Saturday, May 12, 2018

THE REMINGTON MODEL 8/81: A REVIEW

    Earlier this week, I accompanied an elderly gentleman to festivities at the local VFW Hall. The old fellow was a WW2 veteran, and he and some of his ever-dwindling numbers of former comrades-in-arms were meeting for V-E Day. And, this August, V-J Day will be another reunion. Sadly, each such event is marked by the passing of another member. I well recall the last of our WW1 'Doughboys' going before Armistice Day a few years ago. And as a young boy, I remember that we even a had a genuine Spanish-American soldier in our midst.

    While there, a survivor of the Battle of Okinawa happened to notice my wristwatch---a replica of a 1930's style. We got to talking, and our conversation turned to guns. And he mentioned that he still owned his first hunting rifle, a Remington Model 8. 

    I've long known of the Model 8---and its cousin the Model 81---by reputation. They've both been on my wishlist for a long time. I got to an invitation to 'the range' in exchange for buying two boxes of ammo. After seeing the price of .35 Remington cartridges, I can say truthfully that the old veteran got the better end of that deal. 😉

    For those unfamiliar with this particular rifle, it was an early semi-automatic which was extremely popular during the first half of the 20th Century. 


     As depicted in the ad above, it's rapid reloading capabilities were a huge advantage to an outdoor sportsman in a tight spot. It had an incredible reputation for accuracy---even at long distances and that .35 slug packed a wallop. It was so popular with hunters that Remington built a .25 and .32 caliber model for small game. Even so, there's been more than one account of a deer taken with the little .25. 

       The rifle was designed by the legendary John Browning in 1905. He sold the patent to Remington in 1911. It's design is fairly typical of early semi-autos, in that it uses a long-recoil system whereby the bolt and barrel slide backwards against a compression-spring. The French light machine-gun, the Chauchat, works on the same principle. During WW1, American pilots of the Lafayette Escaudrille brought Model 8's for use in dogfights. The French were impressed, and bought some for their own pilots. 

      While firing this gun at the 'range' (which turned out to be a disused gravel-pit), I noticed a difference in this long-recoil system. It has a slower rate of fire than modern semi-autos, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. What it lacks in speed it compensates for with better accuracy. The slower rate of fire also is good for fire-control. Even though this is a substantial .35 caliber, there's not a tendency to 'walk' as there is with most semi-autos. 

      The recoil takes a little getting used to. It's not heavy or pounding, but the long-recoil system can be jarring at first. I've fired the Chauchat before, and it has the same kind of recoil. Not really a 'kick' but more like a good shove. 


     If the recoil is an issue with these types of guns, a pad would probably not help much, but a shoulder cushion such as found on many shooting-jackets likely would. Frankly, I didn't find the recoil much problem but you do have to make some adjustments for it. 

     Another interesting innovation was the safety feature. This was really cool and very simple.


     This is really reminiscent of some of the systems used on older semi-auto handguns. Just a simple notch in the slide with a lever. You can see this is an advantage for left-handed shooters. 

      Another reason that this rifle is good for left-handers is that it doesn't eject spent cartridges from the right. Anyone who's ever tried shooting a Thompson, a BAR, or a Lewis Gun from the Left and wound up with hot brass up his sleeve or down his shirt or pants knows what I'm talking about. The Model 8 ejects straight up. If you do find one of these, make sure that your gunsmith checks out that the ejector-spring hasn't worn out. It's also highly recommended that you wear safety glasses---especially if you're doing any shooting from the hip. One of my elderly companions at the range told me he'd once seen a spent .35 cartridge ejected into somebody's mouth! I'm not sure I believe that, but it's theoretically possible. 

       Overall, though, the gun is a pleasure to shoot. I don't hunt as much big game as I used to these days, but I can see where a .25 version would be awesome on rabbits, squirrels, and other fast-moving small game. 

      These rifles vary in price on the used market, but they seem to run around $400 for a good, reliable one. Collector's guns go for considerably higher. Remington used to sell engraved rifles for an extra price and specially-engraved ones for an extra-extra price. Imagine this, for example:


    And that is probably out of the price range of anybody without Trump-level annual incomes.

      A word needs be said about the Model 81. The Model 81 is essentially the same as the Model 8 mechanically, but with cosmetic variations. A version of the Model 81 was sold in caliber .300 Savage, which is considerably cheaper today than the .35's.

     A number of these rifles were sold as a 'Police Special' and had higher capacity magazines and other features. They were purchased by the FBI, the Canadian Mounties, and many local police agencies. It's not uncommon to find Model 8's and 81's with police markings on them. 


     Overall, this is a great old gun that never goes out of style. It's one of the best all-around designs ever. There aren't very many rifles that can do just about anything, but this one can. I can see why my elder friend made this his 'Old Trusty' for life. 

      

        

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