By Paul Helinski, Editor
This November 22nd will be 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The shooting itself has been the subject of movies, documentaries and countless books and articles; the legitimacy of any of them, including the official government explanation, called the Warren Report, is not within our purview to say. But we thought it would be cool to try to find one of the rifles that came from the same batch as Oswarld’s supposed murder weapon, and see what it looks like close up, and how it actually shoots. The 6.5mm Carcano we were able to find is serial-numbered C4880, and Oswald’s was C2766. That puts it only a couple thousand rifles away in the production line, and our test rifle has the original scope mount and scope found on Oswald’s as well, almost exactly like the rifle/scope combo he bought out of the February 1963 American Rifleman ad from Kleins for $19.99. We don’t know if the parts were originally on this gun and that they were part of that small batch of imports for Kleins, but it sure is cool, albeit a bit morbid, to shoot a nearly exact replica of the gun that changed the course of America, a course that still reverberates with the assassination today.
You will find enormous inconsistencies in the language about Oswald’s rifle because few if any of the researchers were gun nuts apparently. For one, even the Warren Commission called the rifle a “Mannlicher-Carcano,” and you will find that repeated all over the bunkers and debunker websites today. The Mannlicher is a completely different rifle that has nothing to do with the Carcano except for the fact that both guns use a single stack “en-bloc” clip, kind of like the metal clip that M1 Garands use in doublestack form. The clip on the Carcano holds six rounds, and you push the loaded clip in from the top of the action. If you look in the pictures, you’ll see that ours is made of spring steel that is blued. Oswald’s, and others you’ll see for sale online, seems to be copper washed, or with some kind of brass plating. The Mannlicher uses almost the same clip, and the clip is called Mannlicher-Carcano sometimes, but not the rifle.
Our Carcano took the loaded en-bloc clip without incident, but we found that the bolt didn’t pick up a round hardly at all, and that even when it did, the bolt was very hard to close. The Carcano is not thought to be one of the great battle rifles overall. It was chambered in both the 6.5mm and 7.35mm, with the 6.5 being a very short run during 1940 in this carbine length configuration, called the 91/38. You don’t see a lot of sporterized Carcanos from the 1960s, when the US market was flooded with WWII surplus bolt guns.
You’ll see tons of British Enfields, and tons of US Springfields, but Carcanos are kind of like the Japanese Arisaka guns. They are really rough-working and don’t function well. And while this rifle can’t be taken as an example of what Oswald experienced on the 6th floor of the book depository, especially 50 years later, it wouldn’t be surprising if he experienced at least some of the problems with his gun that this rifle has. During the 1960s, most gun shops had literally barrels filled with Carcanos selling for $10-$20. They aren’t good guns.
Most witnesses reported that they heard three shots on that fateful day in Dallas. There was one, followed by a pause, then two more in rapid succession. The shots were fired from approximately 60 feet up, at about an 18 degree angle at a distance of between 175 and 200 feet. In all, the time lapse between the three shots varies depending on whether you believe that it was two shots or three shots that hit JFK and Texas Governor Connolly. At the outside, the time for three shots is about eight seconds. Even with a little bit of bolt trouble this would be feasable, because Oswald had qualified twice at Marksman level in the Marines. That test is rapid fire, 50 rounds at 200 yards at a man-sized target. He scored 48 and 49. You would also have to assume that Oswald knew how to not only properly zero the firearm, but also make sure that it worked properly with the en-bloc clip that was found in the gun.
Experience with our test rifle aside, mechanically the rifle should work at that level of performance. For accuracy, our test rifle was well within the tolerances that were used by the Warren Commission. They judged that the rifle was “very accurate,” and could group three shots into 3-5 inches at 100 yards. Our test rifle did a little better than this with modern, recent-manufacture, factory ammo, about 1.4 inches at 50 yards. The problem with our ammo, though, is that it is different from Oswald’s. According to the official report, he used a 160 grain bullet in ammo made by Western, which no longer exists. We were able to find some Italian military ammo with the same 160 grain bullet, but the over 50-year-old ammo didn’t fire reliably enough for accuracy testing. The one shot that we got that didn’t “hang-fire” printed in the target at 50 yards at the same elevation as our 123 grain modern ammo. If anything was conclusive about our testing, it was that modern testing would be difficult to find conclusive at all. Too much time has passed, and the original ammo would not be the same as it was then, no matter what results you actually got.
The FBI reported to the Warren Commission that they actually could not zero the scope on Oswald’s gun without putting some kind of shims in it, but as you can see in the pictures, I don’t see where such shims would even go. Our scope is clearly a replica and not the same model as the Oswald scope, but it is the same power and the mount is identical. It was difficult to zero because of the very old and rudimentary design, but zero it we did. The recoil is very manageable on the Carcano, so there would be little worry of it affecting even a cheap scope. One thing I have never seen explained online is that the scope on the Oswald rifle is a side mount, like an M1 Garand sniper modesl. You can still use the open sights just as you would without a scope, and you don’t have to look under the mounts like you would with a modern see-thru mount. The open sights are zeroed for 200 yards and shoot about 8″ high at 50 yards. There are published theories that Oswald used the open sights on the gun, because the thinking is he could not zero the optics anyway, and that using the awkward side optic would take too long between shots to aim. Our open sights are not adjustable, but they were pretty close to point-of-aim horizontally, but would require about an 8″ hold under. Oswald’s rifle had the same non-adjustable sights as this test gun, and it is very possible that at that distance, only 58 yards or so, he used the iron sights.
Now we come to the “single bullet theory,” otherwise known as the “magic bullet theory.” Three brass casings were found in the 6th floor “sniper’s nest,” and witnesses heard three shots, so the official explanation had to revolve around three bullets. What nobody expected back in 1963, before camera phones, was that someone would actually have a video of the shooting. Turns out, this guy Zapruder was filming the motorcade just as the shots range out, so the official story had to match both the eyewitness accounts, and the Zapruder film. Without us drilling into the details that you can research yourself online very easily, the time in the car that both the President and Governor Connolly reacted physically to the gunfire was under six seconds.
Three aimed shots are not probable in a Carcano within six seconds, so the Warren Commission concluded that the damage done to the car occupants had to be from the impacts of only two bullets. The first shot, they reported, missed, though no damage to the car, or divot in the ground, was ever found according to the official record. Of the two remaining, quickly fired bullets, one for sure hit the President’s head. The other bullet, they claimed, hit the President at the top of his back, exited his throat, entered Governor Connolly’s back, exited his chest, entered his wrist, exited his wrist, and lodged in his thigh. The bullet was later found by an orderly on the gurney upon which Governor Connolly was transported in the hospital. The 160gr. full metal jacket bullet was intact, showing almost no damage to the nose, and only minimal damage to the base. It weighed 158 of its original 160 grains.
This one bullet, known as CE399, is said to have gone through 15 layers of clothing, a necktie knot, 7 layers of skin, and 15 inches of tissue, shattering 4 inches of rib and a wrist bone. Do you think that is possible? Truth can of course be stranger than fiction, and everyone from the Discovery Channel to debunker bloggers have tried to prove and disprove the possibility of the magic bullet for two generations now, and if you Google around, there are interesting theories on both sides of the issue. One interesting detail is that same Warren Commission also found that the third bullet, the headshot, disintegrated entirely after going through two layers of skull, which is significantly thinner than a rib. Not everyone on the Warren Commission agreed with the magic bullet theory. There were three dissenters on the Commission, but with all the flak that “conspiracy theorists” get about the shooting, when you boil it right down, the explanation itself was just a theory, and a far-flung one that that.
Ballistically, our 123-grain lead-nosed factory ammo can’t be compared to the round-nose full-metal-jacket ammo that was said to be used by Oswald. But if anything, we were hoping to prove the positive a bit with a real world example. If a 123 grain 6.5mm hunting round could exit an animal after hitting hard bone, you could at least speculate that the heavier and more resistant 160 FMJ bullet would most definitely do that.
To test the theory, we enlisted our resident Okeechobee Florida hunting guide Dwayne Powell. He likes to keep a good supply of pork sausage on hand to cook for clients, so it isn’t hard to convince Dwayne to go shoot a wild pig with just about anything more deadly than a slingshot. Dwayne is also an excellent offhand marksman, so if you need a headshot, you’ll get a headshot. As you can see in the accuracy pictures, if the Carcano doesn’t lack something, it is accuracy. Dwayne was able to take a small sow at about 40 yards with the Carcano with a head shot that dropped the pig with nary a movement. This is shy of the 58-66 yards of the JFK shots, so ballistically this would be an “at least” example, had the bullet exited. It did not. Shot in the side of the head, the hog dropped in her tracks from the fast, light bullet, and Dwayne felt like a heavier FMJ would probably have exited, so the test didn’t tell us much.
From this apples-to-oranges comparison, we proved little either way other than that the 6.5 Carcano is a deadly caliber, and again, the inconclusive nature of trying to do these things 50 years later is mostly unavoidable. Even if we pulled the 160gr. bullets from the old ammo we were able to get and replaced the primers and powder, you could not verifiably match the velocity of the bullet from the Oswald gun, because chronographs didn’t exist in the late 60s when the tests were done.
We mean no disrespect to President Kennedy or his memory by using a wild pig to simulate the ballistics. Kennedy was not a democrat in the way you think of the political parties today. He was a champion of individual freedom, wanted to abolish the Federal Reserve, spoke publicly about abolishing secret societies in government, and didn’t think we belonged in Vietnam. Abraham Lincoln most likely would not still be a Republican today, and John F. Kennedy, a practicing Catholic, would most definitely not be a Democrat. Without mixing into the details of all the inconsistencies of the death of John F. Kennedy, we have hoped with this article 50 years later would give us an idea of what the real gun found in the book depository looked, felt and shot like. The real one is in the national archives and will most likely never again see the light of day. Will the truth about JFK ever come out? Maybe it already did, and maybe it is one of several government stories that just don’t add up.