BY STEVE COMUS
When I was a youngster, I spent many a weekend day ambling through fields and woods with my Stevens Favorite single shot .22, ready to take any manner of small game in season, or plink at targets of opportunity anytime.
I had several Stevens Favorites as well as Remington Models 4 and 7, all of which weighed roughly three pounds or less each.
They would work as well now as they did then, but for walking around the desert or in the mountains, it is handy to be able to shoot farther than the .22 long rifle can do, especially for times when a coyote might be encountered.
That means a centerfire .22 is in order. I have a Winchester Model 43 in .22 Hornet that, with period scope, sling, magazine and 24-inch barrel weighs 6 3⁄4 pounds. That’s nice, although it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if it weighed a bit less.
As much as the .22 Hornet is a great little cartridge and will do about anything a walk around rifle might be challenged to do, the truth is that Hornet ammo is hard to find even in normal times and it is pricey when found.
I reload for it, but a lot of folks don’t load and they are interested in a more common cartridge like the .223/5.56mm.
What this world could really use is a quality, lightweight walk around .223/5.56 rifle.
Models on the market now tend to range from kind of heavy to boat anchors, and there is no logical reason why that has to be.
This subject has been a minor burr under the saddle for several decades, dating back to the time when I did a whole lot of prairie rat blasting on the high plains in the Dakotas and Wyoming where prairie dog towns seemingly went on forever.
We would set up with heavy-barrel “dog rigs” and engage the furry targets from close to very far. But even at the best places, a couple of hours of hammering would end up offering few decent shots.
At that point, we would leave the stationary setups and walk around, engaging targets of opportunity from the unsupported standing offhand position. Great fun.
It wasn’t long before we would take lighter rifles for walk arounds in addition to the heavier stationary rigs, but those lighter rigs weren’t truly light and handy, which caused us to bemoan the dearth of good, light .223 rifles.
One year, when Browning introduced the 1885 Low Wall single shot in .223, I used the rig for both stationary blasting, as well as for walking around. Even with its 24-inch octagon
barrel, it weighed just 6 1/4 pounds sans scope. Too bad it was discontinued because it was a re- ally fun gun in every respect.
Another year, I used my BRNO ZKK 611 semi-auto .22 mag that weighs just seven pounds with scope and sling as a walk around rig, but frankly, the rimfire mag just wasn’t the same as the .223 when it came to dynamic hit results, even at some of the closer ranges.
There are, however, a lot of .22 rimfire mag rifles out there that do make handy walk- around rigs and they do extend the effective range quite a bit, when compared to the .22 long rifle.
A quick look at .223 rifles on the market these days indicates that it is difficult to find anything under seven pounds, and that most models are a half-pound or a full point heavier.
Ruger’s American Ranch Rifle in 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington is a possibility. It weighs 6.1 pounds without scope. The weight is very close to being totally proper because with scope and sling it likely would weigh around 71⁄2 pounds.
Savage’s Model 25 Walking Varminter is a possible choice. It weighs 6.9 pounds without scope, which to my way of thinking is almost too heavy – but it is close.
Reality check: A Winchester Model 1894 .30/30 weighs-in at just under seven pounds, and it’s a deer rifle. Certainly, a walk-around varminter/plinker/general fun gun should be able to weigh a lot less.
Truth is that centerfire .22s traditionally have not been light. Witness the Winchester Model 70 that was chambered for the .22 Hornet. It weighed a nominal 8 pounds, 14 ounces without a scope.
Even AR/Modern Sporting Rifles tip the scales on the heavy side, with the lighter ones weighing a bit over seven pounds. Not only that, but the AR doesn’t carry as nicely as do some of the other designs.
AR rifles are nice and fun for a lot of kinds of shooting, but they are relatively clunky when it comes to the more casual walk-around scenarios.
I have an old Savage 340 in .222 Remington that is an almost proper walk around rifle because it handles nicely, but with its 24-inch barrel weighs a full seven pounds with- out a scope.
There is one superb walk around .223, but it is a custom proposition from old friend Melvin Forbes at New Ultra Light Arms.
He puts out a .223 bolt rifle that weighs 43⁄4 pounds sans scope. That means that with a decent scope, it would weigh under six pounds. Perfect!
Wow! I might have to give Mel a call, come to think of it. After all, he made me a beautiful .308 that weighs a scant five pounds sans scope and it shoots like it thinks it is a benchrest target rig.
Meanwhile, during the ensuing decades since we first bemoaned the lack of really handy walk-around rifles, I have made do often times with handguns.
Handguns carried in holsters
are about as handy as a walk-around scenario can get. Granted, they are not valid at the longer distances, but what they lack in range they make up for in convenience.
Truth is that we need both – good walk-around rifles and handy handguns, both carried simultaneously. Definitely, this is a way to increase the fun factor during long walks in the wilds.
As much as we can hope that some company will come up with a really nice .223 walk around rifle, don’t be in a hurry because with today’s demands that have out-stripped the industry’s ability to make guns and ammo, it likely will be some time before any such new models become realities.
The fascinating thing is that, with today’s manufacturing capabilities and metallurgy, I am certain that a walk-around .223 rifle almost identical to the Stevens Favorite rimfires could be made and that it could be accurate.
Imagine the freedom of being able to wander around with a three-pound .223 rifle, or even a four-pounder with a scope! That would be nothing short of delicious.
Absent that, I guess I’ll just continue to use my Winchester Model 43, my BRNO ZKK 611 and even my original Favorite and enjoy myself anyway. After all, in the end it is about having fun with a gun.
Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a WON Guns and Hunting Guns Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.