The Carcano as a Sporting Rifle,
Sporterizing a Carcano - Do's and Don't's
The idea expressed in this page's headline is not an infrequent deliberation; sometimes, it's even a licit question.
In the following paragraphs, I will try to present some tips, hints and warnings.
- When and what?
You better shall not mutilize an intact, original gun. Not even one with a
mediocre or pitted bore. It is just... not quite moral. And it is not
necessary either (see below, No. 3). See, that beat-up old M 91
long rifle with its dinged stock and its rust-pitted bore, half hidden in
the gunshop's broom corner, might be just one of the very few
Beretta-made long rifles that ever existed - wouldn't it be a pity if one
had spoiled it?
- Choose a model:
Apart and beyond this first consideration, one will choose an appropriate
basis (whole gun or just a - bar reled - action) to start with. A Fucile
M 38 short rifle is often a good start: it already has a bent bolt and the
steel is of more recent manufacture.
- Choose a specific base gun:
The most sensible and respectful way to begin (and also, incidentally, the
cheapest - doesn't that match nicely?) is to start right away with an
already mutil... err, "hacksaw sporterized" gun.
They are not difficult to find - even the smallish retail shop of
Gun Parts Corp (West Hurley, NY) has
almost 10 pre-cut and altered Carcani for sale cheaply (together with
3 original ones); it seems that most of them have been gathering dust for
the last 10 years or more. Many more are probably hidden in attics ("rode
hard and put away wet"), or will show up at an estate sale, or get thrown
in at a "take all the stuff at a net price" gunsmith deal.
Many gunshops and gunsmiths will just be too glad to get rid of these
(hitherto :-) unpopular, unglamourous "sporters" and to get even some money
back for their unloved and seemingly useless package trade-in.
- Do I want to retain the original caliber?
This question merits some deeper consideration, beyond the look at the
meager ammo shelf in "Old Joe's Neighbourhood Gun Shoppe" which is so
conveniently situated next to you...
Both of the original Carcano cartridges, the 6.5x52 and the later 7.35x51
(the only one in this unusual caliber, by the way), are very well
designed/laid out, and are more than fit for most small- to medium-sized
game (this includes most deer species, with exception of large red deer,
large elk, caribou, moose; it also includes up to medium-size European boar:
sus scrofa). However, the only two available 6.5x52 Carcano factory
loads (made in Sweden by Norma, with a 139 grains SP Spitzer and a 160
grains SP RN bullet) often yield only mediocre accuracy in many rifles and
carbines with wider bores (which are so encountered so frequently). Thus,
one often is forced to handload, e.g. with MoLoc .268" bullets.
The 7.35x51 Carcano (its maximum allowed case length is 51.5 mm as opposed
to 52.5 mm for the 6.5 mm, so it best be called with this designation) is
almost entirely a handloading affair, with special custom-made bullets
supplied by small producers. However, some small-scale outlet for
commercially available custom loads
exists (Old Western Scrounger
and Cabela's distribute hunting ammo,
made for them by Hayley).
Given the experience of the legendary and venerable 6.5x54
Mannlicher-Schönauer, which has taken about every known big game on
earth (including elephants and giraffes), the 6.5x52 Carcano doesn't
compare badly at all... its data are almost equal to the MS' ballistics, and
it fires the same heavy round-nose bullet.
- Chamber reaming or rebarreling?
If you would rather like to use a more common bore size and chambering, than
the examination of what cartridge to choose would be the next step, and, of
To smother the first question already: No.
- whether a mere re-cutting of the chamber would be a feasible option, as
wont from some other calibers,
- or whether rather a whole new barrel is needed.
Reaming the chamber just isn't an option. Apart from possible strange
wildcats, only the 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer and the 6.5x55
Swedish Mauser (and, maybe, the popular German 6.5x57 Mauser with short
bullets) would be feasible for such a project, and then again one would be
stuck with the same phenomenon of oversize grooves, presenting the same
possible problem with factory bullets, which already moved us to change
cartridges in the first place...
While the ballistics of either cartridge are a bit more impressive on
paper, the game doesn't feel the difference at all. A 160 grains
roundnose softpoint bullet has good terminal effect at 100 metres regardless
whether it flies there at 676 m/s (from a Swedish 6.5x55 Norma load), at
585 m/s (from a modern RWS Mannlicher-Schönauer
factory load) or at 654 m/s (from a 6.5x52 Carcano Norma load).
Issues to be considered are:
- Cartridge limitations due to the action length.
The magazine opening could take a bit more, but the receiver's lower breech
face limits the possibility of cutting out, since enough steel must be left
to support the lower bolt locking lug. The 8x57IS Moschetti TS M 38
already stretches the action to its limits (literally). There
is not much steel left at the lower locking lug recess of the
receiver, after the half-moon cut out for the longer 8x57 IS case, and I
for one would feel a bit more comfortable with a shorter cartridge (even
though I like my own Moschetto TS short bully - an extremely hand brush
gun in dense cover).
- Bore diameter
Since rebarrelling a Carcano to a .22 or a .243 would be pretty
pointless (the receiver is not a benchrest design with its split bridge,
and the .243 is a step back from the 6.5x52 in most respects), we are
left with calibers above 6.5 mm and case lengths lower than, let's say,
55 millimeters. And, please, don't come on to me with the "but I can
always set bullets further back / deep enough in a 9x57 case..."
argument - if I rebarrel a Carcano, I do want to be able to use factory
ammo now and then, and not to be confined to handloads.
Apart from European oddities (like the old 8x51 Mauser Kurz - going at
about $25.00 each with cartridge collectors), very few cartridges would
fit both in maximum length and in bullet diameter.
- Reworking problems
As far as the case's base head diameter be concerned:
Opening up the bolt face, the extractor claw and possibly even the
magazine well (plus being forced to alter the clips, and thus possibly
bereave them of some of their springiness necessary for proper
function), are all additional steps best to be avoided.
If we were to accept some work on the guns, however, we could add:
To treat this possibility first: The two Scandinavian semi-wildcats 7x54
and 8x54 are so quaint and rare to find (virtually always a handloading
and case-forming affair) that we could rule them right out. The *-08
cartridges, we will examine in Pressure
- the whole *-08 family, including 7mm-08, .308 Win, .358 Win
- 7x54 Swedish (not the ultra-rare 7x54 French civilian)
- 8x54 Krag-Jørgensen (rimless)
That leaves us with case head diameters of less than 11,90 millimeters
or so (also, the whole huge m/88 cartridge case family will not work with
The 7.62x39 Russian M 43, of worldwide military ubiquity after World War
has become a popular small plinking cartridge in civilian US use in the
meantime, mainly due to the stream of cheap Chinese and Russian SKS
self-loaders and AKM clones being imported. Few bolt action rifles have
been chambered for it, though (Ruger Mod 77 Mk. II, one Sako or Tikka -
maybe the L 461, several Chinese-rechambered Arisakas, maybe some
VietMinh/VietCong-reworked Lee-Enfields, the Yugoslavian made Zastava L
89 [better known as Interarms Mk. X Mini-Mauser], and, indeed, some
rebarrelled Carcano Sporters).
- 7.62x39 Russian "M 43"
- .35 Remington
While this cartridge is widely inferior to both of the proprietary Carcano
rounds in every respect, it still can offer sufficient performance for
varmint, small deer, small(!) feral hogs and boars, at distances below,
let's say, 125 metres. Maybe let's stay on the safe and ethical side, and
thus limit hunting to 100 metres.
In this context, I should like to point out the need to hand-load in
order to concoct good hunting rounds in a 7.62x39 bolt-action
rifle. Many of the available .310" light softpoint bullets may be fine
for varmint, but not so well for deer, at least
not with a conscious and ethical hunter: these short 125 grains Spitzer SP
bullets are certainly inferior to the 150 gr. and 170 gr. flat-nose
slugs originally designed for the .30-30, when thinking of such game.
Readers interested in knowing more about the bullet weight discussion
are advised to look at the archived and the current rec.hunting
newsgroup of Usenet, where the topic has been treated frequently.
The *-08 family would be fine and yummy, except for one important
consideration, always to be taken into account in such a sporterizing
endeavour - pressure! On one hand, the Carcano is one of the
most sturdy and robust military actions ever built, as P. O. Ackley found
out empirically - much to his surprise, I guess - in a series of
experiments involving all the common military bolt actions. Basically, he
used the old military receivers and bolts, then screwed (various?) barrels
chambered for "Ackley improved" cartridges into them, and proceeded to load
higher and hotter, until something would explode...
The .308 Win, the 7mm-08 and the .358 Win are all loaded to (comparatively)
high modern pressures, up to 50,000/52,000 psi. After all, the .308 was
intended to duplicate .30-06 ballistics in a smaller casing.
Certainly, the original pressure of the 6.5x52 Carcano was not low either
(3100 atmospheres with Solenite powder), and its CIP maximum allowed use
pressure is 3200 bar (3300 bar for the 7.35x51 Carcano, since the guns
for the latter are a little bit younger: made from 1938 to 1940).
The mandatory German proofshooting pressure for the Carcani is around 60,000
But, while I do not have any doubt that the actions would well withstand
a one-time high over-pressure, contionuous use of these three cartridges or
might lead, over time, to a gradual locking lug setback. This would
slowly increase headspace and eventually make the gun unsafe.
My belief is that for continuous use, it would be wisest to employ a new
cartridge which does not (at least not greatly) surpass original
pressures. Now, the venerable and still common old American woods cartridge,
the .35 Remington offers itself for the job, since it has only 2600
bar CIP pressure, as opposed to 3200 bar of the 6.5 mm Carcano :-).
The Carcano in hunting use
Since one will hardly sporterize a gun just for the fun of metalwork, it is
reasonable to add a paragraph (or several) on the practical hunting use of
the gun/cartridge combination.
- In general:
- The available cartridges
- The 6.5mm family has enjoyed a superb hunting reputation for over a
century now. Its extreme versatility has certainly contributed to it.
From varmint to big game, 6.5 mm cartridges have taken any animal on
The 6.5x52 Carcano is very close in flight ballistics and terminal effect to
6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer. This "Central European rifleman's
cartridge" has gained fame in the ice of
the Alps as well as in African plains. The excellent penetration
capabilities of the long 160 gr.
bullet make is suitable, though marginally, even on large game (massive
solids being preferable to lead-core FMJ on hard-structured animals;
W.H.D. Bell complained about deformed 6.5 mm bullets when he used a
6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer on elephants). When contemplating the use
of such a monolithic solid in a gain-twist-rifled Carcano (not that I would
recommend the cartridge on pachyderms, mind you), one MUST choose a design
with driving bands and small bearing surfaces.
Digressive note: when facing an elephant, I would still rather have a
6.5x52 Carcano with a solid tungsten core than a 10,75x68 with a
conventional thin-jacketed FMJ ... guess why.
As to more general use, the 6.5x52 Carcano would make a superb deer
cartridge, while also useful on small to middle boar (with precise shots
and premium bullets in 160 gr.) and elk, Scandinavian moose (lower border,
I feel; but the Norse have used the 6.5x55 for a long time with success).
160 gr. is the best bullet weight,
while 140 gr. may also prove useful. Lighter bullets will not be
sufficiently accurate in most cases. For varmints, you would use a
desgnated varmint rifle anyhow, not a Carcano.
Another Digressive note: The round Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly used
to assassinate John F. Kennedy was a 6.5x52 Carcano with a 162gr., Full
Metal Jacket bullet. The kind of damage this round can produce is
evident in the Zapruder film of the assassination and various experiments
by John K. Lattimer.
- The 7.35x51 Carcano is more narrow in field application, in my
impression. Apart from two-legged predators, against whom it was designed,
it would be very good on deer (from roe to medium size red deer), small
to medium boar, chamois. Fred Barnes has classed it somewhere between the
.30-30 and the .300 Savage, which is probably quite correct; it is superior
to the .30-30 in every respect,
though. Its penetration is not as good as the 6.5 mm, which limits its
outreach a bit, but its trajectory is much flatter.
The 7.35x51 Carcano therefore makes for an excellent woodlands cartridge
in a short handy sporterized M 1938 rifle. Softpoint hunting bullets are
made by DKT Inc, who also supply loaded hunting ammunition. Old Western
Scrounger and Cabela's also offer custom loaded ammo.
Neither the 6.5x52 Carcano nor the 7.35x51 Carcano is capable of long shots
or of safely and ethically taking heavy game. Yes, precise bullet placement
is everything, and polar bears as well as elephants have been killed with
.22LR, but I would not recommend either. Every cartridge has its best
ecological niche, and should be kept there in its habitat.
- The 7.62x39 is less suitable as a hunting cartridge than either. It
should be used with 150 gr. reloads (Black Hills Ammunition also
offers newly-loaded ammunition with a 150 gr. Hornady softpoint bullet
at 2200 fps muzzle velocity) at distances below 120 meters. In performance
and suitability, it is slightly inferior to the .30-30. Sensible
applications would be roe and whitetail deer, javelina, fox, coyote...
- Bullet selection
- Cast lead
Cast lead or hard swaged lead bullets can inflict spectacular tissue damage
in the 6.5x52 Carcano. However, I feel that their terminal behaviour is too
inconsistent and unreliable to use them on other than soft-structured smaller
The century-old "classic" heavy roundnose slug (with its large exposed tip)
is still a very good choice for most applications, and it seems it is
increasingy being re-considered in Europe and also by US hunters. Except for
heavy bones being hit (massive shoulder blades, pelvic bones), a good
portion will stay intact and exit, as it should, while the front part will
shed and often disintegrate, doing sufficient damage. It will also adapt to
a wide velocity range.
Its performance not being as reliable as with premium bullets, it should
not be chosen for tough game, as large boars.
- Premium class expansion-deformation bullets
- FMJ and monolithic solids
Here are some very usful comments on *old* Carcano sporters by Richard
Hobbs and Stuart "Ben" Sansing:
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 12:38:27 -0700
From: "Richard J. Hobbs"
X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.01C-KIT (Win95; U)
To: "Stuart W. [Ben] Sansing"
Subject: Re: Carcano sporting rifle?
After the first WW Austria made up a lot of sporting rifles from
surplused Carcanos. These were changed from 6,5X52 to 6,5X54 MS mm.
The rifles were usually marked "Made in Austria" on the underside of the
forearm. Along with the 4 groove gain twist rifling they often had
double set triggers, Monte Carlo cheek pieces and checkered pistol
grips. This was all made on the original military stock. Some the bolt
handles were like the one you discribed. All in all a nice hunting
Some came into Canada and when the bores wore out they had the barrels
replaced with an 8 groove barrel made of poor quality steel. The barrels
were not threaded into the receiver, the old barrel was cut off ant
about 1" long then drilled out and the new bbl. was inserted and held in
with a set screw. These are not safe to shoot.
If the rifle has a 8 groove bore in 6,5 mm I would avoid it.
Stuart W. [Ben] Sansing wrote:
> At the gun show last weekend, among other things we found a Carcano which
> I *think* may have been an original sporting rifle. Hard to tell but it
> had so many non-military characteristics/features that it must have been
> someone's "labor of love" if it were merely a "sporterized" military
> rifle. For instance - turned-down, almost "butterknife" bolt handle;
> walnut stock, European sporter-shaped, halfstock forearm and buttstock
> with cheekpiece; metal buttplate but not of military type; front sight
> was a sporting ramp and rear sight was a two-leaf *express* sight. About
> a 22" or maybe 23" barrel. Most impressive was the engraving - all over
> the action with a crossed oak leaf motif on the receiver ring, where the
> arsenal name should have been. No such marking could be found. It was
> 6.5mm, and the old fellow who had it (at a table) had RCBS dies, a box of
> Norma ammo, some old foreign (berdan) sporting ammo, and some more cases
> that had once been Remington .303 British cases but the rims had been
> lathe-turned down. All this for $140. Cousin Chuck lusted after it but
> didn't have enough money. Offered the old gent $100 but it was no-go.
> So... is $140 a good deal for all this stuff? Does the rifle sound like a
> "real" sporting Carcano? Was there ever such a thing? What do you fellows
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