September 23, 2010
The almost-forgotten Schultz & Larsen from Denmark was once a prized sporting rifle.
It would be going too far to describe Philip B. Sharpe as an eccentric genius. The dwindling few who remember him (or know people who knew him) describe Phil Sharpe as a strange little man who used a cigarette holder, appeared in public in a British Army sun helmet and consorted with such luminaries as Harry Pope and Maj. Douglas Wesson.
Sharpe was a writer and ballistician, an army ordnance officer, an experimenter, a sometime hunter and all-the-time shooter, and--perhaps most of all--a dreamer. He returned from a tour of duty in Europe during the second world war with a dream for a new cartridge and an entirely new, ultra-accurate bolt-action hunting rifle to shoot it.
The cartridge would be the first modern commercial 7mm magnum, based on an experimental French military round he saw while prowling the armories of Europe. Ultimately, the cartridge saw the light of day as the 7x61 Sharpe & Hart, developed in partnership with Richard Hart.
And the rifle? Well, the rifle was another matter.
Phil Sharpe was extremely well-connected. A personal friend of Doug Wesson, he is credited with developing the .357 Magnum in the 1930s, which Wesson then turned into a commercial success. As the author of The Rifle in America, every gunmaker's door was open to him. He looked around the U.S. and did not see a single rifle design with the potential to be what he was looking for.
Sharpe wanted his rifle to be highly accurate, modern and finely made: a luxury item for the cognoscenti, a rifle of long-range power and accuracy for the continent-hopping big game hunter.
Since this was 1947, Sharpe's dream bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a man on the other side of the continent from his home in Pennsylvania: Roy Weatherby in California. Weatherby's company was then in its infancy, and his cartridges were still wildcats, but the stage was set for the destinies of the two to become intertwined.
During and after the war, as he traveled around Europe investigating small-arms development by allies and enemies alike, Sharpe met Eric Saetter-Lassen, a champion rifle shooter and director of Madsen, the Danish machine-gun manufacturer. When he came home from Europe, one of the rifles that accompanied Sharpe was an unidentified but highly accurate .22 of unknown Scandinavian make. On a visit to Sharpe's home a year or two later, Saetter-Lassen identified the rifle as a Schultz & Larsen.
Schultz & Larsen of Otterup, Denmark, began business around 1900 making target barrels and grew into a small shop making complete target rifles and later pistols. During the war, it made sniper rifles, under duress, for the Wehrmacht. According to legend, the company managed to make its products almost unusable, without having the faults traced to its workmen.
Come 1945, the fine old German firms were shredded and much of Europe's gunmaking landscape had been devastated by the war. Schultz & Larsen was an exception; it was one of very few functioning makers of fine firearms in Europe.
As his plan for the 7x61 cartridge developed, Phil Sharpe met with Amund Enger of Norma Projektilfabrik. Enger became interested and agreed to produce factory brass and loaded ammunition. Sharpe sent details of his best load (a 160-grain Sierra bullet, at 3,100 fps from a 32-inch test barrel) and asked Norma to duplicate it.
The 7x61 Sharpe & Hart was now a factory cartridge. Philip Sharpe and Richard Hart formed a company, Sharpe & Hart Associates, to import rifles and ammunition from Europe, and early Norma cartridge boxes are so stamped.
The author with a 65DL (7x61 S&H) in the mountains of the Yukon, hunting Dall sheep and grizzly bears. The other most popular chambering is the .358 Norma.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Amund Enger met with Neils Larsen, head of Schultz & Larsen, and persuaded him to develop a hunting rifle based on the company's Model 54 centerfire target rifle. Larsen built two by hand, both chambered for the 7x61 S&H. One was sent to America while the other was used by Larsen himself on an elk hunt with Eric Saetter-Lassen. The latter wrote a glowing report to Sharpe about the new rifle and cartridge, reporting that his own rifle had been "completely outclassed."
The first Schultz & Larsen sporting rifle debuted in 1953. The S&L Model 54J (J for Jaeger, or hunter) was built on a massive bolt action. The bolt had four locking lugs, located at the rear, which was both extremely strong and allowed a low bolt lift.
The receiver was a solid steel tube in which the bolt slid with a smoothness that must be felt to be believed. The receiver was very rigid, with few openings to weaken it, and the bolt face completely enclosed the cartridge head.
By any modern standard of aesthetics, however, the rifle was distinctly odd. Its in-line magazine was quite deep, giving the rifle a heavy-bellied look that was exaggerated by a schnabel fore-end. The trigger guard was a shotgun-style loop, the buttstock a Monte Carlo.
The rifle was undoubtedly strong, however--so strong that when Roy Weatherby introduced his gargantuan .378 Weatherby in 1953, he built the first commercial rifles on Schultz & Larsen actions.
There are two parallels with Weatherby. Later, when Roy Weatherby designed his famous Mark V action, it incorporated many of the principles used in the Schultz & Larsen, such as its smooth bolt, multiple lugs, low lift and gas-escape holes.
As well, when he sought a manufacturer to produce Weatherby factory ammunition and brass, he turned to Norma. To a great extent, Sharpe broke the ground for Weatherby, so it was ironic that throughout the 1950s and '60s, Schultz & Larsen's major competitor for the glamour-rifle dollar was Weatherby.
Early on, Sharpe realized there were problems selling the Schultz & Larsen to Americans. The major one was aesthetics. It was big and ungainly. With Sharpe's advice, Schultz & Larsen undertook a redesign that led to the first real Americanized rifle, the Model 60.
As you might guess, it appeared around 1960 and got rid of many of the more unpleasing aspects. Gone was the shotgun-style trigger guard and schnabel fore-end. The magazine was converted to a staggered design that made t
he action shallower and the stock more streamlined.
The stock itself followed the lead of Weatherby's "California" look, with a cheek piece and Monte Carlo, and white-line spacers on the ventilated recoil pad and grip cap. The fore-end in profile was triangular rather than round. The grip cap was rosewood, like the Weatherby.
According to prices listed in Gun Digest from those years, the Weatherby Mark V and the various Schultz & Larsens were always priced around $265, at a time when a Winchester Model 70 Deluxe could be had for about $100. In terms of quality, the Schultz & Larsen products were every bit the equal of the superb Mark Vs made for Weatherby by J.P. Sauer & Sohn in Germany.
Unlike Weatherby, however, which settled on one design, Schultz & Larsen refined and changed its rifles continually. The Model 60 was followed by the Model 65 and then the 65DL.
The Model 65's ejection port is vaguely cartridge-shaped, narrowing at the front. The gas vent-hole design was later incorporated into Weatherby's Mark V.
The principal change was the safety on the bolt shroud. The safety was never the same twice, from one model to the next. On the Model 54J, the safety was a two-position wing on the bolt shroud that swung from back to front; on the Model 60, it became a three-position wing, shaped like a latch, that swung forward and back similar to the Winchester Model 70.
With the Model 65, this was changed back to a two-position wing. The 65DL safety is a two-position wing that moves up and down, and the 68DL safety rocks up and forward, similar to the Weatherby Mark V. In all the designs, the safety locks the bolt, trigger and sear.
The first chambering for the Schultz & Larsen was, of course, the 7x61 S&H, and probably more of those rifles exist than any of the later cartridges for which it was offered. When Norma introduced its two superb belted magnums, the .308 Norma and .358 Norma in 1959, those chamberings were added for the Model 65.
When Phil Sharpe began work on his 7mm around 1947, there was nothing readily available in that caliber except the 7x57, and his dream was of a genuine 7mm magnum cartridge with a straight case, sharp shoulder, and large powder capacity.
The 7x61 S&H caught on with custom gunmakers, who produced, according to Sharpe "tens of thousands of rifles" chambered for it. It was carried to the far peaks by such well-known hunters as Clyde Ormond and Andy Russell. It became particularly popular in Canada, and when the Schultz & Larsen rifles appeared on the scene, many of them ended up in the Yukon, where it established a solid reputation.
All of this was not lost on the big American manufacturers, and in 1962 Remington unveiled its 7mm Remington Magnum. The cartridge outperformed the 7x61 S&H, and Remington rifles and ammunition were available in any gunshop at a fraction of the price. The 7mm Remington Magnum was the death knell for Sharpe's dream, and he died a year or two later under rather mysterious circumstances. Today, very little information about him is available.
Although Sharpe was gone, Schultz & Larsen did not give up on its rifle nor did Norma give up on the cartridge. Both brass and loaded ammunition were available until very recently, and Norma-Precision (Norma's U.S. subsidiary) became the Schultz & Larsen importer.
With the 7x61 overshadowed by the Remington, and the .308 Norma up against the new .300 Winchester Magnum, Schultz & Larsen knew it would have to change its rifle to survive. The 65DL incorporated several modifications. As well as a new safety, the ejection port was opened up slightly, and the rifle was chambered for about a dozen cartridges, from the .22-250 up to .458 Winchester Magnum--including all the major belted cartridges.
Although the basic Schultz & Larsen design is more than 50 years old, it still has a sleek, modern appearance. It was originally intended to chamber the 7x61 Sharpe & Hart.
One final model change became the last of the line: The Model 68DL was modified in several ways that owe something to the Weatherby Mark V, including a solid shroud, redesigned safety and floorplate release.
This rifle was available into the early 1970s, at which point spiraling labor costs in Europe spelled the end for an entire era of fine gunmaking. By 1971, the 68DL was priced at $485 (compared with $340 for a standard Weatherby Mark V).
The following year, Schultz & Larsen pulled out of the American market and has never returned. Ironically, at the same time, high costs forced Weatherby to abandon Sauer and switch production of the Mark V to Japan.
The Schultz & Larsen's four rear locking lugs make it an extremely strong action. They allow a rigid receiver and smooth bolt, and a very low bolt lift.
All together, Schultz & Larsen made perhaps 20,000 rifles in the various models and calibers. Most you encounter are 7x61s, followed by .358 Norma. Owners of .358 Normas are reluctant to part with them, especially in the Yukon where there exists, today, a small but rabid cult of S&L lovers.
Starting with the Model 60, through the 65 and 65DL, to the 68DL, the Schultz & Larsen high-powered rifles offer a fantastic opportunity for anyone who loves quality and fine craftsmanship in a rifle.
The bolts slide back and forth with a smoothness you won't find this side of an $8,000 custom job (and sometimes not even there); they are comparable to the legendary "buttery smoothness" of the Austrian Mannlicher, and like the old Mannlichers they are as finely finished inside as they are outside.
Barrel length on the 65DL is a puzzle. It is listed variously as 23 inches or 24 inches, yet my 65DL barrel is 25 inches.
As well, the Schultz & Larsen rifles are as accurate as many current custom rifles for which accuracy is the raison d'etre. My Schultz & Larsen 65DL in 7x61 S&H will shoot alongside my Kenny Jarrett .257 Weatherby, built on a pre-'64 action, group for group with some loads. Not all, but some.
Because of its rear locking lugs, the main criticism of the Schultz & Larsen has always been case stretching. T
his criticism is valid, but only partly. In my experience, case stretching only becomes a concern when you push pressures beyond a reasonable point. Since my rifle is most accurate with loads below maximum, I am happy to keep pressures comfortable.
Another criticism of the rifle is its cramped "loading port" that makes it difficult to charge the magazine from the top. The fact is, it is an ejection port. The rifle is intended to be loaded as follows: Drop a cartridge through the port onto the follower, then close the bolt and put the safety on. Turn the rifle over, open the floorplate, drop in three cartridges (staggered but in any order, since the follower is ambidextrous) and close the floorplate. You now have four shots available.
Once you know how it is done, the routine is quickly learned and even more quickly appreciated. By comparison, loading a Mauser seems awkward.
Today, more than 60 years after Sharpe began work on his dream, he is little known and the rifles are almost forgotten. This works to our advantage, because when a Schultz & Larsen does come onto the market it is invariably priced as a bargain--$1,000 or less, depending on model, condition and caliber.
For any serious rifleman, they are an opportunity to see what a high-end production rifle used to be, and never will be again.
The safety on the 68DL is a lever that swings up and forward into the Fire position. Like all Schultz & Larsen safeties, it locks the bolt, striker and trigger.