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Before, during, and after World War I, almost every army on the face of the planet carried bolt-action rifles. These rifles fired a full power cartridge, and most came equipped with two-foot-long sword bayonets.
The concept behind these firearms was to give the infantryman an effective accurate repeater that also could be turned into a spear when the need arose. This was all well and good during World War I, where firefights still occurred more than 300 yards away, and trench fighting was common.
But World War I taught us that the age of the frontal assault was coming to a close. This was coupled with the fact that automatic weapons had made bayonet charges nothing but sheer butchery. Fire and maneuver became the new tactic of the day, as trench warfare was replaced and forgotten.
The US army was the first to adopt a “battle rifle,” per se, in the M1 Garand. This was the first semi-auto rifle that was the standard long arm in any army. Even though the M1 utilized an 8-round en-bloc clip rather than a detachable box magazine, it is still considered a battle rifle by most historians.
It was during World War II when the M1 Garand proved itself effective and reliable. It was also during World War II that the Germans designed the world’s first mass issue assault rifle, in the Sturmgewehr 44. The SG44 was revolutionary in the fact that it fired an intermediate cartridge rather than a full-power rifle cartridge. This made it much more controllable in fully automatic fire.
After the war ended, the Russians developed the assault rifle concept further into the Avtomat Kalashnikova model 1947, or the AK-47. The Allies declined at the time to pursue the assault rifle, instead preferring a full-powered cartridge. The US and its NATO allies standardized the 7.62x51mm cartridge, also known to civilians as the .308 Winchester.
Soon, adoption of the rifles that fired the 7.62x51mm round followed. The British, Belgians and others adopted the FN FAL. The Americans developed the M-14 from the M1 Garand and adopted it. Taiwan later produced their own version of the M-14, and the Italians updated the M1 Garand into their own battle rifle, the BM59. The Western German army adopted the Heckler and Koch G3. Several other battle rifles were adopted at this time, such as the Spanish CETME, a kissing cousin of the G3, and the AR-10.
The battle rifle concept soon proved that while it provided excellent knock-down power, they were mostly unwieldy in full automatic. Soldiers also could not carry as much ammunition as they could with a rifle such as an M-16/M4 or an AK platform rifle. Starting in the 1960s, the move from battle rifle to assault rifle started.
However, there are areas the battle rifle shines in that most assault rifles simply cannot. For one, accuracy. The longer barrels and the 7.62 cartridges themselves lend themselves to better accuracy. Second is knock-down power; a .308 has nearly twice the energy of the projectiles fired in an M-16/AR-15 or AK series rifle. Last, is range. The effective range of the .308 is also roughly twice that of an assault rifle. With good optics, battle rifles now find themselves at home on today’s battlefield in the role of designated marksmen rifles, or for heavier firepower in CQB situations.
For today’s shooter, one has the choice between a modern sporting rifle, which is the civilian equivalent of military assault rifles, or a semi-automatic battle rifle. Let’s take a look at the most popular choices on the US market.
1. M-1A/M-14: The M1A, or semi auto M-14, comes in many shapes and sizes. Even in today’s military. the M-14 is not used in full automatic, and so it is with the civilian M1A/M14. The M1A uses a long stroke piston, similar to the one used on the AK-47. In fact, the M-1 Garand’s piston is the father of both the M-14 system and the AK gas system. The M-14 is known for its exceptional reliability, almost to AK-47 levels, and accuracy. The M1A is one of the most common firearms in civilian target competitions. It is not difficult to mount an optic to the top.
M-14s are made by several companies, the most popular being Springfield Armory, which markets the M1A. Fulton Armory and James River Armory are two other well-respected manufactures. Any of these three companies is a good choice. Expect to pay anywhere from $1,200 to more than $50,00 for your M-14.
2. FAL: FAL rifles are another popular option for shooters. Though not as popular in the US as the M1A, the FAL is well-liked by shooters for reliability and handiness. Not the equal to the M-14’s accuracy, it still shoots a heavier round than the AR-15. The 20-round detachable box magazine lacks the capacity that the AR or AK has, but the 7.62x51mm has much more knockdown power.
Most FAL shooters in the USA believe there to be no better rifle. It is a unique club. If you want to join, plan on spending around $1,100 for a good DSA FAL.
3. CETME/G3: These rifles are so very close in design that we will lump them together. The G3 can be found in large numbers in the US. Not as popular as the M-14, it can still be had for much less. You can get a G3/CETME for starting at around $600.
4. AR-10: The most popular battle rifle in America. Like it’s little brother, the AR-15, AR-10s are highly customizable. They are also affordable. The AR-10 is the erector set of the battle rifle world, meaning you can buy or you can build you own custom upper and lower receivers. AR-10s are frequently used for hunting, and many are chambered in common hunting calibers. The most common AR-10 chambering will be the .308.
You can pay around $700 for a DPMS, or up to $5,000 for other brands.
What advice would you add on buying a battle rifle? Which is your choice? Share your thoughts in the section below:
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