By Jay Bell
What is the most fun weapon and caliber combination to shoot? The possibilities are limitless. Everyone has their own pet systems, loves, and opinions. Let’s take a look at options and evaluate. My keen scientific mind has concocted a very detailed system to evaluate the options that are too difficult to explain, so you will just have to trust me. The category is FUN FACTOR and we are looking to fill the podium with a winner.
My focus is on items that people can actually own, even if slightly difficult. This assumes you don’t live under the near communist regimes of some of our bluest states. Also, the Battlefield Vegas 20mm Vulcan mounted to a Toyota Prius and miniguns are a rare occurrence, so I will exclude those as ‘extraordinary’ items. I will not include any civil war or WWII artillery, that by some loophole, is legal.
My background in the industry has provided me with the opportunity to shoot a larger spectrum of cartridges and weapons than the average shooting sports enthusiast. I am told I shot my first .22 Long Rifle at age three, I have no such memory. However, knowing my father’s desire to give me all the experiences under the sun, and recall how much time we spent at the family gun range growing up, it’s probably true. I’ve shot so much that I’ve likely forgotten some of the interesting weapons I’ve fired. Therefore, I feel I’m a pretty worthy judge of what firearms might be the most fun to shoot.
BIG BORE ENTERTAINMENT
During my time in the manufacture of cartridge cases for Dakota Arms, Lazzeroni, Tubbs, Huntington’s, Old Western Scrounger, Midway, Cheytac, Federal, Holland and Holland, Dixie Gun, John Rigby & Co., Kynoch and too many others to list, I had the opportunity to shoot many of their products. You don’t want to fire too many of these at one time. For those of you that have never had the experiencing the percussion and the recoil from these large calibers — let’s just say big bore cartridges can give a headache the size of a small country.
The recoil from some of them is quite painful. I have never fired from the shoulder the round my father created, the 700 Nitro Express. I’ve only shot it from a pressure barrel. The rifle itself weighs more than 40 pounds; another reason to avoid shooting it. I’ve fired its younger brothers in the Nitro Express arena and I have done it enough to know it’s painful… painful enough to not want to shoot it all that much. But, boys will be boys, and if the opportunity presents itself to shoot something unique, damn the torpedoes – we’re gonna shoot it. In testing some 50-70 or 50-90 or 50-110 ammo in a Sharps rifle, I gained a scar above my right eye, along with a memory that’ll last forever. This is the rifle that was used by Tom Selleck in “Quigley Down Under” in the 1980s. The peep sight requires you get rather close to it to aim. Then there is the front locking trigger and the rear hair trigger. I took a last breath before intentionally getting my finger near the hair-trigger and accidentally touching it. It went off and blood ran down my face. The large size of the weapon, cartridge, and the boom all make it a blast to shoot. Channeling Tom Selleck’s character shooting a moving bucket at 1200 yards adds to the experience (now you have to stream the movie). So, in my book the large African or Black powder calibers are not at the top of the list for fun due to recoil, first, percussion, second, and weight of weapons, third.
The ability to decimate targets at 1000 yards is pretty awesome. Many shooters only dream of making a near-world record shot at over a mile. Nearly all of these have a muzzle brake which dramatically reduces recoil when fired from the shoulder.
Some of the long-range calibers like 50 BMG, 408 Cheytac, 338 Lapua, 338 Norma Mag, 300 Norma Mag, Lazzeroni 7.82 Warbird, and 12.04 BiBaMuFu (Big Bad Mother*ucker) and are very similar in their percussive effects. The ability to decimate targets at 1000 yards is pretty awesome. Many shooters only dream of making a near-world record shot at over a mile. Nearly all of these have a muzzle brake which dramatically reduces recoil when fired from the shoulder. The muzzle brake can wreak havoc on any instrumentation placed alongside the weapon, though. The sniper calibers are not at the top of the list for percussion, first and recoil, second.
I have less experience in handgun calibers. As a teenager, I was sucked into the frenzy calibers of the day. Most of the larger calibers like 44 Magnum, which according to Clint Eastwood’s character in “Dirty Harry” is, “the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?” Feel free to stream this movie as well! The 44 Mag does kick like a mule and only seems to transfer the pain from your shoulder to your wrist (and arms, and shoulders). It also has some serious percussion. Now, there are many large pistol calibers, including some rifle calibers, being shot from pistols. The stories and videos online make those look painful to shoot. Therefore, the large pistol calibers are not on the top of the list for fun guns to shoot.
FULL AUTO PLAY
Smaller pistol calibers can be a lot of fun. Shooting .22 LR in pistol or rifle is great because it can be fired indoors and, therefore, year-round. It has low recoil and is not terribly loud. The biggest negative I can think of is the time spend reloading and the sore fingers you get from feeding those finicky magazines. Since 22 LR is such a popular, mainstream cartridge, it reduces the reduces the wow/fun factor. But, when the right gun comes along, the caliber is moot. For example, my father is working on a homemade 22 LR Gatling gun. I can’t wait to fire that!
Fully automatic, magazine-fed machine guns are the next category that turns a corner in our story. Someone rarely fires these weapons without a big smile on their face. Most of these are in 22 LR, .223/5.56mm, 7.62x39mm, and .308/7.62x51mm, which have reasonable percussion and recoil. The .308/7.62x51mm, after enough rounds, can give you a headache. As a pre-teen, I shot a lot of 22 LR in a Ruger 10/22. We tried all the high-capacity magazines of the late 1970s & 1980s. The short version of the story, anything over 30 rounds did not work. The biggest negative in this category is the cost of the ammo. Of course, this is reduced with 22 LR, however, it doesn’t have the wow factor of the larger calibers. A second negative is the paperwork on a fully automatic weapon. A third negative is the limited number of ranges where you are allowed to fire these weapons. I give this platform a bronze medal for the FUN FACTOR.
One step up from the above is fully automatic, belt-fed machine guns. This mainly ends up being 5.56mm, 7.62x51mm, or .50 BMG. The M2 is a blast to shoot, and I highly recommend it on an outdoor range with tracers or Mk211 semi-HE ammo. In some of my work events, I get to shoot the M2 for free, which only amplifies the fun. To boot, most times I have shot belt feed I did not have to link the ammo myself, which is even better. At the 2021 NDIA Armaments conference at Ft. Benning, I got to shoot a suppressed M2 with an MGRS Optic. Now we are cooking with gas! An M249 SAW or Minimi is a blast and everyone should have one. The most fun I have personally had with belt-fed is dual 7.62x51mm M60’s mounted on a shoulder-high tripod. It had motorcycle handlebar lever-style triggers, one for each. The range allowed tracers, and walking rounds in on a target was unbelievably fun. It reminded me of WWII fighter pilots walking in a stream of rounds on a target. On the downside, paying for all the ammo you run in a belt-fed is no fun, and that’s doubly so when talking about a twin M60. I’m sure if I had to link the rounds every time I shot, it might swap positions… But, a solid effort for this group gives belt-feds the FUN FACTOR silver medal.
40mm WINNING FUN
The reason 40mm Low Velocity rounds are the most fun to shoot are numerous. First, due to the low velocity, you can see the round from the muzzle all the way to the target. Next, the recoil is very minimal. Third, the sound and percussion are almost non-existent. It does make a cool, hollow “ploop” sound when fired. The orange dye is cool to see, and most rounds don’t have this kind of clear hit signature. Next is hitting things downrange with nearly a 2,700-grain projectile makes interesting things happen. Wood railroad ties, metal frames, concrete barricades, and whatever else you are shooting at really takes a beating. If you can shoot at a car or old truck, you are really moving metal. If you’ve never been in a competition to put a 40mm round in a 55-gallon drum at 300 meters, it should be on your to-do list. Add other options in 40mm that include parachute flares, smoke rounds, and non-lethal rounds and you have a fiesta.
On the weapon side, there are numerous options. You can go old school with an M79 Launcher. You can mount M203 under an AR-style rifle. A stand-alone, rail-mounted M203 is highly recommended and can be had for around $3000, new. A Milkor M32A1-MSGL 6-shot launcher is the pinnacle of the bunch, however they’re extremely difficult to obtain and cost around $15,000.
To be fair, there are negatives. The cost of the rounds is prohibitive. Reloading the rounds can be accomplished for around $2 to $3 each if you reuse the zinc body, 38 S&W blank, and the M212 base case. There are some paperwork restrictions on owning a 40mm weapon. The cost of some of the more exotic weapons is a challenge — however, a used M203 can be had for under $1000. Despite all this, the 40mm wins the gold medal as the most fun thing to shoot.
After this goes to print, I typically post the article on my LinkedIn account. Please check in there and let me know if you agree or disagree with my extremely scientific analysis of the most FUN FACTOR medal winners. If you have a more deserving candidate, please let me know.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V26N3 (March 2022)|