Letter Re: On Antique Mausers and Their Ammo

Dear Jim,
The early Mausers and related rifles are excellent because of their frequent low price, durability and reliability, not to mention their potential value as antique non-weapons if manufactured before 1899. (As described in JWR’s FAQ on the subject.) The first of these is the [Model 1888] Commission Rifle, or Gewehr 88, which will be marked on the left side of the receiver with “Gew88” in German script. Much confusion and myth surrounds these fine rifles. Simplified: the early ones are only safe with commercially loaded ammo from US MAKERS. The later ones are marked “S” for “Spitzer” and have a notch in the receiver to take modern ammo. They were reproofed, rechambered and the rifling deepened for the more modern ammo. While horror stories abound, I’ve been shooting milsurp ammo in one for 20 years, and know others who have, also. However, because of the possible confusion, I recommend them only for knowledgeable shooters.
I am a big fan of 8mm because it is available dirt cheap as surplus. 7mm Mauser is also good, if a little less common, and even with dark, eroded bores, as long as they pass safe measurements, these rifles can be quite accurate.
All the newer weapons–1893 on–can be re-barreled in 7.62 NATO as long as they’ve been checked by a gunsmith. 7mm Mauser, 8mm Mauser, .30-06 and .308 all have the same case base diameter. However, I’m still sorting out the various 7.62 NATO and .308 loadings. 7.62 wasn’t a perfect standard across NATO, so cases vary and the chambers are cut slightly differently than .308. Also, 7.62 runs around 50,000 P.S.I. chamber pressure, on par with 7mm and 8mm, but commercial .308 can be as high as 62,000 P.S.I. I hadn’t realized until recently there was that much difference. Modern US weapons are generally safe to shoot with both. However, .308 loadings at the upper end could be close to the proofing (testing) pressure of the older barrels, or the receivers to which they are attached.
So the general guideline is that the newer the Mauser model, the safer, and the lower pressure, the safer. Fairly self-evident, but with some quirks. I’m quite comfortable with my Commission Rifles with military ammo, while many shooters think I’m courting disaster. The actual Mausers from the 1890s are (in good shape) safe with 7mm, 8mm or 7.62 mm NATO. .308 Winchester is inadvisable except in lower pressure loadings and emergencies–chamber variation and possible excessive pressure.
I endorse the idea of getting several of these rifles if funds permit–for use, trade goods (always good to have a reliable, budget rifle for guests in an emergency) and for spare parts. You, or someone in your group with training can easily turn four “parts” weapons into two or three sturdy if ugly shooters and spare parts. – Michael Z. Williamson