Equipping for disaster

Review: Spikes Tactical Thumper (M79)

By Blaise Uriarte

The Basics:

In the early part of the sixties, political turmoil in Southeast Asia spiked an escalation of US involvement in the civil war between North and South Vietnam. During this time war was changing. Large full power infantry rifles were being replaced by lighter faster rifles, and the US Army was in search of ways to increase firepower across the board. 

One way the army sought to do this was to develop a grenade with the accuracy and range of a mortar, and increased portability and ease of use. Project NIBLICK developed the 40x46mm grenade. 

However this project failed to yield a satisfactory launcher to fire the new rounds. Springfield Armory developed the single shot break action XM79 around the new ammunition. In 1961 the XM79 first saw service in Vietnam.  

Later dubbed “The Thumper” due to its distinctive sound when fired, the XM79/M79 immediately gained favor among the troops. This weapon mainly fired the 40mm high explosive grenade, however due to the nature of Jungle ware fare, flachete and buckshot rounds were also developed for close quarters fighting.  

This device is a full scale smooth bore recreation manufactured by Spikes Tactical out of Apopka Florida. It weighs about 7pounds unloaded, has 14inch barrel, walnut stock, flip up sight, Pachmayr recoil pad and tang safety. It functions just like a break action single shot shotgun, which cocks upon opening and the safety is automatically engaged each time the breach is open.  

The Ammo 

This is a 37MM launcher, which is not able to fire the 40mm military rounds. It is meant to only fire USCG approved flare rounds. This device walks a fine line between being a flare gun, and a destructive device. Destructive devices are regulated under the NFA. This item is not, and therefore can be easily purchased. However legally you can only use flares, smoke bombs, and sky breakers (basically fireworks). Other rounds are available, but using antipersonnel rounds in conjunction with this launcher render it a destructive device, and can cause you severe legal problems.  

For the sake of this article I fired the smoke bombs available through American Specialty Ammo.  

The Range Test 

This launcher is amazingly fun. The action is smooth and the spent shells extract easily. The short range smoke rounds averaged a distance of about a hundred yards and put out a small plume of smoke for about 30 seconds. Military smoke rounds are available, but are thirty dollars apiece vs five. Yes this is not a cheap hobby to get into.  

The sights are designed to lob a projectile “close enough” to the target. While in practice it is more accurate than say a WWII era rifle grenade launcher, it is not a high precision instrument.  

I found I could reliable get the smoke bombs within about 10 feet of the target. They also don’t fly very straight, and bounce off the ground. That must also be taken into consideration. Recoil on this is barely noticeable. Using the low powered smoke bombs the recoil pad is not necessary, but helps get it comfortably in the pocket of the shoulder.  

The Pluses 

Tactically speaking the uses of this device are a bit limited. If one registered it as a destructive device pursuant to the NFA, it would become much more versatile. As it is it is a signaling device, but it most definitely has a massive cool factor to it. One could possibly use the smoke to distract or disorient an enemy.  

The Minuses 

Its heavy, it doesn’t explode things, and it only fires one shot. It is not useful for self-defense, but can be used for pyrotechnics displays.  


This thing is awesome. Is it the most useful tool in the toolbox? Nope! But if you want a grenade launcher without jumping through class 3 hoops, this is about the best you can do. High explosive rounds are extremely expensive and difficult to get, as well as subject to NFA tax stamps per each one, so why bother honestly? In a theoretical apocalyptic scenario this would be about as useful with the proper know how. Remember if you do find yourself in need of one of these, be safe, train well, and follow all local and federal laws. Also remember flare launchers could cause forest fires if used irresponsibly.  

Categories: Equipping for disaster

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