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Police Rifles Then and Now

The beautiful craftsmanship and deadly accuracy of antique police rifles match any in today’s squad cars.

March 01, 2003  |  by Huntington, Roy

The 1907 Winchester

Resting on the fender of the author’s 1940 Packard, the Remington and Winchester seem right at home.

Ballistics for the .351 read like a classic article from a gun magazine in the '20s. It throws a 180-grain jacketed soft point bullet at a nominal velocity of around 1,850 feet per second (fps). While it sounds mellow by today's standards, I wouldn't want to stand in front of accurate, aimed fire that tops a .357 Magnum by another 50 percent. The factory-supplied five-round magazine could be augmented by a ten rounder, and there are examples of 20-round mags being cobbled together by home-town gunsmiths.

The .35 Remington caliber of the Model 8 mirrors the Winchester 30-30 or the 7.62 x39 round of the AK in performance.

Think on it for a moment. This handy rifle, at only around eight pounds, offered one of the very first semi-auto capabilities to law enforcement and at ballistics that topped virtually any small carbine-sized rifle at the time, most of which were lever actions like the Winchester Model '92 in pistol calibers. Even today, this round will punch through a modern vehicle's sheet metal like butter, probably penetrate most soft body armor, and change any miscreant's channel permanently. And it's almost 100 years old.

The general ergonomics quickly make themselves apparent when you handle the rifle. It's reminiscent of the G.I. .30 Carbine, only much more accurate and hitting much harder. Although a bit heavy by modern standards, the extra weight calmed the recoil down to almost non-existent levels and made rapid, accurate fire easy for anyone in need of a problem-solver.

The unique bolt-operating feature of the 1907 deserves note. This ground-breaking semi-auto was developed in the very earliest days of the concept. As such, things were being tried that we may think of today as being quaint, but in actuality worked extremely well for the intended role.

Being a straight blowback, the bolt is connected to a weight that runs inside of the walnut fore-end. The collective mass of both parts slows the recoil impulse of the powerful round and makes operation possible. Otherwise, a locked breech would be necessary along with corresponding complications in operating systems. No gas tubes, no locking bolts, just simplicity itself. Perhaps there's something to be learned there?

The cocking rod protrudes from the front of the fore-end, and, while it seems awkward at first, you soon get used to it, and it feels quite natural, since your hand's there anyway. Is the bolt operating rod on an AR platform any less weird, I wonder? The safety on the 1907 is naturally placed under the trigger finger, like a Remington 870, and I'd hazard a guess it would take minimal training to transition a modern cop to this rifle.

Scrumptious is the only word to describe the quality inherent in these classic police rifles. Although the designs are almost 100 years old, they still perform well.

Ruger Police Carbines or even H&K MP5s-in all honesty-don't have anything on this rifle. Roast me if you will, but I can't think of anything this gun won't do in today's mean streets. Ditto for the Remington Model 8.

Shooting the 1907 was a delight. Recoil was modest and follow-up shots easy. I shot it at 50 yards and found rested groups at around the one-inch mark. Some shots at the 100-yard, 12-inch gong found it ringing every time. Due to the ammunition situation, my testing on the range was limited to 20 rounds.

But in that short time, I realized that this rifle is immediately addicting and there is no reason why it couldn't work in a beat car today. Of course, an agency would probably have to pay $2,000 for it due to the high level of workmanship and materials involved. Too bad.

Remington Model 8

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, a few well-aimed shots from one of these rifles in the hands of a lawman often quelled a problem, handily.

As elegant as a 1930s-era Packard, the Model 8 is unique in many respects. The first is the fact our test gun fires an honest rifle cartridge, the .35 Remington. With a 150-grain bullet at around 2,400 fps, the Model 8 was-and still is-a contender in the power curve.

With the explosion of pistol-caliber carbines today, a true rifle caliber in a police rifle is getting to be almost a rarity. The .223 is certainly in the forefront, but when it comes to problem-solving, the .30 caliber or larger rules. Equate the .35 Remington to a modern .30-30 load or almost a .308. Serious medicine in anyone's book.

That word, "ergonomics," seems to want to creep in again here. Handy but serious, the Model 8 comes to the shoulder quickly and easily, perhaps in direct contradiction to its unusual lines.

With the built-in five-round magazine, there's enough firepower to handle most situations. In the heyday years of the Model 8's involvement in law enforcement, makers offered 10- and even 20-round magazines for it. Picture a 20-round, semiauto, Winchester 30-30 and you'll have an idea of why this gun was so popular. Just ask Fank Hamer and look at the morgue photos of Bonnie and Clyde to see the results of when the Model 8 spoke.

The really nifty thing about the rifle is the fact in those kinder, gentler times, it was not unusual to travel on a trolley or train with your rifle. Consequently, the Model 8 is a "take-down" rifle and breaks in two quickly and with some elegance. Perhaps another lesson here?

Shooting revealed yet another surprise. Since ammo is commercially available, I shot for groups and found it was possible to manage less than 2 inches at 100 yards, with iron sights. I was fortunate the test rifle came with a factory receiver sight and that may have made the difference. Nonetheless, the performance was, and still is, impressive. As one by-stander said, "That's a pretty cool old rifle you've got there." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Long Arm of the Law

Should anyone feel under-armed with the classic duo today? Hardly, and indeed, the AR and the M1A look positively pedestrian next to them.

Perhaps the lessons here are two-fold. A rifle in the hands of a police officer is something no one should be surprised to see. From the earliest days, cops have relied upon rifle fire to quell the bad guys. The other-and perhaps more important lesson-is the fact we need to learn to rely on reliable, tried-and-true technology in the field when possible.

The examples shown by these two rifles illustrate once again, it's the man behind the gun that matters, and, even today, 100-year-old rifle technology could still rule the field if needed. It simply depends on the man behind the gun.

Remington Model 8

Caliber: .35 Remington
Barrel length: 22 inches
Weight: 8 pounds
Action: Semiauto, locked breech
Magazine: 5 rounds
Construction: Blue steel and walnut
Production: 80,000

1907 Winchester

Caliber: .351 S.L.
Barrel length: 20 inches
Weight: about 8 pounds
Action: Semiauto, blow-back
Magazine: 5 rounds
Construction: Blue steel and walnut
Production: 57,000 (approx.)

Roy Huntington is the editor of American Handgunner magazine, as well as a member of the Police advisory board, and he would like to gloat a bit and say he owns the two rifles tested.

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

michael garner @ 12/1/2011 11:39 AM

that's a nice story and i love rem. model 8s i have one in 32 rem. a dream to shoot and reload for. but frank hamer did not use his 8 that day, he had a colt moniter that day, a semi auto version of the bar. but prentis oakley had his in 35 rem. and he was the first to fire hitting clyde in the head and blowing his brains out. check it all out on the texas hideout web site.

Kevin Collier @ 2/27/2012 11:14 AM

Very enjoyable! Thanks a bunch.

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