All of us have read more than one article about the perfect survival firearm. Each author has painstakingly listed reason after reason why his choice of weapon overshadows all others. For me it’s now the Palmetto State PA-10 rifle.
The only real problem is that the perfect weapon just does not exist. A small-game rifle isn’t going to serve well as a self-defense weapon, and a main battle rifle isn’t going to be the best squirrel gun.
Each time I read one of these reviews, I can’t help but think back to the true guru of firearms and survival, Mel Tappan. It was in 1979 that he released his book, Survival Guns, and over the years, it became the firearms “bible” for those planning for the worst. The most notable aspect of his book is that there was no single firearm listed as the one and only true survival weapon. He suggested that everyone planning for disaster should have a collection of guns, with each serving a specific purpose.
Mel’s writings have guided me over the years, and I have no plans of telling you that I have discovered the perfect weapon. What I have found is a very suitable rifle for what I would consider a vital piece of your collection: the utility, or everyday, rifle.
The term, “utility,” might make this rifle sound rather mundane, but in my eyes, it is the most important weapon you can purchase. It is the go-to rifle for your day-to-day activities and the one weapon you are most likely to have handy when things go wrong.
While searching to fill this niche, I was able to disregard several firearms by first creating a set of criteria for what I needed on an everyday basis and then comparing each rifle to these standards. Once I started this logical approach, I soon found myself on a direct path to the AR family of firearms and looking closely at Palmetto State Armory (PSA) of Columbia, South Carolina, and the Palmetto State PA-10 rifle.
The main trait any survival rifle must have is 100 percent reliability. I have had the chance to review a couple of ARs from PSA and never had a single round fail to feed or fire. You should have complete trust in your weapon, and that trust can only be developed over extended use.
Let’s be honest: Any time a weapon malfunctions, we normally sit there shooting and expecting the next problem to occur at any moment. Those are not the thoughts we want to have when we have to rely on a rifle to feed and protect our family and ourselves.
My second point narrowed the field substantially once I decided my everyday rifle had to be powerful enough to handle any situation I might find myself in. It should be able to serve as a defensive firearm and also take any large game I might encounter. I can always grab a .22 when I want some small game, but one deer or bear solves the meat problem tenfold.
This one point quickly shuffled my search from an AR-15 to the AR-10. I have never had much faith in the 5.56 NATO cartridge, but the Palmetto State PA-10 (PSA’s AR-10) is chambered in .308 Winchester—which happens to be one of the best all-around cartridges ever created.
The third point I considered was the overall size of the rifle. Any weapon that isn’t somewhat short and handy will soon be left behind as you go about your daily activities. The 16-inch barrel on the Palmetto State PA-10 provided a package right at 36 inches with the collapsible stock fully extended. Cartridge capacity also comes into play with a survival rifle.
Now, we all know that as a gun writer, I never miss a shot … but it is comforting to have the capability for a rapid second shot. Magpul and Lancer both produce outstanding 10- and 20-round magazines for the PA-10, and the AR platform is quick to reload. This rifle is ideal—should I find myself forced into a conflict with a horde of rabid deer.
Another requirement was for the rifle to have an effective range of at least 200 yards. In my part of the country, that is considered a long shot and allows me to use low-powered optics. The .308 Winchester and Palmetto State PA-10 turn 200 yards into a “chip shot” that allows me to use a Leupold Mark AR 1.5-4x for every need.
The ability to push one button and get a green-dot sight for close encounters greatly enhances my speed with this rifle. The SPR (special purpose reticle) on this scope has also worked well out to ranges surpassing 500 yards.
The final prerequisite is one that cements my choice for the AR platform: By adding a small supply of spare parts and a few tools, anyone can keep these rifles running for years to come. Add in the fact that the .308 Winchester is rather common, and you should be set for a lifetime of shooting.
PALMETTO STATE PA-10: A CLOSER LOOK
Palmetto State Armory offers several PA-10 models. Here is where you can pick and choose for your individual taste. All of this manufacturer’s PA-10s come with forged 7075-T6 aluminum-anodized receivers and a 9310 steel-phosphated bolt.
The bolt carrier is chrome lined inside and has a phosphated exterior. The model I chose has a 16-inch chrome-moly vanadium barrel with a 1/10 twist rate and is capped with a standard birdcage-style flash hider.
My departure from the standard M4-style carbine was my request for the addition of Palmetto State’s 13¼-inch free-float PSA SR Keymod Rail System. This handguard fully protects the gas block and gas tube and allows the addition of rail segments where needed.
About the only accessory I like to add to a rife is a QD (quick detachable) white light, and the SR-10 gives me several options for its location.
Palmetto State supplies this rifle with its PA-10 receiver extension (buffer tube), which is extended to allow the use of an AR-15 “heavy” buffer and spring. This carbine-style tube mates to a PSA collapsible butt stock. The rifle is finished up with a PSA A2-style pistol grip, M4 pattern barrel extension and PSA polished single-stage trigger.
The only additions I found necessary to wrap up my Palmetto State PA-10 EDC rifle were a set of Magpul BUIS sights and the Leupold scope with Warne mounts. I must admit that I did quickly grab my spare parts, additional Lancer magazines and an ample supply of ammunition to protect myself from the political climate.
AT THE RANGE
No matter what parts are used on a rifle, the bottom line always comes down to performance. Before picking up this PA-10, I had the opportunity to attend a Blackhawk! gathering at its plant in Montana, where we range-tested Blackhawk! AR-15 products mounted on PSA rifles.
In a two-day extended range session, I was able to fire hundreds of rounds through one of the rifles and watch 11 other writers do the same.
I have fired hundreds of rounds through the same rifle since that time, and I have yet to see one misfire or failure to feed. The PA-10 has undergone at least 300 rounds and is keeping PSA’s reliability record intact. The majority of shots have been taken with a mixture of Hornady and Federal ammunition—with rather good results.
The best five-shot group came with Hornady’s 155-grain Match and measured 15/16 inch, center to center. Federal’s 150-grain Fusion ammunition might be considered a hunting load, but it still produced a 1 3/16-inch five-shot group.
In “formal” range testing with these two loads, as well as with Hornady’s 178-grain Match load, a total of 12 five-shot groups were fired; the largest group measured only 1½ inches. To be honest, I was a little surprised—but greatly pleased—with these results in a baseline PA-10.
I have made several trips to the range so far and have always returned satisfied. Most of my practice has been on metal plates ranging from 50 to 100 yards (with a few 500-yard shots thrown in for the fun of it), and “handy” is a good description for this rifle. Any miss was the result of “operator head space.”
PSA’S EDC RIFLE
The Palmetto State PA-10 is not the one and only survival rifle out there, and it isn’t meant to be a do-it-all weapon. However, it has earned its place as my EDC rifle. The PA-10 met all my criteria, and I am building up my faith in it with every round fired.
Overall, there might be better choices for any one task, but the PA-10 should be able to cross over for any need.
- Caliber: .308 Winchester
- Length: 36 inches (stock extended)
- Barrel: 16-inch, chrome-moly vanadium
- Receiver: 7075-T6 aluminum
- Stock: PSA-M4 six-position
- Pistol grip: PSA M4
- Sights: None
- Muzzle treatment: 5/8-24 threaded birdcage
- Handguard: PSA SR Keymod Rail System
- Magazine: Magpul PMAG 20
- MSRP: $899.99 (Baseline M4)
PALMETTO STATE ARMORY (803) 724-6950
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.