Here I am again with Part 5 of the Surplus Rifles on a budget series. Up for review today is the 6.5mm Italian Carcano M38. This rifle is the model very much like the one Lee Harvey Oswald supposedly shot President Kennedy with. I wanted one of these for my world war 2 weapon and memorabilia collection. This rifle was given to me by a friend, he had it in a closet since he was a kid and thought I’d like it for the collection, he was correct. Thanks Jim!! So free was definitely in the budget.
A bit of history. There seems to be about a million variations of markings, manufacturers and calibers. I have been trying to figure them out and I give up. Aside from it’s a 6.5mm M38 Carcano, that’s all I have for sure. I can’t find anything relating to my serial number. I will also tell you that my Old Gramps said in WW2 that they would always police up the enemy weapons after a battle to keep them from the enemies hands, he went on to say they always left Italian rifles and pistols in the hopes the Germans would try to use them. US troops thought that little of them. He said he picked up an Italian pistol one time and before he had fired out the mag rapid fire the barrel had bulged, that the metal was total junk. The weapons have a bad reputation for safety and accuracy all over the net. As well as a story of a WW2 GI killed while firing one, this story is unsubstantiated though. Nobody seems to know the details or his name. So it’s possibly an urban legend. I don’t know if the reputation is deserved or not really. I will say on gut feelings I don’t have a lot of hope for it.
Well this particular rifle is totally unimpressive, made in 1940, the stock is strait with no angle to the grip. It makes you twist your wrist at a very uncomfortable angle for me. The sites are fixed, both front and rear, so if it doesn’t shoot point of aim it’s Kentucky windage all the way. That is probably the single biggest reason I don’t care for the rifle. The trigger is typical of the period, single stage and heavy. I have learned from shooting the other surplus rifles that does not mean it won’t shoot good though. I’ll say it is light and short, that’s its only saving grace for me.
The 6.5 Carcano Cartridge: It just strikes me as something with bad terminal ballistics and poor range/accuracy. Mind you that’s what I feel when I look at it, it’s just an impression. Factory loads today seem to be pumping out the following numbers. They generally have a 123-140 grain bullets moving out at roughly 2400-2600 fps and generate just under 2000 lbs. of muzzle energy. While more than enough to ruin your day it is by no means “powerful” and under powered for rifles of the time. The maximum published effective range is around 300 meters, which I’m sure it will shoot that, just that I don’t believe you will be hitting anything due to the fixed sites.
So I took the old girl out with a box of Privi Partisan ammo, I didn’t know the thing needed a stripper clip to be loaded. It’s the only rifle I have ever owned that HAD to have one. Oop’s, I must have been absent that day in Carcano school. After I fumbled about for a few minutes and that crept into my my head I single loaded a shell in the chamber and closed the bolt. I then stood there like a “lily livered little chicken pants that sleeps on plastic sheets” (to quote an NCIS episode I saw) and I decided to NOT pull the trigger. It’s just not worth the safety hazard, whether real or perceived. This one is junky seeming and loose and I don’t want to be a test dummy for nothing. Unload and back on the wall she goes where it has always been to round out my WW2 rifle display. So sorry no range results. I have PLENTY of other rifles to shoot, with the stock and the sites being what they are and the rattley looseness of this particular one the old girl will always remain a wall hanger.
Wrapping this up: I wouldn’t even fire this rifle, This one is just to rattley and beat up to give me a good feeling about it for anything but a wall hanger. Even though I did not fire it I do not recommend it as your choice of surplus rifles for a target/hunter for a number of reasons. 1. The stock is very uncomfortable. 2. The sites are non adjustable. 3. The ammo is expensive and not nearly as common as say 303 and 8mm. 4. The stripper clips turned out to be pretty expensive at over 10$ a piece most places. 5. The ballistics and max effective range are substandard to other rifles of the time period. 6. I trust the old guys who had these fired at them. If they were happier being shot at with these that’s just not a glowing compliment. This old rifle didn’t need to be fired to see there are better choices available for the hunter/target on a budget use.
If you are looking for a cheap hunting or target gun and want to go with a surplus rifle then for the money the British 303 has been the best performer. Under $200 and a great rifle. Check out my 303 review here. Anyway, if you want to round out a collection like me, get one, if you want a shooter I wouldn’t pick this one. I don’t recommend this model for anything outside of collecting. Yeah, you could probably have it drilled/tapped for a scope and buy an aftermarket stock, but why bother when the other surplus rifles are much more “ready to go” as is. You also have a wider range of cheaper and more powerful ammo which is more readily available than the 6.5. This review is also about “budget”. So the cheaper 303, 8mm and 7.62x54R makes more sense.
This thing just all around does not give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. There’s great surplus shooters out there, skip this one. If Oswald did manage to do all that with one of these, well then the “force” was definitely with him. After having this one I think there must be something to that “2nd shooter/grassy knoll thing”.
As always thanks for reading and happy shooting.
By: Cary Kieffer