The Grand Garand
September 23, 2010
Own a piece of American history every bit as effective today as it was early last century.
The M1 Garand, loved by all, very nearly didn't make it--and was slated to be something besides what we now know. John Garand began working for the government right after World War I. His initial designs revolved around a curious feature: The unlocking of the mechanism was to be initiated by the primer setting back out of the case. That is, the primer, blowing partially out of the case, unlocked the action and allowed it to cycle.
Why such a curious method? Back then, few knew why rifle bores were degrading, but one leading theory was that the pressure and heat of the combustion gases drove the residual acids of the powder into the pores of the steel. So designers were reluctant to direct gases back into the action.
Browning had already gotten around the problem with the long-recoil action found in his Auto-5 shotgun. But while his autoloading rifle using this principle, the Remington Model 8, was fine for hunting deer, it had two faults as far as the Army was concerned: It wasn't a .30-06, and it couldn't take a bayonet.
A rifle that could take a bayonet required some sort of gas system. And since keeping a gas system going in a corrosive environment was not possible, Browning came up with his primer-unlocking method. (Later, of course, we figured out it was the primers causing the corrosion.)
But just about the time Garand had the bugs worked out, the Ordnance Department changed the ammo. They crimped the primers to keep them from blowing in machine guns, and that sent Browning back to the drawing board. The result was a better rifle.
The one he produced was a 10-shot self-loading rifle that used en-bloc clips. Why clips, and not magazines? After all, the BAR used magazines, right? Yes, and they were heavy, bulky and required a lot of care. Clips were simple, required no maintenance, and a loaded en-block clip didn't take up any more space than a pair of loaded stripper clips.
That the first design held 10 shots was due to a new round called the .276 Pedersen, which fired a 125-grain 7mm bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,600 to 2,700 fps. It probably would have been a great idea except that the Great Depression struck, and the new chief of staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, shot down the concept because there was no money for converting the Army to the new caliber, and there were warehouses full of leftover .30-06 ammo from WWI.
John Garand personally (and on his own initiative) made the design changes to convert the .276 Pedersen Garand into the .30-06 Garand--the rifle we now all know and love.
If you've never fired a Garand, it has two peculiarities you have to know about. One, it will mangle your thumb if you aren't careful. You load the rifle by locking the bolt back and then pressing a loaded en-bloc clip down into the receiver.
The latch at the bottom of the receiver will both grab onto the clip and release the bolt. If your hand is in the way, the bolt will attempt to chamber it. As the thumb is mostly what you have in there, you'll get an "M1 thumb."
The other thing to know is that the operating rod is pretty much floating around inside the rifle on its own. There aren't any guide rails, locating brackets or other hangers to hold onto the rod. Thus, the gases ported out of the barrel whack against an unsupported rod, which can and does flex.
M1 Garand Assembly
M1 Garand Video
Lots of factories turned out M1s (l. to r.): Springfield Armory, Winchester, International Harvester and Harrington & Richards to name a few.
If you use the wrong powder, you can bend your op rod, to the detriment of reliability or accuracy. You have a strictly limited choice of powders with which to reload the .30-06 for use in the Garand.
The engineering of the Garand appears rather Rube Goldberg-ish. The operating rod and recoil spring guide rod are each more than a foot long. The recoil spring is over two feet long. The recoil spring also acts on the cartridge lifter to lift the rounds through the en-bloc clip.
And as we all know, once you've fired the last round, the clip springs out with a musical "ping!" The legend is, the ping was loud enough to give away your position in a firefight. As my dad fired many rounds in earnest with the Garand, I asked him about that soon after I had gotten mine. He gave me one of those "where in the heck did you hear that?" looks.
"No, never a problem," he said. "But there were usually four or five of us shooting at once, so even if some smart German had thought about it, someone else was usually shooting."
The Garand was the rifle to have for NRA service rifle competition for many years, and so many people have them and love to shoot them that even though service rifle is now dominated by the M16/AR-15, there's a special match at Camp Perry just for the M1 Garand.
Today, M1s are still available through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (ODCMP.COM). The CMP takes a warehouse full of crated Garands (literally) and inspects and rebuilds them. The process is simple, and each armorer has a check-sheet he goes through
Now before you think you might luck onto a pristine Winchester or an ultra-rare gas-trap Garand, one of the first things on the checklist is to see if the rifle being worked on has collector status. Most do not, as they are often military-loan returns.
The government loaned many armies of the world M1 Garands after World War II. Those Garands were returned to us and are what you're buying. Each Garand is disassembled and inspected, then rebuilt to one of a number of standards. You can get a beater rack-grade, up to a Service Grade or
Correct Grade rifle. But you don't get them by luck; you get them by paying for the better-grade rifle.
Your rifle will be either a nightmare or a dream from a collector's viewpoint, depending on what you want. If you desire only a Winchester with all the parts Winchester parts, you'll be disappointed. (Besides, even Winchester used parts from other makers during the war.)
But how about a Garand with a receiver from Harrington & Richardson, a Springfield barrel, a stock from Denmark, with Greek rebuild marks? Now that's a Garand with history.
One thing you might notice: The gas tube on Garands won't hold a finish. They are often spray-painted black because they are stainless steel. The gas tube was the one thing they could make stainless to combat corrosion from primers. The finish wears easily, so you'll see Garands that look a bit scruffy as a result.
The CMP lets you buy up to eight per year. Some shooters have gone a bit overboard, buying several a year for several years now. Yes, the general acquisitiveness we all have can get a little out of hand, but they are looking to build collections. With the CMP always opening new crates, there's no way of telling what might be available. And with several on hand you can mix and match until you have all the "correct" parts in one rifle.
M1 Garand Assembly
M1 Garand Video
Cartridges were housed in an en-bloc clip, which was pushed straight down into the receiver. When the last round is fired, the clip ejects.
You can buy the correct ammunition for your Garand from the CMP as well. It will all be ball, M2, 150-grain full metal jacket bullets, loaded to the correct pressure and pressure curve for your Garand. It won't be the most accurate ammo, but it will work.
That's not your only option as Hornady and ATK are both gearing up to produce ammo specifically for use in the M1. We're going to have more on this in future issues of Rifle Shooter as soon as we can get our hands on some to test.
I bought my first Garand at a great price because the owner thought there was something wrong with it. I picked up a match-conditioned Garand with a Springfield receiver, a Springfield barrel with a manufacture date of June 1965--complete with National Match-marked front and rear sights and operating rod--for $300 in 1977.
It came with an ammo can of clips, and the usual tale of woe: "The bore's shot out; it won't stay on a target." What I found was the usual: a bore that had never been cleaned, and a twist--the owner either hadn't known, or had not believed, that the front handguard was to be left alone.
I found the bore so choked with powder and jacket fouling it took a week to get it clean, and the front handguard was clearly rubbing the barrel. A match-conditioned barrel has the front handguard firmly secured to the barrel at the handguard's rear bolster. Once I had a clean bore and free-floating handguard, it shot as you'd expect a Garand to: about one m.o.a. And it still does today.
My first IPSC 3-gun match with it was a hoot. After running through the field course and disposing of around 40 rounds of .30-06 at maximum speed, I was nearly seeing double. After that I dropped the velocity. Rather than trying to load Sierra 168-grain Matchkings to the maximum velocity needed for NRA highpower shooting, I went with 150-grain full metal jackets at as low a velocity as would cycle the rifle.
So instead of a 168-grain bullet at 2,600 fps, I began shooting 150s at 2,400 fps. I found the recoil much easier, thank you. But even that was a lot more than the AR-15 and M1 carbine shooters were putting up with. So I took my Garand off to highpower matches, to use it where it was intended.
What I found there was that lying out in the hot sun was work, albeit of a different kind. And recoil while prone was even worse than recoil while standing--not to mention the hazards of getting hot brass down your neck from the shooter next to you. I began shooting with a towel tucked in the neck of my jacket to ward off any brass that might fall on me.
One of the marvels of the M1 Garand is that it has target sights. Even the basic sights are windage and elevation click-adjustable. In the 1930s, that was unbelievable in a battle rifle. It is still rare today.
Not only did John Garand make them target sights, he made them tough target sights. If you did manage to drop and break the sights, the breakable parts were also the easiest to swap out. You can change the rear aperture without any tools, and replacing the front requires only an Allen wrench.
M1 Garand Assembly
M1 Garand Video
One of the M1's many outstanding features is the click-adjustable rear sight-a tough but precise sight unusual on a battle rifle.
As a hunting rifle, the Garand has a few drawbacks. First, getting a scope on it is a lost cause. Because the en-bloc clip has to go straight down into the receiver, you have to mount the scope on the side. Anyone who goes hunting with an M1D sniper rifle probably takes his Ferrari off-road, too.
Second, it is a bit heavy. If you're willing to pack a 10-pound .30-06 into the woods, more power to you. But most hunters complain about a rifle being too heavy when it has passed the seven-pound mark, especially in t
his day of ultralight rifles.
Finally, many states limit self-loading rifles (if they permit them at all, as Pennsylvanians know) to five rounds. So you'll need special five-round clips, available from Gun Parts Company (Numrich), Fulton Armory and, believe it or not, Amazon.com. Fulton and Amazon.com also have the special two-shot clips for highpower competition shooting.
Whether you use a Garand for competition, recreational shooting or hunting, you're firing one of the greatest gun designs invented on these shores and in many ways the very embodiment of American spirit and strength.
M1 Garand Assembly
M1 Garand Video