Two “Moderate” Rifles

This post is partially a continuation off the “Two Revolvers” post— which brought the kind of response I hope this will– and partly in response to this wonderful post by Joshua Stark on the .30-30. (Josh actually has THREE blogs you should read– the others are here and here).

I’ll let Josh speak for the .30- 30. He begins: “…if you want a good, solid deer gun that will regularly hit what you aim at without inflicting about the same amount of damage in both directions, and if you want a gun that is fun to carry in the field and not fussy, then just reach under your bed or into your closet and grab your 30-30, and hunt…” and goes on to make his case.

He is right– moderation wins out in the end. I am now down to two “sporters” (and some militaria, a future subject perhaps) which will do anything I’d ever need to do. One is a classic Winchester in .30- 30 from just after WWII, not my first but the best “shooter” Ron Peterson could find me when I was selling and consolidating. The other, also from Ron, seems very different at first: an aristocratic bolt- action made-as sporting Mauser (click on photo to enlarge) from between the wars, in 7 X 57 mm caliber, the same action used by Rigby since the turn of the last century to make its legendary “.275 Rigby” (same caliber!) It is a “little gun”, but in the bad old days Walter Dalrymple Maitland “Karamojo” Bell shot over a thousand elephants with one for the ivory trade, and his almost- opposite number, the nearly Tolstoyan conservationist and reluctant killer of man eating tigers, Jim Corbett, used it as his weapon of choice in India.

Mine will likely take nothing more than deer, or (it has a removable Leupold scope on claw mounts, which re- zeroes itself, set for light 149 grain loads) antelope. For mulies in the nearby brush– I drew!– the iron sights and the old 175 g load they are set for are just fine.

My handicaps make elk unlikely, but not for the gun. Here is Jonathan Hanson’s last year’s elk and his Rigby, a virtual clone save for my gun’s Germanic styling. And despite the scope he used the old slow load too!


  1. 7x57mm got something of a reputation in the Spanish American war when Spanish mauser rifles reportedly completely outclassed the American Krags (and some old trapdoor Springfields for second-line units!). President Roosevelt notably saw to it that the Krag was replaced with what essentially amounted to a Mauser.

    I have what I'm pretty sure was the last mass-issue military 7x57mm rifle in the world, the Venezuelan SAFN 49:

    Despite being a Belgian design, the design and field stripping procedure of the SAFN 49 is conspicuously similar to that of the Chinese-made, Russian-designed SKS below it. I'm not really sure why this is, but I suspect that they're both based on the same prior design, perhaps French of Czech.

    Since the SAFN 49 was made just before NATO standardization, it can be found in a wide variety of calibers, including 7mm Mauser, 8mm Mauser, .30-06, 7.62×51 and there are supposed to be a very small number chambered in 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser. I covet one of the 6.5mm models badly, as the only other 6.5×55 autoloading design is a piece of junk that likes to bite your fingers off.

  2. NC– fascinating rifle- wouldn't mind owning one. Of course I may be one of the few fans of both fine doubles (post on my last 3 coming) and the SKS, so often dismissed as a "Commie rifle" or "Bubba junk" (it is in James McMurtry's incomparable redneck song Choctaw bingo, along with the cheap ammo that makes it the choice of poor hunters and rangers all over Asia).

    It is also potentially accurate unlike AKs with the same ammo. How is yours?

    Soon I'll review John Vaillant's
    forthcoming book The Tiger, about tigers, poachers, and wardens in Russia's Far East (book of the year!) The wardens use SKSs– partly poverty, but partly because they WORK and are big enough to do the job.

    Mosin Nagants? Most are too old and worn. A poacher confronts a wounded tiger with one and the firing pin doesn't fall. Uh oh…

  3. Very nice. I'm not much of a fan of the Winchester 94, having grown up on bolt guns, but saw a neat old Winchester 54 (bolt action) carbine in 30-30 not too long ago. A ranch-looking gentlemen was nervously hovering while I looked it over. I set it down, moved down the row a bit, and he had it in his hands and on the counter in no time. I suspect I helped a sale there for all that I was just looking without intent.

    The 7×57 with 175s and Tovar's 6.5 Swedish with 160s must be equivalent to the 30'06 with 180 Core-Lokts. Proven quantities as game rounds that are so very reliable, useful, and trusted in the various bailiwicks they're most often found as to preclude much comment.

    Except for WDM Bell's elephant record, of course. That has to be the greatest feat of the market hunting era and trumps Lord Ripon to boot- after all, a grouse falling on you completely lacks the gravity of the same event featuring an elephant.

  4. Steve,

    My SKS shoots better than I can, but my eyesight has deteriorated in recent years, so I haven't been able to wring much out of that notch-style rear sight. I do much better with aperture style rear sights. I'll say that for the ballistic limitations of the ammo, to say nothing of the tolerances to which Eastern 7.62x39mm (why the hell is that round called that? It's not the same bore diameter as a .30-06!) is made, my SKS is accurate enough.

    I also find that for starting someone on shooting semi-autos, the SKS is a good choice. The entire rifle is open to scrutiny; the action is open topped so you can see what's going on, and it's not covered in arcane switches and buttons the way an AR-15 is. The short stock length tends to agree with the small-statured, although it is somewhat front-heavy. The return spring is fairly light, especially compared to pistol-caliber cheap semiautos which many people find difficult to charge. Ergonomics are typical Russian crude contempt for the human hand, but one will have little trouble figuring them out.

    That said, my brother owns a Russian SKS, and the quality of construction is noticeably better than that of my Chinese-built example. Everything fits together a little better, so it's easier to take apart as well.

    And yes, the SKS is tough. I shot mine as soon as I'd bought it, somewhat in violation of my policy of going over new guns before shooting. It had cycled perfectly, but when I pulled it apart, I found that the piston was enormously rusty. The clearances around that part of the piston are so generous, however, that even if it had been much more badly corroded I doubt it would have caused anything to seize up. Most SKS have chrome-lined barrels (with the exception of some Yugoslavian models), so they're pretty resistant to the elements on the whole. Since it's a tilt-locker, there are no blind corners around the locking mechanism the way there are in an AK or an AR-15, and I think that makes cleaning the critical areas a little easier.

    I wouldn't say it's the best design ever, but it's imminently serviceable.

    R.A. Wilderson

  5. Hey, thanks for linking to my blog(s). I really appreciate it.

    My in-law has a Chinese SKS, and it is a great gun and fun to shoot (a requirement of mine). It reminds me of a joke I heard years ago about the difference between the Americans and the Russians. When it was discovered that pens couldn't work in space, the Americans spent many months and millions of dollars in research and development, until they created a ballpoint pen that can work in zero or negative gravity.

    The Russians used a pencil.

  6. Arthur, Josh:

    I HAD a good Russian SKS– search archives for a post on it, by non- "gunny" Matt, quoting me and with a pic, defending the whole concept of such cheap rugged ultra- Russian semi- autos (in something of the spirit of the pencil anecdote). I have seen them everywhere in the back country of Central Asia, where I think there were always more– not necessarily legal– guns than we were told, and am amused to see that they, and their cheap ammo, have become so prominent in Bubba culture that they make an appearance in McMurtry's "Choctaw Bingo.

    I let it get away before chronic illness made me rethink my chronic trading, and now I want one back, though broke and– do I really need one? I sold a lot of fancier stuff to stay afloat. Well, easy to shoot, even if small motor control ain't what it used to be– semi auto– and as you mention charge; HUGE AMOUNTS OF CHEAP AMMO available (best reason?– I still have a case); "moderate", rugged, and pisses off the gun snobs who love my sidelever Grant & Mauser– too much fun.

    My dealer friend at Ron P's wants me to look at an "early, good" Chinese– God knows how I will pay for even a cheap one right now.

    But there is all that ammo sitting around, and symmetry tempts. I have two sporters, two revolvers, and two of my favorite military- pragmatic- rugged actions would balance. I already have the other– a clean late Brit SMLE that I could trade for the SKS but would rather keep. Both sides of the Great Game! (Both still duplicated, complete with proof marks, along with the less interesting or accurate AK, in the bazaars of Peshawar…)

    I like stuff with stories attached that is also useful. it would go with my Soviet- era Afghan resistance "battle rug" with helicopters and tanks– well, OK, that one isn't that useful.

    Oh and: three shotguns. You will soon see why I can't cut them further. I have sold gun collections and half libraries in my time but some things you just don't sell.

  7. Try as I might, I can find no fault in your logic. Paring down my collection is something I wrestle with occasionally, but so far cannot bring myself to do it.
    Your choice of calibers is not only functional, but fun.
    My best wishes for many enjoyable outings.

  8. Found it! Here's a picture comparing the bolt carrier groups of the SAFN-49 and the SKS:

    SKS is on the right, FN on the left.

    The bolt carrier, with the handle attached, rides on top of the bolt and pushes it into battery and locks it by tipping the rear portion of the bolt into engagement with a hardened steel insert in the receiver. After firing a piston whacks the carrier to the rear (you can see the shiny mark it leaves on the FN carrier), and two hooks lift the bolt so the carrier can take it to the rear.

    The rifles come apart the same way; pop a receiver cover, remove the return spring and then the bolt carrier group. The safeties are even very similar units; just little levers that block the trigger.

    Some have accused Dieudonne Saive, who designed the SAFN and the related FAL of copying the Soviet designs, but this is impossible; the Soviet Union was completely closed at the time and their arms developments were state secrets.

    Anyway, here's my brother with one of my favorite mild rifles, the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser:

    With trendy modern tactical attachments, of course.

  9. I also own a 7×57 (a Brno 21H) that I really like, but in the spirit of the "two rifles" theme I guess I should stick to my absolute favorites, a pair of Mannlicher-Schoenauers that have pretty much ruined me for most other guns. Both are rare variants, the first a Model 1924 in .30-06, the scarcest of all the pre-war models and the first MS produced in a non-proprietary chambering. The second is the classic 1903 carbine, not an unusual item per se except this one was factory-scoped with a 4x Oigee and Springer-type pincer mounts. Somehow the stars went into alignment twice and both of these guns simply fell into my lap.
    I've taken deer and antelope with both, and they're my favorites to shoot, handle, work the action on (ball-bearing-like smoothness) and generally look at. Here are some pics:

    All of that said, I grew up on Westerns and remain a fan of lever guns myself–recently had to pass on an early 1894 with half-round, half-octagon bbl and Marble tang-sight at a yard sale, for lack of funds.

    Guess you can't own them all!
    Malcolm Brooks

  10. Malcolm– THAT is a brace anyone could covet.

    If I had to have one rifle I could make a case for the 1903 carbine in 6.5 as I could for a 7mm Mauser or (cheaper) a .30-30. Bell used one of them on elephants (!!) too; Karen Blixen hunted everything with one, and Hemingway brought one to Africa along with a Springfield .30- 06.

    "Not unusual"? I don't know– never saw one I could afford WHEN I saw it (;-)

  11. Old topic, I am aware. However, the discussion is entertaining.

    Here in Canada, the .303 British has been used for almost everything. It is our equilivent of the Swedish 6.5×55, Russian 7.62x54R/7.62×39 and the American .30-30/.30-06. Even my stepdad used the .303 for everything from grouse to bear. The slower speed and lower recoil made it a practical bush-gun for anything.

    I ended up choosing a pre-1972 L46 .222 and L57 .308 of the Sako fame since it is nice to have a short action which can perform well in -40C. I do believe the .222 and .308 will be enough for virtually all of the North American fauna save for the bison and the brown bear.

    I don't really understand why people need to have large calibre or "magnum" since they tend to lend themselves to blood-shot meat. Even my family looks down at the choice of calibre while touting their 7mm Remington, .338 Winchester Magnum et cetera.

    The only other rifles I would add would be a .22LR for fur-bearers, .222/20 gauge or 6.5×55/20 guage over-and-under combination for grouses and a decent rifle with bear-stopping calibre for self-defence.

    And even with the latter, I still find it debatable which would be the most suitable under different circumstances.

  12. Well, I now have the same 30 30, and a very nice takedown Mannlicher in 6.5, with Malcolm's help. I have a CZ mini mauser in .223, and right now that small battery of centerfires suits mme well.

    I would still like a jungle carbine (.303)for no particular reason!

  13. The No. 5 Jungle Carbine is a superb rifle. Personally, I would look for a Parker-Hale conversion if I want a sporterized Enfield.

    The .303 British ammunition are becoming harder and harder to find for hand-loading. Thankfully companies like Privi are still supplying the market for those who don't want to hand-load. However, how long this will last– I don't know. Unfortunately, not everyone has the common-sense to resell fired brass to hand-loaders. Thankfully, we can still find the .303 Brit in some stores. However, on the commercial front, the .303 is becoming like the .45-70 where stores are replacing their shelves with the newer .450 Marlin.

    If I could have only two rifles, I have a small calibre in .22LR, .17HMR, .222, or .22-250 and an all-around calibre such as .303, .30-06, 7.62x54R, 6.5×55 Swedish and so on.

    It's not fun to shoot bone-breaking calibre to stop moose, bear or buffalo; and I would rather keep my shoulder in prime condition. Plus, developing the flinch is horrid.

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