Gun Review: Mongolian Snaplock Carbine

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As we wind down this week, putting behind us all the tactical gadgets, fine craftsmanship, and cutting edge technology of the 2015 SHOT Show, I thought it would be good to take a detour to look at something… A bit different. Sometimes it’s easy to put on the ol’ blinders, focus in on a topic, and forget that there’s a whole wide world of fantastic, bizarre, anachronistic, and sometimes downright dangerous firearms out there.

Today we’ll be looking at a kind of weapon that, despite its primitive nature, is still being built and used in the Central Asian frontier today. In the wilderness, where metallic cartridges and even percussion caps are few and far between, but where blocks of lead and flints are available, there still is a need for a simple, effective, and most of all maintainable weapon that can be used to take game or defend oneself. This weapon is the snaplock, and today we’ll be looking at a Mongolian carbine variation, from Ölgii, in western Mongolia.

This weapon is owned by Stephen Bodio, author, falconer, and world-traveller; many thanks to him for letting me take a look at it!

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The rifle was probably made in the 1950s, though it most likely recycled components (especially the barrel) from older weapons. In Central Asia, where these kinds of flint-primed weapons are common (indeed, until recently they were dominant, as cartridge-firing weapons and their ammunition had not so widely proliferated on the frontier), the most widespread variation is a long, heavy rifle, weighing between twelve and fifteen pounds, which is fired atop a sharpened shooting stick (“sazhanki”) or a bipod made from, or to resemble saiga horns. This weapon is unusual – it is a short carbine, less than three feet long, with a stock that appears to be made from a simple wood plank. To their users, these snaplocks are only called “guns”; there is no special name for the type.

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Top: A more traditional “long rifle” flintlock variation, with external lock, atop a bipod of wood, shaped like saiga horns. Image source: Stephen Bodio.

The lock lacks a frizzen or any sort of pan cover, and the entire mechanism is external, making the weapon a snaplock – a pattern of flint-primed gun that predates either the flintlock or snaphaunce. In practice, the pan would have been protected from the elements by a felt pad. The steel, as the rest of the lock, is totally rudimentary, and appears to be made from scrap by a village blacksmith, as indeed it probably was.

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Betraying the weapon as anything but ancient, the barrel and lock are held to the stock by a modern looking hex bolt and nut:

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The barrel itself, in contrast, looks antique and is much more ornate than the rest of the firearm. Despite the overall crudity of the weapon, the barrel is rifled:

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The “two-quarters” octagonal, decorated, leather-banded barrel clashes with the apocalypse chic of the rest of the firearm:

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Firing the snaplock was a little out of the question – however, I was able to dry-fire the gun, which most closely reminded me of another Eastern firearm – the PPS-43 submachine gun. The delay between releasing the flint and it making contact with the steel was palpable, and more than a little concerning:

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There is no safety on this firearm.

What the carbine has for sights resemble those on a GI-pattern 1911 – crude and small, but workable:

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The indexing mark of for the barrel and tang can be seen in this view of the carbine. Given the nature of the weapon, such a mark seems like a pretty frivolous addition.

In Central Asian villages, even blacksmiths are uncommon, which means field-expedient repairs are common, and many percussion weapons get converted to the easier-to-maintain flintlock ignition. Purpose-built guns like these would be purchased by shops on rare trips to larger towns. The quality of the weapons would typically be fairly uneven, so patrons would not be allowed to fire the guns before buying, lest the shop be left with a bunch of undesirable junk guns. As a result, interesting superstitions about how to tell the quality of a rifle came to be, including putting a steel pin in a puddle of saliva on the barrel, and slowly rotating the barrel.  By watching the rotation of the pin in the saliva, supposedly they could tell which barrels were good.

Like all muzzle-loading guns, the weapon simply wouldn’t be complete without its “kit”, which includes a powder horn, scraper, bullet starter, lead pouch, bullet mold, and powder measure:

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To us in America, where even in remote regions the UPS truck comes every Wednesday, a weapon like this goes beyond “quaint” and straight into being “downright primitive”. However, for a hunter in remote Central Asia, this gun may be all he can afford or maintain, and indeed, some like it that way:

Our fathers and grandfathers did not know caplock guns, but they shot more game than we ever could; thus, it would not be appropriate to acquire what we are not accustomed to, and what we are not good enough for.

Notes of An East Siberian Hunter, by A. A. Cherkassov, translated by Vladimir Beregovoy and Stephen Bodio.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Squirreltakular

    Awesome article! I had idea guns like this were still being used as anything other than a novelty.

    • Tassiebush

      I’ve read about snaplocks and matchlocks still being used by traditional communities in remote parts of Tibet, India and Indochina too. Seems to always be nomadic groups.

      • Bubba

        Muzzleloaders both old and new are commonly used across Africa by the poor for hunting or protection. They are common on the pacific islands and east Asia too.

    • Thank you for the positive feedback! I will try to do more articles like this.

  • Tassiebush

    Wonderful article Nathaniel! I really enjoyed this and to my way of seeing it primative muzzle loaders like this really represent autonomy and independence like few other things.
    I am intrigued at the unusual lockwork! Is there a notch on the underside of the trigger bar that hooks onto that staple like metal loop and pulling it up releases it?
    That Notes of an East Siberian Hunter book looks good too. I’ve long wished to read about Siberian frontier life from a source like that!

    • Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, that’s exactly how the mechanism works.

      • Tassiebush

        Thanks for that 🙂 I just really love these types of topics.

  • wetcorps

    Fascinating, thanks for sharing.

  • iksnilol

    I have had the thought of a muzzleloader with an electronical trigger kicking in my head since forever. Would be a nice bridge between modern and primitive. Would provide a short lock time while being primitive enough for easy maintenance (maybe handcrank like on flashlights to charge the battery?). I know I read about a guy online making a caseless .22 by making it with an electronic trigger and using blackpowder (IIRC he used shotgun pellets for ammo).

    What is recommended barrel length for the various blackpowder calibers? Has anybody done any testing by measuring velocity with different powders then chopping the barrel?

    Also, I must say I really like the apocalyptic look it has.

    • Don Ward

      In Washington, you wouldn’t be able to hunt with it which is the only reason to really get black powder rifles anymore.

      • iksnilol

        Why not? Doesn’t it fit the definition of muzzleloader?

        • Don Ward

          Sure. But in Washington state they are particular about the ignition system. Gosh darn it, now I have to look at the hunting regulations…

          • Tassiebush

            many aspirations are crushed looking at regulations/legislation… 🙁

          • iksnilol

            But also some cool things are made worthwhile because of regulations. For instance, here in Norway there is no mag restriction while hunting with manual action weapons (for semi-autos the mag needs to be pinned to 2 or 3 rounds). This makes something like the Mossberg MVP or the AIA M10 more interesting. Personally, I would like something like the Winchester 1895 just modernized. That is chambered in more cartridges and with a detachable magazine (7.62×39 lever action with AK mags would be cool to say the least).

          • Don Ward

            Yes. Yes! YES!!!

          • Tassiebush

            I’d like a .223 krag Jorgensen!

        • Don Ward

          OK. Two different rules violations. First one must use a matchlock, flintlock, wheellock or percussion cap ignition that is “exposed to the weather”. Second, no electronic devices are allowed to be attached to the muzzleloader device. Sadness. 🙁

          • iksnilol

            Oh snap, doesn’t sound fun. Here in Norway, blackpowder guns aren’t even allowed for hunting IIRC.

    • Tassiebush

      Piezo ignition would probably have potential for ignition. Another idea is to more or less copy snaplock but use ferrocerium in place of steel and steel in place of flint.

    • Tassiebush

      I just checked a book I’ve got “blackpowder hobby gunsmithing” and it looks like 24″ barrels are about the point of compromise between power and handiness with smaller calibres losing more performance than larger ones. In the iron sight era a longer sight radius would have been another big factor.

      • iksnilol

        Oh, could save some length by going bullpup especially considering that the action is much shorter than a repeater action.

        BTW, if you are interested in more info: Search for “Plink-King” without the quotes. The first result (on ctmuzzleloaders) should take you to a detailed page. There you can find build info, circuitry drawings and that guys repeating blackpowder pistol (squeeze action!).

        Also, presuming a rifled barrel is used, is a 300 meter range realistic? I was thinking about aluminum bullets (easy to find aluminum cans that could be melted down easily). Could provide high velocity at the cost of reduced weight (could probably use a larger caliber like .62 or something to compensate for weight).

        • Tassiebush

          I’d stick to lead. Used wheel weights are normally cheap. I don’t think it’s projectile weight holding speed back but burn rate.
          Someone may have practical experience which trumps my book knowledge but as far as range goes blackpowder can still perform well but it just involves a more curved trajectory. Look up the old buffalo cartridges in silhouette shooting I reckon. max hunting range would probably be below 300m if we’re being ethical but for targets I’m pretty sure 1000yards shooting has been and still is done. Round balls were quite a limit to range until conical projectiles came along but round balls can be shot flatter at hunting ranges of say 200m. It’s a case of what’s best for the military and hunting uses diverging.

          • iksnilol

            I thought about aluminum since it is so much easier to find for me than wheel weights (fun fact: have never seen a wheel weight here in Norway). Maybe the aluminum projectiles could be shaped like spears or something? Drag stabilization would also make it easier since you wouldn’t need a rifled barrel (easier to make smoothbore barrel than rifled, obviously).

            Why can round balls be shot flatter than conical projectiles? I thought round balls lose velocity faster than conical projectiles. Just curious, blackpowder really isn’t my strong side.

            Was thinking about some frontier/apocalyptic carbine thingy. So 100 meters for hunting 300 meters for defense ,more would be nicer but I try to be conservative when it comes to estimating. Also I looked at the other designs of the guy who made the electronic ignition rifle. He also made a repeating blackpowder pistol with magazine for projectiles and powder. Something like that would make the rifle more practical though it would restrict me to non-spear projectiles due to the nature of the magazine.

            Would love to come up with some drawing and stuff but I have a lot of schoolwork to focus on.

          • Tassiebush

            I get wheel weights from tyre places but maybe they’ve got some environmental regs or recycling regime in place up your way?
            Actually I should provide context to my claims around round ball. Basically it accepts the slowest twist rifling which is high velocity friendly and it gives the max frontal section for a given profectile weight so if you can get that going at max velocity it gives a better wound than a conical bullet of same weight could. It does however shed velocity sooner so it’s flatter shooting at under 200yards but becomes hopeless further on. I’m a zealous follower of the ideas of Lieut James Forsyth who wrote his book The Sporting Rifle and it’s projectiles in 1867 (available on Google). He was an experenced soldier and tiger and big game hunter in India. He typically used 14 or 12 gauge ball shooting rifles on tigers but bigger guns on megafauna.

  • Peter Nokeo

    Very common among primitive villagers in Southeast Asia as well.

  • John

    That is a beautiful carbine. Old flintlocks always appealed to me. It looks well cared for.

    With some saws, files and sandpaper, they could make the stock look even better. Wood is wood after all.

  • ManBear

    Being an avid user of a modern inline ML (T/C) … This gun is very interesting. I think TFB should have more articles like this. Made in Mongolia – So you know it’s good.

  • Tassiebush

    I wonder if adding graphite to the fine priming mix might help piezo work? German electric primed cartridges added it to primers so maybe it’d work on fine powder.

  • Blake

    Thanks, excellent writeup. I remember reading a few “what’s in a taliban weapons locker” articles & seeing old Martini-Henrys in there, but no flintlocks…

    • Tassiebush

      very cool anecdote about the train!

  • dan citizen

    I’ve been wondering what happened to the board missing out of my back fence. Now I know it was taken to be used as a rifle stock.

  • “Instant” for a flintlock being “a hangfire” for a centerfire metallic cartridge. 😉

    • Tassiebush

      haha shoosh! That’s a most inconvenient truth you’ve pointed out there! 😉
      It vindicates Rev Forsyth’s dissatisfaction with the previous arrangement though.

  • iksnilol

    That is presuming it is well maintanined and well tuned. For a one off gun, sure. For something produced on a bigger scale, not so practical.

    Though I will admit I am impressed by whoever made that rifle.

    • Tassiebush

      yeah from what I’ve read there are some fine details around touch hole location, size, priming powder and cleaning that are often missed. I guess back in their era the users and makers were probably far more aware of such details!

  • Sickshooter0

    What am I missing? Where’s the RDS mount? Still, very interesting.

  • Tassiebush

    Another fascinating ignition system that would probably work would be to use an air pistion like the Daisy V/L. It fired primerless caseless ammo ignited by hot air from what was really just a conventional spring piston airgun mechanism vented into the propellant and with a captive ball bearing located in the vent to block against backblast from the charge. Such a system would almost certainly work with a muzzle loader.

    • iksnilol

      Interesting though I am afraid of spring piston guns. Mainly because of hold sensitivity.

      Would be simpler to make than the circuit needed for the electrical ignition though.

      • Tassiebush

        Yeah I think it’d be tricky getting decent trigger pull given spring pressure and seals would be a challenge. Electrical seems to have issue of how to robustly insulate it so it lasts. I’m leaning towards a copy of this snaplock but swapping flint and steel for steel and ferrocerium. it’d look very cool in use 😉
        Another uber simple concept I’ve partially tested is for a slamfire muzzle loader using normal safety match heads for primer and possibly propellant. breech plug has inline touch hole with outer section bored out to nail size then inner section narrower. scraped matchead fits into wide section and can’t go in past where hole reduces. nail is then inserted. a sharp tap on nail catches match head compound between nail and hole shoulder making an all mighty bang that leaves you giggling but with ringing ears and potential hearing damage. I have little doubt that this could be fitted to a barrel and used as a ignition source once the right ratios are worked out. Could be fired as a slam fire or could have inline striker or hammer made.
        It’s kind of the ultimate simple gun if commercial ammo wasn’t around.

        • iksnilol

          I know that matchhead compund has been used to reload .38 special. It did have somewhat reduced velocity but it worked well. IIRC with the smokeless powder it had about 270 m/s (900 f/s) while with the matchhead propellant it had 210 m/s (700 f/s). Just search for “Improvised Ammo #1: The Matchbook 38 special” without the quotes.

          Seems like an interesting idea that idea of yours. Could also make an improvised cartridge out of some plumbing pipe together with your idea. Most likely would be pretty wide due to the width of plumbing pipe, and if you are going to maintain the apocalypse/improvised theme you could use steel ball bearings for shot.

          Also, IIRC ringing in your ears means permanent damage has been gotten. I don’t know much despite having tinnitus since I was five or something.

          • Tassiebush

            Sorry I thought I’d replied. Those velocity figures are interesting. I think I’ve seen that improvised ammo thing. Is it by PA Luty? Yeah on hearing damage I believe that ringing normally means damage was done. I also suffer tinnitus courtesy of childhood blacksmithing experimentation and menieres disease. As far as cartridges go another idea would be to make paper cartridges like they did in muzzle loader era ie rip open powder end and then drop wadded shot end in. Shot wise I’d either be thinking badly dropped homemade stuff or cut out cube rolled to make hail shot like in the really early days.

          • iksnilol

            not by PA Luty, these are pretty recent (a couple of years ago). Some Youtube videoes including gel testing.

          • Tassiebush

            I’ll check them out 🙂

  • screwtape2713 .

    And for all those who play the “what if” game about “what firearm would you carry/use in a scenario involving post-apocalyptic / zombie-infested / post-economic collapse / fall of civilization / ultimate SHTF / after-the-asteroid / post-EMP/ TEOWAWKI for whatever reason society” … you’ve just seen the LIKELIEST winner….