USNMT members use U.S. Service Rifles and Service Pistols for most matches, and other guns for other matches. U.S. Service Rifles and Service Pistols are those that have, at some point in history, been adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces for general issue to troops. Today, only the three most recently-adopted Service Rifles and the two most recently-adopted Service Pistols are used in Navy, Interservice, and National marksmanship competitions.
U.S. Service Rifles
U.S. Rifle Caliber .30 M1
Known as the “Garand,” after its inventor, John C. Garand, the M1 was adopted by the U.S. in 1936. Gen. George C. Patton called the M1 “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” The M1 was the only semi-automatic rifle to withstand the tests of the battlefield during World War II.
As Major General Julian S. Hatcher (U.S. Army), Chief of the Small Arms Division in the Ordnance Department and the Assistant Commandant of the Ordnance School before and at the beginning of the war, later explained, the benefit of the M1 was two-fold: first, because, like all semi-automatic firearms, it reloads itself between shots, an individual equipped with the rifle can hold it in “shooting position” between shots (rather than coming out of position to operate the manual action of other rifles), making the aiming and firing process more efficient. Second, because the M1 reloads itself, the individual using it did not give away his position by moving around, operating the bolt handle of a manually-loading rifle.
More than 5.5 million M1s were produced before and during World War II and during the Korean War by Springfield Armory, Winchester, Harrington and Richardson, and International Harvester. M1s are commonly available on the commercial market today, and can also be purchased from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) by members of affiliated shooting clubs.
The .30 caliber ammunition used in the M1, known as “.30-06 Springfield” in civilian parlance, has been one of the most widely used calibers for target shooting and hunting since its introduction in 1906.
A popular variant of the M1 is the Navy M1 Mk 2, modified to use 7.62 NATO (.308 Winchester) ammunition adopted for service use in 1956. Both rifles use en bloc clips holding eight rounds of ammunition.
The M1, like the M14 and M16, and unlike the service rifles of most other nations, is equipped with a rear sight capable of immediate adjustment for both elevation and windage, in keeping with the unique, historic American emphasis upon individual marksmanship. (Most other nations’ service rifles are readily adjustable for elevation alone.)
U.S. Rifle Caliber 7.62 M14
Following World War II, the United States and its European allies considered the logistical benefits of adopting a common rifle and caliber of ammunition to replace the wide variety of rifles and ammunition they had used during the war. Agreement among the nations was not immediately forthcoming. In 1956, mostly due to the U.S. refusal to deviate from caliber .30 projectiles, a standard caliber of ammunition was agreed upon by the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and France. The caliber, 7.62 NATO (a/k/a .308 Winchester), retained most of the ballistic capabilities of the previous Caliber .30 round, firing the same diameter bullet from a slightly shorter cartridge case they believed would function more efficiently in machine guns.
A common rifle to use the new ammunition was never agreed upon. While many countries ultimately adopted the FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger, Light Automatic Rifle) invented by Dieudonne Saive and produced by Fabrique Nationale of Belgium, the United States adopted the M14, developed by Springfield Armory and derived in considerable measure from the M1.
The M14 is a selective-fire rifle (meaning that the operator can switch back and forth between semi-automatic and fully-automatic fire at will), though M14s used for competition have been modified to be incapable of fully-automatic fire. Because fully-automatic firearms are heavily regulated under federal law and private ownership of them is prohibited under the laws of roughly half the states, a semi-automatic-only version of the M14, known generally as the M1A, was developed and is widely used by target shooters. Like the semi-automatic-only version of the M16, the AR-15, the M1A was declared an “assault weapon” by legislation signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. In the case of the M1A, the factor bringing it under the law’s arbitrary definition of “assault weapon” is its bayonet mounting feature. Though no one has suggested that even a single crime has been committed with a bayonet affixed to a rifle (of any sort), new M1As are made without the bayonet mount to comply with the law.
U.S. Rifle Caliber 5.56 M16
As early as World War I, pre-Soviet Russia began experimenting with rifles designed to fire ammunition less powerful than standard service rifles. After the war, Germany decided that a rifle with less ballistic potential than their standard 7.92 cal. Mauser would be desirable for its soldiers, since the overall weight of the rifle and ammunition could be reduced and still allow for an increase in the amount of ammunition a solider could carry, and the reduced recoil of the less powerful ammunition would reduce the soldier’s recoil fatigue.
For a variety of factors, Germany did not produce such a rifle in large quantities until after World War II. But late in the war it began equipping some troops with “Sturmgewehrs” (assault rifles), select-fire rifles using a shortened 7.92mm “Kurz” round. In 1945, the Soviet Union adopted its SKS rifle, chambered to fire a shortened version of the old Russian 7.62x54R round, 7.62×39. Seeking to improve upon the SKS, and largely emulating the Sturmgewehrs, Soviet weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov developed the AK-47, which was adopted by the U.S.S.R. in 1947 and ultimately became the most widely-produced military rifle in history.
In 1948, the U.S. Army established the Operations Research Office, which determined that, compared to the much greater firing distances commonly encountered in World War I, the firing distances most common in World War II and the Korean War were less than 300 meters and “kills” were generally achieved at less than 100 meters.
In 1957, the U.S. Army Continental Army Command sought the development of a rifle chambered to fire 5.56mm ammunition (.223 Remington), a round much less powerful than the 7.62. The Small Arms Weapons Study (1966-1967) determined that the best rifle of that caliber was the selective-fire AR-15, invented by Eugene Stoner. Over Army objections, then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara ordered more than 100,000 of the rifles, designated “M16,” for Vietnam.
For a variety of reasons, only some of which were inherent to the rifle, the original version of the M16 malfunctioned too easily during part of the Vietnam War. Lessons learned, the M16 has been improved periodically over the years and today, in its M16A2 configuration, it is the most accurate service rifle employed in the world though not necessarily the most reliable mechanically.
The Navy was the first Armed Service to field a team using the M16 in National competition. In 1994, the Army Marksmanship Unit became the first Service to use match-grade M16s universally.
The M14 remains the Navy standard for match purposes, while the Army and the Marine Corps have switched to the M16.
Civilian and military armories have developed modifications to the M16, making it the most accurate service rifle, for target shooting competitions, except at the longest distances, where it rivals but does always outperform the M14. The early “AR-15” designation is now used to refer to semi-automatic-only versions of the M16. Like M1As, modern AR-15s have been categorized as “assault weapons.” To comply with the definitions in federal law, AR-15s produced today do not have their standard bayonet mount and flash suppressor.
Long Range Rifles
For 1,000-yard National Rifle Association (NRA) High Power Long Range matches, such as the Interservice “any rifle/any sight” Long Range match and the Wimbledon Trophy Match during the NRA National Championships, USNMT members use telescopically sighted bolt-action rifles. Though not “service rifles,” strictly speaking, telescopically sighted, highly-accurate rifles are widely used by U.S. Armed Forces.
U.S. Service Pistols
M1911A1 Caliber .45 ACP Pistol
The United States adopted John Browning’s “.45 Automatic” in 1911, hence the M1911 model designation. After World War I, it was modified slightly and, as the M1911A1, the modified pistol was adopted as the Service Pistol in 1926. The 9mm Beretta M9 replaced the M1911A1 as the Service Pistol in 1982, but many M1911A1s remain in use by the Navy. The M1911A1 is also the most widely commonly used centerfire target pistol among civilian and military marksmen alike. Nearly two million M1911A1s and a half million M1911s were produced for the Armed Forces, many later sold to civilians. Additionally, many commercial manufacturers continue to produce regular-grade and match-grade M1911A1s in significant quantities. The pistol is of single-action type and uses magazines of seven rounds capacity.
M9 Caliber 9mm
To standardize ammunition with NATO, the U.S. Army in 1982 adopted the 9mm Beretta semi-automatic Model 92 pistol as the “M9. It didn’t replace the 1911A1 in Army service for several years. The M9 did not officially replace the 1911A1 in U.S. Navy service until 1996. The Navy was the last service to adopt the M9. Army Marksmanship Unit armories have recently introduced modifications to the pistol that make it suitable for precision target shooting. The pistol is of double-action type, and uses magazines of 15 rounds capacity.