December 2009

Four M1 Carbines: CMP, Fulton, And Auto-Ordnance Compete

Subscribers Only — The M1 carbine was the most prolific U.S. weapon of the WWII era, with six-odd million made, and it’s still very popular today. It employs an anemic round by rifle standards, but—per its design—its cartridge is at least as powerful as most handgun rounds. Today’s buyer of a genuine WWII-era or Korean War era carbine will probably need to spend around a thousand dollars, give or take a few hundred, for a reasonable example. On GunBroker we saw prices from about $750 to$1400, depending on condition and rarity. However, if you’re qualified, and if you hurry, you may be able to get a decent carbine for about $420-675, through the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) sales. This outlet used to be called the DCM, Director of Civilian Marksmanship, run by the U.S. government, but that program is now in private hands. However, due to the nature of the program, the CMP carbines may be in very short supply by the time this report appears in print. Do you qualify for a CMP firearm purchase? Taking the CMP requirements straight from the website (www.thecmp.org), "By law, the CMP can sell surplus military firearms, ammunition, parts and other items only to members of CMP-affiliated clubs who are also U.S. citizens, over 18 years of age and… legally eligible to purchase a firearm." For more information, visit the website. For this test we acquired four carbines. We had on hand a Fulton Armory carbine, with an original Underwood barrel in near-perfect condition. But if you want a Fulton-built M1 carbine today you’ll have to get it with the new Fulton barrel ($1300). All of the original mil-spec barrels are apparently now gone. Two of our carbines came from the CMP, both "Service Grade." One was an Underwood (CMP-1, $565) and the other an Inland (CMP-2, $ 495). The so-called "Rack Grade" carbines are a bit less expensive. Finally, we acquired a new Auto-Ordnance AOM130 M1 Carbine ($899) with beautiful walnut stock and newly manufactured metalwork. In our testing of these four M1 carbines, we found many similarities and a few differences. There were two types of safeties. One was the swinging-arm or "flip" type, which requires pulling a small lever rearward to put the gun into the firing position. This is easily accomplished with the right index finger, by right handers, and fairly easily by the trigger finger of lefties. The second safety type was the crossbolt, similar to that found on many pump shotguns. This required pressing to the left to fire, which we found could not be done as easily by lefties. The Auto-Ordnance and Underwood (CMP-1) carbines had the push-button safety. The Auto-Ord and Underwood also had the flat bolt, and neither of these two had a bayonet lug. All the guns except the Auto-Ord had the stepped, windage-adjustable rear sight. The A-O had a modern-made, two-height sight similar to the original M1 carbine sight, which had to be drifted for windage. The two CMP carbines had a stamped base for the adjustable rear sight. The Fulton had a milled base. The Underwood (CMP-1) had a sheet-metal trigger guard. All had the wing-protected front sight. We tested with three types of 30 US Carbine FMJ "ball" ammunition, all of it 110-grain loads. It was from Sellier & Bellot, American Eagle, and original U.S. Mil-Spec ball (head stamped LC71). Because the two CMP carbines came without magazines, we used an original Winchester 15-round magazine for all our testing, with one exception explained below. Generally speaking, here’s what we think. Those who like shooting military type firearms really owe it to themselves to have an M1 carbine. They’re a lot of fun. Good ones need not break the bank, but in an era where the SKS rifles that used to go begging at gun shows for $85 now bring upwards of $400, the price of an M1 carbine is not outlandish, even at the over-a-grand mark. We suggest you act soon, particularly if you want one from the CMP. They’re going fast. Details on the four guns we tested follow:   More...

Super-Auto Shootout: Benelli’s SBE II Versus Browning Maxus

Subscribers Only — It is an old story in the gun business: Fancy new model gets announced; months later prototypes leak out for promotional media testing; then, finally, a year (or two) later, real guns start shipping. And so it is with Browning’s Maxus, which was announced in November 2008, with some prototypes available to shoot at the January 2009 SHOT Show in Orlando, and lagging production. Originally slated for late-spring-2009 availability, early-fall delivery has proved to be the case instead—and then, only for the 31/2-inch-chamber models. The initial offerings of Browning’s new-for-2009 autoloader is the matte Stalker style and also a Mossy Oak Duck Blind camo version for $1499 MSRP, both with 31/2-inch chambers. The 3-inch versions are said to be arriving soon—again, in either Stalker matte black or camo for now. Included in all the "Planet Maxus" hoopla, Browning has made several claims about the Maxus and touted several new features. A few of the features aren’t particularly meaningful, so let’s dispense with these first. The "Turnkey" quick-change magazine plug is hardly of any use in a dedicated field gun, one directed to waterfowl at that, where three shots (2+1) is going to be it. Things like shim adjustments for drop are nice to have, of course, and were a bit more remarkable when they appeared 20 years ago. Now, they have become so prevalent that it seems more like a glaring oversight when new autoloaders fail to provide this feature. Naturally, we are glad they are included in the Maxus, but this is no different from many autoloaders. We do note that the Maxus has adjustable length of pull, with the appropriate buttstock spacers included right in the box—not an optional accessory, but already supplied. Burrowing deeper into the Maxus, Browning has promised us not just cosmetics, but a new gas action and trigger system that moves beyond the similarly weighted Winchester SX3 Composite ($1239 MSRP) and its Browning rendition, the half-pound-heavier Browning Silver Stalker ($1179 MSRP). Rather than an afterthought, the Maxus was designed from the start to be a 31/2-inch gun, and it appears that Browning hopes the Maxus will outscore both the Beretta Xtrema2 and the stalwart Super Black Eagle II. There are a number of shotguns against which we could pit the new Maxus, but to clean up the field and make the comparisons truly head to head, we chose to bring in an "Our Pick" from the January 2007 issue. There, we tested the Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10016 12 gauge, $1515, rating it above the Beretta Urika Optima and Remington 105Cti. Almost three years ago, we wrote of the SBE II, "The latest version of the evolving Super Black Eagle design is a comfortable, ever-functional hunting gun, with the capacity to shoot 23/4-, 3-, and 31/2-inch ammunition." If the Maxus could compete against the SBE II, we reasoned, then its successful launch into the world’s autoloading shotgun pool would be assured. Toward that end, we acquired a Benelli Super Black Eagle II No. 10101 Max-4 HD Camo 31/2-inch 12 gauge, $1759, to compete with the Browning Maxus Stalker No. 011600204 31/2-inch 12 Gauge, $1379. Here’s what we found:   More...

Best-In-Class Firearms 2009: Handguns, Rifles, and Shotguns

Subscribers Only — Every December I survey the work Ben Brooks, Roger Eckstine, Ray Ordorica, Joe Syczylo, Gene Taylor, Kevin Winkle, R.K. Campbell, and Ralph Winingham have done in Gun Tests, with an eye toward selecting guns the magazine’s testers have endorsed without qualification. From these evaluations I pick the best from a full year’s worth of tests and distill summary recommendations for readers, who often use them as year-end shopping guides. These 'best of' choices are a mixture of our original tests and other information I’ve compiled during the year. After the magazine’s FFLs sell high-rated test products to readers, I keep tabs on how many of those guns do over time, and if the firearms continue performing well, then I have confidence including them in this wrap-up.   More...