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The FN/SLR Rifle - Charlie Haley

Left to right: The 7.62mm NATO round, the 7.62 Intermediate, and the 5.56mm.
Left to right: The 7.62mm NATO round, the 7.62 Intermediate, and the 5.56mm.

First let’s have a look at the differences between the FN and the S.L.R. (meaning Self-Loading Rifle). Britain, along with a great many other nations, decided that the FN was the best of the 7.62mm rifles, but wanted to set up a domestic plant in the U.K. to make them. While this was being done, a few changes were incorporated to make the new rifle more suited for British service. One of the most obvious was the flash hider, which on the S.L.R. is an elongated, slotted design. The cocking handle was made folding on the S.L.R., which is a nice touch, but so was the rear sight. This is a mixed blessing, as while it is nice to be able to fold the S.L.R. rear sight down when mounting a telescopic sight, it does open the distinct possibility that one day it may not be up if needed in a hurry. The pistol grip is quite different on the S.L.R., as is the foresight. The foresight on both can be adjusted for zeroing by screwing them up or down, but the FN has very fine click adjustments whereas the S.L.R. foresight is adjusted in 180 degree, half turn increments. This feature does make the FN more popular for competition target shooting, but the benefit is more perceived than real - the S.L.R. system is more than adequate for most purposes. The safety catch on the S.L.R. is definitely superior, though, being far broader and more easily operated. The S.L.R. bolt carrier has zig-zag cuts machined into it to deal with sand and dirt which may infiltrate via the ejection opening. However, all these differences are very minor. The most fundamental difference is that the FN dimensions are metric, whereas the S.L.R. is built to the old imperial “inch” pattern. This means that parts from one will not fit the other, except by coincidence. Even the magazines do not interchange - FN magazines can generally be used on an S.L.R. rifle, but S.L.R. magazines absolutely will not fit the FN.

The FN rifle is gas operated, and works on a tilting bolt locking principle. The bolt has to be locked at the moment of discharge in order to contain the pressures generated when fired, and this is achieved by the bolt riding inside a carrier and being tipped down at the rear to lock into a shoulder in the receiver. The “gas operated” designation means that the mechanism is worked by a gas piston within a tube above the barrel, utilising gas bled off from behind the bullet as it passes the gas port. Feed is by means of a 20 round detachable box magazine.

Any owner of an FN rifle should properly adjust the gas regulator to ensure reliable functioning, so here’s how to do it. The gas regulator is a ribbed ring situated just behind the foresight, some specimens having reference numbers around the circumference and others not. You will notice that as the regulator is unscrewed (anti-clockwise), a slot in the gas tube is being progressively exposed. This has the effect of releasing gas pressure away from the piston, venting it to the atmosphere and allowing less gas down the tube to operate the mechanism. Closing the regulator by screwing it the other way directs more gas into the gas tube and thus increases the force with which the mechanism is operated. What we’re after is enough gas pressure to reliably operate the mechanism, but not so much that the bolt and carrier are excessively battered. To achieve this, open the gas regulator by one complete revolution so that the venting slot beneath is exposed by the maximum amount, and fire away. The rifle will not cycle with the regulator so open, of course, so gradually tighten the gas setting until the rifle reliably cycles ten out of ten times. Closing the regulator another two clicks now gives your recommended setting. The ejection of the empty cases is a fairly good indicator - if all is well, they should land two or three metres away. If they are merely falling out of the ejection port and landing right next to you, you need to tighten up the regulator, whereas if your empties are heading off into the subregion you need to slacken off! If your rifle refuses to cycle, no matter how tightly the gas regulator is closed, your gas tube is most probably cracked.

Article continues below.

Zeroing the FN rifle is easy. Elevation is handled by the foresight, which is simply screwed up or down (when zeroing an S.L.R., you must first slacken off the foresight locking screw in front of the sight block). Remember, to RAISE the point of impact on the target, you must LOWER the foresight (and vice-versa). Lateral adjustments are made on the rear sight, by means of the opposing screws on either side of the sight. To move bullet impact on the target to the LEFT, you will need to move the foresight to the LEFT (and vice-versa again). In order to do this, first slacken off the left hand screw by the desired number of clicks, then tighten the right hand screw by the same amount (one click = approximately 1cm. of adjustment at 100 metres).

The FN's action broken and working parts partially removed. Note the 'Rat's Tail'.
Above: The FN's action broken and working parts partially removed. Note the Rat's Tail.

Below: Bolt and bolt carrier disassembled.

Bolt and bolt carrier disassembled.

Field stripping is relatively straight forward. Begin by checking to see if the rifle is unloaded (safety first!). With the safety catch applied, remove the magazine by pressing in on the magazine catch and rotating the magazine upwards and off. Then pull back on the cocking handle, visually inspecting the breech to ensure no round of ammunition lurks within. At this point, it is a good idea to work the cocking handle back and forth a few times as an additional safety measure - if by some mischance you have inadvertently failed to first remove the loaded magazine from the rifle, a cascade of rounds from the breech as you work the cocking handle will alert you at once that all is not well! Next, with the bolt forward, “break” the receiver/barrel unit from the trigger group/butt section by operating the release catch on the left hand side of the trigger group. Allow the barrel to pivot down (gently) and pull out the bolt and carrier by the “rats tail” (the steel rod at the rear of the bolt carrier). Separate the bolt from the carrier, then slide the dust cover off to the rear of the receiver. Remove the gas plug by pushing its spring loaded release catch from left to right and then rotating the plug a quarter turn anti-clockwise (keep a grip of it, as the piston is also under spring pressure).

The disassembly catch on the left side of the receiver - lift up to 'break' action. The bolt release catch (L) and magazine release catch (R) just in front of the trigger guard.
The disassembly catch on the left side of the receiver - lift up to 'break' action. The bolt release catch (L) and magazine release catch (R) just in front of the trigger guard.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.3 June 1999
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