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Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition: The World's Greatest Gun Book!

Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition: The World's Greatest Gun Book!

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Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition: The World's Greatest Gun Book!

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Lançado em:
Aug 25, 2020


The 75th Edition of “The World’s Greatest Gun Book!”

Now in its 75th edition, the Gun Digest annual is the most-anticipated annual guide to all things new and exciting in the world of firearms.

Informative and entertaining articles by the top writers in the field cover every aspect of guns and shooting, including hunting, personal defense, target practice, gunmaking and collecting. Historical articles provide a look at the role played by firearms in our country and around the world.

Updated ballistics tables provide hours of study for shooting enthusiasts, and the catalog section shows off the industry’s newest offerings in rifles, handguns, shotguns, muzzleloaders and air rifles.

Reports from the Field provide details on the newest firearms and accessories. A Testfire section brings readers up to date on product performance. And a fan favorite, the annual photo essay spotlighting the finest custom and engraved guns, is back and better than ever.

Other firearms annuals rehash previously published materials and regurgitate industry press releases. But “The World’s Greatest Gun Book” remains true to its roots, year after year. Gun Digest offers original, expertly written content in what is truly the most comprehensive collection of firearms information in print today!

Lançado em:
Aug 25, 2020

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Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition - Gun Digest Books




Options abound for customizing these high-performance, budget-friendly rifles


The Tikka T3 Hunter chambered in .308 Winchester is a gorgeous rifle, perfect for hunting all over North America.

In 1918, Finnish firearms company Tikkakoski started to manufacture firearms components. Sixty-three years later, Tikkakoski and another Finnish firearms company, Sako, collaborated on a prototype rifle. Sako then purchased Tikkakoski from Nokia in 1983. The companies merged to create Oy Sako-Tikka Ab, which later became Sako. A world-class manufacturer of hunting, law enforcement and military rifles, Sako positioned the Tikka brand as a budget class of rifles. The Beretta Holdings Group purchased Sako in 2000, and in 2003 the Tikka T3 rifle was released to the market. After over a decade of success with the Tikka T3, Tikka released an updated version, the Tikka T3x, which debuted in 2016.

Being Sako’s budget brand does not mean these rifles are cheap or of poor quality. The Tikka T3 has been well-received by the U.S. market and is noted for its accuracy, versatility and excellent trigger. Tikka offers models for hunting, law enforcement, and precision-rifle applications.

Tikka offers the T3 and T3x exclusively as long-action rifles. The actions have a round bottom and calibers run from .204 Ruger up to .300 Winchester Magnum. Many gunsmiths will note that the Tikka action tends to be true and requires little blueprinting. Like the universal action size, Tikka uses one magazine size with internal magazine blocks to accommodate the different calibers. Bolt travel differs based on cartridge length, with Tikka using two different bolt stops, depending on the caliber.

The action is secured by two M6 metric thread action screws, and mates with the stock via an aluminum recoil lug. Tikka offers rifles that have an integrated Picatinny scope base, and some with a plain dovetail that can accept proprietary scope rings. The single-stage trigger on the Tikka T3/T3x is user adjustable between 2 and 4 pounds. The trigger is crisp and noted as one of the best factory triggers available. Both Tikka and Sako barrels are cold hammer-forged and are made side by side in the same factory. Tikka guarantees a five-shot 1-MOA guarantee on its heavy barrel rifles, and a three-shot 1-MOA guarantee on its sporter barrel rifles.

The Tikka rifle receiver features broached raceways to accommodate the two lugs on the bolt. Bolt throw is 70 degrees, and the Tikka T3/T3x has one of the smoothest actions on the market. The bolt has a Sako-style extractor and a spring-and-plunger ejector. The bolt handle is dovetailed into the bolt and can easily be removed by the end-user. The shroud on the Tikka T3 bolt is polymer and, like the bolt handle, it can easily be customized with an aftermarket option. The Tikka T3x bolt shrouds are aluminum. The bottom metal is constructed of polymer on both the Tikka T3 and T3x.

Tikka launched the Tikka T3x in 2016 and made changes to both the receiver and the stock. On the receiver, Tikka opened up the ejection port, which allows users to easily feed one round at a time. Tikka replaced the polymer bolt shroud with an aluminum one and changed the aluminum stock lug to steel. The steel lug addressed deformation issues that had occurred with large-caliber rifles. The top of the receiver was drilled and tapped to accommodate a Picatinny rail; this modification was also possible with the Tikka T3, but Tikka felt there was room for improvement.

The most significant aesthetic change was the inclusion of a modular stock that features interchangeable pistol grips and fore-ends. Through the Beretta store, customers can purchase grips and fore-ends with different textures, sizes and colors. The stock is filled with foam inserts to dampen noise, and an enhanced recoil pad mitigates felt recoil.

Top: Tikka T3. Bottom: Tikka T3x. Note the increased ejection port on the T3x. Tikka rifles are noted as having some of the smoothest actions on the market.

This Tikka T3 is chambered in 6.5 PRC, mated to a Modular Driven Technologies ESS Chassis, and was custom-built by Bill Marr of 872 Custom Gunwerks. The factory Tikka trigger is excellent.


Over the years, I have owned a suite of Tikka T3 and Tikka T3x rifles. To me, the Tikka T3/T3x is analogous to a Glock 19: It is an inexpensive, quality firearm that simply performs. I am not afraid to damage it and will modify it to suit my needs. I rarely get attached to my stock Tikkas and see them as tools to perform a given task. These tough rifles can be easily customized and tend to hold their value. I have never owned one that failed to hold MOA, given good factory ammunition and solid shooting fundamentals.

For years, I thought the Tikka T3 was good out of the box, but after owning a few Tikka T3x rifles, I appreciate the upgrade. A common complaint about the Tikka T3 bolt was the plastic bolt shroud. I never took issue with this or had one fail in the field, but I am glad Tikka addressed this issue by making an aluminum bolt shroud standard on the Tikka T3x series. The custom grip and fore-ends are a nice touch, and the larger ejection port does ease loading of single rounds. Did I ever have problems after attaching a Picatinny rail to my Tikka T3? No, but if user feedback demanded a more solid rail interface, I am glad Tikka took note and put its engineers to work upgrading this component on the Tikka T3x. Tikka offers both right- and left-handed models.

Tikka’s feed from a polymer magazine. Tikka uses blocks in the magazine to accommodate the various caliber configurations. Metal magazines do exist, though the author never had a problem with the factory polymer magazines.

Both of these semi-custom Tikka T3 and T3x rifles have an aluminum bottom metal from High Desert Rifle Works and are attached to Boyds At-One stocks. Simple upgrades make a good rifle even better.


Except for the Tikka T3x CTR, T3x UPR, T3x TACT A1, and the Tikka T3 Super Varmint, Tikkas do not have a Picatinny scope base. The rifles without scope bases use a specialized scope ring, which is readily available from a variety of manufacturers. These rings mount directly to the top of the receiver. In my experience, this is a lightweight, streamlined way to install a scope. If you attach a Picatinny scope base, this modification will raise up your scope and you might need to raise your comb height to ensure a proper cheek weld. This subsequent adjustment is paramount if you train and shoot in the prone position. Raising the comb can be accomplished either by building up the comb with tape and padding or by installing a nylon comb riser/ammo pouch. Kalix Teknik of Sweden makes a retrofit kit that looks like it was installed at the factory and requires only a slight modification to the rifle. The CR-1 has an adjustable comb, secured inside the rifle buttstock by an aluminum assembly. A knob on the stock allows the user to secure the comb at the desired height. In my opinion, the Kalix Teknik CR-1 is the best aftermarket accessory currently available for adjusting comb height.

The polymer bottom metal in the middle is off a factory Tikka. Unfortunately, in rare cases these bottom metals can crack. The orange and metallic guards are aluminum bottom metals from High Desert Rifle Works. If you hunt in extreme weather, an aluminum bottom metal is a good upgrade.

Except for the T3x TACT A1, Tikka rifles tend to be on the lighter side in terms of weight. A lightweight rifle is fantastic to carry around the woods all day. The only drawback of a lightweight rifle is increased recoil. The easiest way to decrease recoil on a lightweight hunting rifle is to add a muzzle brake and a recoil pad. If you do add a muzzle brake, hunting with hearing protection is absolutely mandatory. Training and getting proficient with a light rifle are easier when excessive recoil is mitigated. This adjustment is particularly important for small-statured or new shooters.

If I wanted to set up the optimal Tikka T3/T3x for a lightweight hunting rifle, I would start with a Tikka T3/T3x Lite and install a LimbSaver buttpad. Tikka did upgrade the buttpad on the T3x rifles, but I think a LimbSaver is still superior to the factory product. If, after installing a Limbsaver recoil pad, I cannot comfortably zero a rifle and gather ballistic data out to 600 yards on an 8-inch steel plate, I will consider a muzzle brake. My 6.5 Creedmoor backcountry hunting rifle did not require a brake and was a joy to shoot, even in the prone position. My .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Short Magnum both have muzzle brakes.

A custom 6.5 PRC build by 782 Custom Gunwerks. This rifle features a 20 MIL prism from TACOM HQ that allows for shots past 1 mile.

I also would replace the polymer bottom metal with an aluminum bottom metal from High Desert Rifle Works. An aluminum bottom metal mitigates fliers and increases the tension between the action and the stock. Though anecdotal, I believe that an aluminum bottom metal leads to a more accurate rifle by positively affecting barrel harmonics, and it will never crack. Unfortunately, I have had factory Tikka polymer bottom metals break, where the action screws interface with the bottom metal. In my home state of New Mexico, it can be near freezing in the morning and 95 degrees in the afternoon. This heating-and-cooling cycle is tough on polymers, and all my backcountry Tikkas have aluminum bottom metals.

One area where I don’t mind weight is in my rifle scope. Hunting in the West requires quality glass and, potentially, 400- to 500-yard, cross-canyon shots. For a scope, I would select a TRACT TORIC UHD 30mm. These top-of-the-line scopes use premium glass and feature a MIL-based reticle that allows you to hold for elevation and wind.

For a general-use rifle where weight is not a concern, I would install a muzzle brake and look at a stock with more features, like adjustable length of pull and comb height, and modular interfaces for bipod and sling attachment. Suitable candidates would include the Boyds At-One Thumbhole Stock, Kinetic Research Group Bravo stock, and my new favorite, the Modular Driven Technologies XRS. I would also consider attaching a suppressor to the rifle.

A Tikka T3x mated to a Boyds At-One stock. Tikka redesigned the scope rail on the T3x.

This Tikka T3 Lite is chambered in .308 Winchester, mated to a Boyds At-One rifle stock with a Nikon Black riflescope and an AMTAC Mantis P Suppressor. It is perfect for 800 yards and in.


Since the Tikka T3/T3x is a long action, it has a lot of versatility for caliber selection and is perfect for a custom rifle. About 10 years ago, I found a .300 WSM in a gun store being sold for $275. I asked the clerk why the rifle was so cheap, and he responded that the seller found the recoil to be hellacious and could not effectively use the rifle. Twenty minutes later, I was the new owner of a Tikka T3 chambered in .300 WSM. I threw the rifle in my safe and forgot about it. Fast forward to the 2018 SHOT Show, where I first saw the 6.5 PRC round from Hornady. When I got home from SHOT Show, I contacted Bill Marr at 782 Custom Gunworks and inquired about rebuilding my .300 WSM into a 6.5 PRC. Bill said it wasn’t a problem, and noted that my request couldn’t have come at a better time because he had just received a 6.5 PRC reamer. I shipped my Tikka T3 to Long Island, New York, and, several weeks later, received a custom Tikka rifle. The rifle featured a 26-inch 1:8-inch twist Shilen Select Match Barrel, and the barreled action was mated to a Kinetic Research Group Bravo chassis. The rifle launches 147-grain Hornady ELD-M rounds at 2,920 fps, and can easily hold five-shot, sub-.40-inch groups.

The rifle was immediately put to work dispatching coyotes at long range and has been used on several long-range antelope hunts. I can get consistent hits on a 24-inch plate at 2,000 yards and, besides long-range predator control, I use the rifle when I have to test optics and optical accessories past 1,800 yards. The only change I have made was swapping out the Kinetic Research Group Bravo chassis for a Modular Driven Technologies ESS Chassis. The Modular Driven Technologies chassis has better comb and buttpad adjustments and complements lights, lasers, and clip-on thermal and night-vision technology.

If you have an old Tikka T3/T3x that you want to rebuild or customize, contact 782 Custom Gunwerks, or Oregon Mountain Rifle Company. 782 Custom Gunwerks is one of the premier gunsmiths in the United States and has expertise in building custom Tikkas. Bill Marr, the owner and lead gunsmith, can do anything you want to a Tikka. Oregon Mountain Rifle Company offers a Tikka T3/T3x Upgrade Package, in which it installs a carbon-fiber barrel, muzzle brake and carbon-fiber stock.


The Tikka T3/T3x are fantastic rifles. Tikka rifles start at around $550 for a Tikka T3x Lite model and go all the way to $1,800 for a chassis-style Tikka T3x TAC A1. These rifles can be purchased stock and immediately put to work, or customized to meet a particular use. In the last several years, I have observed a robust aftermarket segment materialize.

This 6.5 PRC owns everything out 1,400 yards.

The current configuration of the author’s custom 6.5 PRC. The Kinetic Research Group stock was swapped out for a Modular Driven Technologies ESS, which is optimal for testing technology such as prisms, thermal and night-vision devices.

This 6.5 PRC achieved a 60-percent hit rate on a 24-inch plate at 1,800 yards in 25-mph wind.



German Schüetzen Rifles


Gustav Will (lower) and A. Gesinger rifles, both Martini-actioned. The Gesinger is probably 25 to 30 years older, and is chambered for an 11.15mm cartridge of unknown origin.

It was preview day at the Rock Island Auction in early 2020, and a bunch of us were browsing through the vast display hall with its more than 11,000 guns. Lined up on one high rack were two dozen German Schuetzen rifles, easily distinguishable by their intricate curly-cue trigger guards, extra-long barrels and elaborately carved stocks.

I had one down off the rack, studying its intriguing falling-block mechanism, when a man and his teenage daughter stopped to look. He was a gun dealer whose main interest was old Winchesters. His comment: Those sure are funny looking, huh? The young lady, whose life experience obviously included the world of fantasy games and Norse mythology, was more flattering. I think it’s pretty, she said, running her fingers over the dashing stag, carved into the stock. And. she added, with a defiant glance at her father, "Really interesting." He shrugged and moved on down the line. She lingered to look at more Schuetzens.

That, in a nutshell, reflects the status of traditional German Schuetzen rifles in the United States: Appreciated by a few, but a continuing mystery to most, which is unfortunate, because if you love fine guns, you will find more ingenuity, artistry, craftsmanship and intriguing variety in old German target rifles than anywhere else I can think of outside of the gun trade in Victorian England.

Martini-action Schuetzen rifle, probably built in the 1880s. It is chambered for an 11.15mm cartridge of unknown origin and nomenclature, which the author christened the 11.15x51R Kurz. It is based on the .43 Mauser case. The rifle’s maker is identified on the barrel as A. Gesinger, Bremen, but he was probably the retailer. Who actually made the rifle is anyone’s guess.

We should begin by explaining the name Schuetzen, because even though it’s also used in the United States for a particular type of target shooting, here it doesn’t mean quite the same thing. Properly, the word is Schützen, and it has a number of definitions, none of which really translate into English. For our purposes, we’ll call it marksmanship, and give it the common American spelling, Schuetzen.

In Germany, Schuetzen is, or was, until 1935, the highly formalized sport of shooting offhand at a target 300 meters away, using iron sights, with a rifle designed specifically for that activity and useless for anything else. Like the highly specialized American trap gun, the German Schuetzen does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well.

It’s impossible to discuss Schuetzen competition, or the rifles themselves, without getting into both the history and the elaborate traditions. For centuries, Schuetzen matches were a vibrant part of German cultural life, especially in Bavaria and the other southern regions, as well as in Austria and Switzerland. It traces its roots to the year 1139 (almost 900 years ago, and 350 years before Columbus arrived in America) when the first recorded society was established to support target shooting as a pastime. They first used bows, then crossbows and, finally, with the arrival of gunpowder, firearms. From there, the societies expanded and flourished as guns evolved from matchlock to flintlock to percussion to centerfire breechloaders.

Gradually, Schuetzenfests (shooting tournaments) became huge and elaborate affairs, involving thousands of competitors in one place at one time. Cities were awarded the right to hold the national annual match, and built large shooting ranges and whole shooting villages for the occasion, similar to a city preparing for the Olympics. American Schuetzen, as it was around 1900, was certainly big, but never as big as it was in Germany.

The main interest of the German city fathers, from the Middle Ages to the 1800s, was defense of their territory against invaders, and the need for trained archers, and later riflemen, should an invading army appear on the horizon. The German states were scattered, numbering in the hundreds and ranging from large kingdoms like Prussia and Bavaria down to small city states. Until Bismarck unified the country in the 1860s, there was no standing army to protect German territories from, mainly, the French.

For the better part of one thousand years, the French were free to invade, loot and pillage their immediate German neighbors, with the destruction reaching its depths in the Thirty Years’ War. The dreadful carnage and destruction between 1618 and 1648 was never equaled until the mass bombings late in World War II. Under those circumstances, one can see how the existence of a skilled and well-armed militia would be a comfort to the citizens.

This story is told in a three-volume work, Alte Scheibenwaffen, written by a group of American Schuetzen enthusiasts. Volumes one and two were published in 1999, followed by volume three in 2004. The initial research and writing were done by Jesse Thompson, and his work was completed by editor Tom Rowe, with contributions from Bill Loos, Allen Hallock and Ron Dillon. This is the only attempt, in English, at a comprehensive treatment of the subject. Thompson became interested in Schuetzen rifles during his time with the U.S. Air Force in Germany in the 1940s, and continued his research into the 1970s. The others took up where he left off, and the result is a magnificent, 1,200-page effort covering every aspect of Schuetzen culture, from the rifles and actions, to the sights, medals, ornate beer steins and historical accounts of the great matches held over the years.

Martini-actioned Schuetzen rifle, engraved with the name Gust. Will of Zwickau. It is chambered for the 8.15x46R cartridge. The stock is Tyrolian. It was probably made before 1914.

James J. Grant, the high priest of single-shots in America, who published five books on the subject between the 1940s and 1990s, dealt with German Schuetzen rifles only in passing. As he acknowledged, the subject was too vast to deal with adequately in a chapter or two, but he summed up his feelings by insisting that no single-shot rifle collection could possibly be complete without a couple of examples of the wondrous German Schuetzen.

During the years 1950 to 1985, one might have expected Gun Digest, under editor John T. Amber, to cover the subject, but little appeared in spite of the fact that Amber was a serious single-shot collector and owned some spectacular examples, including a couple that are shown in Alte Scheibenwaffen. Probably, no one proposed an article because there was so little information available.

Here is where we need to bring in some politics, because politics is what killed traditional Schuetzen in both its native Germany and in the United States, where it had been transplanted by German immigrants.

Gunmaking in America was widely influenced by German techniques and tastes, reflected in the elaborate long rifles from Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania Dutch or, more properly, Deutsch, or German, immigrants also brought with them their taste for competitive offhand shooting. Schuetzen parks became common from the northeast all the way to Texas, and as far west as San Francisco. This gave rise to the famous American single-shot target rifles: the Sharps, Ballard, Stevens and so on. This was a highly popular sport until 1914, following traditional German rules, and even using German nomenclature.

The Great War ended that. A combination of anti-German feeling after 1917, and interest in shooting the new and different Springfield .30-06 in military style, killed off both Schuetzenfests and Schuetzen rifles.

In Germany, Schuetzen managed to survive the Great War, but it could not survive Adolf Hitler. After the National Socialists gained power in 1933, Nazification spread throughout Germany. Schuetzen shooting with traditional rifles was viewed as useless in terms of training for war. It was archaic, quaint and anti-Nazi. The ancient Schuetzen culture, already diminished by the inflation of the 1920s, and later by the Great Depression, finally disappeared. The last great Schuetzenfest was held in Leipzig in 1934. Henceforth, shooting matches in Germany were dominated by Mauser 98s and swastika armbands.

After 1945, the victorious Allies were determined to disarm the German populace, seizing or destroying any and all firearms, while individual soldiers engaged in wholesale looting. This was when most of the German Schuetzens we see today came to America, shipped or brought home by returning GIs. The Russians were even more rapacious than the Americans, and thousands of guns disappeared behind the Iron Curtain.

Jesse Thompson and others estimated that between 1850 and 1935, about 150,000 Schuetzen cartridge rifles were made in Germany. This is compared to only about 15,000 high-quality single-shot target rifles in Britain during the same period, and a mere 5,000 in the United States. These are ballpark figures, of course, but one can see the relative numbers. They then estimated that of those 150,000, at least 75,000 were destroyed after 1945. Of the remainder, many went to Russia or the U.S. Add in natural attrition over the years, and relatively few were left.

It was many years before interest in Schuetzen began to revive in Germany, but by the 1990s, there were glimmerings of interest. Rifles that had been carefully hidden after 1945 began to emerge. When the Iron Curtain came down in 1990, German aficionados began searching out surviving specimens in Russia, and many old rifles came home, albeit mostly in dreadful shape. Visitors to the United States began to repatriate finer examples.

Unfortunately, many of these rifles were (and are) incomplete. The front, mid-barrel and diopter (tang) sights were both intricate and delicate, and the German custom was to detach and store them in a separate case. As a result, many looted rifles were sent to America lacking some or all of their sights, and since the vast majority were either custom or one-off designs, replacing them is not as simple as searching on eBay.

But now, what exactly were these rifles?

As the accompanying photographs show, the classic Schuetzen is a single-shot with a long barrel (30 to 34 inches), an elaborate combination triggerguard and lever, and a fantastic stock, with extravagant cheek rests and buttplates. The stocks are often carved and checkered from end to end, and the actions engraved with scenes that can defy belief.

These rifles were made to be shot offhand, with no rest of any kind (not even the American palm rest), and every feature is geared to that end. The usual target distances were 175 and 300 meters (191 and 328 yards). A typical rifle weighed 12 to 14 pounds. Double set triggers were almost universal.

The 11.15mm case is based on the 11mm Mauser (.43 Mauser) with its convex Type A head, cut down by about a quarter inch. The bullet is 370 grains.

The 11.15mm is beautifully made, as old German gunmakers did it. The buttstock is Swiss-style, with a thumb rest. The diopter (tang) sight is original to the rifle.

Jesse Thompson estimated there were more than 300 individual action designs, most of which were variations on other designs. Of these, about half were derived from the Peabody-Martini dropping-block, which originated in the United States, was modified in Switzerland, and then refined to unbelievable lengths by hundreds of independent German gunmakers. The other half were falling-blocks of one kind or another. The most famous of these is the Aydt action, in which the breechblock pivots on a pin located under the barrel. It bears some similarity to the Stevens 44 in that regard, except that the Stevens breechblock rocks to the rear, while the Aydt, with its longer arm, drops almost straight down.

Typical features include a double set trigger attached to a trigger plate that is easily removed without tools, and a breechblock and firing mechanism that can be removed the same way. They might employ a spring-powered striker or internal tumbler, but are rarely seen with an external hammer.

If there is no standard, universal action, the situation with the gunmakers themselves is even more chaotic. There was no dominant company like Winchester. There were a few prominent makers, such as C.G. Haenel or Büchel, which supplied basic actions, but in the vast majority of cases, the name you see on the action or barrel is that of the retailer or a small-town gunmaker. This causes considerable confusion. At the same time, it’s impossible to prepare the kind of listings of models, serial numbers and dates so beloved of gun collectors. It’s a wide-open field, and the only real guide a buyer has is his own knowledge of what makes a fine firearm.

For example, the two rifles shown in the opening spread of this article are both Martinis, but who made the basic action is anyone’s guess. The older of the two, dating from the 1880s, is marked A. Gesinger, Bremen, but Bremen was not a gun-making hotbed, and no Gesinger is listed in Thompson’s extensive directory of the German trade, included in volume two of Alte Scheibenwaffen. Similarly, the newer (probably made around 1912) is marked Gust. Will, Zwickau. While there were many men in the trade with the surname Will, there is no Gustav listed. The actual origins of both rifles remain a mystery, as do the makers of the excellent set triggers with which both are equipped.

A word about stocks. Elaborate and individual as most Schuetzen stocks are, there were some established styles. The Will rifle has what is commonly called a Tyrol stock, with the large, cradling cheekpiece. The Viennese (Wien) style is similar but more elaborate. The Gesinger rifle has a Swiss stock, straighter, simpler and more angular. The fourth major style is the German, which is plainer still. These are guidelines only, as every stock maker and client had quirks and preferences.

Like American Schuetzens, Germans used pronounced hooks on the buttplates. When shooting, the forward hand is positioned immediately in front of the triggerguard and acts as a fulcrum. The weight of the barrel pulls the muzzle down and gives stability. The hook fits under the arm, and this not only keeps the rifle from tipping too far, it means the forward hand is effectively relieved of much of the rifle’s weight. With such heavy rifles, that is no small thing; as well, equal weight on both sides would create a seesaw effect that is difficult to control.

The average American, handed a German Schuetzen, tries to bring it to his shoulder in the normal way and finds it completely unmanageable. Instead, the body should be positioned almost parallel with the line to the target. The butt is not tucked into the shoulder, but positioned slightly to the side with the hook under the armpit; similarly, the lead hand must be close to the triggerguard, with the upper arm braced against the body, otherwise the weight is too great. Shooting such a rifle is a skill that takes considerable practice, and while it might look odd in a world of AR-15s and combat-shooting techniques, it works beautifully for its purpose once you get the hang of it.

Engraving on the Gustav Will is typically Teutonic. The man is obviously a Schuetzen shooter. The young lady’s identity is a mystery, but she’s the author’s kind of girl.

This sight was made for the rifle by Lee Shaver Gunsmithing, the single-shot specialist and maker of target sights for American Schuetzen rifles.

The sights on Schuetzen rifles are a world unto themselves. Like stocks and actions, there were some basic approaches, but the sights themselves display the ideas of myriad different makers. In the United States, you might get a Winchester High Wall, then order a Lyman tang sight to fit. In Germany, almost nothing was standardized in this way, and the array of sight variations is dizzying.

The basic principles were these: There was a front sight, usually on a ramp that fit into a dovetail, often with interchangeable blades or rotating sights that offered several different posts or apertures. On the barrel in front of the action, there was an integral dovetail. The mid-barrel open sights were attached to this dovetail, and could be moved back and forth to suit the shooter’s eyesight. Finally, there was the diopter (tang) sight, which was an aperture. This was not used as sight; aiming was done with the front and mid-barrel sight, while the diopter served only to sharpen the sight picture. This was an optical phenomenon Germans discovered early and used extensively.

Although Schuetzen was practiced in all the Teutonic regions of central Europe, the Swiss had considerable influence. Because Swiss matches were geared to military training, competitions often prohibited the use of a diopter sight. If you find a rifle with no provision for a diopter, chances are it was made for the Swiss market. Similarly, the Swiss stock is more plain and functional than the Tyrol.

In Germany, matches could be either two-sight or three-sight, allowing or disallowing the diopter. There was no variation calling for the front sight and diopter alone. This was one more reason to make the sights detachable. Unfortunately, when the Americans were ransacking western Germany’s closets and gun racks, the sights had often been removed and stored separately. As a result, many Schuetzen rifles in America are found with only one sight, usually the front, or none at all.

In these instances, front sights are the easiest to find, since they generally depend on a simple dovetail. Mid-barrel sights are next. Although the dovetail rails vary in width, if you find a sight that is even close, a good gunsmith can usually make it fit. In both cases, however, the purist will give some thought to getting sights that are the right vintage for the rifle, as designs evolved over time.

Diopter sights are a whole different proposition. They are as elaborate, intricate and complicated as any iron sight ever devised, and were generally custom-made for an individual rifle. One could devote several articles to German rifle sights, and still not come close to covering them all. Tangs are different, bases are different. Some have one post, some two. Some posts are round, others are square, and still others are combinations.

German sights were often housed in cases like jewel boxes, with carefully fitted compartments for bases, apertures and various accoutrements, and were often liberated separately from the rifles themselves. As a result, there are quite a few old German sights in collections around the United States, and an intrepid researcher can often find something that, even if it does not fit his rifle, can at least indicate what is required. One should be warned, however: The sights, beautiful mechanical implements that they are, can be every bit as addictive as the rifles.

Over several years of watching these rifles come up for auction, I have noticed that those lacking sights almost always sell for a fraction of what they would bring if fully kitted out. Conversely, an old and battered beast, fully equipped with sights, will bring considerably more than might otherwise be expected.

This brings us to the question of caliber. German Schuetzens followed a path, from the beginning of the centerfire era up to 1900, that parallels Schuetzen in the United States. Early American rifles were chambered for .44 or .45 caliber, which shrank first to the .40s, then down to .38s, like the .38-55, then to the .32-40 and its ilk. American shooters were on their way to embracing the .28 by 1900, but by then the reign of blackpowder was pretty much at an end.

Germans used, first, 11.5mm and 11mm cartridges, then 10mm and 9.5mm, and finally settled on the 8mm in the early 1890s. There were so many variations of 11mm and 9.5mm that it’s impossible to even begin to list and describe them, but many of the early ones were based on the famous 11mm (.43) Mauser case with its convex base, what came to be known in Germany as the Type A head.

In 1893, Adolf Frohn produced a radical new cartridge initially dubbed the 8.15x46¹⁄2, and it took the shooting world by storm. In 1910, it was standardized as the 8.15x46R, and from that point until the effective end of Schuetzen in 1935, almost no other chamberings were used. It was, and is, extremely accurate, with virtually no recoil. It’s worth noting that RWS still makes brass for it, which simplifies things considerably. Of rifles made since 1895, you are more likely to find an 8.15x46R than anything else. At the Rock Island auction mentioned earlier, every single Schuetzen rifle was an 8.15, except for a handful in .22 LR.

Trigger group from the 11.15mm. This is a three-blade set trigger. Designs ranged from one blade up to seven, each progressively more sensitive. Triggers were a separate gun-making skill (Stechermacher), with specialists supplying the companies that made the actions or barreled actions, either for completion themselves or for sale to small gunsmiths and retailers.

German shooters generally loaded their own ammunition, but did so using factory brass and bullets. Compared to Americans, there was almost no experimentation and wildcatting by individual shooters. Since shooters traveled to distant matches by train, baggage weight and bulk were a concern. A match might call for several hundred rounds, so it was easier to carry components and only a few dozen cases, reloading them as needed. Instead of a powder measure, shooters took powder in pre-measured packets about the size of a cigarette filter. They were tucked whole into the case, and the nitro-paper wrapping was consumed by the powder burning. These powder charges were sold in boxes of 50 or 100. The standard bullet for the 8.15x46R was the pattern 16H, a 180-grain cast bullet with a belt about halfway between the base and the tip. It was hand lubed, then pushed down into the case using finger pressure. The belt prevented it going too far in and provided uniform overall length. Since cases were not resized, there was a saving in equipment at every step.

Although large companies did produce Schuetzen rifles and barreled actions, the whole nature of the German target-rifle industry was one of hundreds of small shops, individual craftsmen and specialist outworkers, not unlike the gun trade in England in the 1890s. One particularly important specialty was the making of the double-set triggers, which were the industry standard. These were multi-leafed affairs, with triggers denoted by the number of levers: three-lever, four-lever and so on, up to seven. The setting trigger did not count, so a three-lever trigger actually had four leaves, which is confusing. Most fine Schuetzen rifles had three-leaf triggers. As the number of leaves increased, triggers became so sensitive that only the most experienced shooter could fully appreciate and utilize the delicate touch.

Jesse Thompson tells the story of one Stechermachermeister, Emil Kommer, who apprenticed to his father, opened his own shop in 1903, and produced his last trigger in 1966, when he was 87. His shop had only one power tool (a lathe powered by a foot pedal), yet he made five- and six-lever triggers of the finest quality. In fact, so competitive was the rifle industry, and so skilled the Stechermachers, that (provided it had not been tampered with by morons) every German set trigger that Thompson encountered worked perfectly, a hundred or more years after it was made.

An obvious question regarding these rifles is: just how accurate were they? Indications are they were every bit as accurate as the best American offhand rifles. Some groups shot at 300 meters, offhand, are astounding. There are official verified photos of some groups, of 10, 20 or more shots, that are so small I would have difficulty duplicating them at 50 meters, much less 300. The official German 300-meter target had a 20-ring that was only 4cm (1 9/16 in.) in diameter, yet the best shooters could obliterate it with a string of shots.

Mid-barrel open sight on the Gustav Will. Adjustments are made using a clock key.

Front sight on the Gustav Will. There are four sights (one post, three blades with pinhead bead) which are rotated into place using a clock key.

Accuracy was certainly important to German shooters, but if the better surviving rifles are anything to go by, aesthetics were also a major consideration. Shooters were continuing an ancient tradition, and not only their clothing but their rifles reflected that. No German Schuetzen was complete without extensive engraving on the action, and comparable carving on the stock. The stocks resembled the later sculptures of Henry Moore in many ways, with deep-dished cheekpieces and sweeping curves. These stocks were so elaborate that most could not be carved from one stock blank. Instead, pieces were shaped separately and the wood grain matched so perfectly that they appeared to be one piece of wood.

When it came to engraving, the German craftsmen recognized no boundaries. Favorite themes were St. Hubertus and the stag, ancient fairy tales, scenes from Norse mythology, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen, and, in Switzerland, the legend of William Tell. A favorite was the Schützenliesl, a Bavarian barmaid in traditional costume wearing a target for a hat, with foaming steins of beer in her hands, dancing atop a rolling beer barrel. She really existed, immortalized by a famous painter in 1881, and her portrait still hangs in Munich. There were seemingly endless variations on this theme alone.

Engraving included oak leaves, forest glades, wild boars, stags, roe deer and every other Teutonic vision imaginable. The engravers were largely anonymous, treated by the industry not as artists but merely as craftsmen, but some of their creations are truly spectacular. Not surprisingly, the heights were reached with rifles created for presentation to crown princes and archdukes, but even the average Schuetzen rifle bore a level of ornamentation found only on very special-order rifles in the United States. It was all part of the ancient rite and culture, and the rifles were as much badges of honor as they were firearms.

At Rock Island, the young lady stayed with us for several minutes while we looked at one Schuetzen rifle after another. She studied the engraving, admired the wood carving, commented on the intricacy of the sights, and remarked about the mythological themes embedded in the steel. Obviously, these relics of ancient German culture intrigued her mightily. It’s like a fantasy, she smiled. When her father returned to reclaim her and drag her off to look at still more Marlins and Winchesters, she rolled her eyes, said goodbye to Wotan, Siegfried and the Schuetzenliesl and, with a wistful smile, walked away. Her father never gave the Schuetzens a second glance.

All of these rifles came up for auction on the third day. They were grouped singly, or in twos and threes. Not one of them was really complete; most were missing one or more sights, a couple had lost their breechblocks. All had been sorely neglected, and the scratches and grime reflected a rough life in the years since they were abducted in Germany and carried off to America. In a flight of fancy, I was reminded of captured Teutons in the first century B.C., dragged off to Rome in chains, paraded through the streets, and then torn apart by lions. Schuetzen rifles tend to encourage such flights of fancy.

At Rock Island the year before, I bought my two Schuetzens. Both are Martinis, and I was in the market for a Haenel Original Aydt or a Buchel Meister. Those two are considered the aristocrats of the non-Martini Schuetzens. One lot of three rifles included two Aydts and a Meister, all in 8.15x46R, all incomplete and grimy, but salvageable. I watched as they sold for twice what I was prepared to pay, but I didn’t mind. They were going to someone who obviously appreciated them and would, I hoped, give them a good home.

Since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and the Soviet government fell two years later, there has been a revival of interest in Schuetzen in Germany, and quite a few looted rifles have gone home, both from Russia and the United States. Those coming back from Russia look like most refugees from Stalin, damaged almost beyond reclamation; those returning from America are sometimes better, but not always.

Trigger group, breechblock and pin from the Gustav Will. All are easily detachable without tools for cleaning and servicing. This is a three-part set trigger.

Interest shown here by visitors from Germany, seeking to locate their lost children, has sparked more interest among shooters in America. It’s an odd thing that many of the rifles were brought here purely as loot, by men with no interest in shooting, merely looking for something German to hang on the wall beside their campaign medals and old uniforms. Few rifles, it seems, were cared for and provided with the wherewithal to go to a range and do what they were made for.

The 8.15x46R cartridge (center) is remarkably similar to the favorite American Schuetzen cartridge from the same era, the .32-40 (left). The 8.15 employs a pattern 16H 180-grain bullet with a belt, which is hand-lubed and then seated with finger pressure. The belt prevents the bullet going too far into the case, and ensures uniform cartridge length.

Alte Scheibenwaffen, the three-volume history of Schuetzen in Germany, by Jesse Thompson, Bill Loos, Ron Dillon and Allen Hallock, edited and compiled by Tom Rowe. They were published between 1999 and 2004, and are a comprehensive history, essential for anyone with even a moderate interest in these magnificent rifles.

The 8.15x46R (left) was designed by Adolf Frohn in 1893, and swiftly took over the Schuetzen rifle world, relegating large old cartridges like the 11.15x51R Kurz to the status of old iron. The 11.15 still shoots extremely well, and the 8.15 is every bit as accurate as the .32-40.

In my experience, though, when you restore a rifle like my two Martinis, provide them with good sights, load proper ammunition, tune their set triggers, and put them in the hands of people who’ve never seen such a rifle before, it’s a revelation. Sure, they’re heavy. Sure, they’re awkward at first. But when you hoist one to your shoulder, snuggle into the stock, caress that front trigger, and the heavy lead bullet hits a distant steel plate with a Clang!


Snubbies (And why I like them)

Revolvers from another era still have appeal


The Fitz Special was the invention of John Henry FitzGerald, a burly, cigar-chomping ex-lawman and exhibition shooter who worked for Colt Patent Firearms Company. It facilitates a faster draw from his pants pockets, a preferred method of carrying for many in the 1920s and ’30s. Among other things, Fitz bobbed the hammer and cut away a portion of the trigger guard. This Detective Special, from the 1930s, was turned into a Fitz Special for the author by the combined talents of Turnbull Restoration (www.turnbullmfg.com) and gunsmith Andy Horvath (440-458-4369).

I guess you could say it all started with Phillip Marlowe, or at least as he was portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the 1948 movie, The Big Sleep, when he reached for a Detective Special from the glove compartment of his car. Or maybe it was Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday, in the long-running Dragnet TV series, who at various times carried a Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special or a 2-inch-barreled Model 10. It might even have been the Hubley Colt Detective Special Cap Gun I had as a kid. Whatever the impetus, my fascination with snub-nosed revolvers has been with me throughout my entire life as a shooter, gun writer and collector. And I’m not referring to the current wave of short-barreled, globular CCW guns – as good as they might be. They just don’t have the it factor for me.

Besides, although many of today’s gun magazines seem more focused on the coverage of ever-smaller, pocket-sized semi-automatics, there’s something the about snub-nosed revolvers; those squat, compact and graceful-looking little wheel guns from the 20th century, that I simply can’t resist. I’m referring to those 2-inch-barreled Colts and Smith & Wessons that were slipped into the trench-coat pocket of a hard-boiled private dick (the early 20th century slang term for a detective) who was about to take a slow walk down a shadowy, rain-soaked alley late at night.

To be sure, it was the Film Noir motion pictures of the 1940s and ’50s that really brought the snub-nosed revolver to the public’s attention. But hard-hitting pocket pistols were on the scene long before the first snubbies made their debut on the silver screen. In the 19th century, Jesse James removed the entire barrel from a Colt Single Action Army in order to fit it into his pocket. And, of course, we have the ultra-rare, special-order 3-inch-barreled first-generation SAA Sheriff’s Models (a modern term coined by collectors; Colt never used it in its contemporary advertising) of that era as well. But even before that, in 1866 to be exact, Remington had introduced its Double Derringer, a pocket-sized pistol with two stacked, 3-inch barrels, each chambered in .41 Short.

Eventually renamed the Model 95, it remained in the line until 1935. And in 1877, P. Webley & Son of London & Birmingham England brought out the British Bull Dog, a scaled-down version of Webley’s Royal Irish Constabulary Model in 1872. Chambered for cartridges such as the .44 Webley, .450 C.F. and .455 Webley, it became one of the most popular pocket-sized double actions in Europe as well as in the United States, and was produced until 1914, when World War I caused arms making to be redirected to military endeavors.

So early on, there was a need for pocket pistols, but with the exception of certain derringer-styled handguns, the larger-bored revolvers were, of necessity given the technology of the time, all built on large frames, although when outfitted with shorter barrels, they were still easy to fit into the baggy pants pockets of the day. However, most of them came with barrel lengths that were more suitable for holsters than pockets. But it was the advent of the .32- and .38-caliber double actions, built on smaller frames than the .44s and .45s of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that set the stage for the truly compact snub-nose revolver.

Specifically, it was the Colt Police Positive, a small-framed, six-shot revolver introduced in 1907 that started things rolling. Chambered in .32 Long/Short Colt, .32 Colt New Police (the same as .32 S&W Long), .38 Colt New Police (the same as .38 S&W), as well as the .22 rimfire cartridge, it was quickly adopted by numerous police departments, including plain-clothes detectives. Heeding their requests, just one year later, in 1908, Colt lengthened the Police Positive’s frame and cylinder slightly so it could be chambered for the .32-20 cartridge as well as the much more effective .38 Special, which was favored by law enforcement. That gun, then, became the Police Positive Special, which ended up being one of the most popular revolvers in the Colt line. Although the Police Positive Special could also be ordered in .32 Colt New Police and .38 Colt New Police calibers, it was the .38 Special version that was adopted by countless police forces, express agencies and others across the country.

Unfortunately, as far as those who wanted a slightly more compact revolver for off-duty or concealed carry were concerned, the Police Positive Special only came with 4-, 5-, and 6-inch barrel lengths. Consequently, it was not uncommon for many individuals, law enforcement and civilians alike, to trim off the excess barrel, just even with the end of the ejector rod. And thus, the first modern snub-nosed revolvers were born. For years, I owned an early 1920s-era Colt Police Positive Special in .38 Special caliber that had been carried by a Union Pacific Railroad detective who probably took it to the UPRR machine shop and had its factory 4-inch barrel shortened to 2 inches, unceremoniously lopping off part of the barrel’s roll-stamped nomenclature in the process.

Made by P. Webley & Son of London & Birmingham, England, this British Bull Dog was made in the 1880s and is chambered for the .44 Webley cartridge. It was a popular late-19th-century carry gun in both England and the United States.

This Colt Detective Special was shipped on Dec. 19, 1956 to the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

It was about this time that a Colt factory employee named John Henry FitzGerald, who was the head of the firearms testing department and was also an exhibition shooter, began experimenting with ways to alter the dimensions of the company’s double-action revolvers to facilitate a faster draw from his pockets, which he had lined with leather. Fitz, as he was called, was a big, husky fellow with beefy hands, but he ended up reducing the size of the Colt New Service by shortening the backstrap and grips, reducing the barrel to 2 inches – just even with the ejector rod, which he also trimmed – and grinding away the front portion of the trigger guard for quicker access to the trigger. He also bobbed off the hammer spur, which tended to hang up on clothing as the gun was being drawn. This then, coupled with a well-tuned action, became what is now known as the Fitz Special, one of the rarest variations of all double-action snubbies. It is estimated that there are fewer than 100 authentic factory-documented Fitz Specials, those made by either FitzGerald or by other Colt workers as special-order guns. Of course, over the years, many more have been given the Fitz treatment by numerous gunsmiths outside of the factory.

Fitz also had these alterations performed on other Colt DAs as well, although not all of them had their backstraps reduced, especially the smaller D-framed Police Positives. Some had their hammers bobbed, but most did not. However, almost all of them had their barrels shortened to 2 inches. Keep in mind that this was all prior to 1926, when cataloged snubbies did not exist; everything was custom ordered from the factory by gun owners or dealers, or performed for them by outside gunsmiths. Soon the executives at Colt began to realize that maybe Fitz was on to something. Bobbed hammer spurs and cut-away trigger guards were not for everyone and were not practical for the average pistolero, but plenty of shooters seemed to like the shortened barrels on Colt’s medium-sized, D-frame double actions. Consequently, in 1926 Colt made its Police Positive Special available with a factory 2-inch barrel. One year later, this gun became re-branded as the Detective Special, which soon became one of the most popular revolvers in the Colt line.

There were two different grip styles on vintage Detective Specials. The gun on the right (c. 1933-1965) is an earlier long-frame version, with the metal frame extended to the bottom of the grip. The DS on the left (1966-1973) is the short-frame version, with the backstrap shortened to also fit grips for the Colt Agent and Cobra.

A well-used Colt Detective Special, circa 1934.

Available in either blued or in a less-common nickel finish and fitted with two-piece checkered walnut grips, initially the Dick Special as it was nicknamed, was only chambered in .38 Special. But after 1946 the .38 Colt New Police, .38 S&W, .32 Colt, and .32 S&W chamberings were added, no doubt to appease those who were put off by the recoil of the .38 Special in the short-barreled snubbie. (There was also a very scarce variation of the Detective Special with a 3-inch barrel made for a short period after World War II, and from 1950 to 1981 an aluminum-framed variation, the Cobra, was produced.)

The hump-backed S&W Model 49 still leaves the tip of its shrouded hammer spur exposed, should a cocked, well-aimed shot be necessary.

The Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special was named by the attendees at the Oct. 24, 1950 International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. No wonder it became a favorite of law-enforcement personnel.

The S&W Model 60 still makes for a handy and easy-to-carry backup gun for larger-framed S&Ws, such as its stainless steel .45-caliber big brother, the Model 625 Classic.

This, then, was the self-defense gun everybody had been waiting for, including the motion-picture industry, which was quick to embrace the Detective Special for its popular gangster movies. That, of course, only added to its public appeal. Quoting from Colt’s 1936 centennial catalog:

More power is packed into the snub-nosed Colt Detective Special, than in any other arm of its size. This model is especially popular among Plain Clothes Detectives, Police Officers off duty, Bank Messengers and Payroll Clerks. The small size of the Detective Special – it is but 6 1/4 inches overall – makes it possible to carry it ready for instant action, in the pocket or shoulder holster….The Detective Special handles all .38 Special ammunition, including the High Speed. Although primarily for ‘close quarters’ service, the Detective Special is surprisingly accurate at distances of 25 yards and more.

Echoing this, and using Federal’s 110-grain, .38 Special Hydra-Shoks, my 1950s-era Detective Special prints 3.5-inch groups at 25 yards, exhibiting more than adequate self-defense accuracy for a snub-nosed revolver, with which most shots would likely be

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