Weight a Minute: The Trend to Heavier Rifles

One other trend, which I didn’t mention in my SHOT review, was the fact that rifles, particularly the tactical ones, … Continued

One other trend, which I didn’t mention in my SHOT review, was the fact that rifles, particularly the tactical ones, are getting heavier. Prior to the 1980s, most scoped rifles weighed in the 9-pound range, with a lot going over that and a few going under. Then Melvin Forbes shocked everyone with his Ultra Light rifles, which weighed 6 pounds scoped, and would shoot, and for a while no one would look at a gun that weighed more than a good-sized hors d’oeuvre.

Then came tactical, and all that seemed to go out the window. The new generation of chassis-stocked rifles weighs more than the late Kate Smith, and even the more svelte ones still weigh 10 pounds by the time you get a tactical scope on them.

Designers of military weapons who have paid attention learned a great lesson from the performance of the original M-16 versus the AK-47. The first M-16s were truly light rifles. Their weight was 6 pounds or very close to it. The problem was, it didn’t hold up in combat. It was flimsy, and broke a lot, and the light barrel warped quickly when you shot it hard. The AK, on the other hand, was designed by a former tank sergeant who understood the word “robust.” The Kalashnikov had comparatively few parts, but those were massive, and the rifle weighed 9 pounds, which was just a little less than a Garand, which was also robust.

The M-16 has gone full circle. Having gone through several heavy permutations, it’s morphed into the M4 carbine, which scales only 6 ½ pounds and functions reliably.

However, the infantryman remains a pack mule. In World War I, the doughboy carried 60 pounds, including rifle, ammo, and gear. (It was established some time ago that the most an infantryman can carry and still function in combat is 50 pounds. Beyond that you pay a price.) In World War II, not much had changed, except the weapons got heavier, not lighter. Paratroopers jumped with so much weight they had to be helped into their C47s.

In Vietnam it went up to 85 pounds. In Afghanistan now, the average combat load is 120 pounds; in Iraq it’s 100 pounds. The infantry seems to be following (Grits) Gresham’s Law: “If I didn’t bring it, it’s because I don’t own it.”