Friday, December 24, 2004
A List Of Firearms That Everyone Should Own
1. A .22 rimfire of some sort. I think it can be easily argued that every household should own both a pistol and rifle in .22 Long Rifle (LR), given the fact that it's the most versatile of the metallic (non-shotshell) cartridges, it's certainly the cheapest to shoot, and that it should be the basis of any firearms training, regardless of the shooter's age or end goals (the mastery of even the nastiest big-bore boomers comes from basics learned with lots of .22 plinking).
A usable .22 rifle can range from a super-cheap single-shot, such as the Winchester 67, to mid-level semi-autos in the $200-300 range (the Ruger 10/22 immediately comes to mind), and well up into the four figures with high-end target rifles. When it comes to putting holes in paper or clearing the property of varmits, one will find that the cost of the rifle has much less to do with the end results than the person behind the trigger. Assuming that a hand-me-down cannot be obtained (these are often the best), then either spend the ~$250 on the aforementioned Ruger, or start looking for a used rifle in good shape. Fortunately, it's damn near impossible to wear out a .22, and most .22s are pretty accurate, so find something that's in good shape and enjoy it. I'd stay away from so-called "bull barrels" (of a larger diameter than standard; often approaching a full inch). I don't feel they offer any advantage for most folks in .22, and just add a lot of undesirable weight.
On the pistol side of things, the first choice comes down to semi-auto or revolver. The Ruger Mark II/III ($300) is the obvious choice for semi-auto .22s, and the Walther seems like a good choice as well. An alternative is the Marvel and Ciener conversion kits for centerfire pistols, such as the kit I own that converts a 1911-style pistol to an accurate (and affordable to shoot) .22. The big advantage here is that one improves the quality of their training by duplicating the gross motor skills required to operate the pistol. For revolvers, there's fine examples from Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Ruger, among others. I'd base this decision on what I ended up with for my centerfire pistol (see below).
The rifle is probably more usable from a practical standpoint than a pistol, especially for a novice, but since a pistol is inherently more difficult to shoot, it provides additional much-needed practice. In other words, I've got a hard time saying which is more important to have around. I'd suggest staying away from the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR), as it's much more expensive to shoot, and doesn't appreciably broaden the usable range of applications.
2. A 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotgun. This is the most versatile of firearms, period, outstripping even the .22 in the tasks it can perform. Preference here goes to the 12g for its larger available range of power (primarily on the upper end), but for the recoil-sensitive, a 20g isn't bad. This should be a pump-action since they're much less sensitive to ammunition. If only one barrel length and type can be had, I'd make it a 20" with an cylinder (open) choke. Most shotgun barrels are easily interchangable, and often one can find a package with multiple barrel types and length. With ammunition ranging from birdshot to slugs, a shotgun is capable of taking game of nearly every size on the North American continent, and makes for one of the most effective and easiest to use home-defense tools as well. Something like a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 starts off around $300. It's possible to spend a lot more, of course, but it's very debatable as to whether this offers a significant increase in functionality for most people. Better to spend that money on a variety of ammunition.
Here's where things get tricky. The next few items on the list are somewhat more narrowly-focused and tend to require a more-serious investment.
3. A proper centerfire hunting-type rifle, chambered in a caliber suited for game at least as large as whitetail deer (at least as powerful as the .30-30, 7.62x39, or .243), and covering the range down to the upper end of your .22. This can be a single-shot or any of the repeating actions available. Iron sights are pretty good out even 200 yards and beyond on deer-sized targets, but a low-power (3-4x) scope is much easier to use for most novices. Many of the more-powerful cartridges can be effective out to 300 yards and beyond, which may call for a higher-power scope, depending on the desired use. For shorter-range use, the ability to keep a single shot from a cold barrel in a 3" circle at 100 yards (3 MOA) should be sufficient. This is more a function of skill and ammuntion selection than equipment. Folks want to knock themselves out (or spend themselves poor) getting sub-MOA accuracy, but for the most part, that's simply not necessary or obtainable under normal conditions.
There's a lot of very versatile cartridges, but it's hard to imagine something that does more than the .308 or .30-06 (the differences between which are of little consequence to most users). The .243 is a great choice for those that want to do some varmiting but don't want to give up the ability to take larger game. I've never owned anything in the 6.5mm/.270/7mm/.284 range, but it would seem that they'd work just fine. Stay away from the .22 centerfires (.223, .22-250, etc.) on the low end and anything with the word "magnum" in it on the high end for the first rifle. A simple bolt-action rifle with a 3-9x variable-power scope chambered in one of the aforementioned calibers would be ideal. I'd go with .308 or .30-06 based on availability of factory ammunition under normal and, uh, severe circumstances. The Savage line-up has a lot going for it in terms of performance and price (most being as accurate, or significantly more so, than rifles costing 2-3 times as much), but they're not necessarily pretty.
4. A centerfire pistol. This can be a semi-auto or revolver, chambered in a respectable cartridge (starting at 9mm on the lower end and reasonably capped at the upper end by the .44 Magnum and .45 Colt), and of reasonable size and bulk (probably best to put an absolute maximum limit of 6" on the barrel, and better yet to keep it in the 3-5" range). Trying to narrow down this category any further would require the length of a small novel.
Suffice to say that it should be dead-reliable and compact enough to carry in a typical field situation (concealibility being desirable but not absolutely necessary unless this is to be carried in a day-to-day fashion). The proper selection of cartridge will enable one to cover quite a wide spectrum of hunting uses, especially once handloading enters the picture (this tends to favor the .45 ACP over the .40 S&W and 9mm in semi-autos). The main drawback to pistols isn't their inherent flexibility, but rather the difficulty of use - which can be overcome by practice, and which is countered by portability. Due to the price of ammunition and the simple fact that firing large quantities of powerful rounds is fatiguing, it's best that your centerfire and rimfire pistols share some resemblence (but this isn't absolutely necessary).
5. A semi-auto military-type rifle. Depending on chambering, accuracy, and quality, this might replace #3, above. This is where things go from the simple concept of self-defense and the ability to hunt into the realm of "homeland defense" - ya know, the "enemies foreign and domestic" thing, the whole reason behind the 2nd Amendment. If you're not comfortable with this concept, simply pass this one by unless you're looking for a fun toy. It's best that this be chambered for a cartridge that's available as military surplus (to reduce the cost of obtaining 1000+ rounds) and that can accept inexpensive high-capacity magazines. The choice of rifles here ranges from the rather benign-appearing Ruger Mini-14 and Mini-30 to the nasty-looking of Evil Black Rifles such as the AR-15, AK-47, HK91, and FN-FAL. The issue here is that we've got compromises between firepower, accuracy, and affordability - you can pick any two of three, unless you've got the ability to do some of your own gunsmithing (which often is little more than finding a parts kit and a receiver and figuring out how to mate them while remaining in compliance with the myraid federal and local regulations).
There's absolutely no reason that the first four items (five, actually, if we're buying two .22s) on the list can't be procured for around $2000 (the last item on the list along can drive this cost up by another $500 to $2000, depending on how picky one gets). This certainly is not a small sum of money, but we're talking about an investment that, properly cared for, will literally last for generations. And of course they don't all have to be obtained at the same time; in fact, that would probably be counterproductive. Picking up the suggested .22 rifle and pistol along with some basic safety gear and cleaning equipment should be enough to keep someone entertained for... well, that would be enough for a lifetime, if it weren't for the fact that there's just so many other cool guns out there. It's possible to treat each one of these items as mere tools, but to do so is to miss out on the fact that there's really a lot to be appreciated about firearms as examples of craftmanship and engineering ingenuity at its best (and in some cases, as art).
That's a long post, and a bit disturbing to some as well. So be it. If folks wish not to deal with the real world, that is their choice as a member of free society.