I have always had a healthy respect for the M-1 Garand. I just never saw the need to own one. Many years ago, one of my sons convinced me otherwise, so we bought one. Now I know firsthand why they can be so addictive. This article is not a history or technical analysis of the finest battle rifle of WWII (if anyone disagrees with that, take it up with General Patton). There are many other articles and books out there that do that better than I could. It is about the effect that gun had on us – and why it was just the first of several.
My younger son was more interested in firearms than his older brother and attended many gunshows with me through the years. From early on, he wanted a collection of WWII weapons. We bought a number of handguns and a few bolt action rifles from the era before he decided that we had to have a Garand. He was right, of course. However, Garands have never been cheap. I looked around the gunsafe and decided that I could trade a Thompson Contender with two barrels and a 4x-Leupold pistol scope. I was no longer interested in it and hadn’t shot it in years. We took it to the next gunshow.
This was before the Internet, so I had to depend on my books and magazines to know what to look for. There was not a whole lot there, but I did take a 30-06 cartridge, inserted the bullet in the muzzle of a couple of my commercial 30-06 rifles, and marked where it came to a rest in the bore. This was to insure I would not get a Garand with a shot-out bore.
I found a nice Garand on one table that had several Garands on it. It was priced about what I thought my Contender would be priced at, but the owner was not very interested. He was willing to trade me a Garand that was a dog with a shot out bore (the bullet dropped all the way into the muzzle, only being stopped by the case mouth). I wasn’t interested in it and walked away. There was another table with a number of Contenders on it, lots of barrels, a few handgun scopes, and a lone Garand laying in the corner. The dealer said that he had gotten the Garand from the DCM (Director of Civilian Marksmanship, a department in the Army) years before and had not shot it very much since then. The Garand looked in very-good condition, almost as good as the one I originally had tried to trade for. I inserted the 30-06 cartridge in the muzzle and it looked about as good as my commercial rifles. Best of all, we easily reached agreement. He kept my Contender and I walked away with his Garand. This is one of those trades where we both probably thought we got the better of the deal. It was an early 1942 Springfield Armory (SA) Garand that had been arsenal rebuilt in late 1951, complete with a new barrel. It had been shot after the rebuild, but probably not much.
My son and I took it to the range and we found that it was surprisingly accurate for a stock standard, unmodified Garand. We have since found out that it is also one of the easiest and smoothest operating Garands we have ever fired. From a sandbag rest, I could keep all 8-shots in the black with most of them within the 9-ring and about half of them within the 10-ring at 100 yards (using a reduced size 200-yard target), provided I didn’t screw up, of course. I liked it. My son shot it, but backed away from the recoil a little bit, being that he was only about 15 or 16 at the time. It is a man sized gun. He would grow into it. We took it out to shoot around the 4th of July each year after that, but that was about all we did with it.
I did not get involved in Garand matches until after my son turned 21. For his present, I legally transferred all of the guns I had been buying with him and for him, to him. I realized I was without a Garand and something inside me said that that was not acceptable. None of the other guns I had given him had that effect. The next year, I gave him his own gunsafe to keep his guns in. That also gave me some room in my gunsafe. First on the list to get was a Garand.
One of the ranges I belong to had offered Garand matches for years. This was before JC Garand matches existed (which require a stock-standard rifle) so the Garands that were being used had a lot of gunsmithing work on them and were expensive. They usually had a heavy match barrel, glass bedding, National Match sights, a gutted front handguard, the gas tube reamed out, sometimes rechambered to .308 Winchester, etc. This was of no interest to me. Besides, I did not think it was even possible for me to shoot at 200 yards with a standard gun, iron sights, and regularly hit the center of the target. My eyes have never been good and my glasses were bifocals then (with tri-focals now). Tri-focals can be very difficult with peepsights. Which one of the holes that I see do I shoot through?
About the time I started looking for another Garand, the range started offering an all-day beginners class for the Garand along with the newly created JC Garand shoot that would qualify for a CMP rifle (Civilian Marksmanship Program, the successor to the DCM). The beauty of the JC Garand match was that all the guns had to be stock standard. No heavily gunsmithed rifles were allowed. It also just happened to fall on my birthday, so I signed up. What could be a better birthday present?
I borrowed my sons Garand and made up some targets with a 13” black ball in the center. Then I went to the range and sighted it in at 200 yards. At 200 yards, the 13” ball looks to be about the same width as the front sight of the Garand. Ideally, the ball just balances on top of the post. When the day of the class came, I learned a lot and was able to shoot a 225 out of 300 the first time out (10-shots slow-fire prone, 10-shots rapid-fire prone, and 10-shots slow-fire standing). It is addictive to shoot better than I thought I could. Any gun that makes me look good is a keeper, but this one wasn’t mine. I did have the certificate needed to purchase my own Garand, though.
The next hurdle was choosing which Garand to get. The CMP has a number of different types, conditions, and manufacturers to satisfy any taste or pocketbook. They are:
- Rack Grade (fair condition – least expensive)
- Field Grade (fair to good condition)
- Service Grade (good to very-good condition)
- Correct Grade (very-good to excellent condition)
- And, Collector Grade (excellent condition – most expensive)
- There is also a CMP Special Grade that is completely rebuilt with a new commercial barrel (with GI contours), a new commercial walnut stock, all the GI metal is re-parkerized, and some of the small metal parts (primarily springs) are replaced with new commercial parts. There is no collectors value to these guns, but they are just about as close to brand new as it is possible to get.
Usually, not all of the grades are available at the same time. Availability depends on whatever comes in the door from overseas (often called re-imports or returns). All CMP Garands are what are called “mixmasters”. What that means is that during the one or more rebuilds the gun has gone through in its lifetime, most of the parts have likely been replaced with parts from other manufacturers. They are not as they originally came from the factory. During rebuilds, the Army used whatever part was nearby, as long as it was within tolerances. Mixmaster is derogatory term when used by collectors, but it has absolutely no effect on a shooter.
Knowing that my sons Garand was above average, I decided to splurge. I got one of the Correct Grades at about $850 at the time (they are $1,100 nowadays). I received a 1944 SA that had been arsenal rebuilt in Red River Texas (with an “RRAD” cartouche) in late 1965, complete with a new barrel. It had probably not been fired (other than maybe test firing) after that. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it had one of the oversized birch stocks that were used after the Korean War. It made the feel of the Garand go from “beefy” to “fat”. It also did not even come close to matching the color of the upper and front handguards. I later found a reasonably priced WWII era walnut stock that was smaller and matched the color of the handguards much better. It has more handling marks on it than the stock that originally came with the gun, but I like the feel of the smaller stock better.
The CMP shipped the gun dry. It needed to be completely torn down and greased before shooting. Grease, not oil. That cannot be done correctly with a basic 3-piece field strip. However, there are plenty of directions and photos on the CMP website on how to strip a Garand completely down, so this is not particularly difficult to do. Even after the greasing, this gun was still tight. The tag that came with the gun said that the muzzle gauged 1 for wear and the throat gauged 2. That is about as good as it gets. The worst ones (Rack Grade) can gauge three to four times that much. I paid more and got better. However, it did not shoot as accurately as my sons gun. It could keep almost all of the shots in the black at 200 yards (prone, not from a rest), but they were entirely random, not clustered toward the 10-ring like his gun did. I started reading about the some of the tricks to accurize a Garand. Most of them were for the national matches and would disqualify the gun for JC Garand matches, so I did nothing.
The year or two later, they had another beginners class scheduled a day before my birthday. I decided that it would be nice to get an M-1 Carbine from the CMP. I went through the latest Internet information on accurizing the Garand and was happy to find that information had been added specifically for JC Garand shooters. It is pretty simple. All you have to do is take it apart and put it back together like John C. Garand originally intended it to be made. No special tools are needed. There are only four places that need to be checked.
- Make sure that the trigger assembly takes 10lbs to 15lbs of force to close it onto the bottom of the stock. Anything less is loose. If loose, it is easy to use wood shims to build up the bottom of the stock where the trigger assembly clamps. Any model shop has small 1/64” and 1/32” pieces of aircraft plywood that work great as shims. Find the right thickness, cut to fit, and glue it to the stock. This was an authorized field depot repair during WWII. I didn’t originally have this problem with the gun.
- Make sure the three pieces of wood that make up the stock do not touch. There should be a gap the thickness of a business card between all of them. The top and bottom stocks (buttstock and rear handguard) often touch and did on mine. The front wood assembly (front handguard) should rattle a little bit. It didn’t on mine. Very little work with some sandpaper took care of this.
- Put a thin coat of black grease on the operating rod before carefully assembling the gun WITHOUT the recoil spring. Run the bolt back and forth a few times after assembly, then take the gun apart again and check the inside of the stock for grease marks. If you find any, grind the wood until there is clearance. Do the same with the underside of the barrel to make sure it is free-floated. There were a few touch marks on mine.
- Make sure the front gas cylinder assembly is tight. Mine didn’t rattle, but it easily slid off with two fingers. There are instructions (with pictures) on how to peen the splines on the barrel so that there is a moderate press fit. It should be necessary to use a leather mallet and a few taps to get them back together.
After doing this, I took the gun back to the range and was happy to see that it definitely shot better. The groups were about 2/3 the size that they were before. I can now keep all the shots in the black (if I do my part) with a little more than half of them within the 9-ring and a few in the 10-ring, from the prone position at 200 yards. Unfortunately, that is still not quite as good as my sons Garand. I took it to the next JC Garand match and shot 215. Not as good as I had hoped. My first thought was, “I will do better next time”. I used the certificate to buy a Service Grade M-1 Carbine. Unfortunately, the CMP is pretty much sold out of Carbines now with no more expected in the future.
A year or two later, they had another beginners class within a day or two of my birthday. I continue to go to the beginners courses because every time I use a new gun, we are beginners together. For example, during the previous match my new/stiff Garand had a feeding problem with the 2-shot part of the rapid-fire prone and jammed. I fiddled with it, could not do anything, so put it down and backed away from it. After the others finished shooting, the “armorer” helped clear the gun and ran the cartridge pickup mechanism up and down a few times. His comment was that I needed to shoot it more to loosen it up. With the agreement of the shooters on the line, I was allowed to reshoot that stage, something that would not have been allowed in a regular competition. And, I have learned something new every time I went.
Anyway, I decided to attend the match to get another Garand. The reason I used was that if my other son ever decides he wants one, I will have it. I have already used the “we need to be prepared for the coming Zombie apocalypse” excuse too many times. This time, I decided to practice a little bit. My scores were lowest in the standing position. I had fired 54 and 48 out of 100 from the standing position in the previous matches. I figured that was where I had the most room to improve. I calculated out how big the black ball would appear at 200 yards if it was across my basement. That was a VERY small black dot. I put it on the opposite wall and dry fired the Garand at it from a standing position, 10-times each night for a couple of weeks before the match. It worked. I scored 80 from the standing position in the match (OK, I know that part of that had to be luck) for a total of 259. I did do better, but there is still plenty of room to improve. I also bought a 2-shot clip and practiced loading and chambering with it so that the gun did not jam. I did not have any problems with jamming this time around.
I only got a mid-level $575 Service Grade that time around, but it turned out to be a Danish return that was at the high-end of very-good condition (they were $495 when I first started looking). It appears the CMP is temporarily out of Service Grades right now, but there should be more next year. The Danish evidently know how to take good care of their surplus weapons. It is a Korean War era Harrington & Richardson (HRA). The parkerizing is 95+%, but the wood is brand-new aftermarket. That is not good for collectors, but is just fine for shooters. The stock is also the size of the WWII era guns, not the later, larger ones. The tag said that it gauged 1 for the muzzle (it is actually closer to 1-1/2) and 3 for the throat. Good enough. I took it apart and found that it was dry, just like the first one. The first thing to do was grease it. The new stock was pretty dry, too. I rubbed in about a half-dozen coats of Tung oil. Then, I took it to the range and found that its accuracy was about equal to the other Garand, before accurizing. Once again, it is not as accurate as my sons Garand. I am going through the accurizing process right now, with the tricks listed above. It will be ready for the next JC Garand match.
Interestingly, my Korean War Garand had an early WWII trigger guard (a machined forging). My WWII Garand had a Korean War trigger guard (a heavy sheet-metal stamping). That is why they are called mixmasters. I swapped the trigger assemblies. Close, but not perfect. When closing the swapped trigger assemblies, one was just a little bit loose and one was just a little bit tight. I added a 1/64” wooden shim to the stock of the loose one and probably took off about the same amount from the tight one with a file. Both close properly now and they look a little bit more original.
It has taken more than just a commitment of time from me to go to these competitions. Every time I have gone, the Garand has taken a little blood from me in exchange for letting me shoot it. I will accept that as fair trade for the privilege of shooting the Garand. The first time was shortly after I started taking blood thinners. My shoulder was black and blue for more than a week afterward. Solution: a light jacket with a shoulder pad (not a regular shooting jacket). The second time, it drew blood from my elbow even though I was on a shooting pad. It also drew blood from the back of my left hand (from the sling attachment). Solution: elbow pads and a leather glove. I guess there are good reasons why the regular Garand shooters already have all of these things. The third time, I got a Garand thumb – only it was on my weak-hand trigger-finger. I was loading the gun singly at the time (slow fire prone) and the bolt tried to chamber my finger. The fingernail was necked down a bit in the process. I shot the majority of the match with it throbbing. Solution: be more careful.
I am thinking of getting their totally rebuilt model (the CMP Special) the next time around. Maybe that one will shoot as well as my sons Garand.
Unfortunately, I am usually one of the younger guys at these matches and I am past retirement age. That is a shame. It is really easy for a beginner to get started. Our club loans Garands for free to people to shoot the CMP match and sells military surplus ammo at cost to people who don’t have that. The people running the beginners match (at least where I go) are very patient and helpful. I have learned a lot from them. I have never gotten a gun from the CMP that is in worse condition than what they detail on their website. More often it is in better condition than what they list. In addition, they cost is less (maybe 2/3 the price on average) compared to what I have been seeing on guntables. If you don’t have a Garand yet, that is an offer that shouldn’t be passed up. After all, the majority of them were built over 65 years ago. They can’t last forever.
Three CMP firearms: Two Garands and a Carbine