Walther PK380: A Better 380 Carry Gun?

The 380 ACP round and guns that fire it have experienced a renaissance of sorts in recent years. John Browning designed the round to be the most powerful one could get in a cartridge for use in small, blowback operated pistols. It was a 380 pistol that started World War I and the round remained popular for years with European and Latin military forces and police, with a limited following here in the US amongst civilians. As pistol technology advanced and concealed carry permit systems became a reality, the need for small carry guns have kept the cartridge going, if it is not more popular now than ever before.

New generation 380 guns tend to be very small, very light, and with nonexistent sights. They also operate on the old blowback mechanism. In guns so light, the moderately powerful 380 round can be hard to handle despite the round’s reputation for being mild on the shooter. Though convenient and powerful enough, there has to be a better way.

Enter the Walther PK380, introduced a few years ago by Walther. It boasts some full sized features in a relatively compact, yet lightweight gun. Here is the skinny:


The PK380 is a polymer framed, double/single action hammer fired handgun made by Walther—the same company that makes one of the most legendary 380s out there, the Walther PPK.

The frame is, of course, black polymer, and the slide comes in either a stainless or black matte finish. Externally, the PK380 is very similar to the P22 it is based on, but in a more serious and reliable cartridge, 380 ACP. The pistol holds a fair number of them: Nine, Eight in the magazine and one in the chamber. Fully loaded, the gun weighs just 21 ounces.

The magazine release is ambidextrous and located at the bottom of the trigger guard. The firing pin block safety, is also ambidextrous.


The sights are highly visible and consists of a fixed blade front sight dotted in red and an adjustable white dotted rear sight.


Note the rail for use with mounted lasers or lights.

Unlike most 380s, then and now, the PK380 operates on the Browning locked breech system.


The PK380 is no slouch in operation. Equipped with one hundred fifty rounds of Privi Partisan 94 grain FMJ rounds and an equal number of Remington Golden Saber 102 grain hollowpoints. After expending all my ammo, here are my impressions:

The PK380 is a pleasure to shoot on the range. Recoil is very light thanks to the locked breech design that absorbs recoil far better than the heavy spring on a blowback operated gun.  This also means the gun is butter smooth to operate when reloading. The slide is big enough to manipulate and the slide serrations help. If you choose to stick with the single eight round magazine provided with the gun, you will be reloading a lot so getting extra magazines is highly recommended.

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The double action and single action trigger pulls break cleanly and smoothly and the single action pull has a nice short reset.  The gun points naturally, yet lightly and a full grip gave confidence. The magazine release does require a shift of grip to release, but which would you rather?—Retaining the magazine or losing it when you are under stress?

So how about accuracy and reliability?

In my brief testing, there were no malfunctions, even with the hollow points. The gun has great accuracy and shoot ability that most micro 380s can’t achieve in the hands of an ordinary user—like myself.

At a distance of ten yards, I was able to achieve off hand groups of about two and a half inches. The easy to pick up sights definitely help in this department and reaching out further would be easy. Firing as fast as I could, I was still able to put eight rounds into a foot sized group at that distance.


Ten yard groups: left is slowfire, right is rapid fire.

Out of curiosity of what the 3.66 inch barrel affords in velocity and power, I ran the selected rounds over the chronograph for a 3 shot average of:

Privi 94 grain FMJ—936fps

Remington Golden Saber 102 grain—962fps

Once the fun is done, in order to disassemble the pistol for thorough cleaning, one requires the use of a small wrench that’s included in order to free the take down lug to take the slide assembly off the frame.


From left to right: 380 ACP, 9X19mm, and 38 Special.

Final Thoughts

Is the PK380 right for you? Well, it all boils down to what you want out of a handgun. Would it be a good range gun/ home defense weapon? How about concealed carry?

The PK380 boasts better capacity, better sights, better handling features and recoil management than just about any popular 380 pistol on the market today. Not to mention the excellent trigger and good old Walther quality. But it all comes at the price of being bigger and less concealable than the 380s we have today. One could also beef about getting only one factory mag or the tool required take down process, or perhaps the addition of an unnecessary safety. On the other hand, you get more enjoyment out of it and therefore more practice and proficiency, despite the relatively high cost of 380 ACP ammunition. This is very important to those who are inexperienced and new to shooting or are otherwise recoil sensitive. The Walther PK380 lives up to the promise of a 380 that’s actually accurate and soft shooting with features well above its class.


The Ruger LCR 22 Magnum

Ruger came out with the greatest innovation in revolver technology in some sixty years with their Lightweight Compact Revolver line of guns. The LCRs are a lightweight, hammerless revolver designed specifically for personal defense and is chambered in 38 Special. The problem is when you couple a relatively powerful round in a light handgun, it makes the gun harder to shoot, especially for those getting a gun for defense for the first time. Even so, the LCR 38 sells quite well and the shooting community was demanding them in different calibers and Ruger answered. Their LCR 22 seemed like a natural choice for a no-frills handgun that could reliably cycle the recoiless (and not entirely reliable) 22 LR cartridge.




The 22 LR definitely is at the bottom floor of self defense calibers, but fewer people dismiss the 22 Magnum cartridge. Revolvers chambered for the fast, little round are getting increasingly popular and I was excited to see the chambering in the LCR platform, though I personally never liked the looks of the gun. But I caved and bought one anyway. Here is the rundown:


Ruger’s LCR 22 Magnum is the same size as the others in the line and, therefore, will use standard LCR holsters and accessories. It features an aluminum frame and barrel shroud. This is coupled with a polymer grip frame, hammer shroud, and trigger guard. The important bits, like the six shot cylinder and barrel, are stainless steel. The cylinder and ejector rod assembly is released via a push button on the left side. Like the other LCRs, the 22 Mag has the same Hogue Tamer grip.

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The sighting system is fairly typical with a removable black ramped front sight and a rear notch milled into the top strap of the frame.

The 22 Magnum cartridge is a rimfire round developed for rifles, but later found its way into handguns. Though you won’t achieve high velocities out of the LCR’s 1.875 inch barrel, it will still outperform the 22 LR in velocity. Unlike the LR round, 22 Mag ammunition comes in more variety other than just plated lead and ammo quality tends to be better across the board.

At The Range

I loaded up on three types of 22 Magnum ammo for three different range outings. The ammo included:

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Speer Gold Dot 40 grain JHPs

Winchester Power Point 40 grain JHPs

Hornady 30 grain VMax

All shooting was done at seven and fifteen yards distance.

And my conclusion?

In short, it is complicated.

Loading the LCR is easy enough by pushing in on the cylinder release and loading six rounds of 22 Magnum ammunition before closing the cylinder and engaging the target. The stock sights are easy enough to pick up and they are low profile so there won’t be any snagging involved when drawing the gun from cover. You may choose to unpin the front sight and install a more visible post like the XS standard or large dot, but I want to know how well the gun will shoot out of the box.

And it does shoot. Since there is no external hammer to cock, or snag on clothes, all there is to do is pull the trigger.

With all the ammunition available, you can place all the rounds into a 2-3 inch group at seven yards with not so slow fire with Hornady’s offering giving the best accuracy at 2 inches even at that distance.


The same is repeated at fifteen yards, but with the groups widening out to about 12 inches. Recoil was nonexistent, even firing one handed. Even so, the Tamer grip that is stock for recoil management on the LCR line is hand filling and comfortable.

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Even though the gun can only be fired by a long double action pull, I have put a few new shooters behind the little snubby with surprising results with only basic instruction on how to load and unload the weapon.

But with all that light recoil, the 22 Mag could not have any power? Right?

Well, here are some three shot average velocity readings.

Speer Gold Dot–1011 fps

Winchester Power Point–978 fps

Hornady–1132 fps


The 22 WMR round has been gaining acceptance recently and has been chambered in a number of defensive revolvers like the NAA Mini, the Charter Arms Pathfinder, and the Smith & Wesson 351. It’s a nice, lightweight option that gives you a few more rounds over a standard 38 Special revolver of the same size and some loads are on par in penetration. While speed does not necessarily show penetration, it does show greater power than a 22 LR even out of a little gun like the LCR with recoil more on par with the 22 LR.

The trigger pull on the LCR is deceptively smooth, breaking at about 8 lbs 6 oz. However, like all DA revolvers, it’s a long pull and a long reset. During testing, I have occasionally not allowed the trigger to fully reset.

The gun’s mechanical reliability was excellent and straightforward through some four hundred rounds. But in that time, some potential negatives came to my attention. My main gripes are:

1) The Ammo

The 22 WMR round is a better constructed and manufactured round than the 22 LR, but being a rimfire, misfires are still possible. It happened four times with the Winchester fodder and it took a second strike to set off those rounds. While a revolver like the LCR will fire again just by pulling the trigger, it means one less round in the cylinder at that time. The Speer and Hornady brands had no such trouble. The price for good 22 WMR ammo is a good deal more expensive than 22 LR, though not more expensive than popular centerfire options like 380 and 9mm defensive ammunition.

2) Capacity

I am no engineer, but I feel the LCR should hold more than six rounds. One more round than the LCR in 38 Special, but having seven shots like the S&W 351 sounds a little better.

3) The Reload

Granted, I am a revolver shooter and I enjoy practicing reloads. None of this matters if the LCR is a range or trail gun, but the LCR is really marketed for self defense. Opening the cylinder and a quick stroke of the ejector rod will knock some cases free but often times I found myself pulling out stuck cases. The ejector rod will only push the long Magnum cases out half-way. That is a consequence of being proportional to the short barrel and most snubbie revolvers won’t fully eject the empties. Once you are finally empty, the gun has to be reloaded. Loading a few at a time from the pocket is fine at the range, but there are few speed reloading options out there. I had the chance to try a 5 Star Firearms speedloader with good results and it is really the only economical loader on the market available for the LCR 22 Mag. Speed strips are more available and they work fine. They just are not as fast. DSCN1810.JPG



So did Ruger hit a mark with the LCR 22 Mag? The revolver is accurate and simple to understand. The power is still there even with a barrel that is under two inches. Despite the lack of speed reloading options and the occasional ammo hiccup, I think Ruger has put out a good defensive revolver. The goal was less recoil than the 38 Special and that was met. The LCR has little recoil (but plenty of video muzzle flash). Yet, it is still superior to a lot of small defensive rounds out there. Unlike the triggers on other revolvers, the LCR is easy to shoot and to shoot well, all things considered. All in all, if you are looking for a defensive handgun that will do the work but not be intimidating to shoot, and to shoot well, the LCR might be up your alley. And if you shoot a lot, the LCR would make a great addition nonetheless, defeating the notion that snub nosed revolvers are unshootable.

Shooting Remington’s RM380 Pocket Pistol

Remington’s new RM380 has been hitting the shelves the last few months. While I am more of a 32 ACP fan, it is undeniable that the 380 ACP and the small pistols chambered for it have been dominating the handgun market in big ways over the last ten years. So does that mean Remington is late to the game by introducing its own small 380 carry pistol? Maybe, maybe not. But the bottom line, after the recent history of Remington’s woes with the R51 9mm subcompact pistol, is the RM380 a good performer? Does it offer any advantages over a literal flood of competition?
The RM380 is, at least aesthetically speaking, the same gun as the Rohrbaugh R9. It would come as no surprise since Remington recently bought the small firm. But the RM is no simple copy.
The RM380 weighs just over 14 ounces with a fully loaded six round magazine and another round in the chamber. Clearly, the pistol is a lightweight and it is quite stubby. It sports a 2.9 inch barrel and a short frame. The stainless steel, black matte finished slide is milled angularly to save on weight. The frame of the pistol is aluminum and anodized with polymer grip panels in place.
Like the Rohrbaugh, the RM features low, fixed sights and uses a double action only (DAO) hammer fired action. This means a full, long pull of the trigger brings the recessed hammer out of the pistol and drops it, firing the pistol. There is no way to cock the hammer for a lighter trigger pull or for the slide to cock the hammer. This makes up for the fact that the RM has no manual safety to think about as a simple point and click interface. The RM uses the Browning tilting breech of lock up design, which is necessary for a 380 pistol, but has benefits of its own.
Remington brings an ambidextrous button style of magazine release behind the trigger guard and a slide release, which the Rohrbaugh lacks. Remington’s ability to mass produce this fine design means the end product comes out at about $350 retail.
The Remington field strips by unloading the pistol, and pulling the slide back to line up the pin holes on both sides, and allowing the pin to simply fall out or poke it out with a punch or paperclip. This allows the slide to come free from the cylinder. You will notice that the little pistol has full rails, rather than the tabs present on many pistols.
One caveat of reassembly is making sure the recoil spring is level with the slide.
The RM380 turned out to an excellent experience on the range…for a pocket 380 pistol.
Loading the six round magazines was a little tough with just finger power, but possible. I managed to get off 300 rounds of TulAmmo 94 grain FMJ ammunition as well as 100 Sig Sauer V-Crown 90 grain JHPs with little trouble.
Despite the sore thumbs from constantly loading the two provided magazines, manipulating the slide to chamber a round is surprisingly light and effortless thanks to the Browning lockup and grippy slide serrations.
Recoil was little more than a gentle push and by day’s end, my hand survived the test with no pain and no sore palm. I had much worse experiences firing just fifty rounds out of other 380 pistols.
Reloading is a breeze. The magazine release is not pronounced and won’t lend itself to accidental pressing, but responds positively allow the magazine to drop free of the gun. The slide release is a nice feature not found on most mouse guns and is intuitive to use with a slight inward push. The trigger finger, however, was a little tired. The RM380’s DAO trigger has to be pulled all the way back to fire the pistol for each and every shot, of course. The pull is quite long, but it stages easily and breaks cleanly at about 9.5 pounds on average. This means more peace of mind when carrying the gun around but it also means it can be easy to throw shots to the left or right while shooting.
The sights are there and do not snag around, but they can be hard to pick up, though given the pistol’s intended mission, I am not bothered.
Even so, rapid firing can land predictable hits on an eighteen inch torso target at seven yards.
Slow fire yielded better results with my best group at about six inches center of mass at the same distance, through a flyer opened that group to about one foot using the Sig Sauer fodder. Not bad.
I made an attempt to land hits at twenty-five yards. At that distance, the DAO trigger gets to be a liability. I managed just 2 shots out of 12 on the target.
But what about power? The 380 ACP round offers plenty of pasta and is so popular that there have been shortages of the ammunition in some areas. I chronographed the two available loads and the three shot average for each are as follows:
TulAmmo 94 grain FMJ–846 fps
Sig Sauer 90 grain JHP– 906 fps
The gun was completely reliable, but the ammunition, as well as myself, was not. I had a single failure to go into battery because my finger rode the slide while chambering a round. Two of the FMJ rounds failed to fire, but a simple pull of the trigger again set off the rounds.
A Good Buy?
The RM380 will never be the choice of the handgun hunter or competitive shooter. Nope. It is strictly a self defense number. There are many 380 ACP pistols out there to compete against, so how does the RM380 stack up?
On the surface, the Remington is just another micro 380. The gun is small in every way. From the small grip to the diminutive sights. It has a typical capacity for such a gun as well. The trigger is also nothing to brag about. Nor is it the quickest pistol to field strip.
So where does the RM excel at anything? The little pistol has excellent ergonomics. The slide release and magazine release are right where they need to be, while other small pistols tend to be more awkward. Fit and finish is great, as one should expect from Remington. Despite the small size, the grip feels good and the little pistol is a natural pointer. It definitely helps with recoil, which is already cushioned by the Browning drop breech lock up system. This equates to a gun that is more forgiving in practice, which puts it somewhat above other small 380 pistols.
All things considered, the RM380 has some good things going for it, even if it is late to a very crowded game. Remington finally has a winner.

Field Stripping the Mauser Rifle

The Mauser rifle was truly the first global weapons system. Most modern bolt action rifles today are derived from the Mauser’s famous action. With many millions of these rifles in their many variations out there, you just might own one.

The Mauser rifle was successful because of its bolt action. It was perfect in terms of ease of use, strength, safety, and relatively low maintenance. With that said, it is nice to know how to take the bolt apart for routine care. The guns are quite universal in the way they disassemble so the following guide is applicable to all smokeless powder Mauser rifles.

So… here is how you do it:

Shooting the French Berthier Carbine


I am one to remember dates down to the day. Feb. 21,1916 marked the beginning of one of the costliest battles in history, Verdun. Over one million would fall as the German army attempted to break the stalemate of the Great War in the West by attacking the French where it was known they would not retreat from out of pride. The goal– bleed the French army to death. It is events like these that spur my interest in classic firearms. While the biggest killer of the Great War was easily artillery, the grunt’s rifle represented his only hope of protection against death in a war where death came in many ways. France entered the war with a decent, but aging rifle, the 1886 Lebel. But early problems with the Lebel, long before the war, meant another gun also saw extensive service–the Berthier carbine.


A Bit of History

France jumped far ahead in the arms race leading up to the Great War all the way back in 1886 with their Lebel rifle. It was the first rifle to shoot smokeless powder and gave the French soldier double the range over his enemies, still armed with black powder rifles. But when the military attempted to convert the full sized rifle to a short carbine for troops that did not need a full sized rifle, problems came up. The Lebel was a tube loaded gun, loading one round at a time. That is awkward. Not to mention, shortening the gun would reduce the amount of ammunition the tube would hold. In the interim, the Austrians had perfected a smokeless rifle of their own and it used a new Mannlicher clip loading system in which a packet of bullets in a metal clip were inserted directly into the magazine for rapid reloading.

Ultimately, railroad engineer Adolfe Berthier came up with his own carbine design using the Lebel bolt and cartridge, but using the Mannlicher feeding system. The nifty little three shot carbines were adopted in 1890 and subsequently modified around a universal pattern in 1892. The new carbine, intended for cavalry and artillery troops, was easy to manufacture and maintain as well as quicker to load than the Lebel and for this reason, rifle versions were adapted. The pattern would remain the same until World War I turned everything upside down.


The 8X50mm Lebel was the first smokeless powder cartridge and it is still manufactured today, though it was rendered obsolete early on. Privi Partizan produces ammunition replicating the World War I loading–the Ball D. The very first cartridge using a pointed spritzer bullet. The 198 grain bullet travels at 2280 feet per second out of the little carbine.


There are plenty of variants of Berthier carbine out there. But the basic specifications and operation are the same.

As designed, the Berthier carbines married a Lebel style of bolt that had a separate bolt head along with a Mannlicher style of loading system that held 3 rounds of 8x50mm Lebel ammunition with a hole at the bottom of the magazine for the empty clip to fall out for reloading. The clip, depressed against a long spring in the magazine would control feeding of the rounds one at a time until empty. A button at the front of the trigger guard is depressed to eject the clip, should you not wish to shoot all the rounds. This would change as World War I progressed.


Unlike other French guns, the Berthier carbine has a full length one piece walnut stock and a barrel of 18 inches that is secured by barrel bands and weigh in at just 6.5 pounds. At the muzzle, there is a provision for a blade pattern bayonet. There was also a provision for a stacking rod that was omitted post World War I. The front sight is a thick blade with a thin groove running down it. The rear sight is a ladder that graduates from 200 meters to 2000 meters. These little guns will universally have a pair of sling swivels on the left side of the gun.

Later many of these early carbines as well as newly manufactured ones were reclassified as M16 carbines in 1916 and updated with a wooden handguard and a five shot magazine that projected out of the rifle with the clip ejection hole covered by a spring loaded trap. It was found that the three shot capacity was just too low and the mud of trench warfare could get into the open hole, gumming up things.


The M16 modifications.


My own Berthier carbine started out life as a Chatterault Mle 1890 that was later converted to M16 specifications. It had seen some use but the bore was uninjured, so I packed up a few boxes of Privi Partizan 198 grain FMJ 8×50 Lebel ammunition and headed to the range.

If you wish to use the Berthier as a repeating rifle as intended, you will need a clip or two for the best shooting experience. Original 3 and 5 shot clips are still out there and recently reproductions from Australia are being made to keep these little carbines fed.

Due to a weakened magazine spring, it took some bending and loosening of the clip to get it to function correctly. Loading the clip is straightforward by forcing a cartridge down to the bottom of the clip and then stacking the rest on top of each other. There is no need to stack the rimmed cartridges a certain way.

With the bolt retracted to the rear, simply place the clip of ammunition wholesale into the magazine and push it in until you hear a click. The clip is locked in the gun but can be released by pressing the release on the inside of the trigger guard. Just push the bolt back into battery to load the rifle. Like the 1886 Lebel, the Berthier does not have a manual safety and was usually carried on the march with an empty chamber.

While loading, with either the five round en bloc clip or with single cartridges, was easy, lining up the sights proved to be another matter. Not that there is anything wrong with the post and notch setup on the sights, but that the front post sight is just too thick. There is a groove cut into the front sight, but it is almost impossible to see, and the front sight will cover an 18 inch target at 100 yards. The same is true while shooting at a 24 inch target at 200 yards. But the predictable two-stage trigger was helpful.

Recoil was lighter than I expected. The 8mm Lebel round is no slouch, with similar power to the 303 British cartridge. The carbine produces a nice fireball and is quite loud, but without punishing recoil. Cycling the gun was a little odd at first with the sharp 90 degree bent bolt that the carbine models have, but it gets instinctive. Despite some initial clip problems, cycling did not take any excessive effort. On cycling the last round, the empty clip will fall out of the bottom of the rifle in the case of the original 3 shot gun. On the M16 modified rifles, like this one, the clip will stay in the rifle unless the trapdoor is open or forced open by inserting a new clip.

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So what about accuracy? Despite the terrible iron sights, quite impressive. The little Berthier managed to put five rounds into a 2 ¼ inch pattern at 100 yards off sandbags. At 200 yards, I was satisfied with the 12 inch group of five shots on target from my range bag. Why? Because the front sight blocks the target completely at that distance and I held the front sight at the bottom of the target. In general, such a hold is used on old military rifles to compensate for the guns being zeroed at longer ranges. Unlike my experiences with the Lebel, however, the rounds landed to the point of aim.

Overall, pretty impressive… for a 120 year old carbine with iron sights.



The Berthier carbine would be produced well past the 2 million mark, but would ultimately be replaced in 1936, along with the Lebel, by the Mas 36 in French service. When World War II broke out in 1939, there were not enough of the new rifles to go around and the Berthiers and Lebels were retained in service. Ultimately, it took the end of World War II for these elderly guns to finally kick the bucket. However, in the decades after the war, the Berthier would continue to pop up in France’s colonial struggles and in use with the French police, leaving behind an impressive service life for a gun of its type.

Want a Berthier? They are most certainly out there, having come in on the surplus market post War. They are often found at online auctions and gun shows at about the $400-500 mark. Ammunition, clips, and other components are readily available.

Let’s face it, no one is going to buy a Berthier carbine as a competition gun. I certainly would not. Would it be a great hunting gun? Yes. But just about anyone inclined to want one is intrigued by what guns of the type had to go through in its heyday. As the Great War fades into pages, the weapons are one of the few things left behind to tell us something and if the Berthier could talk, I am sure it would have lots to say.



The First Modern Gun: 1886 Lebel


Did you ever wonder what the first real battle rifle is? One might think of the M1 Garand of World War II fame or the Mauser bolt actions, or even the M14. But these are definitely not the first, nor did the first come from countries known for weapons manufacture, like the US or Germany. It came from France.

The 1886 Lebel rifle–a rifle that was the first of its kind in the world and made all modern firearms possible.


A Brief Backstory

The Lebel rifle was born out of the ongoing arms race with France desperate to stay updated with her arch enemy, Germany. France was humiliated at her loss in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and could not afford to fall behind again.

By the 1880s, rifles were doing pretty well–especially repeaters, rifles that could fire more than one round without reloading. The Turkish army used American Winchester 1866 rifles famously at the Siege of Plevna in 1877, and the repeater was suddenly sounding like a viable tool than a waste of ammunition.

Rifles like the French Gras and the German Mauser 71-84 came out. These were bolt action black powder cartridge firing rifles that fed ammunition from a tubular magazine below the barrel. The rifle was looking quite good, but it was something as old as firearms that proved to still be a problem–black powder.

Black powder made the gun possible, but it was never perfect. The faster guns got firing, the more the problems added up. Black powder’s inefficient burn meant three things:

  • It left residue that would gum up the action without regular maintenance. This also limited the kinds of guns that were practical at the time.
  • It left a cloud of smoke, revealing the gunner’s position.
  • It took a lot of powder to get high velocity and when high velocity was reached, the lead bullets then in use would often melt in the bore.

But the 1880s also saw new innovations in ammunition. The Swiss figured out that a lead bullet wrapped in a jacket of copper or steel would not melt, so it could be shot much faster than a standard lead bullet.

Then the French chemist, Paul Vielle, perfected his Poudre B. It was gun powder that burned more slowly, with very little residue, and no smoke. Realizing they had a trump card, the French government ordered a new rifle and ammunition rushed to design and production.


The new rifle, forever named after Col. Nicholas Lebel– one of the men in charge of designing the ammunition, was adopted in 1886. It made all other weapons obsolete overnight, and now the French soldier had twice the reach with his new rifle. Yet, behind it all, the new rifle is an old design.

Right off the bat, the length of the rifle will get your attention. It is over 51 inches long with a 31 1/2 inch barrel. At the muzzle, there is a locking lug and ring for a 20 inch spike bayonet and a stacking rod. The front sight is an exposed blade.

One distinct feature of the Lebel rifle is its two piece stock and the lack of a handguard over the barrel. The rear sight is a graduated ladder notch graduated up to 2400m. Flipping the sight forward exposes a 250m battle sight.

The Lebel has a robust, blocky action. It has the same bolt action as the Gras, except the locking lugs are in the front of the action.

Pulling the bolt back smartly will move the carrier up. The carrier feeds rounds from the tubular magazine below. Loading the magazine entails manually pushing down the carrier to expose the tube.

The Lebel also features a magazine cut off switch. When flicked forward, it prevents the carrier from dropping down to pick up rounds when the bolt is closed. This was standard practice at the time to leave the magazine in reserve for emergencies only.

The 1886 Lebel was modified in 1893 to have a gas vent in the bolt to prevent gas from ruptured cartridge cases getting into the shooter’s eyes. Also added were supports to strengthen the rear sight base. Most Lebels you are apt to find are marked 1886/93 for this reason. Some Lebels were shortened to carbine length, while others had box magazines installed, but those are a story for another day.

The ammo also went through some changes too. Lebel and his Army team reduced the neck size of the old 11mm Gras round to accept a .327″ or 8mm bullet over a generous charge of Poudre B. Why a smaller bullet? It was figured out early on that the soldier could carry more ammunition and high velocity projectiles can reach out further with sufficient power.


8x50mm Lebel ammunition isn’t something you will find at a big box store, but it is still currently available. Privi Partizan produces the World War I era Ball D, featuring a 198 grain spitzer bullet going at about 2350 feet per second. There are also soft point varieties out there for you hunters and reloading components are available.

Getting the Lebel rifle loaded up is accomplished by opening the bolt and pushing down the carrier. Load one round at a time into the eight round tube magazine. This is safer than it looks because the shape of the 8mm round and a circular groove cut in the case rim prevents a pointed bullet from hitting the primer of another round.

From there you can drop one on the carrier directly and one in the chamber for ten rounds. Of course, if you don’t want to use the magazine, just push the magazine cut off forward and you can load the gun as a single shot. Pulling it back and racking the bolt will ready use from the magazine.

Aiming proved to be a more precise affair than what it looks. The sights are tiny and not very easy to see, but they will not obscure your targets. This is a problem with other rifles, especially at close range shooting like 50 and 100 yards from which I shot the Lebel. Recoil proved to be rather pleasant, given that the ten pound weight of the rifle absorbed much of the energy.

At 100 yards I was able to manage a 4 inch group with the Ball D ammunition. Given the rifles were sighted dead on at longer ranges, hold a foot low on target at that distance. Cycling the action is a little quirky. A strong snap rearward on the bolt will send the empty case out smartly as the carrier pops up. A very minor gripe for a gun of a different era.


War Use

The Lebel rifle was aging, yet still standard issue with the French Republic when the time to fight the Germans finally arrived, World War I. France emerged from the  struggle as the leading victor and the Lebel continued in service with both France and the allies she armed during the war, including Serbia and Italy.

By the time World War II rolled around in 1939, that the Lebel was hopelessly obsolete. The French army, after years of political neglect, finally got a new rifle only in 1936 as the MAS 36. There were never enough of them, however, and many French troops had to fight the next war with a rifle that their fathers and grandfathers used. It seems only after World War II, that the Lebel finally got pushed into colonial service as the empire began to disappear in the new modern world.

Despite being superseded by faster, clip loading rifles within a few years of its introduction almost 3.5 million Lebels made up through 1920 by state arsenals at St. Etienne, Tulle, and Chatellerault.


The 1886 Lebel can be quite a good shooter and the 8x50mm round has plenty of pasta for big game, but the main lure is, of course, the history. While its use in some of history’s bloodiest battles cannot be understated, it was how it changed all firearms afterwards that is important.

The Lebel invited greater accuracy and concealability, as well as lower maintenance, for the soldier, which in short order would bring the romanticism of war to a brutal end with the Great War. The new smokeless ammunition in practical use also expanded gun design as well. The automatic and semi automatic style of firearm finally became a reality and the ammunition is basically unchanged. So, every new firearm we have today–whether it is for hunting, competition, protection, ect., really descends from the ungainly spear of a weapon that is the Lebel rifle.

Field Strip of the 1886 Lebel Rifle