Read up on the Chiappa M6: http://www.chiappafirearms.com/products/163
Buy one on GunsAmerica: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=chiappa%20m6
The Concept of a Survival Rifle
Some time ago I wrote a review of my M6 Scout rifle (https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/the-m6-springfield-scout-rifle/). In that article, I trace the lineage of the scout rifle from World War II on through the end of the Springfield M6 Scout era. Since there are no more copies of that rifle being imported, the prices have skyrocketed. I even received a few offers to sell my rifle at a considerable profit after the article was published.
Not to worry–it’s still tucked away in the back of the gun safe. There were also several people that reached out to me about the good folks at Chiappa, who were making their own version of the M6 scout rifle and importing it from Italy. I immediately went to my favorite local purveyor of guns and announced that I had to have one. I settled on the M6 scout rifle with the eight X-Caliber inserts. The rifle cost just over $700.00, including tax, but I ‘m a sucker for this concept.
Everything You Need in a Survival Rifle
As you look through the list of features, you begin to realize that almost everything you can imagine augmenting a single survival gun has been jammed into one package. If my math is correct, this gun is capable of firing 13 distinct rounds using all eight of the X caliber inserts. Of course, you have the dedicated .22 long rifle barrel, and the smooth-bored 12-gauge upper barrel (complete with screw-in modified Remington choke). The X-Caliber inserts are labeled for .380 auto, 9mm, .357 Magnum, .40 Smith & Wesson, .44 Magnum, .45 ACP, 20-gauge shotgun and .410 caliber shot shells. With these inserts, it is also possible to fire several compatible sub-calibers, such as .38 special, .44 special, .45 Colt, and a host of various extinct rounds.
Critics might note that the X-Caliber inserts don’t come in .223 or .308. If this were really going to be the do-all one-gun solution, Chiappa should look to finding a way to include those. My thought is that they’d have to make the gun more robust to handle the pressures, but it would be worth it.
Let’s get back to the gun itself. This is an interesting design. The buttstock is constructed of skeletonized metal, filled with a special polypropylene foam. There are pre-formed holes to secure both .22 long rifle and 12-gauge ammunition, and there is also a container fitted to hold the included cleaning gear.
The action on this gun is quite unique. Like most survival rifles, this is a traditional over/under break-open. The traditional method is via a latch on the top of the chamber that locks to the receiver. The X Rifle accomplishes the break with a lever action mechanism on the bottom, instead. Ithaca made lever action single shots for years, like the old Model 66. The design just seems obscure when compared to the rest of the break action shotguns.
This lever action also serves as a trigger guard for the two triggers–a setup reminiscent of a cowboy action shotgun, with one trigger positioned in front of the other. The safety is what you would expect on a traditional double-barreled shotgun, with a slide on the top of the tang.
The front sight is optical fiber, and the rear sight is adjustable in elevation and windage. The gun comes with three picatinny rails.
A Missed Opportunity
I truly, truly longed for this rifle to be the best modern iteration of the survival rifle. It’s not that there was any one feature that did not work; most of the features just did not work well together.
Let’s look at a few examples. It was almost impossible to get a consistent cheek weld on the gun, due to the innovative material used to make the stock. Polypropylene foam. That space would have been better utilized by replacing the fill with additional ammunition storage or even a storage spot for one of the X-Caliber inserts.
Next, the lever action and double triggers would have been fine on a gun that did not have to hinge and break open, but they proved to be a real pain to operate on this platform. I attribute some of it to the re-cocking of the action, which was done with this lever.
Using double triggers is also a matter for debate. Some like it. Others contend that you could pull the wrong trigger and miss a shot, or unleash the wrong barrel. I would have much preferred a barrel selector switch.
The sights were borderline unusable. The adjustable rear peep with a giant red dot post is a good place to start. This arrangement proved almost impossible to fire accurately, as the peep was too small for the fiber optic front sight. Plus, the rear sight was easily disturbed by the recoil of the gun, and moved between shots. A little gunsmithing and a dab of Loctite solved this particular problem, for the most part.
The X-Caliber adapters are quite an ingenious idea, and I believe they have true potential. They are steel inserts that fit in a 12gauge barrel, with chambers cut for the designated caliber (with rifling in the balance of the insert-barrel). The inserts did function as advertised, although my experience has taught me that you need to bring a few tools to extract the cartridges. I will confess that I had some safety concerns about these inserts, but they proved to be unfounded.
On the Range
The term “survival rifle” implies that a gun can be used for both personal protection and putting food on the table. With this definition in mind, there are several boxes that must be checked: the firearm must function reliably, deliver sufficient ballistics, and have a reasonable amount of accuracy.
My first test targeted the ballistics that were delivered by the gun while utilizing the X-Caliber inserts. You can see from the image that the ballistics were more than acceptable.
Extracting the spent casings from the X-Caliber inserts proved to be both time-consuming and awkward. First, both hands are required to break open the rifle using the lever action on the bottom. Then, you retrieve the tool from your pocket (transferring the gun to one hand to do so), and then you begin scraping until you can hook a portion of the case and extract it from the gun. Finally, you’re prepared to find your next round, perform some type of Barney Fife maneuver to insert it into the gun, and close the action.
When you’re ready to change calibers, you simply remove the insert and find the correct insert for the caliber you want to shoot. So one could argue that reloads would best be accomplished with a pocket-full of these steel inserts pre-loaded with various calibers.
There is a rubber O ring on the outside of each of the inserts. I concluded that this was necessary to keep the insert from damaging the shotgun barrel. The use of a rubber O ring insert could be problematic for accuracy; the insert is partially extracted each time the gun is broken open, and therefore might not return to the exact same position or orientation in the 12-gauge tube. In addition to that worrisome detail, the rubber ring would expand and contract based on the heat transferred with each round fired. The possibility for damage or loss of this O-ring could be significant, although I do not believe that it would cause a bullet strike inside the 12gauge barrel.
And so, it was time to carefully test accuracy. I felt that the maximum accuracy would be achieved by the lower barrel, chambered in .22 long rifle. I went with my usual “maximum accuracy” setup with a scope and lead sled. When I went to attach a scope to the accessory rail on top of the gun, I discovered that the rail was plastic. I’m not a fan of plastic rails. What’s the point? They break. If they don’t, they flex. They’re fine for some low-stakes applications–like rimfire plinking and airsoft, but beyond that I’m skeptical. As you can see in the photos, I didn’t use a scope. The good news is that there are three on the gun, so if you chew up one, or break it, you can rotate in a new one.
To get a baseline, I determined that I would first test the rifle’s accuracy at 25 yards with the .22 long rifle. The five-shot group fired from the lead sled could not be covered with my hand. The ammunition that I chose to use was federal auto match, which I have had excellent results with in numerous other guns.
With all of the caliber choices in the world available, I decided to concentrate on one caliber for testing accuracy: 9mm My reasoning for this was that 9mm would be the caliber most likely used in a survival situation. There’s more of that out there in the world than most other handgun calibers. And I’d shot all of the other inserts numerous times and didn’t find any one to behave differently than any of the others.
I placed a target at 25 yards, secured the rifle correctly in the lead sled, and then fired a three-round group using Winchester 9mm. NATO 124 grain. The best group that I was able to fire with this setup was 4.1 inches. To ensure that I wasn’t just having an extremely off day, or a run-in with bad ammunition, I retrieved from my truck a double-stack 9mm. 1911. Standing with a two handed grip, I fired three shots of the same ammunition, and was able to fire a 2.6-inch group.
I then put the largest target I could find at 100 yards and switched back to the Scout. After five shots, I began my walk of shame to the hundred-yard line. I was only able to find three holes in the target, and those formed a group of 9.3 inches. So let’s call those the best three out of five.
Of course, you could have simply put in a buck shot shell and hoped for better results, assuming you have a buckshot shell on hand when civilization collapses.
This gun had so much promise in the beginning, but it just did not live up to even the baseline that was set by the Springfield Armory M6 survival rifle. It shoots more like a proof of concept than a viable survival rifle.
I want to stress that the one really innovative piece of this design is this: the X-Caliber inserts. They are extraordinarily heavy, but they really do have some potential. I think my next project will be to find a single-shot 12-gauge shotgun and see how they perform in a different platform. Anyone up for a short-barrel, multi-caliber handgun shotgun?
I think that’s the next step. The 9 inch barrel inserts are kick ass, in theory. They are like 9 inch pistols. But the extra barrel sticking out past the end is just wasted space. It doesn’t do anything for the accuracy. So maybe I’ll file a Form 1 and turn that old Ithaca Model 66 into a 9 inch short barreled shotgun. Would it be worth $200 to make that gun even uglier and less functional? Maybe–but it will need an optic and new coat of paint.
I’d Form 1 the Chiappa, just for grins, but I can’t figure out what it would be! It could be a short barreled shotgun, because this is a 12 gauge. It could be a short barreled rifle, because it is a .22. It can’t make up its mind.
The Chiappa M6 feels like a rifle built to be as light as possible. While that is attractive for a survival gun, the selling point is the inclusion of the X-Caliber inserts, which are very heavy. And with the accuracy as unpredictable as it is, this really becomes a moot point.