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Thoughts on Fighting rifles

What makes a Great fighting rifle? Is it just reliability and the ever-present internet “MILSPEC” assembly and parts or is there something more?
I have spent the better part of my adult life focused on fighting with a gun and over six years directly involved with how to use them effectively. During this time, I have observed people focusing on different aspects of the rifle. There is no doubt that skills are a major part of it but there is more to it than just skills.


If we handed Mushashi any two swords he would be effective. But if we allowed him to choose those weapons based on the skills he earned, his effectiveness would be augmented. This is where many if not most of the firearm industry fails. The weapons are not designed by Gunslingers. They are designed in cubicles across the world by smart people based on function and if we are lucky, tuned up by shooters prior to release. Currently, across the market, there are many rifles that are simply visual upgrades to a rifle designed in 1959 by Eugene Stoner. If you are looking past the MILSPEC you may be getting some features like ambi controls and ergonomic upgrades. If you are not, you are adapting to design of a bygone Era.

Rifleman’s rifle.

If you look at the M16A1 it has many Features needed for a fighting rifle. The tapered handguard allowed for a complete grip far out on the handguard and a place to use a “modern” thumb over bore C-clamp grip. It also had a wide flat bottom near the receiver that is very useful in several stability techniques including barricades and long distance off hand techniques.  From there, we started focusing on enablers. Hand placement came after lights, lasers, and gizmos.
Current handguards are designed for the most negative space mounting solutions and stiffness for modern enablers such as lights and lasers. We lost touch, literally, with how the non-firing hand helps control the rifle. More recently, rails have been getting designed with the shooter in mind. This is important and a hopefully continues.  A good fighting rifle should have at least 9 inches of handguard and allow the nonfiring hand tomove and adjust based on the firing position needed for the shot at the time. Thisof course is based on what you are adding to the rifle now and in the future.

Controls

The next thing is ambidextrous controls. This is based on being able to return the weapon into working condition with the simplest manual of arms based on having two hands. Humans capable of doing many things under pressure despite what Sheepdog 6 will tell you. With ambi controls my trigger finger can release the magazine and release the bolt allowing the non-firing hand to leave the rifle insert a new magazine and return to the rifle the most efficient way possible, decreasing the time out of fight regardless of the dominant hand. I can also use the same manual of arms regardless of what hand the rifle is in at the time.

Aiming solution

The aiming solution needs to be effective across all predicted fighting scenarios. For home defense, a simple red dot may fit the bill. Others may need to be able to identify possible threats at distance. For this, the naked eye behind a single reference point sight may not be the best choice. In fact, while it “can” be done it shouldn’t be done. Over the years of combat operations, there were exactly zero situations where anything with a heartbeat got a bullet. The Chinese horde fighting style while effective is not something in current use. The ability to a target at range with all the Zoomin’s has never been something to complain about. Paul Howe discussed this in his books long before it hit mainstream.

The reticle should be useable for not only elevation holds but for wind and moving targets. This isn’t something that people who are not shooting competition or have combat experience think about. I will not even entertain a piece of glass with magnification that doesn’t feature this. I even prefer the Eotech reticle over a dot for 1x optics. Having used both during operations, I and many others prefer it. If you are fighting with someone two things are certain, they will be moving and there will be wind. Having the ability to properly aim is imperative to getting hits.

The Completed Rifle.

Obviously, the rifle should be accurate and reliable. I won’t waste any of our time talking about that as there are terabytes of talk on this available. In addition to that, the rifle should be balanced. Now, balance is in the hand of the beholder. Personally, I prefer the balance point to be near the center of the receiver. As I was developing my old “HESSPEC” this was something that took time to find. The rifle should feel like a katana, not a Scottish claymore. It needs to be able to swing well from low to high ready and from target to target. It also needs to allow for a natural swing while running. If the balance is wrong, it will slow you down. One of the trends to SBRs was simply this balance feel. It was quantified by maneuverability in close in engagements but that only told part of the story. I have several 16- and 18-inch guns that while longer, still maintain proper balance points. This allows me to run the rifle mostly the same and only account for length. Again, I can’t tell you what a balanced rifle feels like to you. Only quality training and practice will do that for you. Your fighting style dictates that. For me, if I pick up an M16A1 it feels perfect. No, it doesn’t fit the bill as a modern fighting rifle now, but that’s how it should feel.

For me, this feel it more important than money or name. I would go as far to say that I would have a better time on a “lesser” rifle with all the features I have written about so far than a top end gun that doesn’t. Conveniently, I don’t have to (insert Knight’sArmament plug here) Again, your rifle needs to fit YOUR use. For over ten years I have seen thousands of posts about what xxx should I get or what xxx doesScuba Delta use. While its cool to know what Scuba Delta runs, I also know that that dude has a blaster for every mission. Mission drives the weapon, weapon drives the movement. Every rifle or pistol you build, or purchase should be for a purpose. There is a compromise in all things. SBR dudes lose a ton of velocity. Velocity guys have long guns. Magnification loses eye box and red dots don’t have magnification. High quality and great features cost money.

Only you know what the purpose is. Build your tools to YOUR requirements.

I will close with an easy button if you have read this far.

  • KAC Carbine Mod 2 with MAMS
  • Magpul UBR
  • Law Tactical Folder
  • KAC QDC CQB
  • Nightforce ATACR 1-8 or Leupold MK6 1-6
  • BE Meyers MAWL
  • Surefire light
Ash Hess
A competitive shooter and Gov Sales Specialist at Knight's Armament Company.

I am also a Retired US Army Senior NCO. My last assignments included serving as the Senior Writer for Small Arms in the Weapons and Gunnery Branch and the US Army Infantry School Marksmanship Program developer at the Maneuver Center of Excellence Fort Benning, Georgia.

Army Schools include US Army Master Marksmanship Trainer Course, Rifle Marksmanship Instructor Course, Urban Combat Leaders Course, Air Assault, Rappelmaster, Senior Leaders Course, Army Basic Instructor course, High Angle Marksmanship Course, and Unit Armorer course.

I also attended the TigerSwan Basic Carbine course, Defoor Proformance One day Carbine Refresher, Advanced Carbine and Scoped Rifle courses, Sionics Weapon Systems M4 Armorer course, Modern Samurai Red Dot Pistol, and the MDTS Practical Small Knife 1course.

Four combat tours totaling fifty-two months overseas.
Ash Hess on Facebook

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