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HK G3/HK 91: Is This the Best Battle Rifle?

The G3 first entered production in 1958 (wow, hard to believe it’s 65 years old already!), and since then, over 8,000,000 have been produced.

G3 Assault Rifle
Image: Creative Commons.

A few months back, I authored a piece for 19FortyFive titled “Ready, Aim And Fire! 5 Best Military Rifles In The World.” One of the weapons that made my Top 5 list was the Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale (FN) FAL, and one of the sources I cited to justify my selection of the FAL was an article by Mike Perry of SOFPREP titled “FN FAL: The world’s most successful battle rifle.” However, in the spirit of being balanced, it has dawned on me that the fine folks at Germany’s Heckler & Koch (HK), in keeping with their 1980s & 90s slogan of “In A World Of Compromise, Some Men Don’t,” might take issue with Mr. Perry’s claim.

And who could blame the HK folks if they did indeed harbor such sentiments? After all, not only do they make the world’s most successful submachine gun — the legendary MP5 9mm SMG – and the most accurate semiauto rifle in the world — the PSG1 (Präzisionsschützengewehr, Deutsch for “precision marksman rifle) – they also make a weapon for which a very reasonable case could be made as being the world’s most successful battle rifle: the 7.62x51mm NATO/.308 caliber HK G3 and its civilian market semiauto-only equivalent, the HK 91.

HK G3/HK91 Early History & Specifications 

Indeed, Adam Borisenko of Gun Digest penned an article back in October 2021 titled, appropriately enough, “The H&K G3: The World’s Most Successful Battle Rifle,” Here’s what Adam said in the opening paragraph of his article to back up his claim:

“In many ways, Heckler & Koch’s G3 rifle may be the real “AK of the West.” While the FN FAL received the moniker “right arm of the free world” and reached a similarly symbolic status in the West as the Kalashnikov did in the East, mechanically speaking they are not so similar. Things like the FAL’s adjustable gas system and non-interchangeable parts between patterns make it far too finicky of a system to truly be compared to the AK, but the same can’t be said about the G3. More widely adopted, more reliable and simpler to produce than the FAL, the H&K G3 may be the battle rifle truly deserving of that comparison.”

The G3 first entered production in 1958 (wow, hard to believe it’s 65 years old already!), and since then, over 8,000,000 have been produced. To quote Mr. Borisenko again, “Since at least the 1960s, the G3 rifle has made an appearance in most of the world’s significant conflicts. From various African bush wars, conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Global War on Terrorism, G3s have played a part.” The rifle has been used by the military and/or paramilitary and/or police forces of over 70 countries, including Germany, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.

Specifications include a weight of 10 pounds, an overall length of 40.4 inches, a barrel length of 17.7 inches, a width of 1.8 inches, and a height of 8.7 inches with a magazine inserted. Cyclic rate of fire on full-auto is 600 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity of 2,625 feet per second and a maximum range of 1,000 meters. Detachable box magazines come in carrying capacity options of 5, 10, 20, 30, or 40 rounds…and there are even 50- and 100-round drum magazines made for the rifle.

Personal Shooting Impressions

I only got to fire an HK 91 once, way back in the summer of 2003. It was a so-called “Hoot & Shoot” event in South Haven, Michigan, sponsored by retired Detroit PD Sgt. Evan Marshall, author of the highly controversial one-shot stop statistical studies on handgun ammo combat effectiveness, for those of us who were members of Evan’s online forums at the time. One of Evan’s close friends and forum moderators, USMC veteran Pat Eddinger (R.I.P. and God bless), was generous enough to bring his personal HK 91, affectionately nicknamed “Thumper,” so that us attendees could put some rounds through her.

Whilst I didn’t do an extended range session with the rifle – I fired a mere single magazineful – I shot it enough to see why Pat had nicknamed her “Thumper” in the first place; I could definitely feel the power of those .308 rounds, much more so than a 5.56mm M16A2 or even a 7.62x39mm SKS carbine or Czech vz. 58…though in retrospect, the recoil wasn’t quite as punishing to my shoulder as, say, the 7.62x54mmR Mosin-Nagant. And the weapon was darn sure accurate and flawless in function.

Pop Culture Appearances 

The HK G3 and 91 have appeared in a ton of motion pictures, with just a few examples being “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “Blackhawk Down” starring Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore (R.I.P.), and “The Killer Elite” (one of the all-time coolest movie titles IMHO) starring the late great James Caan. In addition, rapper Sir Mix A Lot, best known for his bestselling and Grammy Award-winning song “Baby Got Back” (I hasten to add that I won 3rd Prize on two different occasions for performing that song in a karaoke contest), extolled the virtues of the HK 91 in two of his songs, namely “Seattle Ain’t Bullshittin’” and “Chief Boot Knocka.”

Want Your Own?

A full-auto mil-spec HK G3 is going to cost you the proverbial arm & a leg in terms of money and bureaucratic headache to obtain, so your best bet is the HK 91 (at least in cities and states that haven’t banned so-called “assault weapons,” that is).

True Gun Value states that “A HK 91 rifle is currently worth an average price of $3,286.39 new and $2,521.47 used. The 12-month average price is $3,284.40 new and $2,369.12 used.” The Guns International website has four currently listed, selling for $5699.00, $5,899.00, $5,995.00, and topping off at a whopping $7,500.00.

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).