I've been a huge fan of the FN/FAL style of battle rifle for many years. I first carried one when I was in Rhodesia, back in 1976. I've owned a few FAL-style rifles over the years, and I reviewed the Springfield Armory version on SurvivalBlog last year. Too bad, Springfield Armory doesn't make their version any longer, it was an outstanding rifle in all respects.
About 10 tears ago, I purchased a used Century Arms (L1A1-model "inch pattern" FAL style rifle from a gun shop in Boise, Idaho - it was an outstanding shooter. However in a moment of weakness, I later sold it - one of those decisions I regretted the moment I did it. Last I heard, the gun had passed hands several times.
Yes, I know the reputation that Century Arms has when it comes to assembling some of their rifles from parts kits, onto new receivers and new barrels. However, I've been extremely lucky in this respect, and I've had outstanding luck with most guns from Century Arms - their CETME being the exception - I've owned several and they were junk. There is lots of chatter on the 'net about how poorly the Century Arms AK-47s are made. I've owned at least half a dozen, or more, versions of Century's AKs and loved them all. Some people say it's a crap shoot to purchase any Century Arms products,but I have to disagree.
My local gun shop knows my fondness for anything AK, AR, FAL and other similar types of rifles. At a gun show in Portland, Oregon they traded into a Century Arms R1A1, and they knew they had it sold to me as soon as I walked in the door following the gun show. The FALs that Century Arms manufactures are what a lot of folks call "FrankenFALs" because they are assembled using both metric and inch parts from various guns. I won't go into all the details of the differences between an inch and a metric FAL (and, "FAL" is a generic term for the purpose of this article.) However, many parts interchange between the guns - not all parts, but many do. My Century Arms R1A1 is a combination of inch and metric parts on a brand-new metric receiver and new American-made barrel.---
Quite frankly, the folks at Century Arms did an outstanding job on this particular rifle, as it is fitted nicely and the finish is great - a nice, gray Parkerizing over all the metal parts. The lower receiver is inch pattern, and near as I can determine in my research, the lower is from an Australian-made L1A1 rifle (inch pattern). The stock, pistol grip, gas piston and forearm are all US made, in order to meet the stupid FedGov regulations pertaining to the number of foreign made parts, versus US made parts in these types of firearms. The bolt and bolt carrier in the upper receiver are inch pattern - you can interchange inch and metric bolts and bolt carriers. The lower fire-control group is a mixed bag of original Australian, British and US made parts.(The latter are for Section 922(r) compliance. The left-side mounted charging handle is the folding type - inch pattern - which I prefer. The sights are inch pattern as well.
Now, one would be led to believe, that such a mixed bag of original military inch versus original military metric versus US-made commercial parts simply wouldn't work properly. Well, the folks at Century Arms did an outstanding job on this particular sample, and I well-pleased for the most part. Everything works as it should.
The rear sight is a peep-style, and it can be adjusted between 200 yards all the way up to 600 yards, but the .308 Winchester caliber can shoot accurately beyond 600 yards. The gun also shoots 7.62x51 NATO round, and be advised that these cartridges are not the same specification as .308 Winchester. The commercial .308 Winchester round is a bit hotter than the NATO round. And, the NATO rounds usually have harder primers. I've fired both through this gun without any problems.
The trigger pull on my R1A1 is outstanding for a military-style rifle and breaks at an even five pounds, with just a little take-up. The R1A1 weighs in at 9.5 ponds, not the lightest, nor the heaviest of the 7.62mm NATO battle rifle breed. There is a 21" US-made brand-new barrel on the gun, with a muzzle brake/flash suppressor on the end of it - it really helps tame recoil, too.
One thing I really appreciate about FAL style of rifles is the adjustable gas regulator. There are various adjustments on the regulator, so you can adjust it to fit the ammo you are using. You can close the gas regulator down, if you need more gas, to make the gun operate properly, or open the gas regulator up as well. You can even shut the gas regulator completely off for firing grenade launching blanks. There is such a wide variety of 7.62 NATO and .308 Win. ammo out there, that the idea of being able to tailor the gun to function at it's best with whatever ammo you're shooting is a real plus in my book - especially in a survival situation. Some folks, who aren't familiar with the FAL type of guns, and don't know about the gas regulator, foolishly sell or trade their guns when they don't operate properly. It's a very simply matter and only takes a minute to adjust the gas regulator in order for the gun to properly function with whatever ammo you might lay your hands on. You can find instructions for this all over the Internet, so I won't go into it here.
I have fired my R1A1 with a variety of different ammo, from Russian-made Brown Bear, to Radway from Great Britain, to include Pakistani-made 7.62 NATO to all manner of ammo, and haven't had any problems. For the most part, my particular Century Arms R1A1 sample operates best with military-grade ammo when the gas regulator is in the #3 - #4 position. And, with commercially-made .308 Winchester ammo, it works best in the #4 - #5 positions. Some folks simply aren't aware that there is an adjustable gas system on the FAL style of rifles, and when they change ammo, and the gun starts to malfunction, and not kick out the empty brass, or feed the next round - they get rid of their guns. And, many gun shop owners aren't aware of the adjustable gas system on FALs - sad to say. This is an outstanding gas system, that allows you to use hot, medium and mild ammo through it, and it only takes a minute or two to adjust the gun to function with whatever ammo you might be using or run across.
The FAL, at one time, was adopted for military service by approximately 90-countries. That says a lot in my book. The FAL is well-known throughout much of Africa, and was the dominate battle rifle at one time on that continent. It has since be replaced by the AK-47 in many African countries. However, if you watched the uprising in Libya last year, you surely noticed more than a few of the rebels were carrying and using the FAL. Many countries still rely on the FAL as their main battle rifle, and for good reason, the gun works and works very well.
After playing around with my Century Arms R1A1 for a week, and blasting away with all manner of .308 Winchester and 7.62 NATO ammo, I decided to get serious and see just what kind of accuracy I could get out of this hummer. As usual, I turn to Black Hills Ammunition and Buffalo Bore Ammunition for some of the absolute best shooting .308 Winchester ammo. From Buffalo Bore, I got their 175 grain Sniper Load, and from Black Hills, I requested their 168 grain Match Load. I had 100 rounds of .308 Winchester ammo from each maker, and really had a ball dialing in my R1A1 for optimum accuracy.
The Buffalo Bore and Black Hills Ammunition ammo kicked differently than standard 147 grain ball. . Now, out to 600-yards, it might be a big difference. Black Hills Ammunition also makes a 175 grain match a little bit more than the military surplus 7.62 mm NATO ammo did for a couple of reason. First of all, I was firing heavier grain bullets in the Buffalo Bore and Black Hills Ammunition ammo compared to the lighter 147-to-150 grain bullets in the military surplus and Brown Bear ammo. Even with the gas system adjusted properly, I could still feel a bit more kick - nothing to complain about, as I believe the .308 Winchester is a fairly easy round to shoot.
At 100-yards, and with iron sights , I was getting groups of 2" - 2.5" with both the Buffalo Bore and the Black Hills Ammunition. It was a virtual tie when it came to accuracy between these two loads. The Black Hills Ammunition 168 grain load shot an itty-bit lower than the Buffalo Bore 175 grain load - which was to be expected, but honestly, the difference wasn't anything worth load, too. I didn't do all my accuracy testing in one session, it was spread out over several days.
One shooting session would find the Buffalo Bore load beating out the Black Hills Ammunition load. The next session would find the Black Hills Ammunition beating out the Buffalo Bore load. Like I said, both are outstanding loads, and they are capable of better accuracy than what I was getting out of my R1A1. I believe I can consistently get 2" groups or better out of this gun - and that's mighty good shooting for a military-style, run-of-the-mill battle rifle. I've gotten sub-inch groups out of the Buffalo Bore and the Black Hills Ammunition ammo in other rifles, so I know it's great shooting ammo, and capable of better accuracy than I can wring out of it these days.
My shooting for accuracy with the Buffalo Bore and the Black Hills Ammunition loads was done over the hood of my car, using a rest. I think if I were to go prone, and used a sling to steady the gun, I could got more accuracy out of the gun. The Brown Bear .308 Winchester ammo I used - it was getting about 3" - 3.5" groups. Again, I think the gun is capable of better accuracy.
The Black Hills Ammunition .308 Winchester load is being used by our military snipers, as well as high-powered rifle competitors and they are taking down bad guys and winning matches with this load. The Buffalo Bore load is being used by high-powered rifle competitors as well, and they are winning matches with it. If anyone is making a more accurate .308 Winchester load than Buffalo Bore and Black Hills, I'd like to know who it is. Yeah, I know, the so-called "Gold" Standard in .308 Winchester has been the Federal Match load - I've shot it, and the Buffalo Bore and the Black Hills Ammunition shoot more accurately in my humble opinion.
A note on magazines, the Century Arms upper receiver will accept either the inch or the more plentiful metric magazines. I ordered some brand-new South Korean-made FAL metric mags - they wouldn't function! The locking tab on the back of the magazines were all a tad too long, and when locked into the mag well, it caused the rear of the magazine to be higher than the front - rounds stripped from the magazine all nose-dived and wouldn't feed. I ordered a good supply of military surplus FAL magazines from J&G Sales for $19.95 each. They were all like brand-new - they had Israeli markings on them. Every mag worked without a hitch. I had read that a lot of folks were having problems with the brand-new South Korean-made FAL mags, but I thought I'd take a chance, seeing as how they were only $14.99 each, but they didn't work. I probably could have gotten out the ol' Dremel Tool and ground down the rear locking tab a bit, but I found it easier to just return them and go with genuine military surplus FAL mags for a few bucks more. [JWR Adds: I concur about avoiding the South Korean-made FAL magazines. From all reports, the only after-market FAL box magazines that work as well as the original military contract mags made on Belgian or UK Commonwealth tooling are those made by DS Arms. They invested a lot of engineering hours into making magazines that feed flawlessly. DS Arms nows make 20, 25, and 30 round magazines. DSA will also be making SCAR "Heavy" .308 Caliber 25 round magazines.]
Now for the bad news. Century Arms doesn't make the R1A1 all the time. It's time consuming assembling this particular type of rifle and the availability of parts kits is spotty, so Century doesn't always have this rifle available. When they do, you need to snap one up, ASAP. I've surfed the web, and GunBroker.com and GunsAmerica.com, as well as some Cabela's stores have the Century Arms R1A1 available. Prices vary quite a bit from $699 upwards to $1,000. I paid $640 for my sample at my local gun shop, but I wouldn't part with it for $1,000 if someone offered me cash money for it today. I like it "that" much.
When you really want to reach out there and touch someone, or if forced to shoot through heavy cover, it's hard to beat the good ol' .308 Winchester caliber. I will be buying a spare firing pin and spare extractor - just to have on hand. Other than that, this baby is ready for combat or survival purposes. I've got mine, and if you are in the market for a great shooting FAL clone, then take a close look at the Century Arms R1A1. - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio
JWR Adds: I'm also a big believer in L1A1 clone rifles. We have four of them here at the Rawles Ranch. They are all inch pattern, and all were built before the import ban or were rebuilt using pre-ban receivers. (FWIW, I explained my preference for the inch pattern rifles in a 2007 SurvivalBlog post.) Although I'm planning to gradually switch to AR-10 rifles (built on the SI Defense receivers that can accept very inexpensive HK G3 magazines), the L1A1 is still the primary "battle rifle" for our family.
An excellent resource for both FAL beginners and experts is The FAL Files. I've been a member for more than a decade. (I'm member #133, and there are now more than 55,000 members.)