Dear Mr. Rawles,
I enjoyed R.W.L.’s recent post, “Prioritizing My Prepping”, and noted the choice of the venerable M1 Garand as the MBR of choice. Though the M1 is a terrific choice for this role (“the finest battle implement ever devised” per Gen. Patton), those new to the rifle should keep a couple of critical things in mind when deciding to acquire their very useful piece of history. Standardization of ammo throughout one’s battery can be a beneficial goal, but be aware that all .30-06 is not equal when it comes to the Garand. The M1’s gas system is designed specifically for the pressures generated by the military M2 ball round, and can be damaged or destroyed by higher pressures generated by many commonly-available hunting loads. I’ve never seen it, but have read that in severe cases this problem can lead to the injury or death of the shooter. Of course, though .30-06 ammo is ubiquitous, the available M2 ball will eventually disappear, as no major modern armies are using it. Federal makes a round to M2 Ball spec under the American Eagle label, but it hovers around $1.00 per round.
The answer is to purchase an “adjustable gas plug” for each of your M1 rifles. Several are available – I’m familiar with the “Schuster DCM Adjustable Gas Plug”, which can be had from any major shooting outfit for around $35. By adjusting this plug you can allow over-pressure to escape before impinging on the Operating [“Op”] Rod, the face of which doubles as the gas piston. You must waste a few rounds to make this adjustment, but it is well worth it when shooting non-M2 ammo! For the record, though very similar to the Garand, the M14 (M1A in civilian form), in 7.62 NATO, is much more tolerant of this problem because of the free-floating gas piston inherent in the design.
Also, if you plan to use the M1 Garand indefinitely, make sure to acquire plenty of en bloc clips. Without them it is a rather heavy single-shot rifle (as is true for any semi-auto rifle without a magazine as well. I’ve just found that it’s easier to lose clips than magazines!). I would also recommend purchasing one or two of the specially-designed 5 round clips for legal hunting during “normal” times. They are available at the big shooting supply outfits.
A final note: many “spare parts” lists can be found for the M1, with all the usual suspects: firing pin, extractor, ejector, etc. The one part that I’ve had to replace most often in CMP Garands is the clip ejector spring. They’re cheap, so it wouldn’t hurt to get one. A clip stuck in the receiver considerably slows the re-load process. And besides, you don’t get to hear that famous “ping”!
Thank you for all you do. I apologize for boring the millions of experienced M1 Garand lovers out there. – S.H. in Georgia
JWR Replies: That is all good advice. My only proviso would be that rather than try to tune a Garand gas system for different bullet weights, I recommend just sticking to M2 Ball or duplication loads, thereof. Granted, you can fiddle with an adjustable gas system and get a Garand to work with lower or higher grain bullet weights. But with original operating rods now worth $130 to $220, why put yours at risk? It doesn’t take much to to bend an op rod, and once it is bent, it useless and probably beyond repair. (A “slightly bent” op rod is like a young lady being “a little bit pregnant.”) A bent op rod represents an expensive mistake if it happens in present day circumstances. But even worse, it means being without a functioning rifle if it happens after the Schumer Hits The Fan. My advice: Don’t risk it.