Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Russian 7.62 Nagant Revolver

Typical Nagant Revolver

The Nagant Revolver
During the course of firearms development there were many strange and unusual designs submitted and used. That’s what makes this hobby so fascinating is the history of these sort of weapons. One of the stranger revolvers was the Russian Nagant. Everything was strange about it from the chambering to the 7 shot cylinder. One thing about military pistols of that period was that power apparently wasn’t a priority. Some of the contemporaries of that period like the Nagant lacked serious power such as the French 8 mm Lebel revolver and the 9 mm Jap. Apparently the sidearms of that period were more for decoration then actual combat. The 38 Colt brought out by the U.S. is another example of the underpowered side arms of that period. One advantage of this revolver over some of the others is that it’s cheap and plentiful like the Mosen Nagant rifles. It could be appealing to a beginning collector.

No flash gap when Nagant is fired

The original patent was brought out in 1879 by Emil Nagant a British citizen. The model 78 was adopted by Belgium in the 9 mm and the 83 by Sweden in the 7.5. Norway also adopted it in 9 mm then the 7.65 caliber. The model 83 was made in both double & single actions. The double actions were made for NCOs and officers while the single action was reserved for privates. The 7.5 Nagant cartridge was similar to the 32 S & W being a bit shorter and larger in diameter. A 32 S & W can be fired in it but the case will split full length. While probably not dangerous I would advise against the practice as accuracy will be nill and it may be hard to extract. Do not fire 32 H & R magnums in any Nagant as they have higher pressure and could be very dangerous providing they fit. Proper brass can be obtained from Buffalo Arms in Idaho. Buffaloarms.com They make brass for many obsolete calibers and I have found their brass of high quality without exception.

Nagant ammo from 32-20 cases

The revolver that was brought out in 1895 for the Russians chambered for the 7.62 caliber. It was patented by Leon Nagant the brother of Emil. It was in general use until 1930 when the Tokarev was adopted. They were made and used as late as WWll for some units. There was a smaller model for police use as well as a 22 caliber training model that were available. The cartridge looks something like a blank with the bullet fully in the case. They came out in single and double action models. When cocked the cylinder moved forward making it airtight unlike most revolvers. The gas sealing idea was in use years before the Nagant came out with it however. Among others using it was the Lang and Parker Field percussion revolvers. Patents dating from 1852 and 1858 by Moore & Harris as well as Webley covered the gas seal principal so there is nothing new under the sun. Others tackled the problem but no one made the gas seal revolver in any quantities. While it is an interesting idea due to the low power of the round and complexity of the action there would be very little ballistic benefit to this round. With a 357 magnum or some other high power round the forward moving cylinder might have some merit if the technical problems could be resolved.

Bullets can be seated out in 32-20 cases

The Russian version is available at various places advertised in the Shotgun News. They are inexpensive and plentiful. Gunshows are another good source to pick up the Nagant as well as other odd ball guns. If you are looking for an odd gun to own and accuracy and power isn’t important then this could be your weapon. The sample that I have was made in 1944 according to the date on the barrel. It is somewhat crude looking showing tool marks on various parts of the frame. It is blued and the bluing is fairly decent looking. It is a double action but the trigger pull is so heavy in the double action mode I did all my shooting single action. A trip to the gunsmith may help with that problem but for various reasons I chose to leave as is. The single action pull is estimated at between 12 and 15 lbs somewhat heavy but workable. Since I don’t plan on using this revolver for any practical use the trigger is fine. Loading and unloading the Nagant is a slow operation again not a problem for a toy. You pull back the loading gate and drop in as with a conventional single action. To unload move the rod located beneath the barrel and knock them out one at a time. The rod rotates to line up with the chambers. I sure wouldn’t want to manipulate this gun in cold weather with stiff hands. It makes you wonder how much it was used during the Russian winters which are famous for being super cold. There was a swing out cylinder model made to alleviate this problem but they are not real common. The sights are very rudimentary and crude. There is a notch in the frame for the rear while the front has a blade sight that is dovetailed in. It looks like it could be adjustable for windage by tapping it one way or the other. Remember when moving the front sight that it is moved in the opposite direction that you want the bullet to hit. The barrel is 4 & ½” long and is slender. There are various markings on the frame including the date and serial number. There is a star on the hammer. The firing pin is attached to the hammer and is about ½” long. The ATF defines it as a curio and relic for legal purposes.

A closeup look at Fiocchi ammo

Ammo for this gun is available though pricey. Fiocchi makes factory ammo but sometimes it’s hard to find. Graf makes empty cases for the reloader and they are available from Huntington Die among others. Huntington also provides the loading dies. The 32-20 case can be used also but it is a bit short. SOG International also sells Nagant ammo made in the 1970’s in Russia. The situation is getting better for the reloader and non reloader alike. The best bullets are 32 caliber wad cutters or other lead bullets sized to 311 to 313 weighing from 85 to 90 grains. This gun is not a power house nor should a reloader attempt to make it one.

Undersize bullets produce poor accuracy and keyholing

Shooting the Nagant is an interesting experience. Due to the balance and trigger it takes some getting use to. Once you shoot it for a while it can be made to shoot pretty decently. Recoil is not a problem due to the low power of the cartridge. It would be a fairly decent small game gun if you could hit the target. I put it on sandbags at 10 yards at the local range. My best groups were 3” or so as the trigger was heavy and the sights weren’t the best. The groups were consistently 3 to 4” high and to the left with my reloads or the Russian ammo that I had. Probably someone with better eyes and hands could shrink the groups a little but I doubt by much. Recoil was mild but the muzzle jumped somewhat due to the light weight of the gun. Under no circumstances would I entertain the thought of shooting a deer size animal. It just doesn’t have enough steam to do the job. I doubt that it would anchor a coyote with any consistency. If you reload it can be pretty economical to shoot once you get the dies and cases. A pinch of powder and a lead bullet of the correct diameter and you are in business. I would strongly advise against trying to soup up the loads as the gun isn’t designed for hot ammo. Besides why try and make it something it isn’t. It’s a fun gun to shoot and let it be at that.

Fiocchi ammo is sometimes available

Reloading the Nagant round is fairly normal except that the bullet is seated down inside the case. Most of your powders such as Unique and Herco work well. Powders such as 231 can also be used to good effect. Slower burning pistol powders such as 2400 or WW 296 should not be used at all. A small amount wouldn’t burn cleanly and a larger amount may create excess pressure. If you use 32-20 cases the bullet can be seated out about ¼” or so depending on what type of slug is utilized. I would not attempt to shoot regular 32-20 ammo in it as may be too long and may be too hot in some instances. I ran across some references indicating that the correct bullet diameter was .295 which I found curious. Anyway I slugged the bore and it came out at .313 which would explain if a 295 or similar diameter bullets were used why accuracy would be poor. The openings in the front of the cylinder measured .330 to .331 which would do nothing for accuracy either. When I was loading some of the bullets in the Nagant cases I noticed that some of the bullets were slightly swaged down when going into the cases. That is another factor that would not help much with accuracy. Hornady makes a hollow base wad cutter which may help with the accuracy problems. In any event they are worth a try. A 32-20 115 grain bullet can also be utilized as long as the powder charge is adjusted downward. Anything heavier shouldn’t be used as velocity will drop quite a bit with safe loads. Hornady makes .310 diameter round balls if you want something to shoot that is different. There are a couple of jacketed bullets that can be used but I don’t see the advantage of that. Besides being more expensive they probably wouldn’t be as accurate. As with any loading data approach with caution. Since I have no control over methods or use of data I can assume no responsibility for its use.

Dies for reloading Nagant ammo

4 X Herco 2-47 grain balls 1058 Nagant case very consistent
4 X Herco 86 grain wad cutter 962 32-20 case very accurate
4 X Unique 77 grain round nose 1012 32-20 case accurate
3 X 231 48 grain round ball 709 32-20 case very mild
4 X Unique 90 grain swc 1052 32-20 case accurate
4 X Herco 77 grain round nose 1142 32-20 case good load
4 X Herco 86 grain wad cutter 1051 consistent
4 X Unique 90 grain Hornady hbwc 1003 backwards ok
4 X Unique 90 grain Hornady hbwc 988 forwards accurate
3 X Herco 115 grain round nose 785 fair
3 X Unique 118 grain flat point 948 low es
Russian Load 90 grain 1038 high es
Fiocchi 98 grain full metal jacket 669 mild

Russian Nagant ammo

Muzzle energy for an 86 grain bullet at 962 feet per second would be about 175 foot pounds. While that can be lethal it’s hardly earth shattering. Power wise it is between a 32 Smith & Wesson long and a 32 H & R magnum. However like any firearm it should be treated with respect at all times as it can kill someone. The loaded Russian ammo was 1.522” long while the Graf brass I loaded was 1.461” long. As a comparison the 32-20 ammo with a 118 grain lead bullet was 1.559” long and barely protruded beyond the cylinder. While they could possibly fire in some guns I wouldn’t recommend it. As a thought I loaded 4 X Unique in the 32-20 case with the 77 grain 313 diameter round nose seated just deep enough at 1.521” to allow the cylinder to rotate. The idea was an attempt to produce better accuracy as the bullet was closer to the rifling then the others. Also it allowed me to use the correct diameter bullet as opposed to the 308 slugs. The idea worked quite well. Hitting small targets at 15 yards was not much of a problem except for the sights. Paper targets show smaller groups with .313 diameter bullets especially the wad cutters. I had some groups that had 3 or 4 bullets touching at 10 yards with the rest from 1 to 3” away. That was measurably better then the Nagant factory or my Nagant ammo. With target sights and a better trigger I have little doubt that I could of done even better. Of course this ammo can be safely shot in a 32-20 revolver. Is it worth the trouble to get better accuracy out of the Nagant? You bet! One of the reasons to handload your own ammo is to improve accuracy. Another advantage in using 32-20 brass is that it’s cheap and plentiful. I also obtained some Hornady round balls to produce some novelty loads. They were .310 and .314 in diameter weighing 47 and 48 grains respectively. I put 2 -.310 diameter balls in the regular Nagant cases as they easily fit and 1- 314 diameter in a 32-20 case seated out. Another novel load I used was 80 grains of 7 & ½ shot in the full length Nagant case. Using 4 grains of 231 behind ½ of a 38 caliber styrafoam blank wad worked out real good. Holding the shot in was a Hornady 30 caliber gas check. It would kill a mouse at 15 feet away without blowing a hole in a wall. At 10 feet it made a nice round circle and had an even pattern. Loads like these just show what a person can do with a little imagination to broaden the use of a gun such as this. If you want a blank pistol then blanks can easily be made from 32-20 cases see Shotgun News 8/15/05 on how to make blanks. I used a round ball loaded light such as a gallery load. At 10 yards I was able to hit a soda can every time as long as I did my job. I tried the Hornady 90 grain hollow base wad cutter loaded backwards an old trick in 38 specials. While not the most accurate load it expanded well in catalogs and retained all its weight. If you were going to use the Nagant for a home defense load that along with the 2 ball load would be the best. During the test for this article I fired the gun over 500 times plus some shooting by other shooters and I had no misfires or other functional problems associated with the revolver. During the tests I did not clean the gun in any way just to see how it would function. Brass loss with all cases was nil because I didn’t try to make a magnum out of it. Such reloading practices would also extend the life of the gun. While not as smooth as a good quality revolver in will none the less give good service life given proper care.

Good bullets for Nagant 312 in diameter

The revolver can be disassembled fairly easily. A screw up front holds in the rod that when removed can be used to knocks out the empties. Actually when I shoot it I carry something else with me to knock out the empties which is more convenient. A ten penny nail is perfect. There is a shroud that turns enabling the cylinder pin to be removed thus taking out the cylinder. The cylinder can be removed for cleaning or replacement. There is a cylinder available for the 32 auto pistol cartridge. However I have had a hard time finding one with anyone who advertises them. SOG advertises the cylinders a well as a verity of other models including a sporter model. I suppose that would make the Nagant marginally more useful as 32 ammo is easy to get. The grips are made of a hard brown plastic and deeply checkered. They are fairly comfortable and would be easy to hold on to during bad weather. Since recoil is light the checkering won’t hurt your hands during shooting. Since it weighs only1lb and 12ozs its easy to carry. A holster comes with it that revolver has a small pouch for carrying ammo.

Bullet seated deep in case as a typical Nagant load

There are various markings on the gun. On the left side of the frame is the date below a circle with a triangle inside with an arrow pointing up. There are stars on the hammer and trigger. Right above the trigger guard is a star and some symbols. On the right side of the frame is the letters kb1 hbg , pa Russia and M1895 7.62 Nagant. The serial number is located just above the trigger guard on the right side of the frame. The left front of the frame sports some more numbers and some sort of a symbol. To be honest I don’t know what all the markings mean though some are obvious. I imagine that they are inspector and arsenal markings. There are index marks on the barrel and frame. There is a lanyard on the grip with some sort of markings. The front of the cylinder has some markings on it. If nothing else the gun is well marked and other specimens that I examined had similar markings.
All in all it’s not the most useful gun in the cupboard. However if a person wanted an inexpensive gun and reloaded this could be a winner for them. Would I use it for self defense? Only if I couldn’t get my hands on something else except a 25 or 32 auto. With a couple of the better loads I developed it just might do the job. If I just wanted to go out and have some fun plinking I would most certainly consider taking it along.

Bob Shell

A 7.62 Swedish Nagant

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The 7.35 Carcano Rifle

7.35 Carcano

The 7.35 Carcano

It’s probably considered one of the least if not the least desirable military firearm made in the 20’Th century. It was originally brought out in 1891 created by Salvatore Carcano and Col Parravicino and was made at the Torino arms factory in Turin. They were also made in other government arsenals and probably private ones as well. The basic design was in production for about 54 years and millions were made. The 6.5 version isn’t rated much better but at least it has a more or less standard bullet. Guess what! While it’s not in the Mauser or Springfield class it isn’t as bad as it given credit for. They do have 2 forward locking lugs giving them the strength to handle the cartridges they were designed for. I am sure that the metal and heat treatment used were the best available for that application. The military load is rated at 38,000 pounds per square inch and I don’t recommend going much over that even though the action will probably take it. The action is relatively simple and efficient. It cocks on opening and isn’t difficult to operate. The rifle is light and handy to carry at least to me. It gave good service for many years so it must have had something going for it. The safety is somewhat difficult and clumsy to use however. It’s pushed forward and up and takes some effort. In order to do this the bolt handle has to be held down to prevent it from opening. Engaging the safety also locks the bolt and would prevent the gun from firing in case of a blow to the rear of the bolt. There is one gas escape hole at the rear of the bolt. In case of a primer rupture you would probably be ok but I would prefer to forgo that pleasure. The action, however, is not a good one to gunsmith and due to the odd size of the case head there is limited options as far as caliber change. The magazine design would also preclude many cartridges from being utilized in a conversion. The military sight is very crude and non adjustable I guess you could use a file or build it up as the case may be. Mine shoots a little high at 50 yards but is relatively accurate. A peep sight would be a viable option if a scope wasn’t desired. If I were determined to take it hunting I would have a side mount installed with a 4 power scope. Due to the clip loading from the top you can’t mount a scope over the receiver unless it is a tip off mount. It’s not easy to scope but some determined gunsmiths have made some nice sporting rifles from them. They have a detachable type magazine, which is another undesirable feature in my view. Frequently they are sold without one so the owner has to look around for one. The Shotgun News advertises them as well as the Old Western Scrounger so they are available. To shoot it single shot the cartridge has to be inserted into the bolt head after the bolt is removed. It has to be snapped snugly in the bolt or it will come out when inserting the bolt into the action. That makes for a slow single shot rifle. To remove the bolt just hold back the trigger and pull the bolt out. Any other way it won’t chamber the round. If you were in a firefight this would not be the gun you would want without a clip. They are the beneficiaries of the supply and demand factor. They can be bought at gun shows for $40 to $60 in good shape, being much lower then the more desirable models. As a note some Mausers and 7.62 X 53 Russians can be bought for similar prices. Nice specimens are commanding higher prices sometimes as much as $200.00

Cartridge inserted in bolt head makes for slow loading

The 7.35 was brought out in 1938 to replace the 6.5 version. The thought at that time was that a larger then 6.5 caliber bullet was needed. The Japs also replaced their 6.5 with a larger caliber in their case used a larger case and a heavier bullet. In the Italians’ case I just don’t see an advantage. The 6.5 shot a 162 grain bullet at 22-2300 feet per second while the 7.35 shot a 128 grain at 2400 or so. The 128 doesn’t have near the sectional density of the 162. Given equal conditions the 162 grain slug would penetrate deeper then the 7.35 caliber a desirable feature in a military round. Two models of the model 38 were brought out. The folding bayonet model has a 17.1” barrel while the short rifle has a 21.1” barrel with a detachable bayonet. They are relatively short and handy to carry and use. In any event the timing was bad as Italy was getting involved in WW ll so they stuck with the 6.5 for supply reasons keeping in mind the 6.5 came out in 1891 so there was a lot on ammo around as well a rifles. Some 7.35 rifles were rebarreled to the 6.5 caliber. The Finns, however, used the 7.35 against Russia with good results. There have been Carcanos that were chambered for the 8 X 57 and used in Africa. Evidently 8mm Mauser ammo was easier to obtain to such a degree that they felt that it was to their advantage to use the more common 8 mm round. They were used in the African campaigns with good results. Since the 8mm Mauser round is loaded to a higher pressure then the Carcano perhaps the action isn’t so weak after all and underestimated.. The bolt face would have to be modified a bit to handle the larger diameter 8mm round. I have shot mine some with ok results. Factory strength ammo is ok but I would not load it a hot as my model 98 Mauser. I have seen them advertised in the Shotgun news. I have one and like the 7.35 if you load it single shot the bolt has to be removed and a cartridge snapped in and reinserted. The clip is a modified 6.5 Carcano and hard to find.

Military ammo in clip

Getting ammo for it is possible but unless you reload can be a challenge. Military ammo is drying up and isn’t always reliable. Norma made ammo for it for years but as far as I know quit a few years ago. Occasionally some can still be found but generally runs at least $40 for a box of 20 Years ago there was a company that full length swaged 308 brass down to the 7.35 case diameter. It worked ok but it was a lot thicker then normal brass so loads had to be backed off about 10 % or so. It took some serious force to body swage those cases. Bullets are also a problem as they mike in at .298-.300 and that is a unique diameter. Hornady makes soft points in 125 grain for the reloader after an absence of some years. Reloading dies are available from the big die makers such as RCBS and Lee. Occasionally a custom bullet maker will offer bullets but don’t hold your breath. Brass is easy enough to get. Just get 6.5 Mannlicher cases neck up size as normal and trim to length. Also you can neck up the 6.5 Carcano and load as normal. To neck up I use a taper die from RCBS as the necks are straighter that way. The bullets that I have been able to find weighed from 125 to 150 grains when they were available. The outfit that I bought mine from closed their doors so I was out of luck. I decided to get the equipment and make my own to avoid being at the mercy of someone else. Making the 298 diameter bullets wasn’t as hard as I thought. Also I can make any weight I want but anything heavier then a 180 isn’t practical. So now I have a choice from 60 to 180 grains not to mention cast bullets. Corbin bullet making equipment was used in making most of the bullets. Corbin also provided the cannelure tool. Keep in mind that almost any type of equipment can be bought but non standard dies cost a lot more. Since I like to make a rifle as flexible as possible making my bullets will help a lot. Also using your own bullets adds another dimension to your reloading. There is a satisfaction factor in making and using your own bullets. Do not use .308 diameter bullets as they can cause excessive pressure and loss of accuracy. In many cases they won’t chamber.

Closeup of 7.35 Carcano Bolt

What can the ammo be used for? In power it’s on the low side of the 300 Savage. That makes it viable for deer and smaller bear. Wild hogs and similar animals will also fall to this round given good ammo and proper shot placement. Over 100 yards it would certainly be better then a 30-30 or some other similar round. One of my customers that I load a 150 grain for uses it in Minnesota for white tails. He shoots they fall. He has taken several out to about 150 yards or so. Of course his rifle has been scoped and accuracy at 100 yards is around 1 “to 1 & ½ “for 3 shots at 100 yards. That is more then enough for a deer rifle at normal ranges. With lighter bullets it would make a fairly decent varmint round. Bullets can be 100 or 110 grains if desired for that purpose. Cast bullets could be used for small game that one wants to eat. If you manage to get a scope on one it should make a decent 200 yard or so deer gun. Like most guns it will out shoot its owner given it’s in good shape and good ammo is used. Twist is 1 in 10 so it can stabilize 180 grain bullets if desired. Bullets and ammo can be obtained at www.aco4u.com/ammo. Due to different reloading conditions and methods I can not be responsible for use of this data. Use with caution!!!!

Various bullets from 110 to 160 grain are usable

1.12 X Unique 86 grain round nose 1970 high es
2. 9 X Unique 110 grain rn 1497 consistent
3. 8 X Unique 115 grain cast 1537 also consistent
4. 8 X Unique 125 grain soft point 1293 consistent
5. 34 X H-322 125 grain soft point 2542 high es low vel
6. 37 X H-322 125 grain soft point 2770 *** good load
7. 39 X IMR 4895 140 grain spitzer 2465 ** consistent
8. 40 X 760 150 grain fmj 2189 mild
9. 40 X 760 150 grain spitzer 2201 mild
10. 38 X IMR 4895 150 grain deer bullet 2509 do not exceed
11. 38 X IMR 4895 150 grain spitzer 2569 * consistent
12. 7 X Herco 165 grain cast 1285 consistent
13. 7 X Unique 165 grain cast 1281 consistent
14. 36 X IMR 4895 170 grain soft point 2188 ** slow high es
15. 40 X 760 170 grain soft point 2180 consistent
16 41 X 760 170 grain soft point 2257 *** good load
17. 40 X 760 180 grain soft point 2218 consistent

• most accurate ** second most accurate *** third most accurate
• ES is the difference between the fastest and slowest shot in the string.
• FMJ full metal jacketed bullet rn round nose bullet
Temperatures were between 60 and 70 barrel length 21” 7 shots were fired through chronograph to obtain velocity and start screen was 10 feet from muzzle. Brass was either Hornady 6.5 necked up or 6.5 X 54 Mannlicher shortened and necked up. Didn’t seem to be any difference between the two in so far as service. Both cases worked fine. I used Winchester primers in all loads. Case life was good many were fired several times with no sign of stretching or bulges. Primers always fit tight with no sign of looseness. That indicated loads that are not too hot for gun or brass. As always approach top loads with caution and start 2 or 3 grains of powder below listed loads. While these loads are safe in my rifle they may be excessive in another firearm. Since I have no control in anyone else’s loading methods or supplies neither myself nor the publisher can be responsible for using this loading data.

Breakdown of military round 40 grs of powder and a 128 grain bullet

I took 4 cases and filled them up to the top with WW 296 30-30 49 grains 7.35 52 grains 300 Savage 53 grains and the 308 60 grains. That shows that if all were loaded to the same pressures that it would be very close to the 300 Savage and out do the 30-30 by a decent margin. In a strong rifle and loaded to the same pressure it would virtually duplicate the fine 300 Savage round. However it is below the 308 by a significant margin. Like the 300 Savage it works best with medium burning powders such as 4895. Notice load # 17 was a bit faster then # 15 using the same powder charge. That would indicate that 760 is the best powder for heavier bullets. Slower burning powders such as IMR 4350 would be too slow for best results. Using the 30-06 you need 14 or so grains of the same powder to gain another 4 to 500 feet per second. The expansion ratio is a complicated way of rating cartridge efficiency. It takes case capacity, bullet seating, bullet diameter and barrel length to come up with a number. The higher the number the more efficient the cartridge is in relation to the amount of powder burned in verses the velocity. The 7.35 would have a high expansion ratio indicating that it’s an efficient cartridge The 30-378 for example would have a very low expansion ratio and it requires a huge amount of slow burning powder to beat out a 300 Winchester Magnum by a couple hundred feet per second.

The 125 is a good all around bullet

Accuracy was good with most loads. I tried others but these are the best & most representative. The 50 yard groups ran 1 &1/2 to about 2 &1/2 depending on load. The groups were round and I have no doubt that a scope could shrink the groups a lot. The groups compare favorably to other iron sighted military rifles that I have shot. Probably a younger shooter with better eyes can do better also. I feel that at 100 yards a scope sighted gun could put 3 shots into an inch with a good load. While the sights are crude once you get used to them they are functional out to 100 yards or so depending on your eyes. The trigger is typical military and has some travel but let off is consistent and I don’t find it any problem,

Military ammo in original box

Just for comparison I took the 308 diameter bullets against the 298 Carcano for sectional density of each bullet. I don’t recommend trying to exceed the top loads. There would be nothing to be gained and you might put an unnecessary strain on the action. While it seems to be a reasonably strong action why take chances.
308 110 grain SD .166 298 110 grain SD .177
308 125 grain SD .188 298 125 grain SD .201 308 150 grain SD .226 298 150 grain SD .241
308 170 grain SD . 256 298 170 grain SD .273

Not much difference between them. Ballistic coefficients would be similar with same weight and style of bullets. In theory the Carcano bullet would give slightly deeper penetration but it would be difficult to tell the difference except in a lab.
A 150 grain at muzzle velocity of 2500 feet per second would have 1916 foot lbs of energy. At 300 yards that would drop down to 1922 feet per second giving 1222 foot lbs of energy. 400 yards would be 1791 feet per second while yielding 1024 foot lbs of energy. In theory that would make it a 400 yard deer gun using the 1000 foot lbs of terminal energy philosophy. In practice if sighted in at 200 yards it will drop approximately 10” at 300 while at 400 it would drop 30 or so inches. With that in mind I would consider it a 300 yard gun if it had good sights or a scope. These figures are approximate. They would depend on height of scope above barrel or iron sights. Velocities and bullet configuration would also affect the trajectory.

The rear sight is crude and non adjustable

The 170 at 2300 feet per second produces 1997 foot lbs of energy. At 100 yards it drops off to 1796 and 1218 respectively. At best that load is a 150 yard game load. Anything below 140 grains should be used for varmints and small game. I found the 165 grain cast very accurate at 1200 feet per second or so. The lighter cast bullets were also accurate and pleasant to shoot. That would be excellent for small game that you wanted to eat afterwards. The cast bullets were sized to .300 which helped with accuracy.

Cartouche on 7.35 Carcano stock

Would you throw away the rest of your rifles and get one of these? Of course not! If you have a 300 Savage use it. However if you like odd ball hunting rifles that work this is a viable option. It’s light and handy and a lot of fun to shoot. Would I take it hunting? Under the proper circumstances I would. I probably won’t scope it but at 50 to 100 yards in good light it will deliver the goods so why not. I have shot the rifle quite a bit and had no feeding or other mechanical problems. There were no misfires. Recoil isn’t bad either. Also I have gained a lot of respect for it.
Bob Shell

Clip being loaded in a 7.35 Carcano

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The French Gras Rifle

Full length rifle

French Gras Rifle

The French adopted it in 1874 as their first modern type military cartridge using a metallic cartridge. The 1870-71 Franco Prussian war taught the French the shortcomings of the Chassepot paper cartridges so they modified the Chassepot needle gun to shoot the 11 X 59 cartridge calling it the Model 1874 Gras. The Chassepot was considered superior to the Dreyse Needle Gun used by the Germans but still could be improved by the use of a metallic cartridge as opposed to the linen cartridge used by the Chassepot. In 1867 and 1868 the Chassepot performed well in campaigns in Northern Italy, which was noted by Prussian observers, which without a doubt encouraged work on the early Mausers. The Chassepot employed a special India rubber seal to obdurate or seal the bore. While it worked for a few shots continued firing caused it to wear thus losing its breech sealing capabilities. A General Basil Gras (1836-1901) who was a Polytechnician and shooting instructor of the French army developed the rifle after tests, which began in 1872 with the Beaumont, which also performed well. France being aware of the German experiments with the Mauser wanted a modern rifle of their own. He later became Secretary of War for France.

300 to 385 grain bullets for the Gras

The Greeks adopted the cartridge with the Myloanas system but in 1877 went with the Gras rifle and cartridge as they felt that it was a superior rifle. They used it in various conflicts up to WWll. Greece purchased about 57,000 rifles and 6,000 carbines and they were used in some minor conflicts in the Balkan states until replaced by more modern weaponry.

Bolt handle is only lockup on the Gras

Due to demand for a repeater in 1878 Alfred Kropatschek modified the Gras to hold 9 cartridges including one in the chamber. The system had a tubular system similar to the Henry and a pivoting cartridge carrier under an opening at the bottom at the receiver. They were loaded by pushing a cartridge through the open action. It probably suffered the same shortcomings of other tubular magazines of that period. When the magazine was full the heavy cartridges threw off the balance of the gun making it difficult to shoot offhand. However the battle of Plevna in 1878 had the smaller Turkish forces repulse the Russians while using model 73 Winchester carbines. The Russians were armed with a Berdan bolt action single shot with a 10.67 mm cartridge, which was fairly typical for the period. The fact that a repeating rifle was a major factor in the Turkish victory was not lost on other countries. Pretty soon most countries were converting their single shots to magazine repeaters with some sort of system.

11 mm Mauser top,11 mm Gras and 11 mm Reformado shown for comparison

The 11 mm was in service a long time and in fact it was issued to reserve troops as late as 1939 according to some reports. There were over 1 million made in such factories as Chatelerault, Saint Etienne and Tulle and were produced from 1874 through 1887. There were various models produced including the Fusil d’ Infanterie Mle 1874 and the Carabine de Cavallerie Mle 1874 which was for the Calvary and had a 27.65 “ barrel as opposed to the longer version meant for the infantry. The longer version had sights graduated to 1800 meters (1970 yards) while the Calvary version has sights set at 1100 meters or 1205 yards. Of course like most military arms the sights are optimistic. There were other variations some with different barrel as short as 20” lengths and different bayonets. Some models also had bent bolt handles. Total production of all the variations isn’t precisely known although it’s considerable. They however all shot the same 11 X 59 cartridge. The French Navy also liked and used the Grass for some years. The Gras was popular in the French Colonies and Balkans for quite a few years. The design seemed to influence some other contemporary rifles of the period. Among those influenced by the French design was the Japanese Murata. It was also called the 11 mm Vickers and was used in Hotchkiss anti balloon gun. Later on the Vickers machine gun was modified to shoot this cartridge. Some of the Vickers rounds were made with full metal jackets and heavier bullets to shoot down observation balloons and airplanes. Blanks and armor piercing ammo was also produced in this caliber. The incendiary and tracer rounds gave good results on balloons and dirigibles often better then the more modern full metal jacketed bullets. Ammo for it was made for many years for various countries that used it including the Western Cartridge Co around 1917. According to one reference Yemen ordered ammo from Gevelot as late as 1955. There was a short version of the rifle and cartridge knows as the 11.51R for cadet training. Some Remington rolling blocks were also chambered for this round as well as a few other single shot rifles. It was officially replaced in 1886 by the revolutionary Lebel rifle and 8 mm cartridge which is based on the older 11 mm round. The Lebel rifle is a beefed up version of the Gras since it uses smokeless powder at higher pressures. It employs dual opposed locking lugs however it retained the undesirable tubular magazine. However like many obsolete black powder guns the Gras hung around for a while after the 8mm was introduced.

Cut down dies used for reloading various 11mm's

Of course ammo is not available however cases can be made from 348 Winchester brass though it takes some work. Buffalo Arms www.buffaloarms.com makes perfectly good brass for this round though it’s not cheap. To my knowledge no one presently makes ammo or headstamped brass for it. I purchased 100 pieces of finished brass so I was in business. The bullet diameter is .446, which is the same as the 11 mm Mauser rifle which makes obtaining bullets easier. I loaded up some with 75 X Clean Shot and a 370 grain lead bullet. The load appeared to be stout and at 50 yards it shot a bit high with the rear sight down all the way. Using the 6 o clock hold resulted in consistent hits on the bottle. Accuracy at 50 yards can be expected to be around 2” to 3” with the top loads. Careful shooting and good eyes could produce those groups at 100 yards with a good load and rifle. There was no case swelling or any other problems with the rifle or ammo. My shooting buddy always says that one of these days I am going to blow up one of those old rifles that I shoot. However I learned a long time ago if the rifle is sound and you feed it the correct ammo nothing bad will happen to the gun or shooter. Needless to say shooting glasses should always be worn when shooting these relics. A prudent shooter should also employ ear protection though these type of weapons make a boom rather then a crack as a modern small bore weapon would produce. Some uninformed shooters feel that most military surplus guns are junk and should be avoided. That is of course nonsense, as the military of these countries aren’t going to arm their troops with unsafe weapons. Most countries want to win the war they are engaged in so they don’t generally give their front line troops inferior or unsafe weapons. The home guard or second line troops may have obsolete or hand me downs but even they work ok in most instances. It’s true that at the end of WWll the Japs and Germans made some junkers but they are easy to spot and shooting them should be avoided. If in doubt have a gunsmith check it out which is never a bad idea with any older gun. I have shot many of them some made in the 1870’s with no consequences of any kind nor do I expect any as long as I follow safety procedures. The case is large and has a larger body diameter then the 11 mm Mauser. Loading dies cost around $200.00 or so which I found excessive so I ground down an extra set of 11 mm Mauser dies to size the neck and seat the bullet. It took some work and imagination but the end result was worth it. I have fired and sized some of the cases several times and had no problem with chambering. I have made up a few loads that should be safe in any solid rifle. By the way the 8mm Lebel case is derived from the 11mm however it’s quite a bit shorter and necked down. I suppose in an emergency you could neck up and load the 8mm however it wouldn’t be particularly satisfactory. The 8mm however makes good blanks for the older weapon, as the case is much more common then the older 11mm. If a group uses the Gras in reenactments they would be well served by using the 8mm case as it is being made by Graff and sons www.graff.com and is usually available. As always approach these loads with caution as these guns are well over 100 years old. Since I have no control as to how this data is use I can assume no responsibility for any consequences that may result in its use.

Cleanshot gives good results in the Gras

15 X Trail Boss 140 grain round ball 1193 light load
43 X 4197 340 grain cast 1665 good load
75 X FFG Clean Shot 370 grain lead 1543 consistent
89 X FFG black powder 370 grain lead 1465 accurate
33 X 5744 370 grain lead 1446 ok
40 X 4197 370 grain lead 1844 max
38 X 4197 385 grain lead 1419 ok
73 X FFG Clean Shot 385 grain lead 1534 potent
86 X FFG black powder 385 grain lead. 1405 good load

348 cases can be made into 11 mm Gras

As you can see some of these loads are stout for such an old rifle. As any publisher or myself cannot control how this data is used we can’t be held responsible for any mishaps as a result of using this table. I can’t repeat it too often have these old guns checked out by someone who is qualified to do so before shooting it. If you wanted to carry such a heavy weapon around it could be used for hunting almost anything at moderate ranges. I suppose that I might take it into a blind to shoot wild boar but I wouldn’t want to carry it any serious distance. Heavy large caliber bullets always give good killing power given proper shot placement. All the military 10 and 11 mm rifles give similar killing power to the larger American rifles of the same period. For the most part you won’t get much expansion but with such big bullets you won’t need it. Even if they were available I wouldn’t use any jacketed bullets in such an old gun. The metals are not as hard as newer guns so they would probably accelerate wear and contribute nothing to the guns overall performance. That’s true with any of the older black powder guns made before the smokeless era. If you don’t cast your own good bullets can be bought from several sources including Buffalo Arms and Huntington Die www.hungtingtondie.com. They are both inexpensive and of good quality. Since we are dealing with a black powder weapon here approach these loads cautiously. My gun is in excellent shape with a virtually perfect bore so I feel confident with these loads. The sights are adjustable though not particularly easy to use for target shooting. I don’t imagine that they did a lot of precision shooting in those days with the standard military guns. I have found on many occasions that you can put more black powder in a case then Clean Shot. However the coarser Clean Shot gives more velocity per grain then either black powder or Pyrodex which I found to be true in other weapons also.

Good powders for loading old rifles

The rifle’s trigger is light for a military weapon but is consistent. The case extracts but doesn’t eject from the rifle. The bolt has a single extractor located at the top which gave me perfect service. It doesn’t have an ejector but that’s no problem except in the heat of battle since the cases are tipped from the bolt by the head of the screw that also is used to remove the bolt. I don’t expect to confront any enemies in the near future that I would have to deal with so the lack of an ejector isn’t a problem. The gun also doesn’t have a safety again not a problem if safe gun handling is employed which should be done at all times regardless. The prototypes did have a safety similar to the Chassepot but it wasn’t deemed satisfactory hence wasn’t used. In fact many of the Chassepots were rechambered or rebarreled to accept the 11 mm Gras cartridge. The single locking lug is the massive bolt handle, which is plenty adequate for the cartridges of the day. It locks up against the receiver bridge giving the bolt a tight fit. I would not employ loads that use heavy loads of smokeless powder, as the gun is 130 years old. There is a channel at the bottom of the receiver that is supposed to vent gas in case of a case splitting. With the quality of brass during that period that was an important consideration especially with ammo made before 1879. There is an M80 marking on the left side of the receiver indicating the modification. There are two vent holes at the front of the bolt to let the gas escape in the event of a rupture. It appears that the excess gas would go straight up rather then toward the shooters face. To remove the bolt there is a screw on the side of the receiver that needs to be removed. Then pull bolt back while depressing the trigger. There is a large screw slot on the back of the bolt. Turning it slightly to the left will enable you to take the front of the bolt off for cleaning. The bolt appears to be well made and finished for its period giving the impression of good quality workmanship through out. If I was a soldier during the 1870’s and understood arms design I would feel confident in taking this weapon in to combat. An important morale booster for the soldier is to have a weapon that he trusts and isn’t afraid to shoot it. In my opinion the Grass would be such a weapon. I did quite a bit of research about the Grass and I never saw any comments stating that it was weak or unreliable. Probably the only real problem with it was case rupturing which was more a function of poor quality ammo rather then the rifle. The fact that they cut a gas escape channel in the receiver shows that they understood the problem and fixed it.

Another view of the Gras

If you shoot black powder or Pyrodex loads I recommend that you thoroughly take it apart and clean it to avoid pitting the old gun on the inside. One thing that I do is if I have black powder and smokeless loads I always fire the black powder first. That way the smokeless will help clean out some of the black powder residue. However that is not a substitute for proper cleaning. My sample is in good shape for its age with almost perfect rifling with a date of 1876. The receiver shows Manufacture D Arms Chatelleraut Mle 1874. The one-piece stock is solid but has the expected dings common with storage over a period of time. The barrel and metal look as would be expected for a gun of this age with some external pitting. There are numbers on various parts of the gun as well as the stock. The stock also has a small cartouche with what appears to me the letter M in a circle that is light in color with a larger circle outside of it. My gun is 51” long with a 32” barrel. It weighs in at 9 lbs about average for that type of gun. The long barrel would contribute to some of the high velocities recorded. The 20” version would produce about 150 to 200 feet per second less velocity depending on the load. I have read that you can shoot an 11 mm Mauser round in it, which is probably true. However the Mauser round is slightly smaller in diameter, which may cause a rupture. I cannot recommend shooting the wrong round in any rifle especially if the body diameter is smaller.
Bob Shell

Stock showing cartouche

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The 351 Winchester Self Loader

Winchester model 07 in 351 WSL

The Winchester 351 Self Loading Rifle

The model 07 was a progression from the 05 with was chambered for the 32 and 35 Winchester self loading cartridges. To be honest they were two of the most useless cartridges ever developed. They weren’t accurate enough for serious target or varmint work. Also they didn’t have enough power for deer or any other big game. Economy wasn’t their strong suit either. The 07 chambered a longer version of the 35 which is known as the 351. It came out in 1907 only two years after the 35 WSL came out. Perhaps Winchester realized that the 35 was such a poor cartridge that they hastily came out with the more powerful 351. The 351 is .24” longer then the 35 but there were no other changes. The 35 was dropped in 1920 while the 351 managed to hang on until 1957. While not real accurate or economical it would serve as a deer cartridge in the woods. The rifle is short and handy though heavy making it fairly easy to carry. Like many guns of the period it has that solid feel that could inspire confidence in it. The reason for it’s heavy weight is it is a blowback action which requires more weight and a strong spring to operate correctly.

Cast bullets work fine in a 351

Confidence in a firearm can go a long way in its success. Prison guards and some police agencies also used it and it was generally liked due to its light recoil and acceptable accuracy. France and Russia used it to a small extent during WWl and WWll. It was and is generally reliable which didn’t hurt matters any either. Winchester made that rifle until 1957 and ammo was made to some extent until the 1960’s. Because of its handy size it was used to shoot pests such as coyotes out of airplanes. It could be handy in the woods to shoot mountain lions and other critters. No other firearm was ever made for this cartridge as far as I know. While factory ammo is available occasionally it is generally a handloading proposition if you want to shoot it.

200 grain not available anywhere else

The components are available although somewhat hard to find. Recently Jamison started to make cases for it although they aren’t readily available. Cases can be made from 357 maxi brass which is still available from various sources. The rim has to be cut and an extractor groove has to be installed. For most of us Buffalo Arms www.buffaloarms.com makes the brass at a reasonable price I have shot quite a few of these cases made this way and never had a problem with them. Bullets are an odd size of .351 which is shared by the 35 self loading and nothing else as far as I know. Like the brass they are available from Buffalo Arms and Huntington Die. If you shoot it a lot you can buy a swaging die to reduce the diameter of 357 bullets. C4 sells the die www.4d.com sells it as well as various reloading dies. Another good source for brass and dies is www.huntingtons.com as they sell some odd ball loading components. The standard weight is 180 grains but if you swage your own any weight from 110 up to 200 grains can be employed. Cast bullets can be used for target practice. As long as you have an adequate powder charge to work the action you are in business. Do not use 357 diameter bullets as it could cause difficult chambering and excess pressures.

dies used to swage 351 bullets

Shooting the 351 is a bit different then a more modern auto loader. To cock it and put a round in the chamber there is a rod under the barrel that has to be pushed all the way back to load and cock it. It takes a bit of effort to accomplish the task. The trigger is quite heavy and I don’t know if it can be fixed. I also noticed that sometimes the trigger is harder to pull then others. Recoil is light though it has a different feel then a modern rifle. The rifle is short and handy but not particularly light. With good ammo, functioning is very reliable. Magazines come in the 5 and 10 shot verity though the 10 shot are scarce according to my info. Since I have no control how loading data is used I bear no responsibility for its use.

357 Maxi cases are used to make 351's

10 X Herco 115 grain hp 1704 ok
10 X Herco 115 grain fnj 1711 ok
14 X Herco 115 grain hp 1834 better
14 X Herco 115 grain fmj 1879 good load
6 X Unique 160 grain cast 1264 ok
18 X 2400 160 grain cast gc 2073 consistent
20 X 2400 160 grain jacketed 1872 good load
18 X 2400 180 grain Sierra 1604 mild
Winchester factory 180 grain 1648 consistent
18 X 2400 180 grain Hornady hp
18 X 2400 180 grain round nose 1802 consistent
18 X H-110 200 grain round nose 1672 good load

Bullets from 158 to 200 grains used in 351

Like other odd ball guns it is fun to shoot if not entirely practical. To be honest most obsolete arms are not “practical” to shoot but they are fun and that is what most shooting is all about. They can be used for various hunting and shooting projects. Deer and small game will succumb to the 351 given proper ammo and shot placement. I suppose the 200 grain bullet will take a black bear or boar but it could be marginal. They have been taken with less however with good shot placement. If you have one by all means go out and shoot it. You won’t be sorry.
Bob Shell

351 reciever