June 24, 2022
Strikingly futuristic-looking even today, the Remington Model 8 must have come as a shock to sportsmen of the early 20th century who had long gone afield comfortably armed with a lever-action or single-shot rifle. Some still used muzzleloaders, and the bolt action was having trouble making inroads. It would take a couple of more decades and a World War before the bolt-action’s ascendance was assured, and 100 more before the self-loader’s ascendancy was similarly assured. Although the Model 8 rifle was an engineering dead-end using a long-recoil action, it proved a self-loading rifle could be accurate, reliable and durable firing cartridges suitable for any game in the Americas.
John Browning walked a hard road trying to bring these ideas to fruition. After helping put Winchester aright by creating many wildly popular arms for them, the company turned its back on him. Winchester had been sitting on Browning’s Auto-5 shotgun for a couple of years when Browning brought the rifle to them. Their indifference turned to hostility upon hearing him utter the word “royalties” and they turned down both. The Auto-5 was kissing cousin to the rifle and destined for stardom as the most famous of Browning’s long-recoil designs, but Browning left with his self-loaders never again designing another firearm for them. Off to Remington he went, only to arrive on a day of catastrophe. The head of Remington died just before John Browning was to pitch his new rifle and shotgun.
Back to square one. Browning had already formed a successful partnership with Fabrique Nationale who made his highly successful Modèle 1900 7.65mm blowback auto pistol. Browning took his shotgun and rifle aboard a steamship to Belgium where FN accepted the new guns with open arms. Coincidentally, “La Carabine Automatique Browning Calibre 35 (9m/m)” also became known as the Modèle 1900. Surprisingly, FN wouldn’t offer the rifle until 1910, but the Auto-5 began wowing sportsmen by 1903.
A regrouped Remington saw their misfortune and quickly made amends. FN had only European rights, and Browning held exclusive rights to import them to the U.S. as well as domestic manufacturing rights. Remington soon acquired domestic rights for both shotgun and rifle, quickly bringing both to market.
Remington announced the rifle in late 1906 simply as the “Autoloading Rifle.” Arriving at dealers in 1907, it would become the “Model 8” in 1911. The “8” represents the arm’s place on a numerical list of models produced by Remington and has nothing to do with its date of introduction or anything else for that matter. Not a particularly romantic or alluring name, “Model 8” doesn’t even appear on the rifle until 1927. The first calibers announced were .35, .32 and .30 Remington. The .25 Remington soon followed.
The new .35 Remington headlined the three smaller-cased, rimless ballistic twins of Winchester’s very popular rimmed midsize rounds chambered in their equally popular Model 1894 lever action (also a John Browning invention). The .30-30 became the .30 Remington (at first even called the .30-30 Remington), the .25-35 and .32 Special became the .25 and .32 Remington. So similar to their rimmed cousins in case volume and ballistics, reloading manuals once listed their data on the same page. Unlike Winchester’s .32 Special in the Model 94 that gave the day’s handloaders a black powder/cast-bullet-friendly bore and rifling twist, the .32 Remington didn’t do anything better or differently than the .30 Remington, but it checked off a box. Consumers then were like consumers today and had their own preferences regarding calibers, so its inclusion was a natural choice.
The flagship .35 Remington quickly became a favorite for woods hunting and is the only one of the 8’s original cartridges left standing. In an odd twist, the .35 endures chambered in actions the Model 8 was supposed to supplant—single shots and lever actions. Marlin still offers the 336, Henry the Side Gate, and the .35 has long been popular in the single-shot T/C Contender. Ironically, the smaller three Remington rimless cartridges fell aside long before the ascendance of self-loading rifles, while their rimmed cousins still thrive.
Strong, well made and chambered for these new, modern, powerful, high-velocity rimless, smokeless powder cartridges (well, “powerful” and “high-velocity” by 19th-century standards), the Model 8 arrived with solid detractions built right in. For some reason, Browning put the balance of the gun at a spot where the protruding five-round, fixed-box magazine interferes with the hand when carried (a fault with the Winchester Model 95 lever action, too). The bolt knob dug into the palm. Worse, the safety was big, noisy and had to be deliberately put on or off by moving the shooting hand. The safety lives to this day in Kalashnikov’s AK-47. Not surprisingly, it garners the same complaints, its utility as a dustcover notwithstanding.
Remington chose not to do anything to correct these faults, none of which interfered with the rifle’s otherwise sterling performance, yet those criticisms lingered throughout its nearly half-decade of production. One has to wonder if the low sales numbers made Remington unwilling to invest in a redesign, and not addressing them significantly impacted sales—a true self-greasing axle. Sales of the Model 8 and its ascendant Model 81 would never come close year over year in competition with the Winchester, Marlin and Savage lever actions.
Records indicate only 69,514 Model 8s were made from 1906 to 1939, but some higher serial numbers have been reported. After a bit of a redesign, Model 81 numbers reached 55,581 from 1936 to 1950 with an additional “clean up” batch of possibly 2,368 more deduced by higher serial numbers. By comparison, Winchester delivered the 1,000,000th Model 94 rifle by 1927. In fact, more than twice as many sportsmen purchased Remington’s version of the Auto-5—the Model 11—in its first 6 years as the entire 8 and 81 rifles combined over nearly 50.
How It Works
Despite low sales, the Model 8 is an engineering marvel. In a long-recoil action, both the barrel and bolt travel farther than the entire length of the cartridge when fired. The sporter-weight barrel is fitted to a barrel extension with recesses for the bolt’s locking lugs and housed inside a thick, fixed external jacket surrounded by a large recoil spring. Upon discharge, the barrel and the bolt/bolt carrier recoil back remaining locked together until the bolt carrier is captured by the “carrier latch” behind the magazine (the same latch that holds open the bolt on the last shot). As the barrel flies forward, powered by the spring within the barrel jacket, the still-locked bolt is pulled forward against twin-cam pins in the bolt carrier. Curved slots machined into the bolt cause it to rotate and unlock. (Pulling back on the bolt handle does the same thing in reverse as it moves the bolt carrier rearward rotating the bolt to unlock it.)
As the barrel flies home, the spent case is cleared for ejection by a plunger ejector in the face of the bolt. When the barrel returns to its battery position, a tab on the barrel extension hits the “bolt lock lever” near the front of the receiver. The tab depresses the bolt lock lever, causing it to rise at the back of the receiver where it trips the carrier latch releasing the bolt carrier and bolt. Powered by its own spring housed behind the receiver, the carrier and bolt strip off a fresh cartridge on their return. The bolt head strikes the face of the barrel extension first. The bolt carrier continues forward and its cam pins rotate the bolt into their locked position in the barrel extension before coming to rest, putting the rifle into the full battery position. Rube Goldberg fans generally applaud here.
After the last shot is fired, the magazine follower pushes up the carrier latch and holds the bolt open. Load five more, tug on the bolt knob and let it go to recharge. Underneath the receiver on the left side is a small tab just in front of the trigger. With the bolt held open, it can be pushed up manually to raise the carrier latch to lock open the bolt so a partially depleted magazine can be recharged, or pulled down to release a bolt locked open by an empty magazine.
The “searless” trigger was equally groundbreaking in that it manages the violence of a self-loading rifle’s reciprocation so well. The use of “double hooks” at the front and back on both the trigger and hammer became very popular showing up in rifles from the M1 Garand to the AK-47. When cocked by the bolt carrier, the hammer’s front hook is captured on the trigger’s front hook. When the trigger is squeezed, the hammer flies home to strike the firing pin. As the bolt cycles, it cocks the hammer and the hook at the rear of the trigger captures the hammer’s rear hook, since the trigger finger is holding the trigger depressed. Releasing the trigger hands off the hammer to the front hooks on both hammer and trigger again. The trigger must be released before another shot can be taken. The true benefit is such triggers offer a very good, long-lasting trigger pull, since the front hooks of both the trigger and hammer are only involved in the let-off, while the rear hooks of both parts take all the shock of cycling. The trigger on this rifle breaks at a crisp three pounds after more than 100 years.
The Model 8 magazines are strange by today’s standards. The single-stack magazine box is braised together and is a precision fit to the trigger guard. Stranger yet is each of the magazine follower’s spring leaves were individually riveted together. Another anomaly were the feed lips. Most magazines have the feed lips formed integrally with the body, but early on, Remington chose a different path after making just a few early rifles with integral lips. The next ones have only one feed lip formed on the magazine body, and the other lip is a piece of spring steel applied externally. Later, near the end of the Model 8, two external springs were used for the feed lips. The feed-lip spring is held in place with one pin near its base, and the trigger guard is machined with a slot to precisely hold it in place at the top. The good news was such feed lips could be replaced if they were damaged instead of the entire magazine box. Such an expensive, complexly constructed magazine could never have worked as a detachable one the way it was made.
The single-stack magazine is also more difficult to load since it is deep within the receiver. An interesting accessory for the Remington Model 8 is the five-round charger or stripper clip. They’re a good idea for most small-capacity magazines, and clip-fed is a lot easier than pushing them in individually. One clip fit either the .25, .30 and .32 Remington while the .35 Remington (later shared with the .300 Savage) had its own. Early ones were of brass and later ones of steel, and all are pretty rare today. John Henwood, author of the “bible” for these guns The Great Remington 8 and Model 81 Autoloading Rifle, cautions pressing down too forcefully can cause the magazine spring lips to snap over the flesh of the thumb! I haven’t suffered so from the subject .30 with its single spring lip.
Only hunters were fine with the five-shot magazine, although the Remington 8 appeared on both sides of the law. Several police departments and penitentiaries used the Model 8 or 81. The most notable police agency using the 8 was the Texas Rangers, and among them Capt. Frank Hamer, who ended Bonnie and Clyde’s reign of terror. Hamer is known to have favored a .25 Model 8 early in his career and used a modified 15-shot .35 Model 8 against Bonnie and Clyde. The single-stack 15-shot magazine conversion was offered by the Peace Officer Equipment Co. in .30 and .35 Remington beginning in the late 1920s. A clever conversion, the magazine catch is attached to the magazine body and requires less modification to the rifle itself. Later, Remington offered the POE 15-shot detachable magazine for the Model 81. All are quite rare today.
The chief competition to the 8 was the Winchester 1907 Self Loader mostly due to the detachable magazine. The blowback action of the rifle required a large counterweight to control the speed of unlocking, making the rifle heavy for the power of the cartridges. Nonetheless, the .351 and .401 SL were pretty decent cartridges, and the .32 SL became the genesis for the .30 M1 Carbine. While the M1907 couldn’t compete with the 8’s locked-breech power, the detachable magazine was the future. However, changing to a detachable one in the 8 wasn’t easy due to its construction, and Remington didn’t bother with it until the 81 came along.
The Model 8 came with an open barrel sight screwed to two bosses in the barrel jacket, and a bead front set in a dovetail base sweated to the jacket. The rear sight was elevation adjustable only using a traditional slider, and windage corrected by drifting the front. In the 1880s, Lyman had electrified the world with a compact, folding aperture sight offering what we call today a “ghost ring” and they were very popular sportsmen.
Remington added a single hole plugged with a screw at the rear of the receiver for a unique aperture folding tang sight on a “ski slope” base. Our inventive aftermarket suppliers soon created a wide variety of them. King, Lyman, Marbles, Redfield and Williams offered sights, and some offered barrel sights, too. Only a few offered windage, though. Early on, Lyman offered a side-mounted windage adjustable aperture sight as the “41” (code: “AT” for the Model 8, and present on this rifle) requiring gunsmith installation, whereas the “ski slope” version only required a simple screwdriver.
Optics, still in their infancy, hadn’t entered the thinking of gunmakers back then, and mounting an optic on the 8 was never easy, although several systems were offered. It isn’t easy because the receiver walls are thin and don’t offer a lot of purchase for the screws, which is why so many mounts use a lot of them. None improve the looks of the rifle, and their removal leaves the left side looking “machinegunned.”
A long-heard criticism about carry balance is warranted. You don’t have to walk very far to realize what a klutz the 8 is. At the balance point in the right hand, the bolt digs into the palm and the magazine protrudes just where the pinky finger wants to be. Left hand carry is comfortable and cradled in the arm works pretty well. Carrying the rifle isn’t impossible, but the magazine and bolt knob add an irritant that grows more noticeable as you tire. The barrel sight adds another issue. I can just squeeze my hand between the bolt knob and sight leaf, but it’s uncomfortable and not at the balance point.
No sling points were provided, either. The wood of the early forearms is a little too thin for the addition of a sling stud, and putting one on the barrel jacket would require solder and a jacket refinish. Later, beavertail forearms were thick enough to take a sling stud. What looks like a front swivel on the fore-end is there to provide leverage to unscrew the fore-end for takedown. It interferes with your shooting hand, but is only a minor distraction, and its purpose a little more important when the rifle first appeared.
There was little personal transportation besides a saddled horse in the 1900s, and everyone took a train to their destination. Takedown rifles were popular since they were more maneuverable around the platforms and took up far less space in the luggage racks of trains and carriages. The Model 8 quickly and easily breaks into two pieces of almost equal lengths of two feet each.
Another issue with the Model 8 was that it increased felt recoil due to the weight of the recoiling parts, and there is a lot of mass in motion during the firing cycle. Early gunwriter Capt. E. C. Crosman and Henwood both remark that the .35 Remington and later .300 Savage have objectionable recoil. I believe them. Early stock design wasn’t always compatible with relatively powerful cartridges. Set up for iron sights, these stocks have more drop, something that accentuates recoil by allowing the gun to rise up into the cheek when fired. Adding a scope just gives the rifle a running start against your face, especially in .300 Savage and .35 Remington. Happily, the modestly powered .25, .30 and .32 Remington are quite tame in comparison.
The .30 Remington
The beauty of cartridges in this power class is how nicely they behave, and they are easy to shoot and just as easy to reload. The .30 Remington is downright pleasant to shoot, and the Model 8 a little more pleasant than a 7-1/2-pound Marlin 336 .30-30 in a side-by-side test (which is a testament to hair-splitting, since both recoil mildly). The long-recoil action stretches out the firing duration into a gentle push with only modest muzzle lift, and the simple spring-powered ejector pops the cases out dent free (unlike many self-loaders) about a foot away at two o’clock for easy retrieval. The rifle balances well between the hands for offhand shots and is decently accurate at 100 yards. This one regularly delivers three-inch five-shot groups, and sometimes better.
The takedown feature is wonderfully simple, and the gun comes apart into three pieces with minimal fuss and without tools but is not without gremlins. After taking it apart for a deep clean, something I don’t think had ever been performed, the barrel nut loosened after about 10 shots. Given gentle encouragement by tapping the takedown lever with a rawhide mallet kept it together for the rest of the day. It’s something to keep an eye on, since groups go to blazes quickly if it loosens. I just can’t bring myself to honk on the barrel nut lever hard, since I prefer to take the rifle apart and clean from the breech, rather than at the muzzle.
Complete disassembly isn’t hard either, but you need a map, quality pin punches and screwdrivers. By following J. B. Wood’s step-by-step instructions in my old Centerfire Rifle Assembly/Disassembly book, I got it all apart, clean and back together again. The remarkable thing is how intricate the machining of the parts are, and how well they fit together. J. B. notes: “Strange as it may seem, considering its large number of parts, reassembly of the Model 8 has no difficult points. The gun is so beautifully designed that it is not possible to replace any parts improperly. A careful reversal of the disassembly procedure is all that’s required.” I found that true.
One daunting aspect is barrel jacket disassembly. Thankfully, it rarely needs to be done, but it requires a special spanner, and the bushing and nut can be damaged by ill-fitting tools. Resist the temptation unless you are willing to have a spanner made or root one out. Few gunsmiths have the tool today, but many are creative enough to do the job. Ask questions!
The Remington calibers with their stodgy, old-fashioned roundnose bullets originally became favorites for their outstanding terminal performance on game. The Model 8’s fast-firing capabilities were an asset in timber where game disappeared quickly. The fact is, roundnose hunting bullets—and flatnose ones, for that matter—traveling at modest velocities still have a fine reputation for dropping game.
The caliber (here .30 REM.) is found roll marked on the right side of the barrel extension, with very early models having hand-engraved caliber markings. Early on Remington tried to capitalize on the Winchester’s popularity by marking the guns “30-30 REM or 25-35 REM, but that caused enough confusion among customers it was changed to just “30 REM” and “25 REM.” Remington’s early proof mark is “R.P.” in a square with rounded corners on the barrel jacket. It changed in shapes and styles over the years, too.
Choose one because you like manufacturing marvels. Choose one for a vintage hunt and practice the stalk. Hornady’s FlexTip line of bullets are designed to fit the magazine box/feeding limitations of lever rifles and will work great in these self-loaders, too. Until you’ve perfected your stalk, they will help flatten out the trajectory. As an example, the Hornady Website Ballistic Calculator shows with the rifle zeroed at 150 yards, a 160-grain FTX bullet at a modest 2,100 fps would be just about two inches high at 100 yards and almost five inches low at 200. The potential to take game at the greater range diminishes with the accuracy you can achieve, but you clearly have the room to misjudge the range and still make a killing shot. If your rifle and load will deliver three-inch groups at 100, you should probably try to get within 100 yards, and not stretch a shot beyond 150.
If you like collecting a single model, the Remington 8 offers wide variation in markings alone. The 8 is tattooed with many inspector, assemblers and fitters marks along with various proofs all changing constantly. For a rifle produced in so few numbers, there are at least 15 slightly different barrel addresses, for instance. There are four calibers (five if you include the 81) and deluxe engraved ones as well as police models.
The tamer Browning-designed cartridges offering modest ballistics are gone, but not forgotten. Recently, Graf & Sons resurrected all three as loaded cartridges and cases using correctly headstamped brass. Perhaps they will again.
The 10mm, .40 S&W and newer 6.8 SPC share the .30 Remington case head. I sometimes wonder where we’d be today if the military had put more thought into a new service cartridge for the original M16 and designed a mid-size AR action capable of accepting a longer cartridge with the case head of the .30 Remington rather than the small head of the 5.56x45. I bet we’d be necking it up, down and all around with a bit more success.
The 6.8 SPC offers a tantalizing view of what such an arm might offer. Perhaps it is all moot, since modern bullets, powders and rifles using Bill Wilson’s .300 Ham’r cartridge or Hornady’s new 6mm ARC, all of which work in the standard AR-15 shows how much more performance can be compressed into the standard platform without the mess of a new rifle!
Remington Model 8 Specifications
- Maker: Remington Arms Co., Ilion, NY; www.remington.com
- Action Type: Long recoil, semi-automatic
- Caliber: .30 Remington (tested), .25, .32 and .35 Remington
- Capacity: 5
- Barrel Length: 22”
- Overall Length: 41”
- Weight: 7 lbs., 15 oz.
- Finish: Blue
- Sights: Open leaf rear, bead front standard
- Stock: Walnut, oil finished
- Value: $650-$1,000
The Lyman 41 Peep Sight
Lyman’s 41 receiver sight offered both windage and elevation, but installation required three holes drilled into the receiver. While the 8 never garnered many whistles for its looks (except possibly from early science fiction fans), the Lyman sight adds an aesthetic eyesore to the otherwise clean lines of the rifle. The man who owned this Model 8 originally removed the barrel sight and added a Lyman bead front as well. While ugly, it is a very useful setup. Having scrounged a barrel sight, I quickly found restoring it to the barrel interferes with the sight picture, so off it remains. The twin bosses where screws retained the old barrel sight on the jacket remain, sticking up like the masts of a sunken wreck. The original owner was quite correct in his actions.
The choice of the Lyman 41 adds windage and elevation adjustment at the rear. The windage requires a very small screwdriver to turn while elevation is adjustable by flipping the lock lever up and turning the dial. The good news is that once adjusted, they will stay in place afield. An adjustable pointer near the rear of the sight (broken, and only half remaining in this case) was provided to zero the elevation against a scale on the staff. A flip-down, two-aperture peep is provided for target or field shooting, and the windage slider is threaded to accept an additional disc for fine target shooting. The bad news is the sight mounting screws can be easily stripped because the receiver wall is so thin, and the sight must be removed to completely disassemble the rifle.
Iron sights such as these were as relatively expensive as a good telescopic sight today. Usually quite sturdy despite their complicated construction, there are enough tiny parts exposed that many have suffered the ravages of time and neglect. Exposed screw threads often get caked with dirt and may rust. Be sure to treat your accessory sights like the precision instruments they are. This one is still in pretty good shape having lost only its most fragile part.
The difficulty of fitting sights to the 8 compounded by all the other detractions add to the reasons these rifles weren’t as big a success as the shotgun. The Auto-5/Remington 11 had no peer for decades.
Disassembly for Cleaning
Fieldstripping the Model 8 for cleaning is easy peasy. The rifle comes apart into three large parts for cleaning or transportation. Pull the bolt back to its lock position and look inside to ensure no cartridges are present in the magazine and chamber. Unscrew the forearm latch and remove (1).
The forearm catch screw is captured in the wood and will not come out. The barrel takedown lever is pinned to the barrel nut and resides in a tunnel in the forearm. Folding it out provides the leverage to loosen the barrel nut screw (2).
Turn it out all the way. When free, pull the barrel straight out (3).
Reassemble in reverse order. Tighten the barrel nut well or it will loosen, but don’t overdo it! Keep an eye out in case it loosens during shooting. Stop and tighten it.