Before choosing your SHTF rifle, you may want to consider its purpose. The description, “SHTF Rifle”, means different things to different people. To some, it means a tricked out AR platform complete with a piston operated gas system with an ACOG type scope on top. To others, it means an older example of the pre-64 Winchester in ‘Ought-Six’ with a Unertl scope on it that can kill a fly at very, very long ranges or a M-40 military-style ‘sniper’ rifle. But to the reader whose skills are minimal, or is only now beginning to prepare for hard times, it’s a new and strange term. So, in determining your SHTF rifle’s purpose, a good place to start would be with a rifle that fits the definition of, “General Purpose.”
Why general purpose? Because a SHTF ‘general purpose’ rifle will be able to do, at reasonably long ranges, anything the shooter wants it to do within its limitations. Taking game, putting down ‘zombies’, etc. Just about any task except for purposely designed ‘force-on-force’ combat.
So, let’s start by looking at what http://www.dictionary.com says about the term: “General Purpose: Useful in many ways; not limited in use or function.” In prepper circles, we define the term this way: “General purpose items can do most things very, very well, some things well and only a very few things not so well.”
So it follows that choosing a general purpose rifle for a SHTF situation actually does something more positive for the purchaser in terms of other related SHTF preparations and equipment when it comes to initial cost and ROI (return on investment), let alone increasing the probability of surviving. Cost wise, general purpose rifles are typically less expensive than the more exotic rifles (which come stripped of necessary accouterments, and when added, sometimes more than double the price of the original platform). General Purpose rifles are usually easier to maintain, have fewer parts that can break, are typically extremely rugged, have inherent back-up sighting systems (like iron sights) that can either be attached or are a permanent part of the rifle, and normally come in a ubiquitous caliber easily obtained just about anywhere (think 30.06 or .308). Additionally, general purpose rifles are not usually restricted in bullet weights that it will ‘eat,’ as are many special purpose rifles or carbines.
The first rifle we’ll look at in the general purpose ‘modern’ SHTF rifle category is the Savage Scout in .308/7.62NATO. Off the rack, this rifle is ready to go to the field as it has its own iron sights, and can have a low powered extended eye relief, forward mounted ‘scout’ type scope attached easily. I’ve used quite a few of the ‘scout’ type scopes, and you still can’t beat a Leupold 2.5X for quality and reasonable cost. Don’t skimp on your scope rings, either. Get the best you can afford. So, when all’s said and done, for the whole shootin’ match (pun intended), the buyer is looking $800 to $1,000, depending on where the rifle is purchased and if a scope is attached.
It’s accuracy from the bench is pretty good from all reports (current savage owners can validate the ‘out of the box’ accuracy that Savage rifles always seem to have); the bolt is fast and smooth, and the barrel length of 20 inches makes it extremely handy when it’s time to bring the rifle into play quickly. Effective range is about 600 meters with any commercial or surplus ‘line’ ammunition; longer if match ammo is used.
It also possesses the advantage of having the Mauser-type claw extractor, which allows the action to feed from any angle or any position. A distinct advantage from push-type feed mechanisms such as the post-64 Winchesters or the Remington style bolts.
The Scout also has a psychological utility built into it: It is not designed as a Main Battle Rifle (MBR), so the urge to lay down a hail of fire on an opposing force would be quickly overcome by common sense. If the need arose, however, it could, in fact, function as one for the well-trained rifleman who can calmly, deliberately, and accurately bring fire to bear upon his antagonist and then displace. Again, falling onto its ‘general purpose’ design in what it is designed to do well against what it may not do as well as other platforms especially designed for a certain purpose.
The drawbacks to this rifle are few: First, its blued finish and black stock. Bluing is not necessarily an ideal weatherproofing coating; in fact, it’s terrible. Besides that, it’s shiny. Recommendations to deal with this issue are a treatment of Gunkote, Diamond Coat, or other rust inhibitor that’s permanent to the finish. An even less-expensive way would be to spray paint (very carefully) every exposed part of the rifle with your choice of paint ranging from Krylon to Brownell’s “Alumahide” paints. There are many patterns available on-line that can be printed and replicated with a total cost of about $30 in spray paint. Its other drawback is that it has not been ‘battle proven,’ such as the second recommendation, through long service in the US military.
The second recommendation along the same lines of the first is the venerable US Rifle, Model 1903A3. Many are still available, but the cost has gone up for a decent example. This rifle sports a 24 inch barrel, is extremely accurate out to 600 meters with iron sights, and with minimal care, will last several life times. The “Ought-Six” round is ubiquitous and can be had just about anywhere, cheaply. The ’03 can eat anything from the light 110 gr to the 220 gr rounds with absolutely no problem. Additionally, if the owner wants to have it in .308, it can be re-barreled fairly inexpensively along with having the barrel cut down to 20 inches. All it takes is a decent gunsmith.
The receiver can, in fact, be drilled and tapped for a scope if one desires or needs optics. If a scope is added, however, unless it’s a forward scope, the bolt will have to be reworked to allow the bolt handle to clear the scope. The finish can be upgraded as in the first recommendation also.
For those who like psychological advantages, the ’03 has a bayonet lug as an integral part of the stock bands and issue or replica 10 to 16 inch bayonets are readily available. Reports that I’ve received on the replicas say they’re just as good as the originals; the only difference being they’re not original.
The receiver also has a built in stripper clip guide to top off the internal mag (which also boasts a ‘cut off’ that allows the rifle to be used as a single shot during non-emergencies and as a 6 shot repeater during ‘oh shit’ situations) that holds 5 rounds.
The ’03 does have the disadvantage of being about 3 pounds (or so) heavier than the Savage, but can do something the Savage can’t, due to it’s light stock: The ’03 can be used to beat an attacker half-to-death without sustaining damage, or if sustained, very little damage, and once reloaded, can be used accurately again in the rifle mode.
The third basic “GP SHTF Rifle” is the venerable 8mm Mauser. It’s a WWII rifle, just as the ’03, and can do and take about the same things the ’03 can do. Ammunition can be tricky, in that much of what’s available from surplus is ‘corrosive’, meaning that corrosive salts were used in the primers, and the rifle must be cleaned as soon as practical to keep the barrel from corroding.
Don’t let this disadvantage put you off if you like or have access to one of these fine rifles. They hit like a mule, and whatever gets hit, stays hit. They can cost anywhere from $300 to $800, depending on the source used.