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H&K is the modern day firearms equivalent of Albrecht Durer. There’s little doubt that everything they make is absolutely dead sexy, and as a result there probably wasn’t a single action movie from 1970 through 2000 that didn’t feature their firearms. Their latest and greatest battle rifle developed for the German military is the G36 line, which evolved from the G3 line much the same way that a chicken has evolved from a T-Rex. Some of the changes have definitely been for the better, but is the gun an actual improvement over the rest of the field? . . .

The G36 is a huge honkin’ firearm, but it definitely has its advantages. Joe Grine wrote an excellent review of the American semi-auto version, the SL8, and liked it just fine. The firearm is easy to disassemble, it’s accurate as you want, and reliable to boot. But did I say the gun is huge? It’s damn near the size of an M16.

For those soldiers who need to work in tight spaces, the setup was less than ideal. In order to give those special forces soldiers something truly special, H&K designed a shorter version of the G36 they dubbed the “C” or carbine version. The main changes are a drastically shortened barrel and a re-positioned gas block to keep the gun cycling even despite the shorter dwell time in the barrel. Almost everything else though is the same size and position as in the standard G36.

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On paper, the G36C has a definite edge over the other leading military carbines. For one, the controls are fully ambidextrous which makes working the gun easier for lefties or if your right hand suddenly becomes less useful in a gunfight. The most obvious ambi-related feature is the charging handle, which is fixed to the bolt. The handle is designed to move back and forth along the top of the receiver but underneath the rail. That allows easy access for the soldier to grab it and work the action from either side, but keep it protected from ropes and other items in the environment that might snag it. It’s better than the design on the SCAR, but it still draws my ire for reciprocating at all.

Another big benefit is the weight. Compared to even an HK416, the gun is noticeably lighter by almost a full pound. The guts of the gun are all steel, but the chassis is made out of a high strength polymer. For those who remember the Magpul Masada (which became the Bushmaster ACR) it’s the same kind of setup, making for a sleek looking firearm that is very lightweight.

The last really cool feature is the magazines. They sport a set of nubs on the exterior that are designed to slot into one another, and allow the shooter to tie multiple magazines together without needing to break out the duct tape. The nubs add to the overall width of the magazine, but it’s still a slick feature.

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Now for the bad news.

Issue number one is all about height-over-bore. The closer to the top of the barrel that you can get your sights, the more accurate and more comfortable they will be to use. With an AR-15, the standard is about one and a half inches between the top of the barrel and the center of the sights. With the G36C, there’s damn near three inches separating the two if you use a red dot and even more if you use an EOTech. In order to get a proper sight picture with the gun you’re no longer talking about a chin weld — you’re down to a neck weld.

Speaking of size, while the gun is shorter overall than the standard issue G36 it manages to be just as tall if not taller. For a firearm that’s designed to be compact, it still resembles a towering North Korean statue of Kim Il-sung. If the charging handle were moved elsewhere and the rail placed where the charging handle currently is, it would start looking a whole lot more sleek and small. As-is? Not so much.

Also problematic is the way the magazines work. Here in the United States, the push-button style magazine release has become the default standard for every new firearm. Even some bolt action rifles are getting in on the game. But with the G36C, the magazine release is still the old AK-47 style paddle release system and uses a tab on the back of the magazine to hold it in place. For those used to the American way of doing things, the manual of arms is awkward and slow, especially at first.

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Out on the range, the gun is definitely awkward to shoot. The short barrel length combined with the way the G36C was designed means that the standard Chris Costa style grip isn’t an option — there’s just too much gun to get your hand around. There are three rail sections placed around the mini forend to affix lights and lasers and such, but they make the gun even chunkier still. It’s not ideal.

The final issue, though, is recoil. Not necessarily that the 5.56 NATO cartridge has a punishing level of kick, but the gun is so light that it doesn’t do a good job soaking much of it up. All of the recoil is transmitted directly back to the shooter, and when in full auto it takes some considerable effort to keep it on target. A lack of weight at the muzzle means that there’s no momentum to resist the recoil impulse trying to move the gun off target.

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Overall, the G36C is an okay gun. There are definitely some improvements in the mechanics over the other firearms of the time, but with the introduction of the HK416 and other piston-powered guns in the intervening years, the gun has definitely lost its appeal. Sure it’s a couple inches shorter than some of the other carbines, but the ergonomic issues and the lack of interoperability with other guns (the magazines only work in the G36 family) stand out as serious marks against the gun. Add in ye olde H&K markup and my initial enthusiasm for the design drops to a flat “meh.”

Heckler & Koch G36C

Specifications:

Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Barrel: 8.94 inches
Size: 28.34 inches extended, 19.69 inches compact
Weight: 6.52 lbs empty
Capacity: 30 round magazines
MSRP: $???

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category.

Accuracy: * * *
Average for a short-barreled 5.56 rifle.

Ergonomics: * *
It didn’t fit me at all.

Ergonomics Firing: * * *
Slightly tough to control, and no real good place for your forward hand.

Customization: *
Optics are about the extent of the options, and Magpul just released a magazine for it.

Overall Rating: * *
With the introduction of the HK416, even within H&K’s own offerings this gun doesn’t make much sense over the alternatives.

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57 Responses to Gun Review: Heckler & Koch G36C

        • Personally, I like the HK P9S. I wish HK would re-introduce it in a doublestack variant in 9mm and 45acp with a threaded barrel.

      • The HK is craptastic plastic gun- it is not the Glock, and with its overblown price tag, and lower range than even the M-4, I doubt it will be the nearly 30 yr fighting system the M-4 has been.

        I bet that Colt and Remington will simply produce piston variants of the M-4, as well as retool the existing stock from gas impingemenr to piston; it would be cheaper than the current over priced HK416…

        • Screw the M4 its a piece of shit, and fails 8 times more than the HK XM8 (G36 in different furniture)
          out of 60,000 rounds the M4 will have 800+ failures and the Scar, H&K 416 have around 200+ but the XM8 will have less then 200, most people that hate on the G36 have never owned one, I have 3 and they outperform any other firearm excluding the AK

    • Nothing comparison to the MP5 for clearing a house. Teamed up with the
      Sit-P229 9mm it’s just another day at the office. Accuracy less recoil their for mouth shots are 99% positive.

    • Was thinking the same thing recently. Been a lot of articles on guns that a majority of us can’t own or afford…

      • So? Most of us will probably never own a Holland & Holland but it’s still interesting and entertaining to read about them. What else are they going to do…review yet another AR-15 variant and inform us it’s just not all that different from every other AR-15?

      • I agree wight he can’t own part i don’t want to read about a gun i can own if i can’t afford it it is a different story . It is a HK so you will probably never see one in real life

      • Couldn’t afford it either…so I got the air soft version…if only it didn’t sound like a sewing machine…

        • Buy a Gas bLowback. a whole different game. Or buy an SL8,and ship it off to a bloke to have it dressed up like an XM8 or G36 (of your choice of model)

    • I’m loving these hk reviews Nick! I can’t wait for you to come out with one on the P7.

    • It’s much more fun to read about things I can’t own than the people working to keep me from owning it, as it turns out.

    • It’s the truth about guns. Not The truth about guns I can own. I like seeing the full spectrum of firearms.

    • I do understand why many are fans, and have a thing for their wares. They come up with some good ideas. They approach things from different directions. That’s reason enough for me as to why it is important for a firearms blog to cover their stuff. Their stuff, as well as EVERYONE else’s. Despite what it may cost. Whether I, or you can afford it really misses the point.

      I like to know what’s out there, and who makes it. Because I’m interested in firearms. Interested in how people try to solve common problems with these types of rifles in general.

    • Probably for the same reason why I skip the car rag review of the newest and most awesomest Toyandasan Camcordima and go right to the newest variant of Lambo or 458 or other super sports car that I can’t afford.

  1. Guys, translating Israeli Supermodel photographic setups to firearms blog doesn’t work. Poolside photos of the gun of the day makes no sense to me. What is next? Bikini shots of SCARs?

  2. Because of bipartisan lack of respect for the right to bear arms, this gun is unaffordable to the people.

    • Although they are routinely paid for by the people, to be used against the people. Your tax dollars at work.

    • That’s the truth! The reality is that one of the g36’s big advantages is it’s low production cost compared to others in it’s category.

    • THAT and HK has deemed we average citizens cannot and will not own any of their “police and military” weapons.

      That is why the G36 morphed into the SL8 for us non-elites. They didn’t want to even pass on the model number. There have been a few SL8 variations that have been modded to look like the G36, but to do so wasn’t cheap.

  3. You got some sorta web page highjacking going on, im getting redirected on both my ipad and pc

  4. Used one of these at work, it’s pretty much spot on.

    Also the stock sights are terrible. Between the floppy looseness of the rear aperture and the short short sight radius of about 9 inches, it’s a trick to squeeze any accuracy out of it.

    If really isn’t made for an optic, either. if you want to use an optic though, there’s reduced height (7/8″ tall) top rails available that can improve things a great deal.

  5. Ignore the haters. I love the reviews of guns may never own. First it is exotic and that is fun.
    Second it debunks some of the video game and hollywood hype these uber guns get. I always wanted a Spas12 and after seeing the review and doing more research I realize it is a lemon soaked turd.
    Now lets see some more. Have you done an MP7? How about a M249 or M60. Gatling gun? Go for broke!

  6. Why don’t they just split the rail in the middle? Thus making it a see-through rail, allowing you to mount the sights even lower while keeping the charging handle as is.

    Also, did you try to adjust the cheek rest? Or get a taller one? Those really help with cheek weld.

  7. Isn’t the G36K the carbine model (the K standing for “kurz” or German for “short”) just like with Mauser’s Karabiner 98 Kurz? With the G36C being a more compact version than the G36K.

    Other than the lack of a video of you firing it this was a great review. All these reviews of guns we (being civilians) can’t easily own is bitter sweet, but it sure helps to break up the mass of AR-15 reviews one normally finds on the net.

  8. I disagree with some posts and to an extent the review.

    The posts about not being able to own it, so? I like these reviews! I like seeing an opinion on a gun I can’t own because I CANT OWN IT. If I could, I would be able to find reviews all over and/or go buy one myself and find out if I really wanted. These help show accuracies/inaccuracies of movies/games. I enjoy them.

    As for the gun, I don’t have hardly any experience with them. I shot one once, and I absolutely adored it. The sight hight isn’t to bad for me, I’m a “bigger” guy, so that could play into it (I don’t know the posters size). But I didn’t find any issues with it. Ergonomics I felt perfectly fine with, it didn’t feel very strange at all. Different than AR-15s, sure, but overall not to shabby.

    Recoil was a little higher than I would expect, but for such a short barrel and being designed as a CQB weapon more than a long range one, I hardly think that matters in practical use.

    Then again, I am just some schmuck. Keep doing the “exotic” reviews though! I do enjoy them.

  9. I’ve gone this far without ever purchasing an HK product, and I still don’t see any reason to change that. Thanks for an honest review on another underperforming (and probably overpriced) HK product.

  10. <vent> I find that referring to guns as “sexy” kind of makes me sick to my stomach. Guns are a tool! Women are sexy!
    <venomous sarcasm>
    Do you people also find your hammers and screwdrivers sexy? Or maybe just power tools? “Gee, what a sexy buzz-saw!”
    </venomous sarcasm>
    </vent>

  11. Not sure about the comparison to a 500 year old artist. That being said I too like to see all the weoponry out there whether I will ever own it or not.

  12. 1) There is a magwell out there that allows the use of AR-15 mags. No gunsmithing required and one can swap between magwells as one sees fit.

    2) For those saying these are unobtainable there are conversions on the market using SL-8’s as the base gun that look like these. Expensive yes but they are out there.

    -AND-

    3) HK is releasing the MR293 for the U.S. market which is a civilian G36.

    • 3) HK is releasing the MR293 for the U.S. market which is a civilian G36.

      First I heard of it. So the MR293 is supposed to be the civvie version of the G36… I thought that was the purpose of the SL8, in which if did fail because it didn’t look like the G36 not to mention pricey for the gun, and very pricey if you wanted to make it look like the G36 it was supposed to be the civvie version of. Let’s see if the MR293 succeeds in looks and similar performance to the G36.

      EDIT: it looks like the model is really HK293. German law dictates they cannot sell military weapons to civilians. So the internals will still not be exactly the same.

      • The SL-8 came about during the height of the federal AWB so it HAD to be in that configuration to be legally sold here coupled with the fact that Bush I’s import AWB and Clinton’s unheard of 1997/98 ban that went even further than Bush’s ban which are still in effect. Couple that with as you mentioned Germany’s gun laws and you have FOUR layers of gun control which made it the neutered, overpriced gun as it was when AR-15’s were more available, cheaper, and grandfathered during the ban so it makes sense that they didn’t sell well.

        And yea it will have different internals just like most semi-auto guns in this country that were originally designed for the military. They have to be per ATF specs because even guns that can be easily converted to full auto are considered machineguns so therefore they are banned too.

  13. I’ve never heard anything particularly good about G36, but plenty of bad stuff. Apparently the plastic “shell” was melting if fired in full auto, and even with single shots it would start to melt in extended firefights in Afghanistan? To the point where they forbade the troops from firing full auto in training at some point…

    Also, is “lighter than HK416” supposed to be a compliment?

    On the other hand, with respect to how mags work – SIG 55x does the same thing, and for a good reason. M16-style mag well might be convenient and easy to swap, but it doesn’t work quite as well when dirty. AK-style paddle has very secure retention (which helps feeding), and doesn’t care about the dirt.

    • There’s plenty of hollow criticisms and praises here, but proprietary magazines is not one of them. Proprietary magazines are a terrible design choice, and even the H&K G36’s mags have been known to be problematic, so it’s not like they made any honest improvements even when it comes to durability/reliability over the magazines of the early 90s. The fact that the magazine must be changed with the support hand is just another failure of the system. It’s unnecessarily time consuming, and the ENTIRE point of a shorter gun is economy of movement.

      Modern AR-15 magazines work perfectly, and the retention system is fine.

  14. Could this review have been done by anyone less informed? It’s not my dream gun by any means, but COME ON. This reads like it was written by a CNN journalist who got a job as a firearms writer because he’s someone’s beloved(but dim) nephew. It sounds like the author has been into firearms for a grand total of 3 days.

  15. Hey, its in Call of Duty, so the gun must rock. Thanks for a real review and not one based on it being a “cool” or hip gun. Never shot one personally, but Ive also never drank the HK cool aid. And never will. I have had experience with several HK pistols and rifles and have never been floored by any of them. If anything your first reaction is “they want 1200 bucks for this!!!” after shooting the pistols or “I can get a rifle for $700 less and still get the same thing” when shooting the rifles. Ive never understood the fascination by some over the HK brand. Im never going to shoot my pistol 50,000 rounds or my rifle 100,000 rounds, so that a useless and utterly dumb reason for buying a pistol or rifle that doesnt really have anything that is so mind blowing and revolutionary that i have to own it.

  16. He gives such a glowing review on a weapon that the German Army in now moving to replace because it didn’t perform well in Afghanistan.

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