Category Archives: Surplus Classic And Tactical Firearms

Bolt-Action Rifle With A Lever

The Winchester Model 88.

Lever action fans are a conservative lot. Departing from classic lever-action lines and punching up the power level of lever-action rifles seems to be a dead-end business in the firearms industry. Winchester has experienced a stream of false starts. The ultra modern Model 88 and the more recent Big Bore Model 94s in .307, .356 and .375 are cases in point and remember the 7×30 Waters!

Sako joined the doomed club in 1962 with the introduction of their lever action Finnwolf in .308 and .243 Winchester. Savage retired the Model 99 from its line, and I have a hunch Marlin’s Model 308/338 MXLR in .308 Marlin and .338 Marlin isn’t exactly setting any sales records. Left standing may be Browning’s long and short action BLR. We’ll see.

The first Model 88 I ever saw passed me on a motorcycle. I was trudging up a steep foot trail in Arizona’s Santa Catalina Mountains just before daybreak searching for Coues whitetails when I suddenly was aware of a motor behind me. Stepping off the trail with haste, I was amazed to see a young hunter zipping along on a trail bike, successfully negotiating a steep, rocky trail I thought impassible on a machine of any type. Without a word he rocketed on by, and as he did, I got a good look at his hardware. Slung across his back was a Model 88 Winchester. It was the beginning of the Model 88 itch.

Introduced in 1955, the Model 88 was a radical departure from Winchester’s historically strong lever-action line. The advertising copy of the day made the claim that it was a “Bolt Action Rifle with a Lever.” Mechanically speaking, there was a lot of truth to that jingle and psychologically speaking, that ad copy was designed to appeal to both the traditional lever action user and the confirmed bolt-action person.

Gone were an external hammer, side loading tubular magazine, rear locking bolt and 2-piece stock. In their place were an enclosed action with an internal hammer, a detachable box-magazine, a massive side-ejecting, 3-lugged rotating bolt that locked up right behind the chamber, a 1-piece stock and a trigger that stayed with the lever as the lever was cycled. Overall the new Model 88 was sleek as a jet fighter and scope ready.

Even more radical were cartridges the Model 88 chambered. In place of the .30-30, .32 Special and the .348 Winchester were the .243, .284, .308, and .358 Winchester. When introduced in 1955, the Model 88 was chambered only in .308 Win. The only other rifle chambered for the relatively new Winchester round at that time was the Model 70. In 1956, Winchester added the .243 and .358 Win to the available chamberings in the Model 88 and one year earlier in the Model 70.

In 1963, Winchester developed the short, sharp-shouldered .284 Winchester specifically for the Model 88 and their Model 100 autoloader. They wanted a short-action cartridge that could go head-to-head with the .270 Winchester and the .280 Remington, and they got it with the radical, rebated rim .284.

Savage must have been a bit shell shocked by the cartridges available in the new Winchester lever action and soon responded by chambering the whole Winchester quartet of compact cartridges in their Savage Model 99.

The Model 88 was available in two models—a rifle with a 22-inch barrel and a carbine with a 19-inch barrel and barrel band. Total production of the Model 88 over its 19-year lifespan from 1955 through 1973 was 283,913. It is estimated that of that total, 255,549 were rifles and 28,330 were carbines.

In terms of chambering, the .308 Win was by far the most popular chambering with 110,289 units manufactured. The .243 Win takes second place with 74,294 being made. The .284 Win and .358 Win are almost tied with 35,330 and 35,636 units produced respectfully.

The Model 88 gets the same pre- and post-1964 treatment in collectors’ circles as the Model 70. The only significant change in the Model 88 is in the checkering of the stocks. In pre-1964 rifle models, the checkering is cut. In post-1964 rifle models, the checking is an impressed basketweave design. The carbine stocks of either period are not checkered or impressed.

In the .308 chambering, there were more than twice as many cut checkered units as impressed. In the .243 chambering, it’s about equal. Out-of-production by 1964, there are no .358s with impressed checkering.

The rarest of all is the .284 Win with only 2,925 units produced with cut checkering. Because of its collector value, it is also the most commonly faked model with impressed stocks being swapped for checkered stocks. The only safeguard against such fraud is an examination of the serial number range. If the serial number range of a cut checkered .284 falls between 142,917 to 151,693, it’s legit. If not, it’s counterfeit goods.

I’ve owned and worked with two Model 88s—a .284 rifle and a .308 Carbine. Some of the design features that impress me the most are its lightening fast action. The lever throw is only 60-degrees and the linkage is slick. The stocking, which typically features a quality piece of walnut, is very modern and comfortable when using a scope sight with a drop-at-the-comb of 1-1/2 inches and at-the-heel 2-5/8 inches. The neutral balance point of the Model 88 in both the carbine and rifle models falls approximately at the magazine well making the Model 88 handy to carry. The detachable 4-round magazine system permits the use of spitzer bullets, and with an extra, loaded magazine in your pocket; it makes for a fast reload.

The Model 88s are accurate, as accurate as a typical bolt action, but some of the early production guns do have creepy triggers that take some getting used to. The .308 Winchester carbine pictured in the article is mounted with a vintage Lyman All-American 4X scope. In testing .308s, my protocol is to determine what the inherent accuracy of the rifle is using a 168-grain match load. There is some great factory .308 match ammunition available over-the-counter, or you can put together a handload with a 168-grain match bullet and 40 to 42 grains of IMR 4064.

The Model 88 carbine firing Black Hills .308 match ammunition will keep three shots into 1 to 1-1/4 inches at 100 yards. The Model 88s shoot, even the carbines with their odd-looking barrel bands!

Maybe most of all, I just love their zesty lines. Esthetically, the Model 88s are the most pleasing of all lever actions. Gone but not forgotten. The Model 88 is a classic in the world of lever actions.


The Eighty-Eight by Douglas P. Murray, Softcover, 50 pages ©2000, Privately printed, $40, A&J Arms Booksellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711. (520) 512-1065,

34th Edition Blue Book of Gun Values, by S.P. Fjestad, softcover, ©2013, 2,408 pages, Blue Book Publications, 8009 34th Avenue South, Suite 250, Minneapolis, MN 55425, (800) 877-4867,
By Holt Bodinson

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Remington Models 14 & 14-1/2

These Pedersen-Designed Slide-Action Rifles
Were Very Popular With Hunters For Decades.

Associated with Remington from 1903 to 1941, John D. Pedersen was one of the worlds most prolific and revered gun designers. Pedersen held 52 firearm patents by the end of his long and memorable career. As an inventor, he is probably best known in the popular press for his “Pedersen Device” of 1915, which converted the Springfield 1903 or Enfield 1917 into an autoloading rifle with a capacity of 40 pistol-size cartridges.

However, his most significant designs were sporting firearms. For Remington, he designed the Model 10 pump shotgun, Model 12 pump .22, Models 14 and 14-1/2 pump high-power rifles, Model 17 pump shotgun, Model 25 pump rifle and the Model 51 autoloading pistol.

Pedersen liked pumps, although he would refer to them more properly as “slide-actions.” Two of his finest were the sleek and elegant Model 14 and Model 14-1/2 centerfire rifles. It’s no surprise at turn of the century that Remington was trying to catch up with Winchester’s expansive lineup of big-game cartridges and their variety of popular lever-action rifles chambered for them. Winchester had fielded the .38-40, .44-40, .25-35, .30-30, .32 Special and the .33 Winchester and had a stable of Model 92s, 94s and 1886s to handle them.

In 1906, Remington met the challenge and rolled out their own big game lineup: the .25 Remington, .30 Remington, .32 Remington and the .35 Remington and a radical, new rifle to shoot them in, the Model 8 autoloader, designed by none other than John M. Browning.

While Remington’s new cartridges were viewed as mere ballistic clones of Winchester’s offerings, there were two important differences. The Remington cartridges were rimless and could be had loaded with spitzer, rather than round or flatnose bullets. The Remington Model 8 autoloader and the succeeding Remington rifle models, the Model 81 autoloader, Model 14/14A pump, Model 141 pump and the Model 30 bolt-action sporters by design could handle pointy bullets just fine and thrived on rimless cases. Sporting sharper shoulders and less taper cases, the Remington cartridges also simply looked more modern than Winchester’s 19th century creations.

Pedersen began work on the Model 14 slide-action rifle in 1908. It was introduced to the shooting public in August 1912. Chambered for the .25, .30, .32 and .35 Remington cartridges, the Model 14 was offered in six grades, ranging from the “No. 14A Standard Grade” pictured here with a 1913 catalogued price of $20 to a finely checkered and engraved “No. 14F Premier Grade” priced at the then princely sum of $105. A saddle ring carbine with an 18-1/2-inch barrel and straight grip was also offered and catalogued as the No. 14R.
A year later Remington introduced the No. 14-1/2A rifle and the No. 14-1/2R carbine, both chambered in .38-40 and .44-40.

Pedersen had a fine eye for design. For its day, the Models 14 and 14-1/2 were light, trim, compact, streamlined and well balanced. With a hammerless, tilting bolt action and solid rear receiver, the design provided a snappy lock time, protection from gas blowback and resistance to inclement weather and dirt afield. Actually, the caliber-indicating cartridge case head imbedded in the left side of the receiver right at the end of the chamber is the primary gas vent.

Both models are takedowns with the simple removal of the one, large thumbscrew. You could pack them in your suitcase and hop the train to your hunting destination. Being streamlined, the models proved to be ideal saddle guns. I once owned a Model 14R carbine in .35 Rem, and it was the slickest saddle gun I ever owned. Why, oh why, did I trade it off? Stupid question.

Pedersen’s solution to eliminating the possibility of detonations in a magazine tube caused by pointed bullets in contact with the primer of the cartridge ahead was ingenious. He shaped the Model 14 magazine tube with a spiraling flute. The effect was threefold. First, it tipped the cartridges so that the point of one cartridge was not in contact with the primer of another. Second, it prevented cartridges from rattling in the magazine tube and warning game. Third, it prevented the setback of bullets in the neck of the case and the deformation of softpoints under the forces of recoil.

The magazine tube actually cycles back and forth with the operation of the fore-end. Speaking about cycling, slide-actions are noted for their lack of extraction power. Pedersen incorporated a camming design with a leverage of 15-to-1, which kicks into play at the beginning of the rearward movement of the fore-end. His designs really do flick out the empties.

In addition to the cross-bolt safety at the rear of the triggerguard, the models can’t be fired until the action is completely closed because until it is, the trigger is not in contact with the sear, the sear is locked into a firing pin notch and the firing pin cannot move forward.

The Models 14 and 14-1/2 were beautifully machined, hand fitted and finished. Mechanically, they’re not simple designs. In fact, Pedersen was noted for his “engineering complexity,” however, they were robust, reliable and long-lived.

The Model 14A pictured here is chambered for the .25 Remington and mounted with a vintage 2.25X Boone scope. If you’ve ever heard of a Boone scope, you’re dated! Introduced in 1951 by Tingsley Laboratories, this petite optical gem is only 2-3/4 inches long and weighs only 4 ounces. In my opinion, all scopes should be that small. They are way too big these days. According to the Boone ads, “the hard-coated, non-prismatic optical system (designed around perfectly ground front surface mirrors) loses no light, provides brilliant images… Small enough to fit in your inside pocket… slips securely on mount in less than 2 seconds… zeros automatically every time.”

As you can glean from the photos, the ocular incorporates a diopter adjustment. The screw at the 12 o’clock position is the elevation adjustment while the matching screw at 3 o’clock controls windage. Each click equals 1 inch at 100 yards, and the cross-hair reticle moves in the field-of-vision as adjustments are made.

My Boone is slightly dim, optically speaking, but it’s still usable. Frankly, I get a kick every time I look at the little bugger. The original owner who mounted the minimal Boone scope on his sleek Model 14A was a marksman! It cost $34 with a leather case in 1952.

The .25 Remington cartridge is as dead as a dodo. (Well, I shouldn’t say that. Remington recently took the basic case and morphed it into 6.8mm Special Purpose Cartridge.) ’Tis a shame it’s obsolete. It’s a superior cartridge to the .25-35, velocity speaking. It’s easily formed in one pass through a .25 Rem full-length die from .30 Remington brass. It’s easy and forgiving to load. My deer/varmint load consists of a 100-grain Sierra Pro-Hunter over 26 grains of IMR 3031, giving a velocity of 2,403 fps and averaging 1-1/2 inches for 3-shots at 100 yards. It’s a load drawn directly from Ken Waters’ excellent series of articles from Handloader magazine.

The Model 14-1/2 pictured here is in .44-40. Look at that finish! I stored it in a poly sleeve with a piece of rust preventing, vapor emitting, preservative paper for a recent move. The vapors reacted with the brass caliber indicator and ruined some of the blue finish. Fortunately, the lubricated bore was untouched. Notice that the magazine tube is straight without the spiral flute. No need to accommodate spitzer bullets in a .44-40. For me, the 14-1/2 is simply a fun gun. Shooting Winchester’s 200-grain SuperX loading, the 14-1/2 is prairie dog MOA at 50 yards and effective on jackrabbits and coyotes out to 100 yards. The load generates 1,045 fps. It just lopes along out there and then slams down hard.

From 1912 to 1934, Remington produced 125,020 Model 14 and Model 14-1/2 rifles and carbines. The machining and workmanship lavished on Remington’s early slide-action models will never again be seen. Don’t pass them up, and if you ever come across a Boone scope, cuddle it!
By Holt Bodinson

Remington Model 14 owner’s manual reprints
Cornell Publications, P.O. Box 214
Brighton, MI 48116
(810) 225-3075

Old Rifle Scopes, by Nick Stroebel, softcover, 397 pages © 2000, F+W Publications, 700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990, (800) 258-0929,

Remington—America’s Oldest Gunmaker—The Official History by Roy Marcot, Hardcover, ©2008, 324 pages, 11”x8.5” landscape format, Remington Country, USA, Remington Arms Company, LLC, P.O. Box 700, Madison, NC 27025, (877) 387-6691,

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GUNS October 2013

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Chinese Again

Century International Arms Offers The Rare Type 53
Mosin-Nagant 7.62x54R Carbines.

Just when I was thinking the last of the great surplus finds is ancient history, Century International Arms pulls another rabbit out of the hat. They won’t tell me where they found them, but their latest discovery is a cache of highly desirable, Chinese-made, Type 53 Mosin-Nagant carbines. Never heard of a Type 53? It doesn’t surprise me because our fearless leaders cut off imports of rifles and ammunition from China a couple of decades ago so at the very least we know this current batch of Type 53s didn’t flow in directly from China.

To fully understand and appreciate the Type 53, which is the Chinese-made version of Russian M-44, you have to look to Russia and later at the Sino-Soviet period of rapprochement in the 1950s.

While the familiar Russian Model 91/30 infantry rifle is shorter and lighter than the original 1891 rifle and is based along the lines of the limited production dragoon model, it is still a handful. It measures 48-1/4 inches long (with the bayonet mounted, 65-1/4 inches), sports a 28-3/4-inch barrel and weighs 9 pounds.

While an improvement over the Model 1891, the infantry model proved to be too long and cumbersome for the cavalry and support branches like the artillery and signal corps. It also proved generally awkward in pillboxes, bunkers, forests and street-to-street urban combat. A lighter, shorter weapon was needed, and it appears in the form of the Model 1938 carbine.

Weighing 8 pounds with a 20-inch barrel and measuring a handy 40 inches overall, the Model 38 is slim, trim and almost sporting in its lines and handling, but it lacks a bayonet. As historian, D. N. Bolotin reports in his book Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition, “A special poll conducted in the army in the early 1940s, to assess the value of bayonet fighting, revealed that most men who had experienced such an assault demanded a carbine with an integral folding bayonet.”

The Russians missed their bayonets, so the Model 1938 was modified in 1944 by the addition of an integral, side-folding, 12-inch cruciform bayonet, bringing the weight of the carbine up to 8 pounds, 14 ounces. Simultaneously, production of the 1891/30 infantry rifle was terminated. You could say the Model 44 is the final refinement of the Russian Mosin-Nagant line.

Short, handy and compact, the Type 53 is a Chinese-made copy of the Soviet M44 carbine.

Imported in limited numbers, the Chinese Type 53 will prove to be a rare collectable.

Issued in the field in February 1944, the M-44 was an immediate hit with the troops. Again, quoting Bolotin, “Summarizing reports from combat units, Major-General Vasiliy Rozhkov… reports that ‘1944 carbines are quite convenient for infantry, cavalry and special troops in both defensive and offensive combat… The simple design and reliability of the bayonet system facilitate rapid use, correspondingly increasing the combat-readiness of the carbine. The reduced length enables carbines to be successfully employed under any battle conditions: in pillboxes, bunkers, trenches, passages, or in buildings, forests and mountains. At distances of 300-400 meters, the 1944 carbine with integral bayonet is as effective as the 1891/30 rifle.’”

Following WWII and with Communists in power in both Russia and China, in 1950 the two countries signed the “Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance.” One of its key provisions was a $300 million loan from Russia to China to help the country rebuild itself after a decade of external and civil war. The treaty was so important to China that Mao traveled to the Soviet Union to sign, which was the last time Mao ever left China again.

As part of this rapprochement, it is speculated that the Soviet Union supplied the Chinese with the tooling necessary to produce the Model 44 carbine as well as the Tokarev pistol (TT-33) and the SKS carbine (Type 56).

Chinese production of the Type 53 began in May 1953 and continued into the early 1960s. As a first-line military arm, it was replaced by the Type 56 SKS and by the Type 56 AK-47 beginning in 1956. Being phased out by the army, the Type 53 continued in service well in the 1970s in the hands of the militia and rear-echelon units.

The Type 53 front receiver ring pictured here tells us all we need to know about the specimen. The Chinese characters mean “53 Year Type.” The year of production is 1955. The numerals “26” or “296” represent the production code for “State Factory No. 296” located at Chongqing (formerly Chunking) followed by the serial number.

The condition of Century’s Type 53 cache seems to vary immensely. There is not a matching number anywhere on the piece I acquired. It looks like a parts gun, but the bore is very good. By all means, if you are a collector, buy one while they are still available. The Chinese Type 53 will be the rarest of all M-44 models and probably will never be imported again.

Typically, the M-44 type Mosin-Nagants are excellent shooters. Being short and heavy, they balance exceedingly well and have moderate recoil. The rear sight is thoughtfully calibrated from 100 to 1,000 meters, and they shoot to their sights with the bayonet fully extended. With the bayonet folded to the side, you will find that the center of impact will drop 2-1/2 to 3 inches at 100 yards, but accuracy will not suffer.

Wish I knew where this batch of Chinese Type 53s originated and what their history is, but the surplus trade is still akin to Winston Churchill’s famous quotation about Russia: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition, by D. N. Bolotin, Hardcover, 264 pages, ©1995, Published by the Finnish Arms Museum Foundation, out-of-print

The Mosin-Nagant Rifle, 5th Edition, by Terence W. Lapin, Softcover, This is the best reference on the Mosin-Nagants, $22.95 from North Cape Publications, PO Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781, (800) 745-9714,
By Holt Bodinson

Type 53
IMPORTER: Century International Arms
430 S. Congress Ave., Ste. 1
Delray Beach, FL 33445
(800) 527-1253

Model: Type 53, Action: Bolt repeater, Caliber: 7.62x54R, Capacity: 5, Barrel Length: 20.4″, Overall Length: 40″ w/ bayonet folded, Weight: 8 pounds, 14 ounces, Sights: 1 to 1,000 meters tangent rear, front: hooded post, Finish: Blue, Value: $129 to $400

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The Duelers

This ancient form of settling differences lead to
the modern-day use of the pistol for target shooting.

Article One of the Royal Code of Honor: “No duel can be considered justifiable, which can be declined with honor, therefore, an appeal to arms should always be the last resource.”

It is estimated that eight out of 10 potential duels were avoided through the negotiations faithfully carried out by the principals’ seconds. If not, well, according to Ireland’s code duello of 1777, The Practice of Dueling and the Point of Honor, Rule XVI: “The challenged has the right to choose his own weapon, unless the challenger gives his honor he is no swordsman; after which, however, he cannot decline any second species of weapon, proposed by the challenged.”

Rule XVII continues “The challenged chooses his ground; the challenger his distance, the seconds fix the time and terms of firing.”

The seconds also were required to load the pistols in the presence of each other and were permitted to check the other’s charged piece with a ramrod.

The curious fact about seconds is that while they were required to resume negotiations after each exchange of fire, they, too, because of some disagreement on the field, could become duelers. This is addressed in Rule XIV: “Seconds to be of equal rank in society with the principals whom they attend; inasmuch as a second may either choose or chance to become a principal, and equality is indispensible.”

Formalized forms of dueling emerged in mid-17th century Europe and extended well into the latter half of the 19th century. Some say the practice continues to this day, and there’s some evidence of that.

Writing in a 1950s issue of True magazine, gun editor, Lucian Cary, tracked down J.J. Renaud of Paris, a known director of duels. As reported, their conversation went as follows with Cary’s leading question:
“What about the law?”

“There is no law against dueling in France,” Renaud said.

“What if a man is killed in a duel?”

“Under the law that is murder and the seconds are accomplices—just the same as in the United States.”

“What happens?”

“What happens is that the police are presented with a corpse and an account of the accident. Those who were present say it is true we were practicing with pistols. Unfortunately, this man who is dead stepped in front of a pistol at the wrong moment.”

“But suppose the police do not believe this story which they must have heard before?”

“If such a case comes to trial and the court is satisfied that the duel was properly conducted according to the code, there is always an acquittal.”

When Renaud was asked which weapon was most popular—the pistol or the sword—he indicated the sword overwhelmingly was the weapon of choice because you could easily draw blood without mortally wounding your opponent.

A) Robert Scott of Forfar, Scotland, made this cased set of dueling pistols originally as a flintlock pair. Sometime later they were converted to percussion. The cased Scott duelers are sequentially numbered 250 and 251. B) The Scott duelers were originally flintlocks as evidenced by the plugged holes on the lockplate. C) The locks of Scott’s duelers feature sliding hammer safeties. Gunmakers lavished their work on locks and triggers to insure reliability. D) While duelers were fitted with sights, the top flat of their octagonal barrels was a fast and natural aiming plane. E) Using the finger spur pulls the grip firmly into the hand and enhances trigger control. Practical duelers were not highly embellished but lightly engraved. Single set-triggers were not uncommon on dueling pistols.

The Pistols

In England, Ireland and the United States, it was the pistol, which was the weapon of choice for a duel held in accordance with the rules of the code duello.

The typical dueling pistol in the English-speaking world was a smoothbore of .50 caliber and part of a cased, matched set of two. A smoothbore was considered more “sporting” and could be loaded with a tight, bare, unpatched ball. Under the code duello, foreign material attached to the ball and carried into the wound was prohibited because it leads to deadly infections. (This doesn’t make any sense to me since the ball would have to punch through clothing to be effective, but I suppose the emphasis was on “foreign.”)

That is not to say, there wasn’t some cheating going on. Even the prominent London gunsmith, Joe Manton, turned out a dueling pistol or two in which the rifling was terminated short of muzzle and not easily detected. On the other hand, in France, it was common to see a rifled dueling piece of .44 caliber or so. The .46-caliber French dueler pictured here in the article is typical.

The French dueler features a ball or cap compartment within the grip.

Dueling pistols like this .64-caliber Scott (above), were normally smoothbore and fired an unpatched lead ball. Rifled duelers, like this .46-caliber Parisian (below), were often made under 50 caliber.


The qualities looked for in a fine dueling piece were balance, reliability and “pointability.” The comment often appearing in the texts is that the dueling pistol should be a “natural extension of the pointed arm when the arm is raised to shoulder height.” Although dueling pistols sported front and rear sights and often-set triggers, there wasn’t time to take a leisurely aimed shot, particularly when you were being shot at. The top flat of an octagonal barrel was a natural aiming plane since it was parallel to the bore, and gunmakers went to great lengths to keep it that way, even tapering the barrel and balancing the pistol by taking metal off the bottom flat only. When raising a dueling pistol to shoulder height, it should be dead-on at 12 or 15 yards.

Dueling pistol stocks took several forms. A common English shape, seen here on the Scottish cased set, is a sharply curved but comfortable grip, often compared to the head of a cane and after about 1770, well checkered. The French duelers exhibit a slightly tighter radius in the curve and sport a longer, target-type grip. In the late stages of the English guns, the grip tended toward a saw-handled design, with an extension coming across the top of the hand.

Another “gripping” feature of most 19th century duelers is a curved spur at the bottom of the triggerguard. When engaged by the shooter’s middle finger, the grip is pulled back firmly into the holding hand. Trigger control is also enhanced.

Reliability was essential in a dueling pistol. Rule XX of the 1777 code states “In all cases, a miss-fire is the equivalent to a shot and a snap, or a non-cock, is to be considered a miss-fire.” In the Ten Commandments of Dueling from The History of Dueling this rule is moderated somewhat and stated as, “A misfire is considered a shot, unless stipulation to the contrary has been made.” In short, your pistol better be reliable and fire when the trigger is pulled, or you’ll be standing there defenseless awaiting your opponent’s shot. Subsequently, gunmakers lavished great attention on their locks, triggers and ignition channels to insure their dueling pistols would fire without fail on the field of honor.

Practical dueling pistols were not highly embellished. They were simply highly tuned to be the deadliest handguns available. Robert Wogdon was considered to be London’s premier dueling pistol maker. In fact, duels were commonly referred to as “Wogdon affairs” and Wogdon pistols were used in 1804 by the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton and by the Vice-President, Aaron Burr, when they faced off in Weehawken, New Jersey. A typical Wogdon dueling pistol is about as plain Jane, vanilla-flavored-looking pistol as you can find. The devil was in the details. Highly embellished cased sets of dueling pistols, which today have a high survival rate, were created more as presentation sets and state gifts.

There was one great benefit to the dueling era, which remains with us today. Dueling created the sport of target shooting with a handgun. If you were a member of the gentry, a politician, an officer and even a journalist, you were a potential duelist and were encouraged to hone your shooting skills. Consequently, shooting galleries sprang up, target-shooting manuals were published and shooting clubs were founded. Thank you, Duelists.

The dueling pistols pictured consist of a cased set by James Scott of Forfar, Scotland, and a Number 2 pistol from a set made in Paris. The Scott brace is .64 caliber. They were originally flintlocks converted at a later date to percussion and are sequentially numbered 250 and 251. The locks are marked “Thomson.” The Scott pistols reflect the English school of dueling pistol design.

The No. 2 Parisian pistol is typical French in style. It’s a .46 caliber with the single-set-trigger. I shot this pistol in 25-yard, bull’s-eye competition for a number of months. The accuracy load consisted of 25.0 grains of Schuetzen 3Fg, a .457-inch ball, a 0.014-inch-thick linen patch lubricated with Shenandoah Valley lubricant. From a rest at 25 yards and without cleaning, the pistol is capable of grouping five shots into 1-1/2 inches.

Does dueling according to the code still exist? Apparently, it does in France. Donned in facemasks and heavy protective coats, duelists let fly with wax bullets at each other in a formal setting according to code. Fencing matches would be another contemporary example of ersatz dueling. And if you want to shoot the arms of the era, Pedersoli offers some great reproduction dueling pistols like their LePage and Mortimer. The “code duello” survives.

In its heyday, dueling followed the strict rules of the “code duello”
The French-style grip was longer and formed on a tighter radius.

The American Gun: Spring 1961, Hardbound, 96 pages, Out-of-print. Try
The Dueling Handbook: 1829, by Joseph Hamilton, Softcover, 167 pages ©2007, $7.46, from: Dover Publications,

By Holt Bodinson

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Mauser’s Classic Sporters

The Iconic Battlefield Workhorse Was Also
A Beautiful, Functional Factory-Made
Hunting Rifle.

While we’re familiar with the 1898 Mauser in the form of a durable, reliable, military rifle and carbine, the manufacture of Mauser sporting rifles took place side-by-side with the fulfillment of countless military contracts at the factory. From 1898 to the destruction of the Mauser plant in 1946, approximately 126,500 sporting rifles were made by the Sporting Arms Department, a number that includes the thousands of commercial sporting actions and barreled actions sold to the British and American gunmaking trades.

Incredible as it may sound, the production of exquisite sporting rifles continued throughout World War II, even during height of Allied bombing attacks on the little village of Oberndorf, Germany. Uniquely, Mauser sporters were built on four distinct Model 98 action types: the short or “kurz” action for calibers .250/3000, 6.5×54 Mauser and 8×51; an intermediate action for the 7×57; a standard action for calibers 6.5×58 Portuguese, 7×64, .30-06, 8×57, 8×60, 9×57, 9.3×62, 10.75×68; and Mauser’s notable magnum action for longer cartridges such as the .280 Ross, 8×75 and .404 Jeffery.

Receiver rings and bridges of the commercial actions varied from round tops, to single or even double square bridges. Their bolt knobs were elegantly pear shaped rather than being round as on the military actions, and the striker nut or cocking piece was longer than the military model to add mass to the striker to insure fail-safe ignition.

It wasn’t that Mauser’s sporting actions were merely styled differently than their military 98’s, they were also built to much tighter tolerances and carefully hand polished. Opening and closing an original Mauser sporting action says, “This is custom work!” And indeed it was.

As varied as their commercial action designs were Mauser’s beautiful and complex barrel profiles. Routinely offered to the consumer were tapered round barrels, tapered full octagon barrels, and tapered part-round/part-octagon barrels. Mauser’s sporting barrels could be had with tapered ribs or without. A tapered ribbed rifle barrel is strictly an expensive and thoroughly custom affair today. Yet, here was the Mauser factory turning them out routinely by the thousands. Running a patch down an original Mauser sporter barrel is so effortless and so silky smooth you have to conclude each sporter barrel was carefully lapped at the factory.

Using only the finest English and European walnut, Mauser stocked its sporting line in several distinct styles which today are still in vogue—the “classic” sporter, the “express” style, and the full Mannlicher. Mauser’s sporting stocks were svelte and slim and proportioned to the use of iron sights.

Of all the stock designs offered by Mauser, they outdid themselves when it came to the full stock Mannlicher pattern. Mauser Mannlicher’s are noticeably more esthetic and carry better lines through the forearm than the Mannlicher pattern made world famous by Mannlicher-Schoenauer.

The sporter model triggers offered by Mauser were a 2-stage single trigger, a 1-stage single trigger and a double-set trigger. In collections, the 2-stage and the double set are seen in about equal amounts—the single stage being somewhat of a rarity except on actions produced for the English trade. Mauser retained the rear winged safety in its commercial actions but offered a neat, unobtrusive sliding side safety as an option. You’ll find three types of floorplate releases on Mauser sporters—a military push button (rare), a detent-secured lever release which was the most common, and an inside-the-guard-release which was incorporated for the English trade and Mauser’s Type A sporter.

The single square bridge action was selected by Mauser to build what I feel is the finest, factory or custom, integral, detachable scope mount system ever devised. In practice, Mauser dovetailed across the front, round receiver ring a typical, Germanic claw mount base. It was the rear square bridge upon which Mauser’s genius was lavished. The rear square bridge was pierced with a tapered, square hole which mated perfectly with the projecting, tapered square lug of Mauser’s rear scope ring. A simple, finger activated spring cross-lock machined into the side of the square bridge secured the tapered post in place once it was fully seated. To remove the scope, you simply pushed in on the tapered cross-lock and lifted the scope up and forward to disengage the forward claw mount.

The high, tunnel-styled Mauser rings through which you could use the iron sights as well were serial numbered to the rifle and soldered typically to either a steel tube Zeiss or Hensoldt 4X scope at the factory. Mauser’s ingenious and terrifically rugged scope mount system was a popular option and often seen on surviving specimens.

The side rail of the commercial action was stamped “Waffenfabrik (“weapons factory”) Mauser-Oberndorf a/N” before WWI. After the Armistice in deference to the Allies’ vindictiveness, Mauser dropped “Waffenfabrik” and changed the wording on its commercial action siderails to read “Mauser-Werke (“Mauser works”) A.G. Oberndorf a/N.

Up until the 1930s, all metal parts were rust blued, then caustic bluing was adopted at the factory.

Mauser offered five standard models of various variations in its commercial sporting line. The factory used an alpha system to designate each of the separate models coupled with a “pattern number” to designate the variation within the model line. The five basic models were as follows:

Type A: This model was patterned after the best of the English “express rifles. “Its most distinguishing features were a banded front sight, a set of folding “express” sights, a 24-inch round tapered barrel with a banded front sling eye, a very fancy grained walnut stock with horn forearm tip and pistol grip cap and an inside-the-trigger bow floorplate release as well as the more common lever release.

Type B: This was the “bread and butter” model of the line and is the most common model encountered. It also was offered with the most “patterns” or variations. The basic Type B was offered with a round 24-inch barrel with one standing and two leaf rear sight, a walnut stock with cheekpiece, a banded front sling swivel, steel pistol grip cap, lever released floorplate, and a hard-rubber buttplate.

Type M Carbine: One of the two “Mannlicher” designs offered by Mauser (the other being the “S” model). The distinguishing characteristics of the Type M are its 20-inch round barrel, full-length stock, steel nose and pistol grip caps, steel buttplate with a hinged trap for a cleaning rod, and a flat bolt handle.

Type S Carbine: The Type S carbine is quite distinct from the Type M. The full stock is carried to the end of the 20-inch round barrel and is not capped but merely carved into a pleasing “V” shape. Mid way up the forearm is a carved forward facing lip motif which leads the eye toward the muzzle. The bolt knob is pear shaped rather than flat and the buttplate is hard rubber.

Special African Type: I consider this model the most unique of the original Mauser sporting rifles. The African model sports a long 27-1/2- or 28-inch round barrel, is stocked to within 11 inches of the muzzle, and is typically fitted with a tangent sight graduated to 1,000 meters. Having said that, the African Model 9.3×62 rifle pictured in this article sports a fully tapered octagon barrel with one standing and two folding leaves for the rear sight. Again, it just goes to show you how many pattern options were offered to the consumer.

Fortunately, a great number of original Mauser sporters have survived, and for collectors and shooters alike, these superb firearms constitute a fascinating area of study. They are the high-water mark of factory produced sporting arms, and their likes will never be seen again.

Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles by Jon Speed, Walter Schmid and Reiner Herrmann, hardcover, 471 pages © 1997. This is the profusely illustrated, definitive word on Mauser sporters. Out-of-print.

Mauser Bolt Rifles, by Ludwig Olson, Hardcover, 372 pages ©2002, $45.47. From Brownells, 200 S. Front Street, Montezuma, IA 50171, (800) 741-0015,
By Holt Bodison

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Holt Meets The Garand

Early Memories Of An Iconic American Arm.

We trained with M1 Garands, BARs, Browning, air-cooled .30-caliber machineguns, 3.5-inch bazookas and 106mm recoilless rifles. Arriving on duty, we were issued Springfield M14s, M60 machine guns, 40mm grenade launchers and telescoping, 1-shot, 66mm M72 rocket launchers. The 1960s were weird in more ways than one. The transition from WWII small arms to modern equivalents took place overnight it seemed.

To me, it was a relief. I no longer had to struggle mentally with the calibrations on the elevation and traversing mechanisms of the Browning machinegun tripod, and I never again had to tote around another 20-pound BAR plus, what seemed like, another 20-pounds of loaded BAR magazines.

It was the second day of basic training, which began with PT, a 1-mile run and 10 pull-ups before being allowed in the mess for breakfast. Shortly thereafter, a deuce-and-a-half pulled up alongside our WWII-era barracks, and we were ordered to start off-loading the truck. The bed of that truck was stacked chest high with long, cardboard boxes. Once all the boxes were unloaded, we were ordered to draw a box and unpack it.

Inside each box, sealed in an airtight poly sleeve, was a brand, spanking, new Springfield Armory M1 Garand. The Garands were dry packed without a trace of Cosmoline. Stuck down each bore was simply an anticorrosion, vapor emitting, and paper straw. With the exception of WWII and Korean War movies, I had never before seen a Garand, much less handled one. Springfield 1903, yes, there were always a few floating around town, but Garands, no. Holding a new Garand you were going to shoot and live with for the weeks ahead was a magical moment for a young, gun enthusiast.

After unpacking the rifles, we were instructed to memorize their serial numbers and to remove the cleaning and lubricating equipment located in the two holes in the buttstock. Issued small cans of that wonderfully, foul smelling, WWII cleaning solvent plus a few patches, we were ordered to clean the bores. That’s when the first memorable Garand moment occurred.

Squinting down his bore, one of the troopers started complaining loudly that his Garand had a big pit in the barrel, and that he had tried brass brushing it out, but it was still there, and that he wanted a replacement rifle. The sergeant-in-charge strolled over, grabbed the Garand, peered down the barrel and in a slightly agitated and elevated tone of voice exclaimed (slightly edited), “That’s no pit, you moron. That’s the gas port of a Garand!”

Without missing a beat, he brought the whole platoon to attention and said, “Repeat after me. ‘The US rifle, caliber .30, M1, is a gas-operated, clip-fed, air-cooled, semi-automatic, shoulder weapon.’ Now, all together, say it again. OK, let’s hear it again.” I can still repeat that Garand jingle in my sleep along with my Garand’s now somewhat garbled serial number.

Being a nice hot, humid, summer day that drill instructors so love, we were ordered to spread our ponchos out on the ground for a formal session on the fine art of the disassembly and reassembly of the US M1 Garand. We got good at it, even when the dark Parkerized parts soon reached 150 degrees F under the noonday sun. We could strip a Garand and rebuild it blindfolded. We even raced the clock on occasion on penny bets to see who was the fastest M1 mechanic in the platoon.

Now, a couple of the chaps in the platoon were the products of private military schools, and they had handled Garands. They knew all its secrets, or so they thought. In preparation for the next day’s inspection, they rewarded us with the second memorable Garand moment.

Walking into our communal showers that evening, I was greeted by a scene I will never forget. There on the wet cement floor were the pieces and parts of two Garand rifles—trigger housing groups, followers, operating rods, springs, bolts and gas cylinder screws—and there under the shower heads stood our military school graduates with soap and brushes in hand vigorously scrubbing down the complete barreled actions. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were actually giving the whole lot a hot, soapy bath. Seeing me standing there in a state of obvious disbelief, they volunteered that a wash in the shower was the top-secret way to really get your rifle clean for an upcoming inspection.

After the rifle wash, they returned to the barracks where they towel dried and reassembled their rifles without applying any oil whatsoever to any metal part. Sitting there on my bunk and watching this process, I couldn’t contain myself. I asked them why they didn’t use any of Uncle Sam’s “Special Preservative Lubricating Oil”? Their answer was that during a white glove inspection, gun oil would soil an officer’s white gloves. I had this nagging hunch from the looks of our company commander that he would not be wearing white gloves, or any gloves at all for that matter, the next morning.

Ah, but the preparation of their Garands for the next day’s inspection did not end with their rifle wash. The final and ultimate touch was to give the bores a mirror-like, light-reflecting polish that was sure to impress the eye of the beholder. Taking a can of GI talcum-based, foot powder, they applied a pinch of foot powder to a patch and ran the patch up-and-down those bores a hundred times or more.

I was mesmerized by the knowledge, expertise and creativity of these two.

The next morning we grabbed our Garands and fell out for inspection. The ritual was formalized. When the inspecting officer stepped in front of you, you came to port arms, slammed open the M1 bolt, stayed at port arms and released the rifle as soon as the inspector touched it. Some of the boys had a real tough time timing that release point, and more than once you could hear a Garand smacking down into the dirt at the inspector’s feet, but, at the thought of losing your weekend pass, you did not dare to even snatch a glancing peek to see who had screwed-up in the ranks. The officer then looked down into the action. He looked down into the bore. He might twirl your rifle around a time or two for show and then thrust it back into your hands and hopefully, move on without a comment.

I couldn’t see it. I could only hear it. Captain Kurz came to the first of our rifle washing, bore polishing, military graduates, grabbed his Garand and stared down with utter disbelief into the rusty guts of a brand new, Springfield M1. The expletives that issued from the Captain’s lips were long and creative, and the punitive sentence dished out to the M1 washer in front of the ranks was harsh. It was a moment to be savored, although tempered with a twinge of pity for the military grad. He tried his best, but at that moment, we were all grinning because we knew that in a few more steps Captain Kurtz was going to come face-to-face with the Garand in the hands of rifle washer number two….

The day arrived when it was finally time to shoot and zero the sights of our trusty Garands so it was off to the 1,000-inch or 25-meter range to prove we could get into a sling, flop down on the ground and shoot little, triangular shaped, 3-shot groups.

What is it about sand and military installations? They just seem to attract and stick to one another. Maybe, it’s a Pentagon plot to wear you down to a nubbin on a foot-slogging, blister-breeding, 20-mile, forced march with a 50-pound pack and a 10-pound rifle.

Anyway, flopping down into a prone position with our M1s, we were instructed to remove our steel pots and place them to our right front. Down along the firing line strolled an instructor with a pail full of loose, sand-encrusted, M1 ammunition. He proceeded to toss a hand full of the crappy-looking stuff into each helmet. I’m now thinking, “You expect me to chamber these sand-imbedded rounds and shoot them down the absolutely pristine bore of my brand, spanking new Springfield Armory Garand?”

God, forgive me, I did and did it round after round, clip after clip over the coming weeks in the rain and the mud and in the sun and the sand. My Garand digested everything I fed it. The thought of it still haunts me to this day. I broke in that mint condition Garand, not with rounds fired, but with sand, lots of sandy rounds. Such sacrilege!

I can still hear Sgt. Jackson shouting: “Repeat after me: ‘The US rifle, caliber .30, M1, is a gas-operated, clip-fed, air-cooled, semi-automatic shoulder weapon.’” Great rifle, that Garand! Great memories!
By Holt Bodison

FM 23-5: U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1 ($16.95)
1967 National Match Rifles ($10.95)
(Both Department of the Army publications are essential references for the management and accurizing of the M1.)

The US .30 Caliber Service Rifles: A Shop Manual, Vols. 1&2, by Jerry Kuhnhausen, Softcover, 383 pages, profusely illustrated, $50. (This is the best gunsmithing book available on the M1 and M14 rifles.) A&J Arms Book Sellers, 2449 N. Orchard Ave., Tucson, AZ 85712, (520) 512-1065,

The Complete M1, Softcover, 160 pages, and The Classic M1, Softcover, 98 pages, both by author Jim Thompson. $33.50 for the set of two. (Well written, entertaining, profusely illustrated references on the M1 rifle for the collector and shooter.) Available from: Paladin Press, Gunbarrel Tech Center, 7077 Winchester Cir., Boulder, CO 80301, (303) 443-7250

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Mr. Smith Goes To War

The Union Supplied A Variety Of Cartridge-Firing Cavalry Carbines And The Smith .50 Was One Of The Successful Ones.

If you had had to fight in the Civil War, there was no better place to have been than in the cavalry. None of that marching shoulder-to-shoulder, cannon fodder stuff, lugging a 10-pound musket around under a searing summer sun only to find yourself getting wiped away by volley-after-volley of Minié balls and canister shot.

No, it was much safer to be riding a fast steed and to be armed with saber, revolver and—most importantly—a cartridge-firing carbine. Light, short, handy and fast firing, the cartridge firing, cavalry carbines of the Civil War signaled the coming end to the single-shot muzzleloader era. Indeed, they were certainly the most attractive shoulder arms of the Civil War.

As a group, there were 19 different carbine brands fielded between 1861 and 1865. In terms of total wartime production, the Big Five were the Spencer (94,196), Sharps (80,512), Burnside (55,567), Smith (30,062) and Starr (25,603). Having covered the Sharps, Burnside and Maynard (20,002) carbines in past issues, I was delighted to uncover a reasonably priced, reproduction Smith carbine at a recent show.

Patented in its final form on June 23, 1857 by Gilbert Smith of Buttermilk Falls, New York, the .50-caliber, Smith carbine was of a simple, break-open design with an enclosed action. It was easy to load, easy to clean and easy to repair.

To minimize gas leakage and to facilitate the extraction of fired cases, Smith split the chamber so that half was in the barrel and half remained with the receiver. Locking the barrel to the receiver is accomplished by spring hinge, which locks down over matching studs on the barrel and the receiver. To open the action, the brass lifter seen inside the triggerguard is pushed up which raises the strap hinge, permitting the barrel to be swung down 90 degrees.

The Smith cartridge was supplied in two forms. Smith’s original cartridge case was composed of India rubber. It was flexible. It successfully sealed the chamber when fired, extracted easily in one piece and was even reloadable, although I suspect few were. The Ordnance Board trials of 1857 reported, “The joint seems to be completely closed by the packing of the India-rubber cartridge case; and the parts appear to be simple and strong… The firing was very uniform and very accurate. This arm loads with great facility.”

The second type of cartridge case which was introduced during the war was composed of metallic foil and sulfurized paper and proved much less durable than the original India-rubber case.

John McAulay’s book, Carbines of the U.S. Calvary, 1861-1900 contains an interesting observation: “The 10th New York rated the Smith as the best because it was easy to clean and more durable than the Sharps. They also gave it high ratings for accuracy and range and ease in loading on horseback. The 2nd Arkansas was of the opinion, concerning the three types of carbines in the regiment, that the Smith was the best for simplicity, accuracy and range.”

Another Smith endorsement quoted in Peter Schiffers’ book, Civil War Carbines is from Rear Admiral David D. Porter who wrote: “I have had in use now two years a gun invented by Smith. This gun has not been cleaned in all that time, nor does it need it… I have kept it under constant trial by firing and pronounced it the best gun for Naval purposes that has ever been made… In accuracy and range it is superior to the Spencer rifle, which I consider one of the best guns.”

While Gilbert Smith was an inventor, he did not have the means to produce his carbine, and by 1860, Thomas Poultney of Poultney & Trimble, Baltimore, Maryland, one of the great arms merchant houses, owned the patent and successfully marketed it to the Union at the going rate of $32.50 per carbine. Under Poultney’s contract, the Smith was produced by the Massachusetts Arms Company of Chicopee Falls (which also produced the Maynard), the American Arms Company of Chicopee Falls and the American Machine Works of Springfield, Mass..

By the end of the war, some of the units armed with the Smith included the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry, the 6th and 9th Ohio Cavalry, the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry, the 3rd West Virginia Cavalry, the 7th and 11th Illinois Cavalry, the 10th New York Cavalry, the 1st Connecticut Cavalry and the 7th and 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry. We can be too, thanks to the modern reproduction being made by Pietta in Italy.

The Pietta Smith is an exacting recreation of the original and is available as a cavalry model with a saddle bar and ring on the left side of the receiver, as an artillery model with sling swivels mounted on the buttstock and the barrel band and as a hand engraved model. The 21-5/8-inch barrel is correctly rifled with three grooves. Land diameter is 0.500 inch and groove diameter, 0.514 inch. The barrel and buttplate are blued while the receiver is richly color casehardened. The left side of the receiver properly carries the names of the Massachusetts Arms Company, Poultney & Trimble and Smith’s patent date. Overall, Pietta’s rendition is a handsome arm and very popular with the members of the North-South Skirmish Association.

The secondhand Smith that I picked up had two interesting modifications made by the original owner who was obviously a serious shooter. First, he added a secondary latch that locked over the end of the spring strap hinge, and second, he fitted a T/C adjustable rear sight and a homemade front sight over the Smith sights with the use of “GOOP.” I kept the “Gooped-on” sighting system because it offers a much clearer sight picture than the original carbine sights. Using easily removed GOOP for temporary modifications is a neat trick to keep in mind.

Shooting the Smith is a real hoot. Both plastic cases that resemble the original India-rubber cases and machined brass cases are readily available from S&S Firearms and Dixie Gun Works.

Ready cast 350-grain, .515-inch bullets are available from Patrick Kaboskey, or you can buy the exact, proprietary, Lee mold from Lodgewood Mfg. I also have a custom 300-grain, .515-inch mold for both the Smith and the Maynard. The Smith loading tool pictured is simply a bullet-seating tool, which is all you need to load Smith ammunition and is available from S&S Firearms.

The modern ersatz rubber case will hold 30 to 40 grains of FFFg black powder, depending upon the bullet loaded, while the brass cases have a reduced powder chamber and are limited to 25 grains of whatever you can pour in them. From an accuracy point of view, I see no difference between the plastic and brass cases. Velocity is another matter. Using a plastic case stoked with 40 grains of Swiss FFFg and my 300-grain bullet, the PACT Professional chronograph registers 1,124 fps. With the 350-grain bullet, I can only stuff 30 grains of Swiss FFFg in the same plastic case for an average velocity of 909 fps. The Civil War loading was 50 to 52 grains of powder.

Accuracy? As the targets indicate, the Pietta Smith proved to be a reliable 3-inch gun at 50 yards. That’s not world shaking, but it’s perfectly adequate for short range skirmishing.

Pietta’s reproduction of the Smith puts history in our hands. It’s a good looking, quality-built carbine, and cases, bullets and spare parts are readily available. I can smell the horses and the campfires already!
By Holt Bodinson

Carbines of the U.S. Cavalry 1861-1905, by John D. McAulay, hardcover, 144 pages. $35

Civil War Carbines, by Peter Schiffers, softcover, 144 pages, $29.99

U.S. Military Carbines, by John D. McAulay, hardcover, 256 pages, $49.99
All available from: Mowbray Publishing, 54 East School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895, (800)

Patrick Kaboskey
S. 80 W. 30650 Meadowlark Cir.
Mukwonago, WI 53149
(262) 363-4625

Lodgewood Mfg.
P.O. Box 611
Whitewater, WI 53190
(262) 473-5444

Dixie Gun Works
P.O. Box 130
1412 W. Reelfoot Ave.
Union City, TN 38282
(731) 885-0561

S&S Firearms
74-11 Myrtle Ave.
Glendale, NY 11385
(718) 497-1100

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Simonov’s SKS-45 Carbine

This rugged, reliable, inexpensive rifle filled a gap and proved a concept.

It’s hard to develop a solid reputation when, for a brief period, your very existence is squeezed in between the M1891/30 Mosin-Nagant and the AK-47 Kalashnikov, but the SKS-45 did make a successful debut with Soviet troops along the Eastern front in 1944. Russian small arms historian, D.N. Bolotin wrote, “Experience at the front soon revealed the positive qualities of the Simonov carbine; it was simple, light and maneuverable and easily mastered during training. It was also convenient to fire, useful in a bayonet assault and could be easily reloaded.”

He continues, “After the Kalashnikov assault rifle had been adopted with similar ballistic characteristics to the SKS and far more effectual combat properties, the Simonov carbine was discarded…” Bolotin’s comment about “…more effectual combat properties” highlights two of the SKS’s limitations: the lack of a detachable magazine and the lack of selective-fire capability

According to Bolotin, both the SKS-45 and the AK-47 were both officially adopted in the same year—1949. Tough luck for the SKS but good luck for us since many milsurp SKS’s did not see any, or hardly any, combat deployment.

After having been on the receiving end of a million or more milsurp SKS carbines, the fact is that most of us didn’t get our first glimpse of the SKS and its 7.62×39 cartridge until the Vietnam War (1962-1973) when China and the USSR kept the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army well supplied with SKSs. Before that time, Simonov’s mysterious carbine, and the cartridge it chambered, were shrouded by the fog of the Cold War.

Remember, Western intelligence did not learn much of anything about the AK-47 until the Soviets opened up with it on the Hungarians in 1956. Up to that time, Soviet troops surreptitiously carried their AKs around in canvas cases and policed up every piece of fired brass lest it fall into the hands of foreign intelligence. The now common SKS remained a rare and exotic Soviet firearm in collector circles for many, many years after its adoption.

Manufactured by Russia (SKS-45), China (Type 56 Carbine), North Korea (Type 63), East Germany (Karabiner-S), North Vietnam (SKS), Yugoslavia (M59/66), Romania (M56) and Albania (Independence), the SKS has appeared in many models and variations in the milsurp stream—some strictly in refurbished military dress, others in appearance and manufacture strictly for the sporting export trade.

surplus 1

Handy, rugged, reliable, affordable, the SKS is a jewel of a milsurp.

surplus 2

The SKS stock is short and Holt added a thick, aftermarket pad to
increase the LOP to 13-1/2 inches for more comfortable shooting.

Prolific Numbers

The Soviet Union and China were the most prolific manufacturers of the SKS. It is estimated that between those two nations, over 4,000,000 SKS carbines were manufactured with China being the leading producer and exporter.

In the United States, the tidal wave of SKS milsurp imports and ammunition began in 1984 with the positive revision of the 1968 Gun Control Act. That tidal wave became a trickle when in 1994, by Executive Order, President Clinton stopped the importation of small arms and ammunition from China and in 1996, obtained a voluntary restraint agreement with Russia, stopping the further importation of the SKS.

The last great cache of SKS’s arrived on our shores from former Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian Models M59/66 and 59/66A1 are considered the most advanced of the SKS semi-automatics with grenade launching capability and night sights. Both models are still widely available and relatively inexpensive. My recommendation is “Get ’em while you can.” These windows of historical arms collecting opportunity are brief and increasingly so since there isn’t much, if anything, left out there in the milsurp world that hasn’t been discovered and brought to market.

Then again, I’ve been wrong before. By the time you read this, there may be a new cache of SKS rifle’s hitting our shores. If so, grab ’em.

The SKS pictured here is an early Chinese model made to military specifications and released as a sporter with a small, but surprisingly clear and reliable, 4×20 scope held in a Chinese copy of a Soviet-style, quick-detachable mount. With its beautiful, reddish-brown, catalpa wood stock, it’s an eye turner. The metal components are milled, not stamped, and the blued finish of the carbine is almost up to modern sporting rifle standards. Because I use it for informal target shooting and ammunition testing, I’ve removed the original cleaning rod and Soviet style knife bayonet as well as replacing the metal buttplate with a thick rubber recoil pad to increase the length of pull to 13-1/2 inches.

On the secondary market, you will find a wide variety of SKS model variations available. The Chinese were particularly creative with their “sporting models” designed specifically for the American trade. Navy Arms once offered a “Para” model with a 16-inch barrel; a “Cowboy” model with a 16-inch barrel, no bayonet and a scope; a “Sharpshooter” model with a bipod and a 2-3/4X scope. There was even an otherwise stock SKS modified and adapted to the AK-47 detachable magazine.

Speaking of magazines, the fixed SKS magazine holds 10 rounds and can be charged most easily with a 10-round stripper clip that slips into the face of the bolt carrier. At the highpoint of the SKS trade, the Chinese offered a 20-round fixed replacement magazine and a 5-round hunting magazine. TAPCO currently offers detachable 5-, 10- and 20-round magazines.

There is no end to the selection of accessories still available for the SKS, especially stocks and optical sights and mounts. In fact, in their definitive book, The SKS Carbine, authors Kehaya and Poyer devote six pages to sources for SKS aftermarket accessories. The web also offers up an endless selection of accessories. The companies, ATI and TAPCO, are a great source for SKS upgrades.

Accuracy? The SKS has real potential if fed with quality ammunition. Years ago, we discovered that Chinese and Soviet-bloc steel-core military ammunition would consistently outshoot commercial HP and SP ammunition. It still does. The performance of old stocks of steel-core Norinco and East German ammunition can clearly be seen on my 50-yard test target when compared to four of the leading commercial brands currently on the market. Unfortunately, steel-core, surplus ammunition rarely shows up anymore.

You can put together some great handloads using .310-inch or .311-inch diameter component bullets weighing between 122 and 130 grains. I particularly like 25 or 27 grains of AA 1680 powder torched off by CCI’s No. 34 military primer to avoid the possibility of a slam-fire.

On the other hand, with commercial, steel cased, Russian sporting ammunition selling for $5 to $7 for a box of 20 rounds, it almost doesn’t pay to fuss with handloads. If your SKS will generate 2-inch groups at 50 yards and 3- to 4-inch groups at 100 yards, you already have a great plinker and even an adequate, deer size, big-game hunting rifle with inexpensive commercial ammunition.

Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov was one of Russia’s premier weapons designers. His 7.62 Samozaryadnyi Karabin Sisyemi Simonova Obrazets 1945g (7.62 Simonov System Selfloading Carbine Model 1945) was officially adopted by 21 countries and supplied by its makers to “liberation” armies around the world only to be firmly replaced by the AK-47 in 1953. Historically significant, the SKS was the first, front line weapon to be chambered for the 7.62×39 cartridge.

Handy, rugged, reliable and still inexpensive, the SKS is a jewel of a milsurp.
By Holt Bodinson

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The “upside down U,” a Cyrillic letter below the 100-meter mark (above), actually identifies a battle sight setting of 300 meters. The handy safety lever is on “Safe” when raised up inside the triggerguard (below).

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The SKS magazine is easily charged with a 10-round stripper clip.

The SKS Carbine by Steve Kehaya and Joe Poyer, 4th Edition, softcover, 200 pages, North Cape Publications, Inc. P.O. Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781, $19.95,, (800) 745-9714. (This is the bible for SKS collectors and shooters.)
Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition by D.N. Bolotin, hardcover, 264 pages, ©1995, Finnish Arms Museum Foundation. Out-of-print. Try

SKS Accessories
Advanced Technology International (ATI)
2733 W. Carmen Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53209
(800) 925-2522


P.O. Box 2408, Kennesaw, GA 30156
(800) 554-1445


Action: Gas operated, semi-auto
Caliber: 7.62×39
Capacity: 10
Barrel Length: 20.47”
Overall Length: 40.16”
Weight: 8.8 pounds
Finish: Blue
Sights: front: hooded post; rear: 1,000-meter tangent
Stock: Various hardwoods; Vietnamese: red polymer
Price: Yugo M59/66 or M59/66A1: $300 to $380

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GUNS April 2013

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The Militia Act Of 1792

The New England Flintlock Militia Musket
Armed State Militias In The Country’s Earliest Days.

Like most post-war periods, the years following the end of the American Revolution saw our small standing army reduced to a skeleton force. With the British still in control of Canada, the French in control of the area that someday would be defined as the Louisiana Purchase and Europe in constant turmoil, the Congress passed the 1792 Militia Act—“an Act more effectively to provide for the National Defense, by establishing a Uniform Militia through the United States.” The Act required white male citizens between the ages of 18-45 become members of their state militias and that every militiaman was to “provide himself with a good musket or firelock” within 6 months after passage.

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The New England Militia Musket both guarded the homeland and put game on the table as every
“able-bodied man” was required to have one.

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Militia musket barrels were pinned in place, enhancing the clean, slim lines of the fullstock model.
Wrists were often checkered and in this example, show considerable handling wear.

The catch in the Act were the words “provide himself” since neither the Federal nor the state governments were capable of supplying sufficient muskets to arm all the members of the expanded militias. In short, many militiamen had to buy their own muskets. As a result, what evolved between 1790 and 1840 was an elegant pattern of a musket made by local gunsmiths, which today are referred to as the New England Flintlock Militia Musket.

The requirements placed on a militiaman were very specific when it came to his equipment. In Massachusetts, for example, the “Laws for Regulating and Governing the Militia of the Commonwealth of the Massachusetts” stated that: “Every non-commissioned officer and private of the infantry shall constantly keep himself provided with a good musket; with an iron or steel rod; a sufficient bayonet and belt; two spare flints; a priming wire and brush, and a knapsack; a cartridge box or pouch with a box therein, to contain not less than 24 cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a horn; and shall appear so armed, accoutered and provided, whenever called out, except that when called out to exercise without cartridges loaded with ball, provided always that whenever a man appears with his rifle all his equipment shall be suited to his weapon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this act, all muskets for arming the Militia, as herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen enrolled and providing himself with arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid shall hold the same exempt from all suits, distresses, executions or sales for debt or for payment of taxes.”

Also, under the Massachusetts Militia Law, towns were required to “maintain a supply of 100 pounds of powder, 300 pounds of musket and rifle balls of various sizes and 300 flints for each sixty militiamen.” How times have changed in Massachusetts!

Having to spend his money on a musket, the militiaman proved to be no fool. What he purchased from a local gunsmith was a dual-purpose firearm. With its typical .69-caliber, smoothbore barrel, the militia musket fulfilled the required militia role perfectly, but even more important to its owner, I suspect, the militia musket fulfilled the role of a perfect smoothbore sporter. Loaded with shot, ball or buck-and-ball, it was right at home on the front lines or in the game fields.

While many different gunsmiths made them, the New England militia muskets acquired a distinct styling of their own with a number of shared characteristics. Fortunately, enough of the privately owned militia muskets have survived that we know a great deal about them.

The militia musket was stocked-full normally in walnut, although specimens stocked in maple and cherry have been encountered. The stock lines are svelte, accentuated by a small, narrow butt and a graceful wrist. The wrist is commonly checkered with an oval or diamond shaped, brass or silver escutcheon plate inletted on top of the wrist behind the tang.

The stock furniture is brass and very British in style as seen here in the pictures of the finely-shaped comb of the stock and the pineapple motif of the forward finial of the triggerguard. Typically there are three, stylish ramrod thimbles pinned to the stock. There are no musket-like barrel bands holding the barrel and stock together. The militia barrel is pinned in place, enhancing the trim lines of the fullstock model, and typically the militia model carries no sling swivels.

The .62- to .70-caliber barrel can be either a surplus US military musket barrel or of new manufacture. The tapered round barrel is typically 40″ to 42″ long, of .69-caliber, with the lines similar to what became the M1816 military barrel and mounted with a small bayonet lug to secure an M1816-type socket bayonet. The musket sports a small, brass or steel (bayonet lug) front sight but typically no rear sight.

If the barrel was newly manufactured, states like Massachusetts required that all musket and pistol barrels made in the state, other than US Armory or contract barrels, be proofed. “Provers” were appointed at the county level by the state. Once a barrel was proofed, the prover stamped the breech with a “P” for proof, his initials and the year of the proof.

Approximately, 25 percent of the militia muskets examined are fitted with surplus American military musket barrels. The barrel used by Connecticut gunsmith, Buell, to build the New England militia musket pictured here is a surplus military barrel and so proofed and stamped with the “V/P eagle head” proof mark.

By requirement, the militia musket was fitted with an iron, button-head ramrod—wooden ramrods being liable to breakage under combat conditions.

To me, the most unusual and distinguishing characteristic of the New England militia musket is its quality lock. The most difficult part of any muzzleloader to produce is the lock, and American gunsmiths imported English locks by the barrel full. The typical militia musket was fitted with a refined, sporting lock that was usually engraved and carried the maker’s or importer’s names and possibly the word “Warranted.” The names of prominent English lock makers like R. Ashmore and W. Ketland appear commonly. The commercial militia locks feature a gooseneck cock and usually a roller bearing on the frizzen spring. Military musket-style locks can also be found on militia muskets, but they’re much less common.

The use of a teardrop and an oval lock screw escutcheon combination is almost universal in the New England militia model.

Light, trim, nicely balanced and accurate, the New England Flintlock Militia Musket is a unique military arm. State militiamen could not have asked for finer handling firearms than their privately owned militia muskets when called up to fight the War of 1812 or the Seminole and Mexican Wars or maybe even the Civil War. Keep an eye out for this important American military treasure.
By Holt Bodinson

Massachusetts Military Shoulder Arms 1784-1877 by George D. Moller, Mowbray Publishing, 54 E. School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895, (800) 999-4697,

American Military Shoulder Arms—Volume II by George D. Moller. University of New Mexico Press, MSC05 3185, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, (505) 277-2346,

United States Martial Flintlocks by Robert M. Reilly. Hardcover, 263 pages Mowbray Publishing, 54 E. School St., Woonsocket, RI 02895, (800) 999-4697,

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A button head iron ramrod and a socket bayonet lug were required features of the militia musket.

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Refined English locks, more at home on a fine sporting rifle, graced the majority of militia muskets.

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The distinctive teardrop and oval head lock screw escutcheon combination was universally
applied to the militia musket model.

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A thumb piece or simple brass and silver inlays were widely incorporated in the militia model stocks.

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Stylish, British-type, brass furniture graced most of the militia muskets.
This triggerguard is reminiscent of the Brown Bess’.

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Guns Magazine March 2013

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Love Those Blunderbusses!

Perhaps the most iconic of firearms.

The Germans named it the “Donderbuchse” (thunder gun), the Dutch, the “Donderbus,” the Italians, the “trombone,” the French, the “tromblon.” Finally, the English, after mixing it up with the Donderbus-armed Dutch ships for control of the high seas, gave it the familiar phonetic name of “blunderbuss.”

It’s the stuff of myth and of cartoons with little bands of blunderbuss toting Pilgrims streaming across the pages of popular literature. From the 1550s through the 1800s, the belled muzzle blunderbuss appears in the form of pistols, carbines and larger swivel guns, sometimes even mounted with wicked looking, integral, spring bayonets. So when the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association announced that it would hold its first, historic blunderbuss competition at the Western Nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., I grabbed my old blunderbuss and headed to Phoenix.

The blunderbuss is really a fascinating firearm. In particular, the English adopted the design more than any other country and produced thousands for civilian and military use.  In 1654, documents reveal that “100 Brass Blunder Bushes” were carried by the Hispaniola Expedition. In 1670-71, Sir James Turner writes: “The Carabineers carry their Carabines in Bandileers of Leather about their neck, a far easier way than long ago, when they hung them at their Saddles. Some instead of Carbines carry Blunderbusses, which are short Hand-guns of a great bore, wherein they may put several Pistol or Carabine-Balls, or small Slugs of Iron.”

In 1684, “An Account of Allowance of Ordnance to H.M. Shipps” documents that blunderbusses were issued to naval vessels based on the number of cannon on board.  “Thus a ship of with 100 cannon was entitled to 10 blunderbusses.”

Even General George Washington was impressed with the blunderbuss. Writing to the Board of War, he stated “It appears to me that Light Blunderbusses on account of the quantity of shot they will carry will be preferable to Carbines, for Dragoons, as the Carbines only carry a single ball especially in case of close action.” The Board disagreed, and the carbine remained.
By Holt Bodinson

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GUNS Magazine February 2013 Issue

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