O Happy Day!
A nice, old rifle,
A bit obscure? Well, just a trifle,
But at the range, no cause for frowning,
This gun’s designed by John M. Browning!
The year 1900 was a very good year for John Browning. In that year he obtained the first of the patents for his A5 semiautomatic shotgun, the first and most successful semiauto scattergun. Versions were marketed by Remington Arms and Fabrique Nationale of Belgium, among others, and production eventually totaled in the millions of units over many years.
John Browning’s personal opinion was that this humpbacked, long-recoil action shotgun was the best thing he ever did. Perhaps less well-known is the fact that there was a rifle version of this sporting arm. A patent for this semiautomatic rifle was also obtained in 1900, and the gun was soon marketed as the Remington Model 8. It was chambered for a series of Remington rimless cartridges, the .25, .30, .32, and .35 Remington rounds. Except for the .35, these rounds were essentially rimless versions of popular Winchester cartridges, the .30 Remington, for instance, being a rimless version of the immortal .30-30 Winchester. Loading manuals typically state that their listed .30-30 Winchester loads may also be used for the .30 Remington.
The Model 8 was found to be a satisfactory hunting rifle. It had a long run, was built in fair numbers, and was considered suitable for updating in 1936, when the designation was changed to Model 81. Changes were minor and the action remained the same as the Model 8. A bigger deal is that the .300 Savage chambering was added to the line. That cartridge, with considerably more punch than the .30 Remington, increased the scope of the model’s hunting capability.
A Good Model 81 Woodsmaster in .300 Savage
The Woodsmaster that I found was in very good condition. Good wood, no rust, excellent bore, and blue turning to a nice patina for the finish. If you should run on to one while prowling the used gun racks, chances are it will look about the same as mine and it will work well. Mr. Browning’s designs are very strong and were meant to work well for a long time.
The resemblance born by this arm to the A5 semi-auto shotgun is apparent in the first picture. The humpbacked action is there, but don’t be fooled by the fat barrel. It is not all barrel because the actual barrel is held in a jacket, a tube of larger diameter. With each shot, the barrel moves back against a spring inside this tube, and that movement transfers energy to the bolt and allows the recoil of the shot to cycle the action. It unlocks the bolt, ejects the spent shell, and returns to battery with the bolt seating a new round in the chamber. That is basically the working of the “long recoil” action.
The next picture shows the business end with the large tube, then a bushing that positions the barrel uniformly after each shot, and then the barrel itself.
The front sight is not standard. It is a taller bead, something that is needed for use with an aperture rear sight. The picture of the right side of the receiver shows the large, stamped safety lever, the bolt handle, and the magazine, which is not easily removable. The gun loads through the open action at the top, with five cartridges held by the spring steel magazine lips.
The left side of the receiver carries the Woodsmaster logo. The small lever just above the trigger guard releases the bolt after loading. Note also the three screws to be used for attaching an off-center scope mount.
The most interesting feature of the Model 81 action (and that of the previous Model 8) is shown in the next picture. Note that the breech of the barrel has an extension that is machined to accept the opposed locking lugs of the bolt. The bolt, therefore, rotates to lock into this barrel extension, not into slots machined in the receiver, as would be the case with the vast majority of rifles. This type of lockup has appeared a number of times over the years. It is currently used, for example, in the modern Browning lever action and semiautomatic, centerfire rifles, although the BAR is gas-operated.
A consequence of this design is that the receiver does not have to contain the energy of a round being fired. That is born entirely by the barrel/barrel extension in which the bolt is locked. The receiver may therefore be more lightly constructed to save weight and that shows in the thin metal of the Model 81 receiver. It seems to me that this design is quite appropriate for a semi auto action in which recoil must rotate the bolt to unlock it from its seat, something that would be more difficult to accomplish if the bolt locked in channels in the receiver. It may also be the best way to get uniformity of lockup when everything moves from shot to shot. Maybe that observation is only intuitive; I am no gun designer. But John Browning saw it all 113 years ago, and it works.
The Model 81 also has a take-down feature. Removing the forearm reveals a lever-operated screw that will free the barrel for removal from the action. That is easily accomplished and the barrel is easily replaced.
Shooting the Woodsmaster
Pulling the bolt handle until it locks open will allow cartridges to be inserted in the single column magazine from the top. Pushing down the small lever on the left side of the receiver allows the bolt to slam forward and chamber a cartridge with a satisfying “ka-chuck.” Pushing the safety lever down then readies the arm for firing.
I have so far done a limited amount of shooting with the Model 81. I tried Winchester and Federal 150-gr loads for the .300 Savage, and also Hornady’s new Superformance load in that caliber. The Winchester and Federal loads gave nominal velocity for the caliber, and the Hornady Superformance did deliver a bit more than 100 fps higher velocity than these two, as advertised. The trigger was in the “not too bad” category, not creepy, but a bit soft. My accuracy testing was hampered by old eyes and the simple, open sights. I managed groups of about 1.5 in. at 50 yards. I will need to install better sighting equipment for a better evaluation of the rifle’s accuracy potential. That, as always, is my main interest. Empties are kicked straight up from the action so a scope must be mounted in offset position. For that reason, I may choose to go with an aperture rear sight and a fine bead on the front. I may also need to be concerned with function, as I had a few jams during the shooting sessions, in spite of earlier statements about how well Browning designs work. I think it will be fine with more shooting. We will see to all of this as the weather gets warmer.
This is the first semi-auto, centerfire rifle that I have ever shot and I could have made it go bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, but I did not. There is little point in doing that unless you are Texan Frank Hamer and you have Bonnie and Clyde in the sights of your Remington Model 8, as he did on a fateful day in 1934 when he and several other lawmen put an end to that pair’s murderous exploits.
Just how good can a gun shoot when the barrel moves with every shot? Well, we know from experience with another Browning invention, the Model 1911 Government Model .45 ACP, that the answer is “pretty darn good!” An army of NRA Bullseye shooters have proven that. Again, we will have to see about my Woodsmaster.