By Louis K. Bonham
As longtime readers may recall, TTAG T&E Editor Nick Leghorn had an intriguing challenge a few years back: to come up with a complete rifle for under $500 that would allow an average shooter to reliably make 1000 yard shots — which I interpret as ringing the 30″ gong at Best of the West’s 1000 yard range. However, while Nick was able to do it for under $1000, his effort at a low budget long-ranger came up short. I’m going to attempt Nick’s challenge, but I’m try it from a different angle. Rather than starting with a budget-priced modern rifle, I’m going to use a classic milsurp battle rifle: the Swiss Karabiner Model 1931, better known as the K31 . . .
Why the K31? For starters, it’s a work of art. As reviewed here, it’s a straight pull action that just exudes fine Swiss craftsmanship. Its 7.5×55 ammo is ballistically comparable to 30.06 or .308, with an effective range well in excess of 1000 yards. Further, because the Swiss military never used corrosive ammo in K31’s, and each citizen soldier was personally (and financially) responsible for maintaining his own weapon, most examples have bores in excellent conditions. If you get lucky, you may get one with a troop tag under the buttstock identifying the soldier who was originally issued the rifle. The troop tag in mine indicates it was issued to a cook:
From the superb condition of the bore, I doubt it saw much action beyond his required qualification shoots. And unlike Private Ivan’s Mosin Nagant, the stock trigger in Bk. Sdt. Jakob’s K31 is superb: there’s no need for an aftermarket bangswitch.
While the price of K31’s has gone up in recent years, excellent examples can still be had for under $300. I paid $260 for mine (1941 make, walnut stock, original leather sling, all matching serial numbers, and a troop tag).
The K31 uses 7.5×55 (a/k/a 7.5 Swiss) ammo. While nowhere near as cheap as it once was, you can still get Swiss milsurp ammo (known as GP11) for about $0.50/shot. GP11 is some of the best military ammo ever made, and is generally regarded as match grade stuff. For those of us who don’t handload, having relatively cheap match grade ammo available is a definite plus.
There’s no question that in skilled hands, a stock K31 with GP11 ammo can ring steel at very long range. The Swiss routinely compete with it at 1000 meters using iron or diopter sights, and there are plenty of videos online where marksmen using iron sights are hitting steel with their K31’s at 1000, 1200, and even 1500 yards. That said, it’s hard enough for most of us over 40 to see targets past 400 yards, much less reliably use iron sights at that distance. Ergo, for Nick’s challenge, optics are a must.
However, this is a marksman’s rifle from an era when iron sights ruled. While a K31 can be loaded via its removable magazine, it was most typically loaded from the top using stripper clips. And like most other rifles of that era, it ejects the same way. In short, it’s not designed to take a scope where we usually want it.
Fortunately, an enterprising American company, Swiss Products makes a number of high quality aftermarket products designed for the K31, including some highly regarded scope mounts. An earlier TTAG article favorably reviewed their “drill and tap” scope mount, but drilling into a classic battle rifle isn’t my cup of tea. I thus opted to try one of their clamp-on mounts, which are highly touted in the K31 community. They come in milled aluminum ($70) or steel ($99), and are offset by 3/4″ to the right of the bore. While the slight offset looks unusual at first sight, it doesn’t materially affect things, and this setup also allows you to use the existing iron sights as well as a scope.
At the recommendation of the folks at Swiss Products, I opted for the aluminum mount. Installation is ridiculously easy: simply insert it on the right side of the receiver, push it forward as far as it will go, and tighten one screw with the included allen wrench. That’s it: the mount is finely machined to mate with the contours of the receiver, and a locking block snugs it tightly in place, perfectly aligned with the bore. It literally took me longer to type this paragraph than to do it, and the mount doesn’t damage or mark the receiver at all. Loosen the one screw and off it comes, easy-peasey.
The mount has a 3/8″ dovetail, most commonly seen on rimfire rifle scope mounts. Swiss Products reports that they use this rather than typical centerfire sizes to keep the offset to a minimum. Brownells carries heavy duty Warne 7.3 Series 3/8″ rings ($40) that are especially beefy and come in various heights, but Swiss Products says that any good quality 3/8” rings will work.
I’d originally considered going with Nick’s favorite budget glass, the Primary Arms 4-14×44 FFP mil dot, but that would have put me over the $500 mark. Ergo, since this is a vintage rifle, why not a vintage scope? A little time on eBay, and $130 later I had a classic steel tube Weaver K10 (“60-B El Paso, Texas”), a 10x AO scope that’s likely older than I am, in excellent condition. According to the chatter on the K-31 message boards, this should do the trick.
Put them all together, and for $500 I’ve got this:
Will it meet the Leghorn Long Range Cheapskate Challenge once its sighted in? Stay tuned . . . .