Category Archives: Montana Musings

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America’s 50-year Ammo Upheaval.

Recently when signing one of my books for a friend, I commented we had known each other for 50 years. That got me to thinking: In what 50-year time frame do you think the most change occurred in firearms worldwide? I vote for the years between 1865 and 1915. Since this is a column and space is limited, let’s only consider rifles this time.

In April 1865, the United States Civil War was just ending. The vast majority of shoulder-fired arms used by both sides’ armies in the immense conflict or by civilian hunters at the same time were muzzleloaders. Simply stated, the shooter had to pour a black powder charge down his rifle’s barrel and then push its projectile onto the powder with either a steel or wooden ramrod. Ignition was supplied by percussion caps usually applied by hand.

Fifty years later, World War I was raging in Europe with belt-fed machine guns dominating the battlefields. They were firing metallic cartridges with smokeless powders propelling spitzer-shaped bullets. Rifles on each side were usually chambered for the same cartridges used by machine guns and fed by “stripper” or “charger” clips into 5- or 10-round magazines.

In the civilian hunting fields, repeating rifles were also the norm. In America, the lever gun designs of Winchester and Marlin dominated, but Remington and Winchester respectively had their Model 8 and Model 1907 semi-auto rifles. They took rounds such as .30 Remington and .351 Winchester, respectively.
For perspective consider this: fifty years ago the US Army had just adopted the M16 in 5.56mm. Today our army carries the M4 carbine in 5.56mm NATO. The later carbine is merely a refinement of the former rifle using the same basic platform from 1965. The differences in 5.56mm and 5.56mm NATO are bullet weight and ballistics. The case form is the same. Not much change there compared to 1865 and 1915.

In terms of American sporting rifles, again speaking generally and for the entire nation, the vast majority being used are basically bolt actions, either refinements or derivatives of Peter Paul Mauser’s Model 1898. That means they are turn-bolt actions, feeding from internal box magazines. The differences between today’s bolt-action sporters and those from 100 years ago are in detail—not in concept.

What fed this immense change between 1865 and 1915? One of the most important changes was centerfire priming of brass metallic cartridges. Most certainly metallic cartridges were not a new idea in 1865. Before then, in regards to rifles, came the .44 Henry Rimfire and an entire line of rimfire cartridges for Spencer rifles and carbines. Notably, all those rimfire cartridges used copper cases—not brass.

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In 1865, the US Army’s standard-issue shoulder arm was a rifle-musket loaded from
the muzzle with powder and .58 Minié ball. Duke’s sample here is a Parker-Hale
replica of the British Model 1853 Enfield in .577. (Tens of thousands were bought
by both sides for the American Civil War of 1861-1865.)

Such a priming system was fragile and the US Army Ordnance Department quickly saw the benefit of centerfire primers. The same government organization was not so quick to adopt brass for cartridge cases, and in fact, did not until about 1881. Civilian manufacturers were not so slow. By 1870 brass-cased, centerfire primed ammunition was commonly produced by Remington, Winchester and other long defunct factories. It was all intended for single-shot rifles. Repeaters taking brass cased centerfire loads did not begin to appear until 1873 when Winchester introduced their .44 WCF for their famous lever gun model named for the same year.

After priming, the invention of smokeless propellants turned gun designers loose. Prior to the late 1880’s all firearms propellants were black powders. Black powder only burns about 50 percent of its solids in ignition, the rest are either blown out the barrel or left in the bore in the form of fouling. Winchester may have developed lever gun rifles whose magazines held a dozen rounds or more, but it’s a safe bet that by the last few rounds, in a fully loaded magazine, their bores became so fouled precision delivery of bullets disappeared.

Smokeless powders effectively eliminated such bore fouling and thus paved the way for truly efficient repeating rifles, not to mention autoloading rifles and, very quickly, machine guns. One of the earliest and most notable military rifles was Peter Paul Mauser’s Model 1889 made for the Belgian government. Its cartridge was the 7.65x53mm. The Argentines saw and liked the combination well enough they adopted it in 1891 with only minor changes.

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The progression of US Army cartridges from 1865 to 1915 included (from left) the .50
Government (.50-70), .45 Government (.45-70), .30 Army (.30-40 Krag) and .30-06.

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By 1915 the standard shoulder arm of the US Army was the Model 1903
Springfield chambered for the excellent .30-06.

Here is an interesting fact. In the 1950’s American engineers changed the 7.65x53mm Mauser case’s shape slightly, reduced its overall length by 2 millimeters and adapted it to .308-inch bullets instead of 0.311-inch ones. Then they named it the .308 Winchester and 7.62mm NATO.

The US Army was slower. Our first smokeless round was the .30 Army (aka .30-40 Krag today) in 1892, but in truth no rifles or carbines were issued to troops prior until about 1895. After that, however, things moved along rather quickly with the fine Model 1903 and then the even finer .30-06 cartridge three years later. In sporting rifles, the .25-35 WCF and .30 WCF (aka .30-30 today) came in 1895 in Winchester’s Model 1894. That rifle was nigh on the American standard for deer hunters in 1915.

My take is central priming, brass cases and smokeless powder developments changed rifles more in the 1865-1915 time frame than in any other like period.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Smith & Wesson’s Hand Ejector 2nd Model

Born In War, This Jewel Is Often Overshadowed By The 1st And 3rd Models.

It seems like we older gun’riters are forever fawning over the legendary Smith & Wesson “Triple Lock” which incidentally is called Hand Ejector, 1st Model by collectors. Perhaps it is because besides being the very first of S&W’s N-Frames sixguns, the Triple Lock was also the introductory vehicle for the .44 Smith & Wesson Special.

Then there is the Hand Ejector, 3rd Model also nicknamed Model 1926. Later the Hand Ejector 4th Model was introduced. It was divided into two variations with the names of 1950 Military for the fixed sight version and 1950 Target for ones with adjustable sights.

But what about the Hand Ejector, 2nd Model? It is seldom mentioned, never got a name and was just as good a revolver as the above mentioned ones and actually far more historical.

This particular handgun was introduced 100 years ago during World War I. The Brits got themselves enmeshed in Europe’s continental war, and as usual, were short of weapons. They contracted with S&W to alter the Hand Ejector, 1st Model to accommodate their rather puny .455 Webley ammunition, but wanted changes. They said that battlefield mud and debris would foul its special 3rd lock and the ejector rod’s protective shroud.

Perhaps more importantly S&W felt the Hand Ejector, 1st models were too expensive at $21. By removing the ejector rod’s shroud and the intricately machined 3rd lock on the crane they could reduce retail price to $19.

And so was born the Hand Ejector, 2nd Model. For the American market the primary caliber offered was .44 Special. Also some were made as .38-40, .44-40 and .45 Colt but they numbered only in the hundreds each. According to Roy Jinks’ History of Smith & Wesson, by September 1916 the company had produced 74,755 N-Frame revolvers in .455 caliber for the British. Of those, 69,755 were Hand Ejector, 2nd Models. The other 5,000 were Hand Ejector, 1st Models because the British didn’t want to wait for the changes being made to the 2nd model.

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The first N-Frame was the Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, 1st Model, often called the “Triple Lock” (left)
and this one is a rare target model. It was replaced at the behest of the British during WWI with the Hand
Ejector, 2nd Model, which never got a nickname. Both of these are .44 Specials.

All of those had 6-1/2-inch barrels, full blue finish except for the color case hardened trigger and hammer and a lanyard ring on the butt. Grips were checkered walnut and sights were S&W’s trademark “half-moon” front with groove in the frame’s topstrap for a rear. I have a sample in my collection that factory letters to the Canadian Government in 1916.

Even so, the military duty of Hand Ejector, 2nd Models was just beginning. Being almost as bad as the British for declaring war while lacking weapons, the United States entered WWI in April 1917. The US Army was desperate for handguns, so S&W was contracted to provide N-Frame revolvers altered to function with rimless .45 ACP cartridges—this was done by snapping the cases into little 3-round spring-steel clips. The Hand Ejector, 2nd Models were given the military designation of Model 1917. All were fitted with 5-1/2-inch barrels, lanyard rings and smooth walnut grips. Finish and sights were the same as for the Brit’s contract revolvers.

Production of Model 1917’s was enormous. Jinks’ book says 163,476 were made for the US Government in their own serial number range. Those are marked “United States Property” under their barrels as mine is. After WWI ended the company kept this model in their catalog until 1949 and produced about another 50,000. This order included 25,000 sold to the Brazilian Government in the late 1930’s, with many of those returning to the United States for the surplus market in the 1980’s. The commercially made Model 1917’s had checkered walnut grips instead of the military’s plain ones.

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When entering WWI, the United States was desperately short of military handguns so they
also purchased Smith & Wesson’s Hand Ejector, 2nd Model when altered to accept .45 ACP.

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The British persuaded Smith & Wesson to alter their N-Frame design for the .455 Webley and then
bought thousands during WWI. This Hand Ejector, 2nd Model factory letters to the Canadian
Government in 1916.

And that brings us back to the Hand Ejector, 2nd Model .44 Special. In nobody’s world could it be called a big selling item. It was dropped from the S&W catalog in 1940, and again referring to Jinks’ authoritative book, only 17,510 were sold in 25 years.

Barrel lengths offered were 4, 5 and 6-1/2 inches with full blue or full nickel for finish. Some were fitted with target sights but the vast majority had sights as described for the .455 variation. Grips were checkered walnut and lanyard rings were not standard. As interested as I have always been in N-Frame S&W handguns, I have never seen a Hand Ejector, 2nd Model in any barrel length but 6-1/2 inches, any finish but blue, any type of sights but fixed or any .38-40, .44-40, or .45 Colt chambering. (Original chambering that is. Many .455’s were rechambered to .45 Colt in bygone years.)

Nigh on 20 years ago I wandered into a nifty little gun store on a trip to Los Angeles. To my utter amazement, in the handgun case was a Hand Ejector, 2nd Model .44 Special, blue finish with 6-1/2-inch barrel. I paid for it and made arrangements for it to be (legally) shipped back to Montana. It took me years to get around to factory lettering it but upon doing so I learned it had been sent to Charleston, W. Va., in 1929. Having been born and raised in that state, the provenance of this revolver dictates I keep it forever.

Besides, it shoots pretty good!
By Mike “Duke” Venturino Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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My Favorite Places

Not Surprisingly, They All Have
Something To Do With Shooting.

Coming from the so-called poverty area of southern West Virginia, and from a family of relatively modest means, the most I expected in life was to own a decent home here in Montana. Never did I dream of acquiring a place of about 70 acres with a stunning view of the Absaroka Mountains and fenced into multiple pastures for Yvonne’s horses. By good luck in regards to property prices and timing, we did it.

When the realtor brought us here in late September 1986, Yvonne immediately went into the house while I walked about. At the edge of a ridge I looked down. What I saw was a perfect place to build a shooting range. There was a ridge between the potential range and the house so noise wasn’t a problem. Also there was another ridge that shielded most of the potential ranges from the rest of the world. I turned to the realtor and said, “This is it!” Yvonne was walking up about that time and heard me. She said, “But you haven’t even looked at the house.” My reply was, “To hell with the house. I’d live in a cave to be able to have this shooting range. This is it!”

About a month later we moved in, whereupon I immediately built safe pistol and rifle ranges. The former was at 25 yards and the latter out to 300 yards. Due to the lay of the land I now even have a modest range for firing my World War II vintage submachine guns. No one can see me having full-auto fun unless they are on my land.

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Duke stands in the doorway of his Montana “shooting shack,”
one of his two favorite places.

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Duke’s second favorite place is his walk-in gun vault.

Even so, there are two places on this property I consider my favorite spots in the entire world. When time allows I like to just sit in them and, among other things, reflect on how well life has gone for me. Those are my shooting house and my gun vault.

The shooting house came first. This area is known for its winds. Even on days we consider wonderful there is likely a steady movement of the air. In summer that is fine. In winter it adds to the chill. For the first year and a half my shooting range contained merely an open-air bench. Wintertime shooting was nigh-on impossible.

In 1988 I had a spare chronograph. A friend handy in carpentry wanted it. He said if I furnished materials, for trade he would hammer me together a crude shooting shack. It was dirt-floored and far from air tight, but it did expand the possibility of year-round shooting. Winter shooting was still no picnic but at least feasible if I dressed properly.

By the year 2000, that old shack was about to fall down around my ears, and coincidentally, I inherited a small sum of cash. So I hired a contractor to build a “real” shooting shack. As evidence of the truth in the above sentence, when the contractor hooked a chain from his backhoe to the shack he said it fell down before he even started pulling.

My new “shooting shack” is 14 feet square, with two windows to shoot from and many shelves for storing targets, ammo, chronographs and all the other paraphernalia a gun’riter needs. I also had it heavily insulated and equipped with propane heat. Even in winter I can hang my coat from a peg while shooting.

However, it was unbearably hot in summer, what with large windows on three sides. That’s when I spotted those new portable air-conditioners that only require a hose stuck out a window for operation. So now I have a heated and air-conditioned shooting house! Sometimes, after the shooting is done I sit in my “shooting shack” and think. I think about article and column ideas and perhaps loads that need testing, or rifles that need sighting in or anything else pleasant that pops into my head. My only complaint about it is I didn’t make it big enough for a nice easy chair for those relaxing times.

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From his “shooting shack” Duke can shoot handguns at 25 yards
and rifles out to 300 yards.

I do have a chair in my gun vault. It’s covered with a “buffalo” robe, so my constant canine and feline companions most usually have to be moved before I can sit. Two full walls have rifle racks and one is dedicated to shelves for handguns. In the middle there is a bench for tinkering on both types of firearms and also to hold two lube/sizing machines for processing cast bullets. A zebra hide on one wall reminds me of days spent hunting. High above the rifle racks are pegs holding an assortment of WWII steel helmets and other paraphernalia useful as photo props when Yvonne calls for such.

When my eyes blur from too much time in front of this computer screen and my brain gets too numb to generate more words, I enjoy sitting in that buffalo-robed chair just thinking. I think of ideas for future articles and columns. I think of photo layouts for ones already written and I think of things needed for all those guns before my eyes. Such as, “That one needs a sling, yet. This other one needs zeroing. I have too many of that particular model… Perhaps I should sell one?”

My “shooting shack” and my gun vault are the two places on this earth where I long to be.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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A Most Pressing Pastime

Handloading As A HIGH-VOLUME Hobby.

Recently, by consulting various reloading manuals and research books, I determined in my 48 years of handloading, I’ve put together loads for at least 125 different cartridges. They have ranged from .17 Remington to .50-90 Sharps in rifles and from .32 ACP to .454 Casull in handguns. Total numbers have ranged from a few dozen .17 Remingtons to scores of some handgun rounds. For instance, I quit counting .38 Specials after 60,000 and that was back in 1980. Currently I own firearms chambered for over 50 cartridges, all of which I handload for, except .22 rimfires.

Probably the most common (or popular) cartridges I’ve loaded have been those .38 Specials in handguns and .30-06 in rifles. The most unusual ones are likely the 9mm Japanese Revolver or the French 7.65mm Long in handguns. In rifles my most oddball ones have been the Hungarian 8x56mmR and .50-2-inch Sharps. Perhaps surprising is the fact that I’ve never reloaded a single shotgun shell.

Sometimes a certain cartridge is handloader friendly to an amazing degree, meaning almost any load combination from various reloading manuals shoot adequately. Not surprising is those same ones are among the most commonly reloaded. Good examples there are again .38 Specials and .30-06 but I think others like .223 Remington and .308 Winchester should be included. Although it is not so common the .41 Magnum is another “easy” one.

Some cartridges present considerable difficulties. Consider the .41 Colt. It is not just a “little brother” to the .41 Magnum. Colt built their .41 Colt barrels to have 0.401- to 0.402-inch groove diameters. (Source: Original Colt barrel spec sheet dated 1922). By the 1890’s, however, the ammunition factories loaded .41 Colts with 0.386-inch bullets but gave them a hollowbase so they would expand and grip the rifling. The same situation existed with .38 Colt but change barrel groove diameter to 0.375-inch and factory bullet diameter to 0.357.

The .44-77 can be another stinker—depending on the exact rifle. Back in its heyday in the 1870’s, Sharps and Remington rifle barrels were usually 0.451-inch in their grooves. In fact, both my original Sharps ’74 and Remington No. 1 rolling block measure that. That being said, I’ve measured original Sharps Model 1874’s with groove diameters as tight as 0.446-inch and as large as 0.457-inch. The single original .44-77 cartridge in my collection has a paper-patched bullet of 0.444-inch diameter.

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Duke began casting his own bullets in 1966 because there was no other source
“where he grew up. He still considers time spent casting as relaxing.

In order to get any sort of accuracy from my two .44-77’s I have to cast bullets of a very soft alloy—say one part tin to 40 parts pure lead. The explosion of black powder upon ignition bumps up the soft bullets to fill the barrel. In fact I keep one electric lead furnace just with that alloy. It also works well with .38 and .41 Colt rounds.

Speaking of casting bullets, I’ve done that as a handloader since day one. In fact in the home area of my youth—Mingo County, West Virginia—there was no other source of bullets when I began reloading in 1966. There are plenty of bullets around for nigh-on everything nowadays, but I personally remain stuck in the bullet casting era and enjoy it. Many consider it an onerous chore but I treasure time spent casting as relaxing. Of the 50+ cartridges I reload currently, there are only five for which I do not have bullet molds. They are .223 Remington, .222 Remington Magnum, 6.5mm Italian Carcano, 7.62x39mm and 7.92x33mm Kurz.

In the first 20 years of my reloading career I put together perhaps 100 rounds with black powder as propellant. Those were .45-70’s for an original Trapdoor Springfield carbine. Now I load black powder to the tune of about a 25-pound case every year. The igniting spark was the game of NRA Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette. I’m one of the game’s oldest competitors and from over 25 years of experimentation I know for sure that with 1870’s vintage rifles (or replicas), black powder gives the very best long-range accuracy in cartridges originally designed for it.

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Duke’s new machine for annealing cases is this one by Bench Source.
It makes annealing a quick and simple chore.

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Duke currently reloads for over 50 different cartridges, the rifles for many shown in the
background. He keeps four reloading presses mounted full time. The two Dillon Square
Deal ones are shown here.

In regards to handgun and rifle reloading I’ve tried all ancillary facets. Those include outside neck turning cases for a benchrest rifle, forming cases so as to have brass for obsolete calibers, inside neck reaming so those formed cases will chamber in antique rifles, annealing cases to soften their necks, trimming cases that grow too long and much more. My least favorite chore is trimming, but an electric Lyman trimmer has helped with that for 30 years. An equally “least favorite” chore would be case annealing, but specific machines for that have made it almost pleasant.

I keep four reloading presses mounted at all times. One is a single stage RCBS, another is a turret Redding and two are progressives by Dillon. Also I keep three Lyman lube/sizing machines and have 45 sizing dies for different diameters from 0.225 to 0.580 inches. (I used to cast for .22 centerfires and the .58 die is for a replica Civil War musket.)

For many years, I’ve bragged that when at home, and left to my own devices, I simply can never get bored.
My all-consuming passion for reloading ensures that.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

Bench-Source
8341 Industrial Drive
Olive Branch, MS 38654
(662) 895-0803
www.bench-source.com

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Small Arms Of “Fury”

The Filmakers Did A Fine Job Outfitting
The Soldiers In This Movie.

Hollywood has a well-deserved reputation for bumbling when it comes to arming their actors with the proper firearms for the time and place of the storyline. Even in such an epic as Saving Private Ryan, the Ranger unit’s sniper played by Barry Pepper started the movie with a ’03 Springfield wearing a long-tube Unertl type scope. Somewhere along the way that rifle became a ’03A4 with small 2.5X Weaver 330C scope.

That was my mindset upon going to the theater to see the new movie Fury about an American World War II Sherman tank’s crew. The setting was Germany in April 1945 in the closing weeks of the European war. I was so surprised at the correctness of the small arms exhibited in the movie that I went to see it again a few days later. To be sure, I freely admit to being no expert in regards to tanks or uniforms of World War II but I definitely know something about the small arms used therein.

And brothers, they did get them correct in this flick. Even more so, there were some nuances that only truly “gunny-sorts” would see. I also perceived one possible tiny error and it might not have actually been one.

As with any movie concerning American and German troops in 1945, the average infantryman depicted in Fury was carrying a semi-auto M1 Garand (US) or bolt-action K98k (German) . That was right and proper. US officers and NCO’s were shown with M1 .30 Carbines—also right and proper. I looked closely at the carbines and they had no bayonet lugs and the L-shaped rear sight instead of the fully adjustable type that only came into use very late in the conflict. The vast majority of M1 .30 Carbines used in WWII were set up the same as shown in the movie.

Let’s get to the tank crew. Brad Pitt played the commander, and here some individualism about weapon choices was shown. Pitt carried a revolver in a shoulder holster instead of a Model 1911/1911A1. There were some close-ups of the handgun a few times and it was obviously a US Model 1917 .45 (Smith & Wesson). Even more individualism was shown in the grips. Grips on 1917’s are not issue walnut, instead they are likely made of some synthetic material. To boot, looking closely you can see a painting or picture of a sexily posed girl on one grip panel. At least one other of the tank’s crew was shown with a handgun and it was the standard Model 1911/1911A1 .45.

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The only possible small arms mistake Duke noticed in viewing “Fury” twice was
the tank crew had two M3A1 “grease guns.” It would have been far more likely
they had the earlier M3 version (left, with the crank). The later M3A1 (right)
had a simple “finger hole” to retract the bolt.

Also, at times Pitt is shown standing in his tank’s turret firing a German MP44 “Sturmgewehr.” These were the world’s first so-called “assault rifles” chambered for Germany’s 7.92x33mm Kurz round. This use indicates the tank commander was firearm-savvy; picking up a new and very effective enemy rifle from the battlefield.

new sentence:

All American tanks were issued with a submachine gun for their crews. Its purpose was to keep enemy infantry from getting too close, even climbing aboard. Through most of World War II the submachine guns were .45 ACP Thompson Models 1928, 1928A1, M1 or M1A1. Fury’s crew had the latter one. But that’s not all. By mid-1944 the US Army began switching from Thompson submachine guns to the new M3 “grease gun,” also in .45 ACP.

Two of these were aboard Fury and that’s where there could possibly have been a mistake. The ones shown in the movie were M3A1’s—not M3’s. The give-away is that M3’s had a crank handle on the right side to retract the bolt. M3A1’s had a finger hole in the bolt for retraction. According to Bruce Canfield’s excellent book U.S. Infantry Weapons Of World War II, only about 15,000 M3A1s were made by war’s end and he writes “… the M3 was the only variant of the grease gun to see any appreciable amount of combat use during World War II.” So having M3A1’s on board could have been possible but unlikely.

Also laudable in Fury are the sounds given by several full-auto’s. Grease guns have about a 400 rounds per minute (RPM) cyclic rate. They make a chug-chug-chug report. Conversely, the German MG42 machine guns ran at 1,200 RPM, which sounds like a chain saw running. In between were several other types of full-auto’s such as the .50 Browning atop the Sherman’s turret. All sounded authentic in the movie.

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Rarely shown in American-made WWII movies, a
German MP44 was shown prominently in Fury.

Lastly, towards the end of the movie is a scene with a German SS sniper shooting at Pitt. His rifle, a scoped K98k, is shown from a front oblique angle. The “tunnel” in the scope mount is evident. As explanation, the Germans liked for their many different kinds of scope mounts to also allow use of iron sights in a pinch; hence the “tunnels.” I have a double-claw type German scope base and rings complete with Hensoldt 4X scope. (Picked up at a gun show and waiting for my next sniper rifle repro project.) From the front it looks similar but not identical to the one in Fury. Furthermore, several books on WWII sniper rifles relate that German SS snipers often used claw mounts on K98k’s.

I can’t say that Fury is an upbeat or uplifting movie. It is intense and gory. But from my point of view, the small arms consultant deserves a hearty atta-boy.
By Mike Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Mountain Mausers

The G33/40 Was Intended For Specialized
Troops And Is One Of The More Rare
Variants Today.

I’ve become besotted with military Mauser rifles. My racks now hold a baker’s dozen representing at least a half dozen nations, but the most recent is especially noteworthy. It is a German G33/40, a rather rare variation of the basic Model 1898 chambered for what the Germans called the 7.92x57mm. In America we call it the 8mm Mauser.

The designation G33/40 is ironic. Starting circa 1935, Germany named their standard issue infantry rifle K98k. The capital “K” stands for Karabiner, i.e. short rifle or carbine in English. With a barrel length of 23.6 inches and a weight of 8.5 pounds, the K98k is almost identical in size to the US Model 1903 Springfield, which no one mistakes for a carbine.

Conversely, the “G” in G33/40 stands for Gewehr, i.e. rifle in English. Barrel length for G33/40 is 19.6 inches with nominal weight of 7.9 pounds. G33/40s are carbines in fact.

What else makes a G33/40 so special? One thing is its origins: G33/40’s were not made in Germany. They were produced at the huge arms producing complex in Brno, Czechoslovakia, a country under German domination at the time. Another specific was its purpose for issue to German “Gebirgstruppen” or mountain troops. Because it would likely be used as a “walking stick” on icy slopes, the left side of its buttstock was given a sheet steel protector plate. (Once I was advised this plate was actually to protect the buttstock when troops were clicking their heels in coming to attention. Considerable research caused me to discount that.)

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Duke’s first G33/40 (above) was of first year production albeit
not with all matching serial numbers. The “945” was Germany’s
first code for the Brno factory in Czechoslovakia. Duke’s most
recent G33/40 find (below) does have all matching numbers.
Its “dot” code was Germany’s second code for the Brno factory.

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And finally another interesting fact about G33/40’s is their meager numbers, both in rifles produced in the original time frame and also in the numbers existing today in original form. Let’s consider the total numbers produced first. G33/40’s were only made in the between 1940 and 1942, according to the book Mauser Military Rifles Of The World by Robert W.D. Ball. On page 107 of this book’s 3rd edition, Ball gives an approximate production total of 120,000 G33/40’s. (I have also read the figure of 250,000 for G33/40 production, but it seems Ball’s figures are more authoritative.) Compared to 11,000,000 K98ks often quoted for that rifles’ 10-year production period, G33/40’s were made in tiny numbers.

Their survival rate into the 21st century has not been good. Starting about in the 1950’s and continuing still, custom gunsmiths discovered G33/40’s superb production quality. Also, because they were built with lightening cuts they could be turned into exquisite and lightweight sporting rifles. Therefore, the considerable numbers of G33/40’s surviving the rigors of World War II battlefields were torn apart for their actions alone.

Upon embarking on assembling my collection of WWII firearms, little thought was given to G33/40’s. In fact, I had personally laid eyes on only one in my career of which I was aware. But once in a phone conversation with a fellow about another Mauser rifle he casually mentioned selling his G33/40. I decided to buy it even though it was actually a “parts rifle.” That means his G33/40 was not in original condition. Its stock was an original G33/40, but of laminated wood. By its “945” code and 1940 manufacture date it should have worn a solid wood stock. Also its bolt did not serial number to the action but was also was a proper G33/40 bolt because its knob was hollow as all G33/40 bolts were.

Here are some specifics about G33/40’s. They carried the basic Mauser Model 98’s internal box magazine with 5-round capacity. Sights consist of a mere blade front with open rear graduated to 1,000 meters. There is no provision for windage adjustment save for drifting the front sight in its dovetail.

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In a most unusual feature, since the rifle would likely be used as a
“walking stick” on icy slopes, the left side of its buttstock was
given a sheet steel protector plate.

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The standard German battle rifle of WWII was the K98k (top gun).
The G33/40 (bottom gun) is the specialized carbine primarily
intended for mountain troops. Both are based on the Mauser
Model 1898 action.

During the Nazi era in Germany the Wehrmacht did not put manufacturers’ names on weapons. Instead they were given codes consisting of numbers and/or letters plus the year of production. When first devised, G33/40’s were marked “945,” and most if not all of those were dated 1940. Soon thereafter the code was changed to “dot” with the year.

Note I said “first” above. Wonder of wonders, I now have two G33/40’s. A friend spotted another for me in a pawnshop and I bought it too. It is all-original, albeit obviously it saw much outdoor use because most of the exterior metal finish has turned gray. Also its laminated stock carries many dents and dings. That said, all serial numbers are matching, function is perfect as is the bore. I paid the same for it as my “parts” one, which is much less than the going rate. With my handloads duplicating German WWII ammunition’s ballistics, this second G33/40 hits is on for windage and hits center at 200 yards for elevation.

G33/40’s had one blemish in their otherwise sterling reputation. Military loads with 198-grain bullet at 2,500 fps caused soldiers to complain of recoil. They do belt you, but if a shooter can handle a modern sporting .30-06 rifle, he can tolerate a G33/40.
By Mike Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

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Pure Likeability

Some Guns Just Grow On A Fellah.

What guns do you like? I don’t mean ones favored because they are rare, valuable, historical or used for competition, but the ones you “like” as in when you have some free time and shoot just for the sheer joy of firing a good gun.

Here’s what I mean. I have six rifles dedicated to competing in the NRA’s Black Powder Cartridge Rifle (BPCR) Silhouette game. Of the dozens I’ve owned there are a half dozen, chambered two each as .40-65, .45-70 and .45-90. They are here because I’ve determined they are eminently suitable to me and the game. However, the only times they are fired are in actual competition or in working up handloads if a new mold or new lot of powder arrives. I never take them down to my private 300-yard range just for an afternoon’s shooting pleasure.

Likewise, with my current collection of World War II firearms (there are over 40 rifles in that array). They include Mausers, Springfields, Enfields, Carcanos, Arisakas, Mosin-Nagants, Tokarevs, bolt actions, semi-auto’s and even one select-fire. Collectively my assortment is chambered for rounds ranging from 6.5x50mm Japanese (0.264-inch bullets) to 8x56mm Hungarian (0.329-inch bullets). Each is in the collection because they represent the countries in which they were made or in which they served.

Of all those, which are fired just for fun? As in I have some time on my hands between deadlines and don’t have to shoot to supply information to accompany an article. There are precisely two used then. Both are ’03 Springfields with actions made at Springfield Armory, both were bought as “parts” rifles with no collectors’ value and I’ve had scopes mounted on both. One wears a 5X by Montana Vintage Arms in their target grade mounts and the other an 8X Lyman Junior Targetspot. Each more or less represents ’03’s as built by the US Marine Corps in WWII to serve as sniper rifles.

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Duke’s most “likeable” rifles in his military rifle collection are
two ’03 Springfields. One (top) wears an 8X Lyman Junior Targetspot
scope and the other one wears a 5X Montana Vintage Arms B5 scope.

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Duke’s most “likeable” lever gun is this Cimarron Arms/Uberti replica
of the Winchester Model 1873 in Sporting Rifle configuration in .44-40.

Sometimes when there are no pressing matters or on a weekend where I’m not off to a BPCR Silhouette match, I grab one or both of those rifles. From my shooting house I then shoot them at various size steel targets out to 300 yards, striving to make first shot hits as military snipers are trained to do. More often than not I don’t but it is a relaxing pastime nonetheless. Those two .30-06’s are high of the list of my “likeables.”

Moving on to handguns, I have many ranging from .22 rimfires to .45 Colt revolvers. Many times over the years I’ve said the last I’d ever part with are my Colt Peacemaker Centennials. These were built circa 1975 by Colt to commemorate 100 years of production. They came in two versions: .45 Colts with blue and color case hardened frames and hammers, or fully nickeled .44-40’s, each type wearing 7-1/2-inch barrels. I have a pair of both but favor the .44’s. If a friend calls and says, “Let’s shoot some dueling trees this evening,” those are my picks for revolvers. I truly like them and shoot them well, even if I do say so myself.

What if the caller also says, “How about we shoot some pistols too?” Then one Model 1911 .45 ACP is my instant go-to gun. It really is a 1911, having been made by Colt for the US Army in 1918. I have newer, fancier .45 auto’s but for some reason I shoot this stock military issue one best of all. It does give the web of my hand a case of hammer bite so usually I just go ahead and start out with a Band-Aid in place there. That doesn’t stop me from liking this pistol a great deal.

(Mike’s note to John Taffin: Yes, I have several double-action Smith & Wesson .44 Special revolvers, but I actually don’t like them very much.)
As with so many genres of firearms I’ve owned a passel of Winchester lever guns, trying all models except the Model 1866 because of its rimfire chambering. Historically, I favor the Model 1873’s because that gun was there in the “Wild West” of cattle drives and Indian fights. But the “Winchester” I like shooting most is a replica. It’s a Cimarron Arms/Uberti copy of the ’73 Winchester, of course in .44-40 caliber. Specifically it is one of their Sporting Rifles with checkering and pistol-grip buttstock.

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Of all the Colt SAA’s Duke has owned in his career his most “likeable” ones
are the Peacemaker Centennials from 1975. The nickeled one is a .44-40, and
the blued/case-colored one is in .45 Colt.

Lastly, I want to touch on my sub-guns of which I have six: all WWII vintage. The first one I bought was a German MP40 because I had wanted one since age 13 or so. (I guess I’ve been just as influenced by movie portrayals of firearms as anyone.) It is more fragile than my Tommy-gun or British STEN but I like it. When I decide to take a few minutes to actually put some rounds through my full-autos here at home, the MP40 is my first pick.

Some friends tell me they enjoy their .22 rimfires for fun. Others talk about getting away for a day with their varmint rifles. I do my “fun” shooting at home and it’s mostly with these guns I’ve mentioned.
By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Pistol Cartridge Rifles And Carbines

A Lifelong Passion Continues.

Mostly, the guns I have truly tender places for in my heart I began acquiring in younger years. For instance: an M1 .30 Carbine at 16, a Colt SAA .45 and US Model 1911A1 .45 at 19, a US Model 1903A3 at 22 and so forth.

Ironically, a sample of one firearm type with a special spot in my affections didn’t come my way until age 34. That was a rifle chambering pistol cartridges. Before continuing, let’s get specific about what exactly is a “pistol cartridge firing rifle.” It is one whose cartridge is small enough and weak enough to become a fine one for handguns too.

Perusing my hand-jotted lifelong records of guns owned, I find over 40 pistol-cartridge lever guns have passed through my hands. About half of those were original Winchesters with the remainder mixed between original and new manufactured Marlins and replicas imported from Italy, Brazil or Japan. Most were full-length rifles but about 20 percent were saddle ring carbines. One Winchester ’73 is a full-length, military-style musket with 30-inch barrel, (said configuration comprised a mere five percent of Model 1873 manufacture).

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Duke’s first pistol cartridge lever gun didn’t come along until he was 34.
It was this Winchester Model 1873 .38 WCF (.38-40) rifle (above) with well
-worn exterior. He still has it. Duke considers this RCBS mold 40-180CM (below)
as his favorite for .38 WCF handloads. It is also a fine bullet for .40 S&W.

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A window into my personal preferences is the fact 26 of the pistol-cartridge lever guns I’ve owned have been .44-40’s, 12 have been .38-40’s with the rest numbering only in ones or twos. Never have I paid money for a lever gun chambered as .357, .44 Magnum or .45 Colt, although Marlin did loan me such when I was compiling data for my book Shooting Lever Guns. I do admit one of the most enjoyable-to-shoot lever guns of my experience was a Navy Arms/Uberti Model 1866 saddle ring carbine. It was a .38 Special.

My very first pistol-cartridge firing original Winchester came in 1985 as a Model 1873 .38 WCF with 24-inch round barrel. A friend offered it to me at a good price. Initially I was hesitant because its exterior had little finish remaining and its buttstock had been broken but expertly repaired. What pushed me off the fence was its beautifully smooth bore. Its barrel proved to have a 0.400-inch groove diameter and has always shot my home cast lead alloy 0.401- to 0.403-inch bullets beautifully.

It did cause me one moment of embarrassment, which served as a life lesson. I took that .38 WCF to the 1985 End of Trail event in Southern California. The only mold I owned then was Lyman’s 401043 for a 170-grain roundnose flatpoint. It shot great from my Colt SAA (1914 vintage) revolver as well as the Winchester. However, in test firing the Winchester it never occurred to me to load the magazine with more than the usual five rounds used in group shooting. Big mistake!

This particular bullet was first offered by the Ideal Company in the late 1800’s and was meant to sit atop a full charge of black powder with case mouth crimped on the bullet’s ogive to prevent it slipping forward during a revolver’s recoil. My 1985 .38 WCF loads used light charges of smokeless propellants so there was plenty of empty space under the bullets. My first stage at that End of Trail required 10 rounds from the rifle. That compressed the magazine tube spring much more. So along with the sound of the first shot I heard a sort of clunk sound repeated nine times. It was made by all the bullets falling back into the cases, and each one had to be fished out of the loading port one at a time.

MM-1214-2_b

Early handloading experiences with the ’73 .38-40 taught Duke a life
lesson: rounds for tubular magazine lever guns need heavy crimps.

Henceforth all my handloads meant for dual use in lever guns and revolvers have had heavy crimps. That means the case mouth turned into a properly located crimping groove so that a fingernail traveling run from bullet to cartridge case does not hang up on the case mouth. Because of the popularity of Cowboy Action competition, there are plenty of correct molds nowadays for pistol-cartridge lever guns. My favorite for .38-40 it is RCBS 40-180CM. When buying cast bullets those mold designs offered by Magma Engineering and used by most commercial bullet casters work fine too.

Nowadays upon entering my time as a senior citizen, I doubt if ever I’ll buy another pistol-cartridge lever gun but my rifle racks still hold six. Half are Model 1892 Winchesters: one each .38 and .44 WCF rifles and the third a .38 WCF saddle ring carbine. Alongside that first ’73 Winchester .38 sits the above mentioned ’73 .44 Musket and a Cimarron Arms/Uberti ’73 .44 WCF in the Sporting Rifle style with checkering and pistol grip stock. All are good shooters.
By Mike Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

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Black Powder Cartridge Ballistics

Cartridge Performance Back In The
1880’s Was Limited By The Propellant.

Elsewhere in this issue I’ve written about the rifles and handguns you might encounter in an 1880’s gunsmith shop or hardware store. Space doesn’t allow detailed talk there of the ballistics of the cartridges you might encounter at that time so we’ll do it here. I’ve actually gained shooting and handloading experience for most everything mentioned in that article both in original firearms and modern replicas.

Handgun cartridges actually made more progress than rifle ones during the years leading up to 1880. At the beginning of the previous decade ones like .44 Henry Rimfire, .44 S&W American, and .44 Colt were prevalent. With 200- to 210-grain bullets none of those would exceed about 750 fps.

By 1880 they had been surpassed by .45 Colt, .44 WCF (.44-40) and .44 Russian. The .45 Colt was tops. From a 7-1/2-inch barrel a powder charge of 35 grains (civilian loads) would easily push a 250-grain bullet past 900 fps. Military issue loads were a bit milder with 30 grains under the same bullet for about 800 fps. Of course exact powder quality is an unknown factor to us today.

The .44 WCF started out as a Winchester cartridge for their first centerfire rifle—the Model 1873. By 1877 it was also offered in Colt revolvers. It actually was capable of higher muzzle speeds than the big .45. Bullet weight was only 200 grains and the .44 WCF’s case was longer than the .45 Colt’s (1.31 inch compared to 1.29 inch). A 7-1/2-inch barrel would give about 950 fps.
From the 24-inch barrel of a ’73 Winchester the company said the new .44 round would break 1,300 fps. It probably did. Before that all the .44 Henry Rimfire could accomplish with 28 grains of powder was about 1,100 fps. Bullet weight was about 218 grains.

Smith & Wesson’s premier big-bore round from 1872 until well into the 20th century was the .44 Russian. It could not compete with .45 Colt or .44 WCF in speed but early factory loads used very heavy 275-grain bullets over 23 grains of black powder for a velocity of about 750 fps. It was far from a peedunkler.

MM-1114-2

Contrary to popular belief, the original .45 Colt loads
used by the US Army did not contain 40 grains of black powder.
As this box shows, the charge was 30 grains.

MM-1114-3

In the black powder era the only manner by which more power could be
gained from rifles was by making their cartridges either longer or
bigger or both. At left is a pair of .45’s with case lengths of 2.4
and 2.6 inches. At right is a pair of .50’s with case lengths of 1.75
and 2.50 inches.

The Wimps

Handgun cartridges nearly laughable by modern standards were .38 and .41 Colt. At their best the former used 150-grain bullets and the latter 200-grain ones propelled by 18- and 20-grain powder charges in the same order. Those two on a good day might hit 700 fps from the 3-1/2-inch barrels of Model 1877 Double Actions. Logically speaking those two cartridges should never have been chambered in full-size handguns.

Prior to the mid-1880’s Winchester tried unsuccessfully to rival single-shot rifle power with their repeaters. It just could not happen. Starting in 1876 they offered .45-75 in their rifle named for that year and soon thereafter added .45-60. Those rounds used 350- and 300-grain bullets under the powder charges indicated by their names. From the standard 28-inch barrel length of ’76 Winchesters the .45-60 could break 1,300 fps and the .45-75 could hit 1,400 fps. This I know from having duplicated factory loads with my handloads and fired them in original rifles.

That said, even the .44-77, .45 Gov’t (.45-70) and .50 Gov’t (.50-70) easily outperformed Winchester’s efforts. For instance, a .44-77 Remington rolling block in my collection gave 1,350 fps with 77 grains of black powder with 405-grain bullets. In the .45-70, it is not hard to get in excess of 1,250 fps with 500-grain bullets in a 30-inch-barreled rifle. Even the older .50-70 round can hit 1,250 fps with 450-grain bullets. All of those calibers are capable of shooting clear through a full-grown bison from almost any angle. I know for I have done it.

However, after the bison were exterminated the attraction of such heavy-hitting calibers was greatly diminished among the gun buying public. When deer became the most common game animal nationwide Winchester repeaters dominated. In effect then you could say the big single-shot rifles killed their own market.

When black powder was the sole propellant for firearms the only method possible to make cartridges more powerful was to make them either bigger in diameter or longer or both. In regards to handguns, anything larger or heavier than the Colt Single Action Army was simply too unwieldy for belt carry. The .45 Colt and .44 WCF took revolvers as far as they could go in regards to power until smokeless powders ruled.

Rifle manufacturers went all the way to .50 caliber coupled with cartridge cases in excess of 3 inches with powder capacities from 100 to 140 grains. Mostly those proved impractical in regards to recoil and barrel fouling. The more moderate .44’s and .45’s ruled—again until the advent of smokeless propellants.
By Mike Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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Persnickety Pair

Mastering World War II Japanese sniper rifles
can be a frustrating undertaking.

Regular readers of mine know I’ve been fixated (or obsessed) with World War II firearms, particularly sniper rifles. However, truly discerning readers may have noted those fielded by the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy’s Special Landing Forces haven’t been mentioned much.

Why? They pretty much have me befuddled! World War II sniper rifles from the USA, Britain, Germany, the Soviet Union and Finland also sit in my collection. Something they all have in common is a scope mounted dead-center over the bore. With American, British and Russian scopes, there are adjustments for both elevation and windage. German scopes for the most part are adjustable only for elevation (there are exceptions), but windage is crudely adjustable with their mounting systems.

Japanese sniper rifles are a different matter altogether. Their optics sit on the left side of the actions and they are not adjustable for windage or elevation in the least! (There is a single, very rare exception, which we’ll get to later.)

MM-1014-1

Japan’s two sniper rifles during World War II included the Type 97 6.5mm
(left) and the Type 99 7.7mm (right). Both have 2.5X scopes.

Strange Aim

So how did a Japanese hetai (soldier) or rikusentai (naval trooper) zero his sniper rifle? The short answer? He didn’t. They were zeroed at the arsenal or armory from whence they were issued and the sniper had no say in the matter. Instead, their 2.5X scopes had very intricate reticles with small tic marks for various ranges and windage conditions. The sniper was expected to memorize where his rifle’s exact point of impact was at various distances and in various conditions, and to use those tic marks for aiming.

Doesn’t that sound a bit difficult? We American riflemen have spent our lives shooting with traditional scopes. We simply put the crosshairs where the bullet is expected to hit—or perhaps with the crosshairs elevated just a bit to compensate for bullet drop at a given distance.

But wait! There’s more. With the Japanese sniper rifle/scope combinations, line of sight from the scope and the bullet’s path must transect somewhere—which will be its dead zero. However, before then, the bullet will be right of the line of sight, and after then it will be left of the line of sight. So besides needing to understand where his rifle actually hits with its armory zero, the Japanese sniper had to also calculate where it was going to hit before and after the dead zero point, not only in regard to bullet drop but because of its lateral travel!

In World War II the Japanese fielded two models of sniper rifle. They were the Type 97 and Type 99. The former is 6.5x50mm with 31.5-inch barrel and the latter is 7.7x58mm with a 25-inch barrel. Both are generically called “Arisaka” after the Japanese officer who designed them by altering the basic Mauser 1898 a bit. Alterations to convert a standard infantry rifle into a sniper rifle were simple. The bolt handle was bent so it would clear the scope during operation, and a mount base was installed on the action’s left side. The scope was quick-detachable, sliding into the base in a sort of dovetail arrangement and then locked down by pivoting a lever 180 degrees. Scopes were 2.5X—except for a very rare 4X that was elevation adjustable (I’ve never seen one).

At this point you may be wondering how those scopes ever get zeroed without adjustments. Well, they actually have some small screws in the sides of the scope body. An extremely knowledgeable collector of Japanese small arms tells me they could be used to move the reticles. But when the scopes were given their final finishes (a coat of black paint) those screws were coated over to prevent snipers in the field from fiddling with them. Scopes were serial numbered to their original rifles. But no owner of a Japanese sniper rifle I’ve ever talked to has ever seen a surviving one with matching rifle/scope numbers.

Strange as it seems, this method of scope mounting did have a couple of positive points. Type 97’s and Type 99’s could still be quickly loaded by 5-round stripper clips, whereas the magazines for the bolt-action sniper rifles of other nations had to be loaded a single round at a time. Also, the metallic sights on Japanese sniper rifles were still usable with the scope mounted. This was also true with some German and Soviet sniper rifles, but not with American and British ones.

MM-1014-2

The Japanese mounted their scopes to the left of the action (above). Two upsides to this
arrangement are it allowed the use of the iron sights with the scope mounted, and it permitted
the unimpeded use of stripper clips. The reticles on Japaneses sniper scopes were fine and complex.
And the scopes themselves were not adjustable for windage or elevation (below).

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I have added both types of Japanese sniper rifles to my collection at considerable expense, but I am far from mastering them. One problem is with the reticles, which are so fine as to make getting a precise sight picture very difficult except on bright days with well-lit targets. The reticles also tend to completely disappear against a black bull’s-eye. Perhaps they were more easily seen 70 years ago, but I suspect any young Japanese recruit chosen for sniper training had exceptional vision. (I am going to check with vintage scope specialists to see if those reticles can be “refreshed” somehow.)

I did manage—after considerable effort—to get my Type 97 zeroed at 100 yards by shimming its scope base with brass strips. But it took hours of repeatedly shooting, dismounting the scope, shimming and remounting. Fortunately, my Type 99 was on for windage at 100 yards, but a few inches high. I derived some joy from this. But then I fired a score of rounds at a PT Torso steel target at 200 yards without chipping its paint. The reason? I forgot about the bullet path crossing the right/left line of sight. My shots merely dug divots in the backstop slightly left of the target.

I’m not about to sell my Japanese rifles because my collection would not be complete without them. Still, at times I get so frustrated after shooting them I swear they’ll henceforth remain in the racks without further use. But, then again, they probably won’t. I’m just stubborn enough to keep trying.
By Mike Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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