It all started when I was at my local hardware store that also sells firearms and firearm accessories. I was looking around on the ammo isle and on the very bottom shelf I saw a dusty label that said “Caseless .223”. I did a double take and opened one of the boxes. Sure enough, a dozen odd little caseless rounds were packed neatly in a foam retaining block. The boxes were covered in a thick layer of dust and priced decently, so I bought them as a curio. It wasn’t long until my curiosity got the best of me and I found a VEC-91 for sale and just had to have it to write about. I was happy to have this strange little Austrian rifle!
So what if I told you that this unassuming little bolt action rifle caused the ATF and proponents of gun control in the United States to freak out and cause a whirl of controversy:
Well, that is exactly what happened when Voere, the small Austrian firearm manufacturer decided to create and export the VEC-91 rifle. The fear was over the rifle’s unique caseless ammunition that would make criminal investigations dependent on spent shell casings impossible. A study by the Violence Policy Center even recomended the following:
- 1) Congress immediately direct the federal Office of Technology Assessment to study caseless ammunition and its possible effect on criminal investigations;
- 2) the appropriate congressional committees conduct hearings to examine the problems that caseless ammo may present;
- 3) the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) request of Voere that it indefinitely postpone export of its rifle and ammunition to the United States until the possible public safety risks posed by the new technology are determined;
- 4) Congress give ATF statutory authority to regulate the availability, manufacture, distribution, and sale of fireams technology that poses a possible threat to public safety.
So all of this buzz over this little rifle, but the gun was brought in to the USA anyway.
The rifle was costly when it was first imported in 1993, coming in at $2,200.00 for the gun and nearly $2.00 per round of ammunition. Regardless of how innovative the gun was, it was a spectacular flop. So much so that I couldn’t find any info on it at all. I emailed Voere to try and get some information:
My name is Alex C. and I am a writer for The Firearm Blog and I have bought a VEC-91 rifle to test and evaluate for an article.
Would it be possible to get a safety manual or talk with someone who could tell me more about this special rifle that is of great historical interest?
They responded with this:
Unfortunately Vec91 is not in production anymore. Production has stopped more than 15 years ago.
Therefore the is no material available anymore.”
Voere seems to have written the gun off as a loss despite its significance as one of the only caseless rifles to have been available to consumers. Shame too, as the potential for accuracy is incredible due to numerous factors:
- The trigger feels like pressing a button on a video game controller (because it is just a trigger with a small button behind it)
- Rounds are ignited electronically, so there is no lock time
- Rifle has a match grade premium barrel
- All ammunition came from one source and as such all rounds are identical
The rifle was so accurate in fact, that Kenny Jarrett (the benchrest king) shot a 5 round 0.070 inch (1.8 mm) group at 100 meters with a VEC-91. A pistol version was also produced:
So lets have a look at this thing. The gun looks rather unassuming:
A quick detach scope mount is a neat feature:
Note the low serial number. This gun is 0009, making it one of the first guns to have graced us:
Taking the gun apart makes it look more like a pinball machine than a rifle:
And the ammo I found for it:
All in all, the gun is neat as can be but the last round of the ammunition has already been made, and as such once it is all shot up, the rifles will be silent forever (I can’t help but think of the Gyrojet pistols when I factor in ammo scarcity).
I was going to do a shooting review of this gun and sacrifice a box of ammunition, but when I got to the range and pulled the trigger, nothing happened. I pulled it again, and again and still no report rang out. Disappointed, I went back to my shop and tried to see what was wrong. I busted out a voltage tester and the batteries were dead (a problem that a conventional rifle would never have). While Voere said that the batteries are good for 5,000 rounds, the tester showed extremely low voltage. The batteries also said “Made in West Germany” on them and are a pair of very odd 15 volt dry cells. As a result, I assume the batteries’ age and perhaps leaving the safety off over the years had drained them.
So with that, one of the drawbacks of a caseless rifle became apparent: if the batteries fail, your hunt is over. All in all however I believe the concept was innovative and that the VEC-91 should stand in history as a valiant attempt to take us beyond conventional ammunition.