The Real Wonder-Nines

Way too much fluff has been written about the silly 9mm Europellet (a.k.a. 9mm Luger), the most egregious being its appellation as the “Wonder-Nine” [eyecross] , the only “wonder” being how people can believe all that crap.

So today I’m going to look at the two real wonder-nine cartridges that came out of Europe, i.e. the 9.3x74R and the 9.3x62mm, both well over a hundred years old and both the only serious contenders to the equally-venerable .375 H&H Magnum (blessings be upon it).

 

Both cartridges have a bullet diameter of .366″ with a typical weight of 285/286gr, and despite the different casing lengths, they are to all intents and purposes ballistically identical.  The 9.3x74R is, as the nomenclature suggests, a rimmed cartridge intended for use in double rifles such as the Beretta 689:

…while the rimless 9.3x62mm (sometimes called the 9.3x62mm Mauser) is available for both the Mauser Model 12 and 98:

…the Sako 85 Bavarian:

…the CZ 550 line:

…and SIG Sauer’s Model 100 XT plastic rifle is also available in this caliber:

No prizes for guessing which rifle I’d pick, but let’s just say that full-length stocks make me twitch in all sorts of places, while plastic stocks… never mind.

The 9.3x62mm is expensive to shoot, not so much because of the ammo cost (inexpensive Prvi Partizan sells for around $26 per box, while premium hunting ammo runs around $90 — in other words, pretty much the same as .300 Win Mag) but because the rifles thus chambered are generally super-spendy (with the exception of the Sauer 100 XT rifle, for around $700-$800;  the wood-stocked “Classic” is about $200 more).  CZ-USA doesn’t even issue the Mod 557 in 9.3mm, which is a pity.  (American hunters are already well served with other cartridge choices, which is no doubt the reason CZ didn’t extend the offering.)

As to why the smaller 9.3x62mm is often preferred over the .375 H&H, here’s a decent look at its ballistics.  Also, because the 9.3x62mm can be fired from a “standard” length bolt-action rifle, it’s still cheaper than  the longer “magnum” or “Safari” rifles — and, as the linked article suggests, its sectional density / penetration is pretty much the equal of the .375H&H, for considerably less recoil.

It’s even worse for the rimmed 9.3x74R cartridge (see here for an example), although I note that you can find the excellent Ruger #1 Medium Sporter chambered thusly, for about the same price as a regular quality bolt-action rifle.

 

I don’t think that anyone reading this is going to rush out and buy a rifle in either chambering anytime soon, but should you come across one for a decent price in a garage- or estate sale sometime, know that you won’t be making a bad buy, or buying something shooting an inadequate cartridge.

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Carcano Model 91TS (6.5x52mm)

While browsing through Collectors recently, I came upon this old girl:

I have often sung the praises of the Mosin-Nagant M44 as a short and handy carbine, but I have to say, the Carcano (often incorrectly called the Mannlicher-Carcano) Model 91TS as pictured would do pretty well in the same role.  I’ve shot quite a few in my time — one even back in South Africa — and what impressed me most is the pure handiness of the carbine.  One of the common complaints about battlefield carbines is their recoil — less mass means more recoil, because Sir Isaac Newton will not be denied — but the M91’s little 6.5x52mm cartridge is an absolute gem, and I have no idea why the Italian Army replaced it with the larger (and not much more effective) 7.35x51mm cartridge in the reworked Model 38.  (Maybe they thought that size mattered.)

Anyway, that long, thin 156gr boolet means excellent sectional density and therefore quite adequate penetration on humans:

…but as with all old cartridges, there’s always that availability problem.  And with the state the ammo industry is in now, it’s even more scarce than usual.  Graf & Sons, normally my go-to guys when it comes to old military ammo, doesn’t have any in stock (surprise, surprise) and even when they do, it runs about $2 per trigger pull — unless you go with the lighter Prvi Partizan variant at a very reasonable $0.83 per round.

Had I known then what I know now (back in the early- to mid-2000s a.k.a. The Happy Times), I’d have snapped up a decent M91 carbine for about $95, which is about what they cost back then compared to over $400 nowadays, and a few hundred rounds of ammo for less than half of what it costs now.

But that hindsight is a bugger, innit?  Here’s the much-longer M91 rifle, just for comparison’s sake:

The Browning Conundrum

We all know that I’m a huge fan of the Browning P-35 High Power pistol (despite its piddly Europellet chambering) because to me, it is the absolute zenith of John Moses Browning’s engineering handgun design (albeit with a huge assist from Dieudonné Saive).   It is one of my favorite guns to shoot, and is much easier to disassemble (and reassemble) when it comes to after-action cleaning.

I also love my Browning 1885 High Wall rifle in .45-70 Govt:

That “bank-vault-closing” feel as you pull the lever back up and close the action after reloading:  not much feels and sounds much better in the firearms world.  And the satisfaction one feels when pulling the trigger to send a giant 405-gr bullet downrange… ah, my friends, if you haven’t experienced it, it would be like trying to explain the beauty of a desert sunset to a blind person.

And everyone knows of my love for Browning Auto-5 shotguns like the Sweet 16 or the Light 20:

And yet those are the only three Browning guns I’ve ever owned.

That’s not by design, by the way.  I’ve fired many Browning rifles and shotguns — all belonging to other people, either at the range or while hunting — but for some inexplicable reason, I’ve never felt compelled to own a Browning long gun or pistol in the way that I am drawn to, say, a Mauser 98 or WinMar lever rifle.

It’s inexplicable, really;  there is no reason for me to turn my nose up at, say a Browning lever rifle (BLR), especially when chambered for a manly cartridge like the .308 Win:

…especially when the BLR’s stacked mag allows for spitzer-tipped bullets while the WinMar’s tube mags do not.  Would I feel in any way disadvantaged with the BLR out in the field?  Hell, no;  and yet for some reason, I’m drawn more to the Henry/Winchester/Marlin offerings than to the BLR.

That also goes for Browning’s bolt-action rifles.

Combat Controller uses one of these, an X-Bolt chambered in -300 Win Mag, for his Scotland hunts with Mr. Free Market, has never had a problem with it, and his deer tally over the years would certainly give one no reason not to use one (especially in those difficult conditions).  Yet I’ve never owned one, nor come close to getting one;  and the same is true for the excellent semi-auto BAR / Safari models:

(For some reason, I’m not a fan of hunting with semi-auto rifles, but that has nothing to do with Browning.)

Needless to say, I would never turn down a Browning double-barreled shotgun, except that they make mostly over/under models — but once again, my preference for side-by-side shotguns has nothing to do with Browning.  Their reputation and success in shotguns is very well earned, and thousands of people use them as religiously as I use Mauser rifles or John Moses Browning’s 1911 Government pistol.

This, by the way, is one of my “lottery” shotguns at Steve Barnett’s:  a rare older “BSS” model in 20ga:

…which has absolutely everything I desire in a SxS:  splinter forearm, double triggers and straight “English” stock.  The only thing that has stopped me from getting it is not the fact that it’s old and second-hand:  it’s the price:  $5,750.  Which, for an old secondhand gun, pushes me away a little.

And here, finally, may lie the the answer as to why I’ve never owned many Browning guns:  cost.

Loyal Readers know that I always go for quality in my guns — and nobody seems to have any arguments against Browning guns in that regard — but at the same time, Brownings always seem to cost just a little bit too much when compared with guns which are functionally their equivalent and whose quality is as good or in some cases better.  Once again, I have no problem with quality costing more than average;  where possible, I always go for quality (in all things) even though I know that it does carry a higher cost.  But Browning always seems to be just a tad over that tolerance, and I walk away.

How say you, O My Readers?  Is this your experience too, or am I missing something here?

Why Not The .243?

I was sucked into the Forgotten Weapons Matrix a little while ago, and during Ian McAllum’s dissertation on the Sig-Manhurin 542 rifle, my train of thought went off down a branch line — I’m an old guy, it happens — and I ended up wondering:  why was the .243 Win never adopted as a military cartridge?

(In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out here that I am a HUGE fan of the .243 Win, especially when loaded with a 90gr bullet.)

Run with me on this one.  The .243 Win is based on a necked-down .308 Win casing so that it can shoot a smaller 6mm (.243″) bullet. Here’s the side-by-side comparison:

That’s a lot of powder (assuming that it stays the same amount as in a .308 Win cartridge) to send a much-smaller bullet downrange, which means of course that there’s a lot of velocity involved — and, as a welcome side-benefit, because there’s less inertia to overcome to get a smaller bullet moving than a bigger one, less recoil.

The latter was given as being one of the reasons that the 5.56mm NATO was adopted, by the way (that and the reduced weight of the cartridges themselves), but it came at the expense of knockdown power.  Also of interest is that the 5.56 NATO generally uses a 55gr bullet — but, for that matter, the .243 can handle a 55gr bullet as well, and it really races out of the barrel.  Once again, a comparison:

The only problem with the 5.56 NATO is that if you try to increase the knockdown power of the poodleshooter by shooting a heavier bullet like (say) one of 90gr, that little casing can’t hold more powder to make up for the severe loss in velocity — whereas in a larger casing like the .308 Win, bullet weight could even be doubled to 110gr without too much effect on velocity, or recoil.

So just as an intellectual question, I ask myself:  why would the .dotmil settle for a hot .22 cartridge when a downloaded .308 would do the same job (at worst), and could easily do a lot more with only a modest increase in bullet weight (say, from 55gr to 75gr)?

If we accept the fact that the earlier .30-06/.308 Win battle cartridges were just Too Much Muscle (or required too much muscle) for our soldiers (as suggested by the military brass), and we ended up adopting a vastly inferior cartridge (the poodleshooter .223);  then why should we not have compromised and used instead a 6x52mm / .243 Win cartridge?  (Of course, I am still of the opinion that the British suggestion of a .276″/6.5mm chambering was the best of all, but let’s not revisit that old story.)

Frankly, I think we missed a good opportunity here, and I think that had we adopted the .243 Win chambering in something like the aforementioned SIG-Manhurin 542 (essentially, a higher-quality AK-47 design) as our mail battle rifle, we would have been a lot better off.

For that matter, the AR-10 (suitably barreled) would have been just as good a choice, if the thought of dumping Eugene Stoner’s rifle for Sergei Kalashnikov’s gives one the vapors.

Either way, the question is this:

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon (20ga)

As I grow older, I find myself torn between holding onto what has always worked for me, yet often having said experiential wisdom undermined by pesky things such as facts.

Take shotguns.

As Loyal Readers all know, I prefer side-by-side shotguns to over-and-under shotguns, illustrated by my own maxim:  “Shotgun barrels should be side by side like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.”  (Yes, I coined that phrase.)

Actually, it’s bullshit.  While I yield to no man for my love of fine side-by-side shotguns, the plain fact of the matter is that when it comes to sustained usage, the old SxS just doesn’t cut it.  No matter how costly the gun, or how hardy, they all break after thousands of rounds;  the much-maligned over-and-unders, much less so.  (Ask yourself why Olympic shotgunners like Kim Rhode have always used over-and-unders — in fact, nobody in serious shotgunning competition uses a side-by-side, and that’s for good reasons.)

Which brings me to today’s gun under discussion, the shotgun which is pretty much the international gold standard for the ordinary shotgunner:  the Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon.

 

From a pricing perspective, it’s always difficult to pin the 686 down, because the addition of different Roman numerals makes the price shoot up faster than the options list on a Porsche 911.  The one in the picture is the bottom-of-the-range “Silver Pigeon I” in 20ga, and it typically retails for around $2,000.  This, by the way, is common in the shotgun business:  adding a couple inches to the barrel can double the price, as can asking for superior wood for the stock.

The dirty little secret about the 686 is that it probably represents the best value for money of any O/U shotgun.  (Its closest rival, sales-wise, is the excellent Browning 725 Citori, which typically retails for nearly a grand more.)  I use as an example Mr. Free Market, who each year shoots thousands of rounds through his 686 (he actually shot out his earlier 686 to the point where it would have cost more to repair than just buying a new one), and despite my constant needling, he steadfastly refuses to change to another brand.  (This post was in fact triggered by me saying to someone that we should learn from others’ mistakes or equally, by the example of others, and in the matter of O/U shotguns, I therefore bow to his experience.  If you wish to do the same, feel free to browse here.)

Where I will not change, however, is in the matter of barrel length.  I’ve always though that the longer the barrel, the better.  A 29″ or 30″ barrel will add many yards to the effective range of a shotgun over a 26″ barrel, and the increased range (and efficacy) far outweighs the weight and handling disadvantages.  Save short barrels for the self-defense pump-actions;  field guns should have longer barrels.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and buy an over-and-under shotgun, by the way.  I don’t shoot clays often enough to warrant a change over to an O/U, so I’ll stick to my side-by-side companion.  Yes, I’m preaching form over function, which should surprise precisely nobody.

But if I was looking to buy an O/U, the 686 would get a very close look.

Gratuitous Gun Pic: Benelli R1 (.30-06 Springfield)

Once again, amidst my occasional ponderings about The Gun Thing, several factors have occurred to me, to whit:

  • There are an awful lot of people who think that the venerable (and venerated) .30-06 cartridge is God’s answer to the question “Are there too many deer in the world?” and/or “How best should I kill that Bad Person?”
  • Most rifles thus chambered are bolt-action, and found everywhere in these United States
  • The non-bolt-action .30-06 rifles are pretty much confined to the venerable (and venerated) WWII-era M1 Garand, and the modern Browning BAR.

Not one of these things is Bad.  The .30-06 is a monster when it comes to dealing death, at pretty much any range, as several thousand WWII-era Kraut- and Jap soldiers would attest (if they were still with us);  there are a jillion-odd bolt-action rifles thus chambered, and therefore cartridge availability passes the “Bubba’s Bait & Ammo Store” criterion;  most semi-auto .30-06 rifles owned are likely to be of the Garand genus — and considering that Gen. George S. Patton once called the M1 Garand “the greatest battle implement ever devised by Man” (or something like that), there are very few knocks you can make against the Garand, either.  Ditto the BAR.

Except for cost.  M1 Garands can be costly, simply because of their pedigree (and therefore collectability), so the cost of entry, so to speak, can be pretty daunting.  Here’s a typical example from Collectors:

…which runs at just under $1,700.  (And if you think that’s expensive, the “National Match” version costs nearly three times as much.)

So what else is out there, for someone who wants a semi-auto rifle chambered in .30-06?  Here’s the Benelli R1, for example, also at Collectors, for just under $1,300 (about the cost of a new unscoped BAR Mk3, incidentally):

and the R1 has a 10-round detachable magazine, to boot.  From the Benelli website:

(Note its current non-availability, but I suspect that this is a temporary situation.)  The price, of course, is nosebleed because Benelli (as anyone who’s ever contemplated buying one of their shotguns can attest);  but you could buy four extra mags for the R1, and still come out around the same cost of a single M1 Garand.

And yes of course, the R1 is a modern rifle, ergo saddled with a poxy (epoxy?) stock, which sets my teeth on edge;  but if you told me I’d have no choice but the R1 to take out into the field — for any purpose — I would not feel myself short-changed at all.   (“Gimme!”  comes to mind.)

Note too that this particular R1 comes with a very toothsome Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x50mm scope — which alone sells for $700-$750 nowadays.

Other than my distaste for Technik durch Plastik  stocks, if I were in the market for a .30-06 rifle, I can’t think of a single reason not to consider this one.