The story comes down to us about a 19th Century Coroner’s Jury who declared a certain death a suicide. Thinking perhaps an explanation was in order, the Jury noted that the victim had attacked, with a pistol from fifty yards away, a man who was carrying a rifle.
The shotgun is the Utility Infielder of firearms, the Carbine is shortstop and the rifle plays all the way out to DEEP center field. The pistol should spend most its time riding the bench. A war story from my own past. I was a young soldier going through training with firearms and today we would learn about the venerable and legendary M1911 Colts .45 Caliber Automatic Pistol. Otherwise known as the .45 Automatic.
A Sergeant First Class Drill Sergeant sporting a Combat Infantryman’s Badge with a Star held up a forty-five and said the following, “If you find yourself in combat and this is all you have to fight with you are not having a good day.”
So what is a rifle and a carbine? Lets approach the carbine first since the rifle was an adaption of the original model. A carbine is a long barreled (normally more than eighteen inch) firearm. Many years ago such a firearm was referred to as a musket.
A carbine normally, but not necessarily, fires a lighter load than the rifle. However what really sets the two firearms apart is that the carbine’s barrel is not grooved, so the projectile (bullet) has a tendency to tumble after it leaves the barrel, making it less accurate at distances.
The M1 Carbine is an excellent example of this firearm at its best. Its advantages were that it is shorter and lighter than the rifle by the same designation. It’s disadvantage was that the carbine’s true effective range was under one-hundred fifty meters while the rifle’s effective range was easily five hundred and that limit really only depended on the skill of the shooter.
The carbine’s uses would be for those times when you need something with a bit more range and possibly a higher magazine capacity than a pistol, but you do not want to be lugging a full sized rifle about with you. Years ago, while living in Texas and spending time exploring old Ghost Towns and what not, an M1 Carbine resided behind the seat of my truck.
When the firearm was being refined in the 17th and 18th century, they were largely single shot muskets with a barrel as smooth as a water pipe. The best example of this musket was probably the Brown Bess used by the British Army for many years. While it was the best of the breed, it was horribly inaccurate.
In the fifteenth century in Germany, the process of creating a spin on the bullet by grooving the bore, the inside of the barrel, so that it would create a spin along the axis of the bullet making it much more accurate.
So why, if the rifled musket or rifle was that much more accurate, was the musket still in use for a couple centuries? Because the musket was easier to maintain and clean and quicker to load. Anyway, the average soldier was lucky to be able to hit the ground with his hat.
If the overall history of the rifle is something you would like to know more about check here.
What we want to discuss here is whether we need a rifle or a carbine, and if so what calibers? We do remember what calibers are right? Essentially 100th of a inch. Let’s start with Carbines. Carbines have largely lost favor with most folks, though the military does issue an M4 Carbine that came along after my time.
The advantages are lightness and compact size; the disadvantage is range. If you want a firearm to stuff behind a seat in your truck or keep in a survival Go Bag, a carbine would do nicely.
If you are going to do your hunting in the brush country of East Texas or my own Smokey Mountain Laurel thickets, a carbine is a great thing to have. If you intend to hunt in western Kansas, you are better off with a rifle.
A big part of the equation on rifles and carbines is types of actions and caliber of rounds. Let’s talk about those for a minute.
Automatic, As long as you hold the trigger down it will keep on spitting bullets until it is empty. Of course these are not normally available to the general public, but let me tell you that even speaking as a former Infantryman, you really ain’t missing that much. On automatic an M16 will empty a 30 round magazine in less time than it takes to say, “My rifle is empty and I am standing here helpless.” If you really need quick fire that much I recommend the Semi-Auto.
Semi-automatic, Every time you pull the trigger it fires a bullet. Take your strong hand hold it up and open and close your index finger as fast as you can. Now you should realize the sustained rate of fire on a semi-automatic firearm is really depending on your skill with the weapon because your finger can close really quick.
Advantages: Quick fire.
Disadvantages: Complex action, need for more cleaning and maintenance and, at certain calibers, recoil and control of the firearm.
Lever Action: Ever watched a western movie? If not and you intend to now to see how a lever action works, I recommend the classic Winchester ’73 starring Gary Cooper. A lever action firearm has a lever beneath the stock and the fore-stock which opens the breach, ejects a shell and pulls another up and into battery for firing.
Advantages: Fairly quick if you practice. Mostly compact like the Winchester Model 94 30/30 that is sold all over the place. A good all around firing system.
Disadvantages: The action will become finicky and jam on you if not well maintained.
SIDE NOTE: For those who read my shotgun article, I neglected to mention that lever-action shotguns were made by Winchester and others years ago. The pump action was the better choice.
Bolt Action: If you are not familiar with bolt actions have you ever seen a door or a fence with a toggle type bolt that must be rotated and then pulled back? That is essentially how a bolt action works. I talked about them in my post on Shotguns.
Single Shot: This is what it says. Just like the single shot shotgun it breaks from the top and you hand load a round every time you fire. Some really good hunters enjoy these weapons because you pretty much have one chance to do the job.
Double Barrel: They do make double barrel rifles but they are rare. Mostly they were made for big game hunters years ago and can cost in the umpteen thousands of dollars. Unless you intend to hunt Elephants or F350 pick up trucks, it’s not really a weapon you need.
That largely covers how rifles work. Now lets talk about what they eat. Rifles come in a dizzying number of calibers from the Barrett .50 caliber, which fires a round designed to destroy lightly armored vehicles, to a relatively new entry in a .17 caliber for varmint hunting. Given enough time, I can find you an article on every one that swears you cannot live without it.
I once asked a noted survivalist, soldier, gunsmith and gun dealer this question. “If you could only have one rifle which caliber would you choose?”
He answered without hesitation. “A good Twenty-two caliber rifle.” I was shocked because I expected some high velocity small caliber wonder, or perhaps a medium sized super powered weapon, or maybe some big old piece like the 440 Winchester. Nope, that same old .22 I had shot as a boy was his must have rifle.
A well made 22 caliber is tough, it is light and easy to carry, it has range and is as accurate as the person behind the rifle can make it. It also has a very small light bullet which means you can carry a few hundred for the same weight as a small box of .308 Winchester rounds, and in the field weight can be a big problem. Finally the .22 caliber round is perfectly capable of one shot kills on any soft skinned target in the United States, except the very large ones like bears, buffaloes and such.
So yes, I now agree with my friend from Texas. If you need a rifle, the first one you need is a .22 So what after that? I don’t know. Again, what do you intend to do? Let me tell you what I believe you should NOT do.
Do not be seduced into buying the latest “man toy” just because its sexy. The price on M16/M15 clones is ridiculous. What are we looking at, upwards of $1500.00? I can buy a Mini 14 in the same caliber with what I believe to be better accuracy, and the same rate of fire for about half that, buy a 30/30 Marlin, and still have enough left over for that new 12 string guitar my wife says I don’t need.
Look to your needs, not your fantasies.
Next time I will talk about the handgun.