Can a WWII-era rifle be modernized?

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Courtesy SMG Guns

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There are a lot of interesting arms designs from the early part of the 20th century that might be serviceable even today — with some modernizations. I’m not talking about taking an old Mauser and sporterizing it, but actually redesigning something to have modern relevance!
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It’s actually a bit hard to believe, but the AR-15 is now 55 years old. Introduced by Colt in 1959, it’s been soldiering along with the U.S. Military since 1962. We don’t think of it as being an “old” rifle, however, because it’s been modernized almost continuously since it was introduced. The last decade has seen a veritable explosion of new products designed to extend the capabilities of this middle-aged arm, and it’s not inconceivable that we’ll be seeing the things on store shelves for perhaps decades to come (barring further Second Amendment encroachments, of course!)

What would happen, then, if we took this same approach to updating another old design — perhaps something from the World War II era? That’s the question my Gun Nation co-conspirator Ian McCollum and his InRangeTV partner Karl Kasarda asked recently.

The German FG42 was an incredibly innovative rifle which entered service in late 1942 (or early 1943, depending on who you ask.) It was a purpose-built arm to address the specific needs of German paratroop units, whose submachine guns were simply too light and whose Mauser rifles were too long, heavy, and lacking in firepower. What they needed was a rifle that could do it all: fully automatic for suppressive fire, semi-automatic for precise aimed fire, detachable magazine for rapid reloading, and designed for short length and great controllability. What they wanted, in short, was the Holy Grail of rifles — and they darned near got it!

The resulting FG42 was chambered in the standard 7.92×57 Mauser service cartridge (important from a logistics standpoint), and had all the features the troops had asked for: a detachable box magazine protruding from the side of the rifle (which made the action very short, even by modern standards); fired from an open bolt in full auto to prevent heat-induced “cook-offs”, but from a closed bolt in semiauto for better precision; and it had a recoil-reduction buffer built into the buttstock so that it remained controllable even when firing full auto.

After the war the futuristic FG42 was forgotten. In this country, even though we adopted quite a bit of German small arms technology, we still spent a ridiculous amount of time and money to re-invent the Garand for more modern warfare (and ended up with what was, objectively, one of the poorest choices in main battle rifles of any major — or minor — power.) For some reason the FG42 simply disappeared where other designs didn’t, and as a result there are very few in this country. On those rare occasions when one comes up for sale it demands amazingly large amounts of money.

A small company called SMG Guns, best known for making semi-automatic reproductions of historic medium and heavy machine guns, decided that the FG42 deserved to be preserved. They reverse engineered a copy and came up with a very faithful yet brand new version which is now available for sale. I’ve handled (but have not shot) one of these new rifles, and I must say they’re a beautiful piece of work. They’re not cheap (lots of expensive engineering and a small production run equals high costs), but they’re very nice and owners tell me they’re a joy to shoot.

So, back to Ian and Karl. Karl shot one of those reproduction guns in a two-gun tactical match and found that, surprisingly, it held its own pretty well against more modern hardware. He thought about it and concluded that, with a few modifications to bring it into line with modern expectations (particularly regarding ergonomics), it might be able to compare quite favorably even to current rifle designs.

He and Ian recently posted an episode of InRangeTV where they talked about some of the proposed modifications, which SMG is in the process of doing. Unfortunately the video can’t be embedded, so you’ll just have to click on this link to see it, but it’s worth the time — Karl has some good insights and ideas to bring the FG42 into the 21st century.

Will it catch on? Hard to tell, but I’m itching to try one out!

-=[ 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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