The AKU-94 was a bullpup conversion kit made for standard AK rifles by K-Var a while back. They were never particularly popular, probably because in stock form they weren’t particularly good. The sights are wobbly and mediocre, the triggers were awful, the magazine was a very tight fit, and the furniture seemed pretty cheesy. Here’s what they were supposed to look like:
K-Var AKU-94 bullpup AK conversion – gotta love that front sight
In theory, they are sort of copying the short-lived Norinco 86S bullpup, but those were actually built from the ground up as bullpups, and a better design than this conversion.
A friend of mine recently took one of these AKU conversions as a project to see what he could fix, and made some pretty remarkable – and simple – improvements. With a better trigger and a good red dot optic, the AKU-94 really became a fairly nice gun, especially considering the cost relative to other bullpups. Of course, it will still knock your teeth out with the charging handle if fired left-handed, but hey, nothing’s perfect.
I recently picked up several Swiss rifles from Simpson Ltd (who has a who bunch of them, and all listed individually so you can choose the exact rifle you want). The Swiss used an evolving series of straight-pull rifles and carbines from 1889 into the 1970s, when the last K31 carbines were finally retired from service. The Swiss, of course, have always taken national defense and neutrality pretty seriously, and I’ve been wanting to add some of their rifles to my personal collection.
Top to bottom – M1889, M96/11, M1911, K31
The four I picked out were a pretty good overview of how the design evolved. The first is a Gewehr 1889 – the rifle that replaced the turnbolt Vetterli rifle. The 1889 has a 12-round magazine and used a semi-smokeless cartridge, the GP90 (GP1890, not to be confused with the 5.56mm GP1990). It uses a heavy round-nose 7.5mm bullet, pushed at relatively low velocity by modern standards. The magazine was permanently attached, with a lever allowing it to be dropped just below the line of the bolt, to act as a reserve while the rifle was fired as a single-shot.
The second rifle I got is an 1896/11 model, which is the peak of the design from a precision shooter’s perspective (I think). The Swiss military realized the ballistic deficiency of the round-nose GP90, and developed a smokeless powder, higher pressure, spitzer-bullet cartridge in 1911. Many of the Model 1889 rifles had already been strengthened in 1896
by moving their locking lugs up closer to the chamber, and it was determined that a simple rebarreling would allow them to shoot the new cartridge. A great many were subsequently converted into the 96/11 pattern. In addition to the new barrel, the conversion replaced the magazine with a new 6-round detachable type, added a semi-pistol grip to the stock, and replaced the sights.
In addition to striking me as a very sleek and attractive looking rifle, it has several subtle features showing that its designers were very familiar with the needs of a serious precision shooter. The Model 1889 had some of these, but the 96/11 really shines. To wit:
The muzzle has a recessed crown to protect it from damage
The barrel is encircled by a metal tube under the front barrel band. This isolates the barrel from pressure from the stock. It’s not free-floated, but it’s getting close.
Swiss M96/11 muzzle – note barrel sleeve and recessed crown
The front sight blade is carefully squared off, and tapered to be widest at the rear. This provides an excellent sight picture, especially compared to the indifferent triangular pointed front sights on many Mauser variants.
The front sight blade itself is mounted on a large dovetailed base, making it easy to adjust to set windage.
Swiss M96/11 front sight blade
The rear sight notch is cut to a sharp-cornered square, giving a very clear sight picture.
The semi pistol grip gives a very good grip for the firing hand.
The exaggerated hook shape of the trigger allows the shooter to maintain a consistent finger placement through the trigger pull.
Swiss M1911 grip
The trigger pull itself is an outstanding two-stage type, with the final release being both crisp and light.
The straight-pull action is wonderfully smooth (better than the K31 action).
The length of pull is just right – for me, anyway.
The butt of the stock is nice and wide to soften the recoil impulse.
The Swiss 6-round charger clips encapsulate the cartridges, thus negating the need to put a lot of spring pressure on the rims like most stripper clips. As a result, they are smooth and easy to use (unlike so many stripper clips).
I am really looking forward to getting this rifle out to the range!
The third rifle I got was a Gewehr 1911. When the 96/11 design was formalized, more rifles were needed than could be made by converting older existing guns – so 1911 pattern rifles were also manufactured from scratch. These are virtually indistinguishable from the 96/11 – the one giveaway is that a 96/11 will have the semi pistol grip spliced into it originally-straight stock, while the 1911 will have the grip as an integral part of the stock.
There were also carbine-length version of the 1911 made, under the designation K11 – but I don’t yet have one of those. They are reputed to be the least-accurate of the Swiss rifles, simply because they have the shortest and lightest barrels. Still, after seeing the quality and attention to detail on the Gewehr 1911, I will definitely be adding a K11 to my collection sooner or later.
Lastly, I got a K31 carbine. With this design, the bolt was redesigned, in a fairly significant departure from the original Schmidt mechanism. The new design (which was the brainchild of Major Furrer, who was behind several otherSwissarmsdesigns) was almost half the overall length of the 1911 pattern bolt. This allowed the same overall length of carbine to have a barrel several inches longer, and also be both stronger and less expensive to manufacture. Quite a deal for the Swiss government! I was expecting the K31 to build on the rifleman’s qualities of the 96/11, and was a bit disappointed to find that it did not – at least in my impression. The K31 has a few improvements beyond the length and bolt strength, including a rear sight graduated down to 100m (the 1911 pattern starts at 300m), and a set of hefty protective ears around the front sight. However, I find the length of pull to be a bit too short for comfort, and the redesigned bolt is not as smooth to operate.
We will definitely be doing a video comparing all of these models both disassembled on the shop table and out at the range!
We took a look at this rifle with a few photos a while back, but I do now have some video of it as well – a VG-1 last ditch rifle with an inlaid plaque presented to the Volkssturm leader of the Wartheland district of Poland, one Arthur Grieser (convicted of war crimes and hanged July 21, 1946). The VG-1 is a pretty interesting study in rifle simplicity, and just how much you can leave out while still producing a functional weapon. Unlike the Japanese progressive simplification of the Type 99 Arisaka, the Germans designed new, simplified rifle designs to reduce manufacturing costs (well, in addition to some progressive steps). The VG-1 was just one of several competing designs for this type of last-ditch rifle.
The full title of this recently-published monograph by Leonard Speckin is actually Winchester Model 07 Self-Loading .351 Caliber: Its Past and Its Future with Modern Brass, Bullets and Powders. There is very little modern published information on the Winchester Self-Loaders (the 1905 in .35 cal, the 1907 in .351 cal, and the 1910 in .401 cal), and Mr. Speckin’s work is the only one I know of that is actually currently in print. It is not a collector’s reference book by any means – it is a guide for the shooter and owner…and it does an excellent job filling that role.
Speckin begins with a look at the design intent of the Winchester Self-Loader, which is perhaps one of the most important elements of the gun if one wishes to understand them. A gun cannot be appreciated properly without understanding how well it meets its design intent, and this is a large part of why so few people know much about the 1907 today. It is generally seen as being hopelessly underpowered today, and that view has been around for many decades. In fact, as Speckin explains, the whole series of Winchester Self-Loaders were designed as smokeless semiautomatic analogs for the saddle carbine role. The .351 WSL cartridge is a up-powered stand-in for the .44-40 or .45 Colt, throwing a 180 grain bullet (softpoint or FMJ) at 1900 fps. The 1907 is designed with a short barrel, and completely flat sides to allow easy scabbard carry (that’s why the bolt is operated by a plunger under the barrel; to keep the sides of the gun smooth and unencumbered). It has some weight to it, but that weight is well distributed, and the gun balances well and swings easily. This was not a semiauto replacement for a .30-06 Springfield, it was the gun that filled the space between the Winchester 1892 lever action and the M1 Carbine.
The misconceptions and near total disdain on the part of profession gun writers for the Winchester 1907 are the subject of the next section of Speckin’s book. He references an extensive library of vintage hunting and shooting books and magazines to see what the historical view of the gun has been (and the results are not flattering). Why did all those writers overlook or unfairly disregard the 1907? Well, you’ll have to read the book to see.
Overall, this history accounts for about the first third of the book (which is just over 100 pages). The middle third covers the subject of reloading, and the final third is about disassembly.
Reloading is probably the most important section for the 1907 owner who wants to be able to shoot his or her rifle. The .351 WSL cartridge was never used in any other production designs, and has not been manufactured in significant quantity now for 40 years or more. Today, the options are to load your own or find and shoot vintage ammo from the 1940s or 50s. The reloading prospect is a bit trickier than other designs because the 1907 is a pure blowback action, thus making safe and reliable operation highly dependent on power burn rate and pressure. Too weak a loading and the gun won’t cycle – too hot and it will fail to extract or potentially blow out a case and damage the gun and shooter. Speckin has done the research and experimentation to find the loads that best duplicate the original factory ammunition using currently-available components, and standing on his shoulders will save quite a lot of time and frustration.
The final section, on disassembly and reassembly, is something that will not be of much use until it becomes downright essential. Detail stripping the 1907 is not generally necessary, but removal of the bolt and bolt spring is necessary for some tasks like replacing a firing pin – and not a task for the faint of heart. When the guns were in production, Winchester alluded to special factory tool required to make this level of reassembly practical, but those tools were never widely available to the public – and neither were their designs. So Speckin went through the process of determining what the tool must have been, and fabricated a set to make the reassembly task less of a nightmare. He includes pictures and dimensioned drawings of these tools, as well as an illustrated step-by-step guide to the detail stripping and reassembly process which will be invaluable to the owner who finds the task necessary.
Mr. Speckin’s work is currently in print through a small independent print shop, which means three things:
It is available to anyone who wants it
It won’t be forever, and once it is out of print it will probably never come back
It is priced a bit higher than you would expect of a similar-sized book from a large publisher, because of the economics of scale.
Price for the monograph is $30 post-paid in the US, and $37 postpaid to Canada ($45 to Australia and $50 to Germany). It is available by mail order only – to get a copy write to:
Okemos, MI 48864
You can also reach the author by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (517) 881-9028.
The owner of this interesting firearm (who is a regular reader of the site) sent me this information about it:
Here are the things I do know about this weapon, which is one if six in my collection. I am satisfied that it is was; a Springfield Model 1873 45-70, and I know it is not and never was a 1881 Forager. However, I am delighted to own such a fine specimen of the 45-70. I have no factual documented information on it. I recently saw a similar trapdoor for sale which was chambered in 28 ga, but was a parts gun, having ejection stud hole still visible, receiver machined, chamber and barrel reamed. I have had several people say “lots of these were done just by reaming out the old barrel, really nothing worth much, rather common”. To me that’s just so much hooey. I have only seen two in 40 years of collecting, (both 20ga). I have found no official write ups or gun magazines articles on 45-70 caliber chambered and barreled as shotgun weapons, though I am sure there must be some. This is what makes collecting worth while, the search.
I certainly would appreciate answers to any of these six basic interrogatives:
Who, What, When, Where, Why and How
For me the most important thing about it is; it is in my gun safe no matter what it is.
Side lock plate is 1873 (IAW, Poyar and Frasca, both recognized published Springfield experts.) All commercial rebuilds have a date under the word “Springfield” on left side where as no Springfield 45-70′s had a date in this location. (also this weapon has U.S. and date on breach block and no eagle, 6th model breach block).
Serial number coincides with 1873 existing Springfield historical records. And as stated by Poyer, the date 1873′s can be mistaken for 1878 as the 3 was often struck incorrectly, but can be seen with a magnifying glass. (this is a 6th model breach .. flat no arch)
Chamber is exact 45-70 specification – length, (base to throat) diameter at head and mouth.
Bore length 2.16 and diameter at throat .451, however at muzzle .560 diameter. Outside muzzle is .851 not normal .730. Barrel wall at muzzle is .275 thick (is a shortened barrel).
Barrel is a Springfield proofed barrel (underside of barrel)
Barrel has been tapped for rear sight then plugged. Position and distance of holes from receiver face are correct. (2.4 inch from breach)
Serial number precludes this from being or having ever been a Springfield Model 1881 Forager in 20 gauge
Foragers had their own serial number series (this weapon has normal range serial number)
Forager had “purpose” forged receivers without a ejection stud in bottom of receiver (this weapon has the normal stud)
Foragers did not have a barrel band (this weapon does)
This barrel shows no evidence of ever having lands or groves but is highly finished (purpose built not usual for a “smith quick reaming” job)
Front brass bead sight was standard as used during this 1800 period on shotguns
Winchester did load and produce shot shells (#4 and #6) in 45-70 as I have seen them and I have a wood sabot ed 45-70 containing two 00 buck. These were commercial rounds purchased by US Government.
The stock is a cut down rifle stock, as the cleaning rod hole patch clearly shows. The National Armory never cut down rifle stocks, this has to be a commercial.(this is as fine a repair as possible, beyond anything Bannerman took time to do)
The stock is stamp marked several places, comb near butt plate and on sides near butt. One appears to be B 5.
No issued “Foragers” had a Saddle Ring and Bar (SR) this has a genuine original bar and ring and the stock is perfectly inletted.
The winner of our random drawing for the StealthGear 1911 holster is Kyle S, whose guest article on the Colt 1903 pocket hammer pistol will be posted shortly. Kyle, check your email and let me know where to send the holster.
Thanks to everyone else who entered, and particularly to the folks who sent in guest articles – I wish I had more of them to give away.
The US military experimented almost continuously with new repeating rifles between the end of the US Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century, and the rifles submitted for testing are a fascinating spectrum of ideas. Many were purchased in relatively small quantities for military field testing, and many also saw at least some commercial production (as the manufacturers and inventors sought to recoup development costs when full-scale military contracts proved elusive).
One of these designs was the Winchester-Hotchkiss, which was made in three major iterations. Designed by Benjamin Hotchkiss and manufactured by the Winchester company, it was a bolt action design with a 5-round tube magazine located in the buttstock. As with most military rifles of its era, it was equipped with a magazine cutoff to allow the rifle to be fed single rounds while holding the 5 rounds in the magazine as an emergency reserve. This was a popular mechanism with Army brass in many countries, as it was thought to be a good way to conserve ammunition (and it persisted up through early WWI rifles, including the British SMLE). This cutoff was in fact a major reason the Winchester-Hotchkiss went through several design iterations.
The first (1879) model used a one-piece stock, with the cutoff being a rotating lever above the trigger guard:
Winchester-Hotchkiss, early pattern carbine (photo courtesy RIA)
That placement of the cutoff resulted in a lot of broken stocks, because so much of the wood was removed. The second model (which was purchased by the Navy but not the Army) moved the cutoff up to be a vertical lever alongside the receiver. It maintained the one-piece stock, though, and apparently still suffered from stock breakage or cracking. The final third model solved this problem by using a two-piece stock with a solid exposed receiver in the center.
Winchester-Hotchkiss, 1883 pattern military rifle (“musket” – photo courtesy RIA)
In total, 22,521 Winchester-Hotchkiss rifles were made (of all patterns combined). Most of these were commercial sales, although they had a hard time competing against the much more popular lever-action designs of the period. As the period Chief of Ordnance – Brigadier General Stephen Benet – explained:
The principle of the Hotchkiss is a good one, but there seems to be some prejudice existing in our service against the bolt system and its awkward handle that time and custom may overcome.
I’m getting in a selection of Swiss straight-pull rifles to do some shooting and video work with, and to my surprise it looks like everybody is sold out of them (Numrich, Sarco, Liberty Tree, etc). Only Northridge has them in stock, and they want $20 each (gak!). If anyone has a few they would be interested in selling for $5 each (plus shipping), please let me know! I’m looking for 5-10 of them.