To many, a hunting gun was, is, and always will be either a bolt- or lever-action rifle. It’s that simple. It’s what their grandfather shot, it’s what they were taught to hunt with, and it’s what they’ll teach their kids to hunt with. Period. And for good reason; bolt- and lever-actions rifles have been taking game on this continent since there have been bolt- and lever-action rifles on this continent to take it with.
But, while they may be considered primarily hunting rifles now, the widespread popularity those rifles currently enjoy is not a result of their effectiveness on the game trail. On the contrary, both the lever-action and bolt-action rifle’s popularity grew out of entire generations of soldiers and frontiersmen carrying, using, and maintaining similar rifles for duty and defensive purposes. And out of that widespread use and familiarity grew a hunting tradition, as settlers and soldiers alike turned to the same gun to get dinner as they had used to defend their homestead or country.
As the years progressed, long gun technology underwent a very specific division, with militaries prioritizing reliability, capacity, and fire rate while hunters demanded ever lighter, simpler, and more accurate rifles. And as a result of both firearms engineers’ understanding of metallurgy and machining in the first half of the 20th century, and the large case volumes and projectiles preferred by the world’s armies then, these priorities were largely mutually exclusive. Military rifles grew larger and heavier as manufacturers looked to put more firepower in every soldier’s hands, while those bolt- and lever-action rifles used by hunters rifles grew lighter and more lithe.
And then came the AR-15. A masterpiece of aluminium, plastic, and steel, this revolutionary rifle belied its creator’s roots in aviation. It’s designer, Eugene Stoner, cut his teeth as a design engineer for aircraft components and the rifle’s design was further facilitated by Stoner’s employment at Armalite, a firearms development firm attached to the Fairchild aircraft company (and the reason why the rifle’s known as the Armalite Rifle, or AR). The first military rifle to combine those aforementioned attributes of reliability, fire rate, and capacity while still placing a high value on light weight and accuracy, the AR-15 essentially took all of the things the average military wanted and unknowingly combined them with the most important attributes desired by hunters.
But more importantly to Canadians, the AR-15 set firearm development on a new path that no longer saw capacity, semi-automatic action, reliability, accuracy and light weight as mutually exclusive. And although the AR-15 remains a woefully restricted firearm that cannot be generally be taken to, nor used anywhere but a sanctioned gun range or event, it’s effect on the firearms market has been to inspire other firearms manufacturers to reach the same balance. If you would like to find out about Ballastics, you can have a look online and find out more by researching how they are made.
1) Robinson Arms XCR-L and XCR-M
Perhaps the closest thing to a non-restricted AR-15 available on the market today, the Robinson Arms XCR line of rifles use a similarly aluminium-intensive chassis structure fitted with steel components where required, and as a result are comparably light. The test model on hand, an XCR-L Lightweight, tipped our scales at just a hair over 7.25 pounds, empty and without an optic. That is very light. In fact, while it may be hard to believe given it’s chunky stature, the XCR-L Lightweight actually weights slightly less than the vast majority of bolt-action centrefire rifles!
Unfortunately, like so many other non-restricted, so-called “black rifles” such as this, the XCR’s biggest drawback is its calibre selection. While bolt-action rifles can be had in all sorts of tried and tested calibres, it is much more difficult to create a single semi-automatic firearm with that kind of flexibility. Magazine well dimensions, bolts, buffers and gas systems must all be fine-tuned to the specific calibre being used, to say nothing of the overall length of the action and it’s reciprocating components. This means that using one semi-automatic rifle platform and building dozens of models and sub-models in all manner of calibres ranging from .222 Hornet up to .338 Lapua Magnum, such as is the case with most bolt-action rifle manufacturers, is nearly impossible.
But all that being said, as far as black rifles go, the XCR’s selection of chamberings is perhaps the rifle’s most endearing trait… at least to would-be hunters. Beginning with the relatively small .223 chambering that, while being somewhat undersized for deer and most other larger game, has rapidly become the de facto varmint hunting calibre, distinguishing itself as nearly perfect for everything from long-distance gopher poking or coyote hunting.
Remaining in the XCR-L family, the next step up in bore size is the newer 6.8 Remington SPC calibre. Slightly shorter overall than .223 and utilizing 0.277 calibre bullet (also known as 7mm) in weights between 110 and 120 grains, 6.8 SPC splits the difference between 5.56 mm / .223 Rem and it’s larger NATO cousin, the 7.26 mm / .308 Win. Designed to replace the existing 5.56 calibre round as the standard issue infantry calibre, 6.8 SPC is optimized to provide more power out of shorter barrels, and delivers 44% more energy than 5.56 mm out of a 16″ barrel. Furthermore, it picks up an additional roughly 75 additional feet per second when fired out of the 18.6″ barrel that required by Canadian law for non-restricted firearms, so the muzzle energy is increased even more. But is it enough? Well, our ballistic calculators tells us that a 115-grain Remington Core Lokt Ultra Bonded 6.8 SPC round, when compared to a 30-30 Winchester 170-grain Remington Core-Lokt, delivers 67 less foot-pound of energy at the muzzle, but will deliver 1,388 foot pounds at 100 yard, a 31 foot-pounds advantage over the lever gun round. As the range stretches out to 200 yards, the 6.8 SPC bullet has gained a distinct advantage of almost 100 foot-pounds over the venerable lever gun round, and is travelling over 600 feet-per-second faster for superior accuracy and less drop. So yes, it’s enough.
Cue the TV-shopping gimmick ad voice, because that’s not all folks. Making use of an extremely cheap and plentiful calibre Robinson Arm also makes their XCR-L in 7.62×39. The Soviet round that’s seen service in nearly every major conflict since the creation of the AK-47, it’s a real workhorse of a calibre that might surprise some. Again, working off our ballistic calculator we’re informed that a 123-grain Winchester soft point travels at almost exactly the same speed as a 150-grain Winchester Silvertip .30-30 round right up until about 300 yards, when the 7.62×39’s shape takes over and sees it pull away. Energy-wise, the story is similar, with the smaller 123-grain projectile putting 1,129 foot-pounds on target at 100 yards while the larger 150-grain .30-30 projectile manages to impart 1,357 foot-pounds. However, it’s worth noting that 7.62×39 is available in (admittedly uncommon) factory 150-grain loads and can also be reloaded with 150-grain projectiles, at which point it provides superior velocities and energy levels than either the .30-30 or the aforementioned 6.8 SPC almost across the board.
But wait, there’s more! If you’re out for game larger than deer, or would prefer to shoot something packing substantially more punch than the .30-30 we’ve used as a comparative round thus far, Robinson Arms also manufacturers the XCR-M. Basically an XCR-L that’s been scaled up in every dimension, the XCR-M is noticeably heavier and tips the scales at 9.25 pounds, but can be had three flavours: .243 Win, .260 Win, and finally needs-no-introduction .308 Winchester round. Capable of tackling pretty much any variety of game you’re liable to find in this country with the right projectile, the XCR-M is a thoroughly flexible gun, and can go from competitive shooting matches to a moose hunt with little more than a magazine change. But the additional weight does make it a trade-off.
Regardless of which model and calibre is selected, the XCR is a first-rate rifle, as one would expect of any rifle carrying a minimum price tag of roughly $2,500. Out of the box, they are typically capable of above average accuracy by virtue of their well-made internals and renowned triggers, and owners report an average of 1.5 to 2 MOA, depending on the ammunition. But what it’s capable of from a benchrested position on a calm day isn’t what makes the XCR so great. Initially designed to compete for the US Special Operations Command SOF Combat Assault Rifle contract, the XCR’s real strength is its light weight, excellent balance, and very mild recoil. This makes shooting from any position dramatically easier and helps with follow up shots.
And the reason for that is what lies inside the XCR. Equal parts AR-15 and AK-47, the XCR is by its designer’s own admission a hybrid of the world’s most popular combat rifles, and combines the long-stroke piston-driven gas operation, three-lugged bolt, sliding extractor and fixed ejector of Kalashnikov’s rifle with the modularity, ergonomics, and materials of the AR-15 design. So while the five-way adjustable gas system and butter-smooth action ensure the smoothest cycling possible, the AR-style in-line buttstock, straight-drop magazine well, non-reciprocating charging handle on the left side and controls layout all keep the XCR feeling very familiar.
And not surprisingly, it comes apart like one would expect an AK and AR combination to. Operate the catch that holds the upper and lower together at the rear and the gun breaks down like an AR-15, hinging at the front take-down pin. From there, the bolt, it’s carrier, and the long stroke piston are all extracted from the rear of the upper receiver just as one would an AR-15… with the obvious exception being the length of the gas piston. At the front of the gas system, the adjustable gas plug can be removed to allow the expansion chamber and adjustment ports to be cleaned.
There are some unique innovations as well. The stock, for example, is an inline unit like you’d find with an AR-15 but can be folded for storage and carrying, unlike the AR-15’s buffer unit. Also, it’s a wonderfully solid 7-way adjustable metal unit with an adjustable cheek riser as well. The upper is entirely monolithic and on the newer lightweight models such as this are svelte Keymod units. And the barrel can be swapped in minutes with nothing more than a single hex key. Yes, you read that right; simply loosen the cap screw located at the 6-o’clock position ahead of the magazine well and pull the barrel forward and free of the upper assembly. Insert a new barrel of whatever length and/or calibre you’re prefer and tighten the bolt up again. Done.
Obviously with all that adaptability, the XCR’s excellent combination of solid engineering and ergonomics, and the wide variety of calibres available the XCR has long been a perfectly competent hunting rifle. That the newest iteration, this lightweight Keymod variant, loses roughly a full pound over previous models puts it well into the realm of downright logic hunting rifles. Weighing less than most standard-model bolt action rifles and benefitting from both a much faster action and the ability to change calibres in minutes, the only real downside to the XCR is it’s substantial cost. But if you can afford it, this is Canada’s best non-restricted hunting rifle.
2) Norinco M14s
At the other end of the spectrum is this: the Norinco M14s. While the Robinson Arms XCR is a testament to modern firearms design and engineering, the M14s is a literal throwback, hearkening back to a period before Eugene Stoner had ever introduced the world to aluminium guns. Concocted of nothing more than basic, good old fashioned steel and walnut, the M14 was in fact replaced by Stoner’s AR-15 after a short record of service in Vietnam, but has lived on in the civilian market as a respected and accurate battle rifle.
So let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. These are not expensive guns. What you’re looking at should cost no more than $500. For that less-than-princely sum you get an ugly box stuffed with an oil-drenched rifle, a magazine, a sling, some rudimentary cleaning accessories, and a comically translated manual. And while most of that stuff is entirely unimpressive, the rifle (once thoroughly degreased), is actually pretty nice. Sure, the finish definitely won’t win any awards, and they’re nowhere near as tightly manufactured as a Springfield Armory M1A, but they’re perfectly serviceable and even have something a Springfield Armory doesn’t: a forged receiver. And did we mention it’s cheap? Most M14s in this country, be them Polytech-, Norinco-, or Dominion Arms- branded, cost a quarter of what a Springfield Armory gun would.
Which is, to be blunt, the single biggest reason the M14s landed at position number two on this list. It’s the cheapest magazine-fed, semi-automatic rifle that fires .308 Winchester you’re liable to come across, and that makes it the choice of the budget-conscious hunter. Furthermore, while the basic rifles are available cheaply and the out-of-the-box product favours function or form to the extreme, these rifles have become a bit of a working class hero in Canada and as such enjoy the healthiest supply of aftermarket parts and modifications of any rifle here. From bolt replacements to barrel swaps, right down to Canadian-made stock designs, an M14s to many owners constitutes little more than a basic receiver and a collection of swappable parts. So, they can be put together in an homage to Jeff Cooper’s scout rifle and fitted to a traditional walnut stock such as the one pictured here, or they can be fitted with a short 18.5″ barrel, dropped into a lightweight aluminium chassis and fitted with a conventional optic slung over the action. Obviously both rifles will handle differently from one another and lend themselves to different situations better, and it’s nice to have that sort of choice when it comes to building one up. And since they’re not exactly overly complex rifles, they’re easy to work on, and even easier to improve without the aid of a gunsmith. Simple improvements such as op-rod spring guide replacement can be done in minutes, and even more complicated mechanisms like the two-stage trigger mechanism can be dramatically improved through the application of some valve grinding compound and an hour’s worth of dry-firing.
And they’re reliable. Stone-axe reliable. More reliable, perhaps, than any other rifle listed here. Borrowing the action from the old M1 Garand rifle and adapting it for use with a box magazine and the smaller 7.62 NATO / .308 Winchester round, the M14s has developed a reputation for going bang, every damned time. The one pictured here, for example, has shot thousands of rounds in all conditions with minimal cleaning and maintenance over the past 5 years. It has never once failed to feed, fire and extract. Part of the reason for that is its short-stroke piston-driven design that keeps carbon fouling well away from the action, and another part of its reliability is the action’s loose, relatively low-drag nature. Keep it greased (not oiled), and you’ll have no problems with an M14s, regardless of how much crap you drag it through in a hunting season.
Which brings us to the calibre, and the specific nuances of the M14s’ diet. Digesting expensive .308 Winchester rounds at a rate that will alarm your spouse and your accountant alike, M14s are like many semi-automatic firearms, and is relatively picky with ammunition and accuracy. In the case of the M14s, this is due to the fact that the heavy gas system and relatively loose bolt-to-receiver fit makes the rifle quite vulnerable to inconsistent returns-to-battery that can happen with low-grade ammunition, or ammunition that doesn’t impart the correct pressure impulse on the gas system. Thankfully, since the M14 has seen widespread use as a marksman’s rifle, there is no shortage of factory ammo designed to function in this rifle. Furthermore, if you want to get the best results possible, handloading for it is paint-by-numbers easy, thanks to the wide array of existing information out there about loading for the M14s. 165 grain bullets are optimal for the rifling, and most Norinco rifles have relatively long throats, so loading ammunition slightly longer than SAAMI spec over somewhere around 41 grains of 4895 is a surefire hit. To put in it perspective, the gun pictured here typically shoots 2.5 MOA groups with factory ammunition, but when firing ammunition loaded in the manner we just described, is capable of at least halving its group sizes.
But there is a reason the M14s is playing second fiddle in this company. It’s big. Really, really, really big. The one pictured here, in a walnut stock and fitted with a heavy rail section and scout optic is well into the 11 pound range, making it something of a bear to lug around. And since there isn’t so much as a smooth edge damn near anywhere it snags on almost everything. The gas plug, the front sight, the muzzle device, even the op rod all have an amazing ability to grab foliage. Of course, it doesn’t help that the barrel is 22″ long, attached to a relatively long receiver, and capped off with a 2″ long muzzle device. For that reason alone, we’d suggest taking a serious look for the shorter, 18.5″ barreled version for hunting.
3) CSA Vz. 58 / CZ858 / VZ2008
At the polar opposite end of the spectrum lies our third choice: the VZ58. From first glance, it’s obvious that this rifle is of thoroughly Eastern Bloc extraction, and is about as modern as the Berlin Wall. In fact, like most Eastern European military firearms, the VZ-58’s nomenclature belies specifically how old of a design it is, as its formal name during its creation was the “7,62 mm samopal vzor 58,” or “7.62mm submachine gun model 1958.” Developed by and manufactured for the Czechoslovakian army when they were forced to switch the then-new 7.62x39mm Soviet round, the Vz. 58 remains in military service, while manufacturers like CSA produce semi-automatic “sporter” versions for civilian use.
While its appearance gives away its communist roots, the Vz. 58 is in no way, shape, or form an AK-47 or variant thereof. Yes, it has a similar profile, feeds from a similarly curved magazine, and can be had with a similar chipboard-style stock set… but it is not a Kalashnikov. There is absolutely no parts interchangeability between the Vz. 58 and it’s Russian cousin, and they do not operate in the same manner. The Vz. 58 is no more alike an AK than is an M14 or AR-15. Which is a good thing, because it means most PAL and RPAL holders in Canada can actually own it, as the CSA Vz. 58 comes in both restricted and non-restricted versions. The difference between them? Restricted variants have shorter barrels.
But if you can get past the movie-villain looks, the Vz. 58 earns its place on the podium with a triumvirate of benefits; weight, calibre, and reliability. We’ll begin with weight. Unloaded, and bereft of optics, a non-restricted Vz. 58 is a svelt 7.32 pounds; almost the exact same weight as a Remington 700 or 783 short-action rifle. In fact just for comparison’s sake, even though a Vz. 58 has one of the chunkiest milled receivers ever fitted to a gun, they still weigh almost a full pound less than a stamped-steel AK-47 or variant thereof. And the weight is carried beautifully. With a thin barrel profile and a relatively compact gas piston assembly, the weight is heavily biased towards the rear of the gun, where the heavy milled receiver and large alloy magazine reside. This has the result of making it feel even lighter than it is. It also makes it easier to shoot off-hand, easier to shoulder, and easier to carry on a conventional sling since the majority of the weight is carried close to the body rather than far away on the barrel.
The very reason for its creation, we have already discussed the merits of the 7.6×39 round, and it doesn’t behave any differently when fired from a Vz. 58. With the standard 7.62×39 twist rate of 1:9.4″ these rifles are perfectly capable of stabilizing 123, 125 and 150 grain projectiles equally well and usually produce accuracy that’s in the 2-3 MOA range with factory ammunition. However, unlike the Robinson Arms XCR-L in 7.62×39, which will perform relatively well with any premium hunting ammunition, it’s crucially important to test any potential hunting ammo or reloading recipes beforehand if you’re using a Vz. 58. The reason for this is because unlike 7.62 NATO, 7.62×39 bores are typically .311″ in diameter. We say typically, however, because this isn’t always the case. Due to Americans’ familiarity with .308″ projectiles, most American manufacturers of 7.62×39 calibre rifles have done so with .308″ bores, such as the Ruger Mini-30 and more to the point, the US-made VZ2008. So, while most CSA-branded rifles will produce the best accuracy with the .310″ projectiles intended for use in rifles chambered in 7.62×39, we suggest anyone with a Vz. 58-style rifle slug their bores before purchasing projectiles and test any commercial ammunition thoroughly for accuracy and point of impact. And should you happen to find your Vz. 58-pattern rifle has a .308″ bore, we also suggest limiting the bullet weight to no more than 150 grains, as the twist rate may not be sufficient to stabilize longer bullets such as the 165 and 170 grain .308″ offerings. However, with all that being said, putting hours of sweat equity into making a Vz. 58 a true tack-driver may accomplish little in regards to real-world results. Most 7.62×39 loads have dropped almost 7″ by the time they hit 200 yards, so just like modern .30-30 loads, it stops being a matter of terminal ballistics at anything beyond that distance and starts becoming a matter of how confident one is at sighting in and doping that sort of bullet drop.
Which brings us to the third, and perhaps most entertaining aspect of the Vz. 58: its reliability. While the Vz. 58 may look like the product borne of the same minds that created the Lada, it is in fact quite a nice gun, especially if one is considering a Vz. 58 sporter from Czech Small Arms or one of the long-awaited American-made VZ2008s (the now-contentious CZ 858, while still a perfectly serviceable rifle in every way, simple does not have the same high-quality finishing of the CSA and VZ2008 rifles). In fact, while some AK-47 purists may cringe at this notion, the Vz. 58 is in almost every way a superior rifle to the better-known Russian rifle. The Vz uses a beautifully milled receiver, has a bolt-hold open function that locks the action open after the last round is fired, can be handily reloaded with stripper clips, has a massive ejection port for more reliable ejection and clearing the action, is substantially more ergonomic, and has better controls in the way of a trigger-guard mounted magazine release and ergonomic safety switch. Hell even the charging handle, which is little more than a metal stud welded onto the bolt carrier, can be made ambidextrous with little more than another metal stud welded to the other side of the bolt carrier! It’s really that simple. So with all that being said then it should come as little surprise that the Vz. 58 in all its formats has proven an utterly reliable gun for most of its owners. Put rounds in the bottom, pull the trigger, and bullets will come out of the point end. And it will do that. Every. Single. Time. Wet, dirty, dry, lubed or no, the thing just pounds out rounds making it a great choice for the hunter that doesn’t want to baby his rifle.
But the Vz. 58 has one downside: its lack of mounting options for optics. By virtue of having an action that, when open, creates a giant hole right through the entire gun, it is unsurprisingly difficult to find a place to put an optic. Hand guard assemblies exist that allow for the mounting of a long-eye relief optic of some variety such as a small scout, pistol, or red-dot optic, just as other options exist that allow for the replacement of the rear receiver cover to be replaced with a small railed piece, but neither seems to be an ideal solution. In both cases, the ejection pattern and massive length of the action serves to limit the overall size of optic that will prove compatible, and as a result seems to relegate most owners to some form of red-dot or holographic optic. It’s certainly a downside for that that prefer a bit more magnification, but again, seems to further cement the notion that the Vz. 58 remains a short-range gun comparatively.
The Honourable Mention: The Kel Tec RFB
While 6.8 SPC and 7.62×39 might be called “adequate” for a large variety of Canadian game animals, they would never be called “ample,” unlike the classic .308 Winchester rounds that are propelled from the muzzle of a Kel Tec RFB. But one quick look at the RFB will tell you that its calibre isn’t the big news here. Standing for “Rifle, Forward-ejecting, Bullpup,” the Kel Tec RFB burst onto the scene a few years ago to much fanfare and high hopes; the latest in a long string of rifles Kel Tec hoped would convince the public of the viability of polymer and steel rifles. Like the now-venerable AR-15 that came before it, Kel Tec’s continual progression towards the construction of largely polymer rifles has been interesting, as the relative new company explores the many ways in which polymer’s molding process can allow for design additions that were previously thought to be impossible. And no rifle captures this better than the RFB. As the company’s flagship product, the RFB is unique amongst all other rifles, and is easily one of the handiest and most versatile rifles available to the Canadian non-restricted consumer.
And the single largest reason for this is its obvious bullpup layout. This refers to the RFB’s relatively uncommon layout that sees the trigger group moved ahead of the chamber and magazine well, which in turn allows for a substantially shorter overall rifle, since the action can be moved significantly closer to the rear the stock. As a result of this, the RFB has an overall length of roughly 26.5″ and that includes a full-length, 18.5″ barrel to ensure non-restricted status. In other words, there’s only 7.1″ worth of gun here that isn’t the barrel. That makes it the shortest widely available non-restricted rifle available in Canada; even the IWI Tavor is a full two inches longer and fires the dramatically less potent .223 Remington cartridge. If you want to know what carrying a gun that size would be like, simply remove the action from most conventional bolt-action rifle stocks, and hack roughly three inches off the fore end of the stock. The resulting object should be roughly the same length as an RFB.
But if bullpup rifles have one problem, it’s that their design typically precludes ambidextrous use; given the action is cycling and usually ejecting rounds out of the right side of the stock, southpaws would usually end up putting their cheek right over the ejection port. But that isn’t the case with the forward-ejecting RFB. After firing, the expended case is pushed upward, above the action. From there, it remains contained inside the gun’s steel cheekpiece, and is pushed forward by the bolt’s forward movement into a channel just above the barrel. As each consequent round is fired, the empty round is pushed into this same channel, until they are forced the end of the fore end and are pushed clear of the rifle to simply fall on the ground. Obviously this not only makes it a truly ambidextrous bullpup rifle right out of the box, but also makes it an easy gun to clean up after, with brass gently piling up just ahead of your shooting position. Add in the ambidextrous controls (including the charging handle that can be moved from side to side), and you have a rifle that’s equally easy to use for both right- and left-handed shooters.
With the ejection chute occupying a position above and slightly to the left of the barrel, the RFB’s gas system has been clocked slightly to the right, giving the muzzle end of the RFB an interesting three-tube look. Entirely chrome-lined and manufactured from the same 4140 steel as the barrel, the RFB’s gas system comprises a short-stoke piston, and a gas expansion cylinder gas that (like many other modern piston-driven guns) serves to regulate and adjust the amount of gas utilized. That’s it. There is no op-rod nor any of the associated hardware; the short-stroke piston simply acts directly on the bolt carrier, keeping the action simple and minimizing the number of parts.
But the RFB isn’t the only bullpup rifle available in this country. The aforementioned Tavor is one, and even FN’s FS2000 can be found, albeit rarely. So why is the RFB here, and not those rifles? The answer is as easy as looking as the magazine. That’s an FN FAL magazine, albeit blocked to 5 rounds, which means it contains nice, big, fat .308 Winchester rounds. And nice, big, fat .308 Winchester rounds can take damned near any sort of game that walks or crawls across this continent. And since the compact model of the RFB comes with an 18.5″ barrel reamed in the popular 1:11.25″ twist rate, it will push just about any .308 Winchester pill up to and including 175-grain projectiles without complaint.
Unfortunately there is one concession Kel Tec had to make in order to stuff that big battle rifle round into the RFB’s chamber: the gun’s weight. A svelte seven pound rifle this isn’t. While the polymer hand guard and grip assembly certainly help in reducing the gun’s weight, there’s no getting around the simple fact that in order to feed, fire, and extract .308 Winchester requires a lot of steel. As a result, the shorter-barreled carbine variant of the RFB weighs 8.1 pounds completely unloaded. The 24″ barreled “hunter” model brings that up to 8.7 pounds. So, basically, you’re looking at a rifle that weighs roughly a pound more than most traditional hunting rifles, and that figure goes up once you add the heavy steel FN FAL-pattern magazine, ammunition, and an optic. In short, fully dressed up and ready to go out, you’ll be looking at roughly ten pounds. And that isn’t terribly light, and if anything it actually feels heavier than that, simply as a result of the gun’s density. With the ejection tube, gas system, action, and all contained in a package roughly two inches longer than the average .308 rifle’s barrel alone, it definitely has some heft to it. Then again, since part of that heft has gone into the things like the heavy-duty 4130 steel cheekpiece that protects the shooter’s face from any wayward case rupture or other malfunction, the RFB’s heft is also a bit comforting as well.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room; the RFB’s accuracy. .308 Winchester is well known for its excellent ballistics and inherent accuracy; there are probably more paid marksmen carrying rifles in 7.62 NATO or .308 Winchester than any other. To be blunt, not many of those marksmen are going to be carrying an RFB, though. Although compact and innovative, most RFB’s do not come close to the accuracy potential of the round they fire for three reasons: the barrel is not free-floated, the bolt can be moved slightly when closed, and the chamber’s throat is typically quite liberally cut. While most rifles work to isolate the barrel as much as possible, the RFB’s tight dimensions and relatively overstuffed internals (remembering of course that this rifle has an entire ejection path rather than a simple port) mean mounting some of the rifle’s components would have to be accomplished by using the barrel as a support structure. As a result, the top rail is actually fitted to the barrel, and the gas system and ejection chute are mounted to the rail mount. That’s a lot of stuff hanging off the barrel. The bolt’s loose tolerances when closed have been chalked up to a reliability issue in which anything more tightly fitted may bind, but does create a situation in which the action’s cycling is not entirely repeatable and consistent from shot-to-shot. And the chamber… well, no one is quite sure why the throat is quite so generous, but it can be somewhat compensated for by handloading ammunition to the longest overall length allowable by the magazine. But regardless, while the RFB’s accuracy may not be up to the standard expected of a .308 rifle, it’s certainly capable of minute-of-deer performance and absolutely no owners that have used their RFB for hunting seem to have any complaints. The trigger is certainly worth mentioning as well. Not simply good-for-a-bullpup but rather good for any semi-automatic rifle, the secret to the RFB’s trigger is that it keeps the sear located directed above the trigger itself, which is then tied to the action by a floating bar. This avoids having the trigger act upon the sear through a series of linkage components and inducing slop.
So given the RFB’s weight and its accuracy, how does this almost $2,500 gun earn an honourable mention here? It’s size. Because even if it might be a bit heavier and not quite as accurate, when you’re pushing bush and scrabbling to get up a rise in Canada’s dense wilderness, there’s a lot to be said for having a smaller gun. And they simply don’t get any smaller here in Canada without losing that coveted non-restricted status!