Monday, January 30th, 2017
by Hamilton Bowen
Those of you who subscribe to the Classic Arms Journal will know of our enthusiasm for .22 rimfire rifles and handguns. Indeed, the Winter 2017 Issue has an extensive feature on the great BRNO .22 bolt-action rifles, a feature by Ross Seyfried on his favorite .22s and then a column on the new Ruger MKIV .22 pistols. Not surprisingly, ammunition also is a subject of great interest, not only finding it but what to find specifically. For what has to be the best and most comprehensive study of current .22 Long Rifle ammunition I’ve ever seen, I would commend to you the piece WHAT’S REALLY ‘MATCH’? by Tom Beckstrand in the current January 2017 issue of GUNS & AMMO magazine. He exhaustively tests and compares a couple dozen currently produced .22 Long Rifle cartridges for performance, both in terms of absolute accuracy but potential accuracy, taking into account range, velocity, extreme velocity spread, etc. The piece describes in detail testing methodology and the author’s opinions on each round. You also have to take seriously the fact the test gun is an Anschutz model 1913 Super-Match rifle for Olympic competition which gave each cartridge tested its best chance to shine. What I particularly appreciated about this article is the fact the ammo tested wasn’t confined to exotic match-grade ammunition but also include ammo you can get at the local sporting goods store. For those of us who are more serious about our plinking than anything else, this is a real boon.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2017
by Hamilton Bowen
Book review of
An Illustrated History
by Arthur Nutbey
I’ve met a lot of gun nuts in my life and think I can say without fear of contradiction that all of them have been history nuts as well. Guns and history are subjects that are inextricably intertwined. Neither can be properly understood if divorced from the other. The problem is that while it’s easy enough to take a gun in hand and examine it, history is an intangible that’s much harder to corner. Original sources often prove inaccessible due to remoteness or perhaps due to death. Even secondary sources may be difficult to discover. That certainly was borne out in my recent search for information on the history and development of a pair of wonderful BRNO .22 bolt-action rifles that came into my care.
These two Czechoslovakian rifles are as nicely turned out and as sophisticated as any of the benchmark German .22 rifles produced by Walther and Mauser between the two World Wars. Workmanship of the Czech rifles is first-class, and their design – particularly that of the bolts – is so remarkably ingenious that it’s bound to arouse the curiosity of any serious student of fine firearms. But try as I might, I couldn’t come across readily available information on the origins of these great rifles. I had heard of the BRNO firm, of course, and knew it was in Czechoslovakia, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. However, with the aid of discussions with friends in the gun trade and with bits and snatches of information gleaned from old gun magazines and internet websites, I was eventually able to piece together a sort of rudimentary history of the guns. But I still didn’t know much about the BRNO company itself.
Then I learned about a book that could fill that gap. When the BRNO firm went bankrupt, it was supplanted by new firm called CZ, which happens to now have a strong presence in the United States. It was a chap at CZ USA who made me aware of a book that tells the story of the BRNO firm. The book is titled ZBROJOVKA BRNO: An Illustrated History, and it will tell you everything you need to know and then some about the storied BRNO firm. The author, Arthur Nutbey, is a diligent researcher who traces the origins of the BRNO company from its humble beginnings as a hand-me-down workshop orphaned in the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Within just a couple of decades it rose to become to one of the great manufacturing conglomerates of the 20th century. BRNO was most famous for its firearms, but it also produced tractors, machine tools, motorcycles, aircraft engines and even typewriters. Nutbey has managed to amass some amazing archival photos and weave everything together in clear, concise language that tells the story of this great company and the people who made it.
It is not necessarily a cheery story line or one with a happy ending. BRNO prospered for a couple of decades between World Wars I and II, but on the eve of World War II Hitler’s Germany took over Czechoslovakia, and after Germany’s defeat, the Czechs feel under the yoke of Communists directed by Stalin and the Soviet Union. It was only toward the end of the 20th century that the BRNO firm regained a measure of independence, but it didn’t survive the privatization and transition to a free-market economy that followed the overthrow of Communist rule. Fortunately, much of BRNO’s tooling, designs and talent were secured by its successor, Ceska Zbrojovka, and once again the great BRNO guns are in production under the CZ label.
Nutbey’s book doesn’t cover the guns themselves in much detail but rather focuses on the origins of the BRNO firm, the people who drove its traditions of engineering excellence, made it great and made their place in history. That alone lets us understand the guns better.
The book is nicely bound with a handsome dust jacket. Its 80 pages are packed with black and white and color photos of the works and products along with several helpful charts and graphs concerning production numbers, dates, contracts and other information. Currently there’s no domestic source for the books, but they can be readily mailed from the Netherlands to these shores. For more information or ordering, contact:
2402 NH Alphen aan den Rijn
Phone +31 (0)172 445 828
Mobile +31 (0)6 510 62 413
Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
by Hamilton Bowen
Book Review of
A Collector’s Guide to the
SAVAGE 99 RIFLE
by David Royal
The names of a fair number of American firearms manufacturers have become household words. Some specific models from these makers are icons and are covered in depth by writers and researchers almost year in and year out. Other models, perhaps from even the best-known of these great firms, are covered thinly if at all.
The Savage Arms Company is a case in point. In business for more than a hundred years and having produced tens of millions of small arms, you would think information about one of their most famous products – the Model 1899 rifle and its kin – would have drawn plenty of notice. It was one of the most advanced rifles of its day, and more than a million of them were manufactured. Surely it must have gotten plenty of attention from authorities and historians of firearms. If that’s what you think, you would be very wrong. Until recently I was able to find only one book devoted to the Savage Model 1899. Douglas P. Murray wrote it, and it was published in 1985. But now, after the passage of 31 years, we have another equally important work on the Model 99, this one by David Royal. The good news is, like Murray’s book before it, the author is a very knowledgeable enthusiast who has created a most welcome addition to gun literature.
Royal’s book doesn’t dwell as much on the 99’s design as Murray’s did, but it shines in other ways that will gladden the heart of Savage lovers. Residing between beautifully wrought hardcovers, the book contains more than 250 color images devoted not only to regular production models but also to a number of special-order items. Several pages of engraved guns are identified by grade. Most interesting of all is a section on Model 99 prototypes, including a short-action “baby” model that was about as engaging as any gun that ever was. Fortunately for Winchester, the “baby” model never made it into production or it would’ve been strong competition for the many Winchester lever guns chambered for small cartridges. If I were King of the World, we would still be making rifles for these little fellows today. I’m talking about cartridges like the .218 Bee, .25-20, .32-20 and – of a more recent bent – the .256 Winchester and the .357 and .44 Magnums. I was aware of the Savage “baby” model, but until reading Royal’s book I didn’t know there also had been a prototype Model 99 action in .30-06 length.
The Savage M1899 wasn’t the first rifle to use a rotary magazine, but it was the first rifle to introduce the concept to American shooters. It also was the only American-made firearm featuring a rotary magazine until Ruger came out with its 10/22 semiauto in 1964. The now-discontinued Ruger Model 96/44 lever-action bears some resemblance to a Model 99 and is likely as close as we’ll ever get to a short-action version of that gun. Rotary magazines represent the ultimate in controlled feeding and are notoriously dependable if fed with proper ammunition. They also allow the use of ballistically superior, sharp-pointed spitzer bullets that are verboten in tubular magazines. The Model 99 was a slick-handling, slick-operating rifle that was much more advanced than anything Winchester offered. But Winchester rifles were out there doing the Lord’s work civilizing and making nation long before the Savage was off the drawing board, which gave Winchester a head start impossible to overcome. Nevertheless Savage Model 1899s served with the militia and fed a lot of folks, and the fact that they never matched Winchester’s popularity takes nothing from the 99’s utility and its refined and elegant design.
As befits a firearms reference book, there is considerable discussion of different varieties, production dates and serial-number ranges of the Model 99. Excellent photographs illustrate variations in everything from carbines to muskets and butt-plates to front-sight installations.
Pleasant armchair ruminating aside, the new Savage book pays homage to one of the greatest repeating sporting rifles of the Golden Age of American arms-making. Savage collectors will find it helpful, and the curious enthusiast will find it enlightening. It’s a beautiful, 160-page book with a handsome dust jacket and contemporary styling, layout and organization. It’s priced at $59.99 plus shipping and handling. For ordering information, contact:
4880 Lower Valley Road,
Atglen, PA 19310