I will never forget the Soldier of Fortune magazine cover photo from back in the ’80s depicting a man standing next to a cow, both wearing gas masks. As crazy as that seemed to me then, I kind-of understand it now. Nevertheless, whenever I hear the terms “survival” and “gun” mentioned together I cringe. I guess my first thought is “nut-job” and I certainly do not want to be thought of in those terms. Regardless I have to say that the rifle in question is my top pick for a true survival gun.
Kel-Tec has a long history as a manufacturer of unusual, perhaps eccentric, firearms. Many of their guns have been trend-setters to be sure. Their extensive use of polymers has also set them apart. The SU-16c is a good example of how they have really broken new ground with their forward-thinking designs.
The SU-16c, or “Charlie” model, is the latest iteration of the design, incorporating the best features of the Alpha and Bravo models and adding a couple of outstanding upgrades. The rifle is chambered for the ubiquitous Remington .223 / Nato 5.56 round and uses standard AR-15/M-16 magazines. This means that finding and using the most common rifle round in the western world should be relatively easy in a pinch. The gun uses a medium-heavy barrel and a piston/op-rod system rather than direct gas impingement (see my post on Piston vs. DI guns), making it a clean, cool-running rifle that can stand up to sustained firing. The best part? It weighs 4.7 lbs.! That is not a typo. Even with that barrel and the piston system. Amazing.
Along with the rifle’s low weight, the gun has a folding stock that permits an extended mag to protrude through it. In fact the stock can be folded over an already-inserted mag. The gun can be fired with the stock folded or open. When folded the gun is 25.5″ long making it very easy to handle in very tight quarters. The nice checkering on the grips makes it quite easy to fire in this configuration. When unfolded the rear stock makes an excellent contact point for shoulder and cheek weld.
Other features of the gun are a front stock that opens to form a decent bipod, very nice “iron” sights, threaded barrel, a top rail for optics and optional sling mounts that attach to existing bolts in the gun. The rifle comes with a single 10-round magazine and a small phillips wing-nut screwdriver for adjusting the rear windage, etc.
The configuration I settled on some time ago was no muzzle device, Tasco Red-Dot 1x optic (low enough to work with the standard cheek weld), Giles tactical sling and PMags. The rifle can easily be carried in a day pack, tucked behind the truck seat or slung in any position. It’s so small and light that it’s easy to forget it’s there. This would be meaningless of course if the gun was less robust but it just shoots and shoots. It handles all ammo I’ve ever tried and is easy to field strip and clean. As with all piston guns, attention must be paid to the gas block as this is where the only real fouling happens.
Would I prefer this rifle in a battlefield situation? It wouldn’t be my first choice, but like I’ve heard a thousand times, the .22 in your pocket is vastly superior to the .44 magnum at home in your gun safe. I’ve carried this rifle many miles on hikes, over roads and on the water where I wouldn’t have dreamed of carrying an AR or an AK. That makes it pretty special to me.
So for my definition of “survival gun”, the SU-16c with its light weight, small form factor, reliability (piston system and heavier barrel) and ammo/mag compatibility is the best I’ve found.
Oh, did I mention that it’s fun to shoot?
NOTE 12/12/12: I have switched preferred optic for this rifle to the Burris FastFire II.