Built like a Sherman tank, accurate to 1,000 yards and affordably priced on the surplus market, the battle-worn M1 Garand might be the most overlooked survival gun to be had.
What makes the M1 Garand the “greatest battle implement ever devised”?
- The M1 Garand was the first semi-auto rifle issued to American military personnel.
- The rifle is a long-stroke gas-piston-operated firearm, similar to the AK-47.
- The M1 Garand's operating handle doubles as a forward assist.
- The M1 is top loaded, fed with an eight-round clip of .30-06 Sprg. ammunition.
- Its magazine can be topped off; however, this is not recommended.
- The M1 weighs between 9.5 and 10 pounds, depending on the wood used for the stock.
Genuine U.S. Government surplus M1 Garands are still available through programs such as the Civilian Marksmanship program.
There are semi-automatic rifles that do not have a pistol grip, collapsible stock or a detachable magazine, and the granddaddy of them all is the World War II-era M1 Garand.
The M1 Garand was the first semi-auto issued to American fighting men when our enemies and allies were still carrying bolt-action rifles little different from those of World War I. This revolutionary design was adopted by the U.S. Military in 1936 after more than a decade of development and even then saw some key changes before ending up as the rifle carried to victory in WWII and Korea.
In fact, the M1 Garand was so successful that it continued to see use in Vietnam and with reserve troops into the early 1970s, although it had been officially replaced in 1957 from front line service. Even then, the Garand was still in use with the militaries of a dozen friendly nations that we equipped, including the Greek Army well into the 1980s.
Designed by Canadian-born John C. Garand, a long-time Springfield Armory engineer, the rifle that bears his name is a long stroke, gas piston-operated, eight-shot clip-fed semi-automatic rifle chambered in the same .30-06 cartridge as its predecessors, the 1903 Springfield and the M1917 Enfield.
The long-stroke piston on the M1 is like that found on the AK-47 and constitutes a long steel operating rod that is one piece with the charging handle and joins the rotating bolt, which features two locking lugs on its face.
When firing, the operating rod, handle, and unlocked bolt move back as one unit, improving the rifle’s reliability in field conditions but also negatively affect precision accuracy. In addition, the bolt handle can serve as a forward assist to properly seat a round. Nevertheless, the M1 was considered very accurate and was used in the sniper role with scoped variants as well as in modern competition.
It is possible that Mr. Garand may have come up with different features on his rifle if left to his own devices, but the terms that the military contract called for set the stage. The most off-putting feature to our modern eyes is undoubtedly the clip mechanism, which was demanded instead of a removable magazine.
Although many people use the terms interchangeably, a clip and a magazine are not at all the same. A magazine holds the ammunition to feed into the gun; a clip holds the ammunition to be loaded into the magazine.
The M1 has a fixed internal magazine, which is fed from the top by a spring metal clip holding eight rounds. Without the clip, the M1 becomes a single-shot weapon with the shooter only being able to load one round at a time.
The eight rounds are staggered in the clip, and there is no top or bottom, so it doesn’t matter on which side the top round is located (which is handy for a battle rifle). On the last round fired, the clip automatically ejects, and the bolt locks to the rear.
Retracting the bolt and depressing the clip latch located on the left side of the receiver manually ejects a full or partially full clip. Magazines can be topped off, but this is not easy or recommended, and it is far better to eject a partially expended clip and replace it with a fresh one. Both 2- and 5-round clips are commercially available.
Operating the M1 is simple, but takes a bit of practice at first. Once the bolt is locked to the rear, a full clip is inserted through the top of the receiver and pressed down. The bolt then automatically releases to go forward and load the first round. It is best to do this with the thumb of the right hand while using the palm to hold back the bolt handle, otherwise the bolt could slam onto your thumb with some force, causing the infamous “Garand thumb.”
Moreover, the safety catch is somewhat novel and reminds me of those found on SKS rifles. To engage the safety on the M1, depress the metal catch in front of the trigger guard toward the trigger. This moves the steel tab into the trigger guard, partially blocking access to the trigger.
When you are ready to fire, simply place your finger on the trigger and push the safety bar forward and out of the trigger guard area.
The final gas system adopted for the M1 uses a hole in the bottom of the barrel toward the front of the rifle to divert gas against the front of the operating rod.
The short gas tube located underneath the barrel at the front was made from stainless steel to prevent corrosion; it was then painted black since the stainless steel would not be easily Parkerized. This accounts for the difference in finish of this part from the rest of the rifle. It should also be noted that a lot of military .30-06 ammunition is corrosive because it has sodium in the primer and requires the use of water to clean properly and prevent rust.
The M1 can weigh between 9.5 and more than 10 lbs. empty, depending on the type of wood used. Add a sling and butt stock cleaning kit, and the scale tips up. Of course, this much weight soaks up a lot of recoil, which helps with weapon fatigue and faster follow-up shots.
During World War II, Springfield Armory (the government armory not the Springfield Armory we know of today) and Winchester Repeating Arms produced approximately five million Garands.
After the war, another nearly 1.5 million were produced by Springfield Armory, Harrington & Richardson Arms, and International Harvester Corporation.
Almost every M1 has undergone some sort of arsenal repair or rebuilding, which often included new barrels and replacement parts from different manufacturers. Even Beretta produced Garands using Winchester machinery after the war, and Beretta parts can be found on M1s imported from service with European armies.
I have owned several, all purchased through the Civilian Marksmanship Program or CMP. These differ significantly from M1s that may have found their way back to the U.S. from commercial importers.
That’s because CMP guns are all genuine U.S. Government surplus that have been inspected, repaired and test fired by CMP armorers and are free of those annoying import marks.
Maintenance and disassembly of the M1 Garand is straightforward, although at first glance it does seem like there are a lot of parts to keep track of; of course, they must be reassembled in the correct order, too. Also, it is best to assume that any ammunition you use, except for modern commercial stuff, is corrosive — requiring you to clean accordingly.
On the range, the old warhorse I tested performed well with no malfunctions using a mix of Greek military surplus ammunition (also purchased from CMP) and modern commercial hunting ammo.
The front blade sight is fixed, but the rear peep is outstanding with elevation adjustments in 25-yard increments out to 1,200 yards with easy windage adjustments. Mounting a scope on a Garand is no easy task and in order to keep the rifle as close to original as possible I stuck with iron sights.
This is a large, heavy rifle, and I can’t say that I would have relished having to carry it in combat. It is easy to understand why a lot of American soldiers preferred the M1 Carbine. Still, the rifle is very well balanced, shoulders easily, and the recoil — even with the full-sized .30-06 battle round — very manageable.
Accuracy on the range firing at 100 yards from a bench rest and using the standard iron sights was very good — as good as most of the scoped ARs I shoot. My best group was an impressive 1.4 inches using Remington ammo, but the Greek 1980s vintage surplus stuff also produced a 1.4-inch group.
Keep in mind that this is out of a WWII vintage, semi-auto, beat up, rebuilt, Greek loaner rifle using ammo that was made in Greece when Jimmy Carter was president.
Many variants of the M1 Garand were created during and after the war, including a never issued tanker and paratrooper model as well as select fire versions and ones with detachable magazines. Some were also chambered and issued in 7.62x51mm NATO, especially once the .30-06 round was phased out.
The best place to get a real American M1 Garand is still through the CMP, and they have various grades available, although supplies are dwindling. Rack Grade guns are the cheapest and have the most replacement parts and wear. Criteria for purchase is easy to meet, and CMP ships the rifle directly to your door.
U.S. M1 Garand .30 Caliber
Caliber: .30-06 Springfield
Barrel: 24 in.
Overall Length: 43.5 in.
Weight: 10.5 lbs. empty
Sights: Fixed blade front, adjustable peep rear
Capacity: 8-round clip
Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from Modern Survival Guns: The Complete Preppers' Guide to Dealing with Everyday Threats.