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Double Review: Swiss K31 and Gibson's Outpost

Discussion in 'Rifle Country' started by barnbwt, May 20, 2012.

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  1. barnbwt

    barnbwt member

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    I finally got to shoot my two new-to-me K31's!!:D
    Since the rifles were only half of what made the experience so awesome, I want to include a review of the range I went to for the first time. It's a rifle-centric range, so I'll put it in this forum, if that's all right :eek:

    I bought these rifles over a month ago, and I've been trying to shoot them since. However, the range I usually go to forbids FMJ ammo, which is a bit more difficult to locate in this caliber than many. I found some Hornady Match soft point, so I was ready to go...or so I thought. I swing back to the range, only to find they've recently banned .30cal and above since someone's house beyond the berm was struck (ongoing litigation). Until the berm is raised and the lawsuit settled, no big boomsticks :(

    Luckily, thanks to the advice of THR, I was referred to Gibson's Outpost down in Mesquite, TX as an alternative. It's only a bit farther than my daily commute, so I figured I'd give it a go. Checked their hours online, and found they have 200yd ranges (last place only 100) and they also allow FMJ!!! They cost 2.50$ more per session plus gas, but with cheap FMJ, that cost can easily be recovered. With high hopes, I loaded the guns in the car (both guns barely fit in my FNAR case).

    The backwoods drive was fantastic; the DFW area is unusually green this year from all the rain, the weather was fantastic, and the windy road was in good enough condition for some fun with a six-speed manual! Half hour later I arrive at the range's driveway, and find it in better repair than my old range (but smaller), and there are actually places to park!

    The staff in the front office was helpful; told me the fees I'd need to get a range card (6$ annual, 12.50 each day), and told me the rules. Aside from the ammo bans, and a rule about not bringing guns through the front office, the rules are the same as the old place. So far so good! :)

    I carry my rifle case around to the benches, and see a long row of very well made cinderblock rifle benches with sandbags, and wood standing benches for pistol shooting. Beyond a green, nicely mowed lawn (no tractor ruts to trip on) were berms and target stands at varying distances. 5-25yrd ranges for pistol (maybe some 50yd), and 50-100yd for rifle (and 2 200yd, but 10$ extra). Past the berms, nothing but tall deciduous forest for over a mile before the next habitation (checked on google). With that large green lawn, nestled in the edge of the forest, this place was a veritable Zen garden for shooters. I settled in on a 50yrd range to sight in the guns.

    Only a dozen or so other shooters were there when I came by, a bit light I'm told, and they all seemed very polite and practiced good range etiquitte. I even saw some dads educating their kids on proper gun safety and shooting form. No rednecks reeking of alcohol firing from the hip, no unattended newbs sweeping the range with their muzzles, no overwhelmed RO's watching too many people. No fools shouting "LOOK AT THIS!" before sending rounds over the berm. Couldn't ask for more from a basic rifle range (expect a place to shoot scatterguns, no shotguns are allowed here).

    As rural as this area is, I think it will be many years (knock on wood) before urban encroachment makes shooting untenable.

    See my next post for the review of the K31!

    TCB
     
  2. barnbwt

    barnbwt member

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    K31 Review

    Now for the review of the rifles themselves:

    Fair warning, I can't shut up enough about these rifles...:D feel free to skim...

    Background:
    The Swiss K31 (Model 31 Karabiner) was the primary long arm for the Swiss armed forces during WWII. It is a magazine-fed straight-pull bolt action rifle chambered in 7.5mm (.308) x 55mm. The ballistics of the cartridge lie between 7.62x51 and 30-06, and the milsurp GP11 ammo available is of modern match quality, non-corrosive, but Berdan primed (~50cents/round). I payed 320$ for each rifle.

    Condition:
    The stock was available in either dark walnut or lighter beech, depending on when it was manufactured. Always interested in diversity, I bought the nicest of each variety from my LGS, who had half a dozen on the rack. From what I've heard, it is fairly uncommon for a gunstore to have many of these around, as only 200,000 were made, IIRC. Often the wood is in poor condition after propped up on wet/snowy ground, and kicked around by hob-nail boots in drills. The rifles I bought seemed to have no water damage and very minimal abrasion to the wood :). Both weighed in at 8.8lbs :uhoh:. Mechanically, these rifles are usually in excellent to "unfired" condition, due to the excellent care and grease lubrication practiced by Swiss soldiers. The rifling on both of mine looked as nice as my Remington 700 on the day I bought it. :cool:

    Since the Swiss were not distracted by fighting an oncoming German Horde during the war, they were able to manufacture the K31 to ridiculous standards that are hard to match today (and cost prohibitive). There is not a single machining mark anywhere on the gun. Everything fits snugly, locks up tight, and cycles like butter.

    Function and Safety:
    Being a staight-pull bolt action, the bolt assembly is a bit more complicated than usual. A handle on the right side of the action is used to cycle the bolt. The handle is connected to a pin which rides in a spiral-cammed slot milled into a sleeve around the bolt itself. When the handle is pushed forward, the pin/cam rotates the sleeve/bolt, locking the two large lugs at the front of the bolt into the reciever. The reciever/bolt is easily strong enough to handle the 7.5 round, and has also been made/rechambered in .308 and 30-06. The rounds are push-fed from the detachable 6-round magazine below.

    A quick safety note: the way the bolt/handle mechanism is timed, the sear becomes active just before the bolt rotates fully, allowing it to fire slightly out of battery if the handle is not completely forward. Pushing firmly forward makes this incredibly unlikely. Also, if the pin that rides in the bolt sleeve slot breaks off, the handle can be pushed forward, but the bolt will not rotate into place, so the user must be conscious of how the bolt "feels" when chambering rounds.Also check that the serial number is visible when the bolt is closed (it is only seen when the bolt is fully rotated). Other than that, the innovative design of the action enabled it to handle .308-level cartridges, which many previous designs could not do safely (looking at you, small-ring Mausers...;))

    Ergonomics and Appearance:
    The metal-buttplated stock was a bit more uncomfortable than the modern rifles I'm used to (duh). The length of pull is a bit short to accomodate heavy alpine clothing, and the comb/drop is flatter than most of the rifles I've used. Makes for a good club, but you really have to lean down to sight down the rifle. The Mannlicher (sp?) style fore end wood is loosely fitted around the barrel, to avoid affecting the point of aim (semi-free floated). A bayonet lug at the muzzle holds the (gorgeous) bayonet, which was not included with my purchases. The loading/ejection port is located on top of the reciever.

    A large Swiss Crest is stamped neatly on top of the reciever where it attaches to the barrel. A large number of other markings are also placed all over the rifle and its components, and can be looked up on swissrifles.com. I haven't checked, but a tag with the issued-soldier's name, age, and address may be concealed beneath the buttplate.

    Operation:
    Rounds eject vertically if the action is cycled smartly (it's fun to catch your rounds between shots :)). Not necessarily a drawback, but a slow cycle will not eject the round properly; it will typically fall back into the reciever. If not intentional, a "stovepipe" jam will occur when the bolt is pushed forward, but I found it useful to more easily retrieve brass; just pluck the spent casing from the chmber.

    The large ring protruding from the rear of the reciever is the back of the striker (I believe) and is pulled back to re-cock the rifle, or pulled and rotated 90deg to decock the mainspring and disengage the sear. The trigger/sear is a very crisp dual-stage of very low release strength for a military rifle (I haven't measured it, but it's close to my Remington). The sear drops vertically to release the striker when the trigger is pulled, a very simple but effective setup. I found the trigger rotated more than I am used to when pulled (short pivot), but this is mainly due to the very long initial throw of the dual-stage that I am not used to yet.

    The bolt release is located just to the right of the ejection/loading port. The bolt slides out the back as a unit like any bolt action, and breaks into its major components for cleaning without tools (a bit tricky at first). A second lever below the bolt release unlatches the magazine for cleaning or replacement (the rifle was meant to be loaded with stripper clips).

    Shortly after buying the rifles, I bought two of the waxed-cardboard "stripper clips" if you can call them that. They are really more like magazines than strippers, fully enclosing the rounds except for a slot you push your thumb into to load the cartridges. The reciever port is milled to guide the placement of the loader easily, and a cut is milled in the right side of the port to make it easier to push your thumb fully into the magwell when loading. This thumb-relief also has the unintended benefit of making it much easier to attach optics by way of a sturdy clamp-on scope base made by St. Marie.

    Sights:
    The sights are typical tangent-blade rear notch and vertical pin shrouded front. The rear is adjustable from 100-1500yrds (not bad, eh?), and the front sight is windage driftable (cannot be adjusted on the fly, though). Both are very well made, though somewhat small, as was custom on military rifles of the era. I may open the rear notch slightly if I cannot get used to it. I'm new to rifle iron-sights.

    Range Experience:
    I had other stuff to do today, and I was mainly interested in seeing if the rifle would blow up on my face or not :uhoh:, so I didn't get much stick time in. One magazine full (6 rounds) for each rifle was all I sent down range on this trip (I was only wearing a T-shirt, and my shoulder will thank me tomorrow ;)). As I said earlier, the shape of the stock is much "flatter" than I am used to, so my trigger hand was rotated almost in line with the barrel (nearly pulling the trigger "up"), and my cheek was laid way down to get a weld. I think this stock is better suited to the prone postion than sitting at a bench.

    The "stripper clips" very easily dropped 6 rounds into the chamber, and in about 1 second I had closed the chamber (firmly; see my safety note above) and was ready to go. I can see why people claim these rifles are capable of very high rates of fire for bolt actions; it's not the straight-pull action that's fast, but the reload.:cool:

    I have zero experience with iron rifle sights (I'm an optics-weenie), but I sighted down just like I would a pistol, focusing on the front sight post. This was a bit more difficult since the sights are small, and their dark bluing has long since disappeard. At any rate, all 12 rounds were within 4" of the bullseye, centered 2" to the left at 50yrds with no adjustment. The two 6-shot groups were about 3" across (these rifles are typically ~1MOA capable). Not bad I thought, considering I have no experience with either the rifle or the sights. Kinda neat to know I could blast evil Nat-zees with no worries :D;)

    Recoil was a bit nastier than I'm used to on my .308 Remington 700, or my .308 FNAR. Metal buttplate aside, the cartridge kicks more like a 30-06. Rang my teeth a couple times to be sure. I'd rank the shoulder feel with my O/U 12gauge. Not quite painful, but tiresome after a couple boxes. With a slip-on buttpad (fixes length of pull, too) and a real cheek rest, it will be downright comfortable, and far more accurate (I can see myself developing a nasty flinch the way it is) with practice.

    Summary:
    Two very well built, accurate rifles, with a very unique action. Can't say enough good things about them (even with a post this long), and I can't wait to shoot it some more.

    Follow up reports to come

    TCB

    P.S. I'll set up a Photobucket account and add in photos of what I'm describing if ya'll really want this post to be even longer :evil:
     
  3. TurtlePhish

    TurtlePhish Member

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    Yes please :D
     
  4. sixgunner455

    sixgunner455 Member

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    Nice. I've had a 1934 walnut edition for a number of years that I bought when they were stupid cheap.

    They really are nice, and they really are that accurate. You'll like yours more the more you shoot them.
     
  5. madcratebuilder

    madcratebuilder Member

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    Great review.

    Just wait till you discover all the aftermarket sight options. Check out Swiss products for state of the art accessories for the K31. Things like recoil pad adapters, brakes, optic mounts.

    I shoot mainly gas operated .308's and '06's so I worked at reducing felt recoil on my main K31 shooter.

    Recoil pad adapter, no modification to the stock.
    butt01.jpg

    Screw on brake, they offer a clamp on also.
    brake02.jpg

    Added a Weaver steel tube K4.
    K2501.jpg
    The offset is easy to adjust to.
    scoped01.jpg

    Outstanding trigger design.
    k31trigadj.gif

    Typical condition K31, beaver chewed butt stock from being licked free of the ice and snow with spiked boots.
    K31trio01.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2012
  6. madcratebuilder

    madcratebuilder Member

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    Here are some of the after market sight options. These are still around on the used market.

    The three that I hvae and use.
    Sahli_7c.jpg
    Furter_1a.jpg
    Grunel_6b.jpg

    Others available.
    Girex_8f.jpg
    Hammerli_8e.jpg
    Hoffman_9g.jpg
     
  7. madcratebuilder

    madcratebuilder Member

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    Then there's the ZFK. The Swiss started working on a sniper version of the K31 in the early 40's and developed two variations.
    K31-43 is one.
    K314301.jpg

    The post war2 ZFK-55 was the results of years of testing. Note how the receiver is tilted in the stock to aid in ejection and keeping the optic centered over the bore.
    mountsrear.jpg
    Heavy stock.
    sniper01.jpg
    3.5X optic from Kern.
    sniper30.jpg
    sniper34.jpg
    sniper36.jpg
     
  8. Silent Sam

    Silent Sam Member

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    "...allowing it to fire slightly out of battery if the handle is not completely forward."

    Not exactly true. While you can pull the trigger and it will try to "fire", it will not until the bolt is completely in battery. The firing pin energy will act on closing the bolt if it is not fully forward before firing the cartridge, or not, depending on how much energy was needed to close the bolt. It will not "fire out of battery".
     
  9. FlyinBryan

    FlyinBryan Member

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    yes, gibson is pretty much the only place i feel completely safe when other shooters that i dont know are involved.

    ive heard people complain about very strict policies there that i consider good common sense, like clearing the line and staying behind the red line during all ceasefires.

    people sometimes just cant get it through their heads that being near your bench is prohibited when men are downrange. ive heard "i wasnt messing with the rifle i was just grabbing my magazines and ammo beside my rifle so i could load during the ceasefire" etc, etc, etc.

    ive highly appreciate the order that is kept there.
     
  10. valnar

    valnar Member

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    Indeed. The K31 is a gem among surplus rifles. It's not that they are so unique (which they are), it is that they are so good. After all, unique and crappy would still be crap. Mausers, while good, just seem so common.
     
  11. barnbwt

    barnbwt member

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    Yes, the striker will slam against the bolt interior, transferring some of its momentum in the process, but the striker still moves forward towards a live primer :uhoh:. I haven't tested with a primed empty casing, but as I understand, the firing pin will still contact (and dent) the primer as the bolt is knocked home. Maybe without enough energy to ignite it, maybe not. SwissRifles.com (a great site, and probably the best source of info on these guns out there, BTW :D) strongly warns against releasing the striker at this "almost closed" postion.

    Allowing the striker/firing pin to slam the action fully closed on a live round seems kinda like the infamous (bogus and dangerous) "Mosin Nagant Decocker" :)barf:) I've heard so much about (please correct me if I'm wrong, though :eek:). Is there some other safety interlock that positvely blocks the firing pin or striker from delivering any contact to the primer if the bolt isn't fully rotated?

    I'm sure we both agree it's best practice to just firmly push the bolt handle forward, ensuring the bolt is fully rotated :) . I wanted to clearly state a potential safety pitfall unique to this rifle's design, for the benefit of prospective buyers reading my review (just as anyone discussing the CZ52's unreliable decocker would, for example).

    TCB
     
  12. tacdad

    tacdad Member

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    I was looking at a k31 and a swiss 1911 at a local gun shop. They were both in very nice shape. What should something like that go for at a gun shop in good condition? I hadn't really seen to many around that's why I'm asking.
     
  13. barnbwt

    barnbwt member

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    Price Check Please...

    I picked mine up for 320$ each, but I believe the going rate is usually around 350$ or above, depending on stock condition. I wouldn't settle for anything less than "perfect" condition metal and rifling. If there is any rust, pitting, missing/ broken parts, or a worn barrel, far better examples are easily available for about the same price.

    Oh, and don't bother wondering if they can be rechambered to. 308-- I've already looked down that road, and it's either a multi-thousand dollar custom job, or an ugly solution that canabalizes the original barrel :(

    TCB
     
  14. Silent Sam

    Silent Sam Member

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    "Is there some other safety interlock that positvely blocks the firing pin or striker from delivering any contact to the primer if the bolt isn't fully rotated?"

    Yes there is, as much as any mechanical device is "positive". It's called the interrupter lug on the op rod. What you are describing as firing out of battery can only happen if the the interrupter lug is either broken off or the op rod has been replaced and is not properly fitted. The best way to peen or break the lug is to repeatedly release the firing pin against the lug by pulling the trigger w/o ensuring the bolt is fully IN battery. With a properly functioning action the K-31 will not fire out of battery. You have to break it first.

    "SwissRifles.com ... strongly warns against releasing the striker at this "almost closed" postion."

    That is because doing that is likely to break the interrupter lug, defeating a design safety feature by abuse. So what it amounts to if a shooter repeatedly tries to fire a K-31 with the bolt not fully rotated and thus out of battery, it is highly likely he will eventually succeed once the interrupter lug is beaten out of it's ability to perform (part of) it's design functions.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2012
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