Anyone who has collected or used several firearms over the years has a favorite they always come back to. It may be due to its feel, practicality or just the circumstances under which it was acquired or used. I personally have never really been a collector—guns come into and leave my possession frequently—but I still have favorites. A recent conversation with a couple of friends kindled some memories about one of those guns: the M1 Garand.
Over the years, one question has come up repeatedly: “What one rifle would you want to have no matter what?”
While there isn’t one rifle that can handle every single task in every condition, and the response varies by shooter, my answer comes down to the M1 Garand, one of the most storied firearms in history.
Shooting the M1 Garand at Thunder Ranch
In the late 1990s, I spent a considerable amount of time at Thunder Ranch in Texas, which gave me a chance to get to know Clint Smith and his staff pretty well. One of the rifles he regularly had at his side was the Garand. He liked it because it used common ammunition and offered excellent range and all the accuracy you might need. There’s also very little to break; its solid construction has been proven in battle under the most adverse conditions.
At the time, Thunder Ranch offered an Old Rifle Course (ORC), where you spent four days using a rifle manufactured prior to the Korean War. This meant the most modern rifle you could really use was an M1 Garand or M1 Carbine. Back then, I was working at a gun shop when a rebuilt Springfield Armory Garand came into the store with almost all USGI parts. So I checked its functioning and took it to the ORC, which turned out to be one of the most memorable classes I’ve ever attended.
They didn’t allow optics unless they were period correct, so most attendees used iron sights. You progressed through all the same stages you would in a regular tactical class. That meant everything but the shoothouse, including moving and pop-up targets and even working around Thunder Ranch’s tower. You also engaged man-sized steel targets out to 1,000 yards.
All of this truly opened up my eyes to the M1 Garand’s versatility. Hitting an 18-by-24-inch target at 800 yards with an iron-sighted rifle is quite a kick. In the end, I came away reminded that the Garand is still a solid fighting rifle.
Why the M1 Garand Works
The more mechanically complex something is, the easier it is to break or just stop working. This is especially true when firearms meet harsh environmental conditions. However, simple designs work, and they tend to do so all the time. The M1 Garand may be the epitome of that thought process.
Its gas system is robust, simple and easy to maintain. There aren’t that many moving parts, and you can keep the gas system up and running with only a few spare parts and tools.
Rain or Shine
The Garand’s reliability has been proven in the real world, on real battlefields, in every condition in which man can survive—extreme cold, snow, mud, rain, extreme heat and humidity. The rifle works dry, wet, oiled or greased. There’s no need for fancy lubes, either—it’ll run on axle grease if it has to. The latest, greatest designs of the day still cannot match the simplistic reliability of this rifle short of simply copying its operation.
This rifle’s accuracy is more than adequate, and it can be made excellent with some tweaking. And although optics are certainly nice, they certainly aren’t critical in a worst-case scenario. An iron-sighted Garand gets the job done, as I’ve used one to regularly engage small-game-sized targets out to 800 yards.
It’ll work at any real distance you may encounter in the real world. This is partially because the Garand uses a cartridge that has also been proven at all but the longest ranges.
The .30-06 Springfield may not be the tactical “belle of the ball” these days, but it has a proven history. More importantly, it’s a common cartridge that can be found practically anywhere. Out west where I live, you can purchase it at a convenience store.
It’s still one of the most popular hunting cartridges in the U.S., and it’s only gotten better with advances in materials, making it cleaner and more accurate.
Finding a Test Gun
I wanted to test a Garand again for this article, so I set about searching for one.
There are a few companies building great rifles today like Fulton Armory, but these guns are built to order; there aren’t any sitting around for gun writers to use. The best source right now is the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), but again, these Garands are sold, not lent.
So I turned to my good friend and collector Steve Palano, who was kind enough to provide me with a CMP Garand he had acquired while working at a local gun store. And it was easily one of the best-looking CMP rifles I had ever seen, making it perfect for this article.
Springfield Armory originally built my completely mil-spec test rifle back during World War II. Yet the chamber was tight and the barrel was in almost-new condition. The metal was in great condition, and the walnut stock was beautiful and included the proper sling. The only addition was a set of National Match sights.
Every time I pick one of these rifles, the feel immediately captivates me. Garands are well balanced—not too heavy—and solid. Like other Garands, my test gun shouldered easily, aimed well and was just plain comfortable to use. There is just something about holding a nice wooden stock, especially one that has been so well tested in the field.
To the Shoothouse!
No, I didn’t don any tactical garb or kit to run this Garand through its paces, but I did take it through my range’s shoothouse a few times.
I had placed my targets through the windows, allowing for some live fire. And the Garand moved pretty well through the house—nothing like a shorter rifle or submachine gun, but it wasn’t hard to wield at all.
This rifle cleared countless buildings in Europe, so I’m sure it’d still work for such close-quarters engagements. You just need to take some care around corners. But even with the National Match sights, my test rifle came up on target quickly. It felt like running a 20-inch-barreled shotgun with ghost-ring sights.
M1 Garand Ammo
In keeping with the theme of the test, I only used military-surplus 150-grain FMJ ammunition. I used some Greek military-production rounds that came in cloth bandoleers, American-made rounds from the Twin Cities plant and some Korean-made ammo.
Given that I borrowed the rifle, I didn’t use any modern .30-06 Springfield rounds. I know from experience that Federal American Eagle 150-grain FMJs and even some Federal 168-grain Gold Medal Match rounds will run in old Garands. You just have to be careful with really hot modern loads and heavy bullets.
The gun runs anything in a pinch, but the original design was for 150-grain FMJs in the 2,850-fps range.
M1 Garand Testing
I didn’t fire any groups like I normally might to measure the rifle’s accuracy, as that isn’t what it was built for. However, I tested all three loads by firing them at an NRA bullseye target 100 yards away with just the iron sights.
Keeping all of my rounds in the X-ring was relatively easy once I established the right hold. I zeroed this particular rifle for a 6 o’clock hold at 100 yards. With some match ammunition, I have no doubt that my groups would be around an inch wide at 100 yards.
After that it was time to ring some steel out to 400 yards. As before, it was a simple matter of holding in the correct spot and letting loose. Short of significant shooter error, I got hits every time, which really brought back some great memories. Clearly, the Garand will do anything you need it to at most practical distances.
Back at shorter ranges, I practiced some of the reloading drills I had learned at Thunder Ranch while shooting from a kneeling position at 25 and 50 yards. The rifle never malfunctioned and was just as accurate as many of the modern rifles I test that cost two to three times as much.
The Rifle Is Still Fighting
After testing so many black rifles, it was nice to go back to a proven battle rifle. The Garand is truly a blast to shoot, and in a real pinch, it will do most anything a modern design will do and some things it won’t.
The Garand has proven itself in combat, on the range, in training, competition and on the hunt. Yes, it is an icon of the past, but it is still a useful and practical weapon that could be used in just about any situation requiring a rifle.
Custom-grade Garands are available, but at a price. You can find cheaper models from several other outlets, but the CMP is still one of the best options because you’ll get a solid gun at a reasonable price. They range from $600 for a rack-grade rifle to $3,000 for an M1C sniper version. Their service- and special-grade Garands are likely the best buys ranging from $650 to $995.
So if you’re looking to own a piece of history, one that remains useful to this day, get your hands on an M1 Garand. For even more info, visit TheCMP.org.
M1 Garand Specs
- Caliber: .30-06 Springfield
- Barrel: 24 inches
- OA Length: 43.5 inches
- Weight: 9.5 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Walnut
- Sights: Front post, aperture rear
- Action: Piston-operated
- Finish: Parkerized
- Capacity: 8