The Shooting Societies rifles

The rifles of The Shooting Societies – Skytterlagsgeværene

Two  magnificiently crafted Larsen "Tennstempel" falling block rifles from the 1870'-1890's.
Two magnificently crafted Larsen “Tennstempel” falling block rifles from the 1870′-1880′s.
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The Norwegian Armed Forces was virtually a non-existing entity until the late 1600’s. There was no professional army with weapons issued by the king, but a Borgerbevæpning (armed citizens) where the farms were required to mobilise young men ready join the army when needed and to arm these with more or less standardised weapons according to the size of the farm. The tessak sword and the Norwegian axe are examples of these weapons.

Det frivillige Skyttervesen (The voluntary shooters association) was intended to be “a modern” version of this, especially with a possible war with Sweden looming in the near future.

The first private rifle societies were established in Norway in the 1700’s. The members of these were people of wealth and importance. The membership fees were high and the rifles were immensely expensive small bored, large barrelled, heavy masterpieces designed for shooting parrots. Shooting parrots in Norway? Yes, that was what they did. They followed up on the late medieval European custom of shooting parts of a wooden bird (papegøyeskyting) at 100 alen distance (about 60 m). The wooden parrot was assembled of a number of parts and the shooters collected points according to what parts they shot off the bird – crown, head, wings, tail, chest etc.  More information on “Fugleskyting” (in Danish).

Although the first societies were meant to be men’s clubs for friendship and fun, they had a more serious angle as well: Her bruge vi vort Vaaben kun til Lyst – Men kalder Fødelandet, da og i Alvors Dyst. (Here we use our weapons just for fun – but if the Nation calls, then we will attend to the seriousness.) – From Skydeselskapet
Christian Augusts Venner, established 1810.

A Hagen made Remington Rolling Block, probably made in the early 1880's. Even on a fairly simple rifle like this, the workmanship is impressive.
A LH Hagen signed Remington Rolling Block, probably made in Belgium the early 1880′s. Even on a fairly simple rifle like this, the workmanship is impressive. Rifles of the day were often signed på the seller and not the producer. Hagen also sold a lot of Larsen produced rifles.

Most of the later clubs shot at targets, the targets often being rocks on the ground. Here the middle class attended and the rifles were of a more modest design. From the 1860’s Kongsberg started producing decent quality and fairly low cost rifles for the Skytterlag, but still a few of the members had some magnificent rifles made – skiveskytnings gevær.

A Larsen "skiveskytningsgevær", probably from the 1880's. The rifle is about 130 cm long, the barrel an inch thick and the weight about 6 kg.
A Larsen “skiveskytningsgevær” with Schous patent from the 1880′s. It is about 130 cm long, the barrel an inch thick and weighs 6 kg.

Almost 100 local clubs and societies were organised in Centralforeningen for Udbredelse af Legemsøvelser og Vaabenbrug (The Central association for improved bodily training and use of arms) in 1861 and already in 1882 a total of 413 clubs and societies were members here.

Centralforeningen was loyal to the king (in Sweden) and a number of alternative clubs loyal to the Norwegian parliament and very much opposed to the union with Sweden started popping up through the 1880’s – Folkebevæpningsamlagene (The coops for arming the public). Here the members came from the general public.

Due to the risk of riots and the possibility of even entering a civil war, the Norwegian parliament had all the coops and the Central association organised in a new organisation – Det frivillige Skyttervesen in 1893. I believe there might have been a treble political agenda here. The training of competent firepower against the Swedes in case push came to shove. Eliminating the risk of domestic unsettlement and creating a market for the military rejected arms from Kongsberg Våpenfabrikk.

In order to stimulate this organisation, the organisation was partly financed over the Norwegian State budget from day one and the members were able to buy Krag Jørgensen rifles (rejected by the army control officer) at well below cost price. This really hurt the private gunsmiths in Norway at the turn of the century 1800/1900 and most of the privately owned arms manufacturing were closed down. The Norwegian word for the serial produced rifles used by these organisations after 1860 is Skytterlagsgevær.

Sorry about the quality - from the top an army "Short Lund", then three skytterlagsgeværer, the bottom one of the three converted to cartridge through the navy's Landmark design. At the bottom there is a Navy 1860 Landmark. Five rifles of just about the same model - five different rear sights! The armed forces rifles are brass mounted, the civilian ones are all steel.
Sorry about the quality – from the top an army “Short Lund”, then three skytterlagsgeværer, the bottom one of the three converted to cartridge through the navy’s Landmark design. At the bottom there is a Navy 1860 Landmark. Five rifles of just about the same model – five different rear sights! The armed forces rifles are brass mounted, the civilian ones are all steel.

M1860 4’’’ civilian kammerlader

The first true skytterlagsgevær is the M1860 4’’’ kammerlader (11,77 mm), but in a strangely different version than the military versions. The skytterlagsgevær has steel butt plate, steel bands, steel trigger guard and a horn ending of the front stock, whilst the military version was all brass trimmed. One would almost have expected the opposite? Why mould in steel for a limited number, when the brass version was available at probably much lower cost? The rifles are fitted for the same bayonet as the army’s short M1860.

Steel and civilian on top, nice brass mounting for the armed forces at the bottom. Norwegian!!!
Steel and civilian on top, nice brass mounting for the armed forces at the bottom. Norwegian!!!

The stock of the M1860 Skytterlagsgevær was usually in birch, but one of mine has a walnut stock. There are also a number of other minor differences between the M1860 Skytterlagsgevær rifles. On one of mine I have a large button for attaching the sling on the butt instead of the military swivel.

It gets weirder. As of now, I have a total of six rifles of the short M1860 – two naval, three Skytterlag and one army. The two naval rifles have the same rear sight and one of the Skytterlagsgeværer has a rear sight that is very similar to this. All the others are entirely different! Five different rear sights on a total of six rifles of virtually the same model – how many different versions could there have been in total – and why? The long M1860 was also produced as Skytterlagsgevær, but seems to be more scarce than the short one.

The 4’’’ M1860 Skytterlags kammerlader was modernised for cartridge in the late 1860’s – it was usually converted to cartridge according to the Lunds design. I do, however, have a Landmark cartridge conversion – of course somewhat different from the naval Landmark. Why do it simple, when you can do it Norwegian!

The skytterlags kammerlader is really the only M1860 you can expect to find with the original open breech design. The original breech chamber is very different from what one would expect and from the large bore pre 1860 kammerladers. On the inside it is rifled just like the barrel.

M1867 Remington Rolling Block – civilian Kongsberg versions
1867_71
The Norwegian military M1867 Remington (12,17 mm) was also produced in a civilian skytterlags version, but here the difference is very subtle – there is a ring round the crowned K on lock and barrel on the civilian skytterlagsgevær. My personal guess is that most of these are rifles rejected by the army control officer.

Kongsberg also sold off a number of Remington mechanisms and barrels to Norwegian gunsmiths to be used in hunting rifles. These were probably also army rejects, some of them even being so poor shooters that they were re-bored to shotguns already as brand new.

The more advanced Norwegian gunsmiths, like Hans Larsen, chose to build their own Rolling Blocks versions from scratch.

Krag Jørgensen M1894, M1912/16 and the Krag snipers

There is a lot of information on the civilian Krag Jørgensen rifle on the internet and Karl Egil Hanevik has written an extremely good book on the Norwegian Krag Jørgensen rifles. Here I’ll just state that the civilian Krag Jørgensen rifles used by The frivillige Skyttervesen were identical to the Krag military models, but often were issued with their own numbers series.

From the top - M1894 Lang-Krag, M1912 carbine & the M1923 "throw-around" sniper.
From the top – M1894 Lang-Krag, M1912 carbine & the M1923 “throw-around” sniper.