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06/27/2004 Archived Entry: "Range Report: M1 "Tanker" Garand"

IAN HAS BEEN AT THE RANGE AGAIN and brings back this exclusive full-length report on an unusual (and somewhat controversial) battle rifle.

Range Report: M1 "Tanker" Garand
By Ian McCollum

The M1 Garand, as many of you no doubt know, was America's primary service rifle through World War II and the Korean War. Like the 1911, it is a very well-designed weapon, one of the first of its type (that being semi-auto battle rifle), and retains a dedicated following to this day. When I started looking around for the best battle rifle to get for myself, the M1 caught my attention. However, they fire .30-06 ammunition (which is neither as plentiful nor as cheap as the 7.62x51 NATO), and are longer and heavier (24" barrel, 9.5 lb) than similar rifles. So I dropped the idea, and looked at other possibilities. I kept coming back to the M1, though, and eventually found just what I had in mind: a "tanker" Garand.

Plenty of M1 afficionados will probably cringe at the mere word "tanker." These rifles are shortened M1s (usually with 18" barrels), and many of them are horrible pieces of junk. In the 50s and 60s, they were often made with shot-out barrels and receivers that had been cut in half and welded back together (shudder). They were advertised as being authentic WWII rifles

designed by General Patton himself to be issued to tank crews. This was utter baloney, of course. A few M1s were shortened by unit armorers in the Pacific, and the military did experiment with a couple for paratroops, but fewer than 10 ever existed during the war. However, some reputable manufacturers (notably Springfield Armory) did produce "tankers" commercially at times.

I found one of these quality rifles, and decided it would make an excellent battle rifle. Mine was made on an intact 1944 Springfield receiver with a brand new .308 barrel and new operating rod (a quality op rod is essential to a "tanker" M1). For anyone else in the market for one of these rifles, a good test is to disassemble one, remove the op rod spring, and tilt the rifle up and down. If the op rod and bolt slide back and forth under their own weight by 30 or 45 degrees, the rifle will likely work fine. If not, it almost certainly will not function well. I would recommend finding a Garand expert to inspect any "tanker" before purchase, as you'll also want to make sure that the throat and muzzle erosion are within acceptable limits, the trigger group is sound, the op rod is good, and so. I founs such an expert, and got a stamp of approval on my rifle before finalizing the purchase.

The one other thing I did with my rifle before I hit the range was to purchase a BM-59 MkIV stock (scroll down to #20 in that page to see one). These stocks fit right on to M1s, although since they were intended for magazine-fed rifles, there is an exposed area in front of the floorplate when used on an M1. I'm going to fill that in with a block of wood in the near future. The benefit with these stocks is that they have a pistol grip. I find that having that makes to rifle more comfortable to shoot, reload, and carry. If you get one from Reese Surplus, be aware that they come without any metal components (regular M1 pieces fit perfectly) and unfinished.

Now, on to the range...

Clips: One objection modern shooters often have to the M1 is the fact that it uses 8-round en bloc clips instead of big detachable magazines. These clips are inserted completely into the rifle (unlike other rifles, where the ammo is pushed off the clip into the gun). The bolt then closes, chambering the first round. After all 8 have been fired, the clip is automatically ejected, with an unmistakeably cool "PING!" sound. The downside of these clips is that they only hold 8 rounds, compared to 20 in a typical .308 magazine - so an M1 shooter has to reload 2.5 times for each time a mag-fed rifle shooter needs to reload. On the other hand, the clips have some advantages: they weight much less than any magazine, they only cost about 75 cents each (though Numrich sells them for as little as 40 cents each if you get a drum of 1,950), and they have no moving parts or springs to wear out. While debating what rifle to get, I weighed the pluses and minuses, and came to the conclusion that the advantages of the clips outweigh their disadvantages.

Reliability: Of the roughly 225 rounds thus far put through the rifle, I've had only two malfs (both within the first 75 or so rounds). One was a failure to fire - the firing pin hit the round's primer, but not hard enough to detonate it. The round fired on the second try. The other malf was a clip that didn't eject when it was empty. Unless these problems repeat themselves, I'm going to consider them quirks of rifle break-in, and ignore them. Aside from those malfs, the rifle's functioning has been flawless. One interesting thing I noticed is that ejected brass often hits the the oprod as it cycles forward, resulting in the brass being thrown about 5 feet directly in front of the shooter.

Sights & Accuracy: M1s have great sights - a blade in front and an aperture on the back of the receiver. My "tanker" has a sight radius (the distance between front and rear sights, an important consideration in how accurately a rifle can be fired) of 22", which is as much as a FAL or HK91, and more than an AR. I particularly like the sight adjustments knobs on M1s - they are easily adjustable by hand (no screwdrivers or other tools needed) and change the point of impact in 1 MOA increments. In addition, the elevation knob is marked in 100s of yards out to 1200 yards for easy range adjustment (I may need to get a replacement knob to compensate for my "tanker's" different caliber and barrel length, though).

Most of my firing thus far has been plinking at reactive targets, but when sighting it in from a rest, I got groups of about 2" at 100 yards (using Portuguese surplus ammo). I'm quite happy with that level of accuracy - I can probably get better with better ammo, but it's still better than I can shoot from field positions.

Trigger: M1s also have great triggers, as good as any battle rifle and much better than most. They are two-stage deals, and easily perfected by competant gunsmiths.

Controls: Because it doesn't use detachable magazines, the M1 has different controls than most battle rifles. It has a manual clip ejection button, which allows a shooter to (as the name implies) eject the clip and all the ammo in the rifle. This button is located on the left side of the receiver, roughly where the bolt hold-open is on an AR-15. The M1's bolt handle is located on the right side of the receiver. This may seem like a disadvantage to right-handers, but there is no magazine to obstruct reaching under the rifle to the bolt handle, and the chamber is visible without moving removing the cheek from the stock. The bolt handle position is much, much less of an issue than with, say, the AK-47. And, of course, it's an uncommonly comfortable setup for left-handers. Lastly, there's the safety. On an M1, this is totally ambidextrous, being a forward-backward lever at the front of the trigger guard. My one complaint is that disengaging the safety requires putting a finger inside the trigger guard, so you have to be especially aware of your muzzle when doing so.

Disassembly & Cleaning: Field-stripping an M1 is as simple as any combat rifle. Rather than describe the process, I'll point you to the Civilian Marksmanship Program's step-by-step explanation. Detail stripping isn't quite so simple, as the bolt and gas cylinder both require tools to take apart. Cleaning is about average in complexity. One significant difference between the M1 and other rifles is that the rear of the receiver blocks access to the barrel from the chamber end. As a result, cleaning the barrel must be done from the muzzle, and a special ratcheted brush is needed to clean the chamber. Lastly, the M1 needs to be lubricated with grease, not oil. On the bright side, the storage compartment in the buttstock is large enough to hold everything you need. In my stock right now are a segmented cleaning rod, disassembly tool, chamber brush, container of grease, and some patches.

Legal Details: As a result of not using detachable magazines, the M1 (including the "tanker" version) is unaffected by the "assault weapons" ban. Because of this, it is legal to put a pistol-grip stock on without destroying the bayonet lug that is standard on every M1. There are also folding stocks and flash hiders available, which are legal for the same reason.

Acquisition: There are not many places to get good "tanker" M1s. I found mine in an online ad from a dealer. Smith Enterprise has an excellent reputation and offers "tanker" conversions, and good gunsmiths who specialize in Garands should have no trouble doing the same. If you can find a Springfield Armory conversion (not just a conversion done on an old Springfield receiver) it should be good. I would be very skeptical of all others, though. If you find a one that apprears to be good, get it checked over by a Garand specialist before purchasing it.

Posted by Claire @ 04:30 PM CST

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