Odd Guns: MAS 49/56

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I love France. My first venture to the country in 2008 allowed me to witness the unparalleled beauty of both the urban centers and the countryside, and despite rumors of anti-American sentiment I was always treated with respect despite my very weak grasp on the French language. However one feature about the country that surprised me was the fact that the French have a thriving gun culture, and rank very high in civilian gun ownership on a global scale.

The French are responsible for some of the most important developments in small arms technology in history, so much so that they have at times produced firearms that have overnight made every other gun on the planet obsolete. That however is getting into Nathaniel F.’s territory, so I will stick with evaluating boomsticks.

Anyways, the subject of this installment of the Odd Guns series is the delightful MAS 49/56 rifle. The model 49 was France’s big swing at a standard issue auto-loader and I must say that they did a bang up job. The gun operates via direct impingement, making it DI before DI was cool. In fact, the French invented direct impingement with the French ENT 1901 Rossignol B1 rifle (Nathaniel, learn me on this one!) but the French design is DI in its purest form: gasses divert from the barrel into a tube and slam into a trap on the carrier.

Eugene Stoner did not consider his AR10 design to be direct impingement, stating that “This invention is a true expanding gas system rather than the conventional impinging system” In other words, a MAS-49 uses gas directly striking the bolt carrier to effect movement. Stoner by his own definition and his own patent application specifically states that the AR10 uses a “gas expansion system” using a piston and cylinder. Thus a pedantic individual can pipe up and declare how his AR is in fact not DI, but come on folks, lets let that one go and adhere to the colloquial usage!

The 49/56 is a model 49 with a few bells and whistles but we will get to that later. The receiver is magnificently machined and very sturdily constructed:

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Using stripped clips designed for the earlier bolt-action MAS 36, the 10 round detachable mags of the 49/56 can be topped off:

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The French are notorious for not putting safety mechanisms on their firearms, but they caved on the model 49:

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Controls are easy to use: mags detach by depressing a lever, the safety is flipped forward with the trigger finger, and the large nylon handle on the bolt carrier allows the user to charge the weapon:

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The big rubber but pad seen in the photos is a factory option for both the 49 and the 36, and your shoulder will thank you for using one! The trigger is decent on the MAS 49/56 and shooting it is downright awesome. You really feel like you are shooting a man’s rifle when you light off some 7.5 French ammo:

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Of course I was interested in seeing if my friend Patrick would take to the rifle. Patrick is a United States Army veteran and Garand enthusiast, so I was not sure how he would take to this strange french auto loader. He familiarized himself with the weapon and got right to it:

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I also managed to capture a full cycle of the gun with my camera on action mode:

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Patrick really liked the rifle and I am quoting him here:

Honestly, I like it better than the Garand. Recoil is softer, it has detachable mags, neat features, and it is just a great shooter. Say, how much are these?”

I was taken aback. A US Army vet and ‘Merica all-the-way guy was tickled by the 49/56. The best part is perhaps that they can be had for around $500, which is much less than a Garand. The downside of course is ammunition availability.

After this little experiment it was time to see how the MAS performed accuracy wise. I set up a target at 100 yards and shot five groups of five shots each:

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The sights on the MAS are not as good as Garand sights, but they are not bad by any means.

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Boom!

Concentration and a rest really helped me group this thing:

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So how did it do?

Well, here is the worst at 100 yards with irons:

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And the best:

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With magnification and hand loads I believe the MAS 49/56 could be a 1.5 inch or better rifle and I was pleased with the accuracy test.

Other features of the 49/56 that make it unique are of course the gas cutoff, grenade sight, and grenade distance adjustment. However the coolest add-on I think is the night sight tube. The tube slips over the barrel and has a set of glowing bits that allow for better aiming at night:

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Pretty cool huh?

After a range session with the MAS, cleaning is easy. A button on the rear of the receiver allows you to remove the top cover, recoil spring, firing pin, bolt and carrier:

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The rifle’s simplicity is very evident here!

All in all for a $500 surplus gun, I would advise anyone to check out a MAS 49/56 rifle. While odd and relatively uncommon, they are excellent and fun shooters that would make a fine addition to any collection.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more odd guns!



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • SP mclaughlin

    By nice French people I assume you don’t mean the Parisians.

    • Spidouz

      I confirm, you’re right.

      Just like some Americans in bid cities (such NYC), the Parisians could be very very rude… not only to Americans or other Tourists, but to anybody. And it’s even worst when you’re using the subway, visiting the tourist places (Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre, Montmartre, etc…).

      But if you actually visit a little bit outside of the Parisian area, you’ll discover that not all French are rude (some are for sure, but not all).

      • Would you say you “condemn Parisians without recourse”? ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Spidouz

          Not all of them. We cannot rule for everyone because of acts of some. But I do agree that a majority of Parisians are rude, even more to foreigners.

          • Pardonnez-moi, I was making a bad joke. See my comment here about the French testing commission’s opinion of rotating bolts.

      • 1leggeddog

        Yup.

        Paris and Marseille: Shit hole.
        Rest of the country: Friendliest folks you’ll ever meet.

        • Spidouz

          And is that a surprise that Paris and Marseille are the cities with large percentage of known criminals (and potential terrorists)?

    • Yellow Devil

      Yep. As my mother quipped shortly coming back from a lifelong dream trip to Paris “The French are so full of sh%t”. And she never swore.

      Apparently they pissed her off after thinking my parents were Japanese. And they pissed the Parisians off by actually being Americans.

      • Spidouz

        Every country/people talk trash on its neighbors. Europe has a long history of wars and rivalries from the past. So there’s always so jokes and fun made on others. As long as it’s friendly, it’s no big deal ๐Ÿ˜‰

        • iksnilol

          Being from the Balkans (Bosnia to be specific) I always find the Scandiavian countries attempts to insult one another funny. You call that nationalism!? Puh-lease, we from the Balkans have got you beat by a long shot.

          • Tom

            In the case of Scandinavia I think a lot of it is to do with the linguistic and cultural similarities, they are not in what we might call that different from each other.

            As for the Parisians it would be unfair to judge all French people by them – hay even the French think Parisians are rude. Though I suspect a lot of it is just the Parisians living up to a reputation. Thats the thing with stereotypes once they come into existence our own confirmation bias tends to assert itself and rather than identifying an individual as say rude or sarcastic we identify the entire nation or city as such.

          • SP mclaughlin

            Normans, on the other hand, seemed really nice (not sure if its because of D-Day though.)

          • A good deal of that is from our actions in WWII. Some villages have old Sherman tanks in the town square as a memorial.

    • Tassiebush

      Is anyone else getting a mental image of those rude French knights from Monty Python’s Holy Grail?

  • wetcorps

    I wouldn’t call our gun culture “thriving” anymore, but thanks for the compliment anyway.
    You could say it’s more thriving than Americans would expect from a “communist hellhole” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Tassiebush

      Hey wetcorps, how does hunting access to land for hunting work over there in France?I saw something years ago that gave me the impression that it was more or less a right? That’s if my memory is correct…

      • wetcorps

        Hi.

        I don’t really know a lot about hunting, I’m more of a (ot so good) range shooter and general gun nut myself.

        From a quick search on wikipedia, “more or less a right” seems to be pretty accurate.
        Of course it’s heavily regulated, but apparently you can go and hunt on someones property by default. If you don’t want people to hunt on your land, you have to go out of your way to make it official, make signs and stuff. Also you can’t be a hunter yourself. It’s not a “I don’t want people to go hunting here”, more like a “nobody will hunt here, ever”. You still have to get rid of pests, too.

        The goal of this is to keep hunting a common man activity (as opposed as some other countries where it’s more of a rich man thing. We still have about 1 million hunters).

        I guess it has something to do with the way the land itself is shared, in a pretty cramped european country where you can’t have a stroll without stumbling into someone’s backyard. No big deserts and wild forests like in the US.

        It’s probably organized locally in various ways, as I said I don’t really know a whole lot about hunting.

        • Tassiebush

          Thanks for explaining that for me. That sounds very egalitarian. Here in Tasmania you must have owner permission beforehand and need permission to use someone’s land or join a club just to have a gun licence. You can get a permit to shoot in state forest too. You’re not allowed to fire a gun within 250m of a dwelling without occupant’s permission or within 250m of a road so it can be quite limited. I prefer the French way! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • echelon

    DI…see the French really are at fault for all of our World’s problems…lol.

    • Direct impingement is defecating where you masticate. The MAS does it in the great outdoors whilst the AR does it in the living room.

      • Zachary marrs

        Do you know how i know you dont know anything about ar’s?

        • I’ve owned and shot both, MAS was cleaner and had a more pleasant recoil impulse.

          • Zachary marrs

            The ar isn’t di

      • mosinman

        like blowback sub machine guns and pistols?

  • Kris

    Re: Ammo availability. Prvi makes it and AIM Surplus regulary carries it. Also, it is a very easy round to reload, takes .308 bullets and can be loaded to 7.62x51mm specs. There…solved it for ya’

    BTW, I have a MAS 49/56 unissues, still in comso and wax paper, with a full set of accessories…one of these days I’ll unwrap it. They are one of the last great wood and steel battle rifles along with the FN49, G3, M14/M1A and FAL.

    • Hey Chris,

      Haven’t seen it at AIM in a while but I have found some privi here and there. I think I do need to start reloading again though!

    • KestrelBike

      Oh wow very interesting on the ability to reload at with .308 bullets. Not that I disbelieve you Kris, but can someone else chime in to confirm that fact? (so it’s 2 random people on the internet saying it can be done, and not just one ; )

      • Kris

        Always a good idea to confirm anything you see on the Internet. Do some searches…LOTS of info on reloading the 7.5. There are small bore differences between the two bullets nominal but they are extremely small. Max 308 loads can be 10K+ PSI higher than 7.5 so starting at the low end of ranges and working up, watching for signs of pressure is always smart

  • Spidouz

    I confirm. You can find a lot of MAS 49/56 converted in different caliber.

    Up to 2013, some “war” calibers required an authorisation to be owned (NFA-like paperwork). So a lot of surplus military rifles were converted in “hunting” caliber, which surprisingly include also the .308.

    You can also find a lot of .30-284 version, which is a caliber that use resized 7.5×54 French case (or sometimes a 7.5×55 Swiss for some rifle such the K31). It’s a neck up cartridge to use standard .308 bullet. You can buy some 7.5×55 French bullets from Prvi Partisan or so, keep them and then resize them and reload them with standard .308 components.

    • Wetcoaster

      It wouldn’t surprise me if the French lawmakers are lax about updating their laws or the legislative bureaucracy simply makes it difficult to adjust.

      Since France initially stayed with the 7.5mm instead, the .308 would not have been a French military round. Give it a couple decades to get really popular, and by the time the French military changed over to the 5.56mm / 7.62mm pair and the round may have become so entrenched in the hunting community that politicians would be unwilling to risk a backlash by upsetting the status quo

      • Spidouz

        I actually don’t know the real reason why… but your explication sounds very plausible to me.

        As said, the French military used the .223 and 7.5 French calibers for a very long time. So Hunters did use some alternative calibers such the .222 and .308 (as well as 7×64 and 8×57).

        So when the French military finally adopted the 7.62 Nato (.308) caliber instead of the 7.5 French, it would have been tough to change the .308 caliber from “Hunting” category to “War” category.

        Having said that, they had no problem to do some similar stuff with the smooth and rifled pump-action shotgun… Changing from one category to the other.

        And under the current law, you can legally buy a .357 Mag lever action Carbine, without any special authorisation but you’re hunting license or shooting license… but you can’t buy the ammo because the .357 Mag ammo is in a category that required a special authorisation. But guess what? You can buy it in .44 Magnum and then you can legally buy both the carbine and the ammo.

        Does it make any sense? Well I’m sure .44Mag is less “dangerous” than .357Mag… well, I’m sure they probably think that, after all, 357 is a bigger number than 44 ๐Ÿ™‚

        Sometimes, it just proves administration don’t know anything about guns!

        • Wetcoaster

          Living in Canada, and having looked up gun laws for a number of US states and European country, I eventually just accepted that everywhere that allows civilian firearms ownership will also have some wonky gun laws.

          Everyone has wonky laws of course, but there just seems to be a higher liklihood of wonky ones regarding guns (and drugs).

  • A DI rifle designed by Rossignol was completed by 1896 (it used two[!] symmetrical side-mounted gas tubes and was locked via two laterally opposed retractable lugs, like a G43 or EM-2), so they really were ahead. St. Etienne latched on to DI quickly, and after World War I, virtually all of their designs would use it.

    Another interesting feature of the MAS is its tilting bolt, which works similar to an FAL’s or SVT’s. This type of bolt (what Jean Huon has called the “carrier controlled” tilting bolt, as opposed to a claw-retracted tilting bolt like a Bren or StG-44) was invented by the French in the 1920s. The French testing commission at the time had “condemned without recourse” (their words not mine!) the rotating bolt for use in self-loading rifles. Totally wild, given that virtually all modern designs use that system!

    Note: I am not an expert on French rifles. Anyone who is interested in learning what I know can pick up Jean Huon’s excellent book Proud Promise from Amazon or the Collector Grade website. I highly recommend this volume to anyone interested in the history of early selfloading rifles (as much of that history is French).

  • Tassiebush

    Alex, that slip on night sight does look cool! Nice fat dots. Have you tried it out in the dark?

    • I have and whatever agent they had on it that previously glowed has long since expired ๐Ÿ™

      • Tassiebush

        Bummer! ๐Ÿ™

  • Bought one myself…never fired, only dropped once!

    • Cheese_McQueen

      Oh man, so funny. *rolls eyes*

  • roguetechie

    I absolutely love my mas49/56!!

    So much so that I’m designing and building one up as a precision distance shooting platform (I didn’t attend the official program uncle sam’s all singing all dancing school for wayward young men has so its not sniping!)

    I’ll probably do another with a stock system that will be sort of my homage to the A-team and the folding stock from the bm59 combined… Probably with a pk-07 Russian optic in a mount I’ll have to fab myself.

    I know I know can you do anything else to make the gun spit in the face of mainstream American gun culture any harder….? I don’t think so, but I’m willing to give it a shot!!

  • It’s a very nice looking rifle. I was fortunate enough to find one today that doesn’t even appear to have been fired. Great wood. Price was $400.

    • Cattoo

      Great! I’ll take it. Thanks Phil.

      • LOL— It’s not going to be cheap or easy to get ammo for. It wasn’t converted to .308 unfortunately.
        Darn near bought an Enfield. This gun shop has so many older desirable guns.

  • UnrepentantLib

    Something that has always bemused me. The predecessor of the MAS 49, the MAS 40, was starting to go into production in 1940. Then the Germans invaded. The Germans seem not to have considered adopting the MAS 40 design, even though they were having issues getting the GEW 41 to work. Perhaps we’re lucky they didn’t.

  • Cheese_McQueen

    Paint me like one of your French guns Alex.

  • CJS3

    I had one of the 308 conversions. Handy rifle, but had problems with slam fires. Ammo availability was the only reason I didn’t get one in 7.5 French

  • Spidouz

    There’s some mistakes in your comment. Allow me to give you some lights (and respond to Josh’s question in the mean time).

    There’s 4 categories of guns under the new 2013 gun law (A, B, C & D).

    Cat. A (full-auto): is everything that is NOT allowed to civilians, which include nuclear submarine, fighter jets, tanks and machine guns. Therefor, it does include all full auto guns.

    Cat. B (semi-auto): is everything that will required an authorisation (NFA like but with no taxe stamp, “only” a ton of paperwork and long wait between 3 to 8 months). It does concern all semi-auto guns with magazine, SBR and handguns. And it also concerns “War” caliber such: 5.45×39, 5.56×45, 7.62×39, 12.7×99 & 14.5×114.

    A civilian can own up to twelve (12) Category B firearms max, and need to be part of a shooting club with medical background check.

    Cat. C (manual action): is everything that could be use for hunting, which includes all bolt action rifle, semi-auto rifle without magazine and 3 rounds max, pump-action shotgun.

    You don’t need authorisation, you can own as many as you want, but you still need to register it and be part of a shooting or have a hunting license.

    Cat. D (1 round per barrel): is everything that can only hold 1 round per barrel such double barrel shotgun, and some of the non-lethal weapons such air guns, some knives or pepper spray, etc…

    You still have to register them.

    So technically, if you want a .223/5.56×45 rifle, you can, but you need an authorisation, and you won’t be able to have more than 12 total.

    So if you have a .22LR pistol, a 9mm, a .45ACP, a .357Mag and a .44Mag, you’re already using 5 of 12 authorisation firearms you can legally own. Add an AR-15, an AK, a SBR and you’re gonna be very close to max out your authorisations.

    But you can have as much cat. C firearms are you want. 7.62x54R Mosins, some Springfield 1903 A3 .30-06, Lee Enfield .303 British, K31 7.5×55 Swiss, Carl Gustav 6.5×55, Mauser 8×57, well you name them… including .308

    Due to some restrictions (and previous laws), you can find a lot of firearms that will be modified with another calibers (for instance .222 instead of .223), or .30-284, 7.62x52R, etc… or even modified to not be semi-auto (by blocking the gas system), so you can find some manually operated M1 Garand, USM1 and MAS 49/56.

    I hope it helps…

    • n0truscotsman

      You know what would be interesting? If somebody made a graphic diagram of French gun laws.

      • Spidouz

        I did it, with a complete article about it (and some history). Since it was for another blog, I don’t know if I can post the link here…

  • 1leggeddog

    A LOVELY rifle i would really love to have in my (future) collection

  • Spidouz

    All ‘Black Powder’ guns and guns made before 1900 are considered as ‘historic/collector’ guns and are available without any restriction (except being over 18 y/o), so it’s Cat. D.

    However, some handguns that use black powder cartridge with primer are still considered as ‘modern’ firearms and therefor as Category B, therefor you need an authorization (from the 12 you can legally own).

  • Cheese McQueen

    What great rifle!

  • Tassiebush

    So that pipe pointing rearwards on the top front of the receiver is a spigot that gets enclosed by the bolt carrier until it vents gas when fired?Looks very nice and simple!

    • Tassiebush

      And gosh the magazine catch is on the magazine!

  • echelon

    I’m aware of these things. I was merely trolling for fun on this one! I apologize if my sense of humor was missed in the post! Hahaha.

  • Y-man

    After a firefight with the Nomads, in a fort in the Eastern Sahara, can just imagine Beau Geste holding this rifle, butt to his hip, muzzle pointing up, as he surveys the carnage of yet another failed attack…

    Le fort est sรปr ! Mon Capitaine…