My M1 does my talking!

18 11 2012

The M1 Garand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1_Garand) bug first bit me about 2 years ago when I fired a beautiful WWII-era Springfield Armory specimen owned by my dad.  Nothing quite like the experience of narrowly avoiding the infamous Garand Thumb, only to have the en bloc clip thrown in your face after 8 quickly-disappearing yet relatively expensive rounds – but damn it was fun!  As you may know if you’ve read some of my older posts, after shooting the M1 I decided to first pick up a Springfield Armory M1A, which along with its M14 sibling are basically a .308, magazine-fed version 2.0 Garand.  This past spring, while working at a facility about 20 minutes from Camp Perry (home of the North Store of the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP) I decided to get my paperwork in line and pick up an M1 Garand of my own.  Why buy a Garand when I have an M1A?  Maybe because I’m a history buff.  Maybe because they’re relatively inexpensive and the numbers are limited.  Maybe to keep my M1A company in the safe.  Maybe all the mileage checks burning a hole in my pocket.  No matter the reason – I wanted one!

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The paperwork involved is not as involved as some may think, and you can even mail order rifles if you don’t mind someone else picking one out for you.  See their website http://www.odcmp.com/ for the official details, but the basic list includes proof of citizenship, membership in an affiliated club, proof of training that involves some live fire, and a picture ID to prove age.  For these I used my passport, joined the Garand Collectors Association for $25 (includes a great quarterly magazine and the CMP keeps the GCA membership records at the store so a membership card isn’t even required), showed my Ohio CCW permit to take care of the training requirement, as well as my driver’s license for age verification.  The obvious advantage to actually driving to one of the two CMP stores is that you get to peruse hundreds of firearms and pick out the one that fits your needs and desires while also saving yourself the shipping costs.

Walking into the CMP you will find racks and racks of rifles, sorted by “grade” and manufacturer.  I highly suggest doing your homework on the CMP site and forums ahead of time, while being realistic about what your desires are for the firearm.  My goals were to have a good shooter (1) that looked good to me (2) and was historically as accurate as possible (3).  Everyone’s goals and priorities here are different, and everyone’s opinion on what “looks good” can vary too.  I was close to picking up one of the CMP-refurbished models known as a “Special Grade”, but I didn’t care for the color of the new stocks and the additional price associated with the new stock and barrel.

After spending a good amount of time looking around and letting the excitement wear off, I found an HRA “Service Grade” that appeared to have the original barrel (1954) and the original parkerizing on the receiver and bolt (dark olive green, not black).  But again, those played into my third most important goal – historically accurate.  The stock was a dark walnut with some scratches and dings, but with a great cartouche (this is the military proof mark stamped into the stock) and a great dark walnut color.  That satisfied my second most important concern, the looks.  Finally, the tag on the rifle showed that it had been “gauged” a 0+ at the muzzle and a 2 at the throat.  These numbers indicate how much wear the barrel has, with 0 being brand new for both measurements – so this barrel was almost like new!  The throat measurement also has a huge impact on likely accuracy, and this was as good as I expected to find without stepping up to the aforementioned re-barreled Special Grade.

Once I found what I thought was the perfect rifle, I took it up to the desk.  There were two gentlemen working that afternoon, and both were more than happy to partially disassemble the rifle and diagnose what I had found.  They showed me that I had a WWII-vintage Springfield Armory trigger group that looked complete (including hammer) but re-parkerized, what appeared to be the original HRA barrel, an HRA operating rod, and an HRA bolt.  Everything but the Springfield trigger assembly appeared to have its original green parkerizing, which is a plus for collectors (and me if I ever decided to sell).  Finally, they indicated that the cartouche on the stock was HRA and was in great shape.  I had effectively found a gem in the Service Grade rack.

At this point I asked them to reserve it behind the counter for me.  You write your name on a little red tag which is fitted to the end of the firearm, and then you can go back to browsing the selection.  As you feel the need, you can walk rifles up to the counter and ask to compare them to the one you have reserved already.  I did this twice just to verify I had found the one I wanted – but neither of the other finds compared favorably in any way.  At the end of the day, I decided to move forward with the HRA I had found.  Included in the purchase is a green plastic carrying case, a certificate of authenticity, a manual, and some other assorted goodies such as an 8-round enbloc clip.

So what does one pay for a practically new 1954-manufactured M1 Garand?  $625.  I challenge anyone to find a semi-automatic .30-06 (or even .308) that is equally as ruged and durable for less money.  To top it off, surplus ammunition is dirt cheap (at least in the world of .30-caliber high power).  The CMP offers Greek-manufactured surplus M2 ball ammo for $98/200 rounds loose in an ammo can.  For a large caliber experience, in my opinion this setup simply can not be beat.

Here is my M1 “Patricia” on the left next to my M1A “Rebecca” on the right.  The trigger mechanisms are nearly identical, although the receiver on the M1A is a little shorter due to its inherent use with .308 as opposed to .30-06.  The gas system was also shortened on the M1A and given an “on/off” valve on the gas block to allow for manual-only operation of the action.  The hand guard on the M1A is fiberglass which is typical of most M14’s, while the M1 is almost completely enclosed in walnut.  The sights are practically identical between the two, and although the M1A does have a flash hider the M1 still has its factory bayonet lug that was removed from the M1A as a result of an AWB (CA?).

The M1 Ladies

A word about ammunition – be careful.  These firearms were designed around the US Military’s definition of M2 Ball, and most commercial rounds have newer and faster-burning powders, and at times heavier bullets – either of which can damage the firearm and possibly even you.  Besides surplus ammunition, both Federal (American Eagle) and Hornady make ammo specifically for the M1 Garand – both the CMP and I recommend that these rounds are all you fire from your Garand!  In a comparison test I ran this past summer I found the Greek ammunition’s precision to be very good compared to the Hornady, and when considering the price the Greek is – in my opinion – the hands-down winner.  You can see a typical can of it next to Patricia in the picture below, with an empty enbloc clip to the left of Patricia on the table.

Another word of caution if you want to fire fewer than 8 shots – always load from a clip!  The firing pin in the Garand is not constrained during forward bolt movement, and if you load a round into the chamber and let the bolt close there is a good change for what is known as a “slam fire” in which the firing pin smacks the primer and ignites the round before the bolt is fully closed.  This can be extremely dangerous!  If you want to shoot fewer than 8 rounds you can purchase modified 2-round and 5-found clips, or insert a fully loaded clip, fire your string, and eject the unused rounds using the lever on the left side of the receiver.

So there you have it – my first personal experience with the Civilian Marksmanship Program.  It was obviously positive, and something tells me I’ll be back for more.  Hopefully if you are reading this, you’ll be convinced to join the ranks of happy CMP customers.  Stay safe, and happy shooting!

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