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« Range Report: Bulgarian Makarov | Main | A Tale of Two Cartridges »

March 20, 2004

Firing In Eights

Things you should know about the proper feeding of an M1 Garand

If I had to choose only one rifle to have for any & all purposes for the rest of my life I would without hesitation choose the U.S. Rifle, Cal. 30 M1 otherwise known as the Garand. I'd even go so far as to poke fun (in a loving, nurturing sort of way of course) at any rifle owner who lacks a Garand in his cabinet.

Surplus Garands are available through the Civilian Marksmanship Program, as well as through the commercial market in the form of used specimens & new production from Springfield Armory Incorporated.

The Garandís documented faults total at three: in a sustained period of heavy fire during a torrential downpour (think 40 rounds per minute for 20 minutes during a Monsoon) enough grease could be washed away from the op-rod track to cause the op-rod to seize; reloading of partial en-bloc clips is sometimes difficult; & the damned thing just won't float (though with a synthetic stock with enough purpose designed foam filler this list might be shortened to two).

Some would mention the Garandís weight (9.5 pounds or so) & the en bloc clip as negatives. But these people simply misunderstand what the Garand was designed for & they lack practice at using the en bloc clips. The Garand was designed as a battle rifle. It wasnít manufactured for people who go hunting for the day & complain that their 8 ounce hiking shoes are too heavy. It was made for people who would engage in war. Other people would be shooting at them in an attempt to kill them. For this a ten pound rifle is no limitation as it makes a damned decent club if the situation calls for it whereas a 7 pound rifle might not be up to the task Ė or up to the task more than once. Remember that the bayonet lug on a Garand wasnít just there to piss off the likes of Sarah Brady Ė hand to hand combat was expected & a sturdy rifle was deemed a plus. Also 10 pounds of Garand make firing the .30-06 a pleasant experience. That cannot be said of a 7 pound rifle in the same chambering. Going one step further if you had to fire between 20 & 100 rounds of .30-06 in a single day would you rather have a 7 pound shoulder bruiser or a 10 pound Garand?

The en bloc clip system is simpler & faster to reload than any magazine fed system there is. When the rifle is empty the clip ejects & the action is open. To reload you simply insert a clip. With a magazine fed system you must remove the spent magazine, insert a loaded magazine & then close the bolt. Itís true that most magazines hold over twice as many rounds as the en bloc clip of the Garand, but this isnít much of a disadvantage if at all for the person who is adequately practiced with a Garand.

In short the Garand is a reliable, accurate & durable firearm. It was designed for combat but it can be used for many other things with or without modifications. A ďone rifle onlyĒ scenario scares the hell out of most gun nuts who think about it seriously (as well it should) but I stand by my statement that if I were limited to one rifle & that rifle was a Garand I wouldnít feel as if I were inadequately armed. In fact Iíd still have some pity left for any opponent who underestimated what a Garand can do in capable hands.

That being said there are some peculiarities about the Garandís preferred diet that you should be aware of.

The Garand was designed to use then-current issue military ammo. After some initial problems the ammo was revised slightly. This is what we know as M2 ball ammo. It consisted of a 150 grain FMJ bullet launched at around 2700 feet per second by a powder that had a medium burn rate.

Now the Garand's lockwork is unquestionably strong: things that would blow up a 1903 Springfield or a 1917 Enfield wouldn't make the Garand so much as hiccup. The sensitive part about the Garand is the gas system.

A Garand uses the pressure of gases remaining in the barrel after the bullet has passed a certain point to cycle the action. When the bullet passes over a small opening in the bottom of the barrel known as the gas port, gasses fill the gas cylinder (which lies directly beneath the gas port) & push the operating rod back. The operating rod is connected to the bolt & as it travels rearward it unlocks the bolt & pushes it rearward as well, thus extracting & ejecting the fired case. A spring in the operating rod causes the bolt to move forward again. This forward movement strips a fresh cartridge from the magazine & chambers the fresh round. Here's a flash site that demonstrates how the M1 Garand works. It doesn't show how the gasses operate the action, but it's still neat to see how the mechanical parts interact.

Gas port pressure is simply a measurement of the pressure in the barrel after the bullet has passed over the gas port. If there's not enough gas port pressure then the rifle won't feed properly as it needs a certain amount of force to overcome the spring in the op rod in order to cycle the action. Too much gas port pressure can cause the action to operate with more violence than it was designed & can damage things. The most susceptible part to damage is the op rod. They can become bent & jump off track if excessive gas port pressure is generated. Op rods aren't cheap & without them the Garand simply won't function safely - not even as a single shot (this is because the op rod spring is what keeps the bolt locked up when a round is chambered).

Chamber pressure will almost never be too high to cause serious damage to a Garand (well, unless you dump a case full of fast burning pistol powder underneath a .311 diameter bullet or do something equally negligent), but gas port pressure is something you have to watch out for. Powders in the medium burn rate are the ideal. In fact powders too fast or slow are unacceptable as they generate excessive gas port pressure.

Also bullet weight comes into play. Anything 180 grains or more is a no-no. Even with powders in the correct burn rate a 180 grain or heavier bullet will cause too much pressure to build by the time it reaches the gas port.

There are three choices when it comes time to buy ammo for your Garand: Military Surplus, Commercial, & Handloaded.

Military Surplus comes in many different varieties, but it should all be safe for the Garand. Where the variety comes in is price, type of primer, corrosiveness, projectile weight, velocity, flash & overall quality.

Mil-Surp ammo is usually identified by its country of origin. Greek, Korean, Danish, etcÖ The U.S. stuff is identified by the arsenal it was made in. I could be mistaken but I do believe that all arsenals that made ammo for the U.S. military were simply identified by the name of the city in which they were located. Lake City, Denver, & St. Louis are a few of the more common ones.

The main thing to know about Mil-Surp ammo is whether or not itís corrosive. After sometime in the 50ís all U.S. ammo was made with non-corrosive primers, but foreign countries made corrosive ammo well into the 70ís. Hereís a chart that shows when the various U.S. arsenals switched to non-corrosive primers. Now shooting corrosive ammo is no big deal in & of itself as long as you clean the firearm in a reasonable amount of time. The corrosive primer will leave salts in the barrel & gas system that will create rust. Normal gun cleaner wonít take care of it; youíll have to use hot, mildly soapy water or an ammonia/water solution, then dry it (a hair dryer or oven set on a low temperature for 20 minutes or so works), then clean it as you normally would with solvents & coat it with oils. Itís not that big of a hassle from what I understand but then again Iíve never shot corrosive ammo in any of my firearms so I have no first hand experience.

Another important thing to know is whether the ammo has a Boxer or Berdan primer. The short story is the Boxer primed ammo is reloadable while the Berdan primed ammo is not (actually tools are available to reload Berdan primed cases, but itís considerably more difficult than reloading Boxer primed cases. I wouldnít recommend it unless youíre looking for a way to punish yourself). If you donít handload this may not be a big deal to you, other than the Berdan primed ammo is usually (but not always) a little cheaper.

The most common bullet weights are 150 & 147 grains respectively, but youíll find heavier weights on occasion. For example Match ammo usually has a 168 grain or 173 grain projectile & tracer ammo usually has a 163 grain projectile. But as far as I know all Mil-Surp ammo has suitable weight bullets (under 180 grains) for the Garand.

The other variables youíll just have to do your homework on on. Muzzle flash, muzzle velocity, price & overall quality will vary, sometimes from lot to lot of ammo made at the same arsenal. I can tell you that the U.S. Mil-Surp ammo is usually of very high quality. The Danish ammo is as well although itís Berdan primed & non-reloadable. Iíve heard decent things about the Korean ammo, but be warned that there are two arsenals that made Korean ammo. PS is the headstamp for the Poonsang metal Corp. of Seoul & KA is the headstamp for the Korean Arsenal located in Pusan. All of the KA stuff is corrosive. Iíve seen it advertised as non-corrosive here & there but donít be fooled: only the PS ammo from Korea is non-corrosive.

Type of projectile is another variable. The most common types are Full Metal Jacket (or Ball), Armor Piercing (AP), Armor Piercing Incendiary (API), & Tracer (T). Theyíre usually identifiable by colored tips. Black usually denotes Armor Piercing & Red or Orange means itís a Tracer, but the color codes vary by country. Hereís a page that has some more info on the .30-06 cartridge & includes a list of countries that have manufactured it as well as a list of color codes.

So you usually canít go wrong with Mil-Surp as long as you know what youíre buying. Itís cheap, available, safe in your Garand & good for general shooting. Although I must stress that Mil-Surp ammo is not to be used for most hunting. The projectiles are non-expanding & are not suitable for big game. Varmint hunting is the only type of hunting Iíd use Mil-Surp ammo for & only in certain circumstances.

Commercial ammo isnít usually a good choice. The vast majority of commercial loads generate too much gas port pressure to be safely used in a Garand. There are two exceptions: Federal Gold Match & Black Hills Gold. These are accurate rounds suitable for competition shooting. Or at least thatís what Iíve heard. The main drawback is both sell for over $20 per box of 20 cartridges.

So unless you are willing to pay over $1 per shot avoid commercial ammo.

Handloading offers the best of both worlds: itís almost (but not quite) as inexpensive as Mil-Surp ammo & if loaded correctly it can give you quality that equals or surpasses the top dollar Commercial ammo. Another benefit is that you can use projectiles suitable for damn near any hunting you might wish to do.

But handloading for a Garand (or any gas operated rifle) is a bit more involved than loading ammo for any other type of firearm. There are a few extra steps & possibly extra tools that youíll need in order to do things properly.

The first thing weíll look at is case preparation:

If you have a bunch of Mil-Surp í30-06 brass that you want to reload, the first thing to do is make sure itís Boxer primed. Shine a light inside the case & look at the bottom. If there are two flash holes off center then itís Berdan primed & youíre out of luck (though donít toss them just yet). If thereís a single flash hole in the center then itís Boxer primed & you can reload it.

Mil-Surp primers are crimped into place. This is to keep the primers from falling out of ammo used in a belt fed machine gun. But all Mil-Surp ammo gets this crimp so thereíll be no ammo interchangeability issues in the field. To remove a crimped in primer youíll need a special tool. Iíve heard of dies that are made to remove the crimped primer & they might be a good investment, but I use something a little more primitive. Lee makes a crimped primer removal system that consists of a decapper & base. You place the cartridge case on the base, insert the decapper & strike the decapper with a hammer. It usually takes a few hits but the primer falls out.

Once the primer is out youíll have to remove the crimp. There's a die that will swag the crimp out of the primer pocket but again I use a more primitive technique. Lyman makes a hand tool called a primer pocket reamer. It consists of a cutting head attached to a handle. You insert the head into the primer pocket & turn it a few times to ream out the crimp.

Now that the primer & crimp have been removed the Mil-Surp case is treated the same as a commercial case as far as prep is concerned.

The next step is to uniform the primer pocket. Most primer pockets (Mil-Surp & Commercial) are punched. Itís much easier & more cost effective than cutting a primer pocket but it does have one drawback: the bottom of the primer pocket is usually not perfectly flat. For most reloading this isnít a big deal, but with autoloaders that have a free floating firing pin this can cause problems. A free floating firing pin will lightly strike the primer of a cartridge when it is chambered. If the primer is not fully seated this can cause a slam or out of battery fire. A slam fire is when the bolt or firing pin sets off the cartridge upon chambering. An out of battery fire occurs when the bolt is not fully locked but the cartridge fires anyway. An out of spec firing pin can cause either one to happen, but not having your primers seated deeply enough can cause either one despite the firearm being in perfect shape.

Lyman makes a primer pocket uniformer. Itís a hand tool that you insert into the primer pocket & twist. Usually a few twists will get the primer pocket level so that the primer can seat fully in the pocket. For me this is the most aggravating part of reloading for a Garand, but itís not so bad that Iíd stop doing it.

Next comes resizing the case unless you resize & decap at the same time. In either case you must pay a little more attention to the case dimensions than you would if you were reloading for another type of action. The case must be returned to its pre-fired size so neck sizing dies are not adequate. Sometimes full length sizing dies arenít adequate & you must use small base dies. The only way to determine what you need is to purchase a cartridge headspace gauge. Adjust your die according to the directions and then resize a case. Wipe off the lube from the case & drop it into the gauge. If the bottom of the case is flush or below flush with the base of the gauge then youíre okay, but if the bottom of the cartridge extends from the bottom of the gauge try adjusting your die so it resizes the case a little more. If you simply cannot get the case to fit in the gauge then youíll have to switch to a small base die. A small base die works on more of the case body than a full length resizing die will & the result is a more thorough job of resizing the case. Because more of the case is worked on in the resizing process brass life will be affected, but thatís simply something you have to accept with autoloading firearms.

In case youíre wondering the reason why we must resize the case to as close to original dimensions as possible is so that the case will reliably function & most importantly to prevent slam &/or out of battery fires. If a case chambers with difficulty it may provide enough resistance to allow the free floating firing pin to set the primer off. If this happens before the bolt locks itíll ruin your day at the range.

After the resizing you should trim the case if it needs it. Itís a good idea to trim it down to the minimum length even if itís not over the maximum length yet. This is mainly because accuracy & reliability are improved through uniformity. If all cartridges are made to dimensions & specs as close as possible to each other then you will see an improvement in accuracy.

Now that the case is prepped (& presumably cleaned off) itís time to add a primer. Primer selection is important because not all primers are made equal. Federal & Remington primers are generally more sensitive than CCI or Winchester & because of this thereís a greater chance of an unintended discharge upon chambering. What I have been using is the CCI No. 34 primer. It is made to military specifications as far as sensitivity goes which greatly reduces the chances of a slam or out of battery fire. It is a magnum primer though so youíll have to adjust your powder charge accordingly.

But more important than the primer used is the seating depth: the primer should be seated a little below flush. Right at flush or higher will increase the likelihood of an unintended discharge upon chambering no matter what type of primer is used. So pay attention to seating depth & make sure theyíre a little below flush.

Powder selection is also critical to making safe loads for a Garand. Do not use any powder with a burn rate slower than IMR 4320 or a faster than IMR 3031. Before you get all discouraged about a limited powder selection you should know that (from fastest to slowest burn rate) Hodgdon Benchmark 1, Norma N-201, Hodgdon 332, Hodgdon Benchmark 2, Accurate Arms 2230, IMR 4895, Hodgdon 4895, Hodgdon 335, Hodgdon BL-C(2), Accurate Arms 2460, Winchester 748, Alliant Reloader 12, Vihtavuori N-135, IMR 4064, Hodgdon Varget, Accurate Arms 2520, & Norma 202 all have acceptable burn rates. Of those powders IMR 4895, H4895, & IMR 4064 are the most popular as they most closely duplicate the powders originally used by the military, but any that fall between IMR 4064 & IMR 4895 on the burn rate chart will produce good results.

If youíre using Mil-Surp cases youíll have to reduce your load from 1 to 2 grains to adjust for the thicker walls of the Mil-Surp cases. If you use a magnum primer such as CCI No. 34 youíll also have to lower your powder charge by a grain or so if youíre using data developed with a standard primer.

& keep the following in mind as a guide to working up loads: 150 grain bullets should have a velocity of less than 2850 FPS; 165/168 grain bullets should have a velocity of less than 2750 FPS & 173/175/178 grain bullets should have a velocity of less than 2650 FPS. Keep this in mind as you decide how you want to work up your loads. I know it seems disappointing when the data youíre looking at shows how you can push a 150 grain bullet to 2900 FPS, but velocity isnít nearly as important as safe functioning or accuracy. If loading 100 to 150 FPS under whatís possible is that big of a deal, then you either need to switch to a bolt action rifle or make some modifications to your Garand (which Iíll touch on in a bit). A game animal, target or enemy wonít be able to tell what speed the bullet hit them at, & even at the velocities outlined above the í06 will do its job if you do yours.

Keep bullet weights under 180 grains. You can find several match bullets in the 170ís if you need something heavier for long range shots. Also keep exposed lead to a minimum as lead doesnít mix well with the gas system of a Garand. One bullet I would recommend as a replacement for a traditional exposed lead tipped bullet is Hornadyís SST. It uses some sort of polymer tip that not only looks neat but keeps the tip protected as it travels through the Garandís action. I havenít shot any game with it yet but it is designed to expand & seems to be a good choice for any autoloading firearm that youíd use to hunt light skinned big game.

For plinking & small game hunting I have heard that using lightweight bullets (such as 110 & 124 grain) is a cool thing. Personally Iíve never loaded anything less than 165 grainers for my Garand but I donít see any problem at all with using these ultra light weight bullets. Just remember to use the jacketed ones as opposed to any exposed lead bullets you might run across.

Everything else is pretty much the same as loading for any other firearm: measure the powder, pour it in the case, seat the bullet & crimp. I would add that running loaded rounds into the cartridge headspace gauge wouldnít be a bad idea Ė just to make sure theyíre A-OK.

One note about Maximum Cartridge Length: the limit for the í06 is 3.340Ē, but Iíd keep the length to 3.330Ē or less just to make sure nothing gets hung up in the magazine.

& you should look for a usable brass life of 3 or 4 firings. I know thatíll disappoint some of you who have been using the same .30-06 cases since you had to turn in your Krag for one of those new fangled Springfields, but shortened brass life is something you just have to live with when you fire a gas operated semi-automatic rifle.

There is some good news though. If you recall I said not to throw away the Berdan primed cases. This is because they make great dummy rounds. Just mark the body of the cases with a marker, fingernail polish Ė anything you can use to let you know the case is a dud - & then use it as a reference round for different types of bullets. Seat the bullet in the Berdan primed case & then mark the depth. That way when you switch bullets youíll be able to use the Berdan primed dud to re-adjust your seating die. If you want to go to a little effort you can use them as dummy cartridges to check feeding in your Garand. Take the decapper out of your sizing die & re-size the case (donít forget to lube it up first) until it fits in your cartridge headspace gauge. Then seat a bullet to the depth youíd like to use. Do this with 8 cases & then load up an en bloc clip. You now have action proving dummies so you can make sure the length of the bullet will function as well as doing a basic check on the extraction, ejection & feeding of your Garand.

Also, if you resize a Berdan primed case & make sure the neck is round enough to evenly accept the spitzer end of a flat based bullet, you have a way of finding out where the rifling begins in your rifle. Just start the bullet tip first into the case (a light crimp will help keep the bullet from getting stuck in the rifling) & then place the case into the chamber. Let the bolt slam on the case (or close the bolt forcefully & quickly if you use this on a bolt action rifle). Pull the bolt back & you should have a cartridge where the base of the bullet marks the beginning of the rifling. To establish your ideal overall length measure from the base of the case to the base of the bullet. Usually .02Ē to .05Ēaway from the rifling is ideal so subtract .02Ē to .05Ē. Use a comparator to arrive at an accurate overall cartridge length for your loaded rounds & seat your bullets accordingly. (A comparator measures the bullet from the ogive instead of the tip. This gives a more accurate measurement.)

So with handloading you can save almost as much money as you would by buying Mil-Surp but have the quality of ammo that you would get by buying Commercial. Plus you can assemble loads that just arenít available anyplace else, such as big game hunting loads (with 150 or 165 grain expanding bullets), small game hunting loads (with 124 or 110 grain bullets) or reduced power loads for low recoil practice.

Now all that being said there are two things you can do to your Garand to make it capable of digesting any ammo there is. The first thing would be to disable the gas system by either removing the gas cylinder lock screw valve or replacing it with one that has a completely open end. (Of course it would be preferable to use a modified one instead of simply removing it as the gas cylinder lock screw valve does help to hold the gas cylinder assembly in place.) This would essentially turn your Garand into a manually operated straight pull bolt action rifle as the gas cylinder lock screw valve would not force the gasses to push against the op rod piston. There are two reasons to do this. If you live in a state where hunting with a semi-automatic rifle is illegal then you could modify your Garand in order to use it for hunting. Or you could make the modification if you wish to use bullet weights of 180+ grains or wish to use commercial or handloaded powder with a slower than recommended burn rate. I donít know of anyone who sells a modified gas plug specifically for this purpose but having your local gunsmith modify one shouldnít be much of a problem Ė well once you convince him that he should ruin a perfectly functional gas cylinder lock screw valve.

The other option is to install an adjustable gas system. McCann Industries & Schuster Manufacturing make adjustable gas cylinder lock screw valves that would allow you to safely use heavier bullets &/or slower powders. Now I could be mistaken but it may be possible to adjust one of these replacements to completely negate the gas system & turn your Garand into a manually operated firearm. If so then itíd be ideal for places that make hunting with semi-automatics illegal as long as it couldnít be quickly adjusted back into a semi-automatic. Just to be safe check with your state department that handles hunting rules.

One more thing: the above was written with Garands chambered for the .30-06 Springfield cartridge in mind. There are a number of Garands in .308 Winchester as well as 7.62x51mm NATO & various other chamberings. The majority of the information listed above will apply to other cartridges with the possible exception of powder selection. To be honest I am not sure of the powder requirements of a .308 Winchester or a 7.62x51mm NATO Garand. If I recall correctly the powder choices arenít quite as limited as with the í06 but I very well could be mistaken on that. But .308 Winchester & 7.62x51mm NATO chambered Garands do require some care in feeding.

As you may have noticed I mention the .308 Winchester & 7.62x51mm NATO chamberings as if they were different. Thatís because they are. Iíll attempt to discuss the differences more in depth in another post, but to give you the short version the chamber dimensions of the .308 Winchester & 7.62x51mm NATO are different. The cartridge dimensions are slightly different but they are similar enough for the cartridges to be considered the same. You can fire .308 Winchester & 7.62x51mm NATO cartridges in a .308 Winchester chamber, but you should only use 7.62x51mm NATO cartridges in a 7.62x51mm NATO chamber. This is because the 7.62x51mm NATO chamber is a bit longer than the .308 Winchester chamber, but the brass for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridges is thicker & able to take the additional stretching. .308 Winchester brass is thinner & more likely to rupture if a 7.62x51mm NATO chamber is on the long end of its respective specs.

A Garand does have some special feeding requirements, but nothing insurmountable if you know what youíre dealing with & plan accordingly. & any effort you go through will be more than worth it when you see what a Garand can do with ammo it likes.

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