A Garand Collector's Paradise: Our Visit to the Civilian Marksmanship Program South Facility
(These pictured M1 Garands are just a few of the thousands shipped to competitors and collectors across the country by the CMP)
The Civilian Marksmanship Program has maintained a long running business relationship with Criterion Barrels. Each Special Grade rifle comes standard with a hand lapped match grade Criterion barrel, new production wood furniture, and refurbished USGI components. The CMP Custom Shop also offers a wide range of gunsmithing services for a wide variety of military surplus rifle platforms.
Day 1: CMP South and Creedmoor Sports
Earlier this summer representatives from Criterion Barrels took a brief weekend trip down to the CMP South facility to participate in a tour guided by CMP Custom Shop Manager Chris Hord to see what goes on behind the scenes at the CMP. The layout of this facility varies a bit from its northern counterpart located in Ohio's Camp Perry. While the Camp Perry facility is centralized on a centrally located campus, the CMP South operation is broken up into multiple buildings scattered across the city of Anniston, Alabama. Many of these buildings are government owned, so the ability to photograph was limited to areas accessible to the public.
(The CMP Custom Shop offers full service gunsmithing for a wide variety of vintage military rifle platforms)
Our facilities tour began with the CMP Custom Shop. While many are familiar with the CMP’s retail sales program, they may not know that the CMP offers a wide variety of gunsmithing and maintenance services. These services are not limited to the M1 Garand, but extend to any surplus rifle platform they are permitted to distribute through their charter. This includes any rifle design from the various Springfield Trapdoors to WWII era weaponry.
Chris was very excited to tell us about a limited production run of Special Grade USMC Model 1941 builds they were in the process of assembling for Vintage Sniper Match competitors. Featuring Criterion barrels drilled and tapped to accommodate reproduction Leatherwood/Hi-Lux 8x optics, brand new furniture, and re-parkerized components, these rifles have been proven capable of generating consistent sub-MOA performance.
Each rifle from this limited run will come standard with a test target fired at their nearby Talladega Marksmanship Park. The groups are fired with 167gr. BTHP ammunition produced by Creedmoor Ammunition, another Anniston-based manufacturer located minutes down the road from the CMP.
(CMP Custom Shop personnel were in the process putting together a limited release of Special Grade Model 1941 USMC rifle builds)
After exiting the Custom Shop, we made our way through the massive CMP rifle storage facility. While we were not allowed to photograph this particular area, this classic cinematic warehouse image came immediately to mind::
(Are you currently waiting on a rifle order from the CMP? No worries, they have top men (and women) working on it)
Stacked from floor to ceiling are rows upon rows of large boxes and crates filled with firearms of all different types. While the vast majority of these rifles are surplus M1 rifles recently repatriated from Turkey and the Philippines, there are a smattering of crates featuring various other traditional and not-so-traditional military firearms. Chris explained that while some firearms delivered are labelled as M1 rifles upon arrival, but when they open the crates they are occasionally surprised by what they find inside.
As we made our way through the facility we ran across a crate of surplus rimfire rifles that was in the process of being unloaded. An assortment of other firearms including M1917’s, Krags, and other unique vintage presentation rifles also dotted the shelves.
Once the crates are opened, their contents are sorted and inspected for unique or rare components. When these rare components are discovered, they are set aside to be saved for special rifle releases or online auctions. The rest of the rifles are prepared for assembly, dipped into large tanks that are used for cosmoline removal.
Adjacent to this building is the CMP’s brand new 1911 facility. While this building had previously been used for ammunition storage, it had recently been repurposed to store, process, and distribute surplus 1911 pistols. The setup of this facility was still underway at the time of this tour (it still had the “fresh paint smell”), but the bones of the operation were already set in place. Most impressive among them was the extremely large concrete vault tasked with safely storing the first shipment of handguns received.
While we didn’t get a chance to snap any photos of these handguns, we did get an opportunity to open up two of the crates to eye up the contents. While there has been quite a bit of chatter online regarding the pricing of these pistols, they appear to be valued quite fairly. The condition of the service grade pistols is immaculate, featuring a nearly perfect parkerized finish. While they were yet to be fully sorted, a number of the lower grade pistols also appeared to be in very serviceable condition. There is little doubt that these pieces of history will meet the desired requirements of CMP customers once orders are accepted beginning in September of 2018.
After leaving the warehouse area, we drove a few blocks to the assembly building. This area was chock full of parts, surplus optics, and virtually anything else imaginable that pertains to vintage military surplus small arms. Stacks of shelves featuring boxes full of new-in-wrap International Harvester M1 components were packed away deep within the parts cages, while at least a half dozen CMP employees busily assembled rifles of various grades and configurations. Also onsite is an enclosed test fire facility where employees function test each M1 rifle prior to shipping them out.
(After walking through the rifle assembly area it's clear to see that the CMP possesses the world's largest collection of M1 rifle components)
Once our tour of the assembly facility was completed we made our way over to the administrative building. This building not only features a number of offices and an air rifle range but is also home to the CMP South Store. This is one of four retail outlets (South Store, Talladega Marksmanship Park Pro Shop, North Store, and Online Sales) for the M1 rifles assembled just down the block.
At one point these stores were sparsely populated with M1 rifles, but these days they’re packed to capacity with various different grades and styles of M1 Garands. Also featured are a variety of surplus items ranging from Pelican cases to rifle slings. Not wanting to leave empty handed we wound up purchasing a pair of the surplus nylon web slings for a couple clone rifles sitting in the safe back home.
(Looking to hand select your own M1? The CMP offers retail sales through their South Store and Talladega Marksmanship Park Pro Shop)
Once our South Store visit came to a close we wished the CMP folks farewell and hopped back into the car for a 15-minute drive over to the Creedmoor Sports headquarters building. A longtime industry leader in top tier equipment for the Highpower and Smallbore community, Creedmoor Sports is perhaps best known for their shooting jackets.
During our tour of the Creedmoor facility we quickly came to the conclusion that coats were just a small part of the Creedmoor operation. Their warehouse was loaded with parts, components, and accessories for a wide variety of different disciplines and applications. Reloading gear and accessories ranged from dies for classic cartridges like the .30-06 Springfield to modern precision rifle cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor were neatly stacked alongside powder tricklers, case trimmers, and a wide variety of other implements.
Many shooters aren’t aware that the roots of the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge can be found in a joint effort between Dennis DeMille (formerly of Creedmoor Sports) and Dave Emary, the former Senior Ballistician of Hornady Ammunition. In recent years Creedmoor has diversified their operation to include their own ammunition production. While their ammunition can be purchased factory direct, it is also distributed through the nearby CMP facility as well. We spent a few minutes learning how the ammunition was produced, packaged, and shipped. These loads feature high quality components, some recipes including brass and projectiles from renowned companies like Lapua, Hornady, and Sierra.
(This isn't your typical home reloading press. Creedmoor Sports operates a number of these machines to support production of their in-house ammunition line)
We made our way from the ammunition production area to the textiles room, where shooting coats, rifle cases, shooting mats, and various different cloth-based items were produced. Customers have the option to purchase stock designs, or customize their apparel and items with different pouches, features, sizes, and cloth types. On display were some of their multipurpose rifle case/shooting mats, as well as a few experimental PRS bags that have yet to hit the market. We wound up taking home one of their compact Desert MARPAT soup can rifle rests for use with a few of our shop demo rifles.
After bidding farewell to the folks at Creedmoor Sports we returned to the hotel to get our gear in order for the following day’s Talladega D-Day matches, located a half hour west of the Oxford/Anniston area.
Day 2: Talladega Marksmanship Park
(The Talladega Marksmanship Park offers world class range facilities for a variety of different competitive disciplines)
We pulled up to the front of the Talladega Marksmanship Park early the following morning, ready to register for the afternoon John C. Garand match held onsite. We had seen pictures of this facility in various different blog articles, but they really didn’t do justice to the true scale of the range. Aside from the primary 600-yard rifle range, the Talladega Marksmanship Park also features a state-of-the-art shotgun facility, dozens of 3-Gun bays, and a number of smaller centerfire rifle and pistol ranges.
The clubhouse alone was fairly impressive, featuring its own pro-shop, lounge area, classrooms, and kitchen. Some of the televisions mounted on the walls featured digital displays listing the targets at each firing point, presenting feedback on the position and score of each shot taken.
(The clubhouse features a lounge area, pro shop, classrooms, and offices for CMP personnel)
Directly behind the clubhouse sits the 600-yard centerfire rifle range. Stretching a few hundred yards wide, this state of the art rifle range features Kongsberg digital targets at each firing point, with targets mounted at 200, 300, and 600 yards. Shooters set up under the shady overhang (a welcome relief on a 90+ degree afternoon), with bleachers overlooking the firing line below.
Having spent years at traditional ranges like those found at Camp Perry, we found that we had overpacked for this particular rifle match. There was no need for a spotting scope, timer, or many of the other items that are normally hauled to and from the firing line. All the information needed was provided on a small monitor adjacent to the firing position. Shot placement indication and time remaining for the course of fire are all displayed, making the course of fire significantly less stressful. While some may enjoy the camaraderie of pulling and scoring targets in the blazing summer sun, we do not count ourselves among them. The introduction of the digital target system meant there was no need to go down range between relays, a welcome respite that drastically sped up the rate at which the match was carried out.
(The 600 yard centerfire rifle range features state of the art electronic scoring via the Kongsberg Target System)
Having that additional time available gave us the opportunity to get to know the other shooters in the nearby target points. My scorer was a Navy and Marine Corps veteran from the area who had enjoyed great success with his M1 Garand (which proudly featured a Criterion barrel). Clearly a man of good taste, we discussed a range of topics including audiobooks, reloading, and a plethora of other subjects. One of the most fulfilling aspects of match competition is the social dynamic, meeting shooters of various walks of life. The CMP does an excellent job of embracing this aspect during and after the matches, giving shooters an opportunity to chat about their experiences with a complimentary barbecue dinner later in the evening.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program has sold countless surplus firearms over the years and has done an excellent job allocating those resources to better train and educate U.S. citizens in responsible use of firearms and airguns through gun safety training, marksmanship training, and competitions. Their South facility and Talladega Marksmanship Park carry on this tradition in a thoroughly modern and enjoyable atmosphere. It was a pleasure touring their buildings and meeting a number of extremely pleasant individuals over the course of my brief time there. We have no doubt that we will eventually return to partake in some of the other activities offered, such as the Advanced Maintenance Class taught by CMP Custom Shop personnel.