Sunday, August 22, 2010

Military Rifles and the LATE Great Game

To continue the series on guns I have & like, humble & noble...

I don't have a military Mauser because I already have a first rate example built as sporting one.

I don't have a Springfield because with a gun of similar action and caliber (Mauser) it seems a bit redundant.

I don't have a Mosin Nagant and given my Russophilia "might should". I tell people I am holding out for a rare lever action model 95 Winchester made in Mosin's caliber for the Czarist army (it would probably have to be a gift!-- money isn't getting better!)

I DO have two very different very utilitarian military rifles with a long history in Asia. Lots of cheap ammo is still available for both, from corrosive primer Pakistani army ANCIENT .303 British (clean with lots of Windex) to that steel case Russian 7.62 X 39 James McMurtry sings about-- Russian bubba ammo. (Though remember its role in Vaillant's Tiger).

The English bolt rifle is a late SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield)in .303, Great Britain's Empire gun for most of the 20th century, for years the most popular caliber in Canada, and a modest caliber that has taken every big game animal in Africa. It is still used by park rangers in Nepal and India. An old guide friend in BC once dropped a moose dead in its tracks at 400 yards using the elevated military sights-- I prefer its excellent "ghost ring" peep, still good for my old eyes at 100 yards or so.

It is my favorite military action. Before they switched to (mostly-- I have seen pix of some uncanny sporting Rigby Mauser clones) AK47 variants, the infamous weapons shops of Peshawar built many Enfields, complete with English proof marks. I wonder whether the gun toted by the Afghan hunter in this Kenworthy sculpture, photo'd by Sir Terence Clark, is one of those? It is certainly an SMLE.

Here are the two guns, the English bolt (older ones were used in WW I) and the late WWII Russian (actually this one is Yugoslav) semiauto that fires a similar bullet from a MUCH smaller case, and is because of its cheapness and ruggedness and the availability of ammo the choice of poor hunters from the Ozarks to Kamchatka. (Its bayonet is useful but generally as a "stand"-- you extend it and stick it into the ground so your rifle remains high and dry and vertical). I like having one around for it Asian history, its utter utility, its cheap ammo, and because it pisses off some who love Gentleman's Guns like my Grant, for I am a socially equivocal creature who rather likes both-- lifestyles as well as guns...

The SKS is more accurate than the popular "pray & spray" AK47 of the same caliber, but I would admit (Arthur?) the long barrel and the good peep make me shoot the Enfield better.

(I should add that they are on a Kazakh wall hanging that might have seen either in a previous life).

While I am on the unlikely intersection of guns in Asia and Asian textiles I must show off a gorgeous Uzbek embroidered gunslip made specifically for the short version of the SMLE, the "Jungle Carbine", obtained for me by old friend, falconer, and textile scholar Eric Wilcox. Nothing else fits its length and bolt hole. I'll never get rid of it-- anybody have a Jungle carbine that needs a home?


Anonymous said...

As I read this post, I recalled that something in it was vaguely familiar. Then I noticed the latest Cabelas circular sitting next to the computer. In it they advertise surplus Mosin Nagant's in 7.62x 54R for $99.00. Any comment?

Matthew in Missouri

mmaka at charter dot net

Steve Bodio said...

Surplus Mosins, the old Russian bolt action, are rugged and a good buy but can be very rough-- and up to 100 or more years old (though so can Enfields; mine is a late '40's). The cartridge case is bigger than that of the SKS- AK, though bullet diameter is theoretically the same-- Mosin is more like .308 or even some .30-06 loads in power. But remember, the Russian game rangers use the weaker SKS!

Jess said...

What is the guy in front of the freaky teepee holding? Snowshoes? Furry stubby skis?

Steve Bodio said...

Your city roots may be showing, Jess, yard cars or no:) The country hunter, a Yukhagir, is holding two dried, "case- skinned" pelts, where everything is removed from a rear incision and the remaining "tube" is dried over a stretcher. It is the most common way to preserve the smaller carnivore pelts in the USA too- Floyd gave us a coyote pelt that style that was (after tanning) buried with Betsy Huntington.

Jess said...

Oh, yeah, I was raised in the city, Southern California. My mother is appalled at our 'lifestyle', even though her people were tennant farmers. (My dad's side is city folk. My Grandmother wouldn't even allow butter tubs or cereal boxes on the dining room table, people might see it through the window.) I don't recall anyone in my family ever hunting anything small, or carnivorous, it was always big (deer) or birds. I *have* seen rabbit skins done that way, but it was on a little frame and just didn't look like that.

Neutrino Cannon said...

I had a great big long comment, but blogger devoured it. Summary version:

-In my experience, Western-style peep sights are much more accurate than Russian-style notch sights for people with weak eyes. Those with stronger vision will notice less of a difference.

-Popular opinion is that the SKS is more accurate than the AK, although I'm not exactly sure why this should be. The rotating bolt system used in the AK is generally regarded as more mechanically repeatable than the tilting bolt locking used in the SKS, since it distributes stresses over less of the receiver and in a more symmetrical manner. Perhaps the SKSs are just made better. SKS have a machined steel receiver and probably would have required a higher percentage of skilled labor on the assembly line than the AK (M models anyhow), which uses a stamped sheet metal receiver to facilitate mass production.

There is an unusual Romanian AK variant called a PSL chambered in 7.62x54R just like a Mosin and used as a sort of makeshift sniper's rifle. I'm not exactly sure what they did to the design to get it up to the required accuracy standards, but I do know they have a thicker receiver. Oddly, when faced with the same design requirements, the Soviets came up with an entirely new design; the SVD. Yeah, it looks similar to the PSL, but they're different rifles and don't interchange any parts but the ammo.

-Springfield 03's are Mausers, at least according to the body that arbitrated that the US had to pay violation of patent fines to Mauser Waffenfabrik. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the driving forces behind the search for a rifle to replace the Krag-Jorgensen, and he had spent some time being shot at in Cuba with Mausers, so no doubt he felt that the troops were getting a fine bit of kit, patent violation or no.

-Bullet diameter of Russian cartridges is interesting. The designations, 7.62x39 (for SKS and AK) and 7.62x54R (for Mosins, Dragunovs and SVTs) would make you think that they use the same diameter as the Western 7.62x51mm NATO, they're not. They're actually .311 diameter bullets like the British .303, not .308 diameter bullets like the NATO cartridges. At least nominally; Russian bore tolerances are so wide that the issue is largely academic.

-I understand the SMLE far less than I do the Mauser, but it seems like a more pragmatic, battle-ready design. The Mauser is overbuilt and has a smaller magazine. The SMLE has twice as many rounds on hand and a somewhat faster bolt throw. This is also exactly what makes the Mauser a better sporting arm; being overbuilt allows gunsmiths to do all sorts of things to it that would make other designs explode.

-In the early days of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Mujahadeen fought with a lot of SMLEs. They didn't get a lot of AKs until the CIA started supplying them from a variety of sources, including corrupt Russian quartermasters! There's a local gun store where, hanging proudly on the wall is a genuine fake #5 jungle carbine lovingly banged together out of scrap steel by one of the local gunsmiths in the Kyber Pass. I'd love to have it some day. Wouldn't shoot it though.

-One day I'd love to have a Columbian Madsen Rifle; the last ever issue bolt action rifle, and one of the best looking.

Steve Bodio said...

Neutrino-- thanks as always for your seemingly bottomless knowledge of obscure militaria!

I think SKS's-- the sights are bad for me too now-- are more accurate for exactly the reason that they are built on stiff strong castings.

Out of the box or barely modified SMLE's make better sporting rifles than Mausers, at least according to Canadian and "Rhodesian" backwooodsmen I have known. When you go more custom than that, Mausers rule of course.

But if I were to get an even MORE severe attack of poverty I'd sell my fancy Mauser before my cheap military rifles and .30- 30, for cheapness of ammo and because I could get a lot for the first. Only my Grant hammergun is sacrosanct among the "quality" stuff!

But I would make sure all had peeps first-- I don't generally shoot over 200, rarely over 100 yards anyway. Speaking of which-- I know how I'd outfit the Winchester, and the Enfield comes with a good peep. But what do you think of the aftermarket Tech Sights SKS apertures? They sem well- recommended.

danontherock said...

Great stuff. I have been seriously considering buying an Sks for some of the reasons you mention. I live in Newfoundland, so I already have a LEE Enfield with which I shot my first moose and caribou years ago. I don't exactly know why I want an SKS but I do


Anonymous said...

Your comments about the 303 Lee Enfield brought memories flooding back!
I was in the School Army Corps ( hated the fact that "boys " a year older had ultimate power over one for Thursday afternoons), and wangled my way into the artillery section , where we amused ourselves manhandling, servicing and firing blanks on the local common to the annoyance of the "Locals".We had an ancient WW2 25 pounder!.
Highlight of the year was "open range day" when we all went to the military ranges at Rainham Marshes. ( Now a Nature Reserve, on the banks of the Thames )
We shot Enfield 303 rifles, up to 600 yda at 4ft square targets, using aperture ( peep ?) sights to which Steve refers - simple , rugged, cheap, and accurate, as I recall.
Incidentally , there were stories that when the British Army changed to the 762 SLR, and used it in Aden, they could not effectively fire back at insurgents , due to lack of range. The enemy were firing at the UK troops using old WW2 Enfield 303 rifles !!
If you managed a Marksman badge
( I did !), then the remaining bullets were shared out among the lucky few, and we had a magazine of Bren each ( wonderful , accurate automatic weapon, and light to carry.
If you were really lucky,you tried a 38 revolver ,or the favorite sten(same ammo as the revolver , I think). This was a " spray and get out" weapon, for clearing rooms, or trenches,hand to hand, and was pretty inaccurate , but great fun to shoot .
Steve's loan of a try with his Colt 45 in Magdalena, some years ago now, was my only shot with a rifled weapon since !


Steve Bodio said...

Dan-- because they are rugged, practical, used in climates not unlike Newfoundland's, and historically interesting?

Johnny-- come shoot any time!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Steve - hope to take you up on your offer some time soon?


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Jungle carbine - gotta love the Jungle Carbine and it's cheap ammo
Nice gunslip too

Neutrino Cannon said...

Back from shooting a three gun match, in which I used my iron sighted VZ-58 (Czech rifle, looks like an AK, totally different on the inside) and cursed my nearsightedness. It's not fair stringing the targets out at 200 meters where I can't see the bastards...

I haven't used Tech sights in an SKS, but my friends all have good things to say about 'em. As an alternative though, you might want to look into Mojo sights:

Which use the original sight position (good and bad) and are cheaper.