Sorry for limited gun content the last couple of days, been finalizing a deal to buy a small US WWII collection, all original stuff except, alas, for the M1 SMG, which is a recent Kahr-produced Short Barreled Rifle.
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit we never owned a 1903A3 before. It was actually still part of SF Light Weapons training back when your humble editor stumbled through that evolution.
As far as the Kahr is concerned, we’ll see if it’s any good when the Form 4 clears, sometime around when the Sun goes nova at the rate ATF has been doin’ ’em. It’s a small fraction of the cost of buying one (and a small multiple of the cost of the one we’ve rented in Manchester from time to time). If we don’t like it, we’ll GunBroker it off.
We’re working on something others have worked on before us: trying to pin down what was the first submachine gun. The candidates are the Villar Perosa, which we discount on not being a shoulder-fired individual weapon; its individual-weapon offspring the OVP and Beretta M1918; and our original candidate for the honors, the German Bergmann MP.18. We only know the name of the designer of the Bergmann (Hugo Schmeisser). As is usual on any real quality post, it takes time to research these things, and not enough of the primary sources are digitized and online.
Now, our usual reaction to Hollywood dual-wielding gunplay is the same kind of sneering that Simon Pegg’s character gets to early in Hot Fuzz, when he’s still a responsible police officer who takes firearms seriously, not influenced by Hollywood tropes, unlike the character asking him.
But if you’re Jerry Miculek, you can pull it off. And actually hit stuff:
Frankly, we wish we shot like this guy back when we shot as much as this guy. (Of course, we had never heard of Jerry then, and just wished we could shoot like Paul Poole. Whose reaction was: “Bwah-haw-HAW! Boy, you ain’t gonna ever shoot like me. Instead, we gonna make you a 79 gunner — you need an AREA FIRE WEAPON! Bwah-haw-HAW!” RIP, Paul; YSMFDYND, ‘cept you did).
Anyway, can you do what Jerry does here? Don’t think we can. Pretty sure we’re not gonna try.
True, he didn’t do it “whilst leaping through the air,” as Nick Frost’s character asked Pegg, but we’d hate to call Jerry on that, ’cause he might pull it off, too.
Best supporting role: the SIG arm brace (or equivalent), which turns any AR pistol into an effective cousin of the innovative but commercially unsuccessful Gwinn/Bushmaster Arm Pistol.
This past weekend, the 200th anniversary of Samuel Colt’s birth (19 July 1814) was celebrated by a bunch of Connecticut arts types, in nearly gun-free Connecticut fashion. If any of these professional irony enjoyers noted the irony, they didn’t say anything about it. But that’s got us looking at some of Sam’s accomplishments, and that brought us around to one of Colt’s least successful products: revolving carbines.
In the middle of the 19th Century, the best and greatest means of rapid fire was the revolving pistol. It seems like a natural idea to extend that to a revolving rifle or carbine; and this, Sam Colt did, as early as 1839. This brief (minute and a half!) video shows an extremely rare 1839 .52 caliber Colt that actually was one of a mere 360 acquired by the US Navy, and is now in the possession of the National Firearms Museum:
This Paterson Colt carbine was made from 1838 until 1841, and apart from the Naval guns, which may have been used by the Marines at the Siege of Veracruz in the Mexican War, too late to do that version of Colt’s company any good: the Paterson firm went bankrupt, and Colt had to start over. He retained his patents, so that whatever happened to his companies, the crown jewels were safe with him and his family. (This was prescient of him, for he was to die young).
The Mexican War not only gave the Marines a new direction (the landing at Veracruz was the first of what would become a standing Leatherneck specialty, amphibious landings on defended shores), but it resuscitated Colt, due to a military order for 1,000 revolvers, which were delivered before war’s end and are known as the Colt Walker revolvers.
The refreshed Colt Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company had a new, improved carbine by 1855, incorporating all of Colt’s new patents, and was producing it, and the more popular revolving pistols, in a new Armory building that was the marvel of Hartford, in a planned industrial community on an area of reclaimed land (note the berms or dikes in the image below). The area that encompassed all of the Colt factory, its workers’ housing, and Colt’s own grande manse was officially called the “South Meadow Improvements” but came to be known as Coltsville.
The carbine had two problems, both insurmountable from the military point of view. It was very expensive (the 1855 carbines cost the military $44 each, $1,189 in 2014 dollars), and, while it was safe if loaded and fired with care, a flash-over that was not usually that big a disaster with a revolving pistol had the potential for shredding a rifleman’s support hand. If there is a right way and a wrong way to load a weapon, no organization made of humans will ever be able to train 100% of its people to do it right 100% of the time.
When the Armory burned down in 1864, a $2 million plus ($54M plus 2014) loss of inventory, machinery and jigs to Colt, of which about $1.4 million ($38M) was excess to insurance carried, the remaining plant was used to manufacture pistols exclusively; the demand for Colt revolvers was inelastic, and repeating cartridge firearms on the horizon rendered the revolving rifle or carbine obsolete. The total production of the Colt carbines was very low; the 1855 was scarcely more produced than the 1839 version.
After the Civil War, Remington produced a version of its revolver as a carbine, also finding it disappointing in sales, although not as much so as the Colt version had been.
Since the 1960s, several versions of replica Colt and Remington carbines have been made. These are more frequently collected, from what we’ve seen, than fired; used ones usually have far more handling marks than they do indicia of firing.
The great Cap and Ball Channel from Hungary has posted three great videos on two carbines, an original Colt and an Uberti copy of a Remington.
Part 1, about the Colt (~6 minutes). The music is pretty awful, especially when it isn’t ducked under the voice, but the analysis of the unique mechanics of the gun makes it well worthwhile:
Some of the unique features of this .44 caliber Colt 1855 include progressive depth rifling, and a cylinder that is rotated by a ratchet on the rear end of the cylinder pin. This gun may be a bit off the military norm, as it appears to have been a sporting gun originally sold in Europe (it bears English proofs).
Part 2, about the Uberti clone of the Remington (~3 minutes):
Part 3, both are taken to the range (yes, even the very valuable original Colt) and shot for accuracy. If you’re only going to watch one video, this is the one. It also shows loading with loose powder and conical bullets, but also with period-style paper cartridges, which is how the real Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs would have done it. (Not to mention everyone else who went to war with percussion, like the British, French and Russians in the Crimean War, all manner of 19th Century naval riflemen, and the British in the Afghan Wars). This one’s about six and a half minutes.
The Capandball.eu site and associated YouTube channel is a real find, but we didn’t want to wait for a TW3 to show it to you. If we have any beef with the chance to watch the two percussion revolver carbines on the range, it’s that he didn’t quantify their accuracy. But they look like fun, and one’s a sample of a moment in time that will never be repeated — the other shows us that the artifacts can be repeated, even if the times can’t be.
These firearms were an interesting evolutionary dead end (sure, there are cartridge versions, even a Taurus Judge carbine, but these are dead ends, too — curiosities). They came about because they were the logical progression combining proven examples of a known technology (the percussion rifle and the percussion revolver) into a hybrid that seemed like it had a bright future. (After all, if you were a cavalryman, or a Pony Express rider, another customer for the Colt ’55, wouldn’t you rather have six shots before facing the difficulty of reloading on horseback than one?). But unbeknownst to Sam Colt, and to his designer and right-hand-man Root, a technological disruption was on its way: new cartridge repeaters were coming that would eliminate all the disadvantages of the revolver carbine.
Root kept Colt relevant with cartridge revolvers, and even before the Colt family sold the company in 1901 new managers were embracing the novelty of the automatic pistol. Like Apple 100 years later, the company had a knack for grabbing hold of a technology that was about to take off in time, before its customers even knew that that was what they would want. But you don’t get to that kind of position without tripping down a few blind alleys. And thus, we have the Colt Revolver Carbine and its clones and imitators, a novelty for collectors and curiosity seekers.
ATK, a major defense and ammunition firm, likes to support the NSSF and the shooting sports. When they heard that the ongoing tightness of rimfire ammo supply was threatening Rimfire Challenge matches, they acted in the way you might expect, knowing the above, and that they’re the largest rimfire ammo manufacturer, under their CCI brand:
Adding to its Platinum-level support for the NSSF Rimfire Challenge program, ATK Sporting also will participate in the Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup, which will help ensure the program’s target shooters have a reliable source of ammunition.
The Rimfire Challenge Ammo Roundup will serve as a fulfillment center for match directors to purchase ammunition for events.
The company will provide 600,000 rounds of CCI rimfire ammunition to the Ammo Roundup program.
“Action rimfire sports like the NSSF Rimfire Challenge are paving the way for a whole new generation of shooters,” said Ryan Bronson, Senior Manager of Conservation and Public Policy at ATK Sporting Group. “We are happy to provide CCI ammunition to help support a program that is promoting exciting and safe trigger time for both the new shooters and folks that have been shooting for years.”
The Rimfire Challenge was the Ruger Rimfire Challenge until Ruger bowed out, claiming it had gotten to big to handle, and risking the future of the matches — sponsorless, they couldn’t survive. NSSF stepped in and the Challenge continued seamlessly.
The Rimfire Challenge combines .22 rifles and pistols, new shooters, and steel-plate targets to make appealing and fun matches. Here’s an FAQ in .pdf form. Here’s a schematic of a typical stage:
The shooter and’s with a firearm loaded, aimed at the start steak. On audible signal here she begins to engage the plates, usually in any order, except for the stoplight. The stop plate is engaged last. (If you shoot it first, “stage over” and you’re going to do lousy on points). The scoring is based on the time to hit all the targets plus any penalties (penalties are assessed for each miss, encouraging accuracy).
The stages are relatively easy and that, and the audible clang of slug on steel, makes them rewarding for a new shooter. It would have been a shame if they ran out of ammo. Well done, ATK!
The latest Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter is out, and Sniper’s Honor is his best in years — maybe the best ever. It introduces new and fascinating characters, new places and times, and, for the fans of firearms out there, new weapons (new to the series, at least; some of them are historic, even legendary) and tough situations for them to be employed in.
Yeah. We liked it.
In fact, we bought it at about 1500 Monday and finished it Tuesday. So we read it like it was a competition, and first-drafted this review while basking in the satisfaction of an enjoyable story, enjoyably ended.
The story skips around from Ukraine in 1944, where two brutal armies clashed, to today, where disparate people in disparate places — Idaho, London, Lviv, Moscow, Israel — struggle to resolve the fate of characters who went, seemingly overnight, from celebrities to nonentities. Certainly the Nazis made people disappear. So did the Soviets. But what ever could make the Nazis and Soviets both broom significant personalities out of their intelligence archives? To reveal that question to you is to reveal a little bit of a spoiler, because Hunter takes his time getting his characters to the point where they’re even starting to ask the right questions — but the answers they get never fail to shock and surprise. The plot’s twists and turns are, at once, easy to follow but confounding to one’s sense of resolution, until things are finally tied up at the end.
Some of the characters include: a pair of Washington Post reporters; a Ukrainian partisan general (loosely modeled on the real, and controversial, Stepan Bandera); a Nazi economist who we would swear is modeled on Robert S. Macnamara with an anti-Semitic twist; an officer serving a dishonorable state as honorably as possible; an imaginative Israeli intelligence analyst; an American hired gun; an Arab serving with the little-known Moslem legion of the SS; a playboy turned paratroop officer; a school teacher who is more that what he seems. Now, some of these characters are central to the plot, and some are tangential, but all are interesting.
The primary characters, of course, are the snipers: Bob Lee Swagger, Vietnam legend now settling into retirement, or trying to, and Ludmilla Petrova, a fatalistic Russian sniper who knew it was not her fate to survive the war, but whose actual disposition came to be erased inexplicably from history.
One failing that has vexed us in previous Hunter books stems, we think, from his weapons experience, which is as a competitive shooter, not in the military. He usually concentrates mightily upon the sniper as single combatant, the knight of the one-on-one trial of arms. There is much less of that in this book, which seems to recognize for the first time that snipers, too, are part of military units and ply their trade with others. Even though the title, “Sniper’s Honor,” refers to just such a sense of chivalry, this book makes great strides describing military units’ operations. There is much less Lone Hero-ism in Sniper’s Honor than in any previous Hunter book.
It’s available from the usual suspects like Amazon, although the paperback isn’t coming until after Christmas. The currently available editions are the hardcover and a very overpriced Kindle version. We beat the Amazon price by about $4 by buying the book at a BJ’s Wholesale Club outlet.
The book is guaranteed to be entertaining, but if you’re a gun geek, there are a few odds and ends that aren’t quite right. At one point, Swagger carefully loads 30 rounds in a series of magazines that are famous for holding 32 rounds, for example. But that’s the kind of nitnoy complaint you will find with this book, if you must have something to complain about.
We did have one larger objection, and that was to the weapon used for the critical 1,000-yard shot. While the weapon has a degree of legend built up around it, we doubt anybody ever got 1,000 yard cold bore hits with issue ammunition and that weapon. Some folks may have done it recently with handloads, but it didn’t happen with WWII GI ammo. Did. Not. Happen. But it’s a critical plot point in the book. Conversely, the accuracy potential of the M1891/30 with PU scope is higher than Hunter gives it credit for.
Ugly fact: even though they’ve become a staple of Hollywood, 1,000-yard shots were not the currency of a World War II sniper of any nation.
But that we’re even thinking those things after reading a 400+-page bestselling novel tells us this: that Stephen Hunter has sent this book right down our alley.
Here’s Jeff “Bigshooterist” Zimba on belt-fed ARs. You know you’re in for detailed, accurate information and a lot of enthusiasm when Jeff steps up to the camera. You also will get better than the usual YouTube signal-to-noise and filler-to-fact ratios with Jeff on the job:
Jeff’s just slightly mistaken about the original belt-fed, backpack AR-10: it was a pre-Colt Armalite project, and wasn’t picked up by Colt. The video he refers to was a Fairchild promotional video, and here is a version of it. We apologize for the poor quality. The belt-fed version shows up (initially, in Gene Stoner’s hands!) at about 12:30. The weapon’s belt feed does resemble the later Ciener AR-15 conversion, but uses a nondisintegrating belt feed.
Returning to Jeff Zimba’s presentation, his technical points on the Ciener conversion, which is mechanically similar to at least one of the Armalite prototypes, are accurate and informative. It had a number of features that made it rather fiddly, dependent on some design oddities, and generally flawed. Nonetheless, it worked; it could just do with some improvements. Jonathan A. Ciener has been many things in the firearms community, including an innovator; but nobody ever accused him of being keenly attuned to customer sentiment, and the modifications and improvements were left as inspirations to others.
The Valkyrie BSR Mod 1 (BSR = “Belt-fed Semi-automatic Rifle”) is fundamentally an improved Ciener mechanism. The improvements are significant in convenience and function, and Jeff explains them in great detail.
The ARES Shrike is a completely different mechanism that uses a MG-42-like feed mechanism. This gives it some significant advantages over the others. It uses standard links, feeds like every standard belt-fed out there for the last 60-plus years, and can be moved to any standard lower with only one reversible modification (unlike the surgery the Ciener and Valkyrie belts require). Unlike the Ciener and Valkyrie, it alters the AR system to be gas-tappet operated. The operator interfaces with the ARES by a folding, nonreciprocating charging handle on the left side, and an extended bolt release that is the only part that must be changed on a standard AR lower. The ARES also has quick-change barrels, a necessity for high sustained rates of fire.
All of the weapons Jeff demonstrates also can fire from magazines. Ares Defense does make a version of their belt-fed for military and LE customers that lacks magazine feed, the AMG-1 (the version with both belt and mag feed is the AMG-2. There’s also an AMG version with the quick change barrel and tappet gas system, but mag-fed only).
Jeff doesn’t say, but the Valkyrie and ARES belt-feds are still available. Valkyrie Armament also has the modified M27 links, and belt start and stop tabs that are required by its rifle (they should work with a Ciener conversion, but we’d call Valkyrie to check, before ordering).
ARES AMG Weapons System. (They don’t sell direct. Check out GunBroker or have your FFL order; expect to pay about $4500-5000).
The ace competitive shooter briefly got hold of an original AR-10, thanks to Reed Knight of Knight’s Armament Company.
And he shoots it, a little, in this video. He records 633 RPM in a burst, which is about right. The AR-10 is much more controllable in auto fire than other 7.62 NATO firearms, but that’s only relative to such horrid muzzle-climbers as the M14, the FAL, and the G3. (What’s the worst of the bunch? The para G3A3, by miles).
The gun is a “transitional” model with mostly Portuguese features, but the charging handle resembles that used in the Sudanese gun (and is a lot like the ones on Nodak Spud’s AR-15 “prototype” upper receivers) rather than the more complicated Porto one, and the upper lacks a serial number, which all Portuguese guns had.
We’ve known about the original AR-10 for a long time, and like Jerry and Reed, we really like it for its light weight and high quality. We have a semiauto gun built with a billet alloy receiver and an original parts kit, and enjoy it a lot.
Those guns are robust military rifles, and the surviors, mostly Portuguese guns, were subjected to all kinds of abuse in the field. The sophistication of the design is indicated by the fact that the only parts that didn’t hold up were the fiberglass furniture and the barrels — a lot of ex-Porto barrels are pitted, or shot out, but others are in fine condition. The difference was probably the maintenance they got — by and large, Portugal gave these rifles to elite paratroops, which is usually a maintenance plus, but they were used far from home in African guerrilla wars, usually a maintenance minus. It’s a risky gun to buy sight unseen.
Knight is quite correct about the limited production. Artillerie Inrichtingen never earned out the money it invested in AR production, with the only two sales being the small ones to Portugal and Sudan. Its sales arm seemed to be snakebit by bad luck — for example, they negotiated a deal with the armed forces of Cuba, just before Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista was overthrown by Communists. The Cubans not only never paid for the few ARs delivered, they distributed them widely to guerrillas and terrorists. (Indeed, a number were recovered by Cuban-sponsored rebels in the Dominican Republic in 1965. Apart from one or two retained for Army museums, they were destroyed).
By the best estimate, a couple of thousand of original AR-10s survive in whole or in part, mostly in nations that allow or did allow conversion of full- to semi-auto weapons. A number were destroyed in Australia when that country passed several gun bans about 10 years ago. The numbers of AR-10s in the USA may be as low as a hundred registered automatic weapons, and a few hundred semis like ours. So Jerry’s right to be excited about the privilege of firing an original. It’s not like today’s nine and ten pound .308s.
Once, there were millions of original AR-10 magazines available (AI overproduced them), but Knight used them in his initial SR-25s, causing the supply to evaporate. An original magazine now is probably worth more than some guns.
The airplane that Reed Knight talks about after the range session was the Swiss-made Pilatus Porter, which Fairchild manufactured as the Fairchild Porter and, in prototype and short-run mode, as the AU-23 STOL gunship. Oddly enough, the AU-23 production tooling and rights are for sale right now. Drop us a line in comments if you’re interested and we’ll put you in touch with the sellers.
Their ranks are thinning, but never was a man more loyal to his gun than the men who carried the Browning Automatic Rifle in combat, many of whom we were privileged to know and serve with.
Ohio Ordnance Works has been making new BARs for many years. The guns resemble a WWII M1918A2, and are available as either post-86 Dealer Samples or Title I semi-auto rifles for a retail price in the $4,000 to $5,000 neighborhood.
But they’ve also been working on what they call the Heavy Counter Assault Rifle — a BAR lightened, modernized and improved almost beyond recognition. Almost 7 1/2 pounds of the original 19.4 or so have been taken off, rails and a sliding stock added, the ergonomics improved to satisfy a generation raised on highly-ergonomic ARs. Ohio Ordnance Works has added its own custom 30-round magazines and an improved trigger.
Weight loss comes from relief machining in the receiver, a shortened barrel with lightening/cooling dimples, a polymer lower, and a hugely-simplified, hydraulic buffer (say good-bye to “cups and cones,” children). It’s suppressor-ready.
Alexandria, Egypt, is a bustling, modern third-world city with few visible reminders of its past. But many archeological treasures in Alex have been spared the assault of the bulldozer and cement mixer — because they’re under water. This includes anything from Alexander’s time, later sculptures and other artefacts from the Ptolemaic dynasty of Hellenized Alexandria, and then, some reminders of later colonizers from the 19th and 20th Centuries.
This cannon is part of the scattered wreck of the burnt and sunken flagship L’Oriente.
Napoleon’s ill-fated 1798-1801 campaign in Egypt at first brought him land victories, and booty aplenty, some of which is still in Paris. But the French Navy was a perennial 2nd Place finisher vis-a-vis the Royal Navy, and in an 1801 battle at Aboukir Bay, the results were cataclysmic for the French: only recently has the sequence of the disaster, in which an anchored French squadron was caught napping by Horatio Nelson’s British fleet, been decoded from the clues available in the Frenchmen’s wrecks.
But the ship in question here is not one of the ill-fated ships of the line or frigates from the Battle of the Nile. It’s unclear whether the ship in question, yclept Le Patriot, was military or commercial, but it was probably commercial as there was another ship named Le Patriot in the French Navy — and not in Egypt. We don’t even know who sank Le Patriot What we do know is that the shipwreck on the sands of Alexandria Bay has yielded a lot of flintlock-era small arms, like this:
As you can see, the arms are somewhat the worse for wear after a couple of centuries in salt water. There may be nothing holding this flintlock pistol together but the encroachments of sea life.
Here’s a similarly rough long gun:
Russian underwater excavators, working in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, have found dozens of 18th century firearms near Alexandria’s harbour during an underwater search for sunken ships.
The weapons are believed to date back to the 18th century when Napoleon led an expedition to Egypt to protect French trade interests, undermine British access to India, and establish scientific enterprise in Egypt, Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh El Damaty said
El Damaty said the sunken French artillery was once on board “Le Patriot”, a ship in Napoleon’s fleet that sank near the eastern harbour of Alexandria.
The site lies close to Pharos Island, once the home of Alexandria’s ancient lighthouse, which was considered one of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. It was the third longest surviving ancient structure of the world, until it was destroyed by earthquakes in the first millennium. The rubble was later used by the Mamlukes to build Alexandria’s Citadel of Qaitbay.
El Damaty said the discovery opens the door for more research into this era.
For now, the artillery has been sent to the Restoration Centre at the Grand Egyptian Museum for further study and restoration, he said.
A friend of ours who’s an archaeologist of sorts has a kind of mantra that he swears by: “There is always something left.”
French arms of the Napoleonic period were the equal of those of any other nation in the world, but like their peers, they had no corrosion protection to speak of, which makes stabilizing the recovered guns a very critical matter, or they’ll soon, if left out of water, flake away to nothing.
This YouTube playlist documents at excruciating length (the whole playlist is hours long) Canadian Ryan Pahl’s four-year effort to break into F-Class high-power rifle competitive shooting.
Spoiler: in the end, he decides he just doesn’t have the resources (human or capital, we’re not really sure what his problem is) to get to the next level. So he decides to take his shooting in a different direction, at the end of the playlist. But if you hang in for the whole thing, you’ll learn a lot about rifle competitive target shooting and the level of competition that’s out there these days. You’ll also learn quite a bit about what it takes to put lead on target, when “on target” is defined as very small and quite far away.
The fact is, Ryan shot better than many elite military unit snipers, and he was still, at the end, disappointed in his performance, measured against the real high-power competition gravelbellies.
And benchrest shooters look at high-power shooters’ best groups, kind of like physicists look at psychologists — “they do interesting stuff, but is it really science?” — and they have the groups to justify that attitude.
There are two sets of things that competitors do. The first is a variety of things that actually improve shooting performance, including such things as handloading with extreme uniformity. These things are mostly unchanged from competitor to competitor and year over year. Then there are the superstitions, which do tend to change: they get swept up as enthusiasms or fads by the community for a while, then they’re all on to the next fad. But an outsider has little hope of figuring out which is which. (Best guide to a fad is the absence of a plausible physical explanation of why it helps, but that’s not perfect as some useless superstitions sound perfectly plausible).
This could be edited down into a single, shorter presentation, that would be worth buying as a DVD or download. We’ll admit we fast-forwarded past the many groups that were recorded in apparent real-time. Shooting holes in targets is one of those things that’s much more interesting when you’re doing it than when you’re watching the other guy do it.
Good luck to Ryan, and thanks for the video tour of a short career in high-power.