“…knock ’em down.”
My breath comes in slow as the tower’s voice finishes its echo across the range. In my right eye I can see the front sight post swimming in the circle of the rear sight aperture; my nose is touching the charging handle on the back of the receiver, but the sight is still hard to see. The trigger falls right under the first joint on my right index finger, and on rifle #63 there’s virtually no slack, so as soon as I apply pressure the hammer is ready to fall.
A couple of hundred meters downrange, a green E-type silhouette target rises zombie-like from behind a berm. I twist my body against the sandbags to face the target while closing my left eye. Exhale, put the front sight post on the target, squeeze the trigger.
When wearing earplugs, the most distinctive sound of the M16 is the clank of the huge buffer spring getting slammed back into the buttstock and extending again to cycle the bolt. The supersonic crack of the 5.56mm round leaving the barrel at about 2900 feet per second is secondary to the weird clunkiness of the two-foot long spring next to your ear. The recoil, too, is negligible – to demonstrate this, a drill sergeant in basic put the rifle against his forehead and then his crotch while firing!
When the bolt flies back, pushed by the hot expanding gases from the barrel, the extractor claw (a rather flimsy part when compared to that of other rifles) rips the empty brass from the chamber. Once it’s cleared the ejection port, the cartridge case cartwheels out of the rifle, usually landing about three feet directly to the right. The ejection pattern is surprisingly regular, unlike the SKS for example, which flings brass randomly.
The bolt slams forward, stripping the next round from the top of the magazine, and the rifle is once again ready to fire – all in less than a breath.