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Bohemian silhouette pistol Picra SP-98
Published in National Silhouette Report
Considered to be very precise, whereas break actions allow a quick barrel change. If a barrel is changed on a bold action, the gun has to be sighted in again, since the alignment of front and rear sight is disturbed. This was valid until 1997, when during the European championship in the Czech Republic a shooter with a self-made gun appeared, which turned everything upside down.
Guido J. Wasser, Swiss
translated by Andreas Bartens, Germany
Ivo Picek studied at the end of the 70th in Prague engineering and was working for 10 years in the ceramic factory in Radovnik in the air-conditioning department. In 1990, when the iron curtain started to open up, he founded his own firm in close by Knezeves, where he is still manufacturing alignment systems for car bodies and saws for the forestry. He was ever since a man really interested in guns.
Already with 16 years, in the middle of the cold war, he produced a revolver, which was not really allowed to exist. Later on he participated in different shooting competitions and managed several times to make it up to the first places. Last year he became six times the national Czechish champion and also in competitions from police and military.
During international championships he was annoyed, that his comrades and him were always having the worst material than the other participants. The top guns cost in the Czech Republic several monthly wages and were thus unaffordable. In 1996 he decided, to design and make for himself and his men an affordable compatible silhouette gun. Since he owned a engineering factory, he was proficient in engineering and machinery to the full extend. Who has seen his 100 tons ram press and the automatic band saw in action, admires his unconventional way of design and precision; even his wife Jana gets sometimes mad at him due to his trend towards the absolute perfection. To organize their common firm PICRA, she gave up working as a chemical engineer. Before she had to deal with official government agencies and now she has to make it several times to the proof agency to Prague. Despite that, the tread to poison her husband nobody should take serious.
The first pistol was named PICRA SP-96. This name is put together out of PIC, the beginning of Ivo Picek’s name and RA stand for the pittoresce bohemian village Rakovnik, a historical town situated between Prague and Pilzen.
The rakovnikians are especially proud of their large piazza with the city center around. This is the largest piazza in the Czech republic. Only the Wenzelsplatz in Prague is bigger.
The designator SP-96 is the abbreviation for “SilhouettenPistole”, designed in 1996.
The concept is very simple: In the frame, 8 inches long and made of .55 in. thick tool steel, the trigger group is installed. In the back of the frame, a very solid 3 in. long Allen screw (metric thread M 5) forces the cast rubber grip onto the frame. To the front it is extended by a wooden forestock. The receiver and barrel with sights are one unit which is bolted to the frame. For changing the barrel the whole unit is taken off and replaced by another one. To do this, a bolt is unscrewed in front of the trigger group which swings an alignment piece aside. This allows to lift the barrel at the front and remove the assembly to the front on a dovetail guide.
During the first contact at the European Championships 97 in the czech republic I was very skeptic. I could not imagine, that with this design such a high precision could be achieved. Also the adjustment for the crisp trigger is critical. But practical experience during the competition made me believe the opposite. The few Czechians starting with this pistol, obtained excellent results. Shortly afterwards during the Bohemia Cup, which is rated as the Czechish nationals, Ivo Picek showed what can be done with his design. During the shoot off in the class “Production” the chicken targets were set up, which are normally 50 meters away from the shooters, 150 meters away. It sounds unbelievable, but with the SP-96 he managed to hit all targets at the only 5 inches high body. Admittently, he also must have done his part but it is still quite a performance.
The critical part in the design is the connection of the receiver with the frame. In the back there is the dovetail guide. The barrel/receiver unit is inserted at an angle and then pushed to the rear and pushed down simounstainesly. By doing this you have to pull the trigger. It sounds complicated, but with some exercising it will work quite nicely. When the bolt in front of the trigger group is tightened down, it forces the alignment piece down and fixes the barrel receiver unit horizontally and vertically. This way the top part is rigidly attached to the frame.
The interaction of the delicate trigger parts is designed precisely, which allows an adjustment of the trigger pull between 10 to 60 ounces. The first pull and the triggerstop can also be adjusted from the outside. The trigger can be moved .3 in. to the rear and to the front to cater for different hand sizes. Thus the distance from the adjustable trigger to the rear of the grip allows either sex despite different hand sizes to make full use of this pistol. The black rubber grip adds to this. It is damping the recoil and fits due to his shape almost everybody; also southpaws. Who likes it a bit fancier can have a nicely figured walnut stock, obviously for some more money.
The normally delivered version has also a walnut stock ( 9 inches long) in a less fancy grade reaching to the muzzle of the gun and is fixed to the frame with two screws.
Thus the barrel doesn’t touch the forestock which helps to improve accuracy for sure. The design of the stock is rather simple without checkering and is good for being used in all shooting positions like Creedmore, Dead Frog or for Standing.
In general this applies to all good silhouette guns, but the Picra can do some more stuff. Most shooters like the automatic ejection of the spend case when opening the breech. When the breech is opened smartly the case will be ejected with a sharp blow or when it is done slowly its just kicked out of the receiver.
Reloaders are always particular with their brass, since they do not want to wind up with damaged cases. Even for this the pistol can be adjusted for. When the knurled bolt at the right hand side of the frame, also acting as the breech retainer, is unscrewed and inserted into a second thread a few millimeters in front of the former one, the bolt will not reach the ejector anymore and not ejecting the case allowing to take them out by hand This way the model 96 was set up. The newer version , the SP-98, doesn’t allow this anymore due to a spring loaded bold retainer.
The bolt is quite unconventional. The locking is done 3.5 in. behind the bolt face. Skeptic minds may think that this would be negative for precision, but this could not be confirmed during firing. This stems from former times influenced by designs like the Schmidt-Rubin rifles where bigger tolerances had to be used to allow to operate the weapons in the dirt and mud of a battlefield.
The two locking lugs (.4 in. wide and .126 in. high) are solid due not being slotted or milled out to accommodate the extractor or ejector.
A good feature is the easy access of the chamber and easy cleaning of the locking mechanism.
The bolt handle of the model-96 is attached at the left side of the bolt and locks within 80°. The model-98 has three locking lugs and needs only 60° for operation. The scope attachment doesn’t interfere with the operation of the bolt handle. For mounting the scope or iron sights a dovetail is directly milled into the receiver. Also provision is made for not allowing the scope to slip during firing. When is scope is attached to the gun the iron sights must be removed but this is rather simple since the Allen screws are readily accessible. When the sights or scope is taken off and installed again only minor adjustments are necessary.
The sights are his own design and sit only one inch above bore center. The front sight is a cylindrical post fastened with a small grub screw. To protect the sight and minimize light/shade effects a 1.4 inches long tunnel is attached to the sight holder. Sights posts can be had with a diameter of either .10 or .13 in. whereas the rear sight leaves are available in .08 and 1 inches.
The rear sight can be adjusted for windage and elevation. The elevation adjustment is done with a screwdriver. The adjustment screw is installed at the left side and engraved with the numbers 2, 4, 6 and 8. One turn of this screw is divided into 16 clicks, where each click represents at 200 meters a point of impact change of one inch with the Production barrel and .9 in. with the Unlimited barrel.
The windage adjustment is quite unusual. If you want to shift the point of impact to the left, you have to unscrew first the left screw. Then the right screw must be turned clockwise to move the sight to the left. A quarter turn represents 4 inches at 200 meters. Don’t forget to tighten down the left screw after you are done.
Since windage adjustment is rarely needed during silhouette shooting, it will be only done when the gun is new or sighted in for a different ammunition. Afterwards you can forget about it.
The barrels are at the chamber .95 inches diameter and taper down to .63 in. to become a cylinder of .83 in. at the muzzle. The Swiss firm SARDEC developed this profile with having put quite some research into it to minimize barrel oscillations. The muzzle is crowned with an .43 in. cone to allow for even gas expansion to keep disturbing influences for the bullet, when leaving the barrel, to a minimum. This shape was developed by Sam H. Goldstein.
The gases leave the barrel in shape of a cone in order not to disturb the exiting bullet. After the bullet is some distance from the muzzle vortices are created. As an unwanted side effect the recoil is increased a little bit, but this is not discerning for the shooter. Therefore it doesn’t count as a compensator.
The receiver which is fixed to the barrel, has on top a 2.3 in. loading hood. The hood for the small bore version is somehow smaller. At the model 96 there is at the end from the receiver a lever which blocks the firing pin and can be used as training trigger. This feature is not allowed at the C.R. and not installed at the model 98. Also some other regulations of this young country are somehow funny. Despite these guns are not used by the military, they still have to pass the rigorous military tests (mud and cold weather exposure). This is really asking to much for this kind of precision guns. There will not be any competition done at 160° F and in a muddy environment or in an arctic cold weather. On the other hand none of the guns is correct proof tested, at least the stamps at bolts are missing. This seems to be typical for the Czech Republic since also two test guns from DruLov were missing the proof stamp at the bolt. This is a requirement from CIP and also from the new C.R. gun law. The question arises whether the country of Czech Republic is a member of C.I.P. Czechoslovakia, the former country was a member, but this is long gone.
Not only the concept was designed nicely by Ivo Picek, but he also designed the adequate cartridge for it, the .30 Picra. The cases are formed by using the cheap .357 Magnum cases. By using cal .30 bullets, the available powder space is a little bit small. Since the powder space is even smaller than the 7 mm TCU, sometimes a not properly hit ram will not be knocked down. Despite the idea is good to design a cheap cartridge, even the designer is aware of its shortcomings and employs it only in the “Standing” position. The cartridge is really nice to shoot due to low recoil. For “Production” he uses the well proven 7 mm GJW. The readily made cases made by Thun are also costing some money, but after several reloads the price comes down to 3 cents for each firing. Picra also offers besides the 7 mm TCU the 6 mm versions for the big bore disciplines. For “Field Pistols" he makes barrels in .300 Whisper, 357 Magnum, 22 Hornet and K-Hornet. The best choice would be here the K-Hornet developed by Lisle Kilbourn in the forties. For small bore he makes barrels in 10 inches and 13 inches for the .22 l.r. The small bore versions do not have the special muzzle.
Firing the guns shows the comfortable grip. Large bore cartridges are still quite heavy since the hand is very close to the center line of the barrel and the barrel doesn’t climb. The elastic grip has good damping features. During firing at my first competition the pistol developed quite some bite due to the not rounded frame at the rear, very similar to the legendary swiss army pistol SIG 210. It is really to recommend to wear push bikers gloves as protection, especially firing large bore. This is actually an accepted standard firing silhouette pistols, so if you don’t do it, it’s your fault. The model 98 is already provided with a .15 in. radius in this critical area. Obviously the human hand has got more springy action as expected. This forced also the firm Wuethrich to modify their pistols after the first test models.
The gun is very handy to use and aim. The bolt handle on the left hand side seems to be a little bit unusual for mature silhouette shooters, but is, due to being short, of no danger to the shooter. In the “Creedmore” stance I could even let the gun rest on my upper thigh; the position “Dead Frog” is anyhow no problem. Operating the bolt is comfortable and the sights are not problem at all even during bright sunshine or rain. At open ranges the sight hoods of the model 98 helps a lot.
The practical test was done during really poor weather with rain, snow and even some sun. The winds were strong and gusty. For this reason I did not add any results since this would just prove my moderate shooting abilities. The Picra has proven their quality even against the well established firms in this business. When you can finish off with the maximum result, there is no need to prove the accuracy again.
The barrel change is very quick, even when I had at the very beginning some problem. Maybe I am sometimes a little bit stupid in this respect. You just undo the big knurled nut in front of the frame until the alignment piece clears the barrel. Remove the barrel and then insert the other one. Remember, if you don’t pull the trigger the barrel can’t engage. Tighten up the knurled nut and you are done. After having fired a few rounds the barrel/receiver adjustment should be checked again to check for any play in the assembly. With some exercising the change is really quick considering the limited time between the competitions.
Since a barrel change asks also for changing besides the barrel the breech and sights, it can’t be cheap to buy a change set. Considering this, the price of a set with 475,- $ is still reasonable.
Utilizing a action length of 6.3 in. the maximum distance from 13.5 in. between front and rear sight for the “Production” class is possible. This is not true for most of the present designs and qualifies the price for the change set. The “unlimited” barrel doesn’t make use out of the maximum possible length of 15 inches. It is only 13 in. (Small bore 13.6 in.) long. Despite this the maximum possible length between sights is maintained.
For the 7 mm GJW the reduced barrel length is of no concern and for the 7 mm TCU it is good enough. The Picra SP-96 not only fulfills the requirements for production models but is already produced in quantity. This I could see at the end of 97 at the manufactures place where parts like breeches, barrels and frames were shown to me.
The trigger can be adapted to the needs of the user. It can be adjusted fore and aft for short and long fingers. If you wish to wind up with a double stage trigger, you have to adjust the first pull with the rear screw in between 0 to .15 in. The screw in front of the trigger sets the trigger stop and the weight of the trigger. The whole range of 10 to 60 ounces nobody will really use. I prefer a trigger, which after .1 inches first pull, breaks cleanly at 20 ounces. This was easy to set, at least for me.
That these pistols qualify, not only shooters from the east did prove. After having fired the pistols in leisurely pace during a training session, I had the chance it try them during the International Bohemian competition. Since I was provided with a new pistol, I was allowed the evening before the competition to fire 10 trial shots at the four big bore distances. Thank you very much, Jarda!!. Not really comfortable with the gun and even without a spotter I started in the “Production” class and was able to qualify for the shoot off for the first places. I was surprised that Ivo Picek scored one point less than me; he was not a worse shot than me, but two rams didn’t fall despite they were hit.
As I mentioned already, the energy delivered by the .30 Picra is sometimes not enough. During the shoot off my fate was with me in two respects; as spotter I could fall back on Ivo Picek and after the second round, when only two shooters were left, a rainstorm with gusty winds set in. With a little bit of luck I managed to get “Full House” with caliber 7 GJW and made first place.
The Picra SP-98 is a moderately priced and nicely made silhouette pistol with some good ideas for detail. Due to the simple barrel change it can be employed in almost every class (besides revolver). From the offered cartridges I recommend for big bore the 7 GJW , the .22K-Hornet for the “Field” classes and the notorious .22 l.r. for small bore.
Since Thompson/Center discontinued making barrels in the typical silhouette calibers 7 mm TCU and K-Hornet and 7 mm GJW is only delivered by Bullberry (not “Production”), the czech SP-98 became a economical alternate to the noble swiss Wuethrich (Swiss Contender). A stainless steel version is in production an 15% more expensive; who wants some luxury, can have the stock made of fancy wood. The recoils becomes more noticeably though, especially in big bore calibers.
The SP-98 fulfills the requirements made up by the IMSSU for production model guns and can be adapted for eight classes.
The cartridge .30 Picra is ideal for the beginner. It is very comfortable to use due to the moderate recoil. It is also a very nice alternate for somebody who wants to shoot with one barrel “Big Bore” and “Field Pistol”.
With the 125 grains bullet and 8 grains Accurate 2 it is a little bit less wind sensitive than the .22 K-Hornet and has only 30% more recoil.
For “Big Bore” the same case used with the 185 grains bullet (Lapua Scenar) and 13.5 grains AA 9. With a cartridge length of 55 mm a muzzle velocity of 1540 ft/ sec can be obtained. This allows a momentum of 1.06 Gates (Elgin, not Bill!) at 200 meters which will be good enough for the correctly positioned ram.
Very new, Ivo Picek offered barrels in caliber .260 Picra, a cartridge necked down from the russian 7,65 x 39 Kalashnikov.
For the 7 GJW, K-Hornet and obviously the .260 and .30 Picra, loading dies are readily available by Ivo Picek. They are manufactured to very close tolerances. Despite they are all bottle necked the is no need to lubricate the cases before resizing since the critical area is coated with titanium nitride.
During the last IMSSU World Championships in Finnish Sipoo the IMSSU decided, to allow the Picra pistol to be used as “Production” class pistol. Since then they are used already 24 times in competition.
|Manufacturer:||Picra (Czech. Republik)|
|Model:||SP-96 (PRODUCTION); cal. 7 GJW|
|Barrel Length:||10.7 in.|
|Barrel Diameter, front:||.83 in|
|Barrel Diameter, rear:||.95 in.|
|Sight Length:||13.4 in.|
|Rear Sight (clicks):||10 clicks per turn (one click is .5 in. at 100 m)|
|Rear Sight hood:||1 in. overhang (rear)|
|Rear Sight hood:||1 in. overhang (front)|
|Front Sight hood:||.6 in. overhang (rear)|
|Front Sight hood:||1.1 in. overhang (front)|
Grip Distance from rear of frame:
|Grip, max:||3 in.|
|Grip, min:||2.3 in.|
Centerline of barrel above center of trigger:
|Trigger pull:||10 to 60 ounces|
|Without sights:||2.72 lbs.|
475.- $ Spare barrel, complete