Although Winchester built the first successful semi-auto rifle produced in America, the Model 1903, Browning, Remington and Colt eventually became the dominant makes. Many of the most notable early developments were by John Browning, who pioneered most of Winchester’s designs and the Remington Model 8, built from 1911 to 1936. Others came about to meet the demands of war, including the famous Browning-designed BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), the foundation for today’s Browning semi-auto BAR models and the FNAR .308. Then there is the legendary .30 caliber M1 Garand introduced in 1936. After more than three-quarters of a century, it remains popular and collectible among sportsmen and military arms enthusiasts. As for “modern” semi-autos, the vast majority is based on the ArmaLite (1955) and Colt (1963) designs for the AR-15/M16 developed prior to the Vietnam War.
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Interestingly, many detractors of semi-auto rifles consider them to be the same as fully automatic and selective-fire military weapons like the M16, which is incorrect, even if they have the same general appearance. Looks can be (and often are) deceiving, but one should not confuse styling with internal function. “Modern,” in terms of semi-automatic rifles, is based more on aesthetics than actual mechanics, most of which have their basis in designs that are, at best, from the mid-20th century. Semi-autos are essentially all the same in operation, allowing one shot per trigger pull and automatically extracting and loading another round from the magazine during recoil, at which point the trigger must be released to reset before the gun can fire again. This is the same principle as a semi-auto handgun and the basic operation has not changed in over 100 years.
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While there are military, law enforcement and personal defense applications for every semi-auto rifle, most of the examples in this category are equally suitable for hunting and sport shooting. The selections are primarily compact versions (or have collapsible stocks) with an average overall length of 33 to 37 inches and weight of 6 to 7 pounds. The average capacity is 10 rounds, with extended capacity magazines averaging 30 rounds. The most common chambering is 5.56 NATO, which is a military cartridge that can be used for sporting purposes. There are also a number of alternate chamberings available for many of the guns, including 7.62 NATO, a standard caliber among hunters and sportsmen since the 1950s, while a few are chambered for handgun calibers like 9mm, allowing both a semi-autopistol and rifle to share the same ammunition. This is an old tradition going back to the 1870s and 1880s, when cowboys wisely carried revolvers and lever-action rifles chambered for the same cartridges.
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Rock River Arms
Smith & Wesson
Yankee Hill Machine