The M240 was designed in the 1950s, and manufactured by Fabrique Nationale (FN) for the Belgian military as the FN MAG 58. It was eventually adopted by the armed forces of Britain, Canada, Australia and many other nations. Rather than sheet metal stampings, its receiver is made of heavy machined steel components riveted together like vintage Browning machine guns of the previous century, such as the M1919 series light machine gun and M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun.
The United States military ﬁrst took an interest in the weapon as a coaxial machine gun for tanks in the 1970s. It was very successful and proliferated on various vehicle mounts through the 1980s before it was employed in a ground role.
BOB LANDIES of Ohio Ordnance Works (OOW) in Chardon, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, specialized in making semiautomatic versions of historic American machine guns like the Browning Automatic Riﬂe and M1917 water-cooled heavy machine gun for collectors. So when the M240 was seeing heavy use in ground combat against Iraqi troops and later al-Qaeda insurgents, Landies hatched the idea of making a semiautomatic version to satisfy shooters in the military collector market. Following a year of design and development work, OOW patented the M240 SLR (Self Loading Riﬂe).
There’s nothing about the military’s FN gun that’s cheap, and the same holds true with its replica. That’s reﬂected in its $13,917 retail price. But before you have an aneurism, consider that you can’t own a real military full-auto M240 because there are virtually none for sale to civilian collectors. The closest thing to it would be a vintage original FN MAG 58, but that gun looks different and is going to start at $100,000 anyway. So, if you must have a shooting replica of the iconic, battle-proven M240 light machine gun in your collection, you’re already shopping in the luxury gun market.
The Ohio Ordnance Works model will live up to expectations. It comes in a custom hard case, and the color instruction manual is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Be warned, this gun is addictively fun to shoot. However, if you have the coin to buy it, you can probably spring for the ammo and other accessories without too much ﬁnancial strain.
There hasn’t been any good bargain military surplus 7.62mm NATO around in a long time, but relatively cheap, steel-cased, berdan-primed offerings from Russian makers Tula, Bear and Wolf can be had for as low as 37 cents a round in 500-round cases. Brass-cased, boxer-primed Winchester or Federal ammo sells in bulk for 75 to 85 cents a round in the typical military 147-grain FMJ load.
Each M240 SLR comes with 5,000 M-13 disintegrating links, which ought to be a lifetime supply for the average shooter, assuming you take a minute or two to recover them off the range with an old speaker magnet after you shoot. Making up your belts can be done by hand while watching TV, but it is faster and easier on the hands to use a special tray-like belt linker that loads 20 rounds at a time. Expect to pay around $200 for one of these, but the time saved will be well worth the price, and OOW makes a very nice aluminum belt loader for $225.
WITH A FEW 250-ROUND belts loaded up, I headed to Knob Creek Range in West Point, Ky., southwest of Louisville, to test out the M240 SLR at various ranges out to 300 yards using the built-in bipod and excellent iron sights. When the ladder rear sight is folded down, you aim through an aperture machined onto the back of it with settings up to 800 meters. Beyond that distance you can ﬂip the ladder up and there are graduations up to 1,800 meters.
When the ladder is up, the rear sight changes to an open “U” notch machined into the ladder slide. The front sight blade is quite narrow, which I liked because it didn’t obscure my target and allowed for more precise aiming. All of your elevation and windage adjustments to zero the riﬂe are done from the front sight, and once you lock it in place, it stays in place.
The manufacturer warns that the riﬂe should never be cocked while the safety is on because it can seriously damage the trigger group. Because of that warning, I didn’t load the gun until I was on my belly ready to ﬁre, and I kept the safety off except when I had to interrupt ﬁring to take notes.
To load the riﬂe, you depress the two knurled tabs on either side of the rear of the receiver top cover to open it, and push the belt into the feed tray from the left side of the receiver until it hits the built-in stops. You hold the ﬁrst round of the belt against the stops with your left hand while your right hand pushes the cover down, snapping it into place and securing the belt in the action.
Once you’ve done this, you can pick the riﬂe up and shoot from other positions and on the move and the belt won’t fall out. Be careful to keep the belted ammo clean. Don’t drag it on the ground behind you as you shoot and move.
The riﬂe’s integral bipod is made of heavy welded stampings. It’s very steady, and locks solidly under the gas system when not in use. Since the riﬂe weighs nearly 27 pounds (a couple pounds heavier than the old M60), I used the bipod for all my testing. The broad curved buttplate sits easily on top of your shoulder when shooting prone. I grabbed the wrist of the buttstock with my off hand to hold it ﬁrmly against my shoulder.
Past experience with belt-feds taught me that the barrel gets very hot, very fast, and I didn’t want any part of my body to touch it. The barrel assembly has a foregrip in the form of a built-in lower handguard with a strip of Picatinny rail solidly screwed on the left and right side and a snap-on ventilated heat shield on the top.
A rugged carrying handle is built into the barrel assembly, and it folds down so it doesn’t obstruct the sights. Like the military full-auto M240, this semiauto version has a quickchange barrel. To remove the barrel, grasp the carrying handle and depress the small lever underneath it while rotating it into the vertical position. This unlocks the interrupted threads that secure it in the trunnion, and allows the whole assembly to slide forward off the gun for cleaning.
This should go without saying, but when picking up the riﬂe by its carrying handle, don’t touch that little lever! If you do, you may embarrass yourself by dropping the rear two-thirds of the riﬂe on the ground in midstride. A blunder like that could take years to live down.
AS WITH ANY BELT FED GUN, there’s lots going on mechanically, and you can feel all those moving parts doing their thing while you’re shooting. Cases eject from the bottom directly below the action, and the links are tossed about 10 inches to the right in nice piles. And recoil is mild enough that my 8-year-old son had no issues shooting the M240 SLR.
Unlike the full-auto version, the semiauto ﬁres from a closed bolt, and I expected that this would improve accuracy. To evaluate its capabilities, I tested Black Hills Gold .308 Win Match loaded with 155-grain Hornady A-Max bullets, white box Winchester 7.62 x 51mm loaded with 147-grain FMJ bullets and Federal American Eagle .308 Win. loaded with 150-grain FMJ boat-tail bullets.
I ﬁred three ﬁve-shot groups, each at 100 yards from the prone position using the bipod. The Black Hills match lived up to its reputation and produced an average group size of 2.83 inches, with the best group being 2.44 inches. This was despite the plastic tips getting ripped off some of the bullets during the chambering operation.
The Federal load averaged 3.10 inches, with the best group being 2.69 inches. Winchester followed closely behind with a 3.33-inch average, and the best group again being 2.69 inches.
Though I didn’t shoot as well as I could have (I was having a problem with my contact lenses drying on my eyes), that’s still some decent shooting with open sights. The riﬂe was better than I was that day, and is surely capable of more. It has a Picatinny rail machined into the top cover where the military customarily mounts optics. If I had the right scope, I bet I could have gotten the minute-of-angle performance others have found the riﬂes to produce.
You can see some great video clips and get more info about the M240 SLR and related accoutrements on the OOW website at ohioordnanceworks.com or call them at (440) 285-3481. ASJ
SINCE THE FIRST 1915 Fedorov’s Avtomat chambered for the 6.5mm Arisaka cartridge, Russian, then Soviet and later Eastern Bloc countries made little terminological distinction between submachine guns and light automatic rifles. What they termed automatic rifles were full power 7.62mm types, while the PPSh41 and AK-47 were both commonly termed avtomat. A technical term for submachine gun existed, but it wasn’t in common use. The doctrinal niche for the early automatic rifles was almost the same as for the pistol-caliber SMGs. To that end, the Czechoslovak vz58 was designed more along the lines of an MP5 or XM177 than an M16 or a Sig550. It’s handy in close quarters and usable further out, a more defense-oriented design than the rifleman’s ideal rifle of certain military branches that is only usable up close as an afterthought.
The action design is quite unusual: a short-stroke piston acts on a locking block that is separate from the bolt and the carrier, but it attaches to both. It’s almost like a rifle version of the Walther P38 or Beretta M9 in that regard. The lugs of the locking block engage with the steel rails inside the machined aluminum receiver.
The lightweight magazine, externally similar to the AK mag, holds 30 rounds and rocks in the same way, though with far less effort required for proper alignment with the receiver. With the action locked open after the last round or manually with the plunger near the trigger guard, the magazine may be topped off with stripper clips. Ten-round magazines are also available for bench shooting or in restricted states. The magazine may be safely used as a hand-hold, and there is absolutely no play in the lockup.
THE RIFLE IS AVAILABLE in three variants: with a fixed resin-impregnated wood stock, a folding-wire stock and a collapsible stock with railed forend. I mainly use the fixed wood stock by preference. Because of the short length of pull and relatively light weight, the carbine can be effectively run by 10-year-old kids. Felt recoil is very mild, even below that of the heavier AK-47, and the rotary safety is easy to reach, at least for right-handed shooters. While manual bolt hold-open is provided, bolt release requires operating the charging handle integral to the bolt carrier. All major action components, including the bore and the gas piston, are chrome-plated for better corrosion resistance.
RELIABILITY IN MY USE has been 100 percent over about 1,000 rounds without cleaning. The rifle runs extremely cleanly, and the receiver contains minimal carbon residue even now. However, the lightweight barrel and the operating system does impose tactical limitations, the most obvious being accuracy and heat endurance. The rifle can fire about 60 rounds in a row before the forend gets uncomfortably hot. For military use, that can be an issue, while for personal defense less likely. With the stock iron sights, I and other shooters got groups around 5 minute of angle with Comblock military surplus and Russian commercial ammunition, and about 4MOA with premium US and European brands, like Federal and Fiocchi. The constraint is almost certainly the sighting. The railed forend on the tactical version proved too unsteady for the red dot. Other forend options exist for this rifle, but I have not upgraded it yet. Neither of my carbines have side rails for optics. People who set up their vz58 rifles with magnified optics and raised cheek rests report 3MOA dispersion.
That makes sense: The 5.56mm version of vz58 with a red dot yields about 2MOA, thanks to the relatively heavier barrel – the outer diameter is the same and the bore is smaller. I left my 7.62 carbines unscoped, but replaced the front sight post with a Hi-Viz fiber optic for quicker acquisition. The rear-sight leaf marked from 100 meters to 800 meters is an exercise in optimism for single shots, but reflects the old military doctrine of creating beaten zones at long range using small arms.
In my mind, the best niche for this carbine is self-defense. It’s reliable, handy and may be fired with one hand if necessary. I have yet to find a record of a nonmilitary self-defense situation in which 4MOA or the two magazine rapid-fire heat endurance would have been deal-breakers. Using the tactical version with a vertical foregrip extends the heat endurance to about 100 rounds the barrel can take more heat than the shooter’s support hand. The 2011 tactical version I have was not a success overall: the current Czechpoint offering uses a modified Magpul forend instead for much better ergonomics.
THE RIFLE FEEDS SOFT-POINT and hollow-point ammunition reliably. So far, the best defensive loads I found are Corbon DPX, G2 Trident Ripout and Federal Powershock. All give substantial expansion – up to 0.9 inches with Trident – and 16 to 20 inches of gel penetration. While the vz58 classic has no flash hider, it produces minimal illumination with these loads. The tactical model comes with a needlessly concussive pinned-and-welded muzzle brake best replaced with a flash hider by a gunsmith. Vz58 is very suppressor friendly, despite the gas system without a manual regulator. One of the demo rifles used by Czechpoint is a short-barreled suppressed version that they run very hot during range events.
Vz58 appears to be what the Ruger Mini-30 was supposed to become, a light and handy .30-caliber carbine for short-range use. It fills the same niche as the M1 carbine, providing a little less accuracy but more power. The vz58 handles out of proportion to its specifications and proved reliable with a wide variety of ammunition. It’s one of the most pleasant intermediate cartridge rifles in range use, and I recommend it as one of the basic choices for self-defense. ASJ