By Jeff Spiegelman
Sometimes, being neutral has its advantages. Switzerland has produced chocolate, multipurpose pocket knives, Swatches, secretive banking laws and a high standard of living. Coincidence? Maybe. In terms of firearms, all that neutrality means the guns issued to Swiss troops through the years have seen, well, lots of skiing, marching, target practice and some cleaning. And very little actual war-fighting. As a result, Swiss surplus firearms are often in very good shape compared to those of some of their less neutral European neighbors (i.e., all of them). The other benefit to not going to war often is that the focus can be put on quality. Attention to detail, accuracy, reliability, maintenance, fit, and finish are more important because there’s no need to outfit a huge force during a war-time economy. Which brings us to the K31 . . .
It’s 8.8 lbs of Swiss precision in 7.5x55mm (.308 caliber). The gun is often incorrectly referred to as a “Schmidt-Rubin.” That moniker comes from a combination of the guy who designed the original straight pull gun, Rudolf Schmidt, and the guy who designed the cartridge, Eduard Rubin.
The K31 was developed after both men were long dead and was created by the Waffenfabrik Bern arms manufacturer. It was first issued to the Schweizer Armee in 1933 and finally left service in 1958. Over half a million guns were produced and imports are becoming increasingly popular in the US as target or sporting guns.
One of the big reasons for its popularity is its price: typically well under $500. Mine was $250 — a model 1931 Karabiner manufactured in 1950 with a beechwood stock. It has the name of the last Swiss civilian militia-man who was issued the gun under the butt plate. If you are going to buy one, I encourage you to check for that. I’m not sure it increases the value, but it’s kind of a cool thing to have.
The gun itself is fascinating. It’s a straight pull with a 6-round detachable magazine that can also be loaded with a stripper clip. Not many firearms are made in this configuration. To work the action, a shooter pulls straight back on the handle and then pushes straight forward. Notice, not up and back and forward and down — straight back and straight forward.
Those of us who grew up on bolt-action guns find the straight pull to be a little weird at first. It’s faster than a traditional bolt action, but there’s something about working the action without that final downward rotation of the handle that feels almost like you are skipping a very important step. Also, the bolt sticking out of the side as it does makes the gun a little inconvenient to fit into your safe, depending on how full yours is. A little nit-picky, I know, but worth mentioning.
Pick the gun up and shoulder it and you’ll know what I mean when I say quality. It’s a bit beefy around the action, but shoulders and points very well. The sights are clear and I’m especially fond of the placement of the hand grooves. Some have stocks that are weathered more than others, but most have bright, shiny bores and clean rifling. The ring safety in the back is operated by a pull and turn.
Speaking of clean rifling, one of the problems many people have with mil surplus firearms is the use of corrosive ammunition. Not to worry here, though. The Swiss didn’t use it (corrosive ammo, that is; well, theoretically, as neutrals they didn’t use much ammunition period). Surplus Swiss ammo shoots a 174 grain, paper-patched, spitzer bullet at 2560 ft/s and stays supersonic at great distances.
The best part? It’s still available and can be reloaded. Cheap, non-corrosive, surplus, accurate, .308 caliber, reloadable ammunition for a gun that costs <$500…what is not to like? If you feel like spending more money for ammunition that’s just as accurate, several companies are making 7.5 Swiss in target and hunting configurations to keep up with the American market.
At The Range
On the first real spring day of the year, and with a breeze at my back, I took the carbine to the range. The gun was made to be fired by soldiers high in the Alps. As such, I brought along a wussy-pad to simulate winter clothing.
As I said before, the straight-pull feels odd for a person who’s used to a bolt action. But it locks up tight and has a smooth, mechanical feel that breeds confidence in the design. The detachable mag is easy to manipulate. But the rifle is still easier to load from the top or with a stripper clip.
The sights are clear and make target acquisition easy. The trigger has a long, smooth take-up with a crisp break. It almost feels more like a modern two-stage trigger than it does anything else of the same age. Recoil is brisk and manageable. I was worried about a cartridge of this size pushing me a little off balance and making it harder to work the action. Nope…easy and precise.
Accurate? Yeah, you could say that. The rear site has gradient markers out to 1500 meters. At 100 yards, the bullet is still rising. With a firearm like this, you really need a longer range than I have to really put it through its paces. In the meantime, it’s plenty o’ fun to shoot quarters at 100 yards with a .308 round using iron sights on a 60 year old gun firing cheap surplus ammo.
How many guns this old do you know of that are high quality, shoot inexpensive and reloadable mil-surp ammo, are accurate, reliable, good looking, a blast to shoot, a break from the same-old-same-old and readily available? A gun that can be a safe baby, a favorite range gun, or a deer-slayer? One that can even be ready for a WROL situation? Frankly, there aren’t that many now a-days. So how much would you pay for one?
Let’s put this in context. A Schmidt-Rubin in great shape is easier to find and (often much) cheaper than a K98 Mauser. In fact, Mosin-Nagants in similar shape are only a little less and the K31 is comparable to the best aspects of those two giants of the foreign surplus rifle world. And the K31 is superior in many ways. Is a K98 worth $50-$100ish more? Is it worth it to buy a Mosin-Nagant for $50-ish less?
The K31 seems to fly under the radar of the surplus gun world and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. This is more than just a good retired military gun. It’s a darned good gun, period. It does everything it should, does it very well, and at a bargain price. Where else will you get this much Swiss precision for so little?
Caliber: 7.5×55 Swiss
Barrel: 23.8 inches
Overall Length: 43 ½ inches
Weight: 8.8 lbs. (empty)
Action: Magazine fed straight-pull
Stock: Beech or walnut
Capacity: 6 round detachable magazine or stripper-clip
Ratings: (out of 5 stars):
Style: * * * 1/2
While the K31 doesn’t have the same fine lines as a 1903 Springfield or K98, it’s not exactly a turd either.
Ergonomics: * * * * 1/2
It’s designed very well. Everything is where it should be for comfortable military shooting of a big, fast bullet. The only small complaint is that ring safety. It’s a little odd but makes sense if you’re up in the Alps under 6 feet of snow with gloves on.
Reliability: * * * *
This might be the only area where the Mosin-Nagant is probably superior. Then again, the Mosin-Nagant is superior to just about everything else ever made in this category.
Customize This: * * *
A scope can be added, but not easily. The surplus ammo can be reloaded with .308 bullets, making this rifle more versatile than it otherwise would be for competition and hunting. But the surplus stuff is pretty darned good.
Overall: * * * *
I’m not sure 4 stars does this firearm justice. This is the Swiss Army Knife of Swiss Army Guns. There are very few things it doesn’t do, just about all of them extremely well – all in a package that won’t drain your wallet much.