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.

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 course,
    To smother the first question already: No.
    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).

  6. Rebarrelling?
    Issues to be considered are:
    1. 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).
    2. 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.
    3. 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:
      • the whole *-08 family, including 7mm-08, .308 Win, .358 Win
      • 7x54 Swedish (not the ultra-rare 7x54 French civilian)
      • 8x54 Krag-Jørgensen (rimless)
      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 Considerations section.
      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 unaltered bolts).
      These are:
      • 7.62x39 Russian "M 43"
      • .35 Remington
      The 7.62x39 Russian M 43, of worldwide military ubiquity after World War II, 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).
      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.
    4. Pressure considerations
      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 psi.
      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 comparable ones 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.

      1. In general:
      2. The available cartridges
        1. 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 earth.
          The 6.5x52 Carcano is very close in flight ballistics and terminal effect to the venerable 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.
        2. 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.

        3. 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...
      3. Bullet selection
        1. 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 animals.
        2. Softpoint
          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.
        3. Premium class expansion-deformation bullets
        4. FMJ and monolithic solids

      Here are some very usful comments on *old* Carcano sporters by Richard
      Hobbs and Stuart "Ben" Sansing:
      Message-ID: <>
      Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 12:38:27 -0700
      From: "Richard J. Hobbs" 
      X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.01C-KIT  (Win95; U)
      MIME-Version: 1.0
      To: "Stuart W. [Ben] Sansing" 
      Subject: Re: Carcano sporting rifle?
      References: <>
      Hi Ben,
      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.
      Dick Hobbs
      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
      > think?
      > Thanks,
      >   Ben
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