“Beware of the man with just one gun. He probably knows how to use it.”
That is one of those sayings that old-timers pass off as wisdom… whether it really is or not. Through the two decades I’ve been into preparedness, my supplies have piled up, and I’ve been leaning toward staying put rather than bugging out if a real crisis emerges. Or, at the very least, I’ve considered positioning my supplies in a couple of locations that I could get to with a vehicle so it won’t have all been in vain.
However, like it or not, we may not have the option of staying or going where we like, no matter how hard we’ve worked, and we certainly can’t take everything with us. This brings me to one of the questions that several of my friends and I have argued about ad nauseam. If the worst happens, and we have to wander the world like Kwai Chang Caine in Kung Fu, what’s the one best rifle suited to handle all of our needs, including both defensive work and procuring game?
GUN OF CHOICE
I know a lot of people think that a .22 LR would be the best survival rifle. If we were talking about just hunting and taking small game, I’d agree, but I’m ruling the .22 LR out because it lacks any real combat efficacy. So, what’s my choice? It’s the FN SCAR 17S. My argument is based on the attributes of that particular weapon, and there are plenty of other weapons like it on the market.
If I were a betting man, most folks out there would say .223 would be the best caliber because of weight and ammo availability, and some of that makes sense. However, my preference is for the .308 caliber for several reasons. First, if something goes really sideways, I have no idea where I’ll end up, what my situation will be or what I will need to do to survive. I could end up on the other side of the country, and I want a rifle that can handle any threat or large game. Here in the east, there’s not much of a challenge, but out west is another story.
The western states have populations of mountain lions (much more than back east), black bears, and grizzlies. And, you’ve also got the addition of larger game animals such as moose, mule deer, and elk.
Additionally, the terrain out west opens up a bit, and the .223 doesn’t have the energy to put down big game at longer distances. Even the .308 has to stretch a bit to get through the dense muscle and bone of large game at longer distances. The point being, you want a caliber that’s effective at extended ranges.
Ever since Jeff Cooper developed the idea of the “Scout Rifle,” I’ve been pretty enamored with the concept. His idea of a Scout Rifle was a light and compact bolt-action rifle that could shoot a .30-caliber cartridge, such as the .308, and be fitted with a long- or intermediate-eye relief scope and use external magazines.
Rather than buy a manufactured Scout Rifle, I put one together myself that meets my needs using a variable 3-9X scope on a short-barrel Remington 700 in .308, making it both lighter and more compact. All of this is bedded in a Wild Dog stock that has a flip-open panel for extra rounds. It’s not Cooper’s exact design, but I like it pretty well for what it is. As much as I like the idea, the Scout Rifle doesn’t really provide the capacity and rate of fire that a semi-automatic does for defensive work, especially for someone that’s alone. Though .223 AR magazines have a higher capacity, the one rifle you will have with you will be a compromise in attributes to do all jobs fairly well (such as taking big game and making longer shots), though it may not excel at all of them.
Besides, during such troubled times, your main focus should be on avoiding altercations and getting out of them quickly if they do happen. If you believe you will be able to routinely engage in sustained firefights with multiple assailants, forget about it. You’ll be deader than disco. While capacity and rate of fire can help in the first couple minutes, until you figure out an exit strategy, it’s not a long-term solution.
2. FOLDING STOCK
Another advantage that the SCAR has is its configurability. The FN SCAR has four rails for installing/substituting items such as grips, lights, lasers, sights, and optics. All of these items would be extremely useful to a person estranged from the world and living away from population centers, whether to light the trail at night, or to target a threat in the darkness.
An additional feature on the SCAR 17S is the folding stock. Though the SCAR 17S is not the ideal CQB weapon, remember that we have been talking in terms of compromises and are settling on a sort of jack-of-all-trades rifle.
If you do have to come out of the backcountry and take the risk of encountering other people, the folding stock allows the user to shorten the rifle by almost a 1/3 of its length, which makes it much more concealable and more usable when working indoors and clearing rooms. You can still use the optic of your choice, such as a red dot, or you can employ a laser that can be installed either on a side rail or even in a vertical foregrip like those offered by Crimson Trace.
A BIT ABOUT SIGHTS
One of the most important items regarding configurability is some type of optics. While the SCAR has perfectly serviceable iron sights with a ghost-ring aperture, I do prefer either a scope or a red dot sight of some sort. Because we are talking about a rifle that has to balance both combat and hunting roles, I prefer a red dot sight for the SCAR. The red dot allows for quicker target acquisition while allowing both eyes to remain open to scan for threats. As for hunting, a 2 MOA red dot is accurate enough to easily take deer-sized or larger game under a hundred yards. If there’s a threat out past that distance, I don’t need a scope to zoom in; I need to beat feet.
We received a Vortex SPARC II red dot sight for use and evaluation, and it’s currently residing on the SCAR. Believe it or not, it’s an elegant solution for what I’m wanting. It incorporates a 2 MOA red dot sight that is easily seen during the daytime. The unit is waterproof and fog-proof, and offers a lifetime warranty to repair the unit for whatever reason.
The SPARC II covers exactly what I need for my one-rifle solution. What I like specifically about the SPARC II is the 2 MOA red dot, which will assist with the required accuracy necessary for a 50- to 100-yard shot. This makes it more appropriate for hunting at longer distances. I also like the fact that it comes standard with several base plates to adjust the height, allowing for absolute co-witness or lower 1/3 co-witness of the iron sights, whichever you prefer.
Objective diameter: 22 mm
Eye Relief: Unlimited
Max Elevation Adjustment: 90 MOA
Max Windage Adjustment: 90 MOA
Parallax Setting: Parallax Free
Length: 3.1 inches
Weight: 5.9 ounces
My enthusiasm for the FN SCAR 17S’ potential as a one-rifle solution if the direst of circumstances occur is not meant as a push to that model or even that brand. I’m simply trying to convey some considerations that I’ve kept in mind and that you might think about as well. If I thought it were practical to carry a battle rifle, a hunting rifle, a .22 LR and all the accompanying ammo, I’d be all for it, but we know that’s not possible.
There are other rifles in other calibers than can fill the same niche as my SCAR. The main point is just to think about all of the possible scenarios and find the right weapon that will be the best compromise for you. Either way, as long as we’re taking steps to be prepared, we’re going to be better off than those who haven’t given it a single thought. Plus, we will have one gun, and we know how to use it.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the August 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.