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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 other Swiss arms designs) 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!