Blast from the Past: The Carbine Compromise

Its amazing how the times and thinking changes over time. Guns and Ammo posted up an article from 1966 on the debate of full-size rifles versus carbines. Its a fascinating read, giving you a glipse into the mindset of the day. To put it simply, the carbine was viewed skeptically. The tagline is interesting to analyze:

A carbine’s diminutive size and weight may make it handy, but here’s a few additional — and surprising — facts you should know.



A Leupold for only $50!?

Instantly, the reader is given a less than positive outlook of carbines. The diction evokes negative connotations with the word “diminuatie.” Further, syntax and the break are juxtaposed to immediately offset the “handiness.” Prejudice, perhaps?

Head over to Guns and Ammo to read the article. I promise you will enjoy it.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • wv cycling

    People still get their undies in a bunch about cabine length sniper rifles, yet research is showing that the “compromise” may just be worth the weight loss.

    … or that is how I understand it, no?

    • Grindstone50k

      Some people just get so bitchy over a 100fps difference.

  • Drapetomanius

    If Jeff were alive today, one suspects that he would sing a very different tune. Even holding technology ceteris paribus, shooter’s opinions evolve over time. Throw in the massive changes in technology and military paradigms, and he’d (probably) come down on the side of carbines for most applications. Maybe.

    • TFB Reader

      Yeah, and we’d be pronouncing “carbine” correctly. At least I would, according to him.

      • Fred Johnson

        I say carbine both ways, I don’t know why, and I can’t stop doing it.

    • Bill

      I don’t think the Colonel would change his mind about anything ;). He’d be holding out for a ” main battle rifle”

  • Note that the Remington M600 in the lower photo is basically Cooper’s prototype for what he would later dub a Scout Rifle.

    • Pete Sheppard

      My first thought when I saw that forward-mounted scope.

      • Maynard P. Buehler appeared to be quite fond of the forward mounted Leupold M8-2x and featured it in a lot of his advertisements starting around 1963. The gunwriter Les Bowman was also a fan. However, neither of them attached a catchy name to the concept.

  • Axel

    ‘ “A kind of firearm, shorter than the musket, for use by mounted
    soldiers” is what my dictionary calls a carbine. We don’t have many
    mounted soldiers anymore, but we still have carbines. The question is
    whether they serve a useful purpose. ‘

    Well today, most infantry is mechanized, so by the authors own rationale, the carbine is once again viable.

    • Phillip Cooper

      What do you call soldiers in vehicle?

      “Mounted soldiers”

      • big daddy

        Mounted soldiers = Cav troops & mech infantry or armored infantry. 19D scouts out.

        • Phillip Cooper

          I’m quite aware, having been 11M myself. This is my point…

          • big daddy

            I’m agreeing with you Phillip.

      • dan citizen

        My airforce brother called them “target anomalies”

    • Axel

      Someone else named Axel on TFB? What?

      • gunslinger


      • You’re experiencing total cell division. It’s perfectly normal for a bacterium your age. 😉

  • jamezb

    For some reason the link is no longer working . 7:13am cst

  • iksnilol

    I don’t know what my stance is. I prefer 50 cm (20 inch) barrels on 308 and its equivalents (22-24 inch for 6.5x55mm) and I like 12-13 inch barrels in 7.62x39mm. I like short barrels but not too short (louder and noise is closer to you).

  • Pete Sheppard

    From a 48 year distance, the article has its funny parts. 19-20″ a carbine? Now we look at 16″ as carbine length. Also, the great ‘M16 Hater’ himself states that the .223 packs a pretty fair punch. THEN, there’s the complaint that $200 for an AR and a couple of mags is astronomical!! Things were indeed MUCH different in ’66.

    • Sadler

      Adjusted for inflation, $200 in 1966 is about $1500 today. Which is fairly expensive.

      • Pete Sheppard

        Ah. Thanks! 🙂

      • Cymond

        That’s still fair considering the $1500-$2000 price tag on most modern rifles, like the SCAR, Tavor, ARX-100, MP-X, etc.

    • Fred Johnson

      What’s interesting is that some carbines aren’t even called carbines anymore. For instance, River’s own Gunsite Scout RIFLE, and the new American Ranch RIFLE.

      Maybe the term carbine is fading away . . .

      • Fred Johnson

        Damn auto correct! Ruger not River!!!

        • Pete Sheppard

          Look below your post; there’s an ‘edit’ icon.
          The ‘carbine’ is alive and well; note ARs with 14.5 to 16 in barrels are called carbines. Considering the original Armalite was procured as a replacement for the M1 and M2 carbines, it’s amusing to see a carbine version of a carbine… ;P

          • Fred Johnson

            Maybe I should become something other than a guest. Us Guests have not edit feature.

          • Fred Johnson

            Dammit! No, not not!!! 😀

          • Pete Sheppard

            Fred, I hope you can work it out…shifting keys is indeed frustrating!

  • echelon

    I hope 50 years from now people look back on the articles of today and laugh and scoff at “SBR laws” and restrictions on suppressors and the like. Wishful thinking I’m sure, but one can always dream…

  • Phillip Cooper

    You need to fix the link to the article- you’ve got the text of this TFB article pasted into the HTML link back to this article instead of the G&A URL, which of course fails.

  • KM

    Link goes to TFB. WTF?

  • DC

    So a guy Jeff Cooper knew who served at Attu in the Aleutian islands against T99 7.7mm armed Japanese was outranged on a treeless, frigid, foggy, soaked island because he had an M1 carbine. Uh. Would he have been better off being outranged with a Colt 1911a1 pistol, or an M1a1 Thompson smg?

    So the U.S. M1 carbine was a bad idea insofar as it was meant to replace *pistols* and *smgs*?

  • Rob

    Mr. Cooper states in the article that he doesn’t see any sporting potential for the AR-15. He got that dead wrong. 🙂

  • Nimrod

    I love those old articles. I am a bug fan of Cooper and read all his stuff through the 70s onward. I still have many old 60’s and 70s G&A mags. In retrospect however much of what Cooper wrote was supposition and unsupported opinion That little antidote/story about his friend shooting a Jap with one round and then dropping the mag only to be hacked by a sword doesn’t make any sense. If his friend had already shot the Jap with one round he wouldn’t have needed to disengage the safety or change mags. Why would his finger be off the trigger? Yes that was an issue with early carbines but irrelevant in this case. Much of his writing is similarly questionable. In his defense however, he was paid to write stuff and stuffing is what you got in gun magazines both then and now. Oh, and a carbine is just a shorter version of a rifle. It could have 16″ bbl or a 26″ bbl, there is no set definition.

    • Rob

      I imagine he pushed the magazine release when he actually intended to take off the safety. The mag dropped, but he then managed to find the safety, fire the round in the chamber and then stand there with an empty rifle.

  • Don Ward

    While I am in no way a fan of the current Tacti-cool fad that has permeated modern gun culture, it is always fascinating to read past gun magazine articles during the age of Cult of the Rifleman.

    It’s also handy if you want to know where a good deal of firearms myths originated, this piece is a good place to start. Like many of you, I grew up reading a lot of old articles in gun magazines, Shooters Bibles and whatnot and while there is a bit of nostalgia involved, with the hindsight of history you can’t come away with any other feeling that Mr. Cooper was something of a crank.

    I’ll quote his concluding two paragraphs dismissing the M1 Carbine and AR15 where he is advocating for the use of weapons that are more (!!!!!) difficult to use.

    “Personally, this ease-of-use angle makes me a little uneasy. The British, heavily outnumbered in the Hundred-Years-War, won by means of a weapon which far from being easy to use, was impossible for their enemies to use against them. The deadly, rapid-fire, armor-piercing longbow had to be learned from infancy. The French, Spanish and Scots could not order up drafts of longbowmen where none existed.

    Today, outnumbered as we are in a struggle that may well take another hundred years, I don’t like to see us counting on weapons which are easy to use. These weapons are easy for the enemy to use, too — and there are more of them. Wouldn’t it be comforting if our people were equipped with weapons of such violent power that only the biggest, toughest, best-trained troops in the world could use them?”

    So we need to be using weapons that the ignorant peasant Russkie conscript can’t use when they take it off of our dead bodies? If Cooper tried this sort of argument today, we’d banish him to the realm of WorldNetDaily and InfoWars.

    This is in the same article, mind you, where he denigrates the M1 Carbine for how confusing it was with the magazine release being located near the safety.

    • Fred Johnson

      “Crank”. Could have been, even back then.

      I still liked reading his material when it was coming out hot off the presses, though.

    • Commenter

      I think Cooper was a bit of a crank, a bit behind even his own time, and a bit ahead of it too.

      IMO he was simply too enamored with his own opinions, and own voice expressing them (his writing, with the ‘Royal We’ affectation is really tiring). But I guess that can happen when you ‘ensconce’ oneself out in the boonies, isolate yourself from criticism, and take on the role of guru to others who know less than you.

      On the other hand, he had some good ideas. There really weren’t too many handguns better than the 1911 in most of his lifetime, so his fixation there can be forgiven. His work on the 10mm/BrenTen showed he could look to the future too. The BrenTen came about before technology would allow a quality gun to be made with the resources he had to devote to it. And while the 10mm as he introduced it was arguably too hot for general work, the .40 S&W would probably have been lauded as revolutionary if it had come out instead, and maybe a few years earlier (before the Wonder 9 craze kicked off). In an era of +P+ ammo, it’s hard to remember that a round that did more than 9mm & with better capacity potential than the .45 ACP was sought & arguably needed then. Cooper tried to make it happen, & he wasn’t too far off on what came from his efforts.

      As for his Scout Rifle concept: I frankly think it was/is ergonomically pretty brilliant. To this day the Steyr Scout is one of the most comfortable rifles I’ve ever shouldered or carried (no experience with the Ruger or others). And the forward mounted scope with long eye relief was essentially his era’s version of the red dot site, long before they became ubiquitous & cheap. It’s a proven innovation now (I mean, who today would claim that ACOGs have not made the AR & other makes a lot more useful?), but again, for most of his time it really didn’t exist. I think the long eye relief scope was yet another of his stabs at advancing things to where we now see (20/20 hindsight) they’ve gone.

      The AR we know and love today didn’t exist either. The M-16 really didn’t acquit itself well in Vietnam, so his aversion to it and civilian semi-autos in general was understandable. Times have changed though, and probably he would have to, on both counts.

      I know I’d love to buy a semi-auto rifle in a stock like the Steyr Scout’s. It would be the perfect long gun for me. I’d put a proper scope on it though 😉

    • G

      Today the longbow is air superiority and a modern carrier fleet.

  • Phil Hsueh

    But wasn’t the Mauser 98k used by the Germans during WW II technically a carbine? How does that fit with the article’s definition of a carbine? Of course now a days we hardly consider the 98k a carbine except maybe in name only.

    I think that the article’s bias against carbines has to do with carbines as we knew them back in ’66. I believe that the modern carbine was still new at the time and all previous known carbines (with the exception of the aforementioned 98k) fired a smaller round than their full sized counterparts. Unless I’m mistaken it really wasn’t until the XM117 that we got a carbine that was really a shortened version of a full sized rifle and fired the same cartridge.

    • The Gewehr 98 has a 29-inch barrel, the Kar98k has a 24 inch barrel. “Shorter”, but amusing to be considered a “carbine”.

      Interestingly, the Carcano 1891 has a relatively short barrel length (about 21 inches according to Wikipedia), and their “carbine” version has a barrel just under 18 inches long.

      The Lee Enfield MK V “Jungle Carbine” has a barrel just under 19 inches, but the flash hider is enormous, and most of the barrel length reduction is probably lost with the addition of this flash hider, although the carbine is significantly lighter than the longer rifle version.

      • “Kar98k” stands for “karabiner 98 kurz” which means “short carbine 98”.

        The definition of “carbine” keeps getting shorter and shorter.

        • Yeah, apparently there was a Karabiner 98b that wasn’t even shortened?

          • Yes, that was to get around arms limitations after WWI.

        • Fred Johnson

          Same thing with the old Swiss K31, which was more or less a redesign of the Swiss 1911 rifle. K standing for Karibiner, too. Yet, the K31 has a nearly a 24″ barrel.

  • Andrew Duffey

    “If one disregards its astronomical price ($200 by the time you’ve bought a couple of extra magazines)…” $200 for a Colt AR-15!? Who has here has a time machine?

    • dan citizen

      I have one I could sell you. Guaranteed, money back if it doesn’t perform.

      It will reliably and continuously carry you forward in time… At the exact normal rate of time.

  • Cameron Bissell

    Could we also realize that without the improvements in powders and bullets, many carbines were disproportaitley louder, flamier, and probably had shorter barrel live because if it. When you can load a 308 or 264 with proper powder and bullet you can get much better performance than we could half a century ago.

  • Fred Johnson

    I love reading old articles. Trying to remember if I actually knew what some of the old references mean is a challenge. I typically lose that challenge and have to look everything up. Michaelmas and Kings-X, indeed. You go, Mr. Cooper.

  • 50 years on, and just about every sportsman owns a Remington 600, a rifle that’s out-sold all its competitors and made Remington THE name in sporting rifles. It’s spawned dozens of clones, though few measure up well against the original.

    Meanwhile, the military has all but abandoned the carbine (and its pandering to the recoil shy) in favor of the now-standard across NATO 26″ barreled 7.62mm battle rifle. The AR-15, once the heir apparent to the infantry rifle throne, lies all but forgotten to soldiers and sportsmen alike. So much for the “jet age rifle.”

    Yup, he was one prescient guy, that Jeff Cooper.

    • Don Ward

      The Battle of Sacramento proved the worth of the NATO 26″ battle rifle, where Marines and civilian marksmen decimated Soviet human wave attacks from distances of 800 yards. Fortunately, captured battle rifles proved to be too difficult for the Commie mind to comprehend.

  • Will

    Jeff Cooper:
    Loud mouthed, blow hard, self serving, highly opinionated, know it all who really knew his stuff.

  • whamprod

    Linkey no workee. “Oops, that page cannot be found.”