Earlier this month I got a press releases from Kriss USA announcing their new venture, Edelweiss Arms. Edelweiss Arms focuses on European military surplus firearms, curios and relics. In other words, used firearms from days gone by. What does that have to do with Kriss’s innovative flagship firearm, the Vector? No, seriously, what does that have to do with the Kriss Vector?
Who cares? I like the Kriss Vector, but I loves me some old rifles and Edelweiss Arms has got some doozies.
Of course, and the first thing I checked out were the lugers. Noting their quality and price, and the fact that I only have one kidney which the doctors tell me I still need, I quickly moved on.
What caught my eye next was the long catalogue of Schmidt-Rubin designed rifles of varyious varieties. I was especially interested in the early workhorse of the Swiss military, the W+F BERN 1896/11.
So I set about ordering a rifle. It sold before I could press enter on the order. That happened twice more. I kept trying and finally got the note confirming my order and the expenditure of $404 plus shipping and handling. Shipped to my local FFL would be a Schmidt-Rubin 1896/11 rifle, made in 1914, and P Stamped.
It’s a handsome gun, but what’s going to stand out to most people is that straight-pull action. If you want to open the action, just pull the orange knob back. Nope, not up, not down…straight back. Your pull will first release the action, then, after slightly more pressure, release the bolt straight back. The action then springs open quickly to expose the detachable six-round magazine inside.
A lot of people, me included, tend to look at the straight-pull action and wonder about its safety. That concern is well-founded, but only if something goes wrong, like a bore obstruction or dramatically overpressure round. If that happens, the bolt will indeed drive straight backward into your face, right below your eye. No bueno.
Fortunately, commercial ammunition is made to be well below the maximum pressure allowable for both the 1896/11 as well as the popular K31. But that ammunition is NOT safe for the rare 1896 rifle that hasn’t been modernized to an 1896/11 or any previous models.
For the reloader, as always, start low and work your way up. In reality, this rifle will easily launch a 165gr Hornady SST bullet at 2,500fps. That mid-pressure round is enough for any animal up to and including elk at common hunting ranges.
The safety mechanism is fascinating in its simplicity. That ring on the back is connected to the firing pin. Simply pull the ring back, rotate it to the right until the tab appears at the 9 o’clock position, and very gently bring the ring forward until it rests. This essentially lowers the firing pin so that it no longer has enough momentum to come forward and strike the primer. With no spring left in its step, you’ve rendered the firearm inoperable.
To reverse, just pull back and to the left, recharging the spring and making the rifle ready to fire.
The front sight is sturdy and robust, but I assumed the front sight of the 1896/11 would be a little more refined and precise than it is. It’s Swiss, after all.
Even so, this is an infantryman’s rifle, one that was expected to be carried while trekking up and down the Alps. Unlike many of the military rifles of the era, there are no wings, ears, or a loop to protect the sight from being bumped.
When not being fired, a muzzle protector serves a dual purpose, keeping dirt out of the barrel as well as protecting the front sight.
The two-piece wood stock on the rifle comes in two flavors, either beechwood or walnut. The earlier rifles, like this one, tend to be walnut. Once the Germans started rebuilding for what would become WWII, much of that walnut inventory was soaked up in the kriegsmaschine and the Swiss rifles become beechwood stocked.
Like almost all European military arms of the era, the length of pull is fairly short, and the stock ends in a curved metal butt plate. If this were a particularly harsh recoiling rifle, that would be a problem, but at almost 10lbs in weight, recoil just isn’t much of a issue.
Underneath that butt plate was exactly what I had been hoping for. A small piece of paper with the name of the Swiss citizen-soldier’s who owned it. This rifle was made in 1914. I don’t know when the rifle was issued to him or when he retired, but Mr. Alfonse Sarbach kept it in excellent condition.
The stock clearly has seen some use, with marks from weathering and wear. Taking a close look, I can see why the people at Edelweiss Arms said this stock was a 3/5, one of the factors that made its price much lower than others.
But Mr. Sarbach kept what was most important in perfect working order. The wood is well oiled, as is the leather sling. The metal has been protected and cleaned. The bore is immaculate and the action in perfect working order. I hope that when my children inherit this rifle from me, Mr. Sarbach would be as pleased with the way I leave it.
The 1896/11 was the modernization of the standard model 1896, which was an improvement over the previous standard Swiss infantry rifle, the 1889. The ’96 was well-liked, but in 1908 a new cartridge was developed as a response to the new bullet shapes and technologies developed by the Germans. That round would be the the GP11. The GP11 was, and still is, an exceptional cartridge, and would remain a mainstay of the Swiss military for the next 75 years.
The GP11 cartridge was designed to operate at fairly moderate pressures, around 45,500psi. It launches a 174gr .3087 diameter round at 2,640fps from a K31’s 25” length barrel and slightly faster from the full-sized 1896/11’s 30.7″ barrel. In terms of rounds you might be more familiar with, the GP11 is slightly more powerful than standard .308 Winchester commercial rounds, and is pretty close to the .30-06 M2 cartridge in terms of energy.
Here’s a photo of the 7.5×55 Swiss between the .308 Winchester and the .30-06 Springfield for comparison. These are all my own hand loads, and I have loaded them all with the same bullet.
For the reloader, take note of the diameter of the round. Yup, it’s a .308. You can use the exact same pills you load your other .30 caliber cartridges with.
I’ve found recipes safe for the 1896/11 in several of my reloading manuals. Good brass is available online, I bought a couple hundred Prvi Partizan cases, as well as dies from MidwayUSA. Take note, the case neck is fairly short with a steep shoulder, so you may have a hard time with bullets under 150 grains seating well.
If, by some miracle, you can actually find .284 Winchester brass, it’s possible to form 7.5X55 Swiss cases from them. A few decades ago this was probably your best option, but thankfully, those times are long gone.
There has been a bit of a resurgence in popularity of these rifles over the last few years That’s a very good thing, as it’s gotten more ammunition manufacturers interested. I was surprised to find two of my local gun stores carrying two different brands of ammunition for the rifle.
My local Cabela’s had about ten boxes of ammo made by Hornady and Prvi Partizan on hand. The Prvi Partizan is as close as you can get commercially to the originally Swiss GP11 standard round. The modern 174gr bullet leaves the muzzle at just over 2,500fps, which is actually less than the original GP11 round by about 130fps.
One of the reasons I chose this particular rifle is because it was “P stamped.”
As you may know the Swiss army is made up of citizen-soldiers. Back in the day, once a man left the army he had a choice; return the rifle to the armory or pay for it and keep it for himself. As you might imagine, many a soldier decided on the latter. When those citizens decided to keep their service weapons, they were stamped with a “P” on the receiver.
At least that’s what I’ve always been told. I’ve never been able to verify it from a Swiss military source. But I’ve heard this for many years, from a lot of gunsmiths and laymen collectors alike.
If you wanted the most “mint condition” rifle, I would suggest one that is not stamped. As for me, I take joy in wondering what Mr. Sarbach did with his service rifle. Did he ever go to a friendly competition with it? I’m told they were quite popular in those days. What about hunting? The round is powerful enough, and the rifle is certainly accurate enough to take down any of the common game in the area.
Did this rifleman put meat on the table for his family with this very gun? Was it somewhere, tucked away, only a reminder of his youth? Did he sit with his children, cleaning it after a day on the range, or in the field, and tell his them of his days in the service, and of the brothers he made there, as I do with mine?
I’ll likely never know. What I do know is that he must have had a great deal of respect for it to keep it in such good condition.
Again, this was one of the lower-priced rifles on the Edelweiss Arms website. Although the bore was correctly listed as being in great shape, the bluing was listed at 78%. I was expecting something a little more like one of the crates of Mosin Nagant rifles I’ve bought over the years. I was expecting basically good shape, but maybe a little rust on the receiver, with a little pitting in the finish.
The Swiss, being Swiss and not Russian, have higher standards. There wasn’t a touch of rust anywhere on this gun, and certainly no pitting. The bolt is pristine. There were no areas where the bluing was completely rubbed off, or scratched on the barrel itself. Everything covered by the wood was in perfect shape. On the receiver, the bluing is worn and grayed. That’s it. For about a grand more you can get one near 100%. They must be gorgeous.
My rifle, like most, also included the original muzzle protector and leather sling. Both were in great condition.
The trigger is a bit of an odd one, as many of these old military guns tend to be. First, the shoe itself forms a fairly tight, small curve. It fits the naked finger just fine, but doesn’t allow much of a choice in placement. Beyond that, its curvature makes the use of heavy gloves difficult. I was able to get my gloved hand into the trigger guard just fine, but then the trigger felt more like just one point on the curve of my index finger than any kind of lever.
The trigger pull is a distinctly two-stage affair. For the first 3/4″ of that pull, absolutely nothing happens at all. There’s no creep or grit or anything, just very light resistance. Then it hits a 4lb wall before a break, with just a bit of mush at the start. Of course, I have no idea if they all came like this, but this is a surprisingly good trigger. I find it telling that this rifle built for a solider over 100 years ago has a trigger far better than anything today’s American infantryman gets issued.
If you take a look at the Edelweiss Arms website, they list a rating of the bores as 1/5 through 5/5. One of the reasons I picked this was that it was one of the lowest priced “P stamped” rifles that still listed the bore as 5/5. And man, it is. Shining a light down the bore at different angles, it absolutely gleamed. Intimidatingly so. I knew I was about to put 100 rounds through this gun and getting the bore back to this clean and shiny was going to be a challenge.
Unsurprisingly, the rifle functioned flawlessly. I put 100 trouble free rounds through the rifle for this test, 80 of them commercial rounds and 20 of them from my own reloads. At no point did I have problem loading six rounds into the magazine (I could reliably load seven), nor did the magazine ever fail to release or have any difficulty inserting. The straight-pull action had no issues cycling whatsoever, with any round tested.
In fact, the rounds cycled into the breach very quickly. Unfortunately, because of the short length of pull, I couldn’t just keep my cheek-stock weld and pull the bolt back. To do so would have smashed the bolt right into my cheek next to my nose. I’m guessing back in the day people were either shorter, or maybe it was made for soldiers wearing heavy winter coats. I hear it snows in Switzerland.
As it is, I need to angle the stock slightly to the right when I pull back the bolt with force. When I do, the spent cases land almost directly behind me, but a solid 6′ away. Seated in slow fire, the cases landed slightly to my left, just as far away, in a nice, tidy pile. I love it when all the cases land right together. It just says something good about the consistency of the action.
Using store bought rounds, accuracy was excellent. Actually, using any round, accuracy was excellent.
With either the 174gr Prvi Partisan Soft Point round or the Hornady 165gr BTSP round, I got consistent 2 ¼” five round groups off a rest at 100 yards. Because of the ease or reloading, I then home rolled some 150gr Hornady SST rounds pushed by 42.6r of H4895, which should give me a muzzle velocity of 2,600fps. How did it shoot? On average, right at 2 1/4”.
When a rifle shoots multiple different loads from multiple manufacturers, as well as my own reloads with such consistency, it is a good indication that the rifle outshoots my eyes.
Of course, sighting in at the 100 yard mark, all of my groups landed about just over a foot above my point of aim. That’s because the rifle is zeroed at 300 meters, and that is the closest range available on the rear sight. If you wanted to shoot closer in without adjusting, you would need a taller front sight. Of course, that would throw all of the rear sight range markings off.
Since commercial ammunition is fairly close to the original GP11 round, I wanted to see how close the markings really were. I can attest that out to the 600 meter mark, the markings are dead-on. I could regularly strike a 19” silhouette at 600 meters, the rounds striking, on average, just a bit low when using the 600 meter line on the rear sight. To verify much farther than that, I’d need a bigger target.
I’m more than happy with my purchase. I’ve been a long time buyer and seller of surplus rifles. This isn’t the first Schmidt and Ruben rifle I’ve fired, but it definitely the first one I’ve owned. For $400, I picked up a little bit of history, and a lot of great rifle. I see Edelweiss Arms has very few of them left, and I’m glad I got one of these while I could.
Action: Straight Pull Bolt
Overall Length: 51.2″
Barrel Length: 30.7″
Magazine type: detachable box
Capacity: 6 rounds
Weight: 9.94lbs empty
Caliber: 7.5X55mm Swiss
Stock Material: Walnut or Beechwood
Price as Purchased: $404.00
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * *
That straight pull bolt gives it an unusual appearance, different than the other rifles of its era. That’s a good thing. The wood and metal are in excellent shape, especially considering its age and use.
Mess with this rifle and the Allfather will have no mercy on you.
Reliability * * * * *
This gun ran just as well, or better, than most of the modern bolt action rifles I’ve reviewed.
Accuracy * * * *
This might deserve five stars, and with a scope it would almost certainly get it. As is, the front sight is a little wide to get a precise sight picture. Still, it outshoots me.
Overall * * * *
I got more than I bargained for in a $400 military surplus rifle. I’ve seen these rifles actually go for less, but in nowhere nearly as good condition as this one. As it is, I’ve ended up with a piece of history, as well as a rifle that’s fun on the range and supremely capable in the field. To Mr. Sarbach, wherever you are, I’ll keep your rifle in good hands, in the hope that one day we may meet. I hope you tell me all about her.