A Battle Rifle For the Ages: The PTR-91

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Introduction

I was driving to work one day, thinking about what a wonderful place our world is in these days, and about the hope I have for the future when I came to the realization that I had a huge void in my life. Namely, a void in my firearms collection. Despite years of “useless” gun purchases  (are they ever really useless, though?) I had left a huge gap. I didn’t have a single Battle Rifle. Yes, you can wipe off the coffee from your computer/tablet screen. Don’t worry, you can breathe easy, I have long since filled that gap with a very appropriate choice, and we will talk more about it. Now I can go back to thinking about how wonderful the world is.

I won’t go into why I felt like I needed a Battle Rifle, or why I think they still fill a viable slot in an armory. Plenty of commandos on the interwebs and forums have written plenty about this and that, and I care not to add to the drivel. I will go so far as to “define” if you will, what a Battle Rifle is, for those of you that may be unfamiliar. Remember, this is not a hard-fast list of rules, this is simply a collection of features that Battle Rifles tend to have. So here goes.

The first feature is that Battle Rifles are chambered in full-power rifle rounds, typically 7.62x51mm or it’s east-bloc alternative, the 7.62x54R. There are a few outliers, namely the French (surprise, surprise..) who like proprietary rounds, but c’est la vie.  Most hold between 8 and 20rds, and are fairly heavy for an individual weapon; with 9-12 lbs unloaded being typical. The barrels are longer than most other individual weapons, with 18-24″ being common. Some are select-fire, some are simply semi-automatic. Some examples of well known Battle Rifles through history have included, the US M1 Garand and AR-10, the Russian SVT-40, the German GEW-43, the Italian BM-59, the Swiss SIG-510, and the Belgian FN SCAR-H.

However the field is dominated by three main competitors, all of which have been around  nearly 60 years and are well experienced in combat across the globe; namely, the M14, the FN-FAL, and the HK G3/91. I have longed for a clone of one of these rifles for some time, and I figured that I had to have one.

All three rifles have their supporters, and their detractors and are (in my mind) pretty great at what they do. This not a “this is the best battle rifle” article. It is a showcase of the capabilities and features of the one that I have chosen based on my own preferences and needs.

If you read the title, you already know which one I chose: The HK G3/ 91 or as its stateside clone is known, the PTR-91.

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The PTR-91 is an excellent clone of the HK G3/91 series of rifles at just a fraction of the cost of an original

Overview

 

There were a lot of reasons why I chose a HKG3/91 clone, the first was cost. The HK G3/91 clones are significantly cheaper than FAL or M14 clones by several hundred dollars in some cases. The second was a combination of ruggedness/reliability. The HK G3/91 is often called the “AK of the West” and for good reason, the heavy duty roller-locker delayed blowback action is extremely simple and rugged and will continue to cycle through even the most adverse situations. There is no gas-regulator system to fiddle with like a FAL, or delicate operating rod like on the M14. The G3/91 is also exceptionally reliable due to its heavy mainspring, which is similar to the buffer spring on an AR-15, and will rip through gunk, carbon, mud, ice, sand, etc. The spring is so strong, that early G3s had a problem with ripping case heads off of the spent cartridges. Obviously this is a big no-no.  The remedy was to flute the chamber, so that the expended gases of the fired cartridge would lubricate the case and make it easier to extract. Problem solved. The extremely heavy mainspring also is what gives the G3 some of its more noticeable attributes, namely, severely denting or cracking the empty cases when it extracts and ejects the case against the receiver port and then flinging the cases upwards of 50 feet with quite a bit of force. The mainspring also generates quite a bit of secondary recoil during firing versus the FAL or M14, which has given it a reputation as a “hard kicker” amongst shooters with a more delicate constitution. However, as I noted above, that is an easy trade-off, in my mind, for flawless and rugged reliability.

The third reason, is that surplus parts and magazines are veeerrryyy inexpensive. Factory original magazines can still be bought in some places for a trifle more than a dollar, with most places selling them for 3-5 bucks a piece. Yes you read that right. Try finding any other type of firearm where the factory original magazines can be bought for less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

The last reason is the forward charging handle. Unlike most other rifles with the charging handle on the right side of the receiver by the shooter’s face, or in line with shooter’s  teeth, nose and eyeballs (that’s right, I’m talking to you, Eugene Stoner) you can charge or clear a jam on the HK G3/91 without taking the weapon off the shoulder or your eye off target and with your support hand in line with your body. Plus, when the handle is locked back, doing an “HK slap” makes you feel like a 1980’s action movie star.

 

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The classic drum/diopter HK sights make for quick and easy adjustment for engaging targets at different ranges

Sights on a HK G3/91 are the best (in my opinion) on any BR available. The M14 uses a tiny peep that that is pretty darn good for target shooting, but for battle use is limited. The FAL is noted for having a variety of crude adjustable, or sometimes fixed sights that otherwise tarnish a fantastic rifle. However, the classic diopter sights of a G3 combined with the hood post front make for both very accurate and fast shooting. The diopter is a rotating drum adjustable for both windage and elevation. The first elevation setting is a wide “express style” 0-100m v-notch for snap shooting or CQC. The remaining settings are conventional peep sights set for 0-200m, 300m, and 400m. The front sight is a completely fixed metal post and cannot be adjusted at all. I think this lends a bit of durability and battle accuracy to the rifle as compared to other rifles.

 

Adjusting windage is easy enough, there is a screw that you loosen or tighten and move the whole assembly left or right. Adjusting elevation is also very simple, once your rifle is zeroed, you simply rotate the drum to the desired setting.

Zeroing, however is a different ball game. To do it properly requires a special HK sight tool or some very small pliers. It involves pinching some tabs inside the drum and rotating the spindle of the drum on itself. I won’t explain much further, because I had to watch a video of it, reading the directions made no sense to me. I used pliers and zeroed at 25m, and then tweaked it at 100m and called it good. It can be a pain at first but once it is zeroed, the sight is locked in.

The reason I chose PTR’s version of the HK91 is simple. They are the best new HK-style rifle available. Let me give you all some history. Back in the day, forty-fifty years ago, there was a large demand from nations to supply their armies with the HK G3. HK could not keep up with the demand, so they licensed tooling machines all over the world in countries that had purchased manufacturing rights for the G3/HK91.

This was a great idea, because now any nation could make as many or a few rifles as they needed for their army and it took a load off of HK to supply these rifles. However, there can be a wide disparity in quality of parts from one country to the next. One company in particular (I’ll let you guess who)  has for years been importing HK91 clones made from kits and boxes of spare parts of ambiguous quality and dubious origin. They also mix quite a bit of CETME (which is a Spanish rifle that is very similar, but not the same as an HK91) parts in with their builds, with the results being spotty in quality at best.

PTR’s firearms are all made in the US on original HK tooling bought from Portugal. They do not just assemble parts that are already made, they roll their own. As such, their rifles are significantly better in quality, fit and finish, and reliability than any other HK91 clone I have ever seen or used. The exception, is of course, the real McCoy or an original German made HK91.

My PTR-91 is the GI model and had OD green plastic furniture. I quickly changed that out for some authentic G3 wood furniture, complete with port buffer, bayonet lug, and bayonet, and leather sling, a la, 1950’s West Berlin-style G3. The wood serves to absorb heat better than the plastic when doing rapid fire strings, plus it looks cooler.

My version still has the Navy polymer lower, but I may exchange it for a classic metal SEF lower for a more authentic look. The magazines rock into place like an AK or M14. Something I should note: original HKG3/91s have a paddle release like AK-variants, whereas PTR-made rifles used to utilize a push button magazine release. But not to fear! PTR rifles are now being fitted with paddle releases, which is much easier to use in my opinion.

Weight of my iron sighted PTR91 is 9.5lbs unloaded, with a 20rd loaded magazine that weight soars to 10.8lbs. It would definitely be a bear to pack around, but it is very comparable to other Battle Rifles. The two-stage trigger pull as measured on RCBS scale is a consistent 9lbs even, which may seem high, but is still within Mil-Spec measurements, believe it or not. The rifle, despite its intended role as a Battle Rifle is relatively compact; the barrel is 18” long, and overall length of the firearm is 40.5”

 

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The HK G3/91 family of rifles has three pins that allow for complete and simple disassembly of their rifles

Field stripping is very simple. The HK G3/91 uses push-pins somewhat like an AR-15 and comes apart into an upper and a lower. The stock comes off with the mainspring, and the bolt slides out of the rear of the receiver. Reassembly is the reverse. Taking the bolt apart and putting it back together is a bit more complicated, so I will refer you to official PTR or HK literature on that topic.

 

On the Range

Accuracy for the PTR is quite good and is on par or better than other Battle Rifles I’ve shot. The lack of moving parts in the original design and good barrel steel, combined with quality ammo make for a surprising accurate rifle.

I should mention that I have really weird standards for weapon accuracy. If a rifle is made to have a scope on it, I will test for accuracy with a scope. If a rifle has open sights I will shoot it with open sights for accuracy and may not mount a scope at all. In this case, I do not think mounting a scope to a HKG3/91 would be fair review of its abilities since it was not intended for use with optics. I also do not think it would be fair or appropriate to test a battle rifle with open sights with high grade Match ammo or commercial .308 Winchester hunting loads as that was not what it was meant to be fed. However, if this were an MSG-90 or a PSG -1 (the highly accurized sniper and target versions of the G3/91 platform) I would certainly use match ammo and optics for testing, as that is what it how it was designed to be used.

 

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The PTR-91 showed excellent accuracy with all brands of ammo, but really shined with XM-80 ball rounds

The best accuracy for five shot groups at 100 yards was with Federal XM-80 149 grain ball 7.62×51 in the 2.25-2.5″ range. This is almost twice as good as Mil-spec standards for rifle and ammo, so I am very pleased. With steel cased Tula the groups did expand and print slightly more erratically, but all groups stayed within 3.25” if I did my part. That kind of accuracy made hitting steel torso-sized silhouettes out to 400m almost easy, even in field positions.

Conclusion

The PTR-91 is an excellent choice for those shooters/collectors looking for an inexpensive and reliable HK G3/91 variant. The myriad of inexpensive surplus and aftermarket parts available to the end user make this a very modular design and easily customizable to the shooter’s preference. This rifle also has several practical uses as a ranch/truck gun, home defense, and in competitions where stock military-type rifles are used. It is not necessarily the right choice for every circumstance, but it certainly is a good choice.

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