As part of my continuing investigation of old military rifles for prepping, I have come to the products of the Mauser boys– Paul and Wilhelm– who are best known for their bolt action rifles. While they didn’t invent bolt actions or the box magazines that came to be one of their signature features of the bolt gun, their rifles, particularly the Model 98 (that’s for 1898) pattern, are still considered to be in the top tier of the type. Versions are made to this day.
As best as I can research, the first bolt action rifle was the Dryese needle gun– a single shot breech loader adopted by the Prussian Army in 1841 and used with great effect by Prussia over the next 30 years in the wars that created the German nation from a hodgepodge of small states. It also revolutionized infantry tactics by dramatically increasing the rate of fire of the individual soldier, who could now reload even when in the prone position.
The next big steps were the self-contained brass cartridge, which enabled repeating weapons. The Dreyse and other competing designs retained paper cartridges, which wouldn’t work so well for repeaters. The first repeaters had tubular magazines, but an American, James Paris Lee, had the idea for a box magazine that was first used on a Remington rifle in 1885. In case Lee sounds familiar, it is because of his most noted design, the Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield rifles. These adopted the Lee magazine and a Lee designed bolt action. These rifles fought the wars of the British Commonwealth from 1888 through the 1950’s, with some soldiering on even today.
The box magazine offered at least three advantages over the tubular one. First, pointed bullets aren’t safe in tubular magazines. The bullet tips rest on the primer in a tubular magazine, and when they get whacked by recoil ugly things can happen. Pointy bullets offer a number of ballistic advantages, so something else was needed. Next, although this was not taken advantage of in the Mauser bolt rifles, box magazines could be removable, so you could easily reload by swapping magazines. The Lee rifles did take advantage of this, though the British generals feared the soldiers would lose them, so they typically only gave out one per rifle. Finally, you can build your rifles to use chargers, or stripper clips, to quickly reload. You could still top off with single rounds. All in all, Mr. Lee came up with something that is pretty universal in today’s firearms.
The Mauser brothers came from a gun family. Their father was a gunsmith at a royal arsenal. Paul also became a gunsmith and during military service began tinkering with improving the Dreyse. His tinkering led to the Mauser Model 1871– a single shot bolt action rifle which was further developed into a tubular magazine fed repeater that held eight shots in 1884.
The next big leap for the Mausers came with the Model 1893 bolt action adopted by Spain. It had the box magazine, which was quickly reloaded with stripper clips, and the new 7x57mm Mauser cartridge was filled with the newfangled smokeless powder. This Mauser had a profound effect on the U.S. troops who faced it in Cuba in 1898 and on most armies of the world. Not only did the ability to load faster than U.S. troops could with their Krag rifles, the Spanish could out-range them with the superior 7x57mm Mauser cartridge. This model Mauser led to many variants used around the world in an assortment of calibers.
At this point, Germany had also adopted a smokeless powder cartridge– the 8x57mm– and were using it in their non-Mauser 1888 rifle. They wanted a Mauser rifle, though, to use it in. The Mausers came up with what many, regard as one of the best bolt actions ever made– the Model 98– also known as the G98 with the G standing for Gewehr, which is German for the word “rifle”. The G98, in a number of variants, was the standard military rifle for countless armies and served the Germans through two world wars. The Mausers improved the strength of the rifle to handle higher pressures and developed a way to safely divert gas from a ruptured cartridge. They also added an additional lug to the bolt to further strengthen the action.
The Mauser design was so influential that the United States essentially copied it for the Springfield. We wound up losing a lawsuit and had to pay royalties to the Mausers. A fracas we entered in 1917 got us out of that agreement. The British came up with the Pattern 1914 Enfield, which bore some majors resemblances to the Mauser, but it had better sights and smoother bolt operation. The exigencies of wartime production kept it from becoming the standard British battle rifle.
The various Mausers have inspired numerous other rifles, including the Winchester Model 70 and most other bolt action rifles seen since the end of the 19th century. In short, the design is as viable today as it was 116 years ago. Personally, I prefer a Mauser 98 to most modern sporting rifles. The workmanship is usually better, and the bolts run more smoothly (though they don’t match the Lee-Enfield). The stripper clip guide, built into the receiver, provides the ability to reload quickly.
One of the biggest positives of the Mauser is the controlled feed system. As the round pops up from the magazine, it slides under the extractor and is under control of the bolt as it chambers rather than just being pushed into the chamber and having the extractor pop it over the rim. There are certainly rifles that work well that don’t have controlled feed, but I like the concept myself, as it means you can operate the rifle in an awkward position and the next round won’t fall out as you run the bolt.
The Mauser 98 pattern is probably the most often encountered Mauser and the one you should look for. The earlier variants are nice rifles, but the 98 is more robust. You can find them pretty much anywhere. They are all over GunBroker, in many gun shops, Shotgun News, pawn shops, want ads, and estate sales. Conditions will range wildly. Many have seen hard service, and others, as you will read shortly, have been modified by their prior owners, for better or worse. There are still some that saw light use or were refurbished to almost new condition and then stored. Some of these turn up from time to time, and I hope to snag one someday.
Mausers were chambered for a number of cartridges, which doesn’t help, either. They are often not marked, which can be frustrating and dangerous. When in doubt, it is wise to consult a gunsmith before shoving rounds in and pulling the trigger. The most common two cartridges are probably the 8x57mm and 7x57mm. Both are excellent cartridges and generally comparable to our .308 Winchester or .30-06. I prefer the 7x57mm, as there seems to be more choice in bullets for reloading these days since it shares bore diameter with more rounds than the 8mm does. It also kicks a bit less, which makes it more fun to shoot. I haven’t been able to find surplus 7×57 for quite a while, though. The 8×57 is, however, available if you look hard. Commercial companies make rounds suitable for hunting in both calibers. Many of the other cartridges, that Mausers are chambered in, are obscure and hard to find ammo for, so beware.
The most commonly seen models in the used market at the moment seem to be the Yugoslavian Zastava M-48’s chambered in 8x57mm. You can sometimes find them in near-new condition for $400 or so. These were made after WW II and are basically copies of the Wehrmacht’s WWII service rifle, though with enough differences that most parts won’t interchange. Most of them were placed in storage after little service. As they manufactured them, the Yugoslavs made changes to simplify production with more and more stamped parts, so the earlier ones may be more pleasing aesthetically. I hope to snag one of these at some point, when funds allow.
The Mauser I acquired from an estate sale is a Mexican made version in 7x57mm. I have seen references to this model rifle as the Model of 1910 and the Model of 1902, but I have not been able to determine which is definitively correct. One thing I like about this model is the straight bolt handle. My son and I are left-handed, and the straight handle makes it a lot easier to reach over and run the bolt with our left hands.
Mexican Mausers, in good original condition, are getting scarce, as so many of them were used by custom gunsmiths because they were of excellent quality for making fine sporters. Mine appears to have had an interesting life since leaving the arsenal. According to the date on the receiver, it was made in 1931– a period of relative calm in Mexico, which boded well for quality. It obviously saw hard use, based on the appearance of its straight stock that is badly dinged.
Mine, however, was obviously not in original condition. The first giveaway is that the fore end has been cut off. The next is that this model rifle had a 29-inch barrel, while mine has one that is close to 20 inches. Some research led me to the Model 1936 that indeed had a barrel of almost 20 inches, so I am guessing that my rifle was rebarreled with a 1936 barrel obtained somehow by a prior owner who then lopped off the fore end. While this destroys any collector’s value to the rifle, the fact that the bore looks good, and I wanted a shooter, made up for that. Losing nine inches of barrel also make it a lot handier, plus I can do whatever I want to it without fretting over the destruction of history.
My goal was to come up with a handy, reasonably accurate (two- or three-inch groups at 100 yards) rifle that I can keep in my car. It will be politically correct but highly effective out to 250 or even 300 yards, and it’s an ideal supplement to my pistol. I want to be able to use it for hunting or self-defense. I paid $200 for it and hope to keep it under $500 when done, not counting optics. At nine pounds, it is heavier than I would like but not horribly so. I may drill out the stock a bit to see if that will trim a few ounces. I won’t have so much money in that it would be a tragedy if something happened to it.
My first step, after inventorying it and doing a bunch of research, was to clean it thoroughly. The bore, though possessed of crisp rifling and a bright appearance, still yielded a lot of fouling. Next, I acquired a No Go headspace gauge and was disappointed when the bolt closed on it. I ordered a Field gauge, which is the indicator of doom. If the bolt closes on a Field gauge, you shouldn’t shoot it, short of an apocalypse. To my joy, the bolt would not consider closing on the Field gauge, so I had a shooter, though not with as tight a chamber as I had hoped.
The rifle had an S&K Scout scope mount http://www.scopemounts.com/ , which I wrote about recently along with an NC Star scope. The mount is nice, and I like the Scout scope concept, but the NC Star isn’t my idea of a great scope, so I hope to replace it at some point. One thing I noticed was that the scope had not been properly mounted. One of the rings was not seated, leaving things rather cockeyed; so I took the whole mess apart and reassembled it correctly.
I didn’t get the original rear sight, so I tracked down a Lyman 57 aperture sight on eBay for $75 and will have it added later, after which time I will provide a report. Mounting it will require two holes to be drilled and tapped for about $50.
In a final insult to history, a prior owner discarded the original sear and trigger and replaced it with a Timney trigger. Timney makes good stuff, but this one does not appear to be quite correct for the rifle. It wobbles, and some of the stock was gouged out to make it fit. I don’t like things that wobble. Just to test its safety, I tried bouncing the rifle hard on the floor and it didn’t release the firing pin; it was safe. Luckily for me, however, the Dow Arms Room in Dade City, FL, has a reputation for doing good deeds to military rifles, despite not having a website I can link to. I took a trip there with the rifle. They managed to find a suitable sear, trigger, and spring, so I wound up with a solidly-fitted trigger that breaks fairly cleanly at 5 pounds, which I find a very workable weight.
The next step was to trek to the local indoor range, only 15 yards away, alas, and run a few rounds to get it on paper. With this done, I hauled it down to the outdoor range where I volunteer as a safety officer and got it on paper at 100 yards. At that point, I ran out of time and energy and headed home.
A few days later, a chance to hit an indoor range with 100 yard lanes came up, so I ran some more rounds through it, trying to find the best load and confirming the zero. I tried it with some antique 1936 FN made ammo, some PMC 175 grain soft points, and some reloads with 175 grain Hornady soft points using IMR 4350 powder. The rifle appears to have potential, but it throws one or two shots out of any group two to three inches away from the center of the rest of the group, which is frustrating. Otherwise, some of the groups were less than two inches. One produced three touching shots with two fliers. I strongly suspect bedding issues. The profile of the barrel does not match the stock, and I am betting that, as the barrel heats and expands, it is being pressured by the stock. All of the hacking done to fit the trigger probably isn’t helping either.
I talked to Bruce Dow at the Dow Arms Room about it, and he spotted some places where the barrel is, indeed, contacting the stock. Funds are short at the moment, but I plan to have Dow redo the bedding of the rifle in a month or two. Again, this will get a report in the future. This looks like a $75-100 job.
Another suggestion Dow made was to bed the S&K scope mount. There are a lot of variations in dimensions on old military rifles, and Dow has used epoxy to bed the scope mount to the rifle. He uses mold release on the rifle but not on the mount, which allows the mount to be removed as needed. The bedding fills in any gaps and locks the mount into a solid position on the rifle. I am expecting to spend about $50 for this.
Before I get the scope mount bedded, though, I plan to replace it with the S&K Weaver style mount. The one on it uses the proprietary S&K rings, which work extremely well, but I want a quick detachable option; I can get that with Weaver style rings. That would allow me to swap scopes or switch to iron sights with less work than the mount with the S&K rings.
The biggest issue appears to be the NC Star scope. It would be okay on a hobby rifle, but I plan on this being a serious rifle, so I think it needs a better scope. I am not counting the scope as part of the $400 target price on the rifle when complete. I expect to use either a Leupold or Burris Scout scope on it in the end but will have to motor along with the NC Star until funds happen.
I plan to save money by keeping the original stock, but some like aftermarket synthetic or wood stocks. To each his own. I like the honest appearance of a military rifle and have no need to make it into an elegant sporter. The stock, however, was really a mess with peeling layers of varnish and enough dings for a bell ensemble. I applied some citrus-based paint stripper to it and then spent a couple of hours with an iron and wet towel steaming the dents up as much as I could, which also got some dirt and grime out of the wood. With a bit of light sanding, it is ready for an oil-based, military style finish. I intend to try a product new to me and will also try a dye to darken it, since the wood turned out to be quite light in color. I had thoughts about how useful a trap door butt plate would be, but I can’t find one I can adapt easily. I will provide some updates on how the stock comes out.
I am pretty sure I can make my target price of under $500 for the rifle, not counting optics. While I could find a modern sporter for about the same price, it wouldn’t have the slick action this one possesses. I also doubt it would be as rugged or reliable, and it would certainly lack the ability to rapidly charge it with stripper clips.
If you decide to take this plunge, make sure that whoever you buy your rifle from will agree to it passing a technical inspection. The biggest issue is probably headspace, but you can pick up your own Field gauge for about $25 and do that check on the spot. You have to make sure it slips under the extractor before it chambers, which is fussy but doable. If the bolt closes on the Field gauge, you can’t shoot it, so look for another rifle. My next check is bore condition. Sometimes they are filled with dirt and grime but look pretty good after cleaning. Other times, they are dark and ugly. However, I have seen rifles with ugly bores that shoot well. If the rifling is badly eroded, though, it is a bad sign. I would also make sure it fits into the stock reasonably well and that all of the parts work smoothly. I don’t like it if the bolt rattles when closed or has severe pitting on the bolt face. A trustworthy gunsmith is a good person to know, but plenty of people can buy a good, used gun without help. You probably can, too.
Scopes can be mounted in the conventional position, which does prevent loading with stripper clips. However, most folks prefer that location for their scope. I like the forward Scout mount, as it makes it easier to load quickly and also for a southpaw in that it allows my left hand to reach over the action to run the bolt. If you choose to use a conventional mount, you will probably spend at least $50 to get the holes drilled and tapped. The S&K Scout mounts can be user installed without much hassle, but you give up the rear sight.
Do consider whether you have acquired a collector’s item before making any permanent modifications. If you have one, I would still shoot it, but I would keep it in original condition (or at least able to be returned to its original condition with ease). That is one reason I was okay with buying a hacked up one, as it allows me to modify it as I see fit.
As to the questions of why not just get another AR-15, I have more than one. You can get one of these set up for a lot less less money than an AR. They hit far harder than any .223. Also, they don’t look as scary to the unknowing, so they are acceptable in places that panic over an AR. No, they don’t have the magazine capacity, but if you do your job and get hits, you probably won’t need that many rounds. If you are in the sort of fire fight that does, you are in a world of hurt, even with an AR. I see mine as a good rifle to keep in the car and one that would also serve well for hunting other than in the wide open expanses of the West.
I found a number of web pages useful, both for researching the article as well as learning about my rifle. A good search engine can help too. I like DuckDuckGo because it promises not to track me. However, in these times, you can’t know for sure.
You can try these sites for information and research. Some are forums where you can ask questions, if you register. Wikipedia is also very helpful, and I used it for research as well.
http://www.gunbroker.com/ auction site to find rifles.
– SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor, Scot Frank Erie