Imagine you’re a pilot who’s just been shot down over enemy territory (cruel to call upon your imagination and so quickly insert such an unpleasant thought, I know). Upon reaching the ground, you extricate yourself from your parachute as the sounds of approaching enemy vehicles echo in the distance. Grabbing your pack, you sprint for cover and concealment and begin the arduous, terrifying waiting game until your rescue. If you were a pilot during the 1950s, you may just find the collapsible M6 Survival Rifle among your gear. And you may just clutch it close and breath a cautious sigh of relief.
Where you’ve seen it:
The M6 was actually offered to the public by Springfield Armory as recently as a decade ago. Though currently out of production, you can still get ahold of them today on the used market, though they fetch anywhere from $600 to $1000.
The M6 was a specially made combination firearm issued to U.S. Air Force aircraft crews to help forage for food in the event of a plane crash. The combination shotgun/rifle survival rifle was not a revolutionary idea: During WWII, Luftwaffe pilots carried the M30 Luftwaffe Drilling (right), which featured two 12 gauge shotgun barrels atop a 9.3x74mmR rifle barrel. But whereas the Drilling had case-hardened colors and a walnut stock, the M6 was a little less gun, and a lot more utility tool. Collapsible and as bare bones as a gun could get, the M6 fit the essential requirements of a hunting tool with none of the fluff. Though the M6 was eventually replaced by the AR-7 semi-automatic survival rifle (also commercially available), pilots quickly found that an undisciplined shooter using the M6’s rapid-firing protégé could lead to blowing through days’ worth of ammunition in seconds, while the user of the M6 was more likely to use proper discipline given its slow reload time.
When we say that the M6 had all-steel construction, we mean all. Steel. Comprised of a stamped receiver and a forged-steel barrel, the M6 had not accessory rails nor wood furniture. With the exception of a rubber cheek rest, which lifted to reveal an ammo storage area that held nine rifle rounds and four shotgun shells in the buttstock, what you see is what you got. But that was a plus. Because, with none of the extra bulk, the M6 could collapse to a mere 15-inches long. Its squeeze-bar trigger was intended to make it easy to operate under any conditions, even while wearing heavy gloves, and rendered the M6 the only weapon issued to the U.S. military without a trigger guard; the trigger pull was deemed heavy enough, in tandem with the single-action firing mechanism, to prevent accidental discharges.
The M6 fired a .22 Hornet cartridge from its top barrel and a .410 shotshell from its lower barrel. Commercial models later included the option for a .22 Long barrel or a .45 Long Colt barrel instead of the .22 Hornet. Interestingly, because the .22 Hornet ammunition included with the M6 was loaded with soft-point, expanding jacketed bullets that didn’t comply with the Hague Convention, pilots were expressly forbidden from using it as a defensive tool against would-be captors (right).
A cool little gun that, given its small dimensions and bare-bones construction, could actually serve you very handily in a crisis, the M6 is not a pleasure to shoot. Recoil is harsh for its caliber/s, and its unusual palm-swell trigger can take a little getting used to. That said, they’re tough little guns that hold up to the worst weather and abuse. I’d gladly take one in a pinch.
Opening photo courtesy of prc68.com.
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