Swiss Vetterli 1871 Stutzer

  • Country: Switzerland
  • Ignition System: Rimfire
  • Calibre: 10,4 x 42R

Presented here is an 1871 stutzer of sharpshooter rifle, the first widely fielded Vetterli rifle specifically designed for the sharpshooter corps.  If you wish to know more about the general mechanics of the Vetterli system I recommend you firstly go the the 1881 stutzer page as this page only highlights the features particular to the 1871 model.

This stutzer was developed along the lines of the 1871 infantry rifle but was adapted to the specific needs of the sharpshooters.  It thus includes the following features:

A double set trigger – This trigger, almost synonymous with the sharpshooters, was naturally integrated in to the design.  Note that it was very nearly omitted from the later 1881 pattern, but the sharpshooter corps would not hear of such a thing and insisted vehemently to have it retained (and won).

A crescent buttplate – This form of buttplate was already in use on the 1851 federal carbine and is ideal for offhand or kneeling shooting.  The shape was thereafter included on all 1878 and 1881 rifles and stutzers.

A shorter barrel – The shortening of the barrel was most probably to render the stutzer more usable in wooded or mountainous terrain without any loss in accuracy. Because of the shorter barrel, the rear sight needed modification due to a slight change in ballistics.  This was simply done by increasing the angle of the kink in sight leaf.

Simplification of the barrel bands – The fore end and barrel are joined only by two bands instead of three and the muzzle band is secured in place by a transverse screw rather than a band spring.  This modification was also applied to the 1878 and 1881 rifles and stutzers.

What is surprising is that the stutzer is equipped with standard infantry socket bayonet.  Traditionally sharpshooters have been equipped with long knife or sword bayonets and it must have been almost an insult to be equipped with the same bayonet as the lowly line infantry.  Pride was restored from 1878 onwards with the universal adoption of the sword bayonet.

The main mechanical difference between the 1871 stutzer and the 1878 and 1881 stutzers lays in the contruction of the set trigger.  The 1871 set trigger is known as the Thury system but I have been unable to find and information on this mysterious Mr. Thury.  The system is quite bulky and fills most of the space between the tangs at the rear of the receiver.

The set trigger includes the following parts:

a: Trigger
b: Sear
c: Sear spring
d: Trigger spring
e: Striker
f: Adjustment screw
g: Mainspring

Despite the compact appearance of the Schmidt set trigger of the 1878 and 1881 stutzers, they function in exactly the same way as the Thury system.

For conventional shooting without setting the trigger, the trigger is simply pulled.  The beak on the trigger pivots clockwise and pulls the sear vertically downwards, releasing the bolt striker.  When the trigger is released, both the trigger and sear bar are returned to their start positions by their respective springs.

For precision shooting, the Thury set trigger functions as follows:

1. The striker is pulled, causing it to rotate clockwise and be put under tension from the mainspring, at the same time the beak of the striker is caught by a catch on the rear of the trigger.  This first action causes a slight rotation of the trigger and therefore a slight lowering of the sear.

2. The trigger is then pulled, causing the sear to continue its downward motion.  The initial rotation of the trigger simultaneously causes the catch to release the beak of the striker.  The striker then flips counter-clockwise powered by the mainspring, and as it does so, an abutment on the striker hits the tail portion of the trigger upwards, rapidly accelerating the trigger pull and drop of the sear.

A video showing the inner workings of both the 1871 and 1881 set triggers can be found here.

The little screw between the striker and the trigger allows an adjustment of the overlap between the beak of the striker and the catch on the trigger. This overlap determines the pressure needed to fire with the trigger set.  It is not uncommon to find set triggers with the screw wound too far in.  In such a condition the catch is unable to retain the beak of the striker and the set trigger appears faulty.  Simply backing out the screw usually solves this issue.

The holes above the chamber are vent holes to vent gases from a ruptured case.  The vents, present on all rifles, carbines and stutzers, were abolished in 1877, no doubt due to improvements in ammunition quality.

The mark MW on the receiver indicates that it was made at Montierwerkstatt Bern.  This establishment, created in 1873, was not strictly a manufacture but rather a workshop for the assembly, fitting and finishing of arms from parts produced by the private industry. After intense lobbying of the federal council by the famous Rudolf Schmidt in 1875, the MW becomes the federal arms manufacture (Waffenfabrik Bern) who’s mark W+F is seen on the 1881 stutzer.

Note that the bolt has been converted to centrefire by the drilling of the breech face and the extension of the bolt striker.  This kind of conversion was and is very common in Switzerland since centrefire cartridges for target shooting or hunting were available on the civilian market