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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 . . .

K32 Swiss rifle in action, some 76 years after manufacture. #gun #k31

A video posted by The Truth About Guns (@guntruth) on

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:

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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).

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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.

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GP11 ammo, 10 round boxes, 60 round bricks (6 boxes), and 480 round (8 brick) cases

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.

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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.

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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:

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Will it meet the Leghorn Long Range Cheapskate Challenge once its sighted in?  Stay tuned . . . .

 

43 Responses to A Different Approach to Building a $500 1000-Yard Gun (Part 1)

  1. I use my K31 in NRA high power and absolutely love it to death. It warns my heart to see expertly crafted wood and steel next to lifeless black rifles. I’m going to be putting a SWFA super sniper scope on mine and take it to 1000 yards this summer. It already does at least 300 with ease. The only limitations are me.

  2. Good luck, my farthest shot was a crow at 426 yards with a Ruger Mini 14. I have never been presented with an opportunity to shoot a full kilo but I would love to try!

  3. I ring an 8″ square at around 400-450yrd with my 7.35 carcano. I’m about 50% with iron sights and 1938 mil surp ammo. I think the k31 with optics could go 1k fairly consistently if your rings are nice and sturdy.

  4. Without some more MOA from the mount I think you’ll still be holding over though. Other than that, this should prove a little anticlimactic.

  5. Nice idea. If your goal is accuracy I don’t see why you can’t go retro… it’s not like people back then didn’t know how to make a good gun.

    • Check out Swiss Products’ website . . . They make a “Left Handed Op-Rod System” that makes a K31 more lefty-friendly.

      They also make muzzle breaks (clamp on and threaded), recoil pad adapters (that steel buttpad might work well if you’re wearing Alpine gear, but with just a shirt it gets your attention), diopter sights, and lots more high quality, made-in-America bling for your K31.

    • It’s acceptable since it’s not black or semi automatic, and certainly doesn’t support large capacity assault clips. That rapid velocity assault bolt pullback might make the person wet his pants though.

      Oh, you mean left handed.

  6. Back to the budget new gun plan, what if you bought a H&R break barrel in 26″, either 25-06 or 280Rem, put a $100 6.5-20×50 Simmons on it, and developed some good handloads for it?

    • You read my mind on this! I have a 26″ h&r in .223 for plinking that can make a guy with 50 year old myopic eyes shoot like Jerry Miculek. For kicks I shoot beer bottle caps at 200 yards-ish (it’s the longest I can shoot in my neck o the woods)
      With a proper caliber (as mentioned something in the .260 caliber) and good 2nd hand glass can get you gunning for 1000 in no time! I honestly think this is a doable proposition… the tax return just might come in – Handi.

  7. I’ve seen these Swiss guns on Aim Surplus and been interested, but didn’t want to commit to yet ANOTHER caliber of ammo.

    • I’ve thought the same thing, but for the right rifle, why not.

      I have a Springfield 1893 passed down through the ages in .30-40 Krag I’ve been toying with refurbing… good stuff.

  8. Why not buy a used Savage 110 with decent glass in 300 Win Mag or Buy an old 110 in 270/30-06 and rebarrel it yourself? The cost on my custom .358 Win project is in at $465.00 with the barrel and a recoil pad. I didn’t even wheel and deal them as much as I could have. If you get a .270/30-06 with a decent barrel you may have over $200 for glass in a rifle that with some love will shoot accurately at 1000 yards easily. If you can do some basic gun smithing yourself without conjuring “bubba” it can save a ton of money.

    To keep costs down look for blued actions with wood stocks. Older, blued, Savage 110 rifles with wood furniture demand the premium price of 200-300 dollars. 30-06 is particularly unpopular in the resale market at the moment. Note that the accu-trigger will bump you out of the sub $500 price range.

    The bonus is if it needs to be free floated, bedded, or otherwise modified you don’t destroy a nice original military K31.

    Fed Up, I really like the H&R Handi-Rifle idea as well. Are we now going for a sub $250.00, 1000 yard rifle?

    • Sub $300 maybe. My 280 cost me $160 new, and the Simmons Whitetail Classic cost me $99.99. Weaver rings were another $9-10. I just have to take the WTC off my .223 H&R (which shoots 3/4″ at 200 yards with Winchester White Box 45gr) and put it on the 280.

      It would be fun to get a 32″ barrel Buffalo Classic (45-70) with factory peep sights, if you could see a 30″ gong at 1000 yards.

      One of the guys on the H&R forum at graybeard outdoors used to shoot Alaskan wolves at 500 yards with a 30-06 H&R. I think his 30-06 was the Ultra Comp model with built in muzzle brake.

  9. What also stands out on the K31, is the trigger. Like an ol’ Swiss watch.
    Received mine through a private collection in immaculate condition, all matching numbers (except bayonet), with troop tag, and the take up and break is consistent, crisp, and solid. Similar to my Sig556 factory trigger. Should work well for you. Since my eyes are getting older, I’ll check out the optics link you posted.
    It is a sweet rifle.

  10. Huh, as I was reading this, my Federal tax refund check on the desk next to my keyboard began to flutter and twitch.

  11. I have the K31, 1911 rifle, and 556, all are awesome rifles the Swiss know how to make a rifle.

    My 1911 rifle turns 100 this year and still shoots just fine.

    The carbine version is next on my list.

  12. A better choice than a K31 for long rang shooting, for about the same money, is the model 96 Swedish Mauser 6.5×55. It is a vastly superior long range rifle to the K31. It is a far more accurate platform and the 6.5×56 a better long range round. I had a friend that could regularly hit a 15″ plow disk @ 1000yds with MilSup ammo and issued sights!! (He won a lot of money that way).

        • I dunno. 6.5 Swede is, of course, an awesome long range load, but most of the decent milsurp examples I’ve seen are a lot more than $300, so I don’t know if you could put together a complete rifle the the average shooter could hit at 1000 with.

          But let’s look at your example:
          Barreled action from Samco: $250
          Unfinished stock from Boyd’s: $70
          Vintage 10x glass: $130 (assuming the same as used in the article, just to try and keep apples to apples)
          You’re already at $450. Add a scope mount (and probably gun smithing charges to drill and tap the receiver) and good rings, and you’re over $500. And, of course, it assumes that the trigger on the barreled action is a good one and the barrel is too. (Plus you still have to finish the stock.)
          If you can do it, by all means do so. But to me it’s kind of like doing it with a Mosin Nagant — by the time you add in all the fiddly bits (upgraded trigger, bent bolt, scope mount, etc.), you’re probably pushing the budget.

      • If you reload, the prices aren’t that bad, as most 6.5×55 brass lasts quite well in a bolt gun, especially if you load for accuracy rather than maximum possible pressures.

        If you’re going to be shooting at long range, you’re either going to be reloading or buying very premium ammunition, regardless of the caliber.

        • I can vouch for that. If you run off a 20″ group at 1000 yards, you’ll dance a jig for about 2 days before settling in to consider how much it will cost to get down to 15″.

  13. Swiss rifles are excellent rifles for the money.

    -RIP Guisan (Frank Van Binnendijk)
    1959-2015. No one knew more about swiss rifles and history than Frank.

    • I lost my good friend Frank Colcord, two years ago. I got my 1911 rifle and carbine, K31, and three Vetterlis from him…Great guy, I miss him a lot…

  14. I’m still kicking myself for not picking up a K31 when they were about $150 back in the day….. but Mosin Nagants were $70-$90 at that time as well, and the lure was too great.

  15. Well, you certainly could do this.

    Or you could buy a Swede CG63 or CG80, learn to use the aperture sights and call it done.

    The 6.5mm caliber has a better selection of high-Bc, low-drag bullets than the 7.5 bullet space.

    For long range work, pick the bullet you want to launch first, then build a rifle to launch that.

    • If one loads for .300 Weatherby, .30-06, and or.308 Win, they can use the same bullets during reloading. No need to source 7.5mm bullets.

      • And then you’re still not getting the ballistics you can get in the 6.5 to 7mm bullets available today.

        To even start getting to the Bc’s available in a .30 bullet, you need to be pushing a 210gr pill and heavier.

        • The Weatherby doesn’t do well below 175 anyway. Bulles of 220 gr are common. I was pointing out that someone already stocking components for .30-06, .300 Win mag, .300 Weatherby etc. could benefit by having this rifle and don’t have 6.5 Creedmore etc. in there inventory.

  16. Great article and response posts. Click on the ‘As reviewed here’ link in this article to see an excellent review of the K-31 and the very informative posts.

  17. What a great deal. I haven’t been able to find one under $400. The ones in this range have a lot of stock wear.

  18. I really like the solution you came up with for a sub-$500 rifle that can be used at long ranges. Interesting gun, creative solution in coming up with affordable optics and I hope it works at least as well as you expect it too.

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