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The FN/SLR Rifle - Charlie Haley

Something that will strike anyone who handles an FN rifle is the degree of care and the volume of machining that goes into the manufacture of it. Just look at the bolt and carrier, and imagine the work that goes into the crafting of just these two parts. Furthermore, all the metalwork is smooth, and free from toolmarks and roughness. This will give you a clue as to one reason why they have been largely superseded - they are dreadfully expensive and time consuming to make by modern standards. It makes for an absolutely superb rifle, but the FN was made to a standard that we will not behold again in a military rifle. Stampings, pressings and castings have taken over.

It has been maintained that the FN should never have been. Cheap and easy manufacturing methods were around in World War 2, as well as the Intermediate rifle cartridge. The FN, with its old fashioned manufacturing methods and its full power cartridge was an anachronism, a ballistic dinosaur, dated even as it appeared. Another viewpoint is that it is one of the finest rifles of its type available, and that all the points against it are just so much theory and accountancy. I am very much inclined towards the latter viewpoint. Be that as it may, time and economics appear to have caught up with the FN and the S.L.R.

However, all this is a huge bonus to the individual firearms owner, who can now own one of the most finely crafted and well made battle rifles of recent years for a fraction of its real cost. The FN rifle is not, and never has been, a battle rifle intended for use by large volumes of semi-trained conscripts, but is peculiarly suited to individual ownership by those who appreciate fine firearms - it is truly a riflemanís rifle, for those who can utilise its accuracy and full potential. A few have been made available in recent years, and it is probably the last chance anyone will have of owning one of these masterpieces. Donít worry too much if your specimen looks well worn - FN rifles remind me of old Land-Rovers, in that they were built to be fixed and re- built.

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Why should anyone want to own an FN or an S.L.R.? Well, for one thing they possess a degree of reliability and robustness virtually unheard of in sporting rifles. They will shrug off abuse which would destroy the average sporter, and come back for more. They are pleasant to shoot, their weight and gas operation making recoil very tolerable. They are also accurate - an FN rifle with good ammunition is generally capable of 1+-2 inch groups at 100 yards, and a well set up specimen can shoot below the magic minute of angle. They are the rifles of choice for service rifle shooting competition, and they can be easily fitted with a telescopic sight. Such a sight combined with .308 ammunition turns an FN into a very suitable hunting rifle. A couple of caveats here - firstly, avoid the use of military ball ammunition on game animals. Full metal jacket bullets can be very erratic performers, particularly on the larger species, so rather go for proper soft-nosed projectiles. Secondly, avoid the temptation to use the large magazine capacity and rapid rate of fire of these rifles as an excuse for bad shooting and poor bullet placement. Behave in an ethical and sporting fashion at all times (which should be the case anyhow, regardless of the type of rifle you use).

I certainly treasure mine, despite getting into trouble (again!) the very first time I ever fired one. We were on the range, cocked and ready to go, and Yours Truly was just itching to start. All we were waiting for was the word of command to commence. I then heard firing, and assumed that with the combination of my position at the end of the line and the ear muffs I was wearing, I hadnít heard the starting signal. Off I went. A boot thudded into me. It was the instructor. He seemed vexed and discontented about things in general, and about me in particular. I was informed in language liberally bespattered with sundry expletives that he had NOT in fact given the word to start firing. What I had heard was the next door range. A volley of further expletives of a descriptive nature was bestowed upon my cringing person, whereupon certain things were pointed out to me, to wit:-item (a), a Land Rover, and item (b), a hill. As I struggled to cause the placement of item (a) upon the top of item (b), I wondered if I was ever going to get it together with this strange new beast, the FN rifle. I also reflected somewhat bitterly upon the presence of engines in Land Rovers. What was their purpose, if not to facilitate getting them on top of hills? I am glad to relate that all went well after this somewhat shaky start. I obtained my marksmans badge, and the FN remains a firm favourite of mine. The only lasting effect has been an aversion to there being any Land Rovers around when I am competing in service rifle competitions, and a slight tendency to have dreams that I am a Land Rover engine when feverish.

A final reminder would be appropriate here - a reminder of how fortunate we shooters are in Zimbabwe that we can own and use rifles like the FN and S.L.R. Most parts of the world do not extend their citizens the same courtesy, so remember that with this privilege comes an equal and even greater degree of responsibility. Any form of irresponsible or criminal use by any individual with a privately owned FN or S.L.R. rifle would undoubtedly have dire legislative consequences for everyone else, whether justified or not. Current statistics show that crime committed by private licenced persons with rifles such as these is precisely nil. Lets keep it that way, and retain the pleasure of owning and using these fine rifles.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.3 June 1999
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