My time as a Frenchman: the wonderful MAS 49/56.

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Ever shot one of these? If you haven’t, you don’t know what you’re missing!

As I mentioned recently, I’m not really a collector of anything — no, not even guns. To me firearms are a utilitarian thing, used to do work. It was like that when I was a kid on the farm; I took out one of the guns to do something specific, not to amuse myself (though I admit to having done some occasional plinking with a Winchester Model 67 — an early finger groove version, no less.)Fast forward to today, and guns are still work; I’m either teaching with them, writing about them, or working on them. To a lot of people, heading out to the range to shoot for an afternoon is great fun but to me it’s…work.

I think I can be excused, then, for not being much of a collector. Every so often, however, I’m tempted by the siren call of an unusual or interesting firearm and simply must have one. In most cases I’ve been able to control myself and not feel the worse for it, but there have been times when I held my wallet closed and later regretted my decision. (Like when a bunch of gorgeous, nearly new Persian Mausers came available about 15 years ago…for less than $300, complete. Or when you could still find nice condition Swedish m/1894 carbines on gun show tables. I still kick myself for not taking advantage of either.)

Every so often, however, something interesting came my way with a price tag small enough to catch my parsimonious eye. Such was the case with the first batch of French MAS 49/56 autoloading rifles that were imported some years back. In the original 7.5mm French caliber, they had been arsenal refinished and were in gorgeous shape. You could even get the matching APX scope and mount for a song if you were so inclined.

Because the 7.5mm ammunition was very tough to get these rifles initially didn’t sell all that well and the price dropped. That is, until word got out about how good the guns were and how easy they were to reload for! After a while 7.5mm brass came available and made living with the MAS a much more pleasant prospect.

The rifle is quite compact in comparison with the other .30 caliber arms of the day (40 inches, versus 44 for the M14 and many FAL versions.) This makes it easier to maneuver and just generally nicer to carry around. Recoil is mild for a .308-class cartridge, and the direct impingement system proved to be quite reliable — as this little video from Ian McCollum shows.

Everyone to whom I’ve handed the rifle has come away impressed. Even my die-hard Uncle Bob, a fan of nothing but American arms, loved shooting it. It’s just one of those guns that’s fun to shoot, and actually makes shooting a lot less like…work!

Some will say it’s ugly, but to me it has a purposeful look. It’s sort of like a a Land Rover Defender: it’s not pretty, but it does grow on you after a time! (Unlike the Land Rover, however, the MAS won’t break down in the middle of nowhere!)

Last December The Firearm Blog did a very nice review of the MAS 49/56, and you should read it if you’re at all interested in this unique and high-quality autoloading rifle. They’re still available at fairly reasonable prices for the quality you’re getting (as long as you don’t want one of the scopes — they’ve gotten ridiculously expensive!)

If you buy one do not, under any circumstances, be tempted by the .308 conversions that Century Arms once sold. They were almost universally unreliable and, in my opinion, are a waste of money. Instead insist on the original 7.5×54 French chambering; brass is available and the cartridge is as easy to reload as the .308 Winchester (and it uses standard .308 caliber bullets as well.) If you prefer not to handload, Prvi Partizan does produce very good ammunition and it’s available through most of the online ammunition houses.

-=[ Grant Cunningham ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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