Monday, March 19, 2012

Kit Gun?

Lately, I've been rediscovering the joy of shooting 22 carbines and pistols.  It hearkens back to my youth.  As a five year old boy, Dad taught me on the Glenfield (Marlin) Model 60.  I learned the basics and fell in love with shooting.  But enough of that digression.  For more on how it all began, read my other entry, titled Gun Culture.  With all the training I plan on doing this year with my Ruger pistol and also with the 10/22 I've owned for years, it makes sense to consider a "kit gun" of sorts.

What is a kit gun?  Well, in the strictest sense, a kit gun is a small framed revolver with a longer barrel than a snubbie.  It's designed to be thrown in a backpack or 72 hour kit.  The intended use is for emergencies, like food procurement or last ditch self-defense.  However, in my expanded sense, it could translate into the small and lightweight carbine community. Such a carbine would be very small and light, preferably a take-down design that could lend itself to better stability and accuracy for impromptu trail use against critters or even predators of the human nature.

When I think of such a carbine, I always think of the Henry US Survival Rifle, AR-7.  At just 3.5 lbs, it is lightweight for a carbine, and the entire rifle breaks down and is stowed in the buttstock.  The naturally buoyant buttstock floats and is completely waterproof when sealed up.  The semi-automatic action is magazine fed and each mag holds 8 rounds of 22lr, which is plenty of firepower for small game procurement, and even self defense.  If you don't believe a 22 can kill a human, then ask all the dead people who've been killed by it.  With a low price point (MSRP is $275 for H002B), it is an economical way to bring along some very portable firepower.

There are many other carbines out there, chambered in .22 lr, but most of them are 4 lbs or heavier.  That's just too much weight for a gun, and many of them do not take down to make them more portable in the field.  The other problem with many of these guns is that they lack firepower.  What I mean by that, in the strictest sense of the word, is capacity.  If you've ever laid eyes on a M6 Scout rifle before, you might have been amazed, but then balked at the fact that the price for what you got was a little insane.  Sure, a 410 option on a break action gun that folds in half is nice, but a single shot is still a single shot, and for an emergency, I would like to have more firepower than that.  In the pistol world, the revolver suffers greatly because many are limited to 8-10 rounds of .22 lr, but some do shoot .22 magnum.

Enter the Kel Tec PMR-30.  At just 14.2 ounces (with empty magazine), this semi-automatic is capable of delivering 30 rounds (Yes, I said THIRTY!) of .22 WMR (Magnum) without reloading!  That's firepower!

Now, at this point, the old timers are yelling into their computer screens, telling me that I shouldn't get an automatic and I should stick to a wheel gun for reliability.  And to them I say you have a valid point... to a point.

.22 Automatics have come a very long way in the last couple of decades.  Long gone are the jam-o-matics that plagued the markets of the 80's and 90's.  Guns these days utilize advances in technology and forward thinking to overcome the shortfalls of their older brethren.

The PMR-30 has a lot of things going for it that many revolvers and other so-called "kit guns" come up short on.  For instance, the sight radius on the PMR-30 is almost 7 inches.  That's almost like sighting down a rifle!  Well, okay, it's really not, but a long radius like that helps with sight picture a great deal.  The fiber optic sights pick up ambient light well and make low light shooting easier, a big consideration if trying to hunt small game, which is usually more active at dusk or dawn.  Of course, the other obvious advantage is the fact that it holds 30 rounds flush inside the grip.  If you had just two extra mags with you, you have 90 rounds total.  That's a lot of firepower in a small package.  Another handy extra is the picatinny rail on the bottom of the frame.  To maximize accuracy, it would be very easy to install a small laser like the Lasermax Micro.  At just .43 ounces, it adds almost nothing to the load-out weight, but adds a big advantage for accuracy.  No, I'm not converting to lasers for tactical or practical use, but for a wilderness gun or kit gun, the laser would help to maximize accuracy and help to ensure hits instead of misses, which is a consideration when ammo is limited.

I will say this about the Kel Tec PMR-30.  it is ugly!  My wife says the grip looks like a waffle maker, and I personally think the gun is hideous.  But then again, so is the M6 Scout and the AR-7 survival rifle.  Yes, life would be simpler with a fine looking revolver like the Ruger SP101 in .22 lr, but the price is way too steep for a .22 in my opinion.

 Still, if money wasn't an issue, it would be worth considering.  This "kit gun" in the traditional sense, fits the bill perfectly.  It is a compact revolver, chambered in .22 lr with a longer barrel than a snub nose, has adjustable sights with a fiber optic front, and holds 8 rounds.  So where does it fall short?  Well, the $689 MSRP is a start.  Street price is probably between $525 and $550 depending on where you shop.  The other killer is the weight.  30 ounces?  For a 4.2" barreled 22?  Are you kidding me?  For that weight, I might as well pack my Beretta M9!  Well, if weight is such a concern, I guess I could go for the Ruger LCR in 22 lr.  The only problem is that the sights on that pistol suck!  I know.  I've seen them.  Forget accuracy past 30 feet.  And at 14.9 ounces, it is heavier than the Kel Tec PMR-30 and it only holds 8 rounds.  To me, that does not qualify it as a good kit gun.

This is where the requirements start to weed out the potentials really fast.  To qualify as something I'd want to carry in my pack, on my back, slung over my shoulder, or in the canoe, the gun has to satisfy some stringent requirements.  The requirements are not many, but they are necessary to keep the weight down, and the survivability up.

Rifles need to meet the following:

Weight: less than 4 lbs.
Take-down capable: Yes.
Caliber: .22lr, .22 WMR, 17 HMR
Action: Lever, bolt, semi auto.
Capacity: 5+
Sights: Adjustable

Pistols have it even tougher:

Weight: Less than 1 1/2 lb (24 ounces) LOADED
Caliber: .22 WMR
Action: Revolver or semi-automatic magazine fed
Capacity: Revolver 8+; Semi-auto 10+
Sights: Adjustable
Barrel length: 4 inches+

Now, let's not cloud the waters here.  This gun isn't to be used for defense against large predators, like cougars or bears.  Whenever I go into the mountains, I carry a 357 magnum revolver as a minimum.  I also keep a Marlin 1895 GS, chambered in 45/70 in the truck.  I'm not stupid.  Something like a survival gun can be thrown in a 72 hour kit or tossed in the side pocket of my backpack for those treks out into the wilderness or in the event I'm caught off guard, out in the open, during an emergency.  You never know.

Some guys might say just to pack a .38 and call it a day.  That's fine if that's what you want for your system.  My problem with that for hunting small game, birds, or what-have-you, a .38 is overkill.  Why even bother shooting a squirrel if there will be nothing left to eat when you shoot it?

No, the .22 is ideal for hunting small game.  It also gives you the ability to carry a lot of ammunition.  Above is another example of a good take down rifle for survival use.  This one is the Marlin 70PSS (Papoose).  The action and barrel do not stow in the buttstock, but it does pack into an included carry case with closed cell foam, which give the case buoyancy.  Again, the ability to float is great because if it goes over the side of my canoe, it won't sink to the bottom of the river.  At 3.25 lbs, it could also accommodate a 4 power scope and still come in under 4 lbs!  The advantage of this design, over the Henry AR-7, is the fact that the receiver does not come off the stock for take-down.  Huh?  Yeah, to completely stow the AR-7, you have to take the receiver off the stock and stow it in the butt.  You'd have to remove your scope to take it down, find another place to put it, and then every time you go to put it back on, you'd have to waste precious ammo sighting in the scope.  The magazine for the Papoose holds 7 rounds of .22 lr ammunition.

Here is a video of the Papoose in action:

So, we see I have a lot to think about here.  What do I get?  Pistol or rifle?  Then which do I buy after that.


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