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Length Overall Barrel Length Weight Caliber Action Type Magazine capacity
40.15" 18" 8.7 Pounds .308 Roller Block Delay 20
     To many arms enthusiasts, one of the finest military weapons in the world is the German G-3 select fire rifle. This gun has the longest, and most distinguished parentage of any modern military small arm. It's beginnings were in World War II, but the concept of the gun began in the close in trench fighting of World War I. The Germans came up with the idea first, but were hardly in a position to do anything about it after the allied victory, so it was not until near the end of the second world war that the first guns were developed and put into service. One of these was a Mauser design, the Stg-45, the direct descendant of the G-3. At this time the state of the art in military rifles was the excellent Garand. The M-14 would not be developed from the Garand for another decade, and the M-16 would not come along until years after that. The bulk of the newly developed German guns were used against the Russians, who were so impressed with them that the AK-47 was developed along the same lines, although the mechanics of the gun were drastically different.

     The Stg-45 was a great design, and a groundbreaking concept. This was the world's first assault rifle, a concept which continues to influence the though of military designers, planers, and commanders, to this day.  The Stg-45 was the inspiration for both the AK-47, and M-16 rifles. A look at the photo of the field stripped example, to the right, shows many similarities to the current G3 rifle. Unfortunately, it was no longer possible to develop this new concept, or the new weapon to which it gave birth, in post war Germany. After the war, the German armaments industry was, for a time, not allowed to exist. The tooling and design of the guns, along with many of its designers and engineers, went to Spain. Some changes were made, and a new 7.92mm cartridge was developed. The guns then were and are, manufactured as the CETME rifle. After the Germans were allowed to once again field an army, the German munitions plants reopened and the CETME rifle was modified to fire the new 308 NATO cartridge. The new rifle was produced as the G3, and soon entered service with the West German army, replacing the Belgium manufactured FN-FAL, which had been known in German service as the G-1. If you are wondering why there seems to have been no G-2 rifle, there is a reason. When trials opened for testing of what was to be the new German service rifle, a number of contenders vied for the contract. The first to be considered was the SIG SG-510. It was designated as the G-2; but lost in the trials to the G-3. Also considered was the AR-10, which was known as the G-4. (Though the G-3 won the trials, I still consider the AR-10 to be the better rifle.)

      This gun fires the same 7.62x51 (.308 NATO) cartridge as the M-14, FN-FAL, AR-10, and some versions of the Galil. This was the round which NATO was pushed into standardizing on by the U.S. The idea was to simplify logistics among the NATO countries in the anticipated battles with the Soviet Union. The United States soon abandoned the round that they had so strongly advocated, in favor of the .223 cartridge (5.56x45). A photo to the left compares this cartridge to the 223, fired by the M-16/AR-15 series of rifles, and the 7.62 x 39, as fired by the AK-47/AKM series of rifles. The 30-30 is shown for reference purposes.

     The HK91 is the semi automatic, civilian version of the highly regarded G-3. This rifle has what are probably the best battle sights of any rifle in the world. A post and ring sit up front while the rear sight is a rotating drum with a series of differently ranged apertures around it. The gun is also the hardiest of the lot. It's delayed roller block action has no gas tube to be bent or clogged as in the M-16; there is no long delicate operating rod as in the Garand/ M-14, and no gas port to clog as in the AK-47. The gun is not dependent on propellant gasses, so the burning rate and residue of the powder have no effect on it. The power of the load is also not a factor in the reliability of the gun; any load will feed and cycle the action. It's size and weight are almost perfectly suited to the cartridge it fires, and it has good accuracy. The delayed roller block action, keeps the gun locked until the base of the bolt is forced back enough to cam the rollers out of their recesses, and allow the bolt carrier to move back. Just under 49,000 of these rifles have been imported into the U.S.

     Though nominally the same as the G-3, and able to use standard G-3 scope mounts, magazines, and other accessories, the HK-91 is legally required to have some modifications made, that will not permit it to be fired in the select fire mode, nor be easily converted to so fire. The most obvious are the replacement of the select fire trigger group, and the fitting of a modified bolt carrier group. In addition, the receiver has a "shelf" welded on, to prevent future installation of a select fire group. One other modification, by which an HK-91 may be easily recognized, is the change in the style of the magazine catch. The G-3 has a paddle style catch, like that of an AK-47. The catch sits very near the magazine well, permitting easy one handed magazine changes. The HK-91 magazine catch is a button style catch, which needs to be depressed, like that of a semi auto pistol. One of the side effects of the different style catch, is that inserting and locking a magazine in place, in an HK-91, can take a bit of practice. On the original G3, the magazine was merely rocked into place. A photo of the standard G-3 magazine catch is shown to the right.

    It is considered that the M-14 has a slight edge in accuracy potential when properly tuned, but it should be noted that some of the very finest sniper rifles are built on the basic G-3 action. In practice the production guns are about equal with the stock HK-91 tending to shoot a bit tighter than all but match grade M-14s. My gun is not from Germany, but is a Springfield Armory model. It is topped by the best scope I have, mated to the gun with a substantial claw mount, made by B-Square. Genuine German claw mounts, made by H&K are available; but cost anywhere from $300 to $450 used. I prefer my little $100 B-Square mount. The receiver of the HK91/G3 is indexed for a claw mount, so that the mount will always be placed at the same spot. H&K claims that this permits the mount to be removed and replaced with a return to zero. I am a bit skeptical of this. I suppose that it would cost me $450 to find out.

   The scope is a true sniper scope, which ranges and calculates bullet drop in one step, out to 1000 yards. The scope is a 4-14x56mm. It has a bubble level to prevent canting, which is visible while looking through the scope. This is the quickest and best method of range finding yet developed. The older types of ranging sniper scopes required zooming the scope, or adjusting a set of stadia lines on a target of known size to find the range. This required the shooter to take his hand out of shooting position in order to range, and then resume his stance after the range was determined. This made taking down moving targets very difficult. In some scopes, like the excellent A.R.T. scope, a cam in the base would raise or lower the scope to compensate for bullet drop as the range was set, but the art scope had a delicate exposed mechanical action, and required constant adjustment. In most ranging scopes, the range was set as in the A.R.T., and then a second step was required to set the scope for bullet drop after the range had been determined.

     My scope uses a special etched glass reticle, set into the focal plane of the ocular to range optically. The scope uses a series of calibrated shapes, each with its own aiming cross to range and compensate for drop. The trick of using this scope is to zero it at 200 yards, after which the it will shoot accurately out to 1000 yards. The scope is precisely calibrated for .308 match ammunition loaded with the 168 grain boat tail bullet at 2600fps. This has been the first choice in sniper ammunition since at least the mid sixties, and will shoot right on the mark with this scope. The shapes are set against aiming crosses at 100 yard intervals. To use the scope you simply subtend the shape that most exactly fits the size of the target over it and then move over to the associated aiming cross and then fire. With the proper ammunition the bullet hits exactly where it was aimed. The entire procedure takes a fraction of a second, and is ideal for quick follow up shots or multiple targets, at varied ranges. There is only one sniper scope design which is superior, and that is the mil dot, which is not set for any particular cartridge or load, but requires more training to use. 

     The HK is not without it's detractors, as it is not without its faults. The recoil system is hard on the brass, making this a poor choice for the reloader. The gun is also, despite its high cost, not very expensively made. This is not to say that it is flimsy (in point of fact, these are very rugged rifles), but merely that it is cheaply made, with a stamped receiver, and molded plastic stocks.  Early guns had a tendency to tear the heads from the cartridge cases, if specially lubricated cartridges were not used. This was cured by fluting the chamber, so that gases could "float" the cartridge case out. These guns are still pretty hard on brass; but have a very positive extraction. This, along with the lack of any sort of gas operating system, make the HK series very reliable.

     In truth, the G3 is a great weapon, though not the wonder weapon into which some of the faithful have made of it. The HK faithful are nearly as obsessive as the M1911 faithful (I actually count myself as a member of both of these groups). Still, you can be enthusiastic about something, while still being aware of its faults. I would rate the G3 as a bit better than the FN, inferior to the all but unobtainable AR-10, and about even but "different" from the M-14. As a system The G3 is superior to the M-14, and is probably more tolerant of abuse, and poor conditions; but I do not consider it to be as intrinsically accurate as the M-14, though we are shaving hairs here, as both rifles have far more accuracy than most shooters will ever use. Superb sniping rifles have been crafted from both of these platforms.

     There are two factors which have made the HK series of weapons a bit cultish. The first is the aura which has surrounded all German weaponry since the end of WWII. Germany pioneered long range missiles, guided weapons, jet aircraft, and advanced long range submarines employing the new snorkel system. Germany also came pretty close to wining the war, and was prevented from doing so, only by the entrance of the United States into the war, and by some grievous (or fortunate) mistakes in judgment by hitler and his cronies. The term Wonder Weapon, was applied to much of the German military armament. In addition, the patina of advanced design, and precision manufacturing has clung to German manufactured goods, ever since the German Miracle occurred after the rebuilding of post war Germany. Though this reputation applies to everything German, it is particularly strong in consideration of anything related to the military.

     The second factor,  contributing to the cult of H&K, is the awareness of the company, and its advertisements and self promotion. H&K shamelessly panders to the military fantasies of weapons enthusiasts. This patronizing of male military fantasies is very nearly unique to H&K.

     Where Colt, S&W, Ruger, and other firearms manufacturers will generally depict their products used in hunting, target, or rarely in home defense situations, H&K uses a different tack. H&K advertising always shows soldiers slogging through swamps, rising from the water, rappeling down, or climbing up, to some sort of adventure. These men are not only solders, but are also elite solders. All have their faces painted or masked, and never seem to be wearing regular military uniforms.

     Though originally designed as an assault rifle, on today's battlefield, the G3 is considered to be a battle rifle, due to its use of the 308 cartridge. As such, I would not compare it to the M-16, Ak-47, or any other assault rifle. These other guns fill a completely different niche, and any comparison would be unfair.  It is interesting to note that the AK-47 is about the same weight as the G3, but fires a considerably less powerful cartridge. Since the demise of the M-1 Garrand, and the limited issue of the remaining stocks of M-14 rifles, the G-3 has become the worlds most pervasive battle rifle. As such, it is found in pretty much every corner of the world. Though the FN-FAL is still in wide spread use, most consider the G-3 to be the better rifle, in agreement with the German Army. There are still some who favor the gas operated FN, over the recoil operated G-3, and even a few, who extol the old Garrand derived M-14, or even the old Garrand itself, as a better rifle than the G-3. At 1000 yards, I would take the old Garrand over the G-3 any day. At the same range, I might favor the M-14, though not in a jungle or a desert. At 100 yards, I would rather have an M-16. So each rifle has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending upon circumstances (at least this is what we collectors like to tell ourselves, as justification for having safes full of rifles). So which is the best overall? Well, this is the kind of question that kindles hours of friendly(?) debate among gun enthusiasts. Unlike the military users of these rifles, my life will never depend upon the difference. With any luck, it never will 

I love the sights on these guns. The rotating drum can be used to bring differently calibrated apertures into view. It is amazing to me that all rifles do not use this system.
The front site is a hooded post, making line up of the rear aperture easier and more precise than in competing systems.
The folding cocking lever is here set to hold the bolt open, through use of a simple indent. It is located forward, above the barrel on the left had side of the rifle.
  The HK-91 uses a button style magazine release, similar to that of a pistol, or of the M-16/AR-15 series of rifles.  This is unique to the HK-91. The military G3 uses a paddle style release, similar to that of the AK-47 assault rifle. In this close up, you can see where the original paddle style release was removed, and the receiver welded in below.

Takedown begins by removing a pair of retaining pins, set just behind the trigger group.
  The recoil spring group may then be pulled out, by simply pulling back on the stock.
With the recoil spring group removed, the trigger group me be rocked down and out of the receiver.
The bolt carrier group may then be removed.

The HK91 field stripped. This is as far as anyone who is not an HK armorer needs to disassemble this rifle.
The trigger group, with the hammer forward. The hammer will need to be cocked before reassembly, so that the trigger group will fit into the receiver.
A view up the inside of the HK-91 receiver. As can be pretty clearly seen here, the receiver is a bent piece of sheet metal. I had tried here, with no success, to show the fluted chamber.
The HK bolt, in the unlocked position. Note the retracted roller at the side of the bolt.
A bottom view of the bolt above, showing how the bolt it extended, and there are no protrusions at the side. In such an unlocked state, the bolt easily moves with the receiver.
WARNING: Please resist the temptation to snap the bolt into its locked position. Doing so will make it impossible to replace the bolt within the receiver. It is also a real pain to unlock the bolt, once it has been locked.
This is the bolt in the locked position. Note how the head of the bolt is now contracted, and the rollers are protruding from the side. The rifle can not be reassembled until the bolt is unlocked.  Trying to pull the bolt open, or pry it open will not work, and may damage the bolt.
A top view of the bolt in locked position. ordinarily, this is how the bolt sits in the frame, to remain locked closed, until chamber pressure drops. The only way to safely open the bolt is to use a pair of channel locks and squeeze the rollers in. Use a pair of wooden, or rubber protectors, to prevent damage to the rollers.
Though the top section of the bolt carrier appears to be a gas tube of some sort, it is actually a guide for the recoil spring. There is no gas component to this system. It is entirely recoil operated. The photo here, shows the recoil spring fitted to the bolt carrier, as it would be in an assembled rifle.

The System
Rifle Springfield Armory HK-91
Mount B-Square See Through
Scope Springfield Armory Gvt. 4-14 x 56
Magazines Polymer 20 Rnd. 10
Metal 20 Rnd. 10+1
Sling Nylon Quick Detach
Pouch Dual Mag German Issue 2
Bayonet German issue
Bipod Harris Colapsable