Thursday, September 9, 2010

Straight Pull Rifles Part 1

Mannlicher Steyr model 95 rifle in 8 X 50

Straight Pull Rifles Part 1

One of the older ones was the 8 X 50 rimmed. Originally brought out as a black powder round in 1886 for the Model 88 straight pull and later the improved model 95. For some reason they lengthened the case to 52 mm and used a semi-smokeless powder until they could obtain reliable smokeless powder. It was soon changed over to a smokeless offering in 1890 and the case was again shortened to 50 mm. It was used by Greece, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary. The model 88 was not a real strong action using a hinged block on the underside as opposed to the front locking lugs of the stronger model 95. The round was also chambered in a few sporting rifles in Europe for some years. The military used this cartridge until 1930-31 when it was replaced by the newer 8 X 56. Ammo is not available on a commercial basis in the U.S though it may still be made overseas. Loads should be kept at 40,000 or so psi as in the Krag rifle. Standard 8 mm bullets of .323 diameter may be used in all available weights. My rifle doesn’t have any clips so I shoot it single shot. I have some clips for the 8 X 56 but they don’t work in the older model although they are close. Since I don’t anticipate going to war with this rifle that’s not a problem using it as a single shot. The straight pull was developed to enable a soldier to fire more rapidly. The theory was since you pull the bolt straight back rather then lifting it first that would enable you to fire more rapidly. When you pull the bolt back the locking lugs rotate rather then the complete bolt assembly. The only problem is you need forearms the size of Popeye’s in order to manipulate it faster. A little spinach wouldn’t hurt either.

Closeup of 8 X 50 action

The 8 X 50 I have is rough looking on the outside probably due to some poor storage. There is some pitting on the barrel and action however the rifling is fairly decent. Cases can be made from 45-70 cases and the rim is cut down to the proper size. I took it out in the desert to shoot for function and chamber problems. Feeding and extraction was flawless and the cases were thrown a few feet to the front and right of the shooting point. It does take some effort to pull back the bolt which is typical. The trigger is a typical two stage military pull and is decent for its type of rifle. The safety is located opposite of the bolt handle locks the bolt closed as well as preventing the gun from firing. To remove the push the trigger forward and pull the bolt back until removed. Putting the bolt back is tricky however because the lugs rotate when the bolt is removed. You have to pull the front of the bolt forward until the lugs line up with the extractor. I use the side of a table to pull the front of the bolt up by hooking one of the lugs at the edge of the table and pull the head forward. That requires some effort and once they are lined up slide the bolt back in by using the rails. The 8 X 56 requires the same procedure. It seems reliable and easy to use once assembled and cleaned. Once that was done I made up a few loads for it. I had a customer ask for some 8 X 50 blanks hmmmm. I did some checking and found out the 7.62 X 54 blanks work perfectly. I fired some with no problems what so ever. So the light went on in my head and I figured that if I could take some regular 7.62 X 54 cases I could make some 8 X 50 ammo. Like the Russian the 8 X 50 has a beveled rim so feeding was fine. I shortened the cases then sized as normal in the die and they chambered fine. The case length I used is 1.975”. Shooting the Russian cases showed no problems what so ever. The 45-70 required a little more effort in seating the bullets but neither case presented a problem in that regard. By the way my rifle is the model 95 verses the older model 88. This rifle has a 20” barrel which makes it light and handy. These loads can be used for deer sized game at woods ranges without a problem given good bullet placement. Standard 8 mm .323 diameter bullets are fine.
10 X Trail Boss 125 grain Hornady 1259 consistent
36 X Data 4197 125 grain Hornady 2165 mild
45 X IMR 4895 150 grain Hornady 2334 good load
47 X IMR 4895 150 grain Hornady 2319 hmmmmm
10 X Unique 170 grain cast 1127 inconsistent
10 X Trail Boss 170 grain cast 974 consistent
12 X Unique 170 grain cast 1240 inconsistent
12 X Trail Boss 170 grain cast 1269 inconsistent
43 X IMR 4895 170 grain Hornady 2133 mild
45 X IMR 4895 170 grain Hornady 2231 ok
43 X IMR 4895 175 grain Sierra 2186 ok
42 X IMR 4895 185 grain Remington 2119 consistent
44 X IMR 4895 185 grain Remington 2188 accurate
10 X Unique 200 grain cast 1173 accurate
41 X IMR 4895 200 grain Speer 2050 slow
43 X IMR 4895 200 grain Speer 2149 ok
21 X AA 5744 210 grain cast 1387 small game
50 X AA 4350 220 grain Hornady 1999 consistent

Some of the 8 X 50 loads seem pedestrian by some standards but due the age and condition of the weapon I didn’t see any point in trying to increase the velocity. I probably could have obtained another 1 to 200 feet per second but for the life of me I just didn’t see the gain. The sights are crude and the rifling is only fair so long distance shooting is not an option at least with this particular specimen. Never say never but I don’t see me taking it on a hunting trip and if I do these loads will suffice for the ranges I would be using it. I would just tweak the one that I would take. I have several other 8mm rifles including the 8mm Remington magnum if I have a hankering for more velocity. I also have an 8mm Carcano and I will not use anything resembling heavy loads in it either. With some of these old guns it just isn’t worth the risk of destroying it to obtain a little more velocity. Both of the 8mm rifles like the cast bullet loads which I generally find true in the older rifles. As a note the 47 grains of 4895 behind the 150 grain did produce less velocity so that’s not a misprint. I have ran across that phenomenon on a few occasions. I am not sure why it happens but I believe the particular rifle doesn’t like that load and so I backed off.

8 X 50 round with military bullet

There is nothing quite like shooting a piece of history. It’s an interesting challenge to make ammo that works in those antiques and you might be surprised on how well they can shoot.

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