Fiala Model 1920 Combination Gun at RIA (Video)

The Fiala Model 1920 was a manually-operated repeating pistol in .22LR caliber that was marketed with the backing of famed polar explorer Anthony Fiala. The guns came as a set of one frame, three barrels (3″, 7.5″, and 20″) and a removable shoulder stock. This allowed the owner to set the gun up in whichever configuration they liked (and it was before the NFA placed regulations on pistols with shoulder stocks). Today, these guns may still be used with the stock, as they have been specifically exempted from the NFA because of their historical and collectible value.

Mechanically, the Fiala is unusual because despite its appearance it is not a semiautomatic design. Instead, the shooter must manually operate the slide between shots. This made the gun less expensive to manufacture, and theoretically more reliable.

There are several lots of these Fialas available in the upcoming RIA auction; this particular one includes two frames, two 7″ barrels, one 20″ barrel, and one buttstock.


  1. So it’s basically a single shot system without a bolt handle?

    I’m sure we have all had auto-loaders we had to manually cycle with .22 rimfire jams!

  2. “…famed polar explorer Anthony Fiala.” is the most relevant conditional statement. Polar Sub-Zero temps + oil-based lubricants = malfunctions even in bolt action weapons. The firing pin will “freeze” inside the bolt. Early Semi-Autos were even worse. Manual manipulation of the slide was a positive under these conditions. The .22 was the favored weapon of choice among the Inuit for polar bear until the .222 came onto the scene and it could be used for smaller game as well without being a “waste” of resources. The .22 rimfire rounds are much lighter than even the most diminutive centerfires. Weight was a paramount factor of survival. The additional factor of three quick-change barrels coupled with the detachable stock gave the beneficial advantages of a very light portable rifle so only one weapon had to be carried and cared for. Appears reasonable to me…

    • How would you hunt a polar bear with a .22? Also, this thing pretty much begs for a suppressor. Imagine a bigger model in say .45….

      • How would you hunt a polar bear with a .22? Also, this thing pretty much begs for a suppressor. Imagine a bigger model in say .45….

        The facetious, smart-ass answer would be… Very, very carefully.

        In reality, the Inuit hunted polar bears with a whole range of weapons we’d consider T-Totally, utterly inadequate. My stepdad got invited out on the ice with one of the foremost Inuit polar bear hunters then in Alaska. They went out on the ice, and my stepdad was thinking this gentleman was going to be doing the hunt with some sort of adequate weapon. What he pulled out of the ornate sealskin rifle case was a Winchester lever-action so worn he couldn’t even read the rollmarks on it, anymore, and when they went to load the rifle, the old hunter had to kick the lever open, load a single .32 Winchester round, and then kick the action closed again. He found out later that the rifle had been acquired by the hunter’s grandfather from a passing whaler back in the latter part of the 19th century, and that they were on the last box of shells that had been bought from some trader back in the 1920s. This, it turned out, was the only firearm the two of them had, going after a fully-grown polar bear out on the ice.

        As you might imagine, stalking skills and stealth were the primary tools used. The rifle didn’t even have working sights, any more. The Inuit hunter got up to within ten yards of where the bear was waiting for a seal, and then shot the bear behind the ear from the right rear quarter. The bear just slumped, and that was it.

        My stepdad had the presence of mind to find something else to do the next time this gentleman asked if he wanted to go out on the ice. Even the other Inuit thought he was crazy, you see…

        Inuit hunters aren’t like you and I. Inadequate weapon? Substitute stalking skills, and be very, very careful. They use a lot of .22 LR, because it’s cheap.

        • You make it sound like the Inuit hunter would outclass Solid Snake from the Metal Gear series of video games…
          “What was that noise?”
          “It’s probably nothing, get back to your post-” THUNK! [second guard dies from headshot, assailant nowhere to be seen]
          “JIM!” [first guard sprays the area blindly] “YOU SON OF A-” THUNK!
          Cue the old geezer with a Fiala emerging from under a cardboard box.

          Sound funny enough for discussion?

          • The average “advanced” Westerner would be well and truly shocked at the amount of skill some of the indigenous peoples have at hunting. Young man I had in my platoon in Germany was half Cajun, half some tribe I’d never heard of from the swamps of Louisiana. This guy was the consummate woodsman–We’d send him out to get a headcount on the guys playing Opposing Forces in exercises, and he would come back with a headcount, the menu from their mess truck, and documents from their command post. Nobody ever saw him, either. Hell, I watched him walk into the woods right in front of me, and as soon as he hit the treeline, he was just… Gone.

            That’s what you get when you spend your entire formative years as a child as a subsistence hunter, which he did. Could hardly write his name, but damn… He was good out in the field.

        • My Grandfather and Great Grandfather both hunted black bears with a single shot break action .22LR until game laws in our state made doing so illegal and to be honest about it they did so afterwards as well. They usually ran the bear up a tree with dogs(hunting bears with dogs is still legal here) and then popped him in the head from below. I know there is a big difference in a Black Bear and a Polar Bear but a .22 seems inadequate for both by modern standards.

  3. Kirk: Your friend probably belonged to the Chitimacha or Atakapa Tirbe. I personally am one quarter Taensa (from East-Central Louisiana) and Western Cherokee (around Polk County, Arkansas) from my Mother’s People. I now live on the North-Eastern corner of the old Temple Mound of the Taensa in Jonesville, Louisiana. The connecting factor of the Taensa and Western Cherokee is the Ouchita River that flows through both homelands and within 125 yards of my present home. I was taught to hunt by my mother and her father and have often walked to within 10 yards of a feeding deer over an open field. All you need to know is the habits of your prey. I have also killed large wild boar hogs with a .22 derringer at less than 3 feet with the “burr of the ear” shot and have killed probably at least 35-40 with a Stevens Favorite .22 with a head shot. I have made one-shot kills on 103 legal deer (other than “cropping” for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries under the Herd Improvement Program) with a Remington Model 600 (I have seven of these)in .222. It is not the power of the projectile but the placement that matters. The traditional “bow and arrow” of the American Woodlands Indian was only about 45 pounds pull at most so they needed to stalk to within 25-30 yards or less of a deer to insure a kill. The recovery usually entailed following a blood trail or other tracking techniques.

    • Bill, together the names of those two tribes ring a bell, but I’ll be damned if I know which of the two it was.

      It came to me yesterday after I posted and before I saw your post that it might have been something like “Catawpa”, but now I’m not so sure.

      In any event, that guy could track and stalk like nobody’s business. One of our less-woodswise types went out on a land nav course, and managed to get lost. In Germany, where you could damn near pick a direction, walk a few hundred meters, and be in someone’s back yard. We sent our Cajun/Indian after his silly ass, and it took him three hours to finally track this idiot down, and what was epic about the whole thing was that he followed the exact path our lost knucklehead had followed, and even knew when and where he’d stopped for cigarettes, water, and a piss break or two. It was amazing to observe, because nine-tenths of what he was tracking him by had to be pointed out to the rest of us.

      “Oh, yeah… Look here: He went this way, on the road… You can see the dirt from his boots on the pavement…”

      “Dude, there’s like 40 sets of bootprints, here…”

      “Yeah, but look… His have that little notch-mark on the heel where it got cut or something…”

      “Uh… Yeah. Sure they do…”

      The “little notch-mark” was maybe an 1/8th of an inch. Frankly, I could hardly see the difference, but he picked up about every print that boot left, for several miles worth of tracking. And, why he knew that particular boot? He knew the entire platoon’s, and their gaits. “Yeah, SSG Robinson’s knee is giving him trouble, again…”.

      Spend a lifetime growing up in the country, but be a farmkid that goes to school? Forget it. Spend it subsistence hunting in the swamps? Consummate tracker.

  4. “Mechanically, the Fiala is unusual because despite its appearance it is not a semiautomatic design. Instead, the shooter must manually operate the slide between shots. This made the gun less expensive to manufacture, and theoretically more reliable.”
    It is superior in said reliability to .22 rim-fire revolver? And when compared .22 rim-fire bolt-action?

    • Manufacturing costs of Fiala should not be lower than an autolader since a return spring working on opposite direction takes place with an added construction of locking button and its spring. Reliability depends upon the type of loading system which can
      be carried on manually even if the spring actuated slide retraction fails but in a hurry, the user may fail to response to such an unexpected occurance.

      • I concur with that view Strongarm. What lead people of the time to ‘spare the lead’ was probably general thrift attitude of those days and as someone mentioned, simply burden of carried ammunition on long range expedition.

  5. As you read in many articles ad analysis, the shot placement is critical. I recall, during my short gun club membership, how local farmers-spare-time-hunters complained about natives hunting dear with small-bore (probably out of jealousy). Would you do something like that at least for respect to animal? Regardless, they did and probably still do.

  6. On shot placement; of all the deer I have killed I had one, and only one, that “ran” approximately 8-9 yards. The rest never moved out of their tracks. This includes one taken with a 1911A1 with a scope at a measured 86 yards. If I am not certain that I can make a clean kill I pass up the shot. Justification for using the .222 is that a friend from “Down Under” is a nuisance animal control contractor and he uses a Remington 700 in .222 and has killed several thousand Virginia Whitetail deer with it. They, along with Cottontail Rabbits, are considered severe nuisance animals there. I have also killed deer and hogs with a .22 Magnum. The only shot I take is a brain shot or the spine just above the shoulder … instant lights-out. I pass up many animals out of consideration for the animal itself. It is a point of pride to me that I have never lost a deer to suffer a lingering death due to my ineptitude. And if I ever go after a Grizzly or Brown Bear, I have a Remington 600 in .350 Magnum, and not one of the lesser calibers. But I have seen no sign so far in the back yard of one there eventhough I did find a pair of Black Bear cubs there recently. I got a picture and left them for MaMa to reclaim …

  7. It’s a bit suprising that the design doesn’t allow for the slide to unlock upon firing as is the case with some pump actions. It would be so much faster to operate if that were the case. It must be that the part that locks the slide shut against opening and requires that button to be pushed to open is providing the actual lockup for the whole gun rather than just being there to stop it opening like on a pumpaction!?

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