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The M1 Does My Talking
January 1999
Scott Thompson

Ever wish you could own an M1 Garand? The rifle that General Patton called 'the greatest battle implement ever devised' is available from the Civilian Marksmanship Program and I had to have one. It took me quite a while to land it and here is what I did . . .

To start there are several requirements to buy one of these rifles (the latest requirements are available on the web at www.odcmp.com so you should check there in case things have changed since I went through the process). One of the requirements is that you shoot at least 50 rounds for record in a clinic or competition. That was my first step.

It all started in October 1996 when I saw a flyer at J&G Sales (a gun store that sells a lot of surplus guns and ammo) which described a clinic and shoot at Rio Salado Gun Club in Mesa. I signed up for a January 1997 shoot. Dennis McCarthy runs this event and I must say he really runs an informative and fun (although long) program. Dennis is former military, Army if I remember correctly, and we started the day with about an hour-long safety lecture that was peppered with stories.

He served in Vietnam and by the sound of his stories was in plenty of action. Dennis only allowed US military rifles at his shoot, the M16/AR15, M14, Springfield '03 or M1 Garand. For small shooters he did allow the M1 carbine. Since I didn't have any of those and they had loaners available I shot the course with an M1 Garand. They even had ammo for sale and it was a bargain so all I did was show up with money and ear/eye protection very early on a cold Saturday morning.

During one of the stories Dennis said that he was originally issued the M14. When the change to M16 came he wasn't too thrilled. He called the 5.56mm cartridge 'Mickey Mouse', and later when he was serving in some sort of Special Forces thing he had the opportunity to choose his rifle. He said his group chose the M14 but he did admit that the M16 finally had most of the bugs out of it. I learned recently that much of the M16's problems may have been the powder in the rounds and that it would leave deposits on the gas operating system and eventually clog it up. I don't know any of this first hand (I am ex-Navy) though so if I am wrong feel free to set me straight. Go Navy!

After the safety talk we moved to the range and broke up into groups of three. The course of fire was at 200 yards with the following, no scopes of course:

10 shots offhand
10 shots sitting, rapid fire
10 shots prone, rapid fire
20 shots prone, slow fire
Within each group of three, one person worked the 'butts' (target area), one spotted and kept score and one shot. Working the butts is interesting the first time but it gets old fast. You walk down in this concrete lined ditch and stand under your target. The targets are on big wooden frames that swing up and down on a counter-weight system. During the firing you watch your target and when you hear a loud crack (the bullet passing through the target and hitting the berm makes a loud noise) and see a hole appear you pull your target down and mark the score. To mark the score you put a pegged disk through the new hole, patch the last hole, and put a score marker on the target. This way the spotter and shooter know where the last shot went and what the score was. The spotter keeps score. It is harder to describe the process than do it. If the course of fire is rapid you wait for all ten shots before marking of course. Before you start the scoring you get three sighter rounds. My rifle was sighted in pretty well so I left it alone.

At our clinic most people used the loaner rifles but there were a couple of Springfield Armory M1A's, which are basically semi-automatic M14s. There were neither M16s nor 03s. The Garand uses an eight shot clip so for the 10 shot courses of fire we would start with a clip with two rounds loaded in it, shoot those and then use a clip with eight rounds and finish the course of fire. Since the M1A's had an advantage, being able to load all ten rounds at once, they were forced to use two magazines, one with two rounds and one with eight. (Reminded me of the forced re-load stages Mike Kelley makes us hi-cap owners do during his pistol shoots.)

A couple of points on shooting the Garand are worth mentioning because they are interesting or unique to the Garand. There is a condition known as 'Garand thumb' whereby the shooter relies on the bolt stop to hold the bolt open while he puts the clip in. As he pushes down with his thumb the bolt slams home and bites his thumb. We had a few cases of this during our clinic but fortunately I wasn't one of them. You also have to watch where your fingers of your supporting hand go. It is easy to let them curl around the stock and get into the operating mechanism, which will bite your fingers. After the last round is fired the clip comes flying out and the bolt stays open. Someone claimed that during WWII the Germans would wait until they heard the clip pop out and hit the ground and then come after the US solder. The clips are just stamped steel but they really are pretty loud when they land on concrete. I don't know if the last one is true, you know how stories are at the rifle range.

The shooting instruction was the same style I had when I was in the Navy, sight alignment and trigger control. They don't really teach you how to shoot as though under combat conditions. According to Dennis the most common stance he had in Vietnam was a squatting position with his rifle over his head pointed, generally, at the enemy. I never shot a rifle in combat (I drove an aircraft carrier) so I can't say from first hand knowledge what is really the best way to shoot in combat, my personal preference being to shoot missiles from far away. Anyway, we made the slings into loops and cinched them around our arm for the prone shooting and for sitting and standing were taught to rest bone on bone for steadier holds. There were several volunteers assisting the shooters so if you had trouble someone would help.

I didn't do too badly; I shot 390 out of 500 with the best scores being the prone and sitting rapid fire. It doesn't matter what score you get though, at least not for the purposes of getting the rifle. I said earlier that the day was long and it was, we finished shooting at 3:00 PM. From this shoot you get an official score card, which is but one piece of what you need.

The next item is to belong to a sanctioned club. Rio Salado is sanctioned and they hold matches regularly so if you live in Mesa it would be worth considering them. I live in North Glendale and it was a long trip out there so I joined the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association instead. There is a list of sanctioned clubs on the CMP website. I also got fingerprinted, and got copies of various forms of identification to send to the CMP. When I was doing all this the rifle cost $310 with no guarantee of what you would get. I was beginning to wonder if I should proceed, after all for not much more than $310 I can get a pretty decent hunting rifle. (Not to mention that wives rarely understand why someone would need a fifty-year-old rifle just because.) I ended up waiting almost a year before deciding to send the paper work. I finally sent it in November 1997, and shortly after I did, I learned that the price had increased to $400. Ugh!

Fortunately I got in under the wire and in May of this year I received notice that I had been approved to purchase a service grade M1 Garand for $310. Throwing caution to the wind, and not telling my wife, I sent the money and waited. And waited. Now another term I learned called 'M1 fever' kicked in and I started to get anxious. Finally this August the piece arrived. The rifles are shipped directly to your house via Fedex. And now, after over a year and a half (admittedly I caused a big piece of the delay), I had my little piece of history, the M1 Garand.

So, what do you get for the effort? Well it definitely is a shooter. This one is worn, definitely been shot but parts are in good working order and barrel looks pretty good. The Civilian Marksmanship Program is very careful to point out that the rifles are forty to fifty years old so they need to be looked over carefully. I found a list of serial numbers on the Internet and discovered that my Springfield Armory unit was made in April 1943. The CMP says that these rifles have never been outside of US property, so no Korean or Philippine returns but mine does have a number painted on the stock. Maybe a ROTC unit or Guard unit gun.

So far I have only shot it for function, but at 100 yards it was easy to keep all the shots in the black. It comes also with a copy of the original GI manual and a modern version of the manual. I learned to disassemble the rifle in short order and cleaned it up, although in fact the gun came very clean. One of the stories we heard at the shoot was of a man who received his gun, went to the range and blew it up by trying to shoot it with a bore full of grease. When you take one of these guns to the range it sure draws a lot of attention, which is probably half the fun of owning one. Some people just want to look, others recall stories. It is a great piece and I am glad I took the trouble.

The program has changed a bit, again check out their website for the latest information. I understand now that you can buy three different grades of gun. The lowest grade has no stock but stocks are available from Midway. The highest grade is collector, with the piece coming from some manufacturer and time that has special collector value. I am not sure what those are. I think the grading of the pieces before you buy takes some of the fun out of it. In the old system you might get a worn shooter like mine or you might get an unfired Springfield collector worth quite a bit of money. One of the volunteers at the shoot told of someone who actually wanted a shooter and got an unfired collector. He was both happy and disappointed at the same time; happy that he got something so valuable for relatively little money and sad because he would never shoot it! According to the website the chances of getting an unfired collector are quite rare now. I am very satisfied with a shooter since that is what I want to do with it. My only plans for this gun are to have it join the other military surplus rifles in my gun safe and to take it to Ben Avery every now and then.

And the wife? Seems I underrated her all along. Turns out her dad bought two M1 Garands through this program awhile back and she understood just fine why I wanted one!

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