Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Military rifles have an appealing ruggedness and reliability. Their associations with history are fascinating. They even have an aesthetic attraction if you are firmly in the form-follows-function camp. And service rifle competition is a fun way to hone your shooting skills. These are my four favorites:
At the top is an Enfield Number 4 Mark 2. It's the last incarnation of a rifle used throughout the British Commonwealth for more campaigns than you can shake a stick at, from the fields of Flanders to the jungles of Burma. After reading George McDonald Fraser's "Quartered Safe Out Here", I couldn't live without one. Mine was made in the 1950's, just as England was adopting the FAL, and it was stored away without ever being issued. It was eventually sold as surplus back when that was legal, and came into my possession a half-century old yet essentially new. It was manufactured well after the wartime extingencies of WWII, and it shows in the quality of materials and workmanship. A brass buttplate sets off a blonde beech stock. It's extraordinarily rugged, simple to operate and clean, capable of good accuracy, and utterly reliable. A fully charged magazine plus one up the spout is eleven rounds, enough to get the average soldier through the average skirmish without reloading. Easy to understand why British troops were so fond of them.
Next down is an M1, America's famous infantry weapon from WWII through Korea and into Vietnam. I bought this from the CMP, or "Civilian Marksmanship Program". (Interesting historical aside: America produced wonderful soldiers up through WWI, mostly because our frontier heritage and unique constitutional freedom to bear arms meant that we were turning out tough hillbillies who grew up shooting and hunting. By WWII, however, our population was mostly urban, and our military leaders were shocked at how poorly new soldiers were performing. The CMP was formed to teach young men how to shoot and to provide them with weapons with which to practice. To this day, if you meet certain requirements, our government will ship a battle rifle and ammunition to your door. www.ODCMP.com) The M1 uses a bizarre but effective eight-round en bloc clip that is inserted into an internal magazine. (By the way, the people who will tell you that a partially-empty M1 can't be topped-off are full of shit. I wager them that I can do it in five seconds. So far no takers. The people who will tell you that the "ping" when the empty clip is ejected was a tactical disadvantage are even more full of shit. Even if there were no other rifles firing, no artillery, no other noises whatsoever, do you think an enemy soldier could hear a "ping" after eight muzzle blasts had just been loosed in his general direction? And even if he could hear it, do you think he could do anything about it before you could pop another clip in? If you do, I have an even more interesting wager for you.) Sorry, my intolerance for morons sends me off on tangents. Back on subject: I paid dearly to have some bedding and trigger work done, and this is a seriously accurate rifle. (All internet commandos claim that their beater surplus rifles are amazingly accurate. Most of them can't hit a barn from the inside. This one really will. Sorry, apparently I wandered off again.) Anyway, this was my favorite service rifle until the M14, below:
Third from the top is an M14. Well, a pseudo-M14 anyway. It's a long story of misguided bureaucratic thought, but "real" M14 receivers are illegal on the civilian market. So I bought a legal reproduction and had a gunsmith assemble one with the rest of the parts being "GI" (Government Issue). The M14 is an improved version of the M1, above. It replaces the M1's 8-round internal magazine with a detachable 20-round magazine. A shortened cartridge shaves a pound of weight and an inch of length from the receiver. A flash suppressor preserves the shooter's night vision. The M14 is the last of the steel-and-walnut battle rifles, the culmination of centuries of American rifle-toting tradition, from Daniel Boone to Alvin York. It's balance and handling qualities cannot be improved upon. Once again, I had some bedding and trigger work done, and am very pleased with how well this rifle shoots. It's one weakness is that optics are almost impossible to mount without detracting from those qualities. To compensate, it has perhaps the best iron sights ever made.
Last is an AR15, the civilian version of the "Plastic Fantastic" M16. While I just can't wax romantic about aluminum and plastic, it undeniably has some things going for it: The light weight of both it and it's ammunition, the ease with which optical sights may be mounted, magazines with capacities from 5 to 100, excellent ergonomics, and an adjustable stock to accommodate shooters of different sizes or bulky clothing. It's ammunition lacks the authority of the older rifles above, but a soldier can carry twice as much of it.