Is it Evolution or an Alternative Semi-Auto Personal Defense Rifle?, by Racker

Once again, we have people using a tragedy to push personal agendas; they have little respect for the victims of those tragedies or their respective families and friends. These kinds of people maneuver to develop hysteria to use like a blanket masking their real intent and many of them have been sitting on the edge of their seats with prepared slogans and programs awaiting such tragic opportunities (i.e., “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” – Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s current Mayor and President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and mouthpiece). Meanwhile, as citizens and as proper planners, we must work with what is available or what we have and ensure we are in a high level of preparedness as well as constantly improving our posture within our means.  

This is not an article against the idea of a 5.56mm carbine or rifle. These are personal choice issues and that is a discussion for another time as we will be talking about a larger bore weapon here.

While we would all like to just go out and buy our weapons of choice, with all the current hoopla in Washington and other quarters now over high-capacity magazine weapons, maybe we can examine and improve an older design to accomplish similar needs at a cost savings. Since you may have one or more fancy 20-30 round magazine shooting, semi-automatic military type rifles, you may also have a need for additional long guns in .308/7.62 caliber. Bolt guns have their place and if that is what you have or can afford now, it will perform (the Mauser and Mosin Nagant are tough rifles, the Springfield ’03 is a jewel, and even some used modern bolt guns are amazingly accurate).

You can go one step better and either use an existing older semi-automatic weapon you may have or obtain one that you can either work on (skills provided) or obtain and have converted into a like-new weapon. I am talking about updating the venerable M1 Garand, and, before I hear howls of pain about making modifications to a collectible surplus service rifle, none of these modifications cannot be ‘undone.’ You can pick up a well used rack grade or ‘Bubba’ M1 and make it into a relatively new rifle. By the way, I have never heard of the M1 Garand being referred to as one of that mythical semi-auto ‘assault weapons.’ And the M1 just feels good in you hands; much better than a HK or AK (in all honesty, with the smooth bump in front of the Trigger Guard, it feels better than a M14 with a 20-round magazine).

As a Marine, I was issued M1s three times for duty. I carried, shot, drilled, and cleaned them a lot. While it had a smaller cartridge capacity than the M14 and later, the M16 (both then with 20-round magazines); I really doubt anyone that fired them would say that the M1 is not effective. For comparison, I continue to own and shoot stock and modified M1s, and I have owned and fired M1As, ARs and I have carried and fired other common semi-autos. I know the M1 can still function in a serious social situation and I would not feel under-armed. For those who have been shot at, not having to balance over a high magazine mono-pod, the M1 even has some advantages.

Making modifications to the M1 are not new. During WWII, the US government made up some examples of a shortened Garand and called it the “T-26.” The Italians used former Winchester M1 machinery to make a shorter, magazine equipped BM59 version of a M1. Later, others called a shortened M1, the ‘Tanker.’ Anyway, this is a shortened barrel piece and that makes it easier to handle (The Springfield Armory [not the US Armory] later carried this idea to their M1A and call them the ‘Scout’ and ‘SOCOM’ models).

While I am sure I am not the only one to do so, the following suggestions are based upon my personal experience in building such a weapon and the study conducted before I started the project.

While the M1 is a great weapon, there are some changes that I suggest can improve it for most situations. In its original form, it has a 24” barrel with the gas system hanging at the end.

  • Changing or replacing the barrel down to about 18” makes the rifle lighter and very easy to handle, particularly in closer quarters.
  • While you are changing the barrel, change it to .308 Winchester (ask your smith if they can chamber it for both .308 and 7.62). No one hit by this round will be able to tell it is not a .30 caliber M2 and.308/7.62 ammo is easier to find and cheaper. If you do convert to a different caliber, it is a good idea to etch the caliber on the Rear Sight Cover to make it easy to see (I suggest you add, “M1 PDR” on one line and a, “.308/7.62” on the next so it can be read from behind the stock).
  • Add a Smith Enterprise, Inc. ‘Good Iron M1 Garand Muzzle Brake’ or similar quality brake if you desire. This reduces recoil.
  • The normal M1 stock works fine but, if you can find one, get a BM59 Nigerian or M14E2 stock that have a pistol grip and modify it to fit the M1 (I would really like to see Boyds’ or someone else make such a stock for the M1 as it improves the carry features and shouldering of the stock – I think it would sell well also). I have the former and, while I had the opportunity, I had the stock bedded. I have even seen a chopped M1 stock converted for a M16 collapsible stock with a bolt from the receiver area and good Epoxy.
  • Add a recoil pad. If you go with the Pachmayr Decelerator or Limbsaver Slip-on recoil pads, you can still use the hollow stock to store the military or OTIS clearing gear. Both pad brands work well. You will be glad you did.
  • While you are doing this, have your smith go through the piece and replace any questionable worn parts with new ones.
  • If you do not have one, trade for a newer stamped rather than milled Trigger Guard. They seem to work better in modified M1s.
  • Refinish the whole weapon. Parkerizing is fine but there are a lot of great finishes out there now. And, like ordering a new pickup, you can pick colors as well.
  • Add an extra fitted Operating Rod Spring to your parts kit so you will know what a new one looks like when you need to replace it, and the usual spares such as firing pin, extractor, extractor spring and plunger, ejector, ejector spring, etc. (almost every smith has a slightly different list of spares needed).
  • One thing more, I suggest you try John Holbrook’s Thumbsaver Device. This changes the Manual of Arms to more of a M14 style as the clip will only eject when you wish it to do so and it allows you to single-load rounds into the clip (a great feature). I changed the Manual of Arms to bringing up a fresh clip with the left hand and hitting the Catch Latch (clip release) to send the empty clip on its way as I complete the topping of the piece with the fresh clip; once learned, it is easy with either left or right hand. I do not see reloading time as an issue. You can change back the Operating Rod Catch if you desire. It is that easy. 

A pistol grip stock on the M1 improves the handling; it is easier to control the weapon during reloading, with recoil management, and in general handling. The M1 has always been a favorite shooter for many of us and these changes certainly do not harm the handling characteristics. To me, these modifications make it easier to acquire and stay on target.

You can add a forward 1913 rail to the barrel if you so desire and you then may add a low powered scope or red dot sight just like any other modern weapon. There is enough meat on the M1 stock that you can add QD Millett or Uncle Mike’s types sling swivels for your 1¼” web sling or ‘stylin’ sling if you do not like the positions of the GI swivels. 

If you do not want to use a 1913 rail or the M1 wood Upper Hand Guard, you can cut and fit a fiberglass M14 Upper Hand Guard there (the one without the slots). It is lighter and you can spray paint it. You really do not need a Front Hand Guard for the shorter M1. (While on the topic of what is needed, study the issue of a 7.62 bullet block inside the Trigger Housing. I have a block inside one .308 rifle M1 but not in the other. I do not think we need the block if you identify caliber on the Rear Sight Cover.)

You will need a lot of M1 en bloc clips but I find a .308 M1 is not as fussy about clips as some .30 caliber M1s. And with some 20 round mags selling for over $40, three M1 clips together holding 24 rounds MAY cost you $3. I would start to stop collecting the clips at 200. They won’t get cheaper.

The M1 clips are easy to carry. The US Rifle Belt, M1910-1918 (and later versions) used in WWI & II, Korea, and Vietnam (or reproductions) works just fine. “Olongapo Outfitters” makes a ‘Grab-and-Go’ M1 clip carrier and clip pouches. I like their M1 chest rig. You can also use modern pouches to carry the clips.

M1 cloth bandoleers are still available and a great way to keep your ammo ready in loaded en bloc clips (remember, no mag springs to worry about); the 7.62 ammo in the clips work fine in the .30 caliber (.30-06) pockets. Just put your loaded clips in bandoleers and put them in .30 caliber ammo cans – ready to go.

Personally, I feel a shorter ‘new’ Garand PDR is easier to conceal and extra ammo can be carried in a discrete carrier that I tend to favor for now.

If you know someone who is good with a sewing machine, you can take the WWII M1 Carbine/Garand double mag pouch and exchange the short straps on the back by sewing some strapping material and Velcro to allow you to put a new adjustable pouch for two M1 clips on the stock. Sticking another clip in the sling will allow you to carry 24 rounds on the piece. Not bad and it has a great ‘cool’ factor (now called a “CDI” or ‘Chicks Dig It’ thing).

Fulton Armory, Warbirds and DGR make/rebuild these rifles and I am sure others do as well. Springfield Armory (the commercial company – not the old US Armory) used to make new ones and you may be able to find one. You can also find makers that will convert them to M14 mags but then we are getting back to the ‘bad magazine’ issue. Just pay attention to the weapon’s pedigree to ensure you do not get a two-piece welded together receiver made up decades ago. A known and respected dealer/smith is always you best bet for these pieces. Whether you buy one new or have one made up, as with any quality weapon, check reputation, pay attention and ask questions.

I have a beautifully stocked M1/.308 rebuild in Tennessee (by DGR) and a BM59 Nigerian stocked piece like the one described in this article I had rebuilt in Arkansas. Both probably shoot better than I do and I have had a scope and red dot mounted on the latter. I am using a red dot right now. They both are as reliable as any weapon I have ever shot and I do not feel under gunned with either. Since I live on the left coast, I choose this weapon system because this state does not like ‘BAD magazines’ (you say it like, “BAD DOG!”)

When California passed its original “Assault Weapon” ban, the M1 Garand was NOT on that list. Neither was the SKS as they both used a clip to insert rounds into the weapon. We can build upon this capability and use it to our advantage. (By the way, having only 8-rounds and inserting them into the rifle was NOT John Garand’s idea; the US Army made him do it that way — he wanted to use detachable magazines).

For ammo, try to stick with 168 gr. and under. The 7.62mm is probably better but the two I have are chambered for .308/7.62. I use 150 gr. FMJ ball rounds as a rule.

This new M1 PDR is just that: a Personal Defense Rifle with the capability to perform most of the duties of a newer military 7.62 long gun (I doubt I will be making a bayonet charge but mine retains that ‘nasty’ stud as well). The original design is a classic, it is well known as ultra reliable, rugged, and for its accuracy since they are equipped with excellent iron sights that may be the best military service rifle sights ever designed. Once you use them, you can normally hit a target at almost any reasonable range. The US military M1 receivers are tougher than Woodpecker lips. You are not using a lesser piece if you start with a military rack grade M1, US military parts and build it up. If you can buy a Rack or Field grade M1 from the Civilian Marksmanship Program, you can keep your initial cost down and still have all the required parts. Until you can upgrade it, it is still a great buy and rifle. (The CMP, I’m informed, will soon be selling some Greek M1 belts. The prices should be good.)

Price wise, I frequently note that people buy a favorite 20-round shooting long gun and then spend a lot of extra cash tuning it with extra work, magazines and parts to make it a custom piece. I suggest folks pick their piece and then do a price comparison with a Garand modified to what I am suggesting here. Plus, we do not have the magazine issue that the hysterical negative gun/magazine types go on about; we are just converting an old weapon into a personal defense rifle.

If you were to choose this as a project, get a well used M1, the other parts you want to put on it, as you look around for a good Garand mechanic or shop specializing in the M1 ‘Tanker.’ Check different shops for work and prices and the time required to complete the work before you send it off.

I challenge anyone to take a M1 and do a shoot off against another prime carry large bore piece. If you practice, you will find 8-round clips compare well in shooting…say 48 rounds of ammo. Once you shoot such a string and gain some confidence, I think the number of rounds in the rifle will become less important than your ability to quickly reload it. Besides, it is another opportunity for practice.

By the way, if I were still a working county cop, I think such a maneuverable M1 PDR with a mounted red dot would be a great patrol unit or ‘go-to’ rifle.

“In my opinion, the M1 rifle is the greatest battle implement ever devised” – General George S. Patton, Jr., 1945. Mr. Garand designed a truly great rifle. Maybe these suggestions are just an evolution like the M14 and its smaller version, the Mini-14. While the M1s son is still in service with our military, a M1 PDR would serve anyone well and better than many alternatives.

One of the neat things about this nation is that we can still make these kinds of decisions; we get to make those choices. In this spirit, I will leave you with a great quote I feel is appropriate at this time: “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” – Thomas Jefferson.

Semper Fi and Semper Gumby!