The saying “you get what you pay for” is true of most purchases that are made today. If I buy cheap, I can generally expect cheap parts and poor craftsmanship. However, this proved not the case with a Swiss K31 rifle I recently acquired.
I was searching for a good surplus rifle, and the K31 quickly caught my attention. I found what I was looking for at AIM Surplus (note that are currently sold out of K31s), where a K31 with a birch stock ran only $299. For that price, I was skeptical—but nearly everything I read about the rifle was positive, so I approached it with an open mind.
While waiting for the rifle to arrive I decided to do a little research. The K31 was developed in 1931 by Waffenfabrik Bern and uses the 7.5x55mm cartridge. It is 43.5 inches long and weighs in around nine pounds empty. The trigger pull on the K31 is right around four pounds, and the gun is fed by a detachable (in the bolt-action military rifle sense) six-round magazine.
The K31 was the rifle of the Swiss Army from 1933 through 1958. Since Switzerland was a neutral country throughout the twentieth century, the rifle was never directly used in combat. Despite their neutrality, the Swiss maintain a well-trained citizen army.
After doing some research, I sought out some basic accessories for the rifle. Ammunition was the first thing I needed. The 7.5×55 ammo was a little hard to find, and surplus GP11 ammo seemed to be the way to go. Though it took some searching online, lots of GP11 were relatively inexpensive. The surplus cartridge carries 174-grain bullet and is Berdan primed. The one positive to the surplus ammo is that it is non-corrosive and has always been non-corrosive. The downside to being Berdan primed is that reloading is more difficult. However, there are other manufacturers that make Boxer-primed 7.5×55 rounds.
The most difficult and expensive accessory to find was a spare magazine. I was really looking forward to using this rifle in a local High Power Rifle Match. It took a while to finally find a spare magazine on eBay, which had a pretty hefty price tag. Finding a sling for the rifle was a lot easier and less expensive.
Once the rifle arrived, upon close inspection it looked a little rough. The stock had dings and scuffs, especially toward the butt plate. There were a couple of areas where minor surface rust were present. The lands and grooves of the bore were packed with grease for storage. After a little WD-40 and very fine steel wool, I was able to remove some of the surface rust. The bore took some time to thoroughly clean. I soaked it with Hoppes No. 9. I let it sit for about 15 minutes and then scrubbed it 25 times with a brush. I repeated that process for a second time and then ran dry patches through the bore. It was still a little dirty so I switched over to J-B Bore Paste. After applying the paste and running numerous patches down the bore, it became bright and shiny.
The rifle’s unique straight-pull bolt was fairly easy to take out and disassemble. There is a small lever on the right side of the receiver that releases the bolt. Once I took it out and disassembled the bolt, everything appeared to be in immaculate condition. I added a little lubrication to the bolt and put it back in the rifle.
The straight-pull bolt is a well-thought-out design that allows for economy of motion. The initial rearward pull on the bolt unlocks the lugs. After the initial pull, the bolt comes straight back and then is pushed straight forward. This allows for a quick reload with very little movement.
The sights on the rifle are a front blade and notched rear sight. The rear sight can be adjusted for elevation and is clearly marked for different distances in meters. The front sight adjustments are for making windage corrections. I had one issue with the sights that can probably be attributed to my eyesight—I had difficulty acquiring a clear front sight picture while looking through the rear sights.
To address the issues with the sights, I went online and found a company out of Montana that manufactures accessories for the K31. Swiss Products is a company that makes high-quality parts for the K31 and other Swiss rifles. They produce a diopter sight set for the K31. It was apparent that I had to have a set to use on the rifle.
Even though they are more expensive than the rifle itself, the quality of the all-steel sights makes them worth it. The rear sight is adjustable from 75 yards to 1,000 yards. The windage and elevation turrets have a definite audible and tactile feel when making adjustments. No permanent modification to the gun is required in order to mount the sights, ensuring collector value remains intact. The front sight is also easy to mount, it clamps on to the barrel behind the standard front sight. It is compatible with both Anschutz and Gehmann apertures. Swiss Products offers quite a few parts that can be added to the rifle without making any permanent changes that could affect value.
Once I mounted the sights, it was time to take the rifle to the range and put some rounds through it. I setup the target at 100 yards and began shooting three-round groups using the surplus GP11 ammunition. My largest group was 1.75 inches and my smallest group was 0.6 inches. During my testing I did run into one issue that really threw off my groups—the screw behind the receiver had worked itself loose. Lesson learned, check all the screws and make sure they are tightened down. The combination of the high-quality sights and quality craftsmanship made for an impressive rifle.
Other than that one minor issue, the K31 turned out to be a very fun and accurate rifle. The trigger had a lot of travel with no resistance, along with a very crisp brake. The recoil was a little stiff, about comparable to a .308 bolt-action hunting rifle, but very manageable. It is also balanced very well, and shooting standing unsupported was quite comfortable.
After the range test, I went back to Swiss Products and contacted them about the left-handed op-rod they offer. Being a lefty in a right-handed world has made using most firearms challenging. Swiss Products recently came out with a left-handed op-rod system. It is easy to install and again is a testament to their finely crafted accessories. The op-rod is installed on the right and comes over the rear of the receiver, so that I can operate the bolt with my left hand.
The K31 has become one of my favorite rifles in my collection and is simply a fun rifle to shoot. It is a robust and accurate rifle that lives up to the quality of Swiss craftsmanship. Swiss Products has allowed me to modify the rifle without permanent alterations.
Images by Harry Fitzpatrick