Saturday, September 15, 2007

Swiss Karabiner K-31 in 7.5x55


I like Mosins, and love Mausers. To me the model 98 Mauser style is the epitome of military bolt action rifle design. Perhaps because of this bias, I put off buying a Swiss K-31 rifle. No matter how much people swoon over the rifle from chocolate land, I just never warmed up to the straight pull design.

This held until I saw something never seen before by mortal man….. a good deal on used rifles at Cabelas. In fact, a good deal on two rifles…. both Swiss K-31 carbines in decent condition. The marked price was just under wholesale before shipping costs, so I snapped them up pretty quickly as an investment.

This left me with two rifles unfired by me, a situation totally unsatisfactory. Therefore ammunition was ordered and a range day set.

It’s undecided if this was a mistake or a blessing, as it resulted in two rifles no longer considered an investment in terms of money, being instead a challenge to my skill as a rifleman. To make a long story short, the Swiss K-31 is one of, if not the finest shooting rifle I have ever owned.

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There is a lot of information available to collectors regarding the Karabiner 31, much of it easily accessible on the Internet. Good sources include the swissrifle.com site and surplusrifle.com, as well as surplusrifleforum.com. I’ll not try and top the learned folks on these web sites, but simply offer a condensed and concise run down on the K-31.

The K-31 is the last descendant in a line of straight pull bolt-action rifles used by the Swiss armed forces. Its ancestors include the models of 1889 and 1911. Each new design refined the breed, till the model 31 reached it’s zenith. After the k-31 the Swiss made the jump to modern assault rifles with the STGW-57 and finally the STG-90.

Compared to normal turn bolt rifles, the straight pull design is seen rarely in military rifles, and almost never on civilian rifles. The Austrian Manlicher and the Canadian Ross are two other examples of military straight pull actions commonly seen today.

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The K-31 shoots a 7.5mm bottlenecked cartridge, as did its older cousins. In the case of the K-31, the cartridge is loaded with a pointed bullet designed for excellent long-range ballistics and extraordinary accuracy. This is in keeping with Swiss military philosophy that each soldier is a trained marksman.

The 7.5x55 round is practically a match for both the 7.62x51 Nato round (.308 in civilian clothes) and the 30-06 of American military use. Soldiers fed the removable box magazine on the K-31 via an unusual stripper clip made from waterproofed cardboard and stainless steel. While visually a bit odd to someone used to a Mauser or Enfield style clip, it proved sturdy and very fast in use.

The photo shows a 7.5x55 round flanked by a .308 to the left and a 30-06 to the right.

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I took some of the Swiss GP-11 military ammunition apart and examined it in this article found on Surplusrifleforum.com. It's of incredibly high standard and is considered to be match ammunition right from the military box.

To settle the fears of Americans not used to metric caliber designations, the 7.5x55 Swiss uses a .308" bullet and is no harder to hand load than any other .30 caliber bottlenecked cartridge. Mine shoots remarkable well with Speer 168 grain match bullets in .308 diameter.

The K-31 stores it’s ammunition in a six round detachable magazine. Its serial numbered to the rifle and not usually detached while in operation. In fact, the rifle is faster to load with the stripper clips than by replacing an empty magazine with a full one. This is no slight on the magazine design, but a positive comment on the excellent stripper clip.

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The bolt is quite carefully machined and very smooth in operation. It’s best worked with a smart slap by the palm to open and an equally sharp slap to close. A common cause of a misfire with a K-31 is the bolt not being fully closed, often just a fraction of an inch. If operated correctly it almost never happens.

The safety is one of the most unusual visual features on the rifle. The ring on the rear of the bolt can be pulled back and rotated about 45 degrees to the right. This prevents firing but allows the bolt to operate normally. Rotating the ring 90 degrees to the right and dropping it into a slot will lock up the bolt solidly as well as preventing firing. It’s a large ring and easily worked with gloved hands.

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The Karabiner’s sights consist of a square notch open rear with adjustments graduated from 100 meters to 1500 meters. Rifle competition in Switzerland starts at 300 meters, but lucky for us Americans the 100-meter set is near perfect for our 100 yard ranges. The rear sight is of precision manufacture and quite suitable for target shooting use. The Swiss also make very fine diopter sights for competition use on this rifle.

The front sight is a square blade protected by sturdy ears. It handles windage adjustment by the unusual means of a diagonal slot cut for the front blade. Moving the blade front to back will make fairly precise adjustment right or left. There is a fine thread sight adjustment tool that does this handily, or one can be made easily from a bolt-cutting tool. When all else fails a small brass punch and a hammer do well as a backup.

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The rear band is secured by a leaf spring, while the front band opens like a clamshell and fastens with a machine screw. The front band also has a mount for the bayonet and a stacking rod built in.

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The rear band holds a sling swivel to the left side, while the rear sling mount is a bar inletted and screwed into the left side of the buttstock.

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Topping off the action is the Swiss crest, a cross on a shield. It’s simple but elegant, pointing to the strength and dignity of Swiss society.

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The K-31 is built with one of the finest shooting triggers found on a battle rifle. Invariable they are found to be smooth and consistent without excessive play nor harsh let off. With nothing more than cleaning and lubricating, they are often of match quality right off the shelf.

Furniture is found in either a straight grained and light colored beech or darker walnut. The stocks are numbered to the rifle, although the stock is the one part sometimes found with the serial number changed. The butt plate is smooth steel curved to fit the shoulder, and often hides a nice surprise. Since it was (and still is for now) customary for a citizen/soldier in the Swiss military to take their weapon home with them, often keeping the rifle their entire lives, under the butt plate is frequently found a slip of paper with the name, address, and unit of the soldier. (Both of my personal K-31’s had this).

With everything else the Swiss Karabiner model 31 has going for it, I have saved the best for last.

These rifles shoot, and shoot straight. The Swiss culture venerated rifle skills and most towns had their own rifle ranges. Competitors used their military issued rifles in regular competition, especially as ammunition was supplied by the military for practice.

While the straight bolt pull design was foreign to me at first, there simply is no arguing with the results on the target. The average K-31 seems match ready right out of the box, and mine puts even my Mosin sniper to shame in it’s own territory; accuracy.

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This article might seem to be all favorable, with no negatives at all. If there is any issue to be found with the Karabiner 31, it’s the unusual straight pull bolt design. That is no flaw with the rifle, but only in the experience of the shooter. After putting just a few rounds down range I concluded the Swiss K-31 is a fine piece of military history, excellently designed and of the highest quality.

I now use mine regularly in match competition and will not hesitate to take it hunting as well. It’s a joy to shoot and….. did I mention it’s accurate?


7 comments:

The Hermit said...

Years ago, I got two of these rifles and took them out to the range. One of my gun club buddies was out there. He had been in the German Army in World War II. He was really old, but he was a shooter and he was dinging individual small rocks out on the 200 yard berm with these rifles using the iron sights. They were shooters, and so was he. He died a year or so ago, damn shame because he was a good fellow.

Firehand said...

They do shoot nice, don't they?

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

Yup, quite sweet. I'm thinking of scoping one of mine with a St. Maries mount just to see how accurate it really is.

Anonymous said...

my dad bought me a schmidt rubin a when i was 12. a year later he was killes in a mine explossion
so the rifle was not only very accurate hunting partner but ment alought to me...was stolen from my home bout 10 years ago. i hope it means as much to the thief as it did to me

Anonymous said...

I bought a K31 about 10 years ago. Had to have one after shooting a friend's off hand at a hundred yards. I can hit gongs consistently at 300 yards using open sights.

I now reload 7.5 x 55, and keep the heat down to spare the rifle's straight pull action, which is not as sturdy as modern bolt actions. I favor 180 grain Hornady round nose soft tips with H4895 powder and standard primers. Finding brass is getting to be a bit of a challenge.
Don Bouchard

Reloading Supplies said...

That is a really nice rifle.

Fat Albert said...

If you are going load for a K31 you need to read this http://www.surplusrifle.com/shooting2006/swissreloading1/index.asp