Some of the many viable substitutes for a modern sporting rifle include the SKS rifle, Winchester Model 100, Remington Model 742, Marlin Camp Carbine and the Kel-Tec SUB-2000.
With Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, it seems fitting to share a riddle that my lovely wife recently posed. She is both shooter and thinker, so I learned long ago to expect thought-provoking gun questions from her. The challenge posed in this case was to determine which semi-automatic long guns we could turn to if we no longer had the modern sporting rifles we prefer. I can imagine a number of circumstances where ARs, AKs and other multi-functional semi-automatics would be unavailable, but the scenario really does not matter. The bottom line is that familiarity with semi-automatic rifle alternatives that could bridge the utility gap may prove helpful someday.
The M1A, M1 Garand and Ruger’s Mini-14 and Mini Thirty are all capable rifles that immediately came to mind, but they also tend to be expensive. Likewise, the venerable SKS stands out as a possibility, but the days of picking up a decent-quality model for less than $200 are long gone. Still, these wood-stocked, 7.62x39 mm rifles can be had in the mid-hundreds price range from various outlets. Unfortunately, most of the surplus SKS rifles available on today’s retail market are in poor condition and at the low end of the quality scale.
I switched my focus to semi-automatics with mostly conventional lines, but which meet certain criteria. First, they must be available in more than ones and twos. Second, they have to be affordable. I capped the maximum at $800, but tried to focus mostly in the $300 to $700 range, since that is comparable to many off-the-shelf MSRs today. Third, contenders must be chambered in a centerfire cartridge that isn’t hard to find or overly expensive. Lastly, suitable semi-automatics must be capable of serving the owner well in a life-or-death situation. Unfortunately, these criteria ruled out such gems as the Ruger Model 44 .44 Mag. Carbine (scarce and expensive) and the Remington 81 in .30 Rem. and .35 Rem. (obscure ammo), as well as other classics. Thankfully, the well is still far from dry.
I ran out of ideas, so I transitioned to the Interwebs to see what I’d forgotten about, which turned out to be a whole lot of rifles. Several pistol caliber carbines (PCCs) immediately sprung up as possibilities. Ruger’s popular 9 mm PC Carbine employs conventionally styled polymer stocks and both Ruger and Glock mag-well options. It also happens to be right in the target price range, starting in the mid-$400s for new models and climbing as the fancy factor increases. Chiappa’s M1-9 carbine is styled like the famous M1 Carbine, but chambered for the more practical 9 mm, uses Beretta 92 mags and comes in at less than $500. Marlin’s out-of-production, wood-stock 9 mm and .45 ACP Camp Carbines are still available on the resale market in the $600-plus range. Ratcheting back down the price scale leads us to the Kel-Tec SUB-2000, which folds in half, uses common 9 mm pistol magazines and is available for less than $400. Hi Point’s 9 mm, .40 S&W, 10 mm and .45 ACP carbines are all available for a little more than $300.
Those of us who prefer centerfire rifle calibers have several options, too. On the modern side of the house, Kel-Tec’s SU-16 family of folding, .223 Rem./5.56 NATO chambered rifles are available for less than $600. Several variations exist; all with polymer and somewhat conventionally profiled stocks. Going deeper into the latter half of the 20th century yields further choices. Remington Models 74, 740, 742 and 7400 are all over the resale market; mostly in .30-’06 Sprg., but sometimes in .243 Win., .270 Win. and .308 Win., and typically available for less than $500. Slightly more expensive Winchester Model 100s in .308 Win. can be had in the $500 to $800 range. Winchester SXRs chambered in .30-’06 Sprg. and .300 Win. Mag. are still floating around too, but you’ll have to be a savvy bidder to grab one within this price range.
These alternatives all fall short of being ideal in one or more ways: excessive weight and length, limited magazine capacity, non-modular, lustrous finishes, etc. Nonetheless, these rifles are still capable of performing the MSR’s core tasks of self-defense, hunting and recreational shooting, even if not optimally configured for such.
Remember that when buying a used rifle, it’s always best to have it checked over by a gunsmith. Try to negotiate an inspection period (typically three days) if the rifle is being shipped to you through an FFL. Most sellers don’t allow firing during this time, but at least you can go over the rifle with a fine-toothed comb before accepting the deal. If you’re picking one off of a used rack, be familiar enough with the system to check it for proper function—after ensuring that it’s unloaded and the seller says it is OK to dry-fire. I carry a light and a fiber-optic, J-shaped bore tube when I’m shopping for used guns. They’ve saved me from buying several otherwise nice-looking rifles with heavily pitted bores. Also, be sure to check if the rifle you’re interested in has any manufacturer’s recalls that need to be dealt with. The Winchester Model 100 had a potentially catastrophic firing-pin problem that required a factory repair, so you’ll want evidence that such issues were remedied before laying down your cash. Spare-parts costs and availability, especially for detachable magazines, should also figure into your semi-alternate shopping plans.
I’m sure I missed a few gems on my list of considerations, but I’m equally positive that our sharp readers will let me know what they are. That’s a good thing, because the more options we have for keeping the wolves far away from the pen, the better off we all are.