Dear Badlands Rifleman: Bolt gun vs. M1A considerations

The following was an email I received from a student, and as I was trying to answer it I had a lot of thoughts I wanted to convey so I figured it would be a good article.

Hi, I’m wondering if you would allow a bolt action rifle for the fieldcraft course. I have a Bergara B14 HMR in .308 that accepts 10 round mags.
The only self loading rifle I have that’s capable of 500yds is a Springfield M1A but the best accuracy I’ve gotten out of it is about 2 moa. Please let me know if either of these options would be acceptable for the course. Thank you.

To answer your question: yes, either rifle is appropriate and of course they are allowed (I’m a modern man, I’m not riflephobic after all). The Fieldcraft Course is a class that teaches skills that apply to anyone in the outdoors honestly. Hunting, wildlife photography, “bugging out”, suffering an accident while doing any of the above or fighting Chinese paratroopers for your life are all good examples. It’s a class designed to give you the practical skills to function in the wild.

Yum! Love me some Chinese food!

I tend to prefer modern military style weapons because of a few reasons:

  • They are generally the best choice we have for defending ourselves from other men. When I talk about this defense I’m referring to a threat within 300 yards or so. If they are farther than that hopefully you can utilize movement and terrain to avoid getting hit, but if they are closer you may have no other choice but to fight to get space between you and them. Remember if you find yourself in an ambush it’s an action you hadn’t planned on, therefore get the hell out of there fast.
  • They are commonly available and relatively cheap.
  • Quality versions are very reliable and built for continuous field exposure.
  • Ammunition is typically cheaper in bulk.

That being said, we should strive to be riflemen. Which implies we have a mastery of our rifle like any other craftsman, and honestly the action shouldn’t matter. As the Rifleman’s Creed states: “My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit …”

There have been gentlemen at class that have been able to engage all the targets on the first round despite the typical winds we have. Not many, but a few. Many others have come close. My point is, the action style wasn’t as important as their skill with the tool. They were Riflemen. They understood their tools and what it took to produce results with those tools. Surely luck may be a factor at times, but I know I wouldn’t want to rely on luck if I was ever on the other end of their muzzles.

The two biggest factors to these guys getting those hits I think I can attribute to two things:

  • Their experience level with those rifles and their understanding of what it takes to produce hits.
  • A quality and well mounted optic so they can see the targets to engage them.

That second point is just as important as the first. The targets at class are placed in a realistic manner and camouflaged appropriately, you know, like a real person would do if they didn’t want to get shot. I have 20/15 vision and depending on the lighting I have a hard time seeing them with the naked eye, and I know where to look.

The M1A is an awesome rifle, but it suffers from the same issues that many military weapons designed during and prior to the Cold War, and that is the ability to mount an optic and use it easily. Even when one is mounted the cheek weld is less than desirable, often requiring a modified or different stock. It’s just facts, optics mounting wasn’t a consideration when those weapons were designed, just like minivans weren’t designed to mount a snow plow. But give me an “A-dap-ter kit” and we’ll get it done just like Johnny Cash and his Cadillac… (from the good old days when Cadillacs weren’t just a Chevy in a cheap suit)

So my advice is this: bring the rifle you can shoot the easiest. Living in the field can be hard enough with the weather, lack of sleep and food, and exertion from constant work. Advantage stack anywhere you can, there’s no such thing as cheating. Bring the rifle you can guarantee hits with under less than ideal circumstances. Ideally that would be a semi-auto with plenty of ammo, but if it’s a magazine fed bolt gun that’s not a bad weapon to have either, just make sure you bring enough ammo. On the gear list for the class I have 6-7 magazines, and that was assuming you were packing 30 rounders. I’d still bring that many 10 round mags (yes, I have that many..) if I were rolling with my precision bolt gun.

Hopefully all that rambling helps you out, feel free to shoot me any other questions.

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