As modern sporting rifles have become almost ubiquitous in the firearms world, many shooters have started to turn from their lighter 5.56mm NATO and 7.62x39mm weapons towards the heavier .308/7.62mm NATO semi-autos.
Classic battle rifles like the M14, FN FAL and HK G3 combine the potent 7.62mm NATO with designs that have been proven in some of the harshest environments this world has to offer. While these can be fairly expensive guns, the tremendous popularity of the Spanish CETME and the HK G3 (which was developed as a joint enterprise with the CETME) has resulted in a flood of surplus guns and parts, making the roller-locked CETME/G3 design surprisingly inexpensive. While original rifles, even in semi-auto form, can cost several thousands of dollars, the new C308 from Century Arms is a refreshingly affordable version with all the capabilities of the pricier options.
Century Arms is no stranger to roller-locked rifles in any of their many forms. In business for over 60 years, the company previously imported the CETME as well as the C93, a 5.56mm variant of the HK G3. I first encountered the C308 on a range in early 2015, where I had the chance to run a few magazines through one. As pleasant to shoot as you can reasonably expect from a semi-auto 7.62mm, the iron-sighted C308 hit where I pointed it, regularly striking the 200-yard steel silhouette target from the bench. Standing, it hit every 100-yard target, which was enough to make me want to spend more time with one. Luckily, Century Arms delivered.
My test gun arrived in a foam-lined cardboard container with a manual, two surplus 20-round aluminum G3 magazines, and a steel five-rounder. For those unfamiliar with the finer points distinguishing the CETME from its German brother, the G3/HK91, it would be easy to confuse the C308. Other than the sights and the shape of the thumb safety lever, the lines of the gun are almost identical, down to the HK-style furniture, although the gun itself is built from CETME parts that are either NOS or arsenal refinished. In order to keep the gun 922r compliant—meaning it has enough U.S.-made parts to be legal—the barrel, receiver, operating rod, muzzle device, trigger housing, buttstock and handguard are all made in the U.S.
Finished in business-like black, the C308’s forend is a reproduction of the commonly-encountered “slim” G3 version, with coarser checkering and lacking only the metal heat shield found in surplus forends. The buttstock is a fixed, black polymer unit, and the fire control parts are contained in a polymer Navy-style trigger group.
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The front sight is contained in the familiar “triple tree” arrangement that unites the barrel and cocking tube and forms a hood for the front sight. In place of the square-post front sight of the HK, which is basically made from sheet metal (and devilishly hard to remove), the C308’s front sight is a tapered conical post that rotates to adjust for elevation.
The triple tree also houses the bayonet mount that remains in place on the C308, which is a shrewd little piece of design work that’s easy to miss. The tab-shaped mount protrudes from the front of the triple tree, held in place by a pair of spring-loaded plungers that lock into holes in the triple tree. Depressing both plungers (which can easily be done with tip of a .308/7.62mm cartridge) allows the mount to be rotated and pulled out from the front. Attached to the back of the mount is an aluminum tube with a thread-on cap designed to contain a pull-through cleaning kit. Very clever. My test rifle didn’t have the kit in it, but it did have the tube and cap; a cleaning brush is easy enough to add in later.
In front of the rear sight, a length of Picatinny rail has been stitch-welded onto the top of the receiver. Considering that putting optics on this style of rifle was traditionally limited to a claw-type mount, the inclusion of a low-profile rail makes the gun far more useful than it otherwise would be, especially in a world where we’ve come to expect optics on our sporting rifles. The rear sight, located just aft of the rail, is a flip-over arrangement with four options: three are apertures of varying sizes and one is a V-shaped notch. I kept it on the “4” aperture.
The manual of arms is simple: There’s no automatic bolt stop, so to load the rifle, reach forward to the front of the gun with your left hand and rotate the folding cocking handle out, then smartly draw it back all the way to the rear, where it can be rotated up into its locking notch in the cocking tube. Depress the plunger-type magazine release button on the right side of the gun to remove the magazine, and insert a loaded mag. While it’s possible to drive one straight up into the mag well, it’s better to put it in at a slight angle (a la the AK or M14) and rock it backwards until it locks. Slap the bolt handle down out of its locking notch with the palm of your left hand and you’re ready to go. The manual safety is a simple up/down lever—up is “safe” and down is “fire.”
One of the great features of the CETME/G3 rifles is how easily they’re disassembled. A single pushpin holds the forend in place; two secure the buttstock, which can be swapped out for another in a matter of seconds, a trick you’re not likely to try with an AR. Considering the broad variety of M-LOK, KeyMod and other forend arrangements, as well as target stocks like Magpul’s PRS-2 and a broad variety of collapsible stocks (such as the four-position model made by hkparts.net), the C308 would be very easy to modify to suit individual tastes—especially considering how reasonably the gun is priced, and how inexpensively parts can be sourced for it. The C308 can be found online for just over $600 and uses common G3 magazines. Since somewhere over seven million G3s were made, if you’re paying more than single-digit prices for mags, you’re paying too much.
Rock & Lock
Now for the fun part. I tested the C308 at the range with a variety of loads, including those from Black Hills, Federal, Winchester and Wolf Performance Ammunition. In 387 rounds fired, the C308 had a grand total of three malfunctions: one double feed and two failures to eject a spent case. Otherwise, it hummed right along.
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My complaints about the C308 are few and minor. There was a little play in the safety lever—not enough to be a safety hazard, but something a shooter used to a crisp AR safety would notice. On an aesthetic level, the cocking tube seemed to have had a rough life, but this is to be expected with surplus-style rifles, and the surface imperfections did not affect the C308’s functioning in any way. Additionally, while the compensator was surprisingly effective for its small size, it had a bad habit of shooting loose. I resorted to tightening it carefully, but firmly, with a pair of pliers.
While the CETME is a battle rifle, there’s no doubt that the modern sporting rifle can also be a compelling defensive weapon. With this in mind, and considering that modern carbine doctrine often treats the rifle as a replacement for the handgun, I shot double-taps with the C308 at pistol ranges in addition to conducting formal accuracy testing. There’s no doubt that the gun kicks, but even so I was able to post fairly satisfying groups shooting hammers with the big .308, and it transitioned smoothly between multiple targets. Shoot it fast enough and the forend gets a bit warm, not unlike those aluminum rails we see on ARs. During one particularly enthusiastic range session, I resorted to wearing a leather glove on my left hand and kept right on shooting. The rifle never showed any effects of the heat.
For accuracy testing, I ran the C308 with a Weaver 2-10X tactical scope equipped with target-style turrets and a mil-dot, green or red-illuminated reticle. The Weaver scope also came with a stout, one-piece mount that let me both install and remove it quickly on the C308’s top rail. With the Weaver set at the maximum magnification of 10X, I shot the C308 from prone at 100 yards. Five-shot groups from the C308 averaged just under 3.5 inches, with some loads from Black Hills and Federal shooting into just over 2 inches. The best group, produced with the 175-grain Black Hills load, measured 1.55 inches, followed closely by a Federal Gold Medal Match group measuring 1.58 inches.
While many shooters have been spoiled by ARs to expect MOA accuracy out of everything, these results are well within reasonable expectations for a surplus service rifle, and careful ammo selection should provide the accuracy needed for any use to which the rifle would be put. For consistency, I’d probably use Black Hills’ Gold Match ammo, which comes loaded with a 155-grain Hornady A-MAX bullet and provided the most consistent accuracy during testing, with an average of 2.12 inches and all three groups within about 0.3 inches of one another.
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While the CETME/G3 platform has its own charms, you’d be hard-pressed to find any rail-equipped semi-auto .308/7.62mm anywhere for the price of the C308. Add in the heritage and rugged reliability of roller-locked rifles, as well as easy customization and plentiful spare parts, and the C308 is a very hard bargain to pass up.
For more information, visit http://www.centuryarms.com or call 800-527-1252.
This article was published in the 2016 issue of Gun Buyer’s Guide. For information on how to subscribe, please email Subscriptions@a
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