Saturday, April 27, 2013

Guns: Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle review - A 21st Century Jungle Carbine

Introduction: The Scout Rifle Concept

Jeff Cooper was a big proponent of the "general purpose" or "scout rifle," an intermediate caliber rifle that could serve on both the battlefield and the game field. As Cooper wrote in "To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth":

"[A] general purpose rifle is a conveniently portable, individually operated firearm, capable of striking a single decisive blow, on a live target of up to 200 kilos in weight, at any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target."

There have been varying attempts to follow the scout rifle template: the well-made but expensive Steyr Scout, the cheaper Savage Scout, and innumerable homebrew versions based on surplus military or commercial hunting rifles. The latest (and probably most realistic) option for those who want a scout rifle is the Ruger Gunsite Scout, approved and designed with the help of Gunsite Academy:

First Impressions

The Ruger Gunsite Scout reminds me a lot of the famous Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine. The two guns are nearly the same weight and length, can hold 10 rounds of ammunition in their magazines, and have about the same power (.308 has very slightly more pop than .303, but the GSR's barrel is only 16"). The GSR's flash suppressor and grey-green laminated stock even look like they belong on a military bolt-action.

Out of the box, the gun comes with a 10-round magazine, a set of conventional Ruger rings (in case you want to mount a regular scope to the gun), spacers for the adjustable stock, and all the tools and such necessary to mess around with all these parts. The instruction manual isn't a generic Ruger M77 rifle manual, but one specifically written to explain the GSR's unique features. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good value for about $750 (this was before the current gun-buying craze began).

The Ruger GSR: Concept vs. Reality

Cooper laid out a few guidelines for a scout rifle - not exactly "requirements," but metrics for evaluation. How does the Gunsite Scout measure up?

"The current guideline [for the scout rifle] is a length limit of one meter and a weight limit of three kilos. (This weight is measured with all accessories in place but with the weapon unloaded.)" Sorta Failed.

Ruger opted for a heavy laminate stock and a medium contour barrel on the Gunsite Scout, which pushes the naked weight to a portly 7 pounds. Add in a scope, rings, sling, and ammo, and you're humping a 9 pound 16" barreled bolt action .308 around. Not too impressive, considering that Ruger sells an M77 Compact that's more than a pound lighter. The length requirement is basically satisfied, though, especially if you ditch the adjustable spacers in the Gunsite Scout's stock.

"The modern scout uses a low-power telescope mounted just forward of the magazine well." Passed.

The Gunsite Scout has a pretty foolproof forward Picatinny rail that'll interface well with a variety of rings and mounts. Pop your intermediate eye relief scope on there, and you're good to go. If you want to get even fancier, you can use the nifty one piece XS Scout Rail, or eschew the scout scope altogether by detaching the rear sight and using conventional rings.

"Reserve iron sights are held to be desirable for a proper scout rifle." Passed.

It's hard to find a new-production bolt-action rifle with iron sights nowadays, and it's even harder to find one with an aperture sight. The scout design calls for irons, though, and the GSR thus wears a bombproof, Mini-14-esque front blade and rear sight. The sights are good, if imprecise - the front blade is a bit too thick and the ghost ring is a bit too big for shots past 200 yards.

"Two-lug, ninety-degree rotation was favored, as was the traditional Mauser claw extractor and positive ejector." Mostly Passed.

I don't go overboard with the Mauser action worship (the term "massive claw extractor" is used so often in the gun community it might as well be a benediction), but I do like them in general, and the Gunsite Scout has a Mauser-type action. The rifle has a three position safety (which can either lock the bolt entirely or allow it to be worked on safe), a fixed ejector, and, yes, a massive claw extractor. It feeds from a detachable magazine (more on that later), so it's not entirely controlled round feed, but it's close enough. One caveat: I find the GSR bolt binds and catches a bit more than a true Mauser.

At the Range: I need more practice.

I have precious little time to shoot compared to when I was in college, so every trip to the range is an exercise in pride-swallowing concentration. When you haven't shot a rifle in four months, 100 yards suddenly looks very, very far away:

Here's what the Gunsite Scout's irons look like at that range. The target is that tiny dot in the middle of the aperture.

The Gunsite Scout feeds from detachable magazines, either fancy Accuracy International 10-shot steel or the Ruger polymer variety (available in 10, 5, and 3 shot versions). I didn't notice any difference in reliability between them, and the polymer ones are (much) cheaper, lighter, and shorter. Advantage - plastic.
My first range session was, well, bad. Using PMC .308 147 gr. FMJ ammo, I could barely cobble together a recognizable group. Recoil was light thanks to the Gunsite Scout's spongelike buttpad and relatively heavy stock/barrel. The trigger was pretty light, too, and broke as cleanly as any other Ruger hunting rifle. The fault, dear Reader, is not in our guns, but in ourselves.
At the Range, Part Two: Let's try the premium stuff. 
I resolved to test the GSR again, this time at a 200 yard range, but with vastly improved ammunition: Federal 168 grain Gold Medal Match. It's not the world's greatest target ammo, but it's a good baseline that's readily available (or at least, it was, before all of the world's .308 ammo was snapped up in the current hysteria).
With better ammo and recent practice, I was a lot better this time, even at 200 yards. From prone, unsupported, the iron sights group measured roughly 7", with all but two shots landing in a 5" circle. I bet that the gun can shoot about 1.5 MOA, but that's about as well as I can shoot it. 


Final Thoughts: The solution in search of a problem?
The biggest knock on the Ruger GSR, and indeed, the whole scout rifle concept, is that it's an answer to a question no one's asked. If viewed simply as a short, handy bolt action .308, though, there's really nothing overly negative to say about the Gunsite Scout. Like the old Jungle Carbine, which was prized for its light weight and ease of use, the Ruger Gunsite Scout is a pleasing combination of power and portability. Snap a compact scope on, loop up a Ching Sling, and you feel like you could be ranging around the Rhodesian underbrush with the Colonel himself.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Books: The Absolute Value of Mike

I read books aloud for Learning Ally, a nonprofit that provides low-cost audiobooks to people with reading-related disabilities. I mostly read nonfiction textbooks, since the service is aimed at students. Occasionally, I get to read fiction, like "The Absolute Value of Mike," a novel by Kathryn Erskine:

The book's protagonist is Mike Frost, a fourteen year-old who lives with his absent-minded, genius professor father. Like a lot of teens, Mike is torn between fulfilling his parent's expectations and finding his own path. In this case, Mike's father wants him to enroll in the science-and-math-centric Newton high school, but Mike (who suffers from dyscalculia) doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps.

Mike thinks he finds the perfect way to placate his dad when Mike is sent away for the summer to do an engineering project, an "artesian screw." Needless to say, things spin wildly out of control, and soon Mike is hanging out with a homeless health food nut, trying to revive his catatonic great-uncle, and raising money to adopt a Romanian orphan.

"The Absolute Value of Mike" is a breezy coming-of-age story, with a so-so plot and memorable characters. Even the people who are mostly comic relief - like Mike's Mr. Magoo-like great-aunt, Moo - get some nice dramatic beats. In particular, I think most young readers will like Mike, who is a good kid at heart but often angry and put-upon. The book is a fun read for a grade or middle-schooler, and I'm glad it was assigned to me.

Music: Taylor Swift "The Red Tour" concert review

My friend and I stopped by the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami to take in Taylor Swift's latest ode to romances, breakups, and panicky screaming from teenage girls, "The Red Tour":

There's always been something coldly professional about the way Swift approaches her career, and the jump from the "Speak Now" tour to this one is a good example. Last time around, Taylor Swift embraced the theatrical excesses of her imagination (a giant Gothic bell, a fake wedding, a castle balcony that soared above the crowd).

In contrast, the production in "The Red Tour" was more like something you'd see in any other pop star's concert. Aside from a cheesy paparazzi setup for a jeremiad on celebrity, "The Lucky One," the concert was a straightforward performance of tracks from "Red" and earlier albums. Of course, Swift could have spent two hours singing alone with a guitar and the crowd still would have eaten it up. Actually, I think the screams were loudest for her acoustic set at the back of the arena:

The music itself was fine, I guess. Taylor Swift's live singing is better than it's ever been, but she's still largely drowned out by her own band and the noise of the crowd. On a more fundamental level, the charming pop-country of her first album has been replaced by lite versions of U2 and Springsteen. So, I drink in the spectacle of 13,000 people yelling in the dark, watch the house lights come on, and take my friend back home.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tech: BioShock Infinite review

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter, the third (and possibly last) entry in the BioShock series.  In the game, you play as hardboiled ex-Pinkerton agent Booker DeWitt, who exists in a fictionalized, steampunk version of pre-WWI America. Booker's mission is straightforward: infiltrate the floating city of Columbia to retrieve (kidnap?) a mysterious girl. As you might imagine, things don't go smoothly:

The best part of Infinite is the first hour. Like the iconic opening sequences of Half-Life, Deus Ex, and, of course, the original BioShock, the game doesn't immediately throw you into combat, preferring instead to show you a fully realized fictional world to explore, with its own characters, rules, and problems. You learn pretty early on that something weird's going on in Columbia, unless the Beach Boys pilfered a song from the Chicago World's Fair:

Once things start getting violent, you'll find that the combat in Infinite is a lot more involving than its predecessors. Guns and enemies feel meatier, you can blast apart enemies with "Vigors" (think Plasmids from the first BioShock), and the fights are much more dynamic thanks to the addition of "Skylines," rollercoaster-like rails that allow you to move and shoot like you're in a John Woo flick:

There are a lot of twists and turns in BioShock Infinite's 12-15 hour campaign (I won't spoil any of the story here), but the combat experience sort of flatlines in the last third. By then, you've seen all the weapons, enemies, and Vigors, and it's just a matter of putting it all together in increasingly hairy setpiece battles. The simplified console-friendly FPS gameplay also won't appeal to those looking for a true FPS/RPG hybrid experience - Booker doesn't level up or build any special skills aside from bigger and badder ways of mowing people down. Still, the level of craft here is ridiculous, and anyone even remotely fond of shooters should take a trip to the city of Columbia.

Rating: 88/100

Monday, April 01, 2013

Guns: How to Protect Yourself from Criminals

Here at Shangrila Towers, I get a lot of requests for advice about home defense. But while you've seen posts about the subject scattered through the blog, I realized I never really broke it all down in one place. So, without any further ado, here's everything you need to know to protect yourself from criminals with a gun...

Get a double-barreled shotgun. They're easy to aim, easy to use, and you don't need a bunch of rounds to protect yourself.

Have 12 gauge shells ready. It doesn't really matter what kind - they're all equally effective. Just make sure they fit in the shotgun.

If you have some sort of balcony, walk out onto it. Tactically, the high ground is always where you want to be.

Fire two blasts outside the house. It doesn't really matter where. I promise you, if there's ever a problem with someone coming in the house, the awful odor you'll smell will be the contents of their bowels as they run in fear.

The plan is so foolproof, it's been specifically recommended by U.S. government officials: