The Swedish Rolling Block 8x58R Rifle
By Mike Hudson
Thereís an undeniable allure attached to the single shot rifle, a romantic frontier idyll that calls to mind both the rugged individualism of days gone by and the skilled marksmanship and confidence required of the man who would use such a weapon. The Big 50's, Sharps and otherwise, carried by buffalo hunters, such as William F. Cody, across the trackless American plains or the falling block Martini and Farquharson rifles employed in the African ivory trade come to mind.
This romance was capitalized on with great success by the late Bill Ruger with his No. 1 series of falling block rifles. Ruger No. 1's are offered in a wide range of calibers suitable for everything from woodchucks to elephant and popular to the point that the reputations of a number of obsolescent calibers, such as the .30-40 Krag and .405 Winchester, were revived because they were chambered in Rugerís sleek single loader.
The golden age of the single shot rifle, however, was the late 19th Century, when the Ballard, Remington, Winchester High Wall, Sharps and Springfield systems battled for supremacy in the American West. One design stood head and shoulders above the rest, not just here but around the world: the Remington rolling block.
Developed at the tail end of the Civil War, the rolling block, manufactured by Remington and under license in many of the countries that adopted it, was wildly successful. More than a million single shot rifles based on the rolling block action were turned out between 1866 and 1916.
On the American frontier, Gen. George Armstrong Custer had a rolling block with him at the Little Bighorn in 1876 and, four decades later, Mexican bandits led by Pancho Villa carried rolling blocks chambered in 7x57 Mauser in their bloody raid on Columbus, New Mexico.
The Model 1867 Remington rolling block rifle was the first metallic cartridge rifle to be adopted by Sweden. It was originally chambered for a 12.17x44 rimfire round, a cartridge ballistically similar to the American .50-70. It was chosen because the Swedish army had warehouses full of rifles in 12.17mm caliber in stock, weapons suitable for conversion to rolling block rifles.
About 225,000 military rifles and 7,000 carbines using the M-67 action were manufactured in Sweden, with production split roughly evenly between the government-run Carl Gustafs arsenal and the private gunmaker Husqvarna. Another 30,000 were purchased from Remington, or built on Remington made actions. Civilian M-67's used a centerfire version of the 12.17x44R cartridge since, unlike the militaryís rimfire cartridge, the centerfire rounds could be reloaded by sportsmen.
By the late 1880s, as officials looked for a permanent replacement for the outmoded single shots, thousands pf rolling blocks were converted to fire the smokeless 8x58R Danish Krag cartridge, with the resulting weapons designated the M-67/89. The 8x58R is a rimmed, bottleneck round that looks rather like a slightly longer .45-70 round necked down to .32 caliber. It compared favorably to other cartridges of the time, including the 8x57J Mauser used in the German 1888 Commission rifle, the .303 British introduced that same year and the 8x50 Lebel, adopted by the French in 1886. These small bore, high intensity rounds completely outclassed the 11-to-12mm cartridges then in use by most world powers, including the United States (.45-70 Govt.).
In Die Leichten Schwedischen, Carsten Schinkeís excellent book about Swiss military rifles, he states the original Swiss M-89 load fired a 237 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1965 fps for a muzzle energy of 2032 ft. lbs. Nelson at GAD Custom Cartridge approximates this with an 8x58R load that drives a 240 grain cast lead, gas check bullet to a velocity of 1800 fps, producing a muzzle energy of 1727 ft. lbs. and boasting a whopping sectional density .329! Using a 100-yard zero, the bullet will strike 3.8 inches low at 150 yards, retaining a velocity of 1613 fps and 1387 ft. lbs. of energy. While its rainbow trajectory makes it a short range round, to be certain, accuracy is excellent. Within its range limitations, Nelsonís 8x58R load packs enough punch to be a fine killer on anything up to and including elk.
According to D.L. van den Brink, an authority on Swedish military firearms, the M-67/89 rifles made by Carl Gustafs and Husqvarna were among the finest rolling blocks ever turned out. In order to pass proof for smokeless powder, new barrels, breechblocks and hammers were all made of high-grade Swedish tool steel alloyed with nickel, copper and vanadium, a product noted for its strength and corrosion resistance. Even the receivers, which serve basically as a frame in the rolling block design, were rehardened and the case colors remain bright today on many examples. You donít want to hot rod a 140-year-old rifle, of course, but so long as the weapon is in good condition and the loads are kept to reasonable pressures, thereís no reason why the 8x57R rolling block canít be as useful to us today as it has been to generations of Scandinavian hunters.
Danish arms expert Bjorn Nielsen has written that the original 8x57R cartridges from 1889 generated a maximum pressure of 2,300 atmospheres, or, 33,810 PSI. Operating pressures increased with the rapid development of smokeless powder in the late 19th Century until, by the time the rolling blocks were taken out of official service in 1908, the maximum had risen to 45,000 psi.
Using bullets weighing anywhere from 150 to 250 grains, the 8x58R is comparable to such well known American sporting cartridges as the .30-30 Winchester, .30-40 Krag, .300 Savage, .32 Special and .35 Remington. During the last years of the 19th century the M-67/89 was finally replaced in Swedish military service by the famous 1896 Mauser bolt action rifles in the still popular 6.5x55 mm caliber.
The rolling block rifle became very popular among civilian hunters throughout Scandinavia, particularly for moose, prompting Husqvarna to produce some 85,000 rifles with the rolling block action specifically for the sporting market. Surplus military rifles were also converted and sold to civilians in large numbers.
Many of these weapons, frequently in excellent condition, are now making their way to our shores as the Europeans tighten up their already strict anti-gun laws. Often available at around $400 from dealers here, these M-67/89 rifles can do double duty today as historic artifacts and effective hunting tools.
Copyright 2013 by Mike Hudson and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.