Friday, May 24, 2013

Gun Quiz Solution

It was (obviously?) an 1895 Winchester, most famed as Teddy Roosevelt's lion gun in Africa, using its odd heavy load, the .405 Winchester. It was a relatively strong action, and because it had a box magazine* rather than the typical tubular ones on most leverguns, it could shoot modern spitzer type loads like the .30- 06.

But what this specimen looks like is the front of an old bolt action military rifle grafted on to a "cowboy" rear. Because that is exactly what it is. It is '95, but one made for the Czar's army before the Russian revolution, in the old Mosin Nagant caliber, 7.62 x 54 Russian.

The interesting thing to me is that they made 300,000 or so in this caliber, 70 % of all production, more than they did of .405 Winchester, .30-06, .30-40 Krag, and .303 British COMBINED. They sent almost all of them to Russia-- and they flat- out disappeared. Those that don't know Russia say, well, the Soviets had strict gun control. But though that is to an extent true, I have seen SKS's, Mosins, AK's "Baikal" shotguns, and even CZ Mauser sporters everywhere in Central  Asia and never a hint of a 95 Winchester. I think there must still be a stack of crates in a cave in the Urals...

(More negative evidence for what it is worth: the Chinese have even harsher gun control, up to the death penalty, AND the demented sixties youth movement known as the Red Guard once tried to destroy all 45's because they were a "bourgeois caliber". But I have seen more Chinese Broomhandles in .45 ACP for sale, albeit for absurdly high prices-- $5000!-- than I have Russian Winchesters).

The owner of this one has a theory. He writes in part: " [My girlfriend's grandfather]... in Finland passed away a few months ago. He acquired the firearm during the 1950s or 1960s as his first moose-rifle... you may be wondering how a Finn acquired the 1895. Well, 70% of the rifles were produced for Imperial Russia before the model was discontinued in 1936. The rejected rifles were resold on American commercial market. The 1895 can use the same stripper clip as the 1891 Mosin Nagants. However most of them ended up in Finland and Baltic states before the October Revolution of 1917. Some of them were reissued by the Soviets for the Spanish Civil War. This particular rifle produced in 1907 survived World War I, Finnish Civil War, Winter War, Continuum War and Lapland War. "

He adds: "...  after the Civil War, many of '95 were converted to 8.2x53mmR or 9.3x35mmR during the interwar period for moose-hunting because of the hunting laws they had during that time period which only allowed 8mm or larger calibre. Those which survived to serve in the Winter War without being modified into hunting rifles were either converted to 7.62x53mm or left intact... My Finnish contact said one can still find a lot of people still hunting with them in Lithuania or Latvia... "

Correction: Dave, the owner, writes: "The 9mm round is: 9.3x53mmR, not 9.3x35mmR."

Which I believe.  But surely not all 300,000! See comments for more thoughts.

UPDATE: Bruce Douglas (he appears a few posts below with two flavors of Broomhandle Mausers) reminds us that the rifle makes an appearance in the last great work of Akira Kurosawa, Dersu Uzala, carried by  Captain Arseniev. Arseniev's Dersu the Hunter is also in my new book of one hundred books.

*Elmer Keith disliked the protruding magazine and said it looked like the belly of a poisoned pup.


Nathaniel Fitch said...

Given the number made, and given the regularity at which other types of weapons are unearthed in Central Eurasia in caches, I have heard it suggested more than once that nearly all the Russian 1895s are hidden somewhere, waiting to be imported! Imagine $100 1895s in 2015! I know I'd snap one up!

The 1895 is an interesting example of both the desperation of the tsar , and the curiosity of the lever action during the period. Today levers are regularly on scholarly gun blogs considered the forebears of assault rifles - and therefore very modern - but at the time they were considered of limited use, mainly for cavalry, because of their action that worked against the prone shooter.

Dave said...

About 9 000 '95s ended up in the Spanish Civil War. Most of the Russian Wincheters you see on the American market will have "MP8" marked on the stock which suggests the rifle was used by Republican Spain.

I have to wonder how common the Wincheter was during the Finnish Civil War because there are no shortages of photographs of them being used by boy-soldiers in the archives. I know a few historians believe most of them were issued to Finnish Guards and the Latvian Riflemen, but no one actually put a number on it.

The problem with the Wincheters is they went through several conflicts. We know that with each conflict, the greater the likelihood a rifle will be lost forever-- even if it was never used.