They look cool, they sound cool, and they shoot cool rounds. They are just cool!! In the last 15 years there have been big advances in rifles, I mean the design, the repeating rifle hasn't changed much since being introduced in 1855, so some very interesting and fun designs are out there.
What are my criteria? Hummmm... good question. Since I am looking for cool, and not really practical application, I guess I can set my criteria based on my own biases on what I think a good multipurpose rifle should have.
- The rifle must be in a reasonable caliber. I HATE the 5.56mm/.223 round. That round was designed for volume of fire, and light recoil. Since it is just me, and not a squad shooting, I want a more versatile round. The .308 comes to mind or something in the 7mm range.
- I want the rifle to be light weight. As much as I like wood and steel, I want something very Tommy Tactical. This allows for greater flexibility in add ons, a rail system, optics, blah blah blah blah. Not to mention the weight savings, and whatnot. Also, the new rifles are all based on a composite frame, anything wood and steel is going to be a re-issuing of an old design.
- No direct impingement systems! This is a bad system to cycle your rifle. It blows all of the fouling back in to the chamber making the system prone to jamming. Sure, I will never fire off enough rounds in one sitting to have this problem, but why even have the possibility in the first place? Piston only systems!!!
- The rifle must be easy to break down and clean. I don't want to have to pull out a special tool, or a screwdriver to field strip the rifle. I want breakdown leavers, and not too many parts that fall out and I have to replace when I loose them...
I have to give the obligatory look at the "latest" AR design in .308. Lots of companies make these from "Sons of Guns" fame RedJacket to mom an pop shops in your home town. The AR platform has been out there so long that if the round can be shot, you can bet there is an AR platform that will shoot it. One of the "better" custom shops out there that makes a .308 AR is POF-USA. They offer their rifles in many different configurations, but the one I would look at is their P308 16.5". This is their standard piston cycled .308 AR with a 16.5" barrel. They also make them with a 20" or 12.5" barrels, but these lengths are either too long to be effective indoors or too short to be used as a reliable long range rifle. The 16.5" is just right.
This rifle is just on the bubble for what I want. The AR system breaks down easily, but it can be difficult to clean. The rifle was not meant to use a piston system, so there are issues with trying to force a system to do something it was never originally designed to do. BUT there are TONS of these rifles out there. I will have no trouble at all finding someone willing to work on it for me.
POF-USA sells these retail for about $3K.
Ok, now that the old stuff is out of the way, on to the NEW stuff. Beretta has just about the coolest new rifle around. The ARX 160 is not yet available to the civilian market, but it will be about mid way through 2013.
This rifle is truly a step forward in rifle design. Its ejection port and charging handle can be changed, toollessly, in just a few seconds from right to left handed, and vice versa. This means that the left handed shooter, can configure the rifle to his preference, but more importantly, if there is some problem or fouling on one side of the rifle, the ejection port and charging handle can be moved to keep the rifle in the fight.
This rifle also comes with barrels that can be switched out, again, toollessly. In just a few short seconds a 12" carbine barrel can be swapped out for a longer, more accurate 16" barrel. What this also means is is that if a barrel or gas-piston system is damaged, the barrel can be changed and keeps the rifle in the fight.
The ARX 160 comes with a folding, adjustable stock. I can understand the adjustable stock, but I am not sure why a folding stock is a good thing. Most of the new rifles have this feature, so somebody must be asking for it...
The ARX 160 is intended to be a 5.56mm platform, but will be sold in the US civilian market with a model that will fire 6.9mm Remington round. This 6.9mm version would be the one I would get.
Finally, there is the FN SCAR 17S. This is the new rifle that has been adopted to replace the U.S. Special Forces' M14. It too has an ambidextrous charging handle and ejection port, but you need time and special tools to change it up. Same thing with the barrel, BUT because the 17S shoots the heavy 7.62 round it starts with a 16" barrel, and can be changed to a 20" barrel for very long range shots. This means that the sniper can carry the same rifle platform and just needs to swap out barrels when it comes time to make the long shots.
This rifle also comes with an adjustable folding stock. See above for my thoughts on that.
Given the mission of the rifle, I think that the best buy for me would be the FN SCAR 17S. It has all of the features I want, shoots the big .308 or 7.62mm NATO round, and can be easily reconfigured for the long shot. Guys in the Special Forces that I talk to (Internet chat with) think that it is a great rifle. These are guys who wouldn't give up their M14s for ANYTHING. Because of the easy change of the barrel, I could use this rifle in the 16" configuration to hunt pig or deer, then change it out to hunt something bigger like Elk or... I don't know... Moose or something.
One of the really nice things about all of the rifles I have mentioned is that they all come with the modular Picatinny rail system. With this system, just about any kind of optic, laser, flashlight, handle, grenade launcher (seriously) can be attached to the rifle. The plus for the 17S is that the iron sights fold down so that the optic can be mounted directly to the rifle without the need of a riser. That means that you can mount almost any conventional long range scope to the rifle. AND it is much easier to zero. Because the rail system is designed to snap accessories on and off quickly, you can go from a long range magnifying scope to a CQC red dot style optic in scant seconds, toollessly if the optic allows it.
Now to get the wife to agree in spending almost $3K on something that I have no business owning...
Totally tricked out FN SCAR 17s with Long Range scope, stabilization handle, laser, and desert paint.