Not just the guns, but all the stuff that goes with them

Side By Side

I can’t afford a new shotgun, or even a decent second-hand one, but I am going to need one for High Bird Shooting (and Missing) later in in the year, so I’ve been looking in more or less a dilettante fashion to see if I can get one that is acceptable but which does not require the sacrifice of a firstborn child. I have a shotgun already, of course, but it’s an old, ugly thing of uncertain provenance and even more uncertain performance — and it’s in the much-derided 16-gauge chambering, which would cause untold me embarrassment if uncased on Lord Whatsit’s estate (for ’tis there where I will be shooting in early November). Hence my problem. Even worse is that, current no-name El Cheapo shotgun aside, I do have some fairly rigorous standards about shotguns I want to shoot, let alone own.

And here are the details of the features I’d like:

1.) Side-by-side barrels, at least 29” long. Longtime Readers will remember that as an old-fashioned man, my motto about shotgun barrels is that they should be placed side by side, like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.

2.) Concealed hammers. I’m not that old-fashioned.

3.) Boxlock action. Okay, I am that old-fashioned. I just like the looks of the boxlock. (Here’s a fine summary of the differences between boxlock and sidelock actions. I should note that with modern steel, a boxlock action is every bit as strong as a sidelock, and the boxlock shotgun weighs considerably less than a sidelock.)

4.) Double triggers. I prefer knowing that when I pull the rear trigger, the left barrel will discharge first. This is especially important if some time has elapsed since firing the first shot, or if one has to replace a dud cartridge.
Here’s a pic of all my desired features so far:


To continue:

5.) Full choke in the left barrel, Improved/Modified in the right. (“Full” and “Three-quarter”, for my Brit readers.)

6.) Chambering: 20ga. I know, I know… it’s not the mighty 12ga, but Mr. Free Market shoots the 20ga (for medical reasons), and I’d far prefer to mooch ammo off him Over There, rather than going through the schlep of carrying 500+ U.S.-bought shells over The Pond into Britishland.

7.) Little or no engraving on the receiver/barrels or checkering on the stock. Actually, I’d prefer no carving at all. I love the feel of smooth steel and smooth wood, and my hands don’t perspire, so there’s no danger of the stock “slipping” in my grasp. And speaking of stocks, I want an English-style “splinter” (small, tapered) fore end.


…and a “straight” stock (no pistol grip), which is also sometimes called an “English”-style stock:


8.) Safety: Not automatic. An “auto safety” on a shotgun typically engages [duh] automatically when you open the action for loading. Thank you, but I’m fully capable of deciding for myself when I want the safety engaged or not. When I load a shotgun, I want to shoot something, and when I close the action, I want to be ready to go.

9.) Ejectors: Adjustable. There are times when you don’t care where the empties go, and you have to reload quickly, and on those occasions a “full-eject” is desirable. Then there are times when you need to remove the fired cartridges manually, and put them away in a bag or something, so you don’t have to go grubbing around in the dirt for the past mile you’ve walked, looking for the spent cases. Also, if you haven’t fired and need to extract the live cartridges, it’s far better not to have them drop into the mud.

Not that I’m picky, or anything.

Sadly, there are few such animals on the market at the moment, so I’m going to be searching for some time — especially considering my parlous financial state, which will require some kind of bargain before I purchase one. Unfortunately, most shotguns of such beauty and features are seldom “on sale” because of their relative scarcity and high demand (see here for one such “bargain”, or here for another ), so it’s going to take me a while, and I may have to sell if not the firstborn, then at least the Forgotten Middle Child Whom Nobody Loves.

This being poor thing really bites.

Great War Rifles (Again)

[Note: please forgive me for re-publishing this old piece. The past week has been absolute hell — I thought I was going to pass out from exhaustion from all the house-clearing-out activity, and a new post just didn’t suggest itself in time for publication. That said: of all the hundreds of posts I’ve written about guns, this is my favorite.]

 

May 19, 2007
2:00 AM CDT
We know all about WWII-era rifles, and of course the more modern ones. But let’s step back just a tad earlier, and consider the ones from my Grandfather’s generation: the bolt-action rifles which functioned, and functioned superbly, in the mud of Flanders and Verdun, in the deserts of Mesopotamia and Palestine, and the snows of Italy, Austria and Russia. I’m not going to look at all the rifles used, just the principal ones.

Germany

Of course, the Mauser K98 needs little introduction to any longtime Reader of these pages, but its precursor, the Gewehr 98 (or Model 98, as it’s sometimes called), was an excellent rifle by any standards, even modern ones.

The Gewehr 98 can be distinguished from its successor by its straight bolt, longer barrel (29”), and in earlier variants, by the “ski-jump” rear sight, which was graduated out to 2,000 meters (!). Add a 17” bayonet to this beauty, and the Imperial German Army had a weapon of outstanding value. Chambered for the fine 7.92x57mm cartridge (aka. 8mm Mauser and 8x57mm Mauser), this is a rifle for the ages.

The Mauser bolt action is still the most reliable ever made, as evidenced by its many copies, some of which we’ll see below.

Austria-Hungary

If the Mauser action is the zenith of bolt-actions, the Mannlicher action would be the next best, and not far behind, either. Imperial Austria-Hungary’s Mannlicher Model 95, chambered for the hard-hitting 8x50mmR cartridge, was characterized by its straight-pull bolt, and the self-contained clip which ejected itself from the magazine when the last round in the clip had been fired. The sights were graduated using the archaic schritt measure (0.75 meter), to a maximum of 2,400 schritten (1,800 meters).

 

If the Austro-Hungarian Army left a lot to be desired, it was certainly no fault of its main battle rifle. The later rework of the Model 95 into the M95 “S” carbine (which paralleled the change of the Mauser Gew. 98 into the K98), and its re-chambering into the 8x56mmR cartridge, simply turned a fine rifle into an excellent one.

Russia

Essentially unchanged since the 19th century, the Mosin-Nagant Model 1891/10 was the perfect rifle for the Russian Army and its unsophisticated soldiers. It was reliable to a fault, used the wonderful 7.62x54mmR cartridge, and while not as smooth an action as the Mauser, the Mosin’s clunky action could not be broken—as evidenced by the number of old “91s” still in action today. Like the abovementioned Austrian M95, the Mosin 91’s sights were graduated in an archiac measure—the Russian rifle sights being measured in arshins, or .71 meters.

The 7.62x54mmR cartridges were loaded with a five-round stripper clip:

…but the WWI-era bullets were not pointed, but roundnosed (top):

Unlike what the Germans and Austrians did with the Gew. 98 and M95 respectively, though, when the Russians improved the 91 into the 91/30, they retrofitted and rebuilt their existing arsenal rather than reissue new rifles, so original 1891 or 1891/10 models are extremely rare today. Not that it matters much. The 91/30 is a fine rifle, and has all the qualities of the old one (and its sights are graduated in meters, withal), and the carbine versions (M38, M44 and the like) are still faithful to the old principles of simplicity and durability.

Great Britain

When the German Army was first repulsed by British defensive fire at the Battle of Mons in 1914, the Germans believed that they were being fired upon with machine-guns. Not so. The withering rapid fire came from professional British soldiers armed with the Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield Mark III Number One rifle (known then and now as the SMLE or “Smelly”), issued to all British and Commonwealth troops from 1907 onwards. Sights were graduated in yards, and the maximum (and optimistic) setting was 2,000 yards.

To work the butter-smooth bolt action of the SMLE is to fall in love with it. Also, unlike all other rifles of the era, which only had four or five rounds in the magazine, the SMLE’s magazine contained ten rounds—hence the volume of fire which a group of experienced soldiers could put down onto the foe before needing to reload. The SMLE’s mag is removable for cleaning purposes, but troops were only issued with one, which meant that reloading was done with stripper clips—and because said stripper clips were five-round clips, the mag had to be reloaded twice. Regardless: chambered for the powerful .303 Enfield cartridge, and with that action, the SMLE hit hard and quickly.

When the SMLE was later “improved” to the No.4 Mk.1, the action was left more or less untouched (thank goodness), but the rear sight was improved, from the barrel-mounted “V” sight to a receiver-mounted peephole, with two settings of 300 and 600 yards, and accuracy (the only knock against the SMLE) improved immensely as a result.

Italy

Amazingly, the Italians in WWI did not have their own bolt-action rifle, using instead a modified Mannlicher action in their Mannlicher-Carcano Model 91, which sported a 31” barrel.

Unlike the Mannlicher, though, the Carcano action was turnbolt (like the Mauser), and not the straight pull of the Steyr-Mannlicher Austrian rifle.

All other European (and American) rifles were chambered to shoot 7mm/.3xx bullets, but the “Carc” fired the smallest diameter bullet in Europe, the 6.5x52mm Carcano round, which was actually not a bad choice. The smaller, lighter bullet meant less recoil and its long, thin dimensions guaranteed excellent penetration.

Like almost all the other European nations, Italy would modify their WWI battle rifle between the world wars: the M38 (as the M91 became) had a shorter (21”) barrel and was re-chambered—I think, needlessly—for the heavier 7.35x52mm cartridge. The sights for the new rifle, instead of being adjustable, were fixed at 300 meters.

France

Of all the Great Powers, France alone came to WWI with an outmoded and obsolete battle rifle. The original 1886 Lebel rifle still fired the 8mm Lebel (8x51mmR) rimmed cartridge. Because the original Lebel had a tubular magazine, not a box, the bullets were roundnosed, not spitzers. Even when the Lebel was later transformed into the Lebel-Berthier Mod 1907/15 (below), with a three-round (!) Mannlicher-style magazine, French military doctrine still insisted that soldiers load cartridges one at a time, and use the magazine only under attack, when heavier volumes of fire were called for. The newer Mod 07/15 was only issued to the Army in large numbers in 1916.

A later version allowed for a five-round clip to be loaded in an extended magazine. Here’s what it looks like:

Only well after WWI did France introduce a brand-new bolt-action rifle, the MAS 36, in the new 7.5x54mm chambering—only to find that it, too, was soon out of date compared to the new wave of semi-automatic battle rifles.

Japan

In 1906, Japan introduced the Type 38 rifle to replace their Murata Type 22 rifles (which fired the 8mm black powder cartridge). The Type 38 was mostly derived from the Mauser bolt action, and had a 31 ” barrel. Called the “Arisaka” after the man (Colonel Nariake Arisaka) who headed the Army’s commission to test and adopt the rifle, the Type 38 was chambered for the rather weak 6.5x50mmSR (semi-rimmed) cartridge.

The Type 38 was known chiefly for its bolt carrier dust cover, which was supposedly added to protect the bolt action’s workings from dust and especially moisture, but which rattled alarmingly in action, and most soldiers simply removed and discarded them.

In the late 1930s, the Japanese would replace the Type 38 and the 6.5x50mm Jap with the shorter Type 99 (26” barrel) and much more powerful 7.7x58mm cartridge (a rimless copy of the British .303 Enfield).

United States

Alone among the Western Allies, the United States issued two rifles to their doughboys: the Springfield M1903 (top), chambered for the fine .30-06 cartridge, based on the Mauser 98 design, and the M1917 Enfield (also known as the Pattern 17 or P17). The latter was based on the Lee-Enfield Pattern 13 (itself a Mauser-like design), and like the ‘03, chambered for the .30-06.

The ‘03 had problems because of inferior metallurgy (later improved) in the receiver—that, and the shortage of ‘03s, resulted in more doughboys using the P17 than the Springfield. Like almost all the WWI battle rifles, the ‘03 was later modified/improved as the ‘03-A1, except that unlike the other rifles, this one saw service as late as the Vietnam War. The P17 pretty much disappeared after the war, but lived on in gun safes and hunting lodges all over the United States. Both are superb rifles, as much for their respective heritages as for their reliability, accuracy and efficiency.

As the saying goes: “In the First World War, the Germans had the best hunting rifle, the Americans the best target rifle, and the British the best battle rifle.”

I think, however, that it also behooves us to look at two European rifles of the same era which saw no combat: the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin K11, and the Swedish M96 Mauser.

First introduced in 1896 and improved in 1911, chambered for the powerful 7.5x55mm Swiss cartridge, the K11 had a straight-pull bolt action, and was unquestionably made to the highest quality standards of any rifle of the time (and higher even than many production rifles of today).

The K11 is a marvel of functionality, its workings intricate and precise, its accuracy outstanding. Interestingly enough, the Swiss would do to the K11 what the Germans would also do to the Gew 98: shorten the action a tad and shorten the barrel to carbine length, but retain the original chambering (7.5x55mm for the new K31, and 8x57mm for the K98). Both rifles were immeasurably improved by what was basically a simple set of changes.

The Swedish Army issued their soldiers with the Model 1896 in that same model year, choosing to chamber it in the superlative 6.5x55mm cartridge (probably my favorite medium-caliber cartridge of all time), and they didn’t change anything about the rifle (other than creating a carbine version) until they changed their entire infantry philosophy and armament to semi-auto rifles in the mid-twentieth century.

If I’d had to go to war in those times, I would have felt quite comfortable being issued with either the Mauser-action Gewehr 98/Springfield ‘03, or the Enfield-action SMLE/P17.

As a “second-tier” choice, I wouldn’t have felt that short-changed with the Steyr M95 or Schmidt-Rubin K11 either.

But of all the rifles issued to soldiers of that era, the one I’d have chosen to go to war with would have been the Swedish Model 1896 Mauser. It has moderate recoil, yet the bullet travels flat and hits hard. The rifle is also fantastically accurate: consistently-placed head shots at 400 meters and torso shots at 600 meters are quite possible even for an average shot like myself.

It’s too bad the rifle itself never saw service, because it would have acquitted itself well against any of the others.

Here’s the interesting thing about these rifles as a group: all performed well in the horrible conditions of First World War trench warfare; all provided their owners with excellent striking power (as witnessed by the millions of soldiers felled by them), and all were, essentially, first-generation bolt-action rifles shooting smokeless powder cartridges. Later on, faced with the next world war, all would be improved, whether in length or (occasionally) in caliber. The WWII generation of these rifles would be better than their forebears—but not that much better.

Only the advent of a revolution in infantry tactics and the introduction of the semi-auto rifle would finally put these fine old bolt-action rifles to rest. But despite all that, most are still capable of working as effectively today, over a hundred years later, as they did on the day they were issued.

We should all be so well-made.

All We Could Do Was Scream

…because, you see, Germans aren’t allowed to carry guns unless they are police officers.

Here’s the whole story, but all you need to read is the last few lines:

Frantic footage from a smartphone has captured the moment terrified passengers fled the scene, with many screaming as they sprinted away from the station.
Recalling the terrifying moment the axeman struck, a witness said: “I have never seen anything like that I my life.
“He suddenly jumped out of the train and started to strike at people with an axe – just about two metres away from to us.
“But no one could help, it was impossible. We just stopped and screamed.”

Please, someone make the comment about how this response is morally better than an armed citizen shooting the asshole in the face. Then explain that to the 13-year-old girl who nearly had her arm hacked off.


Update: The comments to this post brought back to mind a comment I made at Insty’s place a while back.

I don’t need the government to tell me how to protect myself, my family and my community. I especially don’t need the government to tell me why I shouldn’t protect myself, my family and my community (and to run away like a goddamned coward).
I’m armed, well trained and ready to die to protect the above against criminal aggression. I’m the “citizen militia”, the “gun hiding behind every blade of grass”, and I’m the situation all criminals fear when they’re about to perpetrate their evil deeds.
If government wants to help me in my endeavor, well and good. If they won’t or can’t, they need to stay out of my goddamned way while I go about my business.

Proliferation

When I was testing the new Ruger Mk IV pistol last week, I’d also brought along a rifle (my AK-47) for a little practice on the side. On that side of the range at Frisco Gun Club, there are four lanes set aside for rifles in a separate part of the building. When I walked in, there were three shooters already there, all shooting AR-15s, and all the AR-15s were tricked out with red dot sights, tac rails, flashlights, telescoping stocks — you name it, those rifles had ’em. And the shooters were taking this seriously: tightening the stocks, adjusting the sights (one guy even had a spotting scope — in an indoor range) and in general, going about their business with marked intent. (When I go to the range, especially when I’m with a friend or friends, it’s more of a social occasion, and we kid around, teasing each other and what have you; that didn’t happen with these guys.)

While I was busy with the AK, two of the AR guys finished up and left, and their places were taken by two more AR guys, also with tricked-out rifles and all the stuff which would make Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer have a heart attack (I wish) if they saw it. The two new guys were likewise professional and intent on tuning up their rifles, and one had a suppressor screwed onto his barrel. My plain-Jane AK looked like a muzzle-loader by comparison (but it was just as accurate, so I didn’t feel too bad).

It was the first time I’ve ever been at a range where all the other guys were shooting ARs.

Me, I was just there to make sure that my two 20-round mags were still feeding okay — any excuse for trigger time, right? — so I only popped off twenty or so rounds, then headed over to the pistol range for the real business of the day.

But I have to tell you, I really, really liked the way the AR guys were going about their business. Even though they were a bunch of individuals, they looked like a very competent citizen militia… and the whole thing smelled like freedom. I like that smell.

It looks like we’re turning back into a Nation of Riflemen, at last.

And I couldn’t be happier.


Update: I changed the pic, because I prefer the thought that women are becoming riflemen in ever-increasing numbers.

Say What?

Because I used to buy ammo from CheaperThanDirt.com by the pallet, I ended up on their “Great Customer!” mailing list, which means I get bombarded with “deals” on a daily basis. (Seriously, CTD: you guys need to update your customer purchase history algorithms.)

Anyway, I used the word deals in quotes, because I just got this offer:

Wait wait wait: fifteen bucks for a small ammo can? The ones they used to throw in if you bought a case of ammo from them? I remember gun shows where the dealers had them stacked high and were trying to sell the things for $5 a pop. Most went home with them.  Hell, I used to give the damn things away at the range once I’d emptied them — a reasonably frequent occurrence — just so I wouldn’t have to schlep them home.

Gah. This is what happens when you disappear from polite society for a few years; you come back, and everything’s suddenly unaffordable. You never see stuff like this make it into the economists’ calculation of inflation and the rising cost of living…