Category Archives: Firearms

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — And tips on gun collecting


Beretta 81FS Cheetah — The complete kit

We’ve looked at the Beretta 80 Series Cheetah before, but the Cheetah in today’s article is one you seldom see imported anymore. How seldom? The Beretta 81FS Cheetah is chambered in .32 ACP/7.65mm, and .32 ACP is frowned upon in the U.S. and mocked as a ‘mouse cartridge’ unworthy of use for defense (it most certainly is not, but that’s a discussion for a later date). As such, I’ve not seen a newly imported 81FS in any gun store ever. I know they’ve been imported in small batches over the past several decades; I’ve just never seen one before this. Today’s example was manufactured in 2016, and the distributor shipped it out to my favorite local gun store (Collector’s Gun Exchange) just nine months ago. That means this Cheetah probably sat out pretty much all of 2017 in a warehouse somewhere in Gardone Val Trompia, Italy.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah box and label

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

For a shooting review of the .380 ACP versions of Beretta’s Series 80 Cheetahs (the double-stack 84FS with 13+1 capacity, and the single-stack 85FS which hold 8+1 rounds) please see: Shooting a Pair of Cheetahs — Comparing the Beretta 84FS and 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah 12+1 rounds of .32 ACP/7.65mm

First, the relevant statistics for the .32 ACP/7.65mm 81FS:

  • Length: 6.77 inches/172mm
  • Width: 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Width (at grip): 1.37 inches/35mm
  • Height: 4.8 inches/122mm
  • Weight (with empty magazine): 24.2 ounces/685 grams
  • Barrel: 3.82 inches/97mm
  • Capacity: 12+1

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Double-action/Single-action

Interestingly, while the barrel length, total length, width, and height measurements match those of the .380 ACP/9mm kurz 84FS, the 81FS comes in weighing .9 ounce/25 grams more (probably from a thicker barrel padded out so as to use the same slide as the 84FS) and loses one round of capacity (which really makes no sense no matter how you slice it). Thrown up against the single-stack .380 ACP/9mm kurz 85FS, the weight disadvantage stretches to 2.3 ounces/65 grams. Ammunition advantage between the latter two, however, swings to the 81FS at 12+1 over the 8+1 capacity of the 85FS.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Fit and finish among these three recent Cheetahs (the 84FS and 85FS were manufactured in 2012 and 2016 respectively) is comparable, meaning excellent as usual for Italian-made Berettas. All three have Beretta’s superb, highly durable, and, in my view, very attractive semi-gloss Bruniton finish on both the steel slides/barrels and the alloy frames.

The double-action/single-action trigger is excellent. Double-action is smooth and consistent all the way to trigger trip. Single-action has a crisp break, but only after a longish take-up. The only disappointment, and I’m not a short-reset snob by any measure, is the seemingly endless third of an inch/8mm reset. That may not sound like much, but compared to most of my other handguns, such as the superlative Walther P99c AS, it feels ridiculous.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Rear sight

Beretta 81FS Cheetah — Front sight

I personally feel that the Beretta 80 Series Cheetahs are among the most attractive compact handguns in existence. True, they are large and a bit heavy for the calibers they handle, but they exude a certain panache simply not found in more current designs. They are natural pointers, almost on par with the Walther PP-series (my original concealed carry weapon being a PPK/S in .380 ACP/9mm kurz) in that regard, but they are not nearly as ammo finicky. The sights are certainly better than the Walthers, and unlike the PP-series the Cheetahs give you a slide stop release and an ambidextrous manual safety. The gun seems to soak up recoil much better, especially in the .380 ACP/9mm kurz round, which results in more control and faster follow-up shots.

Beretta 81FS Cheetah

Beretta — Makers of the world’s largest ejection ports!

Gun Collecting Tips using this Beretta 81FS example:

Fortunately, I knew in advance that Collector’s had one of these 81FS rarities coming into the shop, as they gave me a call when it shipped from the distributor. Unfortunately, the Cheetah arrived the day after we departed for a month-long trip to Shanghai, China; various cities in Japan; Petropavlovsk, Russia; and several locations in Alaska. By the time we returned, that Beretta 81FS Cheetah was snagged on layaway, and Collector’s owner Paul Lee informed me that his distributor had already shipped out the last of his meager supply.

Ambidextrous manual safety

But then a funny thing happened on the way to disappointment. Two weeks later I got another call from Collector’s telling me that the person holding this rare, recently imported 81FS had found something in the shop that he liked even more. Unbelievably, he decided that he wanted a Ruger Mini-14 Paul had in stock more than the Cheetah. Knowing my disappointment for having initially lost the chance at the 81FS, Paul did nothing to dissuade the layaway swap, and two days later I was in luck.

Ambidextrous manual safety

Now, far be it from me to complain here, but this is where a little firearms knowledge comes in handy, especially if you’re just starting a collection. Mini-14 Ranch Rifles are very commonplace, and there is currently no danger that you’re going to miss out if you don’t take the first one you see. Or even the hundredth, for that matter. Not so on a newly manufactured, recently imported Beretta 81FS Cheetah. In my book, that’s a bit like passing on a bargain-priced, minty-condition stainless Colt Mustang Plus II (Friday’s subject) in favor of a current production Ruger SP101; or forgoing what appears to be a barely used original, first-year-of manufacture Ruger Police Carbine with a red dot sight included (Wednesday’s featured firearm) in order to snag a dime-a-dozen Mosin-Nagant 91/30 (a subject for a future article, I’m sure).

You’ll also notice that my established relationship with Paul Lee and the salespeople at Collector’s Gun Exchange, forged over many years, helped me in acquiring something Paul knew would interest me. By now, they know what I like, they call me when something is either coming or being shipped to them, and they give me a good break on the price. Same with Henry Bone over at Sportsman’s Elite. If you’re serious about collecting, it pays to establish a bond with the locally owned gun store rather than the big box operation (I’m looking at you and your ridiculous used gun prices, Cabella’s) that may occasionally undercut them in price on new firearms. It also doesn’t hurt to have that local store sell you a box or two of ammunition now and again, even if you might pay a fraction of that amount over at Walmart.

By the way, don’t bother going to the U.S. Beretta site to look for any Beretta Cheetah, not even the more popular .380 ACP 84FS and 85FS versions. They’re not listed there anymore (but they are on the Italian site), even though they’re still made in Italy and occasionally imported. So, if you see a new one, don’t pass on it if you even think you may be in the market for one at some point. You may not see it again. This is especially true of the 81FS, which isn’t even listed on the U.S. Beretta site for warranty registration; only the 84, 85, and 87 (.22 LR version) are listed as options, and the 87 isn’t even made anymore.

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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 not 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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