Putting Vintage Guns to the Test

Author loading a No2 MkI** Enfield revolver

Author loading a No2 MkI** Enfield revolver

I have gotten enthusiastically into a style of shooting match that focuses on simulating stressful shooting situations, with unorthodox shooting positions, lots of weapon manipulation, and physical challenges to get the shooter tired and degres his/her coordination and fine motor skills. It’s a bit like 3-Gun, but without the shotgun element, and thus appropriately named the 2-Gun Action Challenge Match. More to the point, I’ve gotten into the habit of running different guns each month, and it has been a very cool learning experience that I would recommend to anyone who really wants a better understanding of military rifles and pistols.

The matches are intended to simulate actual combat conditions, at least to the extent such a thing is possible on a clean square range with no return fire and a Coke machine full of nice cold beverages. Where many practical-type matches are built around testing basic marksmanship with difficult small targets or large numbers of targets, the 2GACM tends to use fairly small round counts and a mixture of easy and moderately difficult targets, with truly difficult shots being fairly rare. Instead, elements are built in to push the shooter physically. Instead of how you shoot on a good plinking day, this style of competition tries to find out how you shoot when you’re tired and out of breath.

Author heaving a kettlebell (SMLE lying on the ground)

Author heaving a kettlebell (SMLE lying on the ground)

A typical stage might have a single 1/2 scale steel silhouette target, with the shooter starting at 150-200 yards with a kettlebell weight. At the buzzer, the shooter drops to prone and has to make a hit on the target. Then they throw the kettlebell as far as possible downrange, and the point where it comes to rest is the next shooting position. They run to that spot, drop to prone again, hit the target, and repeat until they have gotten the kettlebell across a finish line at 50 yards or so from the target. Another typical stage had a half dozen paper targets (far enough downrange that hits aren’t visible to the shooter) each half covered in a random camo-looking pattern of “hard cover” on which hits don’t count. The shooter has a limited number of rifle rounds to fire from the start line (not enough to make the requires 2 hits on each target), after which they must advance downrange with a handgun to make up any necessary hits on the paper and engage a pair of steel targets at the end of the range. Stage design like this really tests a shooter’s ability to effectively run their guns and also strategize and adapt on the fly.

So what does this have to do with old guns? Well, I think the matches do a better job than most anything else at simulating real-life combat use. When you go prone to shoot during a relaxing day of plinking, you set the rifle carefully down on a mat or grass while you get into a comfortable shooting position. When you’re on the clock at 2GACM, you tend to throw yourself into the sand, and it’s not unlikely that it’ll get into your rifle in the process. Or you’ll find yourself confronting a shooting port that is short and wide, requiring you to tip the rifle over 90 degrees in order to bring your sights on target. Or you have to reload your pistol from a pile of magazines dumped in a bin (with a varying number of rounds in them) instead of from your carefully-constructed custom mag pouches. It’s elements like this that really bring out the true nature of your guns.

Author shooting a semiauto Madsen LMG through an awkward port

Author shooting a semiauto Madsen LMG through an awkward port

This sort of range experience can really give you a new perspective on guns, seeing them more as their military users might have in wars long past. How easy or difficult is it to actually reload a given gun when you’re hot and sweaty and tired and just finished humping an ammo can full of rocks? Where can you hold a hot rifle and not accidentally burn yourself (I have a nice little scar from accidentally touching the barrel on that Madsen)? How well does the sling work when you have to transition to shooting your pistol?

In one match, I ran a 1916 SMLE rifle, while a friend used a WWII K98k Mauser. I had always figured the Enfield would have a nice speed advantage over the Mauser, with its cock-on-closing bolt and larger magazine – and on the pinking range I expect I could prove that pretty easily. But under the conditions of this match some of the Enfield’s weaknesses became apparent, and I would no longer be so quick to assume its superiority. The Mauser’s controlled feed allowed it to sail through a couple dirty stages, while my Enfield bolt got pretty sticky and started having intermittent failures to feed. The Mauser had some problems as well, but its more reliable magazine and smoother clip loading gave it the overall advantage.

On the other hand, I’ve also had surprises the other way, with a gun I expected to be mediocre really growing in my estimation. Specifically, the British Enfield No2 MkI* revolver (essentially identical to the Webley Mk IV). The Enfield revolver is a double action only piece, with no hammer spur or single action notch in the firing mechanism. It has a relatively light pull for a DA revolver, but it’s still long and heavy to a 1911 guy like me. It has a pretty wimpy round, too – the .38/200, which is fires a 200gr bullet at 620 fps for a mere 170 ftlb of muzzle energy. In fact, I brought my 1911 to the match that month as a backup, in case the Enfield proved hopeless on the range. Much to my happy surprise, the revolver worked extremely well. It’s hard to quantify, but the No2 Enfield just worked without me needing to give it much thought. It was well balanced, had reasonably good sights, pointed well, and the DA trigger pull allowed me to put shots out quickly and accurately. The wimpy cartridge (which actually was quiet enough on one stage that the scoring timer didn’t hear my shots) meant minimal recoil, and fast followup shots, while still being potent enough for military sidearm needs. Nothing about it stands out as really excellent on the target range, but the overall package proved remarkably effective.

Author engaging a Texas Star with a No2 MkI* Enfield revolver

Author engaging a Texas Star with a No2 MkI* Enfield revolver

I came away from that match with a newfound respect for the Enfield revolver. It is certainly not a high-speed-low-drag racegun, but it’s something I would rather have: a sidearm that simply does its job and works every time without any fuss. And I wouldn’t have realized that without subjecting it to a match like the 2GACM.

I really can’t recommend this sort of match highly enough for the shooter who wants to push both his or her shooting skills and get a deeper understanding of his or her guns’ performance and characteristics.

Ian McCollum

Ian McCollum lives in Arizona, where he spends his time searching out rare, unusual, and experimental firearms for his daily blog at ForgottenWeapons.com. His shooting background is in bullseye pistol, and before becoming a full-time gun writer he worked in the solar power industry.


  • Nicholas Mew

    This is why I consider the Arisakas or any mauser for that matter to be the best.

  • Julio

    Thanks. I enjoyed that – definitely something both different and worthwhile. Testing out received wisdom is always interesting, often satisfying, and all the better if you can have fun doing it!

  • iksnilol

    I was wondering:

    Isn’t the Webley revolver a gas seal design? I mean a break action silenced revolver would be a dream come true.

    • Sable

      No, you are thinking of the Nagant revolver. That gas seal was the only positive aspect of its design: http://armedbutnotdangerous.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-fruitcake-of-firearms-1895-nagant.html

      • Internet Browser

        It’s a gigantic shame that WW1 put development of the swing-out-cylinder Nagant on the back burner.

        • iksnilol

          I know of the Nagant (really want a repro of the 1910 version, adding integral suppressor and 8 shot cylinder) But I believe I heard that there was another gas seal revolver. Could be wrong.

          Would love to try one of those matches.

    • Ian McCollum

      Like Sable said, the Webley was not a gas-seal design. By far the most common such revolver was the Russian 1895 Nagant, along with a few other nation’s versions of the Nagant. The Civil War era Savage-North revolver also used the moving-cylinder system to held achieve a gas seal. There was limited use of silent .44 Magnum revolvers by the US in Vietnam, but that was done by using sealed piston type ammunition, and not by adding a suppressor or sealing the guns’ cylinder gaps.

  • Alex C.

    Awesome post Ian!

    • FourString

      Does anyone know if there are any companies that produce modern Webley replications? I would buy one in a heartbeat…

      • Ian McCollum

        I don’t know of any – why not just buy an original?

        • FourString

          good idea. modern calibers (.357 magnum, 9mm, etc) would be nice though, and it would be nice to see some sustainability for the upcoming years too. it just seems like a very good idea that would be a commercial hit that no one has taken up quite yet.

  • derfelcadarn

    This is the best practical shooting sport I have ever seen. Now if non-lethal return fire (paintball e.g.) could be incorporated in some way it would be the ultimate.

    • Ian Carlin

      That’s called airsoft. Have you seen the full metal blowback 1911s?

  • Matthew Groom

    That’s awesome, Ian. I’ve been looking for a sport like this!

  • bsnighteye

    Give me a No2 MkI Enfield revolver, hat and trechcoat and call me a detective… yeah… Wonderful gun with the feel of time.

    • Michael

      Now can someone make a modern big bore break action revolver.
      New bolt action rifle in 303British

      • Ian McCollum

        The problem with a modern break-action is that hinged-frame revolvers are relatively weak compared to solid frame ones. That’s not a problem with relatively low pressure rounds like the .38 S&W or .455, but they would not be a good design for a heavy modern cartridge like the .44 Magnum or anything larger. That would limit the market for any new production gun, as I think an awful lot of the people looking for a big-bore revolver today want (or think they want) something with a ton of muzzle energy.

        As for a modern .303 rifle, it would need to have a rotary type magazine, to sidestep rimlock. Rimmed rounds for rifles have been legitimately obsolete for more than a hundred years now, and only still hang on because of military use.

        Don’t get me wrong, I like both ideas (especially the revolver) – but I don’t think they would be economically viable today.

        • Rich Guy

          Some one could make a modern top break revolver in .45 easy enough.

          • Fred Johson

            The closest thing is the old designs newly manufactured by Uberti. http://www.uberti.com/firearms/top-break.php

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            I seem to recall bringing up the subject of the Uberti guns sometime ago on the Forgotten Weapons web site ( under a different name ). Glad to see someone else who is aware of them.

      • Eric S

        I’m waiting for someone to remake the .577 Webley Bulldog myself.

  • Kilmore Group

    Great article. Love the guns and AZ. SMLE should win but you need to load the cartridges in the clip rim infront and drop it in the rifle the right way up to stop rim lock. I run an oily bolt too

    • Ian McCollum

      Yep, I am familiar with rimlock, and how to load clips to avoid it. However, none of the problems I had with the SMLE were rimlock.

      • decix

        I’m an avid SMLE fan and I’ve long been impressed at the speed at which I could load from chargers. Having never used Mauser clips, I don’t have anything to compare my experience to except for third party Mosin and SKS clips (which were garbage). Could you say a bit more about the trouble you encountered with the Enfield?

        • Ian McCollum

          There were three problems.

          First, the clips were quite stiff, and I had trouble stripping the rounds quickly and smoothly into the magazine (the Mauser clips have a lot less area in contact with the cartridges, and run much more smoothly, not to mention having no potential for rimlock).

          Second, I had a couple instances in which the bolt caught the middle of the case when feeding a new round instead of catching the rim. It would then push the round a short ways forward and jam up. That is probably due to a slightly defective magazine not pushing the rounds far enough up or quickly enough (it seemed to happen mostly when I was running the bolt really fast).

          Third, when I got dirt into the action, it made the bolt stick a bit. The Mauser’s cock on opening action gives you a lot of leverage to pry a dirty case out of the chamber (primary extraction), but the Enfield relies just on the straight-back pull of the bolt to extract. The extra force needed to jerk the bolt open was enough to break my rhythm cycling the bolt, and forced me to bring the rifle down off my shoulder, which of course cost me a lot of time.

          • Pongo

            I shoot rapid-fire matches using Lee Enfields.

            Many of the chargers available in USA are surplus Italian production, made of heavy parkerised steel. They are useless for reloading, let alone at speed. Original light steel British chargers are loose enough that the rounds move when shaken. These strip into the magazine very easily.

            Catching a round in the middle of the case is a symptom of an ill-fitting magazine, or one in which the lips require adjustment. An in-spec rifle doesn’t misfeed with service spec ammunition (soft point bullets can be another matter).

            Dirt doesn’t normally impede a No1 bolt at all; that was one of the great strengths of the design. Bolt-sticking is usually a symptom of excess case length in a reload.

            When the No1 was trialled against a variety of Mausers under test conditions, the Enfield action was found to deliver approximately twice the rate of sustained fire (ie including reloading).

  • dan citizen

    great article, thank you. reminds me of a speed match we held when turk mausers where $40. Each shooter had one turk mauser and a 200 round bandolier of clips, targets were steel upper body silhouettes at 200 and 400 yards. We all had bruised shoulders and a lot of laughs, most guns where smoking hard by the end. The winner got to keep his turk mauser.

  • Avery

    Since you brought up the SMLE vs. the Kar98K, have you tried this 2-Gun thing with a Garand vs. the Mauser? Or M1911 vs. the Enfield revolver? This test brings up some interesting questions about the real effectiveness of combat arms.

    • Ian McCollum

      The next one we plan to do is 1911/Garand vs FG42/P38 (or maybe Luger).

  • Ken Dublin

    If you guys are looking for a great website that lists a lot of interesting military and antique and collector firearms, as well as other vintage hunting and sporting advertising, militaria and military collectibles, and collector shotshell and ammunition boxes, take a look at: http://www.lockstockbarrelny.com

    They have a lot of interesting stuff on there, from pre-64 Winchesters, to Trapdoor Sprinfields, and other interesting military firearms as well.

    I’ve done some business with them in the past. They have great customer service, and they regularly update their site with new items. They have tons of experience in the business as well (over 40 years).

    It’s definitely worth checking in with them regularly, and they price their items to sell, which is a huge plus.

    The name of their shop is Lock, Stock & Barrel Sporting Supply, LLC.

  • George

    Neat idea – I already have enough issues at 3 gun matches with my couch potato frame. This would really be a test!

    As an aside, where is that semi-auto Madsen from????? I would love to obtain one of those!

  • Marcus Howling

    These are some really cool weapons you have here. I wish I could have been there to help you test some of them out. I love firing antiques that actually still work, what an amazing rush you get. If you like these weapons you can find more war memorabilia at Legacy Collectibles. http://www.legacy-collectibles.com/ww2-collectibles/rifles/us