It was only natural; as soon as I was old enough and had the funds saved up, I bought an M1 Carbine. Unfortunately for me, the first one I came found, while I had $95 burning a hole in my pocket, was at a local emporium in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. It was a brand spanking new Plainfield Machine Company M1 Carbine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Plainfield carbines were assembled using surplus parts. However, Plainfield has a colorful history, and is worth some investigation to those interested.
Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share the news with a friend who was a much more experienced firearms aficionado. When I told him, the first comment he made was that I had to reload to keep the shooting costs down. I didn’t have a clue, so he gave me a list of components to buy and said, he would show me how to reload, which he did. That became my first reloading experience, which turned into a life long pursuit still going strong for over 55 years. It was at that time that I also came to realize another very interesting and attractive quality of the M1 Carbine, it really was very easy to reload for. Add another plus on the popularity side.
The problem with the previously mentioned Plainfield Carbine was that it just did not hold up to even the small amount of ammo I subjected it to—despite it’s cool looking, perforated handguard. After the brazed on gas piston housing separated from the barrel, it prompted another separation—our rather unceremonious parting of the ways. However, genuine G.I. was still scarce on the commercial market, so I found a Universal M1 Carbine to fill the void in my need. It was also assembled from G.I. Surplus parts and a cast receiver. Alas, it was not much better and soon discarded.
Despite the bad experience with the commercial versions of the M1 Carbine that I had tried, I was still enamored with the sexy little carbine, so I did my best to learn as much as I could about it. The more I found out, the more I wanted one. Eventually, I acquired a genuine G.I. Inland Division M1 Carbine in very nice arsenal-upgraded condition.
I went to gun shows and scrounged sporting goods stores for magazines, tools, pouches, and a bayonet. About that time, I discovered the joy of weekends spent in California’s high deserts in pursuit of jackrabbits. It was fun and inexpensive. I can’t think of a better way to learn how to compute lead on fast erratic targets than with jackrabbits and the fast-handling agile carbine. The laws in California have certainly changed, but my fondest memories are of days spent walking the desert with a handful of 30-round magazines and plenty of ammo.
Those early trips improved my shooting and taught me many lessons—one of which was that the carbine’s range and utility could be improved with a scope. Now please remember, we are talking prehistoric times as far as things concerning anything shooting are compared to the things taken for granted today. It was really hard to find a means of mounting a scope to an M1 Carbine—no internet or mobile devices.
Eventually, I was able to find an outfit that made a scope mounts for the M1 Carbine. The mount fit in the rear sight cut and was secured by a bolt. In that mount with Redfield rings the scope rode high enough over the receiver so as to not impede function. I couldn’t wait to mount the 1.5-4x Bushnell Banner scope the salesman said would be just the ticket.
That combination did in fact prove to be very deadly, and I would not even attempt to guess at the number of jacks taken with it, but it was a boatload. It did, however, exhibit a vexing problem. The base worked loose and caused the scope to lose zero after a day afield. After replacing the unit for a newer upgraded model that proved not much better, I eventually remedied the on going problem using the “ol’ iodine trick.” For those unfamiliar, back in the day, prior to Loctite when you wanted something to stay put, a little Iodine on the threads would rust them together. Afterward, the only way to remove the screw was to drill it out. That did correct the problem, and it has held its zero till this day.
Over the years, I acquired more carbines and at one point decided I just had to have the white unicorn for my own. I had to have an original, as issued, museum-quality example of the M1. Through a friend, I was put in contact with a well known collector and dealer who had a couple of examples he was willing to part with—at enormous expense. He then asked if I had an M1 Garand to match the carbine I was looking at. I did not then; I do now, but that is another story.
That visit started me on the never-ending path of carbines as collectables. There have been so many manufacturers, upgrades, parts changes, variations, modifications, and accessories that it might be impossible to collect examples of them all, but it sure is fun and educating to try.
The most obvious accessories are magazines, and let me tell you, there is a whole world of variations and manufacturers. Needless to say, it’s like the proverbial onion, the more you learn, the more layers that are exposed, and the more there is for you to learn. I might add; it is just not enough to have good, functional, reliable magazines. You will feel compelled to get examples of those made by all the manufacturers (WWII, post war, foreign, and domestic). Then, there are the bayonets and scabbards not to mention slings, oilers, mag pouches, and carbine-specific tools such as the bolt take down tool and gas piston wrench. With all the interest, forgeries abound, so one must decide if collectability or functionality is important. It never ends, but if collecting is in your DNA, it can be very entertaining and loads of fun—not to mention some of the characters one meets along the way.
To say my love affair with this ol’ gal has lasted and still grows today is an understatement. Yet, another reason for my appreciation of the M1 Carbine, and I believe a whole new generation discovering it, is its newly found application as an urban defensive tool. As a firearms instructor, I have recommended the M1 Carbine as the perfect home/urban defense tool for many years while others down talked it. Again, they try to equate the battlefield with the living room or front yard, and that just does not work.
It was manufactured to be a weapon of battle in a much harsher time. As such, it is built tank tough to last with little or no care or attention. Remember, lots of people buy a gun for defense, shoot it once, and then it gets put away until the excrement hits the fan. If they are fortunate enough—and remember they have an M1 carbine and it is loaded—it will work and work reliably. It is light and handy—meaning it is friendly in confined spaces such as homes and vehicles.
Women, children, the elderly, and infirmed can all use the M1 Carbine effectively. The defensive ammunition available today includes newly designed defensive ammo with a plethora of expanding projectiles at 2000+ feet per second. That trumps the hottest .357 Magnum loads, which I might add is considered a gold standard for self-defense.
Remember, the .357 in a handgun is difficult to master and shoot accurately. It also has tremendous muzzle blast and recoil. Most often, it will only have six rounds on board too. The carbine is much quieter, exhibits less recoil, is easier to shoot accurately, and depending on where you live, it can accommodate from 10 to 30 rounds. In a pinch, you can add the bayonet previously mentioned or use it as a club. Ah! Such versatility; it just warms my heart.
Other popular platforms, such as today’s MSRs are just not as user friendly in my opinion. Plus, I just happen to like wood and steel. I have said for a long time that gunmakers stopped making guns better and started making them cheaper during the mid to late 1950s. Driven by increased labor costs, firearms manufacturing looked for cost-cutting procedures and materials to be more profitable and as a capitalist. I understand and appreciate that.
We went from steel with lots of machining and hand fitting to aluminum and tubular construction, cast parts, and heaven help us plastic guns. Yes, they still go bang! but with less elegance and certainly without a soul. Do we really like and think these new modular firearms are better, or have we been brain washed into thinking so? I, for one, also feel that if a battle rifle’s caliber does not begin with a 3, it’s for varmints.
When I went trough basic training in the Stone Age (mid 1960s). The M16 was the service rifle, but we went through training with the M14. We were told they had not developed a manual of arms for the new Mattel-a-Matic. I was probably one of the last trainees to qualify as a bayonet expert. Would somebody please demonstrate how you do a bayonet drill with a pistol grip? Oh, the inhumanity!
Recently, I had a good friend over who happens to be one of the premiere firearms instructors in the country, if not the world; he is also one of the top competition shooters of all time. I brought out a few of my M1 Carbines and started to go on about them when he turned to his companion and said, “We need to get a couple of carbines, they are lots of fun and make a really good home defense tool for anyone.” I love that kind of validation for what I have been preaching for all these years, especially from someone of his stature.
Now let’s look at the requirements of a zombie gun and a comparison of the contenders. The term zombie gun may no longer in vogue, but the concept endures. The first thing I look at is reliability. The M1 Carbine was made to arm our troops under the worst conditions and to last the duration and beyond. That means it will hold up and it is made from good American steel, forged, and machined. It has an economy of parts, which means less to go wrong. If something does go wrong, which is unlikely, there are so many in circulation that finding parts should be easy. This is true to a lesser degree of other U.S. Marshal arms but not as true. Remember, there were 6.2 million made plus boatloads of spare parts. Add to that commercial variants, and the supply is just short of unlimited. It has proven itself for 75 years.
It is light at 5.2 pounds. Lighter than any other battle rifle or carbine with like features. When walking, lighter is better. Remember, gasoline has a finite shelf life. The Carbines’ slight weight will allow anyone to be able to use it. It’s so light it can be handled and shot effectively with one hand.
Compared to Other Popular Defensive Calibers
The ammunition is compact and light—smaller and lighter than any AR or AK platform calibers. All calibers available for those platforms are overkill on zombies or under kill like 9mm or .22 LR. You might say that 9mm is smaller and lighter, and while true, it gives up mightily in performance. Even out of a 16-inch barrel, it is well below 300 ft. lbs. at 100 yards.
Police in Northern Ireland had no faith in their MP5s at more than 50 meters—so much for the 9mm. One could make the case for MP5s in 10mm, but good luck finding one—and then there is the problem of ammo. 10mm is not exactly a household name, although its popularity has increased in recent years. M1 Carbine ammo, on the other hand, is everywhere and everybody makes it. Remember, it was designed to be effective out to 300 yards. I, for sure, don’t want to be shot with one at any range. Additionally, 30-round magazines are plentiful. Consider weight and size; you can carry more of everything—always a good thing.
One of the features I like the most is that it was designed to use a bayonet and has a traditional wood stock. Today’s modern rifles are difficult-to-impossible to correctly wield a bayonet. The M1 Carbine allows that in spades. Try that with a MP5 or any bullpup.
Now, I know that all of you young whipper snappers are foaming at the mouth, throwing yourselves around saying the AR is better cause you can attach all sorts of modern gizmos to it. Well, hold on. You can attach all the same gizmos to the venerable M1 Carbine.
There is an outfit called UltiMAK that makes a slick Picatinny mounting system that replaces the handguard. It is a rock-solid system that allows you the ability to mount scopes, red dots, lasers, lights, or whatever to modernize the Old’ War Horse into the ultimate home defense machine. With the addition of the Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic you just put the red dot where you want it and squeeze.
For all the reasons stated and more, I believe the M1 Carbine to be one of the most interesting, effective, versatile, popular, and just plain fun firearms around. For the collector, its story is one of the most interesting—as is the firearm itself. Do yourself a favor, and get M1 Carbine fever… You will thank me.