Odd Guns: MAS 49/56

    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:


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



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


    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:


    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:


    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:


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




    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:


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




    Concentration and a rest really helped me group this thing:


    So how did it do?

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


    And the best:


    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:



    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:


    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.