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The finer points of automatic weapons

After many years of tinkeing with them in video games and RPGs today I went to a range and rented some automatic weapons and used them. I operated a Thompson M1A1, a M2 carbine,and a HK G3. My thoughts:
Thompson M1A1:
The Thompson M1A1 has sights that are pretty imprecise compared to what I'm used to, i.e. modern factory default pistol sights. The rear sight was a huge ring and it seems like it was designed just for quick sight pictures using the front sights. What's more is that it recoiled quite a lot. The range staff member advised me to aim low and even while I had my sights pointed at the bottom of my target paper the actual bullet holes climbed upwards all over the paper. And that's just with me squeezing off bursts of 2-4 rounds and leaning forward to compensate for recoil. I should point out that I'm not a tiny guy; I weight between 190 and 200 pounds, I'm 5'11", and I've been hitting the gym every other day on average. This is actually pretty different than the impression I'd gained from playing lots of video games. In the first place, I can't imagine anything useful coming from spraying in full auto with the M1A1 for anything more than a 2-4 round burst. I feel that the barrel would just get too off target and you'd end up spraying at everything and nothing in particular at the same time. Secondly, the sights look pretty useless for anything besides for close range shooting. Without tight rear sights to help me align the weapon, I don't feel like I'd be able to hit the black on a 50 foot competition target like I'm able to do with a contemporary pistol with factory default sights if I aim carefully and take like 5+ seconds per shot. In other words, if I were trying to shoot very accurately at a longer distance at this time I'd feel more comfortable with a pistol on account of the sights than I would with the M1A1 even with its longer barrel.
M2 Carbine: Initially I'd really wanted to try a M1 carbine for a long time so as to get my Vietnam groove on, but the M2 available for rental had full auto fire so I guess that's just a bit of extra value to my shooting experience. The M2 was a lot easier to control than the M1A1 and the sights were better too. I still went all over the paper, though, but to a lesser extent than with the M1A1, and of course the .30 carbine cartridges have smaller bullets than .45 ACP cartridges. So, basically, even though on the whole written history usually is dealing with how people didn't like carbines in .30, my hunch is that I'd personally feel more capable of hitting something far away with it than I would if I had a M1A1.
HKG3: My first assault rifle in 7.62 NATO! I fired the first few rounds in semi automatic mode just to get the full experience, and switched to full auto later. My comment was, "Holy moly!" The recoil was a lot worse than the M1A1. It was just insane trying to control it in burst mode. I can now understand why when you read history and war memoirs full auto with the M14 is so maligned. At least from a standing position I can't imagine how full auto in 7.62 can stay remotely on target after the first 3 rounds or so. Of course, being a HK product this was probably the "best" weapon I handled today. It was the most comfortable to handle, the most erogonomic, had the best sights, and was probably the most accurate. I'm actually really happy that I finally was able to experience the infamous 7.62-NATO-full-auto-while-standing. :)
On the whole, even realistic-style or simulationist-style video games seem to make guns, and automatic fire, more accurate than they are in reality. My recent experience with the G3, for example, convinces me that not only would every round fired in automatic mode while standing with a weapon chambered in 7.62 NATO past the third be a waste, but that the weapon would also get dangerously out of control because of the barrel being perturbed so much. I suppose that explains why when machine guns in 7.62 NATO are used for suppressive fire they're weighted down with sandbags or mounted on tripods. However, in games, it's pretty ubiquitous that long full auto discharges even from weapons chambered in 7.62 NATO are a very controllable and effective tactic even when the player character is standing. The reality versus the video game portrayal of the M1A1 is now especially amusing to me. I'd been under the strong impression from games such as Call of Duty and Return to Castle Wolfenstien that the M1A1 was fantastically accurate at long range. But the first thought in my head as I fired the M1A1 in reality was "this is strictly for CQB" on account of the sights being so crude and the automatic fire being so difficult to control. Even if I were crouching or prone and squeezing off single shots, I don't feel confident that I'd be accurate at 50 feet or more with the M1A1 just on account of my being uncomfortable with the sights
-- Wounded Ronin (4/01/2008)

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