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Military rifles have been a cornerstone of firearms ever since they debuted back in 1540. But let’s not kid ourselves: not all rifles are created equal. There is a very tangible difference between shooting an AK-47 and shooting a G3 or an M16.
So what are the best assault rifles, the best battle rifles, the best bolt actions, that have ever been produced? What is it that makes these military rifles so special and makes them a cut above other firearms?
The world of rifles is fascinating and all too huge to be summed up in this article. Yet whether you want to learn more about guns or are looking for your next firearm, we’re sure you’ll find something cool on this list.
Ready to learn more about the best military rifles to have ever been made? Read on.
1. Lee-Enfield SMLE
There are no two ways about it: the Lee-Enfield is one of the best bolt action rifles ever created. This has as much to do with the men who wielded it as it does with the gun itself.
The Lee-Enfield was used by British and Commonwealth riflemen in both World Wars, and it proved to be a fantastic weapon. Firing the punchy and powerful .303 British round, it was incredibly accurate and lethal.
The gun itself was immensely adaptable and hardwearing. It can be converted into a shotgun and even a musket with relative ease, but it found its best adaption in the jungles of World War II. The British wanted a weapon to handle the tense jungle combat of fighting the Japanese in Burma, and the Lee-Enfield Jungle Carbine, complete with flash hider, was perfect for the role.
We mentioned how important the men wielding this gun were, too. British riflemen were some of the best in the world, and in their hands, the Lee-Enfield was fired at great speed while maintaining accuracy. One exercise that proved this was the Mad Minute, with one soldier scoring 36 hits at 300 yards in one minute.
2. The M16
When discussing military rifles, the M16 often gets a bad rap. Despite some reliability issues in Vietnam, it was still a very trusty weapon. Over the years, it’s become a much, much better weapon.
The M16A4, used by the US military today, is accurate, reliable, and oh-so adaptable. Thanks to its rail systems, it can accommodate any number of add-ons, including different sights, flashlights, grenade launchers, and more.
Its ubiquity demonstrates how good the gun is. It’s used by multiple countries around the world and in a range of different conditions. It can be used in any environment or conflict type.
The civilian version of the M16, the AR-15 is also a fantastic weapon. Civilians can take advantage of a huge range of aftermarket parts, like those made by Strike Industries. If it will fit on an M16, it will fit on an AR-15.
3. The AK-47
We could talk about the AK-47 for years. Despite not being as refined, as accurate, or as pleasant to wield as the M16, it’s earned its reputation as one of the best assault rifles in the world. Firing a powerful 7.62×39 mm cartridge, the AK-47 has all the power that could be required.
Influenced in equal parts by the German StG44 and the M1 Garand, the AK-47 is a landmark in the history of military rifles. Since its introduction in 1947, it has been made and remade all around the world and wielded by groups across the globe.
What makes the AK-47 such a good rifle is its reliability and ease of repair. Maintenance can be carried out by untrained gunsmiths as much as it can be by experts in sealed labs. If you want a gun that can be buried in sand, thrown into a river, covered in mud, and still work without a hitch, you’re looking for the AK-47.
An icon of revolution the world over, it was a revolution in firearms too.
4. FN FAL
A counterpart to the AK-47, the FN FAL is indisputably one of the best battle rifles ever made. Known as the “right arm of the free world,” the FAL was used by western and western-backed nations around the globe during the Cold War.
The gun fires the hefty 7.62×51 mm NATO round, which is a highly accurate and powerful cartridge. Due to its popularity, the FAL also found itself adapted to fit a whole range of use cases. Folding stocks were added for paratroopers, short barrels for clandestine operations, and long barrels for its role as an automatic weapon.
The gun found particular favor in the UK, where the inch-pattern variant, known as the L1A1, was used until 1985.
While its standard magazine size of 20 rounds may seem a little small in today’s world, you must remember that the FAL was usually fired in semi-automatic. The 7.62 cartridge is very hard to control when fired in full-auto.
The gun continues to be used around the world and is a respected, powerful, and fantastic battle rifle to this day. Far better than the American M14, only the German G3 comes close to matching this Belgian beauty.
The French may not be the first country that springs to mind when you’re considering the best rifle manufacturers. Yet the FAMAS is one of the world’s best bullpup military rifles. Some might say that title belongs to the SA80A2, but that still has far too many problems: chief among them the fact that it isn’t ambidextrous and can shoot hot casings into left-handed shooters’ faces.
The FAMAS is the bullpup rifle par excellence. Its bullpup design means that it can be used in confined areas. While some of its features do increase its recoil, that shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as the rifle more than makes up for it in other areas.
There are a whole host of attachments available for the FAMAS, and its fire rate is immense, coming in at 1000 rounds per minute. The FAMAS also boasts some fantastic built-in features, like tritium sights for night shooting and a bipod.
A well-designed rifle that shows the power of the Bullpup, the FAMAS is a wonderful rifle.
6. AS Val
Another fantastic Russian weapon, Russia’s elite Spetznaz operators use the AS Val. You’re not going to find this in your local gun shop, with none having found their way to the United States yet. There are a few reasons for this, but the main reason is that they are very expensive to make and the Russian army has never fielded them in large quantities.
What makes the AS Val so special is its built-in suppressor. If you’re imagining a standard suppressor bolted onto the barrel or something, stop right now. The Val is much more complex than that.
The barrel has built-in materials that help to absorb the sound of the bullet. Yet that’s not even that much of a concern since the rifle fires heavy sub-sonic ammunition that doesn’t make as much noise to begin with.
It is accurate and effective up to 300 meters, even though the ammunition is slow-moving. It’s also very hardwearing like the AK family and can function through dust, sand, rain, snow, and more. It’s never going to be mainstream, but these military rifles represent the pinnacle of modern rifle technology.
7. M1 Garand
We couldn’t get through a list of the best military rifles ever made without mentioning the M1 Garand. This rifle wasn’t just accurate, it used magazine technology at a time that other rifles were still relying on stripper clips.
While some people like to say that the distinctive “ping” of the magazine ejection gave away rifleman’s positions, this is nonsense. The ping isn’t loud enough to be heard in the heat of battle. Even if it were, the rifleman can reload the Garand quickly enough that even if an attacker charged them, they would have primed a new round in time.
Now that we’ve dealt with this common myth, let’s take a look at what makes the M1 Garand such a good rifle. It was reliable in even the worst circumstances, was highly accurate, and riflemen could fire it more quickly than opposing forces could fire their bolt-action rifles.
The only real downside is that the Garand is surprisingly heavy. That shouldn’t put you off owning one, though. It’s a joy to shoot and has pride of place in American history.
That alone makes it one of the best military rifles ever made.
Military Rifles: The Closing Shot
There are a ton of awesome rifles, like the Mosin-Nagant, the Springfield, and the M416, that we haven’t got the time to mention. Despite that, we think that the military rifles on this list are the greatest that have ever been made.
If you’d like to read more cool articles like this, take a look at our technology section!