Let’s face it. The vast majority of guns are rather boring. Not from a “yee-haw!” perspective, but from the perspective of mechanical ingenuity and history. The modern AR-15 may be the best example. As popular and functional as it is, an AR is re-packaged 50-year-old technology that’s so plastic and cold that it has no soul.
But in the world of firearms, the M1 Garand is the antithesis of soullessness. In a world of expensive special purpose firearms, it still holds its own in terms of usability and effectiveness for almost any purpose. And believe it or not, it’s still relatively cheap to buy.
What initially drew me to the M1 Garand was its history. The first rifle I ever bought was a re-arsenaled 1928 production dragoon pattern Mosin Nagant model 1891, a beautiful rifle with a rich history. I enjoyed pouring over every inch of her, wondering about the men and women who may have carried her and what they must have gone through during the war.
Little hints, like the area under the receiver where the finish had been worn off from being carried or the evenly spaced gouges in the stock that could only come from barbed wire scratching against it gave me glimpses into the history of a silent witness whose real story will never be known.
But there’s a difference between these two firearms. The Mosin Nagant was a rifle produced in peacetime by a people hopeful about the future. Stalin had only recently come to power, and the effects of collectivization had yet to be understood.
The effect of this lack of urgency is evident in everything including the elaborate (and painted!) crest and serial number on the receiver. Wartime production urgency saw all of that including the arsenal mark changing to be easier and quicker to mass-produce.
My M1 Garand was produced under much different circumstances. According to the serial number it was produced in January of 1944. Hitler was the master of Europe. The Japanese were still a major threat in the Pacific, and victory was far from certain. The invasion of Western Europe by the allies was inevitable, even if victory didn’t seem to be. At that point in the war, they still needed more weapons and materials to support the effort.
This is what differentiates this rifle from the others I own. The people who made my M1 Garand, from the person parkerizing the receiver to the final inspector hammering the DoD acceptance stamp into the barrel at the end of the line, made this rifle with the thought in their mind that it would go to one of our boys in the armed forces in the defense of the United States and her allies. Every other rifle I own was manufactured for the civilian market and as a result, they somehow feel different to me. But not this one. This one was made with a purpose.
The historical aspect to this rifle goes well beyond the role it played in world events. The M1 Garand and its mechanisms formed the basis for almost every battle rifle to be adopted by the U.S. armed forces to this day. The Garand’s connection to the M14 is obvious, but the little things (like the extractor / ejector mechanism on the bolt) endure in modified versions that are being used in M16 variants that are in use today.
The importance of the M1 Garand can be more fully understood by comparing the M1 to other “standard issue” infantry weapons of the day, so please excuse me while I indulge in a little historical blathering. By the 1930s the modern world was beginning to understand the lessons learned in the Great War, and indiv
idual firepower became the watchword of the day.
Submachine guns were coming into wide adoption, but they only provided a benefit at close range. Everyone wanted a firearm that provided similar firepower to a machine gun but was as accurate over great distances like a bolt action rifle, and while various “chocolate in my peanut butter” solutions were coming to light, none of them provided the same elegant solution to the problem that John Garand did.
Like the Vickers machine gun, Garand decided to try to trap the gasses venting out the front of the rifle by using a bolt-on muzzle device. These first rifles (dubbed “gas trap Garands”) had the rifling in the barrel stop at the beginning of the gas port, with the last section of barrel simply a smoothbore extension of the gas system. Later models would rifle this section of barrel, but the gas trap design would inspire the Nazi G41(m)‘s muzzle device half a decade later.
But getting the gun to cycle was one thing — keeping it loaded was a completely different beast. Anyone who’s ever participated in a 3-gun competition will tell you that the trick to shotgun shooting isn’t so much firing it quickly as keeping it loaded, especially when you need to do it one round at a time.
External magazines in the 1930s were still rare on anything except a SMG, and stripper clips were painfully slow and difficult to use. The solution was an “en bloc” clip that was loaded into the gun with the ammunition. But to that point, only single stack clips were in use (like in the Carcano) and getting them out of the gun was an issue.
Enter the double stacked en bloc clip. This allowed more rounds to be loaded (8 rounds compared to 5 in the K98 Mauser or Springfield 1903), and a spring-loaded mechanism flung the clip free after the last round allowing fresh ammunition to be loaded. In this way the M1 Garand beat out almost every other infantry weapon of the day (the bolt action Lee-Enfield SMLE had a 10-round magazine) by a wide margin for most rounds on target in a single minute.
Quick to fire, rapid to reload and accurate downrange, the Garand was truly the finest battle implement ever devised. And for many uses it still is the cat’s pajamas. It’s ideal for situations like hog hunting, where you need a powerful round to take the hog down and rapid firing for getting as many as you can before they run away.
What really seals the deal for the M1 Garand is that any American can have one of these shipped straight to their door, no FFL or transfer required. The Civilian Marksmanship Program (or CMP) will box up and ship one of these beauties to any American that meets the easy-to-achieve requirements and has about $700 to their name.
Despite being nearly 70 years old, this M1 Garand still shoots like it’s fresh off the assembly line. Its two-stage trigger is crisp and clean, the action functions flawlessly, and I still get sub-MOA three-round groups. It’s an accurate shooter and, as Tyler found out, it’s often too much for steel plates to handle.
The M1 Garand is a masterpiece of firearm engineering…the perfect blend of wood and steel. It’s an amazing piece of history, both for its engineering achievement and the role it played in history. It’s a gun with a soul and a purpose, and my favorite rifle of all time.
Specifications: US Rifle, Caliber .30, M1 (M1 Garand)
Caliber: .30-06 Springfield
Size: 43.5″ overall length
Weight: 9.5 lbs.
Operation: Gas Operated Semi-Auto
Capacity: 8 rounds in en bloc clip
Cheapest CMP Price: About $600
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
Accuracy: * * * * *
For a full power rifle cartridge out of a 68 year old gun I was delightfully surprised. Again, refer to my one shot kill on a steel plate from 50 yards.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
Personally, I find the M1 Garand to have the perfect proportions for my body. Everything just fits right.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
Reliability: * * * * *
68 years of rusting away in the back of a supply depot and it still runs like a champ.
There’s nothing to do. And even if there were anything to do it would be blasphemy to attempt to do anything except put on a new stock.
Overall Rating: * * * * *
Every American should own one of these in their collection, and at that price you really have no excuses.
This review was originally published in 2012.