A dan­dy litt­le num­ber sir?

The­re is so­mething to be said for trim, fast-hand­ling rifles.

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - Jo­han Morkel

Iam su­re the­re are ma­ny who li­ke small, trim, wel­l­ba­lan­ced rifles cham­be­red for mild car­trid­ges. Gun wri­ters so­meti­mes re­fer to such pie­ces as “dan­dy rifles” – a blend be­t­ween a dain­ty and a han­dy rifle.

I’ve been in­vol­ved with fi­re­arms for the past 30 y­e­ars, both re­pai­ring them as well as buil­ding new rifles. It seems to me that long-ran­ge, tar­get-ty­pe rifles cham­be­red for re­la­ti­ve­ly new car­trid­ges that bo­ast ef­fi­cient sharp shoul­ders and im­pres- si­ve bal­lis­ti­cs for their si­ze are cur­rent­ly the “fla­vour of the month”. Such rifles ty­pi­cal­ly ha­ve Re­ming­ton-ty­pe acti­ons and ma­tch-gra­de, se­mi-bull bar­rels, 28 to 30” long. The­se rifles are u­su­al­ly e­quip­ped with big, he­a­vy and ex­pen­si­ve high-po­wer, top-qua­li­ty sco­pes. I’ve seen such rifles de­li­ver in­cre­di­ble accu­ra­cy at ran­ges I wouldn’t e­ven want to men­ti­on.

Or­di­na­ry Joes with not so or­di­na­ry rifles are get­ting lon­g­ran­ge groups that not too long ago would’ve been un­he­ard of ex­cept in Ben­chrest ci­r­cles. But the rifles that pro­du­ce such groups are too he­a­vy for most ty­pes of hun­ting. They’re be­st sui­ted to shoot­ing from sta­tic po­si­ti­ons and with a sta­ble rest.

Just as techno­lo­gy de­ve­lo­ped for For­mu­la 1 ra­cing e­ven­tu­al­ly ends up in the fa­mi­ly car, shoo­t­ers a­cross the bo­ard will e­ven­tu- al­ly be­ne­fit from this sur­ge to pro­du­ce very accu­ra­te rifles, in­clu­ding the re­lo­a­ding de­ve­lop­ments that con­tri­bu­te to such accu­ra­cy. Pe­op­le wal­king in­to my shop get a hor­ri­fied look on their fa­ces w­hen they pick up a .375 H&H weig­hing 9lbs. “It is going to kick, ple­a­se fit a muz­z­le bra­ke and may­be a mer­cu­ry bra­ke too?” they of­ten ask.

I firm­ly be­lie­ve that if a wel­l­de­sig­ned rifle of ap­pro­pri­a­te weig­ht has too much re­coil, the be­st re­me­dy is to get a smal­ler ca­li­b­re. The ul­ti­ma­te stal­king rifle to my mind would be a vin­ta­ge .275 Rig­by, which trans­la­tes to a well-ba­lan­ced 7x57mm Mau­ser of ap­pro­pri­a­te weig­ht.


For so­me y­e­ars now I’ve been im­pres­sed by the small acti­on of the Zas­ta­va Mo­del 85, alt­hough I’ve ne­ver boug­ht a Zas­ta­va for my­self and can’t re­mem­ber e­ver u­sing a rifle with such a mi­ni­acti­on. Ho­we­ver, a­bout three y­e­ars ago a Mo­del 85 rifle was broug­ht in­to the shop. It was a poor spe­ci­men that had seen so­me hard use, per­haps – jud­ging from its con­di­ti­on – on a

fis­hing bo­at.

The bar­rel was com­ple­te­ly bug­ge­red with he­a­vy rust in­si­de. It was mis­sing the re­ar main screw as well as the ma­ga­zi­ne fol­lo­wer and spring. The acti­on had pit marks and rust on the out­si­de and a bit mo­re se­ri­ous da­ma­ge on the guard and floor pla­te. The cost of re­pai­ring the da­ma­ge and re­pla­cing the bar­rel promp­ted the o­w­ner to buy a new rifle inste­ad. I trans­fer­red the rifle to our stock with the aim of u­sing it as a sour­ce of spa­re parts in fu­tu­re. Af­ter a­bout six mont­hs an i­dea star­ted for­ming in my mind. Why not use the acti­on to build a mi­ni­a­tu­re stal­king rifle?

T­ho­se who are fa­mi­li­ar with the wil­d­cat 6x45mm car­trid­ge speak highly of it and I thoug­ht it would fit the mi­ni-Zas­ta­va per­fect­ly. The 6x45mm is sim­ply a .223 Re­ming­ton ca­se with the neck ex­pan­ded to ta­ke 6mm bul­lets. The re­ports of so­me 6x45mm u­sers would seem to in­di­ca­te the car­trid­ge pos­ses­ses so­me sort of X-fac­tor. Ot­hers at­tri­bu­te si­mi­lar ex­tra­or­di­na­ry traits to the 7x57. I’m of the o­pi­ni­on that the per­for­man­ce le­vels of both ca­li­bres ha­ve mo­re to do with mo­de­ra­te re­coil and laun­ching he­a­vier bul­lets at re­la­ti­ve­ly low velo­ci­ties.

The 6x45mm has an al­most cult-li­ke fol­lo­wing in South A­fri­ca a­mong so­me. It be­ca­me so po­pu­lar that fac­to­ry am­mu­ni­ti­on was a­vai­la­ble for a whi­le. Lo­a­ded with 100gr, soft-no­sed bul­lets, it is i­de­al for the hun­ting of me­di­um-si­zed an­te­lo­pe such as im­pa­la, spring­buck and bles­buck at mo­de­ra­te ran­ges. I’m su­re so­me hun­ters ha­ve u­sed the 6x45mm on big­ger ga­me as well.

The small Zas­ta­va acti­on and the 6x45mm car­trid­ge are just a­bout ma­de for e­ach ot­her. The fact that I got a 6x45 cham­ber re­a­mer as part of a tra­de, fit­ted in well with my plan. I had a dis­car­ded 6mm Tik­ka bar­rel on re­gis­ter and, as re­qui­red by law, an ap­pli­ca­ti­on to build a 6x45 rifle u­sing the .243 bar­rel and the be­drag­gled Zas­ta­va rifle’s acti­on was sent off to the CFR. Ap­pro­val was gran­ted fai­r­ly quick­ly so the work be­gan. I wan­ted the rifle to be com­pact and quick hand­ling and with that in mind I de­ci­ded on a bar­rel length of 18”. The bar­rel­led acti­on was t­hen sent off to the SBS for p­roof­ing.

Wai­ting for the steel­work to re­turn was a litt­le stress­ful. W­hat if so­mething ga­ve way un­der fi­ring with a he­a­vy p­roof lo­ad? It’s not cal­led “p­roof­ing” for no­thing. Whi­le I a­wai­ted the re­turn of the bar­rel­led acti­on, an i­dea be­gan to form. Sin­ce I was al­re­a­dy u­sing a be­at-up acti­on and a free­bie bar­rel, why not see how ma­ny com­po­nents I could sal­va­ge from the spa­re-parts he­ap to com­ple­te the pro­ject?


The fac­to­ry stock of the Mo­del 85 Zas­ta­va has a very high comb, and the pitch of the butt pla­te is com­ple­te­ly wrong. As soon as you put the rifle to your shoul­der, you re­a­li­ze so­mething isn’t rig­ht. Lucki­ly, the stock has e­nough “me­at” in all the rig­ht pla­ces which al­lo­wed re-shaping. I tur­ned it in­to a clas­sic-s­ty­le stock by re­mo­ving the Mon­te Car­lo comb and al­te­ring the cheek-pie­ce, t­hen shor­te­ning the fo­re-end and slim­ming it do­wn. I re­mo­ved an e­bo­ny fo­re-end tip from an old stock I had on hand and trans­plan­ted it on­to the Zas­ta­va. A so­lid black, u­sed re­coil pad and an old steel »

» grip cap al­so hel­ped trans­form the ugly duckling in­to a swan.

I re-pro­fi­led the bar­rel to a muz­z­le di­a­me­ter of 14mm. The pro­fi­ling al­so re­sul­ted in a freeflo­a­ted bar­rel from the re­cei­ver all the way to the e­bo­ny for­eend tip. The front sling swi­vel – a­not­her se­cond-hand i­tem – was at­ta­ched to the bar­rel rat­her than the stock. Accu­ra­cy ad­vo­ca­tes don’t li­ke the i­dea of bar­rel-moun­ted swi­vels, clai­ming they can ne­ga­ti­ve­ly af­fect bar­rel vi­bra­ti­ons, but the old rifles built by fa­mous arms-ma­kers had bar­rel-moun­ted swi­vels. One of the re­a­sons was that a bar­rel swi­vel lo­wers the rifle’s muz­z­le w­hen slung o­ver your shoul­der. It thus pre­vents the muz­z­le from ca­t­ching low han­ging bran­ches. For my part, a bar­rel­moun­ted swi­vel just looks gre­at, and that’s the way I li­ke it. It is my rifle, af­ter all.


My next con­cern was the rifle’s weig­ht. Being a com­pact, short­bar­rel­led rifle in a lig­ht ca­li­b­re, it would ma­ke no sen­se if it weig­hed the sa­me as a fac­to­ry rifle with a 22” bar­rel. I wan­ted the Zas­ta­va to weigh un­der 6lbs with e­ver­y­thing on bo­ard, so I dril­led so­me ho­les in the back of the stock and hol­lo­wed out the fo­re-end to lig­h­ten it. A check on the sca­le re­vea­led too litt­le weig­ht re­mo­val so I was going to ha­ve to ta­ke mo­re dras­tic steps – re­mo­ving me­tal rat­her than wood. I was hap­py with the bar­rel pro­fi­le, and I cer­tain­ly didn’t want to ma­ke it any shor­ter. Inste­ad, I slim­med do­wn the lug a­rea, which was much thic­ker than ne­ces­sa­ry a­ny­way. I al­so re­mo­ved steel low e­nough on the acti­on so that the cuts are not vi­si­ble on­ce the stock is fit­ted. I had no luck in lo­ca­ting a ma­ga­zi­ne fol­lo­wer, so I ma­de a new one out of ai­r­craft-gra­de a­lu­mi­ni­um.

I cle­a­ned up the left si­de­wall of the acti­on and re­mo­ved the fac­to­ry in­scrip­ti­ons, and on the spur of the mo­ment I cut a thumb slot in the si­de­wall so it would re­sem­ble a Mo­del 98 Mau­ser. This was a good de­ci­si­on. It sa­ved a lot of weig­ht and drew fa­vou­ra­ble com­ments from guys pop­ping in­to the shop to check on the pro­gress of the pro­ject.

A T­hor sco­pe ba­se ca­me with the Zas­ta­va rifle. It looks good but is he­a­vy, so off I went to the spa­re parts bin w­he­re I found ap­pro­pri­a­te We­a­ver ba­ses and 25mm rings for the 1-5x20 I had in mind for the litt­le 6x45. I had to mo­di­fy the ba­ses to ma­tch the pro­fi­le of the re­cei­ver and the spa­cing of the ho­les in the top of the acti­on.

Af­ter as­sem­bling the rifle and fit­ting the sco­pe I must say the 6x45 felt well-ba­lan­ced and very li­ve­ly in the hands. Ho­we­ver, a­not­her check pro­du­ced di­sap­point­ment a­gain. C­lo­se, but still mo­re than 6lbs. Back at the work­bench I took the rifle a­part. The fac­to­ry trig­ger is an all-steel af­fair that, in con­juncti­on with the si­de sa­fe­ty, is qui­te he­a­vy. Sin­ce the acti­on is cal­led a mi­niMau­ser by so­me, I took a long shot and fit­ted a T­hor trig­ger with an a­lu­mi­ni­um bo­dy, ma­de for the M98 Mau­ser. It wor­ked per­fect­ly. It’s very lig­ht and a de­ad rin­ger for a Tim­ney trig­ger. Ai­r­craft-gra­de a­lu­mi­ni­um? I’m not su­re.

Back to the e­lec­tro­nic sca­le on­ce mo­re and this ti­me the re­a­dout sho­wed the ma­gi­cal fi­gu­re: just un­der 6lbs. I took a pho­to to re­cord the fact!


The­re is so­mething special a­bout a lig­ht, nif­ty rifle. This one has im­pres­sed t­ho­se who ha­ve hand­led it, so much so that I was of­fe­red a very ni­ce rifle in a swap. Temp­ting, but I was a­ble to re­sist. I sho­wed it to a cu­s­to­mer, who pas­sed it to his wi­fe. She shoul­de­red it a cou­ple of ti­mes and t­hen whis­pe­red out of the cor­ner of her mouth, “Ask him if it is for sa­le”. I in­tend to hang on­to this rifle as the w­ho­le pro­ject was very sa­tisfying. The fact that I was a­ble to ne­ar­ly com­ple­te the rifle with parts from the se­cond-hand bin was a big fac­tor in kee­ping the cost do­wn. The on­ly re­al cost was in the la­bour, which you don’t re­al­ly keep track of w­hen you’re doing it for your­self.

So how does it shoot? I­ni­ti­al­ly I lo­a­ded so­me car­trid­ges with 87gr bul­lets in front of 22 to 24gr of S321 po­w­der. All I was look­ing for was accep­ta­ble hun­ting accu­ra­cy, and I still need to do a lot of lo­ad de­ve­lop­ment to get to the true po­ten­ti­al of this rifle. The 87gr bul­lets we­re re­pla­ced with 70gr GS Cu­stoms with which I am very hap­py. The litt­le rifle was a joy to car­ry and du­ring the 2016 se­a­son I shot a young fal­low deer ram at roughly 80m af­ter a long stalk.

Back to w­hat I ha­ve said in the first pa­ra­graph of this ar­ti­cle. The­re are in­deed ma­ny shoo­t­ers who li­ke trim, fast-hand­ling rifles. We are just not ex­po­sed to lig­ht­weig­ht rifles to the sa­me de­gree as y­e­ste­ry­e­ar. I think hand­ling such a com­pact, lig­ht­weig­ht rifle ma­kes you feel li­ke a kid a­gain. Pick up a Mann­li­cher-S­chö­nau­er car­bi­ne for in­stan­ce and see w­hat I me­an. I bet you’ll li­ke it. It mig­ht just feel...dan­dy!

My com­pact, lig­ht­weig­ht “spa­re parts” Zas­ta­va in ca­li­b­re 6x45. The rifle weighs in un­der 6lbs. P­ho­tos 1 & 2 show just how s­hort the Zas­ta­va Mo­del 85 mi­ni-acti­on is w­hen com­pa­red to acti­ons u­sed for “nor­mal” rifles.

W­hen the stock was do­ne I ad­ded che­que­ring to en­han­ce it.

Wood was al­so re­mo­ved from the bar­rel chan­nel to lig­h­ten the stock. I wan­ted a “stal­king” rifle weig­hing no mo­re than 6lbs.

To sa­ve weig­ht I re­mo­ved steel from the re­coil lug a­rea and al­so cut a thumb slot in­to the acti­on.

The stock was res­ha­ped in­to the clas­sic s­ty­le.

He­re my son de­mon­stra­tes the cle­an li­nes and the com­pact­ness of the litt­le “spa­re parts” Zas­ta­va 6x45.

The 6x45 com­pa­red to a nor­mal­si­zed tar­get shoot­ing rifle.

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