How Practical is Full Auto Fire? Is Semi-Auto Fire Better?

Larry Vickers puts a full auto rifle on the clock and compares it to a semi auto rifle to see how practical full auto fire really is.

How Practical is Full Auto Fire? Is Semi-Auto Fire Better? Pistol Drill

Hollywood and video games both love fully automatic weapons. The bottomless magazine rifles used by the entertainment industry can spray and pray and hit all of the bad guys by wildly waving it around. 80s action movies in particular were known for the hip fire that could slay waves of attacking armies.

It’s all bull crap though.

The US Military’s M4 rifle has a rate of fire of 700 to 950 rounds per minute, which is about 11.6 to 15.8 rounds per second. That means an entire magazine can be emptied in about 2 seconds on full auto fire. Such a high rate of fire is extremely difficult to control which is why the US Military does not teach soldiers to use full auto except in very special circumstances.

In short, aimed semi auto fire is more effective than “spray and pray” full auto fire.

Putting it on the clock

Laying all of this out in theory doesn’t mean much without quantifiable data. So Vickers Tactical pit it out on the clock with a timed accuracy test at 15 yards. The first test was to see how fast he could put two shots on target, and the results speak for themselves.

Despite Larry Vickers’ 20 years in the US military, 15 of that in Delta Force, and many more years as a firearms instructor, his accuracy suffered greatly despite the faster time. The second part of the test was to mag dump 30 rounds on three targets. Out of 30 rounds, there were only 6 hits on the targets that were very close together, not moving, and not behind any cover.

Is putting more rounds down range with less hits better or worse than putting less rounds down range with more hits?

There is a time and place for everything

Full auto fire definitely does have a practical application, but full auto fire is better utilized by a mounted machine gun or dedicated light machine gun. In a carbine rifle, such as the M4 Carbine or AK-47, full auto fire has very limited practical use. When two seconds is all that’s needed to turn a rifle into a paper weight, shooters want to be very careful as to how quickly they empty their rifle.

Written by - always a student, sometimes a teacher.

I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.

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