A Magnum Autoloader On The Cheap

Ask any person from the United States who is involved with the shooting sports and they will tell you that the very first Magnum handgun put into general production is the .357 Magnum revolver.

model 686 357 magnum revolver

The three-fifty-seven has long been admired, and for good reason.  It is an extremely powerful handgun, certainly powerful enough to harvest all but the largest game in North America.  So far as self defense goes, it has a proven track record of effectiveness.  One could do worse when choosing a caliber to fit a wide variety of roles.

But there is a problem with the claim that the .357 Magnum, introduced in 1934, was the first handgun of its type to be manufactured in great numbers.  That honor goes to the Russian military handgun most commonly known as the Tokarev, which was issued to the troops beginning in 1931.


(Picture source.)

Also known by the official name as the TT-30, this military handgun was developed to replace the rather odd revolver that the Russian armed forces had been relying upon since 1895.  It is certainly emblematic of Soviet design philosophy in that it is robust, powerful, ugly as sin, and uncomfortable to use.

The TT-30 was chambered for the 7.62x25mm Tokarev cartridge, a bottleneck design that was loaded to some very high pressures.

762x25 tokarev cartridges

The most powerful loadings offered by the Soviet war machine launched a teensy tiny .30 bullet at a blistering 1600 fps, which is just as fast as some of the modern defensive loads available for the .357 Magnum.  Such high velocity, with such a small bullet, meant that penetration is extremely good.  The bottleneck design also has another advantage in that it is very friendly to autoloading mechanisms, with the chances of fail-to-feed jams much less likely than with straight wall cartridges.  The gun itself is well designed for ruggedness, with the improved TT-33 withstanding extreme abuse during WWII and still functioning.

But that pretty much is all the good points for the design I can find, as there are some serious drawbacks to the gun as well.

There was no trigger block safety or safety catch in the original design, making the gun unsafe to carry with a round in the chamber.  Magazines had a tendency to drop free without warning if there were damaged in any way.  The sights were very dark, and hard to make out in anything other than well lit conditions.  The simple grips, as well as the squared off beavertail, meant that many shooters find it to be uncomfortable when firing.

But there is one overriding advantage, and that is the very low price asked for fully functional versions on the surplus handgun market.  One can find a perfectly good gun for about 20% to 30% of what it would take to buy a shiny new .357 Magnum from one of the better known manufacturers.

Can I recommend a Tokarev for concealed carry?  Not really, as the lack of what I consider to be adequate safety features in original models from Communist countries gives me pause.  Guns imported into the United States are required to have a trigger block safety installed, but crappy workmanship in the extra parts means that many collectors disassemble their guns and return the guns to their original condition in the interest of improving reliability.  In other words, you won’t know if you bought a gun which can safely be carried with a round in the chamber unless you know how to pull it apart and check to make sure the extra parts have been correctly installed.

The reason why I am mentioning this particular gun is because a Tokarev might just be the perfect handgun for those looking to enjoy the vast wilderness areas in North America.  They are rugged enough to be reliable in extreme conditions, as well as have the punch to deter most aggressive animals.  The small bullet is a concern, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as bears or moose are avoided.  If you should find that your Tokarev has developed some rusty spots while you were backpacking in the Rocky Mountains, who cares?  Just sand it down and apply some oil.  It looked like a piece of Soviet era crap before you left, the shiny spots just lend it some character.

worn tt-33 with holster


Ed Harris was kind enough to share his experiences with the 7.62x25mm Tokarev round, and he also sent us some pictures!  Thanks, Ed!



12 thoughts on “A Magnum Autoloader On The Cheap

  1. I had the Tok’s Yugo cousin, the M57. Looked much the same but took an additional round in the magazine. It was imported surplus, thus it had the crappy aftermarket safety installed. There is more than a little JM Browning in the gun’s design. Mine was a frickin’ laser with the first round, every time. Additional shots tended to open up group size. I wound up selling the one I had.

    One big attraction was the cheap surplus 7.62×25 ammo, which dried up during the recent craziness. FMJ ammo had a reputation for overpenetration. Prvi makes modern brass cased non-corrosive ammo, not very cheap, though. Zastava makes new production guns in both x25 and 9mm, I believe.

  2. Most of the same things could be said about the CZ52 firing the same cartridge–when I got mine they were cheap and plentiful, as was surplus (corrosive) ammo. I believe the safety on the CZ’s is factory. The decocker shouldn’t be relied on, they are known to fire occasionally. Ergonomics are awful, the fireball is impressive, and the brass is ejected forcefully enough that you could probably use it to stun. The roller-locked system in pistols is unique to the CZ52. Even with 20+ year old surplus ammo mine has been completely reliable through at least a few hundred rounds.

  3. Both of these are about equal, (plus or minus a little) to the 1847 Walker Colt’s power.
    Kinda hard to carry a Walker concealed.

    • The Walker’s reliability might also be a problem. YMMV, but I have occasional problems with caps dropping off or the cylinder not stopping properly on rotation (only happens when loaded) and causing the edge of the cylinder to foul the hammer.
      This is a modern reproduction rather than an original, I should add.

      • “This is a modern reproduction rather than an original, I should add.”

        Speaking from my experiences with 19th Century tech, I’d say the modern reproductions are probably built better.

    • The .30 Mauser round and the 7.62 Tokarev are almost exactly identical so far as their external dimensions are concerned. It is just that the Tokarev round has a great deal more propellent in the case.

      During WWII, the Germans would issue captured Tokarevs with a supply of .30 Mauser ammunition to their officers. Since the Mauser round produces such lower pressures, I figure they had the armorer cut a few coils off the recoil spring in order to make it work.

      Obviously, trying to use Tokarev ammo in a Broomhandle would be a very bad idea indeed!

  4. I have a CZ52 that used to spit lead shavings every time I fired it. still sits in a drawer since I am scared to fire it and don’t want to pass it on.

  5. I have a Czech Cz52 pistol in 7.62×25 which was an impulse purchase because it was cheap! The 7.62×25 Russian has a shorter neck than the similar .30 Mauser round used in the M96 Broomhandle pistol, and operates at higher pressure, about 40,000 vs. 30,000 psi. Both rounds fire the same .308-.309 diameter 85-87 gr., FMJ bullet, but Soviet “burp gun ammo” is way too hot for a broomhandle.

    New manufacture Sellier & Bellot ammo chronographed almost 1700 fps in my Cz52, whereas Privi Parisan (PPU) got 1420 fps. WW2-era WRA .30 Mauser rounds did a bit over 1300 fps, and functioned sluggishly with occasional “smokestack” jams in my Cz52.

    By the time I got my Cz52, the plentiful and seemingly “endless” supply of cheap corrosive surplus ammo had dried up. People tell me that the quality of most surplus ammo in this caliber, was poor, and that I didn’t miss out on anything. New commercial ammo is much better and has reloadable boxer primed cases.

    PPU ball ammo in my gun shoots to point of aim. Ten 8-shot groups at 25 yards averaged 3.5 inches, which compares to typical military handguns firing service ammunition. At 100 yards in three trials I averaged 6 hits out of 8 shots on an Army E Silhouette firing from a two-handed sitting position. Both original magazines which came with the gun worked fine, as did two Triple-K spares which I bought from Cheaper Than Dirt.

    The hotter Czech S-B ammo shot to point of aim on our range 100-yard gong and shot flatter. Impressive stuff to buy for your “Zombie Hoard.” I have since come up with a working recipe to load the 7.62×25. New cases are available from Starline, and are of good quality. I use Lee dies, Federal 200 primers and 6 grains of Bullseye and the .308″ diameter 85-grain Hornady XTP hollowpoint. Velocity and trajectory are a close match with the PPU factory ammo, but the reload is more accurate and highly effective, shattering water jugs like firing hollowpoint ammunition from a .30 US Carbine.

    For a low cost plinker I use the Accurate Molds 31-087T cast bullet, sized to .311 with 5 grains of Bullseye, which approximates the power level of the old .30 Mauser. If necessary the powder charge can be increased slightly, not to exceed 5.5 grains to obtain reliable function. The bullet shape resembles flatnosed hardball and it feeds a pony trotting. The 5 grain load barely cycles my pistol, but drops the empty brass at my feet, which is convenient.

    I keep the CZ52 around as a spare defensive pistol. It isn’t fancy, BUT IT WORKS. I very much prefer the CZ over the TOK, which I no longer own.

  6. Anyone having a CZ52 who plans on shooting it alot should get the Harrington replacement firing pin and slide rollers.

    I don’t dry fire mine and have kept the Harrington parts as spares, having put over 2000 rounds through my pistol using the original parts and have had no issues.

  7. I have both CZ52 that looks new and what looks to be the Chinese version of the Russian TT33, Type 54 dated 1953 with two Asian markings, apparently taken from a dead Chinese soldier after he killed an American soldier. It’s now apart soaking in Kroil, ready to dry and reassemble, bore is very good and will slug or cast the throat to decide on the diameter for Lee 93 PB or a 120 gr SAECO #302 gas check I shot in my Mauser C96 re-bored pistol. I just today made a link pin from a drill bit, tight fit on one side and loose inside for the link movement. I watched the former owner drop the pin in an easy chair many years ago and insist on assembling it without, told him to not allow anyone to shoot it. I may sell the CZ52, just like the lines on the Type 54/TT. My ammo is seriously not much good, will make brass from 223, find how longer I can make brass necks as did with the C-96, fitted of course. TFS members know me, maybe write a short article?

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