Bayonets have been part of warfare for more than 400 years. Likely first invented in France and named after the town of Bayonne, soldiers have found uses for something long and sharp at the end of a rifle or musket. While the days of single-shot weapons are long past and even some militaries are giving up teaching the use of the bayonet, it is an important tool that you should have.
Since the early days of black powder warfare, soldiers have been taught the basics of fencing one-on-one with bayonets, as well as swarming an enemy position as a group in a “bayonet charge.” Sometimes this was done on purpose and with forethought, sometimes it was done out of desperation. You can see examples of this in films such as Gettysburg. Typical bayonets prior to the current era were usually of the very long “socket” or “sword” types mounted on a musket or black powder rifle. Sometimes these ranged from eighteen inches in length to nearly two feet. Mounting that on a four-foot-long musket or rifle gave a soldier a very long spear with which to skewer the enemy. In the early 20th century, bayonets became smaller and lighter, and some were even permanently fixed to rifles like the SKS.
Are bayonets useful today? In a military environment, that is debatable. The most recent known military bayonet charge was done in 2011 by a group of British soldiers in Afghanistan who ran out of ammunition. Thankfully for them, it worked. And evidently, bayonets are scary enough that for many decades leftist politicians have wanted to ban them and their mounting lugs as “assault weapon” features. That aspect alone makes them worthwhile for a citizen!
There are practical reasons for owning and using a bayonet:
First, bayonets have a psychological impact. While most people have not experienced a gunshot wound, everybody has experienced being cut by something. If you are up close and personal with an opponent and you want them to think twice, a bayonet is a very visible reminder of lethality and pain. Fixed bayonets either from a single person or from a group can be useful for keeping control of a situation that you may not want to escalate into gunfire. Nothing says “STAY BACK” quite like a bayonet.
Second, bayonets are useful for weapon retention. While you do not want somebody to get within grabbing distance of your rifle’s barrel, in a crowd-control situation a bayonet can keep somebody from grabbing your weapon and moving it off target or taking it away from you.
Third, bayonets have non-combat uses. If you are outdoors and carrying a rifle, it is likely that you have a fixed blade knife as well. Why not let the knife serve more than one purpose? I have also used a bayonet to finish off game that may not be quite dead. A deer that is mortally wounded can still hurt you if it is moving around. A bayonet on the end of a rifle can finish the job, while keeping you far enough away from the animal that you don’t get kicked, bit, or poked with something.
Any bayonet training you might find will be pretty rudimentary, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Even for soldiers, bayonet fencing is basically a thing of the past. You can look up old military field manuals such as FM 23-25 if you want a description of how it was done. If you are going up against somebody else who is armed with a bayonet, something has gone terribly wrong for you. If you are really interested, take fencing classes with swords. The basics of stance, footwork, parrying, lunging, and point control will help you with any bladed weapon, whether it is long or short. It is also good exercise in general, and helps you react with speed. However, the main idea of a bayonet for a citizen is not fencing. Rather, it is simply a sharp alternative tool with extended reach.
There are bayonets available for nearly every type of military surplus or military-style rifle. While something is better than nothing, not every bayonet is useful. Bayonet designers have traditionally emphasized stabbing rather than slashing, and as such many bayonets are unsharpened, and some are made of metal that is of low quality and can barely take an edge. The tubular bayonet from the FAL and the knife-style bayonet of the Czech VZ-58 come unsharpened. Interestingly, while the VZ-58 bayonet makes a poor general-purpose knife, it is quite useful as a throwing knife. The bayonets made to fit the AK-47 series of rifles had a terrible edge, but were designed to function with the scabbard as a wire cutter.
In general, I prefer American bayonets. Not only do they fit American rifles, but the blades are often more useful as knives on their own. The spear-type bayonets began being manufactured around WWII. The M5 bayonet for the M1 carbine and the M6 bayonet for the M14 rifle look similar, but differ somewhat in how they connect to the bayonet lugs. It is hard to find good-quality M6 bayonets for a reasonable price, but there are decent replicas available.
When the M14 rifle was phased out in favor of the M16, the M7 bayonet was issued. The original M7 is made of good steel, and shares the M8/M8A1 scabbard with the M5 and M6 bayonets. Ontario Knife Company and Imperial made large quantities of the M7 from the 1960s to the 1980s, and they are readily available. Prices, however, are rising. I picked up my examples of the M7 in the early 2000s. At that time, they could be had for around $7-$10. Now, they range in price from $60 to $140. Commercial copies of varying quality start for about half of the price of a military-issue version. However, some of them are awful. I have one Chinese “M7” copy that is much larger and longer than the original, and is unusable out of the box for any mil-spec bayonet lug. The downside of the M5, M6, and M7 bayonets is that due to their spear-point shape, they make a good fighting blade but are not well-suited for other uses.
A more recent Army-issue bayonet is the M9. On the surface, the blade and the scabbard resemble the bayonets intended for the AK47 rifle series. They share the same blade design, and the same intention to be used as a wire cutter. Originals cost $60-to-$100, and commercial copies are available for around $30. I own a copy, and I have compared it to an original and they are the same size. For what they are, they are a bit heavy.
My favorite bayonet is the Marine Corps OKC-3S. In my opinion, they are the best on the market today. My first one was sold to me by a Marine returning from Iraq. He told me that he and his comrades used their bayonets for all kinds of digging, cutting, prying, and opening packages or even crates. After all that heavy use, mine still shows no blade damage. It is easy to sharpen and holds a good edge. The serrated section toward the base of the blade is good for cutting ropes and sawing other items. On the surface, it looks somewhat like the famous Ka-Bar knife (and the handle is styled in imitation of it). The OKC-3S is larger and heavier than the Ka-Bar, but lighter than the Army’s M9. Its hard polymer scabbard comes with MOLLE straps. Of the bayonets I have handled for modern rifles, the OKC-3S is probably the most expensive. Good quality surplus models are $140 and up, but are well worth the price. Even if you never put it on the end of your rifle, it is a great knife for outdoor chores.
While most military rifles have a bayonet made specifically with compatibility and fit in mind, the AR-15 platform with which American citizens are familiar has a couple of minor issues. Some older AR-15s from the “Assault Weapons Ban” era actually have a non-functional bayonet lug or one that has been intentionally damaged to make it compliant with the ban. The only choices are to remove the gas block and replace it with one that includes a proper lug, or add a clamp-on lug to the barrel. Newer AR-15 carbines of the M4 style present another problem. Under the National Firearms Act, any rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches must be registered. The military is not subject to that restriction, so their M4 carbine barrels are 14.5 inches long. The extra 1.5 inches of a civilian AR-15 carbine is enough to make the barrel ring end up in the wrong spot on the rifle’s barrel. Having the bayonet mounted too far back causes it to rattle, possibly detaching from the lug or even damaging the barrel.
There are two different products available – a clamp-on lug that attaches to the barrel, or a bayonet lug extension. The APG Defense company makes a good, solid extension. For those who have free-float barrels and no bayonet lug at all, APG Defense makes a universal mount that attaches to any Picatinny, KeyMod, or MLok handguard that leaves enough space between the end of the handguard and the muzzle.
In conclusion, having bayonets for your rifles is a small investment that can add flexibility to your defense setup. With a bit of care and forethought, you can choose something that will fit and provide you many years of service. If you already carry or use a fixed-blade knife, a bayonet of decent quality can take the place of your existing fixed-blade knife without adding much weight. What’s not to like?