Daily Blog: 12/29/20 (Thoughts on the General Purpose Rifle)

Daily Blog: 12/29/20 (Thoughts on the General Purpose Rifle)

In the 1980s, Jeff Cooper, a former Marine and founder of what is now known as Gunsite Academy, conceived the Scout Rifle concept. Cooper theorized the best general-purpose rifle – a rifle well adapted to just about any task – was in fact somewhat ironically, a very specialized weapon. Among other things, he stipulated a 308 Winchester with a maximum length of one meter, a maximum weight of between 6.6 to 7.7 pounds, back-up sights, and a forward mounted low-power riflescope, that was capable of launching a 150-grain bullet at 2700 fps.

The AR15 is the most popular rifle in America.

Cooper’s concept developed a cult-like following but never achieved universal acceptance. His ultimate goal was for a mass-produced rifle with world-wide appeal and compatibility. The Scout Rifle, as conceived by Cooper, was never intended to address specialized needs based on geography or the individual; it was to be a one-rifle answer for the world. Mosy likely, the American citizen’s ability to own many different rifles specialized to solve particular problems, detracted from the Scout Rifle’s appeal. Unless it’s an SUV or a Leatherman, most Americans want specific tools, specifically designed for specific problems.

Though not my at-home-in-WV general-purpose rifle, if one rifle for the world was the question, the Scout Rifle would be the answer.

I have a safe full of specialized rifles, but Cooper’s enigma of the Scout Rifle had tremendous appeal and I began a deep dive into its suitability as a one-rifle answer. I’ve fired more than 10,000 rounds through Scout Rifles, used them to hunt across America and Africa, founded the annual Scout Rifle Safari, devised a Scout Rifle training program for Steyr, and even wrote a book, The Scout Rifle Study, about all I had learned. I like Scout Rifles, own many, and find the concept a practical answer to the general-purpose rifle question. However, a Scout Rifle, as defined by Jeff Cooper, is not my general-purpose rifle.

Before continuing, let’s examine what a “general-purpose rifle” really is. Cooper thought it a worldly gun; one to be used to sort out problems anywhere around the globe. That’s a noble desire but from a real-world standpoint, one few have or even need. Most Americans spend 99% of their time very close to home and want a rifle best suited to deal with the problems they may most likely encounter.

My best friend lives on Kodiak Island and had to kill a big bear that was threatening. A general-purpose rifle for him must be capable of solving that problem. I live in the forested mountains of West Virginia where the most dangerous critter I’m likely to encounter is a rabid fox, raccoon, or human being with murderous intent. Our largest game animals are deer and black bear. I do not need a grizzly gun.

One man’s ideal general-purpose rifle may differ from another’s because of where he lives and what he needs it for.

The point is, the general-purpose needs of every man are different and dependent on the conditions of their life and location. Some years back I suggested a one-rifle answer for most folks would be a CUR (Conditional Utility Rifle) as opposed a Scout Rifle. Much like cur dogs bred for specific geographical needs, like the Rhodesian Ridgeback of Africa, the Rattlesnake Cur of the Appalachians, or Catahoula Leopard Dogs of Louisiana, CUR rifles are general-purpose rifles ideally conditioned to fill the specific needs of their owners as opposed to the masses. Though these rifles may share many attributes of a Scout Rifle like, compactness, lightness, and redundant sight systems, they differ due to geographic, social, and political – specialized – needs. 

My background is steeped in hunting, but I also spent a much of my professional life in uniform – camouflaged and blue – carrying guns in defense of country and community. I’ve also have a respectable firearms training resume. I’m not bragging, just illustrating that I’m not just a hillbilly who’s never gotten off the farm. When I decided I wanted a general-purpose rifle that was best suited to my needs, much like Cooper I established a set of criteria.

I wanted a rifle compact enough to easily transport in and use from a vehicle. Since rifles are carried much more than they are shot, I wanted a lightweight rifle weighing no more than 6.5 pounds before accessories were attached. It needed to be effective on deer, black bear, and human adversaries out to 300 yards, while delivering MOA or better precision. I also wanted a semi-auto which best allows for operation if one arm is injured and provides a faster rate of fire in self-defense situations. I also wanted it to be adaptable to specialized tasks and chambered in a cartridge for which handloading components were easily obtainable. 

Wilson Combat’s Protection Series Carbine in 300 HAMR would handle most general-purpose chores for most Americans.

In the end, the choice mostly made itself. What I ended up with was a Wilson Combat Protector Series Carbine ($1999.95) with a 16-inch barrel. I installed a Trijicon 1-4X AccuPoint riflescope ($1099.00) in a Wilson Combat one-piece mount and a Williams Gun Sight Company Tactical Folding Sight Set ($139.95.) I also took a Galco Rifleman Sling ($59.00) and configured it for three-point attachment.

The excellent Trijicon 1-4X AccuPoint scope in a quick-release mount, combined with the flip-up/back-up sights makes for a versatile sighting system.

Now, I’m not fond of screwing needless shit to my rifle, but I do appreciate a rifle allowing situational adaptation. The threaded muzzle permits the use of the fantastically light 11-ounce Sig Sauer SLX suppressor ($1200.00.) A Spartan Precision Equipment bipod/tripod receptor ($56.80) was attached to the underside of the M-Lok compatible handguard to work with their devilishly light Javelin bipod, and a short rail section was added to allow for the attachment of a SureFire M600DF 1500 lumen Scout Weapon Light ($299.00.)

Bipods are rarely used in the field but are nice to have when needed. Because of that they should not be a permeant attachment.

The rifle, as cool and well suited to my needs as it is, is nothing without ammunition. Wilson Combat offers a dozen or so loads for the 300 HAMR, and while I use several, my default general-purpose load is the 130-grain HHC (HAMR Hot Core) load at about 2500 fps. This load uses a special bullet designed for the 30 HAMR by Speer. In 10% ordnance gelatin you can expect more than 16-inches of penetration and double diameter expansion. It will even remain terminally effective after penetrating two layers of 14-gauge steel or multiple layers of plywood and drywall.

If an AR15 is your weapon of choice and most of America is where you will be operating, the 300 HAMR cartridge is likely the best general-purpose option.

The rifle is easily handled by my wife and both of my teenage daughters, which is an aspect of “general-purpose” rifle that is often overlooked. If you’re the only person in your household who can effectively wield your general-purpose rifle, then it actually becomes a rifle of limited or specialized application.

I’ll not be so bold as to claim Cooper’s Scout Rifle concept as something without merit. I have several Scout Rifles I routinely use, and I will always have one close. What I will say and stand behind is that while a true Scout Rifle might be of wonderous world-wide appeal and reasonableness, it is something that for most people would not be the most practical one-rifle answer. A general-purpose rifle that does not ideally address your general-purpose needs is, as far as you’re concerned, not a general-purpose rifle at all.

For years Americans relied on the 30-30 for most everything. The 300 HAMR surpasses the 30-30 in performance.

I believe the best general-purpose cartridge for the AR15, which is the most popular rifle in America, is the 300 HAMR. It has the external ballistics to deliver at 300 yards, and at that distance it delivers more energy than any 30-caliber or less AR15 cartridge. Magazine capacity is optimized, cases can be made from 223 brass, and recoil is more than manageable. If you have a AR15 in 223 Remington, all you need for the conversion is a barrel ($250) from Wilson Combat and a few 300 Blackout magazines, which retail for about $21.00 each.

A man should select his general-purpose rifle based on the common tasks he will ask it to perform as opposed to what another man might need.

As the 20th Century faded, sport shooting become very popular and the latest combat veterans had established a relationship with the AR platform. It’s new-found modularity and the ability to, build your own, rocketed it to stardom. Many still had an arsenal of specialized hunting and sport rifles, but the behind the door – hell in a handbasket – rifle became the AR15.

All this cartridge really needs to position it as the most versatile cartridge for the America’s Rifle – the AR – is for Black Hills to start loading the 110-grain Lehigh Defense Controlled Chaos bullet, for Hornady to load their 125-grain FMJ bullet, and for Federal/Speer to load the 130-grain HAMR Hot Core bullet like Wilson Combat does. With those three loads most Americans could do damn near anything they need to do with a rifle.

AR15 cartridge comparison.