The Pak-Rifle weighs 16 ounces and shoots 0.22LR shells, which weigh less than 0.11 ounces apiece. If one is trekking through areas where upland birds and small game abounds, then adding 20 ounces of rifle and shells can allow you to spend many more days in the backcountry than what might be possible simply by carrying all of your own food. A similar argument can be made for an ultralight fishing kit. Consequently, equipment that can be used for foraging and hunting deserves some consideration for trekkers undergoing longer journeys in remote locations where food weight might become prohibitive and resupply logistics are challenging.
The Pak-Rifle is more than capable of bringing down small game: rabbit, squirrel, turkey, fawn deer, and in the case of this trek in Montana's Bridger Mountains, a blue grouse – arguably the finest tasting of all small game animals.
I am a hunter. Thus, I make no judgment about the ethical use of firearms in the backcountry, and I support the advance of technologies that allow for their legal and responsible use. I see the ultralight rifle as a tool for the hunting enthusiast that desires to reduce their weight carried in the backcountry, or for the long distance trekker interested in reducing their weight of food carried by improving their foraging, hunting, and fishing options. Use of a rifle may not be permitted in all jurisdictions, and I do not condone the breaking of laws that prohibit their use under any circumstance. Further, the purpose of this review is to provide the reader with an understanding of how the rifle may be used in a hunting context, and I make no judgments about its appropriateness, effectiveness, or utility as a weapon for self-defense. I do not carry the Pak-Rifle for self-defense. It is strictly a tool for hunting small game, and its primary purpose in my kit is to allow me to reduce the amount of food weight I have to carry while on a long distance trek.
My expectation for a small game rifle is to be able to shoot a very small and compact group on a target at 25 yards or less. To put this in context, 25 yards is about the distance I am able to get in proximity to the “larger” end of small game that can be killed with a 0.22LR bullet (porcupine, fawn deer, sage grouse), while most other small game can easily be approached within 10 yards or less (e.g., blue grouse, squirrel, rabbit). Because most 0.22LR rifles are designed with longer barrels and no small amount of weight distributed throughout the gun, their accurate range is often much greater than 25 yards.
The Pak-Rifle's rear peep sight is entirely sufficient for small game hunting at close range. An aftermarket 4 x 20 scope can also be attached and is available from the manufacturer.
Because the Pak-Rifle is so light and subject to movement caused by the user while aiming (unless the rifle is mounted on a bipod, which I deem to be unnecessary for its intended context), its accuracy beyond 25 yards may be less so than a conventional 0.22LR rifle. However, with practice, its accuracy at 25 yards or less appears to be superb (even with its nonadjustable rear peep sight), and I'm easily able to consistently shoot a two-inch grouping in a target while shooting patiently from a sitting position with one elbow braced on my knee. At closer range, that grouping becomes tighter of course (< 1 inch at 10 yards), and affords me the ability to shoot most small game and upland birds in the head to minimize damage to the choicest parts of the animal's meat.
Of course, use my accuracy test with a grain of salt. The only thing it really tells you is how well one particular rifle (my sample), and one particular shooter (me) shoots, from a relatively unstable position (sitting). Maximum accuracy will always be gained on a bipod, or from a bench rest, or from a prone position, and it was outside the scope of this review to provide detailed accuracy data. My experience with the Pak-Rifle is that its light weight makes it a little less accurate (in my hands!) than a conventional .22 rifle at long distances (> 40 yards) when I was standing or sitting, but that at close range (< 25 yards), I found no difference in a Pak-Rifle versus a conventional 0.22 in my ability to shoot accurately (or inaccurately, as the case may be!).
I think the use of peep sights on a rifle this light is entirely appropriate. Other options include both ghost and open sights. Ghost sights, used on combat guns for rapid sighting, would provide faster time-to-fire (and probably greater accuracy) for large game that is moving, but would be unnecessary for small game that is hunted while still (the most common scenario I've encountered while small game hunting). I prefer peep sights rather than open sights, although admittedly, peep sights require a little bit of research and training to use most effectively.
In comparison to a conventional 0.22 rifle (which weighs three to five pounds), the act of carrying the 16-ounce Pak-Rifle in one hand while trekking is simply joyous. When I carried my conventional rifle, I first stowed it along the side of my pack in a side pocket, with the compression straps of the pack securing the rifle to the side. Then, upon encountering game, I would have to unsaddle my pack, retrieve the gun, load the gun, get into position, etc. I eventually made a stock holster that allowed the butt of the stock to be seated into a small holster affixed to my hip belt, with a strap on my shoulder strap that secured the gun while I was hiking, so I could use trekking poles.
However, that was a cumbersome solution, more appropriate for hunting big game with heavier rifles than small game. Consequently, when I am actively hunting when trekking, I simply forgo trekking poles and carry my rifle in hand. With a heavy gun, this is a laborious chore. With the Pak-Rifle, carrying the gun all day in one hand is almost inconsequential with respect to trekking comfort, and doing so keeps it ready at all times. The end result: with the Pak-Rifle I am able to shoot more game and be a more effective hunter.
The Pak-Rifle breaks apart into two pieces that are each about 17 inches in length.
The Pak-Rifle is a breakdown rifle that separates at the chamber by rotating the barrel off the rest of the gun as it disengages a release pin. The result is that the original length of the gun (33 inches) can be collapsed into two parts that are less than 17 inches in length. Consequently, the Pak-Rifle is easily stored inside just about any ultralight pack, which is useful on busy trails where carrying a gun might intimidate others that you encounter on trail. I try to be as sensitive as possible to others while I carry a gun. Many of our local trails close to home are frequented by families with children, and I often find that carrying a gun is a barrier to engaging conversation when I meet them on the trail. Thus, I really like that I can stow the gun and keep it hidden while on the trail, focusing my primary hunting in more remote locations where I don't expect to encounter other folks.
The Pak-Rifle offers a few neat usability features. My favorite is that the hand grip is actually a hollow chamber with a screw cap closure for storing shells (I can fit about ten or so 0.22LR shells inside the handgrip). The screw cap is removable and weighs 0.16 oz. A few dozen more rounds can be stowed in the butt stock tube, but accessing it requires a flathead screwdriver to remove the aluminum butt.
The chamber inside the hand grip is accessed by a screw cap and can accommodate about ten 0.22LR shells.
The other feature worth noting is an LED barrel light that is sufficient to hunt at night at very short range (< 10 yards). I find it immensely useful for rabbit hunting. The LED light is removable and weighs 0.3 oz.
The LED barrel light is useful for hunting rabbits at night, but is removable if you're a gram counter.
The processes of loading, cocking, firing, and discharging the empty shell casing are all incredibly simple affairs and review of such can be found in the following video:
Other features sold as aftermarket accessories offered by the manufacturer include a laser sight and a 4 x 20 scope (both include mounts). I haven't had the opportunity to test these accessories, but would be quite interested in equipping the Pak-Rifle with a scope for extending my range a little (although it's important to realize that for a rifle like this, the use of a scope is probably more a matter of personal preference than utility). Then again, there is something to be said about the low bulk, minimal weight, and simplicity of the stock rifle, and therein lies much of its appeal to me as an ultralighter. The laser seems to me to be more of a toy accessory for the non-hunter, or for the weasel hunter interested in attracting the animal to very close range (based on evidence of my use of lasers with my cat). I can't imagine the laser being useful as any sort of aiming device for the backpacking hunter.
The Pak-Rifle is manufactured from aluminum, carbon fiber, stainless steel, and cromoly.
The receiver and most accessory parts are manufactured from aluminum, while most fasteners and parts subject to high wear are manufactured from stainless steel. The barrel is made of carbon fiber and has a cromoly liner (that part of the barrel through which the bullet travels). Carbon fiber is also used for the tube that comprises the butt stock of the rifle. The end result is a rifle that is as light as possible, with durable components (stainless steel and cromoly) in the most essential areas. The only reservation I have about durability is the use of a thin-walled carbon fiber tube for the butt stock. The rifle will require some care in handling and stowage to prevent the stock from cracking or breaking. I do not see this as a significant limitation or design flaw, however. The tube can easily be replaced if needed, and the stock weight (which comprises only a remarkable 1.26 oz of the rifle's weight!) is too appealing to consider heavier materials, given the target context for the Pak-Rifle.
As is, the Pak-Rifle is a simple, ultralight, and thus rather remarkable incarnation of a small game rifle. However, I can foresee the temptation to make a few modifications to achieve the absolute lightest possible 0.22LR shooter available: removal of the butt stock, shortening the barrel, eliminating the breakapart option, and eliminating the light. The result would be a 0.22LR gun that would be 13 inches in length and quite probably, less than 12 ounces. However, such modification might be illegal in some countries or states, since the gun as modified might then be classified as a pistol. Further, making these changes would reduce its accuracy and possibly limit its most useful range to 15 yards or less.
What's Good / What's Not
The advantages of a small game rifle in general are many in terms of its philosophical ability to allow a trekker to extend the length of their expedition by minimizing food carried and hunting game en route. The unique advantages of the Pak-Rifle relative to other small game rifles, and especially, other 0.22LR rifles, include:
- Extremely light weight – 16.0 oz;
- Breakapart ability for stowage length of 17 inches;
- Simple design with few moving parts;
- Useful and accurate peep sights;
- $425 MSRP. It sounds a bit expensive at first glance, but consider that (a) there's nothing quite like it, and (b) it's the equivalent of less than 100 freeze dried pre-packaged meals and the long term value of the Pak-Rifle may become more clear.
The limitations of the Pak-Rifle are few. In fact, I think the short list below is a bit of a stretch since these items address issues that would not necessarily be unique to an ultralight rifle:
- Carbon butt stock tube is fragile;
- Aluminum butt cap at the end of the butt stock tube is small and thus, difficult to brace against your shoulder for stability.
Recommendations and Conclusion
I have few recommendations to improve the design of the Pak-Rifle. I do believe that no more than 0.5 oz could be spent on increasing the durability of the carbon butt stock tube, reengineering the shape and size of the aluminum butt stock tube cap, and making the cavity inside the butt stock tube accessible without using a screwdriver. As is, however, the Pak-Rifle is far and away the leading option for the ultralight aficionado interested in hunting small game while trekking.
In addition to being a competent small game gun, the Pak-Rifle is a terrific introduction for the child learning to shoot. The Pak-Rifle doesn't have a safety, so it requires more rigorous safety protocols when handling and, of course, adult supervision. Here, my son Chase practices on a water bottle target in the Uinta mountains of Utah.