The lower receiver on the Katana sticks tightly to the basics, mil-spec components and trigger, with nothing fancied up to go wrong in the heat and dust of reality.
“I see these 3-pound triggers, these aftermarket adjustable triggers assemblies, and they are just inappropriate for a fighting rifle,” McKee says, “You see them sold as “match triggers,” or “competition triggers” and they are fine for that function. But you are introducing variables that can lock up or break, and what might be just a hassle on the range will mean something entirely different in the field.”
The standard trigger assemblies have proven reliability, an acceptable and crisp pull, and most important, a positive trigger reset that the operator can feel in his trigger finger, an attribute that McKee calls “essential” in a fighting rifle.
When the Katana tactical rifle is in production, buyers will be able to choose between a standard A1 stock (5/8” shorter than the A2, and a better fit for most shooters) and a Magpul CTR adjustable, which has a 6-position buffer tube.
On the A1 stock, the rear sling mount is installed on the side of the stock, which lets the rifle hang flat against your body, a very small adjustment that completely changes how the rifle carries, and dramatically shortens the time it takes to go from a carry to a ready position.
The first Katana was a rifle that McKee put together for his own use, but the concept has taken on a life of its own.
“As my students became familiar with the one I made for myself, they were asking me how they could get one. I started out just building the uppers for them, but the idea kind of ran off on me. Demand outstripped my ability to build them, or keep up with it, on my own.”
Luckily, McKee knew where to turn. He approached his friend Will Hayden of Red Jacket Firearms, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At first, Hayden was reluctant. “We got our fame working on AKs,” Hayden says, in his south Louisiana drawl, “and we didn’t see any reason to focus on anything else. But when I saw Tiger’s design, I recognized a kindred spirit. The more I looked at what he was doing, the more I wanted to be a part of it.”
Like McKee, Hayden believes that the highest form of a fighting rifle is the simplest, most reliable version, and that the farther you get from that, the more the tail begins to wag the dog, in the case of a fighting rifle, dangerously so.
“It’s funny, isn’t it, how going back to what works can seem so revolutionary?” said Hayden. One of the assets of the Katana, Hayden explains, is the match-grade barrel. “It’s a not a chrome-lined barrel, which is inherently more accurate. We knew we didn’t need the chrome. This isn’t ‘Nam, and we’re shooting mostly good ol’ American ammo, and we even get a chance to clean our guns once in awhile, so you don’t need it.”
But the Katana is first a fighting rifle, so the barrel is trued not to .223 specs, but to actual 5.56, an important distinction. “It’s big difference,” Hayden said. “And nobody who knows that difference will go out the door with a .223 barrel.
The .223 is too tight for military spec ammo, and using it will get you into trouble eventually. What we are producing is a fighting rifle that stays with match-grade specs. We want our customers to be able to win a competition with their fighting rifle, if that’s what they want to do with it. Basically, it’s a competition gun that has not lost sight of what you are training for. That pretty much sums it up.”
On a cold Alabama morning we took the Katana out on the Shootrite range to put it through its paces. The first thing that was obvious was what a difference it made to have the sling mount on the side of the stock. The rifle hangs so flat to your body that it is almost a part of you.
Going through doors, turning, crouching, the rifle stays close and ready-to-hand. Raising the Katana for dry fire practice, the 16-inch barrel and overall lightness of the rifle is immediately apparent. As McKee has become suspicious of ever-heavier fighting rifles, I’ve become suspicious of ever lighter sporting and varmint shooting rifles.
I may be a cave man, but some of the lightest modern rifles feel to me like shouldering and pointing an aluminum yardstick. I can’t find the balance point, and I’d rather carry an extra pound than shoot a rifle that feels wrong against my shoulder. But the Katana rises and steadies like a fine dueling pistol. Wearing a heavy jacket, the shorter A1 stock places my cheekweld exactly against the comb of the stock, my eye dead-on through the sights.
Starting offhand at 25 to 30 yards, I’m able to shoot a very respectable 2 ½-inch group. McKee doesn’t keep a bench and sandbags on the range. His belief is that the current obsession with hyper-accuracy among American shooters is taking away from the real need for practical rifle shooting skills.
“You want a rifle that will shoot better than you can shoot it, and that’s it,” he says.
Running malfunction and reload drills is effortless with the lightness of the rifle. So is clasping the rifle tight to my chest in the transition-to-pistol exercises. My favorite varmint and plinking rifle is an AR-15 I bought in 1995, a 20-inch barreled Colt Sporter, H-Bar, with no bells or whistles. I love the gun. But compared to the Katana, my old reliable handles like 39 inches of hickory 2×8.
The stripped down nature of the Katana is especially apparent during the fast-paced work from the Wall, a series of structures, doorways, stacks of tires, concrete block walls, and various other object that simulate the situations of urban engagements.
Doing the limbo with a rifle has never been easier for me, and, working from 60 and more yards, it was a real pleasure to keep banging the steel targets with ease, practicing every firing position and using the cover, enjoying the mobility. Recoil is negligible, muzzle-blast very acceptable.
Although it was far from mastery on my part, I had the feeling that, with the Katana and an unlimited amount of time and ammo, I could almost see mastery from where I was lying, prone, firing away.
In a two-hour session, working from 10 feet on paper targets to a little over 100 yards on steel, I fell in love with the little rifle.
Read More About Tactical Rifles
From AR-15s to sniper rifles, you’ll find plenty of information in the Gun Digest Book of the Tactical Rifle. Includes many popular models, including AR-10, M14, FAL and more.
Click here to order Gun Digest Book of the Tactical Rifle at a great price.
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