U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifle, a Short Review & History

By David Tong,
In this review, gun writer David Tong discusses the history behind the U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifle.

US Krag-Jorgensen Rifle and Cavalry Carbine
US Krag-Jorgensen Rifle and Cavalry Carbine

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- As all the world’s militaries did by the late 1880s, the adoption of the repeating bolt action rifle with smokeless powder cartridges of approximately 0.30” caliber completely replaced the prior 0.45” caliber single-shot rifles of the 1870s.

In those days, it was a heady time for firearm designers. Most all designs were non-detachable box magazine types save the British Lee-Enfield, and these magazines were also generally machined steel items attached to the action by the combination trigger guard/floorplate of the German Mauser pattern.

U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifle

One unique action that did not follow this pattern was the Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen. Named after its two designers Ole Krag and Erik Jorgensen around 1886, it featured an integral magazine that held the rounds in a semi-circle below the action in a rotary motion for feeding.

Collector's Lot of Four Norwegian Krag Jorgensen Bolt Action Rifles
Collector’s Lot of Four Norwegian Krag Jorgensen Bolt Action Rifles **IMG by RIA

The original design was adopted by both Norway and Denmark in the 1890s and it soon caught the attention of US Army Ordnance and it was adopted by our government in 1892. It differed mostly from the original Norwegian design by a change to the magazine feed door. On the original Norwegian rifle, the door was hinged on its forward edge and operated exactly as a door on an automobile, while on the US Krag, the door was hinged on its bottom, and this may have provided somewhat less chance for dirt ingress during reloading in combat.

Krag-Jorgensen rifle's magazine feed door
Krag-Jorgensen rifle’s magazine feed door

Most rifles of the day also had a magazine cut-off, which allowed for manual single-loading of rounds directly into the chamber while leaving the topped off magazine “in reserve” without cycling the bolt. The early Lee-Enfield SMLE and all Springfield 1903 rifles also featured a cut-off.

The Krag’s rear locking system, single-heat treatment (case-hardening), and no spring loaded magazine follower that could cause bolt drag, meant this rifle was restricted to low pressure ammunition, but it is arguably the smoothest military rifle action of them all as a result.

Springfield Armory U.S. 1898 Rifle in 30-40 Krag with Matching Bayonet
Springfield Armory U.S. 1898 Rifle in 30-40 Krag with Matching Bayonet **IMG Rock Island Auctions

The US government subsequently adopted several updates including the Models 1894, 1896, and 1898. Many of these changes were slight changes to the bayonets, upper handguard, rear sight, and stocks but the essentials of the action remained the same. There were both full-length rifles as well as “Cavalry carbines” issued to our Army. Carbines lacked any provision for mounting bayonets, and there was also a special version for the Philippine Constabulary after the American colonialization of those islands after the Spanish-American War.

Just as the British soldier had encountered substantial problems with both the initial lack of a “charger” loading system (known more commonly here as “stripper clip”) for quick reloads, the use of round-nosed full-metal-jacketed bullets when attempting to stop hostiles, the Krag’s primarily rear locking of its action, and deference for its metallurgy limits its ballistic potential, it was the second-shortest official issue US military rifle in history, only the five years of the M14’s tenure was shorter.

Many more rifles were built than carbines, and are thus less expensive for the burgeoning collector. Approximately 475,000 rifles and carbines were built between 1894 and 1904.

United States Marines with their Krag-Jorgensen rifles.
United States Marines with their Krag-Jorgensen rifles.

U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Ammunition

Original G.I. ammunition (“.30 Army”) was called “.30 U.S. Government” commercially, and is very rare, and it has been known as “.30-40 Krag” after the adoption of the .30-06 in 1903.

Remington 30-40 Krag Ammunition
Remington 30-40 Krag Ammunition : https://goo.gl/t0Ju1X

Ammunition is still available for the 30-40 Krag, though I am unaware of any manufacturer but Remington still producing it (limited) as of 2016. Most of this ammunition is still of round-nosed design, albeit in jacketed-soft-point form. The original military loading was a 220gr RNFMJ at just 2,000fps, while nominal velocity for a typical commercial 180gr. JSP loading is approximately 2,200fps, about ten percent under the .303 British round.

The design of the U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifle magazine and the open-topped receiver with its bolt handle track makes it very difficult and time-consuming to re-stock an original Krag into a scoped hunting rifle, not that one should actually do this to a collector’s item. Many that have been “sporterized” in the past were turned into single-shots as a result, as the late Frank De Haas described in his book “Bolt-Action Rifles.”

My first experience shooting the Krag began during my Scouting days forty years ago, and I fondly remember it being a nicely-balanced, fast-handling, and relatively light-recoiling rifle capable of hunting deer-sized game at shorter range. The U.S. Krag-Jorgensen Rifles remain so to this very day.

Springfield Armory U.S. 1898 Carbine Carbine 30-40 Krag
Springfield Armory U.S. 1898 Carbine Carbine 30-40 Krag
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Marie ILCHUK
Marie ILCHUK
3 years ago

Greetings Mr. Tong, I am restoring an old….very badly degraded photo from the Spanish American war. There is an unknown something either attached to the ammo belt….or maybe attached to the gun. No one in Canada has been able to tell me what it is so I can’t restore that part of the image. I have been thru all the standard items issued to the soldiers and there is nothing even similar. I have been thru the photos on the internet and cannot find even one soldier with anything similar. I am hoping you could help me…..and if not….tell me… Read more »

Fred
Fred
4 years ago

Mr. Tong,
I own a Krag Carbine, with a 5 digit serial number beginning with 33. I’d like to obtain some providence on it, regarding what unit it was issued to and when.
Is there still a chance that I could obtain a SRS, or something similar? Please advise Sir.

Thank you,
Fred’
Tampa, Fla.