Category Archives: Firearms

Western Wednesday — American Western Arms Peacekeeper


American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

I’ve done a couple of articles on clones of the 1873 Colt ‘Single Action Army’/’Peacemaker’ line of guns:

But today I’m going to present something even more rare than the USFA listed above. The original American Western Arms (AWA) began importing single-action pistol parts from Italy around 1998-1999. They then finished assembly in the U.S. with rich blueing on the barrel and cylinder, case hardening on the frame, and a highly tuned trigger.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

So, Peacemaker vs. Peacekeeper. Starting to see a problem here? Colt did, because at the time Colt was also make a double-action/single-action revolver called the ‘Peacekeeper’. But if that wasn’t enough to get Colt’s legal department moving, these grips were:

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

They’re almost indistinguishable from a pair Colt used on a version of their Peacemaker, except on their grips the Colt is rearing, and the ‘E Pluribus Unam’ banner rides higher on the eagle. Even cocking the hammer is very reminiscent of the Colt; the four clicks are much more pronounced than on the Uberti El Patrón Competition or the USFA Rodeo.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

Colt were amused, and their legal department sued on a point of trademark law called ‘Trade Dress,’ in which the copy is deemed too close in appearance to another company’s offering to the point that the aggrieved party can claim that the copy intentionally misleads the buying public or trades off the good name of the plaintiff.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The AWA Peacekeeper was in production for only two or three years, around 2000 to 2003, before Colt put a stop to it. Total production of this fine reproduction was about 2,000 copies, and many of those copies were abused in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) and Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Finding one of these in the condition shown here is not easy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

The owner of my favorite local gun store, Paul Lee of Collector’s Gun Exchange, is an avid CAS participant, and he knows a good Colt replica when he sees it. When this particular weapon was placed with him on consignment, he decided to try it out. His verdict was that the AWA Peacekeeper is the most accurate 1873 he’s ever fired, and he’s fired a lot of them. Paul put three bullets into a target placed 20 yards/18 meters downrange. Two bullets went through the same hole, and the third was touching! Note: Paul is a lot better shooter than I’ll ever be.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

In my previous article on the USFA Rodeo, I called it the premier “Colt” Model 1873 Single Action, and it is when compared directly to Colt, I’m told. But, apparently, the AWA Peacekeeper has both beat in the accuracy arena.

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Here’s a comparison of the Rodeo’s more correct conical firing pin and the Peacekeeper’s tapered version:

USFA Rodeo (top); AWA Peacekeeper

Removing the grips on the Peacekeeper reveals that the hammer is powered by the traditional leaf spring. Also, note that the grips are serially matched to the weapon.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

One feature that sets the Peacekeeper apart from either the original Colt design or the Rodeo is a two-notch cylinder base pin. I’ve seen this feature before in Italian copies of the 1873, particularly the Uberti El Patrón, so it’s not surprising to see it on another gun that was partially manufactured in Italy.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

This acts as a safety. Regardless of what you see in westerns, where the good guy peels off six shots (or more if the continuity editor isn’t doing his or her job), the 1873 is only loaded with five rounds. The hammer and firing pin are then placed over an empty cylinder chamber, as this is the only way to safely carry a single-action six-shooter unless it incorporates a modern transfer bar system, such as on the Ruger Vaquero.

If the cylinder base pin is inserted to the first notch, the gun can be fired.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

But if the base pin is pressed farther into the weapon, locking in at the second notch, the end of the base pin will protrude out the back of the frame. This keeps the hammer/firing pin from contacting the cylinder, thus making the weapon safe from unintentional discharge even with all six cylinders loaded.

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

American Western Arms “Peacekeeper”

It’s an interesting idea, but not very practical in my view. It’s not very intuitive to activate, and even less so to deactivate. Better to just do it the way Paladin would have loaded his 7½-inch barreled Cavalry-model 1873 Colt — load one, skip one, load four, drop the hammer.

I hope you enjoyed today’s bit of western nostalgia. Tune in later this week for a really Fun Firearm Friday.

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Military Monday — Swiss K31 “Straight-Pull” Bolt Action Rifle


Swiss K31 Rifle

I’ll be returning to my “54 Days at Sea” series next week. Until then, this week is dedicated my most viewed subject — firearms. And today I present an extraordinary one, a Swiss K31 bolt action rifle.

Swiss K31 Rifle

The K31 was the primary weapon of the Swiss Army from 1933 until 1958. So, if that’s the case, why is it called the K31? Because the first rifles were delivered to the Swiss Army for testing in 1931. The K31 is often called a “Schmidt-Rubin” K31, but this isn’t technically correct. The original Rudolph Schmidt straight-pull bolt action design dates back to 1889, and culminated in the K31’s immediate predecessor, the K11. The Eduard Rubin 7.5 “GP90” was the cartridge around which the Model 1889 was designed. This basic rifle/ammo combination lasted through several improved models, but the K31 has little in common with the previous Schmidt rifles beyond the straight-pull concept and the ring-pull cocking piece/safety. The bolt, for one thing, was a near complete redesign and much stronger than the Model 1889 through K11 bolts.

Swiss K31 Rifle

Likewise, the GP11 7.5 x 55mm cartridge is considerably more powerful than the previous Rubin cartridges, despite the similar case and bullet dimensions. The GP11 cartridge propels a 174-grain/11-gram bullet at an impressive (for the time) 2,560 feet per second/780 meters per second, thus attaining a muzzle energy of 2,535 foot-pounds/3,437 joules. To put that in modern terms, the 7.62 x 51 NATO round developed almost a quarter century later propels a nearly identical 175-grain bullet at 2,580 feet per second/790 meters per second for a muzzle energy of 2,586 foot pounds/3,506 joules. In other words, the 1930 GP11 7.5 x 55mm round is pretty much the equal of the 1954 7.62 NATO, which is still in use by the U.S. military today!

7.5 Swiss (7.5.55mm)

Now for that previously mentioned ‘straight-pull’ bolt action. Most bolt action rifles, including K31 military contemporaries such as the German Mauser Karabiner 98 kurz (K98k), require four movements to eject a spent casing and chamber a fresh round:

  1. Lift up on the bolt handle, thus rotating and unlocking the bolt
  2. Pull back on the bolt handle to extract and then eject the spent casing
  3. Push forward on the bolt handle to strip a fresh cartridge from the magazine and force it into the chamber
  4. Lower the bolt handle to rotate and lock the bolt

The K31 and its predecessors got this down to just two movements:

  1. Pull back on the ‘beer keg’ charging handle
  2. Push forward on the charging handle

Swiss K31 Rifle

Because of the bolt design, pulling back on the charging handle causes the bolt to simultaneously rotate and unlock.

Swiss K31 Rifle

As the handle is brought farther back, the spent casing is extracted from the chamber and ejected from the weapon. Pushing forward strips a round from the magazine, forces it into the chamber, and rotates the bolt into the locked position.

Swiss K31 bolt operation

Swiss K31 bolt operation

Swiss K31 bolt operation

The magazine also acts as a lock-back when empty. The follower of an empty magazine will block the bolt from being pushed forward. This feature warned the soldier that it was time to reload. To push the bolt home again, either remove the magazine; or place your thumb into the ejection port and push down on the follower while pushing forward on the charging handle until the bolt rides over the rear portion of the follower. Then extract your thumb and continue pushing the charging handle forward until the bolt rotates back into the firing position.

The large ring you see protruding from the back of the bolt is yet another feature. This is the cocking piece. When the ring is vertical and resting against the bolt then the firing pin is not cocked.

Swiss K31 Rifle

If the ring is vertical and protrudes away from the back of the bolt, then the firing pin is cocked and the weapon is ready to fire.

Swiss K31 Rifle

But, if the cocking piece has been pulled, rotated clockwise, and then recessed back into the bolt, then the weapon has been placed into a ‘safe’ mode. The firing pin is held back away from the cartridge primer.

Swiss K31 Rifle

Pulling the cocking piece back and returning the ring to the vertical position leaves the firing pin cocked and the weapon ready to fire. Likewise, this cocking piece also gives the shooter double-strike capability following a misfire. Simply pulling the ring back about ⅝ of an inch/16mm cocks the firing pin.

Safety note: The cocking piece can be held while the trigger is pulled, and then gently allowed to travel forward to decock the weapon. Do not do this over a chambered round, as there is no ‘half-notch’ or ‘quarter-notch’ safety built into the K31. Once “decocked”, the firing pin can still protrude through the breech face and make contact with the primer. Only use the cocking piece as a decock over an empty chamber.

Swiss shield on the receiver

The K31 has a detachable six-round magazine. The magazine can be removed and manually loaded. This is accomplished as with a .30 M1 Carbine; rounds are simply pressed in from the top, and they stagger automatically is they go into the magazine.

Swiss K31 Rifle

There is, however, a second method of loading the magazine. With the magazine locked into the magazine well and the bolt open, a six-round charging clip can to inserted into the ejection port. The thumb of the right hand then pushes down on the rounds, forcing them into the magazine in one fluid motion. The clip is this removed and tossed aside (the originals were cheap and disposable). Here is a demonstration using an after-market plastic charging clip made specifically for the K31 and the Schmidt-Rubin K11 that preceded the K31:

Swiss K31 Rifle

K31 rifles were issued with small field maintenance kits. These cloth bags, unused examples of which you can readily obtain today, came with two tins containing waffenfett (gun grease), brass pull-through, chamber cleaning tool, and a mirror to check the bore. Waffenfett tins are pretty hard to come by, but the other items were included in the kit I obtained. The supplier also included a plastic charging clip in the price.

Swiss K31 Rifle

Another included piece of equipment, which you can also find online, is a brass muzzle protector that clips in place over the front sight.

Swiss K31 Rifle

Swiss K31 Rifle

A good example of the K31 is one on which all the serial numbers match. This includes the bolt, receiver, stock pieces, other parts, and even the magazine.

Swiss K31 Rifle

The K31 is renowned for its amazing accuracy. This is truly a one MOA (minute-of-angle) weapon, meaning that when properly sighted and with an expert marksman at the trigger, the shot grouping should be no more than one inch across at a range of 100 yards. Looking at the crowned barrel is just one clue as to the inherent accuracy of these weapons.

Swiss K31 Rifle

And then there are the front and rear sights. You shouldn’t ever have to drift the front sight unless somebody fooled around with it after it left the armorer. But if your K31 is hitting left or right of target, the front sight can be adjusted by drifting it forward and backward along a rather unique slanted grove. At the nominal 300-meter/328-yard sighting range for the K31, a 1 millimeter  movement of the front blade sight results in a 12-centimeter/4.7-inch change in the point of impact.

Swiss K31 Rifle

Yes, you read that correctly. Each and every K31 was presented to its operator sighted in at an astounding 300 meters. And the size of the target at 300 meters? The requirement was for the shooter to hit with his first shot a 0.2-meter²/2.15-foot² target! No wonder the Germans never invaded Switzerland. Now, let us take a look at the rear sight, which is calibrated for ranges between 100 meters/109 yards and 1,500 meters/1,640 yards (a mile, by the way, is 1,760 yards!):

Swiss K31 Rifle

Sighting on targets is also range-dependent. For instance, at ranges less than 300 meters, the top of the front blade sight is placed at target center. At 300 meters and beyond the target should sight just above the front blade. In other words, at 300 meters and beyond the shooter aims at the bottom of the target.

Expect a firing review of the K31 at a later date.

Some K31 notes for the collector:

  • Walnut stocks were used from introduction through the end of World War 2. Beginning in 1946, however, beech was used for the remainder of military production, which ended in 1958. The example in this article was manufactured in 1952, and has a beech stock.
  • Military issued K31 rifles had a stiff paper ‘troop tag’ placed beneath the butt plate. These troop tags bore the name and home address of the soldier receiving the rifle, and often his date of birth. I checked, but, alas, no troop tag with this K31.
  • While most K31 rifles retain very good bluing, clean bores with well-defined lands and grooves, and are mechanically very sound, the stocks are frequently in very poor condition. These rifles were carried and stacked in snow and mud, and soldiers reportedly would kick the weapon free at the butt using cleated boots. The stock of the example here is in exceptional condition, but that’s the exception to the rule.
  • Speaking of stacking, the bent metal piece beneath the barrel is a stacking rod. Three K31 rifles would be stacked in a tripod configuration, using the stacking rods to interlock the weapons to keep them from falling over.
  • For collector purposes, all serial numbers should match. For a shooter that’s, of course, less important.
  • Swiss Army-issue cleaning kits, muzzle protectors, leather slings, charging clips, and other accessories are readily available online at surprisingly affordable prices. M1918 bayonets with sheaths can also be had, but at upwards of $100 or more for one in good condition.
  • Prices can range from $300 for a fair-to-good rifle, to over $1,000 for one in mint condition. However, K31/42 and K31/43 sniper rifles will go for much, much more.

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First look at the SIG P226 Legion


SIG P226 Legion in original factory hard-shell plastic case

In my view, the SIG P22(x) series of pistols are about the best built handguns currently on the market at their price point. You’ve seen me review some of these pistols before (see: SIG P220 Equinox — Beauty is More than Skin Deep and SIG P229 Enhanced Elite — An Exercise in Indulgence). Sure, I’ve heard the griping about a supposed reduction in quality control since most production was moved from Germany to the U.S., but I’ve yet to see that in any SIGs I’ve fired. They’ve all been rock solid. At the apex of the SIG P22(x) line is their Legion series. Today I present a first look at the SIG P226 Legion, this particular one in my preferred double-action/single-action trigger configuration as opposed to single-action only.

SIG Legion thermal case; sent free of charge once your Legion is registered with SIG

The Legion and three magazines come enclosed in SIG’s standard hard shell plastic case. When the gun is registered with SIG, you will receive in the mail an upgraded “thermal” case with a “challenge” coin that is matched to the pistol variant you purchased. For instance, the coin below is stamped “P226” and displays an image of the double-action/single-action variant. The reverse side of the coin replicates the Legion medallion on the grips and on the thermal case. The thermal case even includes a removable cutout for the optional, additional charge (at a hefty $499.95) SIG XM-18 Rick Hinderer knife.

 

SIG Legion thermal pistol case and P226 DA/SA coin

As previously mentioned, the SIG Legion comes with three magazines. That’s something I wish all gun manufacturers included, but which I’ve only seen with regularity coming out of SIG and FNH.

SIG P226 Legion comes from the factory with three magazines

The pistol itself is finished in a dark grey PVD (Physical Vapor Depositon) finish that, unfortunately, developed a reputation for flaking off in early examples released to the public. Later production examples appear to be more resilient, according to online comments.

SIG Sauer P226 Legion

The controls on the double-action/single-action are classic SIG. The slide stop, decocker, take-down lever (above the trigger guard), and magazine release button are pictured below. On the single-action only variant, the decock lever is missing, and a 1911-style thumb safety is placed directly behind the slide stop.

SIG Sauer P226 Legion

The Legion comes with black G10 grips upon which is embedded the Legion medallion.

Black G10 grips with Legion medallion

SIG installs on the Legion some very good sights. These are the SIG X-RAY3 sights that were engineered by SIG’s Elector-Optical division. This resulted in the sights initially receiving a rather confusing and misleading designation of “Electro-Optical X-RAY3 sights”, as there is nothing either “electro” or “optical” about them. They are, however, excellent day/night tritium-filled rear sights with a tritium-filled fiber optic front sight. Visibility is reportedly exceptional in all lighting conditions, and from my perspective I have to agree. They’re simply great in both dark and bright light situations, although the photo below does a poor job reflecting that on the rear sight.

Rear X-RAY3 sight

Front X-RAY3 tritium fiber optic sight

Disassembly is SIG simple. Lock back the slide, rotate the take-down lever 90° clockwise, disengage the slide stop, and pull the slide forward off the frame rails.

SIG P226 Legion disassembled (note the rotated take-down lever)

The trigger is exceptional, as is pretty much the case with any SIG P22(x) series double-action/single-action or single-action only pistol. But in the case of the Legion series, SIG have gone a step beyond. They’ve incorporated into the Legion an enhanced, polished, P-SAIT (P-Series Precision Adjustable Intermediate Trigger) short-reset trigger designed by Grayguns. As the name implies, the P-SAIT has an adjustment for over-travel.

SIG have also installed into the Legion series a solid-steel guide rod, which increases mass in an effort to reduce felt recoil and muzzle-flip. These are, after all, target-grade competition pistols.

Solid-steel guide rod

The price for entering the Legion club may seem exorbitant at first, but that’s only until you start adding up the cost of all the included extras. A stock P226 with nitron finish and SIGLIGHT tritium sights has an MSRP of $1,087. The P226 Legion is listed at $1,413. X-RAY3 sights for the standard P226 would be a $159.99 upgrade, then throw in the G10 grips at $109.95, the solid steel guide rod in black at $30, the short reset P-SAIT trigger at $39. Add all that up and your stock P226 is up to $1,425.94, and you still don’t have the PVD finish, the special Legion case and coin, or the Legion medallion embedded into your G10 grips.

Put all that together and that additional $326 over the initial price of a stock P226 begins to look like a real bargain.

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