If you’ve been shooting any sort of competition in the United States, then you are probably familiar with the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and their infamous NRA High Power and Service Rifle competitions held in Camp Perry, Ohio. These competitions are probably the most significant and longest running high caliber competitions in the United States. Because they are based around the US Military’s service rifles, shooters use civilian legal M1 Garands, M14s, and M16s. These are fine rifles in their own right and entire industries have been set up to equip shooters and make them ready for a Service Rifle match. But venturing out in the firearms world and building a match grade M1 Garand or M14 can be costly. This is where the CMP makes a huge difference.
The CMP was created in 1906 to help civilians become active in the shooting sports and has been running a program where they take surplus rifles that the Armed Forces have discontinued, and sell them back to the public for excellent prices. Because the M14 was mostly made with a selector switch, and service M16s are either all automatic or burst, the CMP cannot sell these surplus rifles to the public. As of now there is no full auto to semi automatic conversion program in place. Note that the rifle sales are “surplus” firearms, not just M1 Garands. This includes M1 Carbines, M1903A1/A3 rifles, M1917 Enfields, .22 rifles used by the military for training and drill rifles (both demilitarized M1 Garands and Daisy M1903 Springfield’s). Ironically, when the author visited the store there were far more drill rifles on sale than functioning rifles. These drill Garands costed just about as much as the functioning ones! Stores also stock extra firearms equipment such as ammunition, stocks, parts, receivers, barrels, books, and competition gear (jackets, slings, gloves, etc…)
Now before readers become excited about buying a legitimate .30-06 M1 Garand for a great price (Service Grade $525 in person or $625 mail order), the CMP has certain requirements that must be reached before a civilian can purchase one. A purchaser must be a member of a CMP affiliated club (local gun clubs, some Boy Scouts of America chapters count), must show proof of U.S. citizenship and age, proof of marksmanship activity (past competitions, instructor status, CCW etc…) and be eligible to purchase a firearm (no criminal record, honorable discharge). To be eligible, one does not have to be a resident from the state that the CMP store is located in. This is an interesting feature about the CMP because they are a chartered organization by Congress and thus FFL exempt. Typical FFL purchase checks are not used in the purchase process and the rifle can be shipped directly to your home. Not to an FFL where you have to sign for it but overnight shipping to your place of residence.
If readers are disheartened by all these requirements there are two caveats that took some researching for the author to figure out. The first is that the easiest way to satisfy the club requirement is to purchase a year long membership in the Garand Collectors Association (GCA, $25). Or to simply be active duty military, this bypass’s all the civilian requirements with a military CAC card. The author is of yet not sure about reservists, National Guard or service academies/ROTC but all it takes is a phone call to the CMP. Service members take note!
So what’s the catch here? Apart from the eligibility requirements, the catch is that the CMP sells only what they have in stock. If they don’t have it, then they obviously cannot put it up for purchase. For example sales of carbines, Enfields, and Springfields have already been exhausted and are almost impossible to find nowadays at either store or through mail order. And with the Garands, they have limited quantities. The author called the store the week before he visited and they had 12 on hand, the day of his visit they were down to 10 and currently they are at 9 or lower because of my purchase. If they don’t have any in stock, then you simply have to be patient until they do get some. Also readers must note that although these are legitimate M1 Garands and not modern day Fulton Armory/ Springfield Armory reproductions, they are usually not in the complete state they were when they left the wartime Massachusetts Springfield Armory or Winchester plants. They are surplus and thus were used extensively throughout their service period. What the CMP excels at is they take these rifles, break them down, replace any part that shows wear, function checks and test fires them with proof rounds by competent armors. For example, the rifle I chose rolled off the production lines in 1948 with a Springfield receiver but has a Winchester stock. And if any reliability issues should surface, the CMP will take it back, fix it, and send it right back to the shooter.
Usually when people think of the CMP and the surplus rifle program, they think of the mail order process (which can take months!) or the CMP North Store at Camp Perry, Ohio. This is all very well if you live anywhere near Ohio, but what if you live in the south? The CMP has a southern location in Anniston, Alabama called the CMP South Store. Sorry West Coast, maybe if your side of the country wasn’t colored blue every election you might have had a chance but in the time being you have to mail order. The Anniston Store isn’t as outfitted and large as the North Store but it is very well maintained and does have a decent selection of Garands. I was on a weekend trip to Atlanta with some friends and would have been damned had I not gone not even an hour out of my way to take advantage of this opportunity.
The store is a controlled firearms facility, it has separate entrance and exit doors and different offices to control the administrative side of the house. The main room is a small warehouse, filled with it’s inventory. As I walked through I took everything in, examining all the rifles and various other sorts of equipment. I made my way to the rifles that I came for, which were the “Service Grade” M1 Garands (CMP has Field, Service, Collectors, Rack, CMP Special, and even M1D Sniper grades, all for different prices). Luckily for me, there was another customer there who was an avid competition shooter and Garand collector. He told me about the various conditions the rifles were in, and had a throat erosion gauge on hand. This was especially useful because you can’t measure throat erosion by simply looking at the muzzle. So he inserted the gauge in each rifle and we found one that had a measure of 2 which is perfect for the Garand. On one of the rifles, the gauge slipped almost all the way in, this is very bad if the rifle is intended for any accurate shooting. Collecting is a completely different matter because that is more dependent on the rifle’s condition, manufacture date and intactness. Although the history buff in me wanted one for historical value, a rifle’s purpose is to put rounds downrange accurately and consistently, so I went with the rifle that had the measure of 2 and thus was a shooter.
After a short and brisk purchase process, throughout which the CMP staff were absolutely wonderful and friendly, helping me at every step of the way, the rifle was officially mine and I was a happy camper to say the very least. I opted to get it shipped back to North Carolina as I didn’t want to deal with the headache of keeping a high power rifle in my car trunk throughout the rest of my stay in inner city Atlanta. I also bought an original M14 stock (although CMP doesn’t sell M14s, they do stock their component parts minus selector switches), 200 rounds of .30-06, and 20 “en bloc” clips for $25.
The rifle arrived in a cardboard box with the case enclosed inside. Although the CMP can deliver right to your doorstep, it is still a functioning firearm and thus postal rules are strict as they need to be. An adult needs to sign for the package and it’s shipped overnight through FedEx from whichever CMP store you bought it from. If no adult is present, the currier will take it back to the FedEx facility and return another day. The case is a standard foam padded firearms case of a green color and “CMP” em-blazed on the front. Inside is the M1 with a CMP yellow chamber flag preventing the bolt from closing. Also enclosed is a plastic bag with a manual, an en bloc clip, and a certificate of authenticity with your name/serial number and date of purchase. It doesn’t come with a sling but you can buy one at the CMP store. I didn’t purchase one because I already had a green parade sling at the time and the store didn’t have M1917 leather loop slings while I was there.
The night before I had loaded up all of the 25 en bloc clips I had and shot around 7 clips through the M1. I first loaded a single round to test it and fired it, then loaded a clip and it performed flawlessly. The range I was at didn’t extend past 75 meters so I shot a clip for accuracy at 30 meters and it produced a nice 3 inch group from a prone position. The ground I was shooting from was very rocky and it was more of a confirmation group than a true test of its accuracy. No doubt I’ll take it to a larger range in the future and see how well it does further downrange. Inserting the clip takes some getting used to and there is the ever present fear of “M1 thumb” which means your thumb gets caught in the action from the bolt slamming forward. So just be careful at first until you get the hang of it.
I’ve shot M1 Garands before and they have always been a blast to be able to fire a rifle that was truly revolutionary when it was produced and used. But to actually finally own one and shoot something that is truly yours is quite the thrill. From a shooter’s perspective the rifle is extremely rugged and is capable of competition shooting out to 600 meters. But from a historical perspective it is also amazing. To actually hold in your own hands and fire a weapon that helped win the Second World War is unmatched. It is reminiscent of a time when rifles were made of steel and wood. Quite unlike the aluminum and polymer contraptions of today. And as Patton once put it, the M1 Garand “is the greatest battle rifle ever devised”.