I had a little time to kill last night so I went window shopping at one of the local Big Box sporting goods stores (you know, the same kind of store that I think is helping to make gun shows irrelevant), in this case a Gander Mountain.
There are two nice things about GM. First, unlike most BB stores, they buy and sell used guns, and not just high-end collector guns, but run-of-the-mill guns, too. Second thing is, they don’t keep all their guns behind the counter (I hate bothering a salesman to look at a gun I know I won’t buy.) At this GM, the new guns are behind the counter but the used guns are available for customers to fondle (albeit with security locks on them.)
On the rack with all the old sporting rifles, I saw one that looked out of place. With its phosphate (a/k/a “Parkerized”) finish, protected front sight and flash hider-equipped barrel protruding from a fine wooden stock I thought it might be a variant of the Ruger Mini-14. But this one turned out to be something else entirely: Australian International Arms M10-A2 (pictured above.)
The rifle-savvy among us will immediately recognize the AIA’s parentage as the venerable British Lee-Enfield (Officially, “Rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield” or SMLE for short.) However, this one is intriguingly available in 7.62 x 39 caliber, that is, the same caliber as the AK or the SKS.
The caliber issue is significant to me. I don’t put any upward limit on the number of guns I may own but I do try to avoid “caliber creep.” Having too many different calibers makes shooting a more needlessly expensive hobby. By limiting the number of calibers I can concentrate on acquiring ammo for the few calibers I have and then go shoot them. Less $$ spent on ammo = more $$ to spend on actually shooting.
As for the 7.62 x 39 cartridge itself, it is in many ways the perfect mid-range, all-around cartridge. With ballistics similar to that of the venerable .30-30, the 7.62 x 39 (a/k/a 7.62 Russian) is suitable for just about any kind of hunting or shooting you might want to do except for the biggest game or the longest ranges. In fact, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the 7.62 x 39 is a sort of “Goldilocks” cartridge: Not too small (as the 5.56 is), not too big (as the .30-06/.308 is), it is the “just right” cartridge for mid-range shooting (say, out to ~300 yards.)
The 7.62 x 39 also has the advantage over the .30-30 in that you can use pointed bullets in it (you can’t do that with a .30-30 because so many .30-30 rifles use tubular magazines where the point of one cartridge rests against the primer of the cartridge in front of it.) The final factor in the 7.62 x 39′s favor is that it has been manufactured in quantities that probably approach the billions, and much of that ammo has been offered for sale at highly discounted prices, which makes shooting a cheap proposition.
As I stated before, I’m a big fan of the 7.62 x 39′s first rifle, the SKS, but even those who prefer the SKS’s younger, sexier sister the AK-47 have to be thankful to Mr. Simonov for introducing us to this great cartridge.
But back to the AIA M10-A2. The rifle is absolutely gorgeous, with a flawless and businesslike Parkerized finish. Hefting the rifle reveals…a lot of heft! It’s quite heavy (chat-board discussions attribute this to the teak wood stock, which is also beautiful) and feels rock-solid in the hands, even with the SMLE’s signature two-piece stock. As a former infantryman, my first thought was that getting head- smashed or butt-stroked (not as much fun as it sounds like) by this heavy stock would definitely have you taking a nap. Maybe one you wouldn’t wake up from.
For civvie shooters, the heavy weight of the rifle combined with the reduced power of the intermediate round means that recoil would be a non-issue. In fact, this might be the perfect rifle for a younger or smaller (or female) shooter who is reluctant to fire a “high powered” shoulder cannon.
The SMLE action is predictibly “buttah” smooth. GM guns have locks on the trigger, so no dry-firing was possible, but there’s no reason to believe the trigger pull is not as high-quality as the rest of the gun. The front sight, a military-style post protected by “ears” is decent, though the rear sight seems a bit cheap. Of course, the presence of the M1913 Picatinny Rail forward of the rear sight shows that the AIA folks obviously intended the iron sights to be mere back-ups to the shooter’s favorite optic.
There was no mag with the rifle, but internet scuttlebutt seems to indicate that it has been specifically designed to use the ever-plentiful AK magazines. This is another point in the M10s favor, seeing as how AK magazines are as tough (and probably about as numerous) as cockroaches.
My only negative response came when I glanced at the pricetag. For this used gun, GM wants $699, or just about $50 less than I paid for my new home-built Del-Ton AR15. In fact, as 7.62×39 shooters go, you could buy a semi-auto AK clone like the Wasr and a case of ammo for less than the cost of the M10. Or, two SKS and a case of ammo for each one.
Not that this is really in the same class. The AK and SKS are mass produced bullet-slingers, plain and simple. This one is a by-god rifle.
I’m already saving up my pennies.
EDITED TO ADD: Those of you feeling an odd sense of deja vu might be recalling the Gibbs Sport Specialty rifles. Gibbs modified some SMLE rifles to shoot the .308 (7.62×39) and offered them in some gorgeous looking rifles. While Gibbs is still in business, alas, they no longer make or sell any of their SMLE based guns, more’s the pity.