August 25, 2023
The turnbolt rifle wasn’t new in the 1860s; it was just patiently awaiting development of suitable ammunition. The arrival of U.S. Gen. Hiram Berdan’s .42 Berdan centerfire cartridge soon had nations worldwide rearming with a variety of single-shot, turnbolt models using drawn brass cases, many suspiciously similar to the .42 Berdan.
Ferdinand von Mannlicher revolutionized the payload quest by putting five shots of Austria’s 11.15x58 ammo—another cartridge suspiciously similar to the .42 Berdan—into a sheet metal clip. The whole packet was pushed down to quickly charge the rifle, and the clip fell out the bottom when the last round was chambered.
Mannlicher’s equally revolutionary straight-pull action required but two motions to eject and feed another cartridge, rather than the four of the turnbolt, resulting in the highest sustained rate of fire then available.
Smokeless powder led the big-bore Model 1886 Steyr rifle to be adapted for a new smallbore 8x50 cartridge, and the rifles became the Model 1886/90. The later Model 1895 infantry rifle—the forebear of my Model 95/30—was slimmed down, and the bolt-locking system was changed to a stronger one having a rotating bolt with twin lugs locking at the front of the receiver instead of the original’s wedge-lock beneath the bolt.
Operation is simple and straightforward. As the bolt body is pulled straight back, an eccentric slot in the bolt head turns the twin bolt lugs out of the locked position. Push down a five-round clip until it latches and push the bolt forward.
Unloading is simple as well. Pull open the bolt to eject the round and press in the little tab inside the trigger guard to eject the clip and remaining rounds. Remove the bolt by opening it and then pushing the trigger forward to withdraw the bolt.
Clips are necessary to fire five rounds, but you can put one round on the magazine lifter and one in the chamber if a clip isn’t handy.
When the Model 1895 was first issued, soldiers still advanced in line. Thus the open bottom of the magazine box necessary for the empty clip to drop out wasn’t a big handicap. The machine gun and high explosive artillery taught soldiers to hug the earth and dig holes—often driving the open magazine box squarely into the ground. The top-loading charger system of the Mauser quickly supplanted the Mannlicher clip.
After World War I, Austria and Hungary chose to keep the long Model 1895 rifles in 8x50R and its 244-grain roundnose bullet. By 1930, they improved the cartridge into the more powerful and flatter shooting 8x56R, topping the new longer cartridge case with a larger diameter 205-grain spitzer bullet at 2,300 fps or so.
The new Model 95/30 was simply the old 29-inch-barreled Model 1895 rifle shortened into a handy 19 5⁄8-inch-barreled carbine with an overall length just shy of 39.5 inches. Most accounts say the conversion only required rechambering to the new round, but there is something fishy about this, and I’ll get to that in a moment.
Austrian-made Model 95/30 rifles are marked atop the receiver ring “Steyr” over “M.95” while Hungarian versions are marked “Budapest” over “M.95.” After absorbing Austria in 1938, the Nazis sent quite a few Model 95/30s to Bulgaria, and this one was imported from there by Century Arms.
Rebuilt several times, it maintains its original serial numbers on the barrel and receiver. The receiver markings have been mostly polished away with only a faint “ST” remaining to indicate Steyr. A “K” is marked on most parts, indicating Austrian manufacture, but many of these guns share mixed Hungarian and Austrian parts.
The barrel markings show this one made in 1920 and still bearing “W-N” of Imperial Vienna. Ones rebarreled in the 1930s have a stylized “HV,” eagle and date. An “S” on the barrel indicates it has been rechambered for the 8x56R cartridge. Bulgarian bolts are matched, with the receiver number electro-penciled on the bolt handle.
The stock shows three serial numbers. One set has worn away, one set lined through, and the current receiver number is stamped above the lined-out number. The old sling swivel mortise beneath the butt has been plugged. The new sling location is on the left side of the carbine, allowing it to be slung flat across the back.
Oddly, the rear swivel is right through the wrist of the stock—the weakest part—where it also unfortunately interferes with a shooting grip. The shortened barrel moved the balance point halfway between the stock and the extended box magazine, so hand carry is awkward—although at seven pounds, 3.6 ounces it is nice and light.
The Model 95/30 would otherwise be a great woods hunting rifle, except working the action is very noisy. The safety is very noisy going on and off as well, but it can be manipulated quietly. With your finger off the trigger, pull back the cocking piece a hair with your thumb. Then the safety goes on or off silently.
As to the fishy conversions. Data sources list the 8x50R as using an 8mm bullet of 0.323 inch. The 8x56R is listed as using a 0.330-inch bullet. My sample rifle has a barrel dated “20” for 1920—indicating the 8x50R barrel was good enough to keep—and an “S” atop the barrel indicates it has been rechambered to 8x56R for the bigger spitzer bullet.
Driving a lead roundball into the muzzle found the grooves measuring 0.329 inch. The Prvi Partizan bullets available for this cartridge today — both full metal jacket and softpoint—measure 0.330, so all is good, but it seems to me there must be more to the ammo/barrel/dimension side of the story. I’d say barrels with early dates were re-bored and re-rifled.
Nazi Germany absorbed Austria in 1938, and the Germans kept ammunition going. Being a light, handy carbine, the Model 95/30 saw the most use with police, rear echelon and specialists as well as with the Bulgarians. The 95/30 served Austrian police in the post-World War II era until 1955.
Once a reasonably priced rifle, the 95/30 is now selling south of $500 in the condition shown and more than $1,000 in pristine condition. Clips are getting expensive, too, but they aren’t hard to find. As I mentioned Prvi Partizan sells bullets, and Lee offers dies, shellholders and data for the 8x56R.