Category Archives: Rifles and Carbines

Can You Help These Guns Find a Forever Home?

And can you have too many guns? Brownells says yes, you can. Well, they can, being a dealer… and they’ve got a clearance running on firearms. (Sorry, overseas readers. Your bad fortune today).

Follow this link to go there:  Brownells Firearms Overstock Sale.

All the guns in question are new overstock. The pipeline is jammed with ARs in particular, that were produced in anticipation of an Omigawd-Hillary!-Won run on gun dealers nationwide. That backed-up inventory (and the costs of storage and carrying, especially with manufacturers, jobbers, and dealers who are leveraged and making payments on this inventory) is putting a hell of a downward price pressure on the AR market. For the premium brands, it’s showing up as a sales slowdown or a change from backlog to inventory. For the bargain brands? It’s race to the bottom, pricewise.

What you’ll find are 20 models of overstock firearms, including:

  1. Quite a few ARs from many vendors’;
  2. Some under $500, an unheard-of price a couple of years ago;
  3. One AK;
  4. Quite a few inexpensive handguns, including S&W (which has a good reputation) and Taurus (which only has reputation);
  5. A few expensive handguns, including an H&K VP9, for those who seek a BDSM relationship with their pistol manufacturer.

All at good prices.

It is a very good idea to line up your transfer dealer first. A lot of dealers get very cheesed off when you use them to transfer a gun you bought on a deal like this (or from a cutthroat discounter like Bud’s or KY) and you bought it at a price that they can’t get wholesale. Some dealers don’t mind, and actually pursue transfer business. You want to be doing your transfers with the second guy.

If you’re a dealer, and you’re the first guy, our advice is don’t badmouth Bud’s or KY (or a clearance at Brownells). Just treat the customer right, price transfers reasonably and do ’em quickly enough that you’re not losing on him, and try to take the opportunity to (1) sell accessories, which have a way better margin, and (2) build a relationship with the customer.

Sure, some customers are bottom feeders who will put themselves through anything to save $5 and think customer loyalty is for chumps. But for every one of those, and every one of the guys who wants to spread his business around all the local shops, there’s a whole bunch of people who like to settle in with one gun dealer. In almost every business, your best business is repeat business, and your next best is referral business. That’s 100% certain-sure true for gunshops.

HK433 and the German Competition, Part II

First, apologies to everyone who was expecting this post, as promised, 24 hours ago. We now return you to the weapons discussion formerly in progress! -Ed.

In our report Saturday on the new HK433 military rifle we only included a partial translation of HK’s press release. We stopped because our post was quite long enough, but in the comments many of you asked questions about the items that were not included.

So let’s translate some more HK!

To begin with, we’ve got some marketbrag that we left off last time:

Countless ideas, decades of know-how and mature solutions, tested in the toughest worldwide practice, form the foundation of the trailblazing weapons technologies of Heckler & Koch. In that, the German proportion of value added has remained 100%,since the founding of the traditional enterprise in the Swabian city of Oberndorf in 1949. High-Tech Made in Germany!

Joining with the rifle families G36, HK416 and HK417, combat-proven worldwide, the HK433 is now a fourth scalable assault rifle family in the product portfolio of the enterprise. With this entirely novel development, Heckler & Koch underlines anew its claim to built the best assault rifles in the world. With France (HK416AIF), Germany (G36), USA (US Marine Corps M27/HK416), Great Britain (SA80), Norway (HK416), Spain (G36) und Lithuania (G36) Heckler & Koch already provides the standard assault rifle to a comprehensive number of armies and service branches of NATO. Numerous Special Operations Forces of the western world — including for example the US Special Forces, the Kommando Spezialkräfte of the Bundeswehr (KSK) and civil authorities’ special elements (incl. GSG9) – rely on assault rifles from Oberndorf.

After that, our translation Friday picks up the ball. Until this point:

The Slim Line Handguard developed by Heckler & Koch is firmly attached to the upper receiver, with no play. It can be removed without tools and offers sling attachment points, modular HKey interfaces at 3 and 9 o’clock, as well as a full-length Picatinny rail to MIL-STD-1913 at 6 o’clock.

The interchangeable lower receiver defines the desired operating system and thereby reduces the training demands on the operator. Depending on prior firearms training, the operator can select the G36 or the HK416/AR-15 operating system. All control elements are bilaterally available, symmetrically ordered and can be configured as the customer desires.

“Drop-in” solutions for the lower receiver expand the functional envelope of the weapon with individually configurable match triggers or trigger-group assemblies. The magazine well in compliance with NATO STANAG 4179 (Draft) provides for secure interoperability with the G36 weapons system, the HK416 or the market-standard AR-15.

The grip interface is based on the HK416 weapons family. Through grips with interchangeable grip surfaces and grip backstraps analogous to those of the P30 and SFP/VP pistol series, the rifle can be optimally fitted to various hand sizes.

The ergonomically folding and length-adjustable shoulder stock with the height-adjustable cheekpiece mates with the receiver without any play. The length adjustment offers five detents and is dynamically adjustable for this and the personal combat equipment of the operator. Straight, convex and concave buttplates ensure the necessary comfort with the weapon at the ready position. The shoulder stock can be folded to the right at any length adjustment. Here the most extremely compact transport measurements are achieved. The trigger remains freely accessible. The ejection port is not covered, to ensure that in an emergency a functional capability is available even in “transport condition.”

H&K weapons are distinguished, along with the highest reliability, also by a standard-setting safety standard. So on the HK433 firing readiness, drop safety (NATO AC225/D14), the ability to safe the weapon in all loading conditions and a high cook-off safety are understood, along with a robust and non-delicate manner of construction, even in dirty, extreme cold and war temperature conditions, or lacking lubricants.

Camouflage colors and infrared-absorbing finishes are available, if desired by customers.

Special material combinations and surface treatments round out the whole concept of the HK433. They provide for a low-maintenance system under extreme conditions, with an above-average service life.

The empty weight of the HK433 with the 16.5″ long barrel is 3.5 kg.

Here’s the original .pdf in The Awful German Language:

20170203_Pressemitteilung_-HK433.pdf

Now you’re caught up on what HK has said. Tomorrow, assuming of course that the system continues working, we’ll have an update on who’s expected to be playing in the German rifle competition. HK, as the largest German firm participating and the only one offering a 100% German-designed, German-produced weapon from a factory ready to deliver immediately, is thought to have the inside track.

Year of the Pistol-Caliber Carbine? Really?

We’re told that “2017 is The Year of the Pistol-Caliber Carbine” was one of the themes at SHOT this year. Online, it’s probably best developed by Michael Bane in this article.

This was, as I predicted, the Year of the Pistol Caliber Carbine. They were all over the place on the SHOT floor, and I don’t think we were able to even scratch the surface. While there were a lot of “Me toos!,” with many AR manufacturers rushing to get a pistol caliber product out the door, there were some interesting new products as well as substantial evolution from dedicated pistol caliber companies.

Do Read The Whole Thing™, because Michael does a fairly thorough run-down of available pistol-caliber rifles, leaving out only a few, like the Kriss and the Kahr Arms Thompsons. (The semi Thompsons, available as 16″ carbine or as SBR, date to Numrich Arms and the West Hurley, NY iteration of Auto-Ordnance, so they’re often forgotten out of sheer senescence. “New” is one of the most powerful words in the English language, and these are absolutely “not new”).

Now some people certainly think 2017 is the year of the semi subgun. Maybe SIG-Sauer is one of them, because, as we reported yesterday, they’ve raised the prices of their MPX pistol-caliber carbine from $61 to almost $300, depending on model. Bane likes that one, too. His conclusion (from the same post linked above):

Some things haven’t changed — the Sig MPX absolutely rules the roost. The venerable Kel-Tec SUB-2000, available in 9mm or .40 S&W with magazines for multiple platforms and a low-ball price of $500, remains the first choice for a first pistol caliber carbine — if you can find one! GunBroker is your best bet. MP-5 clones are coming on hard…I did an earlier post that covered MP-5 clones, including the HK SP5K. I’ll cover the RONI instant-SBR concepts in a different post (and I’ve talked about them on the podcast).

Here’s the link on my parts list for my QC-10 build.

Here’s my post on the advantages of a pistol caliber carbine for self-defense.

In our opinion, these are plinking curiosities, like .22LR clones of service weapons; for practical defensive use, the rifle-caliber carbine or SBR is generally superior, which is why militaries and cops have dumped most of their smorgasbord Stens, Stirlings, M3s, MP5s, and Uzis for a boring oatmeal of AR and AK.

One thing could change this calculation: if Congress were to lift the assignment of short-barreled weapons to the National Firearms Act, and make them Title 1 weapons instead. We don’t consider that likely this year, which is unfortunate because the People of the Gun might not have such a strong political alignment for a while. But if it were to squeak through the legislature and into reality, subgun clones would really take off.

Iran Deploying AK-103 Rifles

One of the benefits of the Iranian nuclear deal — for Iran, like the rest of the benefits — was the opportunity to recapitalize its military small arms, and not just its main priorities, worldwide Islamic terrorism abroad, and nuclear weapons at home.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an independent armed service modeled on the Nazi SS, has benefited with new AK-103 rifles from Russia. The IRGC has been using the new rifles for some months now. This is an image of one of the IRGC AK-103s, presumably in 5.45 x 39 mm caliber, published by the Iranian Tasnim news agency.

In August, the same agency published this story (as translated by the AEI Critical Threats Project):

  • Iran purchases assault rifles from Russia. Tasnim News Agency reported that Iran has purchased AK-103 assault rifles from Russia. According to reports, “some units” in Iran’s armed forces will be equipped with the new rifle. (Tasnim News Agency)

The original link to Tasnim’s Persian-language story no longer works. More recently, a follow-up shows that the AK-103s have been issued and are being used in training (AEI translation again):

  • IRGC units use AK-103 assault rifles in “Imam Ali” exercise. Some IRGC units used “new AK-103” assault rifles during the IRGC Ground Forces’ “Imam Ali” exercises last week in western Iran. Iran purchased AK-103s from Russia in August 2016. Defense Minister IRGC Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Dehghan stated at the time of the purchase, “Production of light arms has been low in the last ten years due to the prioritization of air and naval projects. This purchase was made due to regional crises.” (Tasnim News Agency)

This link to Tasnim works at present, but may fail soon.

Most intriguing is the suggestion that the Iranian small arms production capacity is insufficient. It may be an indicator that Iran has been starving general purpose forces as it spends lavishly on nuclear armament and terrorism promotion. It may simply mean that the vast infusion of American cash from the pro-Iranian Obama Administration allowed Iran to modernize forces across the board. Or we may be reading far too much into a routine replacement of old rifles.

The 5.56 Timeline is Dead! Long live the 5.56 Timeline!

Use the links on the left of the page to navigate through the many html pages of the Timeline, organized by year.

One of the key resources for anyone interested in the long process of development of the small-caliber, high-velocity concept, leading up to the American adoption of the 5.56mm M16 and M16A1 rifles in 1963, and ultimately to every major army’s basic issue rifle today, has been Daniel E. Watters’s “5.56 Timeline,” developed over a lifetime of research and published until recently on Dean Speir’s site, The Gun Zone.

Five years ago, mentioning a resurce Daniel had turned us on to, we wrote, “For an overview of M16 development with lots of good links, you can’t really beat his page at The Gun Zone,” (adding a link that is now pining for the fjords).  A year later, we mentioned it again.

By 2015, we were calling Daniel’s 5.56 Timeline “indispensable” and it truly was, so it was pretty shocking when The Gun Zone closed down, and it went off the net… for a while.

Daniel explains it as follows:

This article was originally published at The Gun Zone — The Gunperson’s Authoritative Internet Information Resource. My friend and mentor Dean Speir has graciously hosted my articles at TGZ for nearly 16 years. These articles would likely have never appeared online without his constant encouragement and assistance.

With TGZ’s closure in early 2017, Dean encouraged me to find a new home for my scholarship so it wouldn’t be lost in the dustbin of the Internet. Loose Rounds has welcomed me with open arms. In the future, I intend to expand my legacy TGZ articles and add new contributions here at Loose Rounds.

While we regret the demise of TGZ, we’re thankful that this priceless Timeline was saved.

It’s now a permanent Page at Loose Rounds.

One thing that would make this Timeline really come alive is adapting it to an actual graphical timeline. Just thinking out loud, the 5.56 Timeline would make a great application for Scott ‘s internet startup, WhenHub.

Some More SIG Updates: MPX, M17 (P320) Pistol

MPX Price …Going Up!

Word at SHOT was that the MPX versions that are shipping — pistol, carbine, and SBR — are selling well, but that the company was planning to raise prices by $300 a unit, and to delete the accessories that used to come with one: QD sling, cleaning kit, etc. The backup iron sights are still included, as is one magazine. Source of that “word”? The staff at the SIG booth!

In 2015, when MPX pistols began to ship, Max Slowik wrote in Guns.com:

Along with the announcement SIG is publishing the official MSRPs. The base SIG MPX-P is listed at $1,576, the SIG MPX-P-PSB at $1,862 and the  SIG MPX SBR at $2,062. While guns often retail for less than suggested prices, we don’t expect that to be the case with the MPX for a while until demand drops off.

The numbers on the SIG website have already changed, although the price increases are less than $300 a unit. Here’s a table of what’s what.

SIG MPX Models List Price
SKU MPX Model 2015 2017 Δ Price 2017-15
MPX-P-9-KM MPX-P Pistol $1,576 $1,852 $276
MPX-P-9-KM-PSB MPX-P-PSB Pistol with SIG Brace $1,862 $2,084 $222
MPX-9-T-KM-SBR MPX SBR 8″ Short-Barrel Rifle $2,062 $2,123 $61
MPX-K-9-T-KM-SBR MPX-K SBR 4.5″ Short-Barrel Rifle $1,957 n/a
MPX-C-9-KM-T MPX-C 16″ Carbine $2,016 n/a
© 2017 Weaponsman.com

Friends asked a SIG rep, “Why?” The booth guy didn’t know, and called someone else over, who said, and we quote: “We’re not making enough profit at the present price.” So presumably they’re making some profit on an MPX, and the $200-300 price increase and the deletion of $50in accessories should drop right down to the bottom line. (They don’t expect many buyers to use the online accessory discount vouchers).

For comparison’s sake, the MSRP on the CZ Scorpion Evo 3 S1 pistol is $849 in black and $899 in FDE. The carbine version is $999 (muzzle brake) and $1049 (fake suppressor). There is no factory SBR.

Humility and a Sense of Honor

That’s what Lee Williams said he found at the SIG booth after the MHS M17 selection was announced. One of the SIG personnel told him the contract was “daunting,” and they’re going to be busy. Read The Whole Thing™ and the rest of Lee’s SHOT coverage.

Humility and a sense of honor today at the Sig Sauer booth

Andrew Branca on the SIG Buy: $207/each

Andrew had an interesting write-up at Legal Insurrection, the most interesting parts of which to us were (1) that he’s been carrying a 320 for a while, and really likes it, and (2) that according to sources of his (how come our sources didn’t have this?) the Army is paying for the SIGs (exclusive, we presume, of such accessories as suppressors) only $207 a pistol.

That might explain where the extra $300-400 per MPX is going.

Andrew is also a rare user of a manual-safety SIG, and that brings us to…

What a SIG P320 Safety Looks Like

Because most of you haven’t seen one in the flesh-and-blood (or steel-and-polymer), here’s an excerpt from the P320 Manual.

4.2 Manual Safety Equipped Pistols

The SIG P320 is offered with an optional ambidextrous manual safety. The manual safety mechanically blocks the movement of the trigger bar so the trigger cannot be pressed to the rear.

To engage the manual safety, rotate the safety lever upward with the thumb of the firing hand. The manual safety is ambidextrous. Pressing up on the lever from either side will rotate the opposite lever upward, engaging the manual safety. The slide can still be manipulated with the manual safety engaged.

And one of our commenters found this fascinating little detail in the manual:

If your P320 is fitted with a Tamper Resistant Takedown Lever, removing the grip module is not authorized. You must evacuate the pistol to the next authorized level of maintenance to have this performed.

This certainly seems like something put in place for police agencies and military services, to prevent the Incredible All Destroying Lance Corporal from monkeying with the pistol. The Tamper Resistant Lever needs a tamperproof spanner screwdriver or bit to be removed, marking it as an armorer job rather than operator maintenance. (It would be a rare gunsmith who doesn’t have a set of these screwdrivers, these days. Several manufacturers use them on non-user-maintenance parts). No idea if the military’s M17 pistols will be equipped with this feature, but it would not be surprising.

More on Whitworth and his Rifle

Yesterday’s post on Civil War Sharpshooters was meant to be a shallow overview, but one thing leads to another, and so this morning’s scheduled post was thrown back into the sea so we can have some further discussion of this subject, and especially of the English rifle used to such great effect by the Confederates, the Whitworth.

Fred Ray, whom we cited in that post, commented and included a couple of links that may be of interest. First, he has traced the English word “sharpshooter” back to 1795.

I think the question is settled, at least as far as any reference to Christian Sharps is concerned.

http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2013/12/06/origins-of-sharpshooter/
http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2017/01/11/more-on-the-origins-of-sharpshooter/

Also check out my articles on the web site for my book, Shock Troops of the Confederacy, which deals with Confederate sharpshooters. There’s much more to them than Pat Cleburne! Couple of articles there on the killing of Gen. John ” Couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” Sedgwick and one on Joseph Whitworth and his rifles.
http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/articles.html

Fred’s Whitworth article is this one. It’s well researched and was a good read.

http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/articles.html#sir_joseph_whitworth

Among the things we didn’t know about Whitworth were that he invented scraping for a flat surface; invented an early caliber, and was instrumental in standardization of threads and fasteners in Britain.

Because one good article deserves another, here’s the section on the Whitworth from Fuller & Steuart’s Firearms of the Confederacy. The Whitworth was not the only English rifle used by sharpshooters in gray, as they also made good use of Enfield and Kerr rifles, but the Whitworth is the one that has captured the imagination of historians, collectors and reenactors.

This rifle is of particular interest to students of Confederate arms, as it is believed to be the only one of the imported arms that was used exclusively by the South who used them in small numbers for arming sharpshooters. They were an accurate and powerful weapon — good for a range of half a mile and were responsible for the taking off of many a federal officer.

 

Note: all of these illustrations are pulled from the web, not from the book quoted. This Confederate Whitworth has a replaced lock, but is for sale for a LOT of money.

 

The specimen shown is marked on the lock plate Whitworth Rifle Company, Manchester and on top of the barrel Whitworth Patent.

This is a Whitworth lock; it’s not from a sharpshooter’s rifle, but from a target rifle sold by James Julia. Hammer price was $10,300 in 2014,

This is the barrel marking referenced in the text, also from the Julia target rifle.

Length of barrel, 33 inches. Total length of arm, 49 inches. The bore is hexagonal. Caliber .45, using an elongated bullet weighing 530 grains.  the twist is one in twenty inches. The arm is an exceptionally well-made piece — iron mounted throughout and besides the regular site equipment, is provided with attachments for a telescope site to be mounted on the left side of the gun. The stock is nicely checkered and the arm has all of the characteristics of the highest type sporting piece. All parts bear the serial number 554.

From the Julia target gun, period “globe” or aperture sights.

In the year 1852 when the British ordnance department conducted extensive experiments to test the comparative merits of various rifles submitted to the government they found a wide variation in the accuracy updatable. Whitworth, one of the leading technicians of the day, was commissioned to make exhaustive experiments at the cost of the Government in order to discover the best form of rifling.

This gentleman had devoted a great deal of time and study to the design and manufacture of cannon and had adopted the polygonal bore as giving the best results and decided to use this type of rifling for his small arms. The advantage of the elongated bullet had long been demonstrated but in attempting to use it in connection with the polygonal bore considerable trouble was experienced from the ball “capsizing” or “turning over”.  He became convinced that this action was due to the slow spiral and eventually after testing every graduation from one turn in seventy-eight inches to one turn in five inches found the necessary rotation to impart the required steadiness to the ball and cause it to maintain a flight parallel to its axis was best obtained at a pitch of one turn in twenty inches.

On tests before the Minister of War and many distinguished officers the Whitworth rifle of .45 caliber beat the Enfield of government factories by three to one. The mean deviation at 500 yards was four and one-half while the recorded best of any rifle previously tried was twenty-seven.

The rifle was never adopted into the Government service but 40 of them were made for the competitive shoot of 1860 for the Queen’s prize at the meeting of the [British] National Rifle Association. Plate XXIII shows an enlarged view of the bore of this arm and the machine made bullet used with it.

While the original bullet for the Whitworth rifle was hexagonal to fit the rifle bore, those used by the Confederates were for the most part cylindrical.

This is characteristic Whitworth hexagonal rifling. Also from the Julia gun.

He notes that “20 or 30” of these rifles were slipped through the blockade, and divided equally between Eastern and Western rebel forces, but Bilby thinks that a much greater number of the Whitworths must have been on hand — probably hundreds.

Fuller & Steuart also reproduce this period article:

The Richmond Daily Examiner of November 10, 1863, says:

We have a wonderful gun in our army, the Whitworth rifle. it kills it 2000 yards, more than a mile. It is no bigger than the Mississippi rifle. [US Rifle M1841 -Ed.] With a few of these rifles Longstreet shot across the Tennessee River, killing the Yankees and completely blocking the river road.

They go on to reproduce some combat tales of the rifle in action.

Sergeant Grace of the Fourth Georgia killed General Sedgwick of the Union Army with a Whitworth rifle at a range of 800 yards.

Sergeant Grace used a globe sight. Most of the Whitworths were equipped with telescope sights, but these were easily lost.

Whitworth rifles are said to have done terrible execution at Fort Wagner, Charleston.

General Cleburne, writing in 1863, said: “The fire of five Whitworth rifles appeared to do good service. Mounted men were struck it distances ranging from 700 to 1300 yards.”

Twenty men of Company F, Eighth North Carolina Regiment, were armed with Whitworth rifles with globe sights at Morris Island. South Carolina sharpshooters also had Whitworths and General Lytle is said to have been killed at Chickamauga with a bullet from a Whitworth rifle.

This is one type of False Muzzle, from another target gun (this one a Maine gun for sale by Joe Salter). It was used to ensure the bullet was started right, aligned with the bore. A False Muzzle was usually part of a target gun’s standard accessoried.

One of the great Whitworth mysteries remaining is: why did the Union never buy any? Both armies bought plenty of Enfields from Britain. But if the Union bought even a single Whitworth, no trace of the transaction has been found.

Update

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out Fred Ray’s book on Confederate States sharpshooters. You can probably find it at your favorite online bookstore, but the promotional website has more information…

http://www.cfspress.com/sharpshooters/index.html

…and you can buy it there. (We did, hard and soft cover editions).  There seems to be more useful information on the website in terms of an errata page, and more of Fred’s articles, that extend his work, and are free to read for those of who who can’t explain to Mama $30 on another book. (“What’s wrong with reading the books you already have?” <– one downside to making an important choice based on pulchritude alone, in the bloom of youth).

Update II

We let this go live without images, in the interests of speed, but Holy-Wall-o-Text, Batman, so we’ve added some illustrations to ease the barrage on your eyes. Apologies to early readers.

Civil War Sharpshooters

They stare at us out of ancient daguerreotypes and glass negatives, or take aim in a Winslow Homer print (right): serious young men. In the photos, they’re posed in a frozen position because of the photo technology of the day, dressed in rough uniforms and clinging to a long rifle. Most of them were, like soldiers of time immemorial, youths in their teens and twenties; a few of them were wise old men in their forties and fifties. They were the sharpshooters of the Civil War. And what does that mean, exactly? Who were they?

Berdan’s US Sharp Shooters. (All images do embiggen with a click).

The case of Civil War Sharpshooters is complicated by the English language. The term “sharpshooter” has come to mean an excellent shot, especially with rifle; in modern American military usage, it is the intermediate of the three grades of marksmanship badge, from superior to inferior: Expert, Sharpshooter and Marksman. But there also was, at the time of the Civil War, an important early breechloading rifle manufactured by the firm of Christian Sharps.

So, were sharpshooters soldiers who are sharp at shooting, or soldiers who shot Sharpses? Would you believe, the answer is: both, and neither?

Yeah, that calls for an explanation.

Etymology of “Sharpshooter.”

The word actually was “culturally appropriated,” as those whacky college kids say, into English about 1800 from modern German, and is a true cognate of the German Scharfschütze. In German that term now means a good marksman, often with precision equipment, but 200 years ago in America (or 300 years ago in the German principalities) it meant troops armed with (more accurate and slower-loading) rifles, not smoothbore muskets. These troops were used as pickets and skirmishers as well as being deployed as the 18th and 19th Century equivalent of designated marksmen. They were closer to what English military practice would call rangers.

In an interesting post on the term on a the Civil War blog TOCWOC.com, Fred Ray dismisses the idea that Christian Sharps and his breechloader had anything to do with the coinage of the term:

A persistent story attaches it to Berdan’s Sharpshooters, who with their Sharps rifles were then (so the story goes) called “Sharps shooters,” and later just sharpshooters. Trouble is, it’s not true, any more than is the tale that Fighting Joe Hooker gave his name as a synonym for prostitute.

In fact, sharpshooter goes back in Germanic Europe at least as far back as the early 1700s or so, when the modern rifle-armed troops were first used in the Austrian and Prussian armies….

[W]hen Christian Sharps was born in 1811, the term had already been in use for a hundred years or so. Sharps did not patent his breech-loading design until 1848.

Interestingly, the word means the same in German and English, and appears in both Old High German and Old English. One etymologist, Carol Pozefsky, traces the English variation of the term as applied to riflemen back to 1802. My surmise, then, would be that it came into modern English by way of the 5/60th Royal Americans, a mostly-German unit raised by the British Army as a result of their experiences during the American Revolution. The 5/60th pretty much went with the practices of the German jaeger light infantry, including, one would presume, the term sharpshooter. NOTE 1

The link to Carol Pozefsky’s etymology of the word, unfortunately, breaks.

Sharpshooters as skirmishers

At the time of the US Civil War (1861-65), then, “sharpshooter” was a term of art, already of considerable antiquity, and it meant rifle units either constructed for, or at least detailed to, skirmishing duties.  “Skirmishing” is not something one sees in a modern operations order, so what was that? Basically, it meant that they screened the army, almost like foot cavalry. With the Army in a static position, they would be posted forward as checkpoints and observation points — called by the now-archaic term vedettes, which like most sharpshooter tactics of the American armies was borrowed from French chasseur doctrine and practice.

On the move, the sharpshooters would screen the van and the flanks of the army. In theory, they would use their superior skills and greater weapons effective range, if need be, to break contact and deliver the ground truth to the commander. If it sounds like the Ranger companies in the Korean War US Army, well, unit names changes but tactical principles endure. They were not meant to be the equal of a regular infantry company or regiment in the line, although sometimes they were employed that way. (Indeed, that’s what broke the Ranger companies in the Korean War).

There was little difference in the employment of sharpshooters in the Union or Rebel armies. The difference was greater, in fact, between the more important armies around Virginia, and the less well-resourced armies contesting the West. The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia both found reason to employ sharpshooters both as skirmishers and as long-range marksmen.

Berdan’s USSS

Berdan’s Sharpshooter, Reenactor

Hiram Berdan makes an an interesting character. In Joseph Bilby’s Civil War Firearms, which has a whole chapter on sharpshooters (NOTE 2), he describes the man’s character and attainments:

Hiram Berdan, born in New York and raised in Michigan, was a talented engineer, practical scientist and inventor responsible for such diverse devices as a gold crushing machine and a mechanical bakery. In addition, he was one of the premier American rifle shots of the 1850s. Berdan’s inventive genius, applied to firearms, would secure his place in history. The burdens centerfire primer for metallic cartridges, for example, is still in use world wide. One thing Hiram Berdan was not, however, was a soldier. He was a self-promoting windbag.NOTE 3

Contemporary news page with scenes of Berdan’s sharpshooters. Man at center is not Berdan.

But the windbag, self-promoter, and worse — Bilby also calls him out for “strong reluctance to personally confront the enemy,” a toxic accusation in the world of 1860s manhood, and one that was leveled at Berdan by his contemporaries — was an excellent recruiter of superior men. He ultimately recruited two regiments, the 1st and 2nd United States Sharp Shooters, promising them Sharps rifles, and paying any man for his target rifle, if he brought it along.

The men were selected, probably, by a marksmanship test. (That’s how other sharpshooter units did it, but there’s no proof in the case of Berdan’s Sharpshooters). The standard was not too terribly high, Bilby thinks: a 10-inch group with the service rifle, at 200 yards.

Berdan changed his mind about the Sharps and decided to get his men ordinary Model 1861 Springfield rifles. These were good weapons, more appreciated than the smoothbores, 1841 rifles, or Austrian Lorenz rifles many Union units had to reckon with. But the men rejected them, holding out for the Sharpses they’d been promised. They were fobbed off for a while with Colt repeating rifles, but Colonel Ripley, the director of ordnance, ultimately relented and let Berdan order 2,000 Sharps rifles, with any surplus to be stored in Washington. (Berdan spent the rest of his time in uniform defending his spare rifles from raids by other Union officers. He would resign before war’s end, and sell carbines of his own design to the Union Army). Berdan’s Shar’s rifles came with double-set triggers, and nlike all other Sharps rifles, with a socket bayonet. (The regular Sharps bayonet was a bulky sword bayonet. The USSS troops seem to have, mostly, thrown their bayonets away in any case).

The Colt revolving rifle had the problem of all cap-and-ball revolvers: you can generate a lot of shots, briefly, but then it takes a very long time to reload. Reloading was also a problem with the telescopic-sighted 30-pound target rifles of the era, which were shot in a now-forgotten supine position; one set of sharpshooters that found themselves in close-quarters combat had to use their rifles as clubs.

Other Union Sharpshooters

Because the term “Sharpshooter” was in general use for any rifle-armed skirmisher, there were quite a number of state Sharpshooter regiments of varying quality and equipment. The Massachusetts company shown below is well-stocked with monster target rifles!

They lacked Berdan’s regiments’ unique designation and green uniforms, but had their own tales of combat. We recommend you read Bilby’s works for more detail on these guys.

Sharpshooter Weapons and Equipment

Rifles for sharpshooters were always in short supply. The Ordnance Department was loath to let sharpshooter regiments buy Sharps rifles, because every time Sharps filled a rifle order, carbine production suffered, and the Sharps was the most preferred of the many breechloading carbines used by the Union cavalry (at least until the emergence of the cartridge Henry and Spencer later in the war, which still couldn’t match the Sharps carbine for range).

The bifurcated nature of sharpshooter operations meant that sometimes a heavy target rifle was just the thing, and other times a rapid-firing carbine or other breechloader was the right weapon. The USSS wound up issuing everybody Sharps rifles and maintaining a quantity of the target rifles as organizational equipment, brought up with the supply trains and operated by the best of the best shots.

The target rifles originally were recruited into sharpshooter regiments, as it were, alongside their owners. Some regiments paid a substantial premium for a soldier to bring a suitable long-range rifle. But these rifles were problematic as each used a unique bullet mold and false muzzle (for loading) that came with it, unlike ordinary rifle-muskets or even Sharps rifles that used a manufactured paper cartridge. Accordingly, the trade-off for the target rifle’s range and precision was a much lower rate of fire. And with their weight, they were disruptive on the march.

Rebel Sharpshooters

The Confederacy, too, used sharpshooters, but they do not seem to have sustained entire organized regiments. They would stand them up and break them down. They always struggled for quality firearms; a couple of state militias had bought some Sharps rifles before the war broke out and cut off that supply.

The South did have one rifle that that the North would have envied, had its military leaders had any sense: the Whitworth. (Its designer was the same Whitworth whose patent fasteners are cursed by restorers of old British cars and aircraft).  This was a .45 caliber English rifle with a hexagonal bore. It was meant to be used with hexagonal bullets, but could also shoot a cylindrical projectile — for which, it came with a mold — accurately to 900 yards (Bilby says even to 1,500, by using expedient extensions of the sights). Moreover, it was not significantly bulkier or harder to load than an ordinary Springfield or Enfield rifle-musket. Here’s a video of a presentation on the Whitworth:

The Whitworth was sometimes used with iron sights, sometimes with a high-mounted scope, and sometimes with the side-mounted Davidson scope seen below.

A rifle was only half the equation — maybe, less than half. The human factor was key to sharpshooter success.

Where the North had Hiram Berdan, who, whatever his failings, understood marksmanship perfectly for the era, the South had a similar impresario of sharpshooting, Major General Patrick Cleburne, who lacked Berdan’s character flaws. (Notably, he was not combat-shy, which led to his death in action on 30 November 1864). Cleburne drilled his men intensively, not on the parade-ground like most of his contemporaries, but on the rifle-range, stressing both marksmanship and — something that seems otherwise absent from the literature of the war — range estimation. Where did Cleburne learn all this? Born in County Cork, Ireland, he’d been an enlisted man in the British Army before emigrating to the United States!

In fact, most units’ marksmanship, including Sharpshooter units, was pretty dreadful, on average. This was offset by the fact that commanders often closed to smoothbore ranges before engaging the enemy, anyway.

Sharpshooter Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

It is unsurprising that Rebel and Union TTPs were mirror images, as most of the leaders of the Confederate States Army grew up in the United States Army. They went to the same schools, read the same books, adapted the same tactics from the manuals of the French Chasseur à Pied and Zouave units.

Cleburne seems to have developed one tactic that the North did not use: using his men and their accurate Whitworth fire to deny the Union the service of their artillerymen. In this period, artillery generally engaged using direct fire, and that meant that the only safety for the gunners lay in the fact that their guns outranged the enemy’s small arms.

The Confederates also used the superior range and accuracy of their sharpshooters, at times, to compensate for an overall lack of firepower or general lack of ammunition: the sharpshooter as a force multiplier or economy-of-force measure, not out of intent so much as out of necessity.

By and large, sharpshooters did not use the camouflage, concealment and stalking tricks of a modern sniper, although Bilby does recount one story in which a sharpshooter learned from a Native American buddy to camouflage himself with corn stalks whilst moving through a cornfield.

Notes

  1. Ray, Fred. Origin of “Sharpshooter.” TOCWOC Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.brettschulte.net/CWBlog/2006/09/23/origin-of-sharpshooter/
  2. Bilby, pp. 103-128.
  3. Bilby, p. 105

Sources

Bilby, Joseph. Civil War Firearms: Their Historical Background, Tactical Use, and Modern Collecting and Shooting. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing, 1996.

Six Millimeter Shorter Casing = $1,000 in Collector Value

This Czech vz. 52/57 rifle just sold last night on GunBroker for $1,375.00, or roughly $1,000 more than a typical vz. 52 in similar condition goes for. Where did the extra grand come from? We’ll tell you, which will require a short trip down the Warsaw Pact memory lane, and a little bit of supply and demand economics. There’s going to be some numbers, perhaps, but we will not tax anybody’s rusty math skills.

(By the way, we didn’t bid on this rifle, even though we’ve bought from this seller and were watching the auction. No reason but the sleep-intensive weekend; as a normal practice we never bid until the last minutes of the auction, and we were racked out with Small Dog Mk II when the vz. 52/57 found its new home).

Where a vz. 52/57 comes from

The Czechoslovak model 52 semiautomatic rifle is an interesting gun that borrows many manufacturing processes from the German weapons that had been made in the same factories just before. It was part of an immediate postwar reimagining of Czechoslovak small arms that produced new rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and light machine guns over a period of four years from 1948 to 1952. The firearms were initially intended to be chambered for a new 7.62 x 45 mm intermediate cartridge (rifle and MG) and the old European standard pistol round, 9 x 19 mm  (pistol and SMG).

As it happened, though, something else happened in 1948 — the Soviet-controlled Czech Communist Party overthrew the republic in a nearly bloodless coup (there were only a couple of murders and disappearances).

Within a year or two, the Czechoslovak Army was renamed the ČS People’s Army, and directed to conform to Soviet calibers. Or else! (But a resistant Czech or Slovak didn’t get shipped to Siberia… someone who didn’t suck up to the Fraternal Soviet Big Brother sufficiently went to the mines at Jachymov, to mine radioactive pitchblende with hand tools. For ten years or death, whichever comes first). Needless to say, everyone disinclined to a career-change towards uranium mining thought changing calibers was a brilliant idea.

The pistol was easily redesigned before it shipped to use the 7.62 x 25mm Russian round instead of the 9mm Parabellum, and so there were no production Model 52 pistols made (at least, initially) for the Western round. Even though the prototypes had been developed with the 9 mm, the pistol’s roller locking system was, like most such, adaptable to a wide range of loads and only a barrel swap was required. Likewise, conversion of the Sa. vz. 48 submachine gun was fairly straightforward, although with the magazine in the grip, a new, awkward grip angle was required to make the necked 7.62 feed properly.

This is one tell of a 52/57 — they wrote the nomenclature right on it.

Converting the vz. 52 rifle and the light machine gun vz. 52 to the Soviet caliber was not as easily done; some of the engineering talent in the Czechoslovak arsenals was tied up doing this until the converted rifle and companion MG rolled out in 1957, as the vz. 52/57. New production immediately converted, and sufficient existing guns were converted to arm active-duty ČSLA units, with the knowledge that a new assault rifle (the vz. 58, which was developed from the start for the Soviet M43 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge) was coming.

Another tell is the forward handguard, painted black.

Excess stocks of the old vz. 52s and their 7.62 x 45 ammunition were stored and many were exported to “fraternal socialist states” and “national liberation movements,” which is to say, guerrilla and terrorist movements worldwide. Vz. 52s turned up in Laos, Vietnam, the Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and a decade later in Africa and Central America. The global diaspora of vz. 52s and 52/57s took on a new direction with importation of surplus guns to the United States. Prior to 1990s importation, the only vz. 52s in the country were GI bringbacks from Vietnam or Grenada.

The Collector Consequences

As we mentioned, a 52/57 is worth three to four times the value of a “slick” vz. 52. We believe that this is a function of supply and demand — some factors lower the supply, and others increase the demand.

Supply Factors: We don’t have numbers at our fingertips yet, but we believe raw numbers are one factor in the higher value of the the vz. 52/57. We believe fewer were made. The vz. 52 was made in plants in Považska Bystrica (coded aym) and Uherský Brod (she); the vast majority were coded “she.”  But the vz. 52 was in production from 1952 (late; it’s a rare date code to find) through 1957. Peak production seems to have been 1955/56. The vz. 52/57 was introduced in 1957, but that’s a rare date code on that version; most are coded 58 and 59. We’ve never seen one coded 60 or later.

In addition, the vz. 52 was widely exported, especially to Cuba which demanded 100,000 of them, 400,000 spare magazines, and 4 million rounds of ammunition. The Cubans in turn re-exported the Czech weaponry to every hippie with a cause and dictator wannabe worldwide in the ’60s and ’70s; this ensured that lots of surplus vz. 52s were here and there for importers to find and pounce on in the 90s and oughts. But by the time the Czechoslovaks replaced their 52/57s with vz 58s in the early 60s, they’d been cut out of the supply chain to Cuba by their Soviet masters. The Soviets had initially approved them supplying the Cubans to provide plausible deniability of Soviet arming of the island nation; once the cat was out of the bag, there was no more need for indirection in weapons supply. Ergo, the Cubans got few if any vz. 52/57s and the smaller numbers of this model were also less available for export to the USA.

Demand Factors: One of the obvious ones is that, with the vz. 52/57 being rarer, people trying to complete a collection of Czech weapons, or semiauto service rifles, or 7.62 x 39 service rifles, need to find one and people pursuing these collector themes are competing with one another to an extent that doesn’t happen with the vz. 52. But there is also competition for the 52/57s from shooters, because 7.62 x 39 ammunition is available everywhere and relatively inexpensive, but 7.62 x 45 is unavailable, after an initial brief splash of surplus that came in with the rifles.

The magazine is also a “tell.” Only the 52/57 has this about 25º angled base. Rifles were issued with two magazines, but troops were expected to load with stripper clips. Spare magazines for either vz. 52 are rare and expensive.

Given that shooters have many 7.62 x 39 options for far less than the $1,400 of a vz. 52/57, it seems probable that the main thing driving the price difference between the 52 and the 52/57 is collector demand vs. short supply; a secondary factor is that collectors who also desire to shoot the arms in their collection will have a preference for the version that shoots common ammo.

Are these Factors Generally Applicable?

Supply and Demand is not only an important economic concept, it’s as good as a natural law. If you see a price for what seems to be a common arm, your first reaction may be that the buyer or bidders is/are on crack. But when you look closely, most of the time you will see the hidden supply and demand factors that conspire to set that price point at which the market clears. If you don’t see them, then you will be tempted to conclude that someone in the transaction is using mind-altering chemicals. However, before you commit to that as your final answer, reconsider the possibility that there are supply and demand factors that you may have overlooked.

In our case, we know from experience that we make errors in understanding firearms valuations more often that we actually encounter drug-addled collectors. After all, what collector needs a drug? You’ve got all the serotonin and endorphin jolt you can imagine when you score something rare. Like, say, a vz. 52/57.

Kyle Defoor’s Range Gun “Inventory”

For the last week-plus, top instructor Kyle Defoor has been posting his “inventory” on his Instagram account, one a day. Our Traveling Reporter, a Defoor trainee and admirer, if not outright fan, has been linking them to us, one a day, and we’ve been waiting to assemble them and give you a single overview. Here it is; this is what’s in a single top instructor’s battery these days.

His training battery comprises eight guns, some used frequently and some for special purposes. There are four ARs (all BCM, which he endorses), two Glocks, one bolt rifle (Remington 700), and one DA/SA pistol (SIG 229 Elite). For each one, he painstakingly records the details down to the scope mount and slings and holsters, and he answers some reader questions, so for any gun that interests you, go to the linked Instagram page.

The AR Rifles

They’re all from BCM, with whom Defoor is in a committed relationship, as they say. BCM also provides the iron sights for those rifles that have ’em, and Viking Tactics (VTAC) the slings. There are a selection of calibers and lengths for specific purposes.

The most-used AR is this 11.5″ 5.56 mm Short Barrel Rifle (SBR), which is used 18-20 weeks a year for both military and civilian contracts.

The accessories include interchangeable red-dot and scope optics in Bobro mounts (Aimpoint Micro T1 and US Optics SR4-C respectively), the Streamlight Protac Rail 1 with an Arisaka Defense light mount, and a Gemtech flashhider for use with the G5T. The US Optics scope is their short-range 1-4 variable, which is presently off the market as the company overhauls its short-range line; its nearest military issue equivalent is the Elcan Spectre DR, which is not continuously variable. The SR4-C is an ingenious design, with a mil reticle (several options) on the first focal plane, which keeps the mils accurate with magnification, and a 4-moa red dot on the second focal plane. (There is an excellent five-part review of this scope at the Austin Police Marksmanship Team blog. Begin with Part 2 if you’re in a hurry; Part 1 is the justification for using a scope on a patrol carbine. Then click the left arrow to read subsequent parts).

Used 18-20 weeks a year for military contractcs and for some civilian carbine classes. My scope and Aimpoint share the same mounting slot on my top rail for ease of switching depending on what the customer wants.

Note that this is the baseline AR of a pro, and it’s run on an XM177-length barrel, probably suppressed more often than not. That’s a reflection of what’s happening in special operations units, not just in the US military, but worldwide.

Here’s a longer-barreled 5.56 AR used about 6 weeks a year for military and civilian scoped rifle classes. The barrel is 16″ stainless steel with 1/8 twist rifling and a mid-length gas system. The scope is a US Optics variable 1.8-10 power in a Bobro mount.

The Gemtech suppressor he uses with this rifle is the G5T; the rest of the accessories are the same as his other ARs.

Here’s a baseline .300 Blackout gun.  It’s got a 9″ button-rifled barrel. This one is used a few times a year for “specialized military contracts,” and is set up with a Gemtech flash hider for The One silencer.

What seems to be “the usual” KD4 accessories: BCM flip-up sights; VTAC Sling;  Aimpoint Micro T1 on a Bobro Mount; Streamlight Protac Rail 1 with an Arisaka Defense light mount. One thing this carbine has got that the others haven’t is a cleaning rod secured to the rail with zip ties.

And finally, this one’s just for hunting. It’s a 16″ .300 Blackout rifle with a 1/8 button-rifled stainless barrel, and has similar accessories to the other ARs.

The scope is the US Optics variable 1-4 power Dual Focal Plane on (what else?) Bobro. Kyle says he uses it to take deer, coyote and wild boar.

The Precision Rifle

This rifle is a modified Remington 700 with a 7.62mm NATO 20″ 1/10 heavy barrel, threaded for use with the Gemtech Sandstorm suppressor.

The mods/accessories include: a KRG stock and bolt lift; VTAC Sling; US Optics 1.8-10 variable power scope, with the Horus H25 reticle, mounted in Badger rings; and the ubiquitous bipod from Harris Engineering. Defoor uses it for military contracts 4 weeks a year.

I can’t express how happy I am with the KRG stock. It makes a stock 700 about .5 MOA tighter throughout the spectrum of the caliber compared to an OEM buttstock and is LIGHT! The weight thing matters when I’m humping long distances for FTX’s and evals. Additionally, KRG has accessories that are smart, lightweight, easy to install, don’t cost an arm and a leg and work WELL! This is expected from KRG since their owner is a mil snipe with experience like myself. I have no affiliation with KRG but if you’re in the market for anything bolt gun you should give them a look before they take off and get super busy,

Listen up to that recommendation, precision shooters: Defoor has a pretty good track record at flagging the Next Cool Thing before it gets cool.

The Pistols

The fundamental pistol of Defoor’s battery is the G4 Glock 19.

His regular carry gun is used for almost all classes, and apart from his own sights and his (Raven Eidolon) or Safariland holster, the only thing not stock Glock is the barrel, a KKM.

I’ve been using match barrels in Glock pistols for over 10 years now. I started using KKM’s somewhere around 2010 or 11 — long before it become the popular barrel of choice it is now. I also used Wilson combat match barrels for Glocks back when you had to fit them. I prefer hand fitting a barrel because I can make it even more accurate.

But he recommends you be in no rush to replace the barrel:

I tell everyone my opinion is to shoot the Glock pistol stock and wait to get a match barrel when you notice groups starting to open up a bit. In my experience this happen somewhere between 80 and 100,000 rounds.

In case you were wondering why Tier 1 units that shoot obsessively day in and day out went to the Glock, a lot of the answer is packed into that paragraph above. He also points out that the match barrel is match, not magic:

A match barrel will not help you magically shoot better all of the sudden. All it does is hone good fundamentals a little more. The average difference that I have measured over tens of thousands of shooters between a stock barrel and a match barrel at 25 yards on an NRA B-8 bull is somewhere between 3-4 points or around an inch tighter- both of these metrics are with a 10 round group from the standing unsupported position.

For about four weeks a year, for certain military contracts, he uses this older G2 G19, set up with a very unusual sight: an Aimpoint Micro on a Raven Concealment Balor mount. This one has had fewer rounds through it and still has a Glock barrel.

Sometimes he’ll just mount this slide on a G19 frame that allows a weaponlight or weapon laser. Same holsters; but he has some interesting observations on the Aimpoint vs. the more common pistol red dot, the Trijicon RMR.

If you want to go the route of a red dot on a pistol using an Aimpoint Micro will give you faster results in performance than an RMR. This is due to the Aimpoint being a tube and an RMR being a flat plane red dot. I’ve had great success and starting people off with a set up like this and then transitioning them to an RMR later.

I’ve assembled dozens of guns like this one for people who are older and whose eyesight just does not allow them to shoot irons affectively anymore — it’s amazing to see the reaction of people when they can shoot and perform the way they did 40 or 50 years ago. The Micro is definitely harder to conceal and will require some adjustments of clothing and belt type, along with a quality holster like mine. Safari land 6000 series holsters can be easily modified with a Dremel to hold this set up and still maintain retention. There are multiple reasons for MIL/LE to use this setup, although I recommend to all of our clients to issue two slides; one setup like this and one with traditional sights.

Sounds like we need one of these, or a trip back to the eye surgeon. (May not be an option. Our guy, the brilliant Dr Jack Daubert of West Palm Beach, has unfortunately had to retire).

Finally, there’s the SIG 229 Elite, which is used with organizations that use SIGs, or other DA/SA guns rather than striker-fired, and that don’t have a loaner gun for Defoor to use himself while conducting training.

Nothing magical here, just a pistol. About the only unusual thing here is that he got Raven to make him a one-off holster for the gun.

I also will sometimes use this when I’m training units that shoot a Berretta 92 when they can’t supply me with one (I don’t own a 92).

And that wraps up one instructor’s training and defensive battery. Instead of having many guns (either in quantity or in battery) he has stuck to basic platforms, and plowed his efforts into training instead. There’s a lesson in that if we want to pick up on it.

Update

This post has been corrected. Kyle’s main go-to Glock 19 is a G4, not a G3 as we erroneously reported. We regret the error. -Ed.