FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A MBR’s

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A

I have owned and shot all three rifle types (FN, M1A and HK).  I have shot all three in a ‘military or fighting’ type environment – not combat, but training for such.  This differs greatly from typical ‘range shooting’ – and my thoughts/opinions are formed with that in mind.

Here are my thoughts and opinions.

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – Receivers

Lets start with the receivers: On the HK firearms (MP5/HK91/HK93) when the sheet metal receiver receives a blow (from a corner, a metal door, an opened APC door, etc.) the weapon goes down HARD. The bolt will NOT retract, and if one fires the HK with a ‘dimpled’ receiver, the bolt will come back but then will NOT go forward. And this is NOT an isolated occurrence. If it was, then HK would not include a ‘receiver dent remover’ in the basic armorer’s kit!

The FN on the other hand has a machined steel receiver which won’t dent from a blow, and even if the sheet metal top cover were bent, it could be removed and the weapon would still function. Which beats the heck out of an HK that just went TU and is now as dangerous as a 2 x 4. Not bad if you are within 6 feet of your opponent, but NOT GOOD AT ALL if he is 10 feet or beyond.

The M1A receiver is forged or cast steel, so it will not ‘dent’ either.

However, the FN and HK receiver both cover the ‘action’ very well, protecting the insides from in the ingress of foreign matter.

So receiver design/utility – the FN is the winner, the M1A in second place (robust receiver but open to the elements) with the HK third (enclosed but dent prone receiver).

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – selectors

The selector on the HK is too far forward and cannot be manipulated while in the firing position – unless one has an unusually long thumb. This is very poor human engineering.

The metric FAL shares this same downfall, but the ‘inch’ pattern comes with a great selector, and DSA makes a metric version of the ‘inch’ pattern safety (an addition that I highly recommend).

The M1A safety is in the trigger guard.  BAD IDEA.  With gloves it goes from bad to worse.

So with ‘safety’ placement – FN first, HK second, and M1A third.

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – Magazine Release

The ‘button mag release’ on the HK is an abortion. If you have a HK, get the flapper mod. Without it the HK gives truly substandard performance when it comes to mag changes.   Mags do not need to be ‘rocked’ in, and they are ‘stout’.

The mag release on the FN is in an excellent location, and needs no alteration.  Mags need to be slightly ‘rocked in’, and the mags are not as stout as the HK or M1A mags, but they are not fragile either.

M1A mag release is of ‘flapper’ type, mags need to be ‘rocked’ in, and the mags are sufficiently stout, but not as stout as the HK mags.

So as far as ‘changing mags’ the FN and M1A are tied for first, with the HK in second (unless one has the flapper on the HK – then it is a three way tie).

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – Charging Handle

The charging handle on the HK91 is in an awful place. Try charging an HK91 while in the prone position, and you will see what I mean. POOR HUMAN ENGINEERING.

Also, I have seen the little plastic nub on the charging handle on West German G3’s that have broken off, and I have seen the little plastic nub on the charging handles of the MP5 that have broken off. It leaves a sharp little metal rod, with equally sharp edges of plastic around it to grab onto. (The only reason I have not seen it on civilian HK91 is that they are not treated like combat weapons, but rather like range rifles. This is true with almost ALL weapons in private hands. They cost us a lot of dough, so we treat them as good as we can. However, when the ‘balloon goes up’ – we will then treat our rifles like combat weapons, and you will see these shortcomings of the HK arise. However, then it will be too late do anything about it.)

The charging handle on the FN is in an EXCELLENT location, and can be manipulated while in the prone with EASE. It is usually made of steel and aluminum and it very robust.

The charging handle on the M1A is on the right side, which is not as efficiently operated as the ‘side’ charger of the FN.  However, it can still be manipulated while in the prone by merely ‘canting’ the rifle on its left side a little.

So, in this area the FN is first, the M1A is second, the HK a distant third.

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – Bolt Hold Open

The LACK OF A BOLT HOLD OPEN on the HK further illustrates the poor human engineering of the HK. And I have never bought into the old adage of ‘loading some tracer for the first few rounds in the mag’. Tracers work both ways – so I want COMPLETE control over when I use tracers.  So, the HK’er doesn’t know he is empty until he hears CLICK, then he must pull out the old mag (which if there is only a button release won’t be very fast cause he has to remove his firing hand for the pistol grip to push the button), insert a fresh mag, (and if he is in the prone) contort his body to get the charging handle to the rear and let it fly forward. NOW he can shoot.

The FN on the other hand has a bolt hold open, and it is in an excellent location for fast manipulation. The FAL’er can tell when the bolt locks back and is on his way to changing mags BEFORE the HK’er knows he is empty. The FAL’er releases the mag, inserts a fresh one, pulls down on the bolt hold open that is right there by his thumb and is back in the fight. (All with the firing hand still on the pistol grip where it should be.)

The M1A also has a bolt hold open, however the ‘button’ is not quite as fast as the FN to operate, as it is located on the top of the receiver, but it is not by any means slow – just not as ‘easy’ or ‘user friendly’ as the FN.

So here, the FN has a slight edge on the M1A – but the HK is FAR BEHIND.


The HK trigger is atrocious. And I personally would not have ANY aftermarket set trigger mod done on a fighting weapon that I would have to stake my life on. I have seen TOO MANY aftermarket triggers go TU at the worst possible time. If you have a HK, just get used to the horrible trigger.

The FN trigger is MUCH better, but still not perfect. But, leave it alone. It will work as is – it may not work if you mess with it!

The M1A has a better trigger than either of the above, so in this round, the M1A is first, the FN second and the HK third.

FN FAL vs HK91 vs M1A – sights

The sights on the HK are unnecessarily complex, and require a ‘special tool’ to adjust. I like to ‘keep it simple, stupid (that’s me), and the HK does not allow that.

The sights on the FN are ‘OK’ – not spectacular, but not bad either.  There are also some EXCELLENT aftermarket rear sights for the FN that REALLY enhance the robustness of it, and make it the equal of the M1A.

Which brings us to the M1A, it definitely has the best ‘issue’ sights of the three.  So in this round, the M1A wins, the FN is second and the HK is third.  (Notice a trend with regards to third place here?)

Field stripping/maintenance/cleaning are sixes across the board.  All tied for first.

Spare parts/mag prices. Here the HK is in first place (the only time) with the FN in second and the M1A coming in third.

Reliability is sixes with all three long arms. The FN and the HK have been used literally around the world in every possible climate. From desert sands to icy snow with good results. The M1A comes from a very proven performer, the venerable M1 Garand, and it is also a very reliable rifle.  The bottom line with reliability of any of these three rifles is – if you fail to maintain them, they WILL go down on you. If you maintain any of these three rifles, they will WORK for you.

So with regards to reliability, it is a three way tie.

Accuracy is sixes also (with ‘rack grade/mil issue rifles’.  The M1A can be made into a ‘tack driver’ but then it is no longer an Battle Rifle but rather a Designated Marksman Rifle with a resulting loss of functional reliability in adverse conditions). Those that claim that any one of the three is more accurate than the others have a totally different experience than I have. I find them all to be acceptably accurate.  All will shoot 3 MOA or under all day long using mil spec ammo, and one can find specimens of any of the three that will shoot considerably better than that.

So with accuracy (esp. ‘combat accuracy’) it is another three way tie.

Take all of them (FN, M1A and HK) to the range, and do some quick reaction firing drills. In other words, treat them like ‘combat tools’ for a short while. Include mag changes in every position possible. Shoot them until they are dry, and ‘recharge’ them in every possible position. (I don’t know of ANYONE that can count rifle rounds.) Use a timer and keep score. You will quickly see how important human engineering is in a firearm. In my experience, the FN will win.  It won’t win by much compared to the M1A. Admittedly the difference for me may totally be related to the fact that I pistol grips, ala the FN.  ALL my fighting longarms have pistol grips (AR’s, AK’s, Galil’s, etc.) – and I do better with a longarm that has one.  Maybe if the M1a had a pistol grip it would truly be “sixes” between the FN and M1a – they really are that close. What has been constant each time I ran this is the HK91 was a distant third place.  The lack of good human engineering is really made evident during fast firing drills, including reloading, etc from multiple positions.

At the start of this post, I mentioned that I owned all three rifles. However, after repeating the above drill time after time, I found that soon my M1A and HK were gathering dust – so I sold them and have not regretted it! (OK – I DO regret that I do not still have them – but only as INVESTMENTS – not as a personal Battle Rifle.)

Don’t get me wrong, if the ‘balloon went up’ tomorrow, and all I had was an M1A or a HK, I would not feel one bit bad (I would feel A LOT better about having an M1A if I couldn’t have my FN though.  For me the HK would be a distant third choice for an MBR). I know their weaknesses and can overcome them.  For me the FN has better handling characteristics.



Here is a link to a post I did comparing the FN FAL to the AR308.


Categories: Firearms Training

1 Comment

  • Loren McCoy says:

    Just read this blog. Obviously you have a lot of experience with these MBRs. I just bought a PTR 91 from a local gun store. I have several AR15s. Might buy a FAL at some point. I wanted something to take to my farm range and I wanted to own a MBR. I have had two M1As in the past. They are great but hard to put a scope on, and I prefer a pistol grip on a fighting rifle.

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