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Review: Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine

Review: Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine
Auto-Ordnance's M1 Carbine is all-new — no surplus parts — and is just as much fun to shoot as it always was.

There are a number of companies out there offering refurbished WWII-era firearms, but Auto-Ordnance is currently the only manufacturer of new M1 Carbines. Okay, confession time. Reagan was in office the first time I ever shot an M1 Garand, but it wasn't until August 2011 that I actually fired an M1 Carbine. I have no good explanation for this other than perhaps always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I realize now what I was missing. I suspect I'm not the only one.

In fact, I'd bet there are a whole generation of shooters out there who know next to nothing about the M1 Carbine. As I was picking up my test rifle at my local gun store a boy who looked about 12, who was there for a hunter safety class, said "What's that?" I'm sure he's not alone in his ignorance of a piece of American firearms history, and considering how light, handy and soft-recoiling the carbine is, that's a shame.

The M1 Carbine was not designed to be a front-line combat weapon but rather was meant for support troops, something a little more powerful and easier to hit with than the .45 ACP 1911 pistol. U.S. soldiers carried the carbine into battle all over the world, and more than 6.2 million carbines were produced during World War II alone, more than any other U.S. small arm.

During World War II close to a dozen manufacturers produced carbines, and the design evolved in small ways over time. The Auto-Ordnance carbine, made with all new parts (no surplus), is designed to replicate D-Day-era carbines and a Saginaw-made carbine was used as a model for this version, and in fact the paperwork provided with my rifle uses the phrase "Saginaw Packing." It also features a one-year warranty.

The Auto-Ordnance carbine has a flat-top bolt, no bayonet lug on the barrel and a push-button magazine release (marked with an M) just forward of the cross-bolt safety on the front of the trigger guard. The rear sight is a non-adjustable flip version, with one aperture for 100 yard usage and a taller one for 300 yards.

With its standard 18-inch barrel the carbine balances just forward of the magazine. There is a metal buttplate on the stock. The bolt handle, which is actually part of the operating slide which controls the bolt, is the perfect size for a finger and reciprocates when firing. At the front of the receiver is stamped, "US CARBINE CAL 30 ML". At the rear of the receiver is "AUTO-ORDNANCE WORCHESTER, MA".

The stock on my sample was perfectly fitted to the receiver, with no gaps, scratches or dings, but it had rather boring grain and color — true GI grade. However, the Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine in the rack at my local gun shop had a much prettier stock, as have most of them I've seen. A screwdriver is all you need to replace the stock on a carbine.

The carbine's ease of use is a big reason for its huge popularity. I can't say enough just how light and handy the carbine is. It comes to the shoulder quickly, it points naturally, is even lighter than it looks, and it recoils about the same as a .223 of equal weight, only with less muzzle blast.

Unlike many weapons whose springs are so strong many kids and women can hardly load them, it is possible to work the bolt on the M1 Carbine with one finger. The user can lock the bolt back by the use of a spring-loaded pin on the top of the handle. Retract the bolt, push the pin down, and it clicks nicely into a detent in the receiver. To release, just give the bolt handle a little tug backward and let it fly.

The bolt of an M1 will lock back only if using magazines with certain types of followers. If the rear of the bullet shape on the follower is vertical, it will lock the bolt back. None of the 15-round magazines I used, including the one provided with the rifle, would lock the bolt back, but the 30-rounders I tried did.

Soldiers complained about the Garand's weight, capacity, recoil and its bad habit of announcing to any nearby enemy soldiers that it was empty, courtesy of a loud "ping" when the empty clip was ejected. Detractors of the M1 Carbine (and you will find naysayers of every weapon our military has ever fielded) really could only ever find only one flaw with it: its "underpowered" cartridge.

The .30 Carbine cartridge is a straight-walled case and traditionally features a .30 caliber 110-grain full-metal-jacket bullet traveling around 1,900 fps. If you look at the ballistics of the .30 Carbine round, it is roughly equivalent to a .357 Magnum fired out of a rifle-length barrel. That makes it substantially more powerful than the .45 ACP, and it had more than enough oomph to penetrate WWII Japanese helmets and body armor plates. Admittedly, those ballistics pale when compared to the M1 Garand's .30-06, but that's like comparing a golf club to a baseball bat; they were not designed to do the same job.

While everyone is scrambling to get more tactical than the next guy and find a color that's blacker than black to paint their ARs, it wasn't so long ago that SWAT teams were arming their members with the unassuming M1 Carbine.

Author and instructor Jim Cirillo was a member of the NYPD's Stake Out Unit and was involved in more gunfights than every cop I personally know put together. He quite often carried an M1 Carbine, loaded with 110-grain jacketed softpoints, and said that of all the weapons the unit used the carbine had the best track record: 100 percent one-shot stops. Anyone thinking about using an M1 Carbine for personal defense today has the option of loading it with soft-point or hollowpoint ammunition, something our soldiers couldn't do.

The carbine's utility isn't limited to personal defense. There are many locales around the country where it is not legal to hunt deer with a .223, but over the last 60-plus years untold whitetail deer have been killed with the .30 Carbine. Many ammunition manufacturers make softpoint or hollowpoint .30 Carbine ammo, and while a 110-grain jacketed softpoint at 1,900 fps is no belted magnum, it is more than enough to kill a deer. Because it is so light and handy, with modest recoil, it is a great centerfire long gun on which to start a new shooter.

Auto-Ordnance provides one 15-round magazine with the rifle (or a 10-rounder if you live in California), and it sells 30-rounders as well.

Shooting the carbine was an old-fashioned experience. By that I mean it is the first rifle in a long time that I have had to break in. At first it was only reliable with 2 of the 6 test magazines, but after about 150 rounds (most of it steel-cased Hornady and Wolf, which Auto-Ordnance doesn't recommend anyway) the little rifle ran reliably with every magazine I had and fed Federal's jacketed softpoints as easily as it did FMJs.

Its crisp, single-stage 51/2-pound trigger had no take-up, and while I was able to get decent groups with it (21/2 and three inches at 100 yards), I suspect someone with younger eyes would have done even better. The sights were exactly right for elevation, but the carbine was hitting three inches right for me at 50 yards. The rear sight is drift adjustable for windage, so this is a quick fix.

I will freely admit that I haven't discovered anything about the M1 Carbine that people smarter than me didn't already know 40 years ago. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, but Americans have short memories. The M1 Carbine has proven itself on battlefields around the world and hunting grounds here at home, and it avoids the stigma of the "evil black assault rifle".

There are some who might argue that because an Auto-Ordnance M1 Carbine is new, as opposed to a surplus war veteran, that it is not a "historic" weapon but rather a nostalgic one. So what? Collectors have driven the prices of surplus carbines up to (and far beyond in some cases) the cost of a new Auto-Ordnance, and most people can't afford to buy guns they don't intend to shoot. This M1 Carbine is a shooter.

Fast Specs

  • Type: semiauto centerfire
  • Caliber: .30 Carbine
  • Capacity: 10-, 15-round detachable magazine
  • Barrel: 18 in.
  • Overall Length: 35.75 in.
  • Weight: 5.4 lb.
  • Stock/handguard: walnut
  • Trigger: 5.5 lb. pull
  • Sights: fixed post front; 100/300 yard flip rear drift adjustable for windage
  • Price: $899
  • Manufacturer: Auto-Ordnance,, 508-795-3919

Accuracy Results

  • Smallest avg. group: 110-gr. Federal JSP — 2.3 in.
  • Largest avg. group: 110-gr. Wolf FMJ — 3.2 in.
  • Avg. of all ammo tested (5 types) — 2.6 in.
  • Notes: Accuracy results are the averages of three three-shot groups at 100 yards from a sandbag rest. Abbreviations: FMJ, full metal jacket, JSP, jacketed softpoint

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