Subguns Are Fun Guns

The author sets the learning curve to full auto at his very first submachine gun competition.


It’s the first stage of my first match and I’m nervous. The range officer asks, “Shooter ready?” and I nod, almost reluctantly. The buzzer sounds and I raise my Uzi submachine gun, sight in on a plate rack downrange, and trigger a burst. The staccato bark of my gun marks the start of my first-ever subgun competition.

A lineup of subguns at a competition includes a mix of Uzi SMGs and modified MAC buzzguns.

I was at the Michigan subgun match because I wanted to do something with my registered fullauto Uzi more interesting than “busting dirt” at the local gravel pit. A submachine gun competition sounded like the challenge I needed.
ALTHOUGH I WAS NEW to the sport, the sport itself is not new. Organized submachine gun competitions have been around since at least the 1980s. The events, while never as well known as other “run and gun” sports such as IPSC, have maintained a mix of die-hard supporters and new blood. The basic requirement is for a fullauto-capable gun that fires a pistol-caliber cartridge.

The longest continuously running SMG match in existence is the Knob Creek Range National Subgun Competition held in West Point, Ky., each April and October. The match is part of a larger event at the Knob Creek Range that includes a machine gun shoot, huge gun show, and other competitions. Shooters from all over the country compete in what has become the defacto national title match for subgun shooters.

Three Uzis and a Thompson (second from the top) on the table at a match. The Uzi is popular due to its availability, reliability, accuracy, and ability to accept accessories.

The KCR match has evolved over the years: The early match format featured a single long stage where shooters moved along a predesignated path while engaging targets along the way. Over time the match changed to a more efficient multistage format that allowed match directors to work in different challenges, while also being quicker to reset. The original format still survives as the “Jungle Walk” side match.

The match has also changed to keep up with technology. The advent of “slow fire” kits for the MAC series of SMGs offered advantages to seasoned shooters and also made it easier for new shooters to get into the game by making those less expensive guns competitive. These changes are reflected by alterations in course design, rules, and how guns are classified for the match.

A shooter with a Thompson SMG at a match.
A shooter advances to engage a target array.

THE MATCH FORMAT will seem familiar to anyone who has shot in an IPSC or 3-gun competition. Most matches are multistage with three to five shooting positions in each stage. The targets are a mix of steel, other reactive targets such as bowling pins, and paper targets. Obstacles, barricades, and “no shoot” targets are used to round out the course. The round count can be as low as 150 rounds for a good shooter, and up to over 500 rounds for those of us who miss a lot.

One difference is that most matches require that the gun be fired only in full-auto mode for the whole match. This rewards those shooters with good trigger manipulation skills who can fire short bursts or even single shots on demand. Although this is the best way to shoot most targets, the shooter might be instructed that certain target arrays can only be shot with a single long burst. This benefits those who are also good at keeping the gun on target while firing a long burst or even a full mag dump.

A close up of an Uzi with the selector in the “A” for auto position.

Scoring is based on the shooter’s time and modified by penalties for things such as missed targets, insufficient hits on paper targets, lower scoring hits on paper targets, and hits on “no shoot” targets.

Many matches feature scenarios or an overriding theme. One scenario at a recent KCR match required competitors to try to rescue a downed pilot in enemy territory and included a stage with a large helicopter mock-up as a shooting position.

A pair of Uzis at a match. The top gun sports an optic and vertical grip.

At the KCR match, guns are divided into classes based on their method of operation and sighting system. The classes are Open Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the Uzi or MAC with stock sights, Open Bolt/Optics for those same guns if they mount any type of optical sight, Closed Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the MP-5 or 9mm M-16 and Closed Bolt/Optics, for those guns when they mount optics.

Other matches may use an older system that divides guns up by date of design (pre- or post-1945), open or closed bolt, sight system (irons or optics), or rate of fire (below or above 900 rounds per minute) or they may use a different classification system altogether.

Safety is paramount at all matches. Any shooter who has an accidental discharge or breaks the 180-degree rule, pointing the barrel in an unsafe direction, is immediately disqualified. One special rule commonly used is that shooters are not allowed to backtrack once they have moved even a single step forward. This is to reduce the chance of a shooter tripping while holding a loaded full-auto firearm.

The author fires his Uzi at steel poppers at the Michigan Subgun Match.

THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED with subgun matches is to enter a competition like the Jungle Walk side match at Knob Creek. This is because the range will actually rent you a submachine gun for the match. For only $40 you get a Uzi or 9mm M-16 and 50 rounds of ammo. You then get to take a nice walk in the woods while looking for 18 swinging steel targets that are usually rusty and hard to spot. A range officer follows you the whole time and once you’ve completed the course he’ll help you safe the gun, tell you how many targets you hit and your time. The winner each day is the shooter who hit the most targets (usually all 18) in the fastest time.

Aside from the Jungle Walk, or a really good friend who will loan you his gun, the other way to get started in submachine competition is to jump in with both feet and buy your own gun.

While all the details of how to legally buy a submachine gun are beyond the scope of this article, machine gun ownership is legal in most states, and the required ATF paperwork and procedures are really not that difficult to complete.

The bad news is that the guns aren’t cheap. That is because private citizens can only own those machine guns that were manufactured and registered with the ATF before May 19, 1986. Since this limits the available supply, the law of supply and demand has kicked in over the past 30-plus years, and prices have steadily risen in that time.

Although the initial expense may shock you, an entry level but still competitive SMG can be obtained for just a bit more than what it would take to purchase a complete three-gun setup. By the time you add up the costs of a quality AR, optics, an auto-loading shotgun, a handgun, slings, mag pouches, and other gear, you aren’t that far off from the price of a MAC series SMG and a slow fire conversion kit.

A competitor shooting an Uzi in the Optics division at the Michigan Subgun Match.

Of course, if you have the cash, other guns such as the Uzi, MP-5, Sterling, Thompson, etc., are out there and are suitable for competition. Aside from the gun, all you really need are extra magazines, mag pouches, and lots and lots of ammo! ASJ

Editor’s note: The author wants to thank Paul Winters and Todd L. for their help with this article.

Solid Semi

[su_heading size=”30″]The Century Arms UC-9 Carbine remains a popular semiauto version of the classic Uzi.[/su_heading]


[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he classic Uzi 9mm submachine gun was developed by Uziel Gal in the 1950s for the Israeli military, and in its day was considered an excellent combat weapon. And although guns with similar features had become pretty standard by the end of World War II, the Uzi changed the paradigm for submachine guns with its compactness, ergonomics and easy handling.

These reasons are also why the gun continues to be replicated by a variety of manufacturers. One of these, Century Arms, Inc., has found success with their semiauto version, the Centurion UC-9.

The original Uzi was made mostly of welded metal stampings and had a rock-solid metal collapsible or fixed wooden buttstock. It featured a simple blowback design, utilizing the weight of the heavy bolt alone to keep the action locked, and the recoil energy of the fired casing to cycle it. The firing pin was machined into the bolt face, and the weapon fired from an open bolt. Though very heavy – over 9 pounds loaded – its good balance permitted one-handed firing.

This compact balance was achieved by setting the 10inch barrel deep in the stamped sheet metal receiver so its breech was above the trigger. The bolt encased the barrel breach to about the midway point and the magazine was inserted up through the grip frame. All of the mechanical operation of firing took place directly above the gripping hand rather than in front of it, as on a typical, much longer submachine gun (such as the MP40). The Uzi grip was positioned on the receiver slightly rear of center to counter the effects of recoil.

The Uzi saw use in the hands of good guys and bad through the 1980s, and was a staple in movies and on TV. Anyone who remembers seeing the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on the news knows it was used by our Secret Service too. Seemingly out of nowhere, an agent pulled one out and stood watch as other agents wrestled the attacker to the ground. It remains perhaps the second most recognizable submachine gun in the world after the Thompson.

The Centurion UC-9 utilizes many original Uzi part designs, coupled with an American-made semiauto-only bolt and receiver.
The Centurion UC-9 utilizes many original Uzi part designs, coupled with an American-made semiauto-only bolt and receiver.

ISRAELI MILITARY INDUSTRIES (IMI), the original maker, first offered semiautomatic versions of the Uzi, and these guns are rightly considered the best. Other clones, both domestic and Chinese, soon followed. And, as parts kits from demilitarized IMI- and FN-made subguns flooded into the American market, several other firms started making receivers for gun-building hobbyists to assemble their own semiauto guns.

The Centurion’s semiauto grip assembly and safeties.
The Centurion’s semiauto grip assembly and safeties.

Century Arms, already famous among collectors for their semiauto copies of post-World War II select-fire military weapons, set about producing their own finished semiauto carbine. Their Centurion UC-9 utilizes many original-part designs coupled with an American-made semiauto-only bolt and receiver.

The UC-9 is mechanically identical to previous Uzi clones. It has a 16-inch barrel instead of the 10-inch one found on the submachine gun. One caution: 10-inch barrels for it are available on the parts market, but before installing one, you will

 The rear aperture uses a 100-yard and 200-yard flip rear sight, but elevation and windage are easily adjusted at the front sight
The rear aperture uses a 100-yard and 200-yard flip rear sight, but elevation and windage are easily adjusted at the front sight

need to register the gun as a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and pay the appropriate taxes.

It fires from a closed bolt using a striker and modified trigger components. The extra spring in the striker makes the bolt more difficult to pull pack than the fullauto version. The top cover is original, but the ratcheting mechanism is deactivated. That feature kept the bolt from flying forward and accidentally discharging a round if the cocking handle slipped from the shooter’s grasp, and is useless on a closed-bolt semiauto.

The UC-9 will accept 25- and 32-round magazines.
The UC-9 will accept 25- and 32-round magazines.

The receiver has a rounded bar welded along the inside of the right side of the frame behind the ejection port. The semiauto bolt has a corresponding groove cut down its right side to clear this bar. Because of the bar, a full-auto bolt will not fit in the receiver. The bottom left side of the bolt is milled away to accommodate the striker mechanism beneath it. The arm of the striker has a cut to engage the sear in the trigger mechanism. A portion of the bottom on the right side of the bolt is also relieved so it will clear the other side of the sear.

The Century Arms Uzi clone field strips easily into just a few parts.
The Century Arms Uzi clone field strips easily into just a few parts.

The safety in the grip assembly is marked only “F” for fire and “S” for safe. The thumb selector is blocked internally and cannot be pushed forward into what would normally be the full-auto position, though a stamped line indicating the “ghost” location is still there.

There are a few other differences between the semiauto Uzi and its full-auto ancestor. The semi’s push pin that holds the grip assembly onto the frame is larger (9mm versus 8mm), its sear is lighter and smaller, and machinegun barrels won’t fit because of changes in the mounting points. All these changes allow the firearm to be sold as a normal semiauto long gun.
OVER THE YEARS, Century Arms has received criticism regarding the quality control of the classic modern military firearms they re-engineered into legal-to-own semiautos. In their defense, much of this criticism has stemmed from a few bad apples spoiling the bunch. As any gun manufacturer will tell you, it’s hard enough making something work perfectly when you design and build it from scratch, and Century’s semiauto military clones are short-run projects compared to your typical sporting arm. It’s the difference between a few thousand units and tens of thousands.

I’ve never had a problem so serious that I had to return a firearm. I’ve heard of some over the years, but to my knowledge Century took care of each customer. And, in my opinion, on those occasions when Century didn’t get it right, they got it mostly right and it was a matter of some fine adjustment to get it perfect. The way I see it, at the low price point they sell these collector firearms at, mostly right is still a bargain.

Shooters of smaller stature will have no problem firing the Centurion UC-9 at the zombie of their choice.
Shooters of smaller stature will have no problem firing the Centurion UC-9 at the zombie of their choice.

THE ACCURACY OF THE UC-9 I tested surprised me in light of the short sight radius and less than comfortable metal stock. The rear aperture is set for 100 and 200 yards, but elevation and windage are easily adjusted at the front sight and I zeroed for a more realistic 50 yards for my testing. I set my chronograph up 15 feet from the muzzle. The UC-9’s weight made felt recoil light.

The most accurate load during testing was Federal American Eagle 124-grain FMJ, which averaged 2.38 inches at 1,232 feet per second, with the best group being 2.25 inches. All of the other loads I tested were 115-grain FMJ, and I achieved the following results:

CCI Blazer Brass averaged 2.59 inches at 1,396 fps, with the best group being 2.31 inches. Black Hills averaged 3.66 inches at 1,382 fps, with the best group being 2.19 inches. Winchester USA Forged steel case averaged 3.63 inches, with the best group being 3.75 inches, and Remington averaged 4.59 inches with the best group being 3.75 inches.

The author believes the UC-9 displays solid workmanship. Here is a comparison of some front-of-frame welding on an FN subgun (left) and the Century Arms UC-9.
The author believes the UC-9 displays solid workmanship. Here is a comparison of some front-of-frame welding on an FN subgun (left) and the Century Arms UC-9.

The heavy, 12-pound single-stage trigger pull was sort of like pushing a refrigerator, but once I got it going, it moved along pretty easily.

Out of hundreds of rounds shot in testing, I had a handful of failures (ejection and sometimes chambering) that seemed related to the squared-off tip of the firing pin penetrating the cartridge primer. More common was a chambering failure of the first round from a fully loaded magazine. It would commonly get hung up at a 45-degree-angle point on the feed ramp and rim in the feed lips. However, the more I shot, the less this issue occurred, and I attribute it to the old military-surplus magazine, which I neither cleaned nor oiled.

General workmanship of the UC-9 was very good despite what some web critics claim. I compared the welding on the front of the frame to a part from a genuine FN demilled subgun, and the UC-9 was just as well executed, if not better.

There’s no practical advantage to a very heavy 9mm semiauto carbine like this, but if you have pangs of nostalgia for this historically important design, the UC-9 is a worthy clone at an affordable price.

Frank Thomas fires the Century Arms Centurion UC-9 at a recent Zombie Shoot event in Kentucky.
Frank Thomas fires the Century Arms Centurion UC-9 at a recent Zombie Shoot event in Kentucky.

The MSRP is $749, but actual selling prices are closer to $650, and magazines are as cheap as $10 each.

For more on the UC-9 and other Century Arms firearms, visit or call (800) 527-1252 to locate a dealer near you. 