When it comes to 7.62 NATO battle rifles, I guess Iíve always had a soft spot in my heart for them with their power, range and accuracy. It wouldnít come as much of a suppress that I own a few of them including some of the classic battle rifles. In this article, I will give my evaluations on 3 of the old classic rifles, the M-14, FN-FAL, and H&K-91.
Starting off, here are some of the specs for each weapon:
M-14: 44.0" overall length, 22" barrel length only, 9.4 lb. loaded
FN-FAL: 44 5/8" overall length, 21" barrel length only, 10 ľ lb. loaded
H&K-91: 40 5/8" overall length, 17 Ĺ" barrel length only, 9.95 lb. loaded
Starting things off at the muzzle, all 3 have flash suppressors and all work very well. I would have to give the edge here to the H&K since it is a bit shorter than the M-14 or G-series FAL. For the other 2 rifles, the M-14 is slightly shorter but the FAL doesnít need s special tool to take it off. Given both of their strengths and weaknesses of their designs, Iíd say that itís a toss up and mainly personal preference.
Moving back to the front sight assembly, the H&K has the best protection of the three with itís large ring followed by the FAL then the M-14. The FAL seems to have thinker metal wings than the M-14 and is more solidly mounted. As for the sight itself, here I would rank the M-14 first since it allows windage adjustments so you can center the rear sight or change it for thicker or thinner front sight blades. The H&K comes in second here since I feel it is a simpler design. The FAL has a pretty good post though I ranked it last since the round post doesnít give as good of a sight picture as the flat posts of the other 2 rifles and needs a special tool to adjust the elevation.
For the reloaders, with the FAL, you also have the gas plug assembly here in the front that allows you to shut off the gas to the system. Itís a nice feature that allows the launching of grenades or more commonly, saving your fired brass. The M-14 also has this feature but is a screw slot in the spindle valve that is harder to work with. The H&K doesnít have this feature at all so from a reloaders point of view, I would rank these here as FAL, M-14, H&K.
Going back to the handguards, with the M-14 and FAL, I havenít had any problem with either weapon in regards to hand protection. The FAL seems longer wince the front sling swivel is on the barrel but the M-14 provides a handstop when using a sling in long range shooting. Either one here again is personal preference. As for the H&K, the slim handguards are at best marginal if not downright poor. There is no ventilation for air to move around the barrel and the handguards are very close to the barrel. Firing though only 1 magazine, the handguards start to feel a lot warmer than one would expect them. This is not a good idea for a military weapon in my opinion.
On to the charging handles, again, itís a case of personal preference and marginal performance. The FALís charging handle is on the left side of the receiver that allows the shooter to maintain a firing grip on the weapon. Excellent idea! The M-14 has its charging handle in the more traditional location on the right side of the receiver where most shooters would expect it to be. Another good idea. The H&K on the other hand is on the handguards and requires it to be folded out before pulling it back. This is a rather awkward feeling and is slower than either of the other two weapons. I ranked this one as a functional design but marginal in its overall operation.
On back to the ejection port, here the M-14 takes the lead. Its open design allows brass to pop free without any damage to the case or allowing a malfunction. The FAL comes in next since while it does work, tends to dent the mouth of the case a little. THE H&K here placed last. It severely dents the neck of the case and itís violent ejection throws the cases the farthest with the most damage to the rim. The streaks along the case from the H&K arenít a problem but the dents are. A buffer can be installed for an additional $50 or so if you are going to reload the cases but I just tend to prefer to shoot Berdan primed ammo and forget picking up the case at all.
The FAL has an excellent magazine release and bolt hold open device both being pretty easy to operate without loosing your firing grip. The M-14 has a similar but larger magazine release than the FAL but the bolt release is a slight tug back on the charging handle. I canít say I have a complaint about either design since again, itís all in what youíre used to. The H&K on the other hand, came in last again. The magazine release button is awkward to work with being out of reach of the trigger finger ALA AR-15 and not really reachable with the weak hand by right handed shooters. There is no automatic bolt hold open device so your first clue that your weapon is empty is a loud, CLICK instead of a bang! Not a good idea in my opinion but it can be argued that this helps to keep out dirt. In any event, I ranked this last after a 2-way toss up between my M-14 and FAL.
The safety of the M-14 comes in fist with its simplicity and ambidextrous design. The FAL came in next although I replaced the shorter metric safety lever with a more reachable and operator friendly inch variety instead. The H&K again came in last with a safety that is both stiff and too far forward for most people to reach without shifting their firing grip. The sheet metal design of the safety makes modifying it a headache and there is no aftermarket safety that I am aware of. Another shortcoming of the design of this rifle.
On to the rear sights, the M-14 here comes in at the top of my list. Easily adjustable for windage and elevation without any tools, combined with decent protection of the rear aperture makes this sight my favorite. Itís a 2-way race for second and third place with the other two rifles. The H&K has better protection than the FAL that has none but requires a special tool (glorified screwdriver and forceps) to work with while the FAL needs only a screwdriver to adjust the windage here.
The trigger of the M-14 here again comes in first over the FAL then H&K. The FAL is heavy but breaks rather cleanly. The H&K is also heavy by US standards but has a bit more creep than the FAL so I placed it third here.
The stocks of the M-14 and FAL are both excellent. The pistol grip of the FAL makes comfortable shooting from the prone pretty easy. The M-14 is a little harder to work with since your wrists pivots with your elbow in the prone like any other hunting rifle but the flip up butt plate helps to lock it in to your shoulder even tighter for aid on long range shots. The H&K on the other hand is VERY short to the point that it can recoil right into your cheek fairly hard right where the plastic meets the metal on the buttstock. You can avoid it by holding your head back a little but itís still a pretty annoying problem out of a fighting weapon.
Other features of the FAL that make it stand out is the adjustable gas regulator for different ammo or conditions and itís neat but fairly worthless carrying handle. Itís a weapon, not a suitcase so there is really no need for something like this on a fighting weapon. The M-14 is probably the easiest of the three to get parts for and find somebody that knows how to work on this rifle. The stripper clip guide is a neat idea but itís a seldom used feature, at lest on mine. The H&K are pretty modular and simple to work with due to its fewer moving parts. Spare parts though are hard to come by and expensive when you do.
Overall, while they are all very similar in reliability and accuracy, I rank the M-14 first mainly due to its adjustable rear sights. In open country with long-range shots and contending with the wind, this is an important feature to me. The FAL comes in second with its sleek lines and that adjustable gas regulator is just such a good idea! The H&K, is kind of a disappointment out of the three. As much as it costs, once you have a chance to work with one, the mystique is gone and you find that there is a lot of shortcomings in the safety, stock, handguard, magazine release and bolt hold open device that really should exist on a rifle of this type. It is an accurate and reliable rifle, but so are the other 2 rifles with better features at a lower cost in my opinion.
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