You can’t write an article on the M1 Garand without quoting Lt. General George S. Patton, who called the rifle “the greatest battle implement ever devised”. That was incredibly high praise coming from one of the greatest leaders of combined arms in WWII and considering the number of superb weapons that were developed in the conflict.
The Garand is the semi-automatic rifle adopted by the U.S. Army in 1936. It was the first standard issue semi-auto adopted by any army. The Russians tried next with their SVT 38 and 40 rifles in 7.62mmx54R, but the combination of technical difficulties and the disruption of the German invasion led the Russians to go back to the Mosin-Nagant bolt action in the same caliber. The Germans issued some semi-automatics during the war, but none came close to rivaling the Garand for widespread use. The Japanese were so impressed by the Garand, they tried to copy it during the war but only got a few made. While many U.S. troops at the beginning of WW II were still carrying bolt action rifles, virtually none in frontline units carried anything other than a self-loading rifle by the end. No other Army could say this until the 1950’s.
The Garand remains an effective rifle to this day and is worthy of consideration by any prepper for hunting or self-defense. It is accurate and reliable and holds eight of the powerful, popular, and widely available .30-06 cartridge that is capable of handling pretty much anything you would want to hunt in North America. You can find Garands for as little as $600, and I will explain where to get them later in the article.
It is more politically correct than many modern defensive rifles, thanks to its non-threatening looks to the ill-informed and the fixed, eight-round magazine. That makes it easier to own in some locations.
Garands are sometime encountered in .308 Winchester. The Navy used Garands as standard issue longer than the other services and converted many to .308. It is also quite common to rebarrel them in what has become the more popular round, partially because of the availability of surplus ammo.
The Garand was the basis for the M14 rifle and inspired the M1 Carbine and Ruger Mini 14.
The Garand has few drawbacks. The major one, in my view (and that of virtually everyone else on the planet), is the magazine. The Army specified a fixed magazine, using clips to load it, and the rifle’s designer– John C. Garand– who worked at the Springfield Armory, had to oblige. Today we know the advantages of interchangeable magazines– something the Army didn’t grasp in the 1930’s. They were so afraid of soldiers losing the magazines that they were blind to the improved combat effectiveness of detachable magazines. This is a problem, because you can’t top off a partially full Garand without ejecting what’s in the magazine, unlike the bolt rifles it was up against. Worse, if you don’t have a clip but do have loose rounds, you can only load one round at a time, unlike Mausers, Enfields, or Mosin-Nagants, that can be fully loaded with single cartridges. This means you have to be sure you have a supply of clips and you need to pick them up when you shoot. If you hunt, you will need to find some special five-round clips to keep the game wardens happy.
The Garand ejects the clip on the last shot, making a characteristic ping sound. If one is familiar with it, you know when the Garand shooter goes empty. There are a lot of apocryphal stories of soldiers getting overrun when the enemy heard the clip eject. I’ve also heard stories of soldiers faking out the enemy by tossing an empty clip out during a fight and then mowing them down when they charged. The stories are good enough to hope some are true.
There is a gizmo called the Holbrook Device that I haven’t tried (but intend to) that prevents the automatic release of the bolt. It also makes the rifle hold the clip when the last round is fired. This causes the disadvantage of having to eject the clip manually when the last round is fired, but it seems like a good idea since it prevents the loss of clips. The device also protects left-handed shooters. While my rifle isn’t guilty of this sin, many Garands send the clip straight back into the lefties forehead. A friend’s rifle loves to do this. It really encourages counting your shots. Once I fire seven with his, I give up and run the bolt to eject the eighth round and the clip.
There is a malady called M1 thumb caused by the clip system used in the Garand. When you push the clip in, the bolt is released and can go forward. If you aren’t careful with the thumb that pushed in the clip, you can get it caught by the bolt. My rifle releases the bolt, but it stalls and I have to hit the operating handle to get it to go all the way forward. A friend’s rifle, on the other hand, lets the bolt fly forward with vigor. It is apparently hungry for thumbs. You can work out a technique that keeps the thumb from getting caught and it is worth the effort to do so.
It would be nice if the Garand were a little lighter. They come in at about 9.5 pounds, which is a couple of pounds heavier than a modern bolt and a bit more than some modern semi-autos in similar calibers. I have, however, seen plenty of AR-15’s that were bulked up with enough gadgets, overly heavy barrels, and rails to rival a Garand for weight.
Garands are slightly on the long side at 43.5 inches. It is the same length as the German competition’s Mauser 98K. The Mauser and Garand both have 24-inch long barrels. The typical sporting bolt rifle of today is about 42.5-inches long, while the modern AR-15 carbine with a 16” barrel is around 36-inches long with the stock extended. The AR is a lot handier, but the Garand is long enough to get the maximum out of a full power service round. It you have to shoot something, it pays to send the best, and a .30-06 is the best.
Near the end of the war, shorter Garands were developed, but they were never a standard issue item. Apparently some were shortened in the field in the Pacific and did see combat. There are several gunsmiths today that shorten Garands, but I haven’t had the chance to test any of them, so I reserve comment on the conversions. It is a dandy idea, though.
A good thing about the Garand is that the gas system that operates the action absorbs and buffers some of the recoil. Notes from the tests during the adoption of the Garand before WWII indicate that this clearly helped shooters get better hits faster than they could with the Springfield bolt action that the Garand replaced. They could also shoot longer before fatigue took a toll on marksmanship.
The Garand stock always seemed a bit short to me, but the rifle handles well. It is the rifle that taught me not to wrap my firing hand thumb over and around the stock, where it could bash my nose. I had previously shot rifles with slightly longer stocks and could get away with it on them but not with the Garand.
The sights on the Garand are exquisite. It has an aperture sight mounted on the receiver at exactly the right distance from the eye, and it is adjustable for range and windage. You really can’t ask for better. The front sight is protected by two wings that curve away from the sight, so you don’t confuse them with the sight itself. A bull’s-eye match shooter will want a smaller aperture and a finer front blade, but only an optic will make a practical rifleman happier.
Putting optics on the Garand, though, is a bit of a problem. Remember the clips? They have to go in from directly above the receiver, which is precisely where we usually want to mount optics. Back when they made sniper Garands, they hung a scope on the left side of the rifle, which is okay for right-handed shooters but not lefties. You can still find such mounts, but a better approach is to mount a scope or dot sight forward of the receiver. I hope to be able to review a system in the future that makes this possible.
The Garand safety system (which is also found on the Mini-14 and the M1A/M14 rifle) is nicely ambidextrous but often rather stiff. It requires the shooter to insert the finger into the trigger guard to disengage it, which goes against the Modern Technique that tells us to keep our finger away from the trigger until we are ready to shoot. I normally press the tip of my finger against it when in the ready position and try to stay very aware of the proximity of my finger to the trigger. In the days before Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper, who made us aware of the need to keep the finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, it was pretty normal to rest the finger on the trigger, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a 1930’s design would work like this.
Reloading the rifle can be done pretty quickly. I think it is close to switching magazines on more modern rifles, particularly if you are retaining the spent magazine on the newer rifle. I have to focus more attention on the Garand, though, than I would on an AR during the process, if only to make sure I don’t load my thumb along with the clip.
Loading the clips themselves isn’t hard, but it feels awkward at first. After you have done a few times, it gets pretty easy. My nine-year-old son has no problem doing it. Be sure you don’t have one round sticking out more than the others. That was his problem on a few he loaded for me.
So how do you get one of these gems? The best way is from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) http://odcmp.com/. This is, believe or not, a spawn of the federal government– one that the libs have tried to kill from time to time. The purpose of the organization is exactly what the name says, to promote civilian shooting and not just shooting but hitting the target. One of the things they do is sell rifles. At the moment, you can buy four grades of M1’s from them– Field, Service, CMP Special, and Sniper. They range in price from $600 to $3,000, but the sweet spot is the CMP Special at $1,000. These rifles have essentially been remanufactured to close to new condition with new barrels and stocks by expert armorers. If I had some bucks at the moment, I would be lining up for one.
To buy one from CMP, you have to qualify. It isn’t hard, but it does take a bit of work to document. You have to be a U.S. citizen and provide proof of age. You also have to be a member of a CMP affiliated organization. An easy one to join is the Garand Collectors Association http://www.thegca.org/. You also have to show “proof of participation in a marksmanship-related activity or otherwise show familiarity with the safe handling of firearms and range procedures.” This could be instructor status or possession of a concealed weapons permit. If you are over 60, this is not required. Finally, you have to be legally eligible to buy a firearm. There are forms to fill out (ARGH), and they require a notary. Your M1 will be shipped directly to you. Mine was left leaning against my garage door, despite the adult signature required sticker, which left me more than a bit miffed and grateful for my honest neighbors. There are requirements that you do not intend to resell the rifle. This part should be easy, since selling a gun is a sin.
You can sometimes find Garands in local gun shops. The classified ads in the Garand Collectors Association magazine are another good source. The online auction sites often have a number of Garands available.
I had several friends who owned Garands over the years, and I always enjoyed shooting theirs. For some reason, I never got around to buying one for myself until about 20 years ago. I purchased a Field Grade one from the CMP, which was about all they had at the time. That’s the lowest grade they sell at the moment and is considered to be in fair to good condition and okay to shoot. The rear sight on mine was damaged, unfortunately, and the rifle, in general, matched my idea of “fair” condition rather than the hoped for “good” condition.
I regret to say that it sat in my safe until recently, when I finally got around to getting a tech inspection performed on it. The smith recommended a new barrel but said it was safe for shooting. The headspace was at the maximum, and there was a lot of erosion in the barrel. It is a 1943 rifle, and I’m sure it ran a lot of corrosive ammunition. At some point, I will have to grit my teeth and spend the $300 or so it takes to rebarrel it. However, in the meantime, it is turning out reasonable accuracy, shooting four-inch groups with iron sights at 100 yards. This will do for deer or defense. Garands with good barrels usually will do two-inch groups or smaller. Match tuned Garands easily do one-inch groups, assuming a quality shooter.
I have not tried any match loads in it, just Federal American Eagle full metal jacket and soft points. I plan to try to work up some tuned loads for it, when powder becomes more available. I’ve just been pleased that it shoots reasonably well with what should be considered a shot out barrel. It’s also not like I’m the world’s finest shot with eagle eyes. I’m at the bifocal age, and it’s no longer possible to get a crisp focus on the front sight without special glasses.
Just as a point of reference, a 16” AR I was shooting that day with an excellent Leupold 3.5-10x Vari-X III scope shot a ¾-inch group with Federal match, but a number of other factory loads shot three- to four-inch groups. The shot out Garand did rather well with iron sights in my estimation.
The trigger pull on my Garand is 6.5 pounds and breaks cleanly. Government specs for the trigger were no less than 5.5 pounds and no more than 7.5 pounds, so mine is where it should be. Sniper rifles and National Match rifles were allowed to go as low as 4.5 pounds. Don’t expect to get a lighter trigger. According to Garand expert Major General Julian Hatcher, the rifle is not safe or reliable with a lighter trigger. I find it pretty easy to manage my trigger as is, but someday, once money starts growing on my trees, I might put a match trigger group in it.
I have had no problems with my rifle feeding soft points, but I have heard complaints that some won’t. If you have a problem, some of the rounds that use plastic tips should solve it.
This is a rifle I am very happy I bought. I wish I had been able to afford a better one and am looking for the day I can replace the barrel. I’m in a quandary of whether to keep it in .30-06 or make it a .308. The original round is a bit more powerful, and the recent ammo panic has shown it is helpful to have a variety of weapons in different calibers. Some days you can find one round, and other days you can find another. Options are good. I used to think it was better to be simple and have everything in one or two calibers, but now I’m not so sure. I already have a .308, so maybe I should keep something in .30-06. Decisions, decisions.
Should a crisis hit, it won’t be the first out of the safe, but it won’t be the last, either. I’m always torn between a 5.56mm and a .30 caliber. The .30 caliber hits hard so much farther, but the 5.56 is far handier and easier to shoot. Again, decisions, decisions. I keep one of each at the front and will probably make my choice based on the threat. The farther I have to reach and the harder I think I need to hit will be what I’m thinking about, as I choose.
I found two books very helpful with getting more from my rifle. The standard reference is the Book of the Garand.This is a detailed history of the rifle written not long after WWII by Major General Julian Hatcher, a brilliant Army ordnance officer. There is a lot of good information for caring for the rifle, too. Another excellent book is The M1 Garand Owner’s Guide. It was written by Scot A. Duff, and as the title says, it will guide the owner in the use and care of the rifle as well as providing some historical information.
By the way, as a closer, the rifle designer– John C. Garand– was a French Canadian. It so happens that my wife is half French Canadian, and she says his name should be pronounced Gah’ rahn. I’ve mostly heard it pronounced Ga’ rand. Just to be safe, we could just call it the M1 Rifle, as most of the people who matter would know exactly what we are talking about. George Patton would.– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie