M1 Thumb – How To Avoid It! Part 1

Are you a firearms enthusiast? Do you like shooting and history? If so, you have most likely heard of the famous M1 Garand rifle. The rifle that General George S. Patton says won World War II and called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

And if you have heard of the famous M1 Garand Rifle then you probably also heard of the notorious ‘M1 Thumb’ or maybe have even seen it in a movie.

What exactly is the M1 Thumb? It is basically a black and blue or cut thumb that can occur when you don’t handle the loading of the rifle properly.

Now before you get scared and decide you would never want to even attempt loading an M1 Garand in fear of suffering the dreaded M1 Thumb let me assure you that a brief explanation is all it takes to avoid such a malady.

Let’s start by letting you know that the M1 Garand was the rifle issued to United States Army servicemen from 1936 (when it replaced the legendary bolt action M1903 Springfield) until about 1963. It was used extensively in World War II and the Korean War and is still actively used today as a hunting rifle and to shoot long range targets. So, the rifle is a classic and should not be feared as it has been successfully operated for almost eight decades by thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians alike without trouble.

Just like with anything, if you know what you are doing you usually won’t have a problem. So what are the main points in avoiding the M1 Thumb? Here is a brief list (in no particular order of importance)…

1)      Learn how to use the rifle properly.
2)      As with any weapon practice, practice and practice some more (with fake rounds!).
3)      Be careful, take your time and be deliberate with your actions.
4)      Don’t be afraid of the weapon!
5)      Understand how the rifle operates.

Having said all that lets discuss in more detail. The main reason the M1 Thumb injury happens is when the operator does not fully and firmly pull the bolt back into its open and locked position. This should not be a problem to recognize as the rifle actually makes a distinct noise when it reaches the fully opened and locked position. You will know when the bolt is secured in the open position. The best way to learn this is to try opening the bolt with a firm action and listen for the click as the bolt locks in place. Snap the bolt back in place quickly and with a firm action.

Now release the bolt by holding it back with your right hand and carefully pushing down the follower with your left hand. Slowly let the bolt go forward with your right hand and close the bolt pulling out your left hand before it gets pinched. Do this slowly and you will have no problems.

With the bolt now closed try opening it again but with a “wimpy and weak” pull back action and you will see the difference. The bolt does not fully lock in place making it susceptible to releasing when you least expect it such as when your thumb is in the way! The dreaded M1 Thumb! Once you know what you are looking for you can quickly recognize a bolt that is not fully opened. You will see the bolt kind of resting on top of the follower instead of being fully behind it.

Once you see, feel and hear the difference between a fully locked bolt and one that is not it will be very obvious when things are right. Below are some pictures of a bolt fully opened and locked and one that is not.

Fully Opened and Locked

M1 Thumb

M1 Garand Follower - Open Bolt

M1 Garand Open Bolt

M1 Garand Open Bolt

M1 Garand Fully Open and Locked Bolt

M1 Garand Fully Open and Locked Bolt

M1 Garand Rifle Open and  Locked Bolt Side View

M1 Garand Rifle Open and Locked Bolt Side View

Not Fully Opened and Locked: Note how the bolt is sitting on top of the follower compared to the pictures above where it is fully back. Also, notice from the side view how the bolt is not back far enough.

M1 Garand Rifle NOT Open and  Locked

M1 Garand Rifle NOT Open and Locked

M1 Garand Rifle NOT Open and  Locked Side View

M1 Garand Rifle NOT Open and Locked Side View

The “bolt” is what actually would do the damage to your thumb or fingers when it releases and closes. With the bolt resting on the follower it can easily release by bumping the rifle or even slightly touching the follower. That scenario is where you can get hurt.

When you have the bolt fully pulled back and in the locked position it cannot release (unless there is a mechanical failure) so rest assured. Now, many people say that most M1 Thumb injuries happen when someone is ‘fooling around’ with an unloaded gun and and open bolt.

Now that we know how to safely open the bolt on the M1 to avoid getting the M1 Thumb there is one more step…loading the clip. Click Here For Part Two: Loading the M1 Garand en-bloc Clip

Want to watch a video showing you how to avoid getting the M1 Thumb? Click Here!

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2 Responses to “M1 Thumb – How To Avoid It! Part 1”

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  1. casper says:
    Good article and great pictures! I feel like I learned enough by this post to never have to worry about the M1 Thumb! I watched the video also and it is very good. You really have a great way of showing people how to handle a weapon properly. Can’t wait to read more of your work.
  2. michaell says:
    Have you guys seen what it looks like when someone catches their thumb in it? Take a look at this link for a picture of an M1 Thumb injury. In this link some say the M1 Thumb is a myth but others say it can and does happen. Mostly when fiddling around with an empty rifle and open bolt.

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