Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The "Buck and Roy" rifle: Roy Rogers, meet Buck Rogers

The lever action .30-30 is one of the handiest and most useful light rifles ever invented. I now count five manufacturers offering versions of this old weapon and I see it is as popular as ever among hunters of medium-big game.

The great virtue of the .30-30 is its fast handling. It is well balanced and points swiftly and naturally, the mechanism is  quick and simple to operate, and the cartridge does not have so much recoil that it rocks you back on your heels.

The little rifle's chief drawback is the antique, cowboy-style sighting arrangement. The factory sights are all right for backup but they don't give you all the accuracy the rifle has in it. The adjustments are vague and approximate and the sight picture is quaint.

The modern sight that best suits the .30-30, in typical uses, is the red dot. It improves on the rifle's best trait by making the weapon even faster to put on target. To use the dot sight, you look downrange with both eyes focused on the target, just as you would normally look at something. When you raise the rifle, the sight adds an aiming pip to your natural view of your surroundings. Sight picture acquisition is speeded up and your situational awareness is not compromised by peering at the front sight.

Doubtless some purists will take umbrage at the idea of mounting a 21st century sight on a 19th century rifle. They may take all they like, and send a truck for any they can't carry with them. The rifle and sight are very efficient when used together and that is what matters. Roy Rogers' rifle is much improved by a touch of Buck Rogers technology.

In my opinion the dot sight is best mounted aft, over the receiver, instead of forward over the barrel in scout rifle fashion. This mounting makes the dot slightly quicker to acquire, because the opening in the sight is relatively larger in appearance when it is closer to your eye. Once your eye has found the opening you can use the dot; you do not need to center the dot in the sight. I do, however, like to mount the sight far enough forward that it cannot possibly hit me in the eye. I have a tendency to "crawl the stock," so I like the optic far enough forward that it is well out of my way in any shooting position.

A word of caution is in order about red dot sights. There are some putridly bad ones on the market. In part this is because the better brands are being bought up, these days, by the military, reducing the supply and jacking up the price in the private sector. In part it is because some unscrupulous chaps are cashing in on the public's inexperience with this kind of sight, and palming off cheaply made garbage as if it were serviceable gear. I mention this because there are many shooters who are convinced that red dot sights are no good. And they are partially right: The ones they have tried are indeed no good. If the lamp won't stay lit, if the dot isn't bright enough to use on a sunny day, if the adjustments won't hold zero, the problem isn't the concept; the problem is you've been had.

Though unconventional, the match-up of red dot sight and lever carbine is a very good one.  The .30-30's long suit is speed, and so is the red dot's. The two complement each other extraordinarily well. The dot sight is not the best thing for long range work, but the long range specialist probably does not pack a .30-30.


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