Session #1

Went over to my Gun Mentor's place around midday. We loaded up three rifles into the car - his M1, my M1 (his is a lot nicer looking, but mine has the beat-up look of a gun that went to the Pacific and Korea, most likely, judging by its serial number) and his AR-15. There was no-one else at the range when we got there, so we set up a 50-yard target and two 100-yard targets. He set up a spotting scope and handed me six or seven en bloc clips of 30-06 and we were off.

It turns out I shoot a decent group, seated, at 50 yards. Not quite as good at 100. I think I have issues with breathing, because I'm always off high or low (except for two clips worth, where I pasted my group into dead center). Not having a sling doesn't help. Still, I'm able to consistently come within 8-10 inches of the bullseye at 100 yards, and my groups tend to be between 3 and 5 inches - not bad for a blade sight and no sling.

Once we got into the swing, he shot his AR and I continued with my M1. I put around 24 clips, or 192 rounds, through it. This is not easy on an untrained shoulder; I ended up with a nice bruise just above the joint which had the buttplate pattern imprinted into my capillaries.

The M1 Garand is a heavy gun, at around 10-11 pounds. It is a mechanism, and a mechanism designed to move its parts with authority and precision - because those movements need to ensure that the explosive you're about to touch off is in the right place and the chamber and bolt have it properly secured, because you're about to call into being something like 26,000 CUP pressure inside that cartridge and weapon. This is taking place maybe three inches from your eye. Anyway, this means that when the M1 action cycles forward to battery, it does so with a massively solid CHUNK. The way one releases the slide, if there's no clip in the weapon, is to reach down into the magazine and press down on the magazine follower. This means that your fingers are in the way of the bolt coming forward to battery. So you have to make sure that the side of your hand, outside the gun, is properly placed to intercept the slide on its way forward - otherwise, your fingers are going to hurt, badly. I'm told that people get good at this, and eventually reach the point where they can close the action in one smooth motion of the hand, pulling the fingers out of the way before the bolt comes forward without even catching the slide to stop the cycle. I'm also told that there is a condition involving heavily-bruised thumbs, missing fingernails or even nipped-off thumb tips called 'M1 Thumb' - so I think I won't mind looking clumsy in exchange for extra certainty that I'm going to catch the slide on its way forward.

BAMchunk.

The gun is heavy enough to not move very far off line when it is fired, but unless you have it tucked in tight it will beat hell out of your shoulder. I did have it tucked in tight, and still, when the afternoon was over, my shoulder complained. I'm still re-learning how to shoot properly - breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe out halfway and hold while squeezing evenly and if everything was done properl-BAMchunk.

It should be a bit of a surprise.

The trigger on my gun (maybe on many or most M1s, I don't know) is a fairly strong pull. This is not a precision shooting trigger. It's machined for strength, certainty, and durability in the field over thousands and thousands of rounds. Precision shooters will tell you about the feeling of 'a small glass rod breaking' when a well-performing trigger breaks, but that's not what happens here. You can feel the kilograms of tension that the mechanism is under. Operating rod spring operating rod catch assembly to follower rod to follower arm to follower, tension holding the bullets up against the bottom of the bolt. Hammer spring to hammer spring housing to trigger and sear assembly. Extractor spring to extractor and detent spring. Feel it waiting. There is a round in battery, the bolt is locked forward; the trigger and sear are locked back, the firing pin waits for the trigger to break out of retention, slam forward, and push it into the primer. The Boxer primer presses the primer explosive into the anvil, incandescent particles fly through the primer hole into the cartridge where 50 grains of IMR 4064 powder sit; those ignite, the 150-grain spitzer bullet accelerates down the barrel. As it passes the gas port, hot gas is diverted down through the gas port, and sealed into the operating chamber by the gas plug it forces the piston of the operating rod backwards...the bullet leaves the barrel. BAM-

...and the operating rod pushes the bolt back, the extractor pulls the cartridge out, the ejector pushes it sideways; the magazine follower lifts another round up as the operating rod spring shoves it back to battery. chunk and another round is loaded.

Meditating on the myriad of small changes and actions is soothing, actually. Downrange, my bullet has long since punched through my paper target and buried itself deep in the berm behind. I'm left with the smell of cordite and gun oil, and the sudden warmth in the barrel pushing out into my hand on the front grip.

And again.

And again.

When the trigger breaks on my M1, you don't get the feeling of a glass rod snapping. You get the feeling of a solid piece of metal sliding just past the point of no return where it has been braced against another solid piece of metal, and then you have a split second to feel the trigger assembly moving into powerful motion, and then the gun has transferred the recoil to your shoulder and you're fighting to bring your eyes back into focus and the sight back onto target.

.30-06 Springfield, the version of it in this gun, is less powerful than the 30-06 hunting rounds used today. Identical in shape and size, those rounds are more powerful, intended not to send bullets out a hundred or two hundred yards rapidly, but intended to send one bullet out to four or five hundred yards or further, one chance to make the kill before the target is spooked. Those bullets are intended for use in bolt-action rifles, where there is no reloading mechanism to bear the strain of the escaping gas pressure as it cycles; where the bolt is postitively locked closed for firing and does not move until the shooter unlocks and slides it back. Those bullets generate above 36,000 CUP pressure, perhaps 40,000, perhaps more - intended for more velocity, to give a flatter trajectory and more range.

But the M1 has a different cause for respect; it will fire the eight bullets in its built-in magazine as fast as you can pull the trigger. Eight 30-06 is a lot of kinetic energy, no matter it is a lighter charge.

When I first went to the range with my mentor, there were several people shooting. Many were shooting AR-15s - civilian semi-automatic versions of the M-16 used by U.S. and allied military forces. They fire smaller bullets from smaller cartridges (5.56mm, or .223 Remington) but they fire them much faster, and they're louder than the M1. But when I began to shoot, other shooters stopped firing and turned their heads, looking over at me from both directions. When I noticed, I stopped and looked at them, looked at their grins. I asked the man shooting in the next lane, "Um, what're they looking at?"

"That's a Garand."

"I know it is but, their guns are, you know, louder."

"Isn't about the loud. It's the sound. They know that sound. M1s command respect." With that, he turned back to the range and fired another 20 rounds of .223.

My rifle.

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