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Becker County Sportsman - There are many great infantry rifles of the world

All of the world's important nations maintain an army. These forces may, ostensibly, be for the protection of its people, but regrettably, more often they may be used for keeping the populace in submission. And, of course, nations have been known to make war on each other.

The basic unit of armies is the infantry. This is the foot soldier, who is on the scene -- the front line -- with arms and ammunition, which will do the will of the authority. The infantry soldier has a rifle as his basic equipment.

Many of the world's best infantry rifles have developed into very satisfactory hunting rifles for sportsmen. Among these -- probably the most prominent -- is Paul Mauser's turning bolt rifle. The Mauser 98 has long been the firearm of the German armed forces and was used in two world wars. It has been made in many European countries and is used extensively in South American nations. In Germany, the cartridge was a 32 caliber 190 grain bullet, but the 7mm Mauser is the choice for Brazil, Argentina, and other nations. In the USA, many Mauser rifles are made up and chambered for the .30-06, the .270 Winchester, .257 Roberts, .220 Swift and just about any other popular center fire cartridge developed here.

The U.S. Garand, M-1 rifle was the mainstay in World War II. It was developed at the beginning of that outbreak and it replaced the Springfield .30-06, which our forces used in World War One. General George S. Patton declared the Garand as being the best infantry implement ever developed.

The M-I Garand is a very heavy rifle, almost 10 1/2 pounds when loaded with its clip magazine. The GIs who used it had difficulty managing it and welcomed the lightweight Winchester Carbine M-1, which shot a less effective 30 caliber cartridge. This carbine had mobility all right, but was a short range cartridge. Its lack of power led the Minnesota legislature to enact a law specifically banning its use for deer hunting in our state.

The Garand never developed into a sporting firearm either, as it is not adapted to sporterizing; reducing its weight and utility.

The US Springfield .30-06 was another matter. Patterned after the Mauser 98, it lent itself into being fitted with a sportier style butt stock, and its receiver shape accommodated scope bases or receiver sights.

Griffin & Howe, an important buyer of Springfield rifles in the 1920 era, made a big business of conversion of these rifles to sporters, and the result was a very nice sporting rifle. Usually the .30-06 chambering was retained, but other popular U.S. calibers could be had for more money.

In 1914, Britain was at war with Germany. That nation needed more infantry rifles and the Springfield Massachusetts U.S. Armory was called upon to manufacture Enfield rifles at its main plant. The rifles were, of course, chambered for the British .303 caliber, but the U.S. Department of the Army saw the opportunity to have our arsenal holdings increased.

However, the Enfields made at Springfield were chambered for the U.S. .30-06. The Enfield is also a heavy rifle, and it has the somewhat peculiar trait of cocking when the bolt is pushed in, not when it is lifted, as with the Mauser and Springfield. It doesn't lend itself to sporterizing as readily. One reason is the necessity of having massive "ears" milled off so that scope bases may be installed.

The Norwegian .30-40 Krag-Jorgenson is a fine infantry rifle, has long served that Scandinavian nation, and lends itself to sporterizing for hunting use.

The U.S. Army began experimenting with a change of cartridges about 1960, finally settling upon the 7.62 NATO cartridge, replacing the venerable .30-06. The cartridge developed into the .308 Winchester, and is enjoying fair popularity. But the development wasn't finished. We went on to develop a short and speedy cartridge, finally settling upon the new NATO round. Commercially, it is known as the .223 Remington and its popularity surprised the military and the U.S. sportsman alike. It is used as the U.S. M-l4 rifle, which can be used as a single shot or fully automatic. Of course, the civilian version is not fully auto.

The greatest infantry rifle does not lend itself to sporterizing. It simply is not adaptable for hunting use, but it has made a name for itself, initially in the closing months of World War II by Russian troops.

The Kalashnikov AK-47 was invented by Soviet tank gunner Mikial Kalasnikov, when he was in an Army hospital recovering from the siege at Stalingrad.

Sergeant Kalashnikov was an inventive genius, whose understanding of small mechanisms and their workings came without any formal training. Russian armories needed every little modification and adjustment of the sergeant's original design. The AK-47 was rushed into production and enough of them were in the hands of the Soviet infantry to defeat the armies of Nazi Germany in the winter of that invasion. The AK-47 uses a 30 round clip, and is operable as a single shot rifle or it will go fully automatic as a machine gun. Its accuracy is something to be desired, but it serves well as a standard range infantry rifle.

The AK-47 has been copied by many nations. It is prominent in all of the former states of the Soviet Union, of course, and has been produced in Brazil and is being adapted to South American armies.

Military historians who keep tabs on such things estimate that more than 16 million AK-47 rifles have been built. The cartridge is a 7.26 mm round of about 172 grains weight. It is reliable and functions well in extreme climatic situations. But you'll not find it in a sporting goods store.

Military infantry needs rifles that are foolproof and dependable -- characteristics that aren't as vital when lending themselves to sport hunting. Yet some have made the transition. The best bet for a hunter or target shooter is still the standard rifle, designed and made for our civilian purposes.