A few years have passed since January 2015 when this very article was first published, both in English and Spanish, in the webpage Breach-Bang-Clear in two parts (first part, second part). We are fully posting it again here because it hasn’t got obsolete. If you are or have been an HK G36 user, maybe you are familiar with many things commented in this article, and you even agree them [you can find the Spanish version of this article here].
In 1999 Spanish Armed Forces adopted the HK G36 as its issued rifle, replacing the awful CETME L. Since then other countries joined the list of end users, but only a few Armed Forces adopted it in numbers. Is that a clue?
HK G36 was, and still is, a superb rifle, but in my humble opinion it has a few shortcomings that make me dislike it. Currently there are better choices, even from the same manufacturer, like the HK 416 A5, that solve the shortcomings I find in the G36. I guess even HK recognized those shortcomings and that’s why the new G36 models include some improvements. Of course, even with shortcomings the G36 is a better rifle than I am a shooter, but if I could I would choose another rifle for combat.
No doubt the G36 is one of the most reliable rifles in the world, thanks to its short stroke piston driven action, and it seems that HK was aware of that when using the same piston action in the 416 (in fact, it is said pistons are interchangeable between G36 and 416). But G36 is not the only reliable rifle. You can find AR-15s as reliable as the G36, even with direct impingement actions. But, no complaints about G36 reliability.
As far as accuracy, I have no complaints either. I am quite sure the G36 is more accurate than I am. However, some complaints have come from German soldiers deployed in Afghanistan about it’s accuracy when it gets hot after a few rounds (you can read more about it in Internet). It seems to be that the plastic (polymer) receiver could be the problem, because when the rifle gets hot the joint between barrel and receiver, aka trunnion, gets soft. Maybe that’s just a design flaw without a solution. Anyway, I don’t think that’s a big problem, though other rifles don’t suffer from that illness (another clue?).puedes leer más sobre este asunto [maybe there is a reason you don’t find many rifle designs built with polymer].
Concerning the trigger group and grip, I don’t have too much to say. The grip is improvable, but it’s not one of my main concerns. The trigger group is not a match one, but I think it’s enough for me and I am not a shooter who would benefit from a better trigger group. None of these are serious problems.
The big shortcomings of the G36 comes from the carry handle with the integrated scope and back up iron sights (BUIS). The carry handle covers the upper receiver, from the stock to the handguard, so there is no upper rail available to mount any other scope different from the integrated one. It wouldn’t mind too much if the integrated scope and BUIS were good ones, but that’s not the case.
Depending on the G36 version, you will find different scopes. In the HK G36 E issued in the Spanish Armed Forces you can find two scopes that differ only in magnification factor: 1.5x (mostly in the Spanish Army) and 3x (in the Spanish Marine Corps). That scope is not easy to aim with, and besides it’s not one of the best choices for combat: you have to perfectly align your eye to aim, otherwise you will see nothing but black. The reticle is not illuminated, so it gets invisible when background is dark (and that happens often); aiming is not as fast as you would like in combat; inexplicably, the reticle has hold-off marks for 200, 400, 600 and 800 meters (really? in a 5.56 NATO rifle? with a 1.5x or 3x scope?). In summary, it’s a poor scope.
Re BUIS, you have a front and rear sight in the carry handle, without any adjustment capability, neither windage nor elevation. These BUIS are part of the carry handle, they are made of the same plastic, and the sight radius is really very short. For close distance (within 25 meters) these BUIS are enough, and quite useful. In fact, they are your best and maybe only option within that distance. But when distance is farther these BUIS are not effective.
Fortunately, that problem can be easily, but expensively, solved by replacing the carry handle with an upper rail from one of the few available manufactures, such as Brügger&Thomet or Spuhr. And that’s precisely what HK has done in the new models, as you can see in the pictures from its webpage. Currently HK includes the upper rail both in the military and civilian versions of the G36, instead of the former carry handle. I don’t know how much price will have been increased because of that, if it has changed. G36 price would be an interesting data to compare with the HK 416 A5. I guess prices are closer now than before, so the choice is easier.
But even with an upper rail, sight radius for BUIS is short, though at least now you have the chance to use good quality folding adjustable steel BUIS and choose any scope you like.
As in other rifles, the upper rail is made of aluminum, th “less essential” components of the G36 are made of glass fiber reinforced plastic, as HK states in its webpage. Polymer construction is one of the main features of this rifle. According to the technical data from the HK webpage, the weight for the weapon (3,630 grams) seems to be the same now with the upper rail than before with the carry handle. I guess there are differences but HK hasn’t changed the original technical data.
Because of the G36 charging handle, attached directly to the bolt carrier group, any upper rail has to be height enough to keep space underneath so the shooter can introduce his hand to reach the charging handle. That’s not a big problem for the shooter. It just implies using a mount with the right height so the line of sight height is optimal.
What I consider an issue is the G36 charging handle itself, which is really a handicap when you need to act on it for chambering a round, solving a malfunction, or releasing the bolt (the G36 has no bolt release). The charging handle rests straight along the receiver, so the shooter has to search and reach it before pulling from it. That means some difficulty and time wasted. Though you can lock the charging handle in a transversal position, and use it as a forward assist, it will return to its longitudinal position as soon as the bolt goes forward after a shot or after charging the action. Then that doesn’t solve the problem. It would be great to have a transversal charging handle as in most other modern military rifles, such as the FN SCAR. For sure it would help to gain time in weapon manipulations.
A G36 feature that I think is a serious problem is the lack of a bolt release latch. So anytime you need to release the bolt, for example in an emergency/fast reload, you will have to reach the less than easily accessible charging handle. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it had a good charging handle, but it doesn’t. I can’t understand why the G36 has no bolt release latch, as in any other military rifle.
There is a remedy for this, but I don’t like it. Because it requires you to use your trigger finger to push down on a small L-shaped piece of plastic inside the trigger guard in front of the trigger (this is an aftermarket accessory, not issued with the weapon). It could pose a safety problem more than a solution.
Regarding the magazine release lever, located in the rear of the magwell under the trigger guard, I would prefer a button at the right location as with the AR-15 style rifles. In fact, the original G36 magwell can be replaced with a magwell adapter for AR-15 magazines. Then you would have a magazine release button and you would use AR-15 mags. But actually the lever is not a big problem. You can get used to pushing the lever with your weakside thumb at the same time you grab the empty mag with your weak hand for an emergency/fast reload. In the case of a tactical reload, it won’t be so easy to reach the magazine release lever with a full magazine in your weak hand, but it’s feasible with a bit of practice.
There is an aftermarket extended magazine release lever that extends under the trigger guard so the shooter can push it down with the trigger finger. Again it could pose a safety problem more than a solution, because the finger is pretty close to the trigger.
And what can I say about those fucktastic original G36 magazines with their characteristic retainers on the sides and that rim all around? Plainly and simply expensive and bulky! They cost 3 or 4 times more than an AR-15 mag. They are quite squared shaped, rather than rounded shaped as with other AR magazines, such as the MagPul PMAGs. They have a couple of retainers on each side so you can join mags together. But what’s the usefulness of that feature? Are you going to load 1.1 lbs more on your G36 for a long dismounted patrol? Those retainers make mags way bulkier and they are great to get mags hooked all around, even inside any mag pouch, what doesn’t facilitate reloads. And you have that damn rim all around the mag to cause more problems during reloads.
Another feature of original G36 mags I don’t fully understand is their translucent body. For sure it’s cool but its usefulness is relative. That’s good to know how many rounds are left in the mag. Period. You know, a small window on the sides would do the same in a more discreet way, as in the MagPul PMAGs.
If you hate the mags as much as we do, fortunately you have at least one aftermarket option: the MagPul PMAG 30G. Those mags are cheaper and rounder, without any retainers on the sides or that disgusting rim but with an opaque body and with a small window to show how many rounds are in the mag. It seems that even HK became aware of those problems with the original G36 mags and now you can find other mag models in their catalog: without retainers, without retainers and without rim. But coming from HK I would bet prices are crazy.
However, probably encouraged by the abundance of cheap AR-15 mags in the market, there is a magwell adapter that replace the original G36 magwell so AR-15 magazines can be used. Not only does HK offer this magwell adapter in its catalog, but it’s now included with new models (even civilian models: in Europe it’s the HK243, in USA the HK293). You can also find a great quality magwell adapter from others such as Spuhr. The magwell adapter isn’t cheap, but switching to AR-15 mags will still save you money. Let’s do the math: Spuhr G36 magwell adapter for AR-15 magazines $350, MagPul PMAG GEN M3 AR-15 magazine $14.95, original HK G36 magazine $49.95; the magwell adapter and 10 PMAG mags will cost you the same as 10 original G36 mags. Easy choice! Besides, the magwell adapter will allow you to share AR-15 mags with, or borrow them from, any other AR-15 mags user (which includes many, many allied users). That could be pretty useful in combat and would ease logistics.
What I consider a huge flaw of the HK G36 is the lack of any rail in the handguard. I am not talking about a quad-rail handguard, but at least a rail in which to mount a flashlight. I can’t understand how an assault rifle can neglect the chance to have a weapon mounted light. No excuses!
I am sure HK is aware of that unpardonable shortcoming, so they now offer handguards that allow you to install rails. And you can get an aftermarket railed handguard. The main manufacturer of upper rails and railed handguards for the HK G36 is the Swiss Brügger&Thomet. Not cheap, but high quality.
Other distinctive feature of the HK G36 is its non-adjustable folding stock. Oh, yeah, you can fold the stock over the right side! And what’s the usefulness of this feature? For sure it isn’t any help in combat. The HK G36 doesn’t become better by having a folding stock. However, you will miss an adjustable stock so you can adjust the length of pull. Again HK realized this and now offers an adjustable folding stock in their catalogue.
There are three versions of the HK G36 with different barrel length, and different overall lengths. The HK G36 has a barrel of 18.89” and an overall length of 39.44”. The HK G36K has a barrel of 12.52” and an overall length of 32.8”. The HK G36C has a barrel of 8.98“ and an overall length of 28.19“. Though some units have a few HK G36Ks, our issued model is the HK G36, the longest one. In the XXI century, who in the hell utilizes a 5.56 NATO AR with an 18.89” barrel length? It is said the only reason why that model was chosen is it’s the only model that accepts a bayonet, and a bayonet is needed for the parades. If that were true, I would be very upset and embarrassed, because a military rifle is for fighting, not for parading.
The HK G36 is long, very long, and you will pay for it. It weighs 9.17 ounces more than the G36K. Despite its overall length the G36 is not bad for CQB, but no doubt the G36K is a better choice and doesn’t sacrifice too much in terminal performance.
Lastly, the fact of having an uncommon issued rifle implies you won’t have too many manufacturers offering spares or accessories, and prices will be high. That’s the case with the G36.
Those are the reasons I don’t like our issued rifle, the HK G36. If I could choose, I would get an HK 416 A5 with 11” barrel.