The U.S. military recognized early on that pilots forced down in relatively uninhabited regions of the world needed a compact survival rifle if they went down. Enemy combatants weren’t the primary concern in remote, flyover regions. It was the need for food during a prolonged stay and fending off four-legged predators that led to the creation of the M4—a Harrington & Richardson bolt-action rifle chambered in .22 Hornet. With a 14" barrel and collapsible wire stock, it stowed neatly in a crew member’s survival pack.
It served well, but by 1946, a more versatile replacement was in development and destined to join M4s in cockpits. Six years later the first M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon was issued a combination gun with a pair of 14" barrels. The break-action, over-under was chambered for .22 Hornet atop and .410 Bore shotshells below. Rotating a knob on top of the exposed hammer determined which chamber fired. The same mechanism also engaged the safety.
A hinge at the bottom of the receiver allowed the barrels/chambers to rotate down for manual extraction, reloading or storage. The barrel assembly was constructed from forged steel, stamped steel was used on the receiver and the only non-metallic parts were a modest recoil pad and cheek rest.
There was no trigger guard, partly because there was no trigger. Instead, squeezing a bar under the receiver released a shot, an approach designed to improve operability with gloved hands. For sights, a post was up front and at the rear a flip-up unit had dual apertures—one for each chambering. Nine .22 Hornet rounds and four shotshells stowed under the cheek rest. The gun folded to a compact 15" and was robust and reliable enough for military issue until the 1970s.
The first models were made by Ithaca, then Springfield Armory took over production. Originals in good condition are rare finds, and those 14" barrels make the M6 Survival an NFA item—like the Ithaca version, seen above, sold by Rock Island Auction on Sept. 11, 2020, for more than $6,000.
Springfield Armory began offering civilian versions in the late 1970s called the M6 Scout. It remained relatively true to the original, but wore 18.5" barrels and retained the .410-bore chambering, but the upper barrel could be either .22 Hornet, .22 LR or .22 WMR. Unfortunately, the line is discontinued.
If you’re looking for a brand new model, take a look at the Chiappa Firearms M6 line. Six are currently available, each with dual triggers and trigger guard. Chamberings include 12 gauge, 20 gauge, .22 WMR and .22 LR. All wear 18.5" barrels and MSRPs run from $729 to $999, depending on version.
Tactical Parts Supply & Arms also has six models in its M6 Takedown Series. Each have a trigger bar and trigger guard. Combinations include dual .410 Bore chambers, or a .410 Bore barrel with your choice of .17 HMR, .22 LR, .22 WMR, .22 Hornet or .357 Mag. MSRPs run from $610 to $660.