September 23, 2010
Since ARs are in short supply, give these self-defense alternatives some consideration. Each one fulfills the role splendidly.
I'm not sure what President Obama's reign will bring, but there is no doubt that banning those evil black guns, as the antigunners call them, is at the top of his wish list. Those nefarious intentions have created an incredible demand for semiautomatic rifles and carbines.
Some long guns are in greater demand than others, but there is no question that AR-15-based carbines are the most popular. In fact, gun stores in my part of the world are devoid of AR-15s of any type. Manufacturers are busy cranking them out as fast as they possibly can. And those few guns that trickle in fly off the dealers' shelves at or above their full retail price.
Rising prices, decreased availability, and more restrictive gun laws that have already made the AR illegal in some jurisdictions have led shooters to look for affordable, legal alternatives capable of filling the popular AR-15's shoes.
The Bare Essentials
Truth be told, most carbines will spend the majority of the time collecting dust. But armed citizens and police officers buy defensive carbines with a variety of missions in mind.
If they are ever fired during a confrontation, carbines are most likely to be used in and around vehicles or indoors. Consequently, a carbine should be short enough to maneuver in tight quarters, lightweight enough to pack around without a sling, and powerful enough to turn car bodies into Swiss cheese. Of course, absolute reliability is a must.
Because typical engagement distances will run from 5 to 25 yards, with 100 yards being a very long shot, you don't need extreme accuracy. In fact, any long gun that can keep them all in the torso at 100 yards is sufficient. If forced to declare an accuracy minimum, I would say anything south of 3 or 4 inches at 100 yards is plenty accurate.
Accessories should be kept to a bare minimum. Tritium-illuminated sights are good, and a quality, low-powered optic with a wide field of view and illuminated reticle is even better. A gun-mounted light is absolutely essential. Anything more than a light and decent optics or night sights is just fluff that adds unnecessary weight, bulk, and cost.
Keep your carbine simple and don't be tempted to break the bank. There are many quality AR alternatives that will get the job done for a whole lot less money. Here are some examples.
Mikhail Kalishnikov's most revered creation has gotten a whole lot pricier since Obama's inauguration. Still, considering its reputation for relentless reliability, the AK-47 remains a pretty good buy. Affordable, easy-to-obtain ammunition and magazines contribute to the AK's popularity.
My AK is a Bulgarian SLR-95 with a milled receiver. It is as nice an example of the breed as you'll find. But beauty, as they say, is only skin deep; my favorite AK runs flawlessly, but so do most of the garden-variety, stamped-receiver, plywood-stocked Chicom guns.
As good as my SLR-95 is, I still felt the need to update it to make it easier to shoot and to conceal. An easy-to-install peep sight from Williams allows for greater precision than conventional AK sights. I removed the aperture and turned it into a ghost-ring sight. This arrangement is fast but plenty accurate out to 100 yards or so. A side-folding stock from Ace Stocks and enough American-made parts to make the stock legal make my AK perfectly suited to any role I'd ask a defensive carbine to fill.
It may not be as refined as an AR, but odds are your AK will keep on ticking long after your favorite AR has given up the ghost.
AK variants aren't as cheap as they used to be, but they are still affordable and plentiful. Ammunition and magazines for them are too. Rodriguez's defensive lever action is a custom job in .45-70. It's a compact, fast-handling powerhouse that is ideal for working in or around vehicles as well as indoors.
Compared to a tricked-out AR-15, lever actions are downright old school, but with a red-dot scope or a good peep sight installed, your Pappy's .30-30 makes a darn fine defensive tool. After all, it is powerful enough, has a decent magazine capacity, and is almost foolproof to operate. Lever guns are also surprisingly accurate and legal anywhere you can own a gun in this country, in addition to being the most innocuous looking long guns extant.
As capable as your old Winchester may be, it, too, can benefit from some improvements. Good sights, such as the ghost-ring setup offered by XS Sights, are a must if you want to bring your old saddle gun into the 21st century. A forward-mounted scope mount--I like the scout rail made by XS Sights--really makes the saddle gun sing. And Hornady's modern, high-performance LEVERevolution ammunition will flatten out your rifle's trajectory and make it even more lethal.
My personal lever gun is a Marlin Guide Gun that was tricked out by Lew Bonitz at Grizzly Custom. Lew lopped off the barrel flush with the magazine tube, installed a slightly oversized loop, replaced the trigger, and installed a beefy and rugged ghost-ring sight from LPA. The stubby .45-70 is an accurate, easy-handling rig that shoots fast and hits hard. It may not have the AR's high-capacity magazine, but it doesn't take a whole lot of 405-grain slugs to adjust the attitude of any two-legged predator.
From pistol-caliber cartridges to big-bore thumpers, the lever gun market is rife with options to suit any budget. A bit of research will uncover the one that's right for you.
I purchased my first Kel-Tec several years ago. I bought it on the advice of a friend who is a law enforcement firearms instructor. Like me, he's a bit of a gun snob, but the reliability of the many SU- 16s that had come through the department's range had made him a believer. Mine's made me a believer, too.
The SU-16 is a piston-driven, polymer-stocked carbine that accepts standard AR-15 magazines. The SU-16C variant differs in that it has a trimmer folding stock that allows for the user to fire the gun with the stock folded. It also has an integral bipod, a Picatinny rail with peep sight, and a front sight that is integrated into the gas block. It weighs just 4.7 pounds and measures an easy-to-store 25.5 inches with the stock folded.
nly fired about 350 rounds through my SU-16C, but it has not bobbled once, and it's very accurate. Though I've not put a high-powered scope on it, I can easily shoot groups under 3 inches with it at 100 yards with a little Leupold 1-4X. With a more powerful scope and a little experimentation in the ammunition department, I'm sure I can do even better.
If you're in the market for a rugged, reliable carbine, one of Kel-Tec's carbines would be tough to beat.
Remington Models 7600 & 7615
Deer hunters across America are quite familiar with Remington's Models 7600 and 7615. These pump-action, rotary-bolt rifles are affordable, widely available, and perfectly legal in states with even the most Draconian gun laws.
The 7600 accepts a detachable four-round magazine and uses the same basic action, slide release, and safety of the ubiquitous Model 870 pump shotgun. It is available in wood- and synthetic-stocked versions with a 22-inch barrel and iron sights. The 16½-inch-barreled .308 Winchester version intended for law enforcement comes with Wilson Combat's ghost-ring rear sight, a big dot front sight from XS Sights, a synthetic stock, and a Parkerized finish. It would make an excellent truck gun or defensive carbine.
Kel-Tec's SU-16C is a reliable, affordable carbine. Best of all, it takes standard, 30-round AR magazines. Springfield's SOCOM 16 is a powerful, reliable option, and it's the lightest, fastest handling, semiauto .308 fighting gun the author's ever used.
The Model 7615 retains the same robust pump action as the 7600, but it takes standard AR-15 magazines, so it is chambered in .223 only. For hunting, slip in a five-round magazine and then swap it out for a 30-rounder for defensive work. You can choose between a wood stock or one of several synthetics. Barrel lengths range from 16½ to 22 inches, and you can choose between classic rifle sights or more modern ghost-ring sights.
The 7600 has proven itself in the field for decades, and I expect these new versions will perform just as well as the original.
Ruger's Mini-14 is a favorite among gun-toting ranchers who have come to appreciate its easy-handling qualities and reliability for predator control. They are demanding users who can't baby their rifles, which are often coated with dust and all battered up thanks to long days of bouncing around in a pickup truck. The Mini-14 can take the abuse and still work just fine.
The Ranch Rifle is the most popular iteration of the Mini-14. It features integral scope mounts as well as an adjustable ghost-ring sight. The Garand-style bolt and fixed-piston gas system are simple and reliable. Wood-, laminate-, and synthetic-stocked versions are available, and for those who want a little more oomph than the .223, you can get a Mini-14 in 6.8mm SPC or the Mini Thirty in 7.62x39mm.
Any of the Mini-14s or the Mini Thirty would work for home defense or ranch duties, but my pick would be the new Mini-14 Tactical Rifle. This new carbine features a six-position, collapsible, folding stock with Picatinny-spec rail mounts atop, beneath, and on both sides of the black fore-end. Ghost-ring sights and a 20-round magazine round out the package. A compact flash hider is optional.
The stock on the new Tactical version of the Mini-14 makes it easy for shooters of all sizes to use the gun, and it's easy to stow. The collapsible folding stock offers the best of both worlds--set the six-position collapsible to your length of pull, fold it to the side, and tuck the little Mini away just about anywhere.
Springfield SOCOM 16
Another of my favorite compact fighting guns is Springfield Armory's SOCOM 16. Yes, its 16-inch barrel gives up some velocity and is loud, but it also makes the SOCOM 16 the lightest, fastest handling, semiauto .308 fighting gun I've ever used.
If you're looking to bolt a lot of stuff on your gun, the SOCOM II comes with a Picatinny-spec accessory rail. But I like my carbines simple, so my SOCOM 16 wears an Aimpoint optic. The Aimpoint is not the best choice for precision work, but it's no handicap either--I can't remember the last hog or jackrabbit I've missed with it.
The tricked-out AR is still the fighting gun of choice for many Americans. And it's a darn good one. But if you've been scrimping and saving for an AR or have just had a hard time pulling the trigger, so to speak, consider taking the plunge on one of the above-mentioned carbines. They may not look as cool as your buddy's decked-out space gun, but they'll get the same job done without breaking the bank. And today, that's cool.