Build Your Own Survival Rifle

Turn your rifle into a do-it-all backwoods lifesaver!
Survival Rifle
Build a rifle that could help you survive almost any circumstance. |Photo by Richard Mann

Rifles have two primary purposes, hunting and protection. Some are specifically configured for hunting and some are set up for fighting. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to fend for yourself with regard to finding food and protecting your bacon, you’ll need a specific kind of rifle. And for that rifle to best satisfy both purposes, it will need to be special.

Colonel Jeff Cooper was a proponent of the general-purpose rifle, which he called the “Scout.” It was a lightweight, compact and powerful arm with a forward-mounted scope and aperture sights. Cooper conceived a stringent set of specifications that a rifle had to meet to be christened a Scout. It had to weigh between 6.6 and 7.7 pounds, be no longer than 39 inches and be outfitted with a forward-mounted, long-eye-relief scope, backup sights and a shooting sling. And it had to deliver 2-minute-of-angle (MOA) accuracy or better for three shots.

While a general-purpose rifle is appealing, I’m not a fan of the long-eye-relief scopes or the notion that a shooter must conform to a particular rifle. I think it should be the other way around; A rifle should be configured conditional to the shooter’s needs. After years of thought and experimentation, I’ve come up with my own utility rifle specifications.

Versatile Firepower

A rifle’s length should be conditional on the shooter’s height. It should be short enough that it could be carried vertically at the wrist while the muzzle remains at least 4 inches above the ground. Rifle weight should be determined by the shooter’s strength. A shooter should be able to hold the field-ready and loaded rifle at the wrist, with his or her arm extended horizontally, for at least 30 seconds. You’ll have to carry enough gear for bugging out, so your survival rifle should not be too much of a burden.

To be a true utility rifle, it must be compatible with various sighting instruments. It should have a front sight and an adjustable rear aperture. It should also be receptive to the tool-less mounting of a non-magnifying, red-dot-style sight and a traditional riflescope. You may have to hunt or fight day or night to stay alive.

Several accessories are also needed. It would need a provision for the mounting of a flashlight to facilitate hunting or protection at night. It would need to be magazine fed so reloading and swapping ammunition types could be accomplished hastily. It would also need a shooting sling to assist with marksmanship. And lastly, the ability to mount a fast-targeting laser would also be of great assistance for work in low-light environments.

All these characteristics should produce a rifle that would allow an individual to survive most any circumstance, and they should culminate in a rifle capable of precision. Cooper’s 2-MOA accuracy requirement might suffice for general-purpose use, but in order to deliver precise shots on small game and possibly the same on long-range threats, a three-shot, 1-MOA accuracy requirement would be a prudent minimum to meet.

Finally, cartridge choice needs to be addressed. Like with all other aspects of our “conditional utility rifle,” cartridge choice should be conditional on what the rifle would be asked to do. In North America, a .223 Remington will suffice for most because, with the wide array of ammunition options available, it would be sufficient for defense, predators, small game and even larger animals like deer and feral hogs. Those living in regions where dangerous game is prevalent might prefer more power. It will all depend on where you intend to survive.

Built For Bug-Out

Looking at the available rifles I could use as a platform for the creation of a conditional utility rifle, I finally settled on the Mossberg MVP Predator. The MVP Predator is available in .223 Remington and .308 Winchester. It feeds from AR-style magazines and is already moderately compact. The challenge was to make the MVP meet the weight requirement and configure it for compatibility with the three sighting options.

A wood rasp and several hours of work reformed the laminated wood stock and eliminated about a half pound. I ordered a one-piece scope base rail from Mossberg and to it attached an XS Sights Low Weaver Backup aperture sight. For a front sight, I selected a front ramp I’d removed from another rifle and ordered an XS white-striped front post. But not being a gunsmith, I needed some help with front sight installation and with some other work, too.

Jerry Dove of Dove’s Custom Guns has been building custom guns for a long time, and Dove is also a serious shooter. Dove does a lot of tweaking to my personal firearms, and that’s where I turned for help with this build. It was no problem for him to mount the front sight and determine its proper height. He also very cleverly installed two sections of Picatinny rail to the forearm by inserting brass fixtures. This allows the rails to be removed and installed as needed.

When Dove was finished, the rifle needed one more bit of enhancement. The trigger on the MVP is held in place by a single screw, and in about five minutes I had a new Timney unit installed. All that was left to do was attach accessories and see how the rifle would shoot.

Target In Sight

In addition to the XS sights, I needed two optical sights to serve as primary aiming instruments. My first choice was the Leupold Prismatic, a non-magnifying, illuminated sight that attaches to the scope rail via a quick-release thumbscrew. It would serve the purpose for low-light and close-quarters engagements. For a precision optic, I chose a fixed, six-power Leupold FX II with a heavy duplex reticle. The bold reticle helps this scope also preform in low light, and it was mounted in Leupold QRW rings. It can be installed/removed without worrying of the zero shifting in about 15 seconds.

For that one-rifle answer to everything, a laser is not a bad idea. With the two sections of Picatinny rail attached to the forearm, this is an easy add-on, and the LaserMax Uni-Max and Uni-Max ES both served the purpose admirably. Either will also permit attachment of a SureFire Scout Light . Slings can also be of assistance, and for this rifle I chose a Magpul Multi-Mission Sling. It can be quickly snugged up behind your shooting elbow for better accuracy at long range.

Consider these traits and you should be able to create a versatile survival rifle that can fulfill a number of roles.

Custom Mossberg MVP Predator Specifications

  • Caliber: .223 Rem.
  • Barrel: 18.5 inches
  • OA Length: 37.25 inches
  • Weight: 6.4 pounds
  • Finish: DuraCoat
  • Action: Bolt
  • Capacity: 11+1
  • Stock: Laminated
  • hardwood
  • MSRP: $732 (base)$1,223 (modified)

For More Information

Dove’s Custom Guns; 304-425-2023

Mossberg; 203-230-5300

Magpul, 877-462-4785

LaserMax; 800-527-3703

Leupold; 800-538-7653

SureFire; 800-828-8809

XS Sights; 888-744-4880

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Winter 2016 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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  • Songdog83

    Other than aesthetics why buy a bolt rifle that uses AR mags? For the same amount of money, and without the custom work, you can have an AR15 that has the same capabilities as the bolt gun, faster fire, and has proven itself as both a hunting and protection weapon.