soviet 7.62x39mm and NATO 5.56x45mm rounds respectively. Not only are they widely used by police units and prison guard towers, they are the go-to guns for ranchers and a lot of hunters looking for a light-weight, rugged, and dependable rifle for field use.

Then, we have the AK47 rifle, known the world over as the go-to rifle of choice for terrorists, revolutionaries, and several dozen national armies. Why? Because it works. It works so well, in fact, that it's actually part of the graphic on the flags of three different nations. It is also made by Saiga in Russia as the region's most popular hunting rifle, and is exported to the US of A for the same purposes...while being offered in 7.62x39, 5.56x45, 7.62x51, 7.62x54, and even various shotgun calibers.

Nowadays, since the American public has discovered the modularity and customization potential of the AR15 rifle in the days after the failed "Assault Weapons Ban" of 1994-2004, it seems like everyone and their uncle is producing an AR15 rifle...and the American public is buying them like it's the coolest thing since Led Zeppelin.

While a great portion of purchased such rifles in anticipation of God-knows-what defense needs, a great many more have purchased them as plinkers, collectibles, and more importantly, bonafide hunting rifles.

There are several reasons for this (availability of cheap range ammo, low recoil, ergonomics, etc), one of the biggest reasons is the inherently awesome design. While the direct-impingement gas operating system does leave something to be desired, the rest of the rifle is simply fascinating when one thinks of how incredibly genius the design truly is.

As an integral part of its design, the top of the buttstock is in-line with the barrel, which reduces "muzzle flip" all on its own. Unlike any other "hunting" (or even "paramilitary") rifle I've ever seen, it has a built-in dust cover over the ejection port that will protect the bolt from debris and will open automatically when the rifle is either charged or fired. The original height of its iron sights allow its intended round (as well as the 7.62x51mm, aka ".308 Winchester", round used in the original AR10) to hold the ideal trajectory for a standard round in the ideal range for hunting...which is typically under 300yds.

Now we get into the other aspects of this rifle that originated within the military...namely, the M1913 rail. Commonly known as the "Picatinny Rail", so-named after the US Army Arsenal that first evaluated and tested it, it is as universally-accepted as the USB connection is within the world of computers. Many manufacturers offer rail systems that are proprietary to their brand or model of firearm...but when the aftermarket sees these weapons becoming popular amongst buyers, they don't change the mounting of their accessories. They offer adapter rails so that people can mount a Picatinny-compatible accessory.

The rail interface design allows any compatible accessory to be mounted to any compatible firearm. Long-gone are the days when a rifle needed a custom model-specific mount for a scope, a sling attachment, or any other accessory. Now, you take an Allen wrench or a screwdriver and you mount the accessory while drinking a cold one and watching a baseball game. Flashlights, bipods, laser sights, sling mounts, and even cup holders (yes, I shit you not, I've seen them) are available with a picatinny mount. It's a running joke in my family that you're nobody until you have a picatinny rail mounted on the wall of the head so you have a place to mount your toilet paper dispenser!

Then we get into the "pop the pins and swap" game. With an AR, the lower receiver is separate from the upper by means of two push pins...meaning one firearm can be capable of a multitude of roles. While a heavy long barrel is good for precision shots from a deer stand, a short carbine-length barrel is great for carrying on hog hunts and whatnot when you're walking through the woods.

While a barrelled upper receiver of decent quality may cost you the same as a decent-quality rifle of any other variety (between $400 and $600, typically), this setup has two distinct bonuses. First, you have familiarity with the system. The grip feels the same, the trigger pull is the same, the fire controls are the same, the rifle is slung the same, etc...because it quite literally is all the same. Second, the various upper receivers take up a lot less space in the cabinet, gun case, etc.

Suppose you're taking off to the sticks for a week, and there's the opportunity to go hunt some hogs and practice your accuracy with the deer rifle. You strap up your deer rifle, go hit the range, and get to work on your trigger control, breathing, etc for your accuracy. You're putting rounds downrange into a quarter and feeling good about it. You get up the next morning to go hunt some hogs, and then you strap a lightweight barrel onto your setup so you can walk through the back 40 and go pop some swine. That same rifle you practiced with all afternoon yesterday is now the rifle you're makin' bacon with today.

You want to practice on the range with both? Throw both uppers into the case, you've got room. You want to swap out scopes so you can decide what you're going to use during deer season? Throw both of 'em on the rail, zero 'em in good and tight, and they're both good for when you decide to throw 'em back on the rail. You want to go deer hunting with your rifle, and then put an M4 upper on it to keep the front yard clear of crackheads during a Rodney King riot? You're still good to go. Pop and swap, the end.

Versatility and purpose is the key. Make use of it, it's there for the taking...

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