I think we coined the term Modern Sporting Rifle so that we do not have to use the terms AR and AK as often. That’s OK and I leave the politics to others.
Hey, I have no problem with politics—it is the policies that I have a problem with. These rifles have been around a long time. My own experience with the MSR is good, as I have a great deal of time spent on the rifle range and (more recently) in the hunting field.
I have owned some type of AR and/or AK rifle for more than 30 years. For most of that time, they have been recreational shooters. I have deployed the AR in a police cruiser trunk, but then again, I have also deployed the Winchester 94 30-30.
Either is a much better problem solver than a handgun. As for hunting, I began big game hunting not with an inferior rifle, but one of the best available. The Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 was a sure-fire game killer that never needed more than one shot to down deer-size game.
A History of Versatility
I am all for the right tool for the job and I simply never needed a self-loading rifle in the field. I owned an M1 Garand and, while powerful enough, it wasn’t light enough. The M1 .30 carbine is a neat and handy little rifle. My 1942 Inland is pretty accurate for what it is.
Many officers in the early 1980s kept one on the trunk or even rack-mounted in the front of the patrol car. The NYCPD stakeout squad enjoyed good luck with the rifle. But it isn’t a hunting rifle. I am mixing police and sporting guns, however (as I have for all of my life it seems).
But in those days, the two were well-defined with different qualities. A go-anywhere, do-anything rifle has existed for almost 100 years. Western lawmen had relied on the Winchester .30-30 since its introduction. It downed bad guys and game as well.
The LAPD had 94s on hand into the 1970s and the Washington State Patrol did the same many years later. The MSR just may be even more versatile.
Know Your Needs
I consider myself well-read and among the more interesting studies I have done is the Mexican Revolution.
Emiliano Zapata, as an example, was thankful for the help he received from the United States, but felt that when his soldiers were armed with “cowboy guns,” he was at a severe disadvantage compared to the 7mm Mauser.
I kept my Winchester Model 70 and didn’t hunt with the .30-30 WCF.
My uncle Arden pointed out that if I needed a second shot fast, the lever-action was much better. I never needed that second shot and, while I did not hunt with a single shot, the bolt-action was fine for most of my needs.
I respected the AR, but the guns of the time, for the most part, did not seem accurate enough for long-range varmints and the caliber (.223 Remington) certainly wasn’t my idea of a deer cartridge.
Before you point out that modern loads make the .223 Remington much more effective, keep in mind that I did not have these loads in those days. It wasn’t that long ago.
The few self-loading rifles chambered for serious cartridges simply were not accurate or reliable enough for my needs, although they were quite accurate at most woods ranges. I also kept an AR-15 on hand for the worst-case scenario.
A long period in which I could not find time to hunt resulted in most of my rifles being AR-15 types. I was writing for several publications during this time and had an assignment to work up a feature on .223 Remington loads.
A bolt-action rifle with a good scope was a requirement—at least I thought so. I obtained a Howa bolt-action rifle and mounted a Nikon scope. I used a good range of factory loads, including the Federal 40-grain Blitz and the Federal 55-grain JSP.
The Howa demonstrated excellent accuracy potential. It wasn’t unusual for this heavy-barrel rifle to turn in a 0.5-inch, 100-yard group. My best AR then (and now) was a Colt LE 16-inch carbine. Mounted with a Redfield Battlezone, this is an accurate and reliable combination.
As a lark, I fired the Colt with the same loads as the Howa. Average groups were 1 inch. Some were smaller. So, when the time came that the budget would not allow both guns, it was a no brainer to hold onto the accurate, reliable and very versatile AR-15. I was on to something.
I had the bug for World War II rifles at one time and often fired the Springfield 1903 and M1 Garand. I also owned a good number of 8mm Mauser rifles and the Lee Enfield .303.
While the Enfield was a great battle rifle, the general run of bolt-action rifles were not in the class with the Springfield for accuracy. But then, after working up several hand loads for the Garand, I found the difference in accuracy had little bearing on practical accuracy in the field.
The Garand was the war winner it was meant to be. I think the sole reason we do not see Garands in the field is the weight. Well, we have the M1A today. I think the turning point in my adoption of the MSR was the Aero AR-15 rifle my son built for me.
This rifle is brilliantly accurate, completely reliable and assembled with an Aero upper and lower receiver. This rifle is actually slightly more accurate than the Colt, overall, but then it should be.
If I miss a running coyote—a different game than deer for certain—an instant second or third shot does the business. I haven’t taken any deer-sized game with the AR, but with modern loads, it isn’t out of the question.
A friend took a dozen deer over several years with a single shot in each case using a 69-grain JSP. The Federal 62-grain Bonded Core is plenty accurate enough and has excellent wound ballistics. And if I need an SHTF rifle for any type of protection, I don’t have to switch rifles.
I have a rifle on hand I am familiar with— the rifle is proven and it is reliable.
Go Anywhere, Do Anything
I have also fired a good many AR types in .308 Winchester. The Del-Ton provides good results with fairly light weight and good reliability. Other rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor offer light recoil and excellent wound ballistics.
After reflecting on my choices and the accuracy potential of modern sporting rifles I think that the go-anywhere, do-anything rifle lives again. The modern MSR offers real power and excellent accuracy.
The best-quality AR-type rifles are more accurate than the average bolt-action by a margin. All are more accurate than I am able to hold.
I have never had an aversion to black rifles or high-capacity magazines at all—I have enjoyed owning them—but I simply did not take them hunting. This has changed and my life is easier because of that decision.
If you do not like the .223, there are 6mm and .30 rifles. As for my recommendations, well, get a starter rifle and see how much you like it. When you need to upgrade, you will know it. As for the Springfield M1A, I like it a lot. I wanted one growing up.
If you want one, then get one as well. But I would take a serious look at the AR types in .308 first. We may be on to something.
What is the MSR in your life? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.