The Iconic Battlefield Workhorse Was Also
A Beautiful, Functional Factory-Made
While we’re familiar with the 1898 Mauser in the form of a durable, reliable, military rifle and carbine, the manufacture of Mauser sporting rifles took place side-by-side with the fulfillment of countless military contracts at the factory. From 1898 to the destruction of the Mauser plant in 1946, approximately 126,500 sporting rifles were made by the Sporting Arms Department, a number that includes the thousands of commercial sporting actions and barreled actions sold to the British and American gunmaking trades.
Incredible as it may sound, the production of exquisite sporting rifles continued throughout World War II, even during height of Allied bombing attacks on the little village of Oberndorf, Germany. Uniquely, Mauser sporters were built on four distinct Model 98 action types: the short or “kurz” action for calibers .250/3000, 6.5×54 Mauser and 8×51; an intermediate action for the 7×57; a standard action for calibers 6.5×58 Portuguese, 7×64, .30-06, 8×57, 8×60, 9×57, 9.3×62, 10.75×68; and Mauser’s notable magnum action for longer cartridges such as the .280 Ross, 8×75 and .404 Jeffery.
Receiver rings and bridges of the commercial actions varied from round tops, to single or even double square bridges. Their bolt knobs were elegantly pear shaped rather than being round as on the military actions, and the striker nut or cocking piece was longer than the military model to add mass to the striker to insure fail-safe ignition.
It wasn’t that Mauser’s sporting actions were merely styled differently than their military 98’s, they were also built to much tighter tolerances and carefully hand polished. Opening and closing an original Mauser sporting action says, “This is custom work!” And indeed it was.
As varied as their commercial action designs were Mauser’s beautiful and complex barrel profiles. Routinely offered to the consumer were tapered round barrels, tapered full octagon barrels, and tapered part-round/part-octagon barrels. Mauser’s sporting barrels could be had with tapered ribs or without. A tapered ribbed rifle barrel is strictly an expensive and thoroughly custom affair today. Yet, here was the Mauser factory turning them out routinely by the thousands. Running a patch down an original Mauser sporter barrel is so effortless and so silky smooth you have to conclude each sporter barrel was carefully lapped at the factory.
Using only the finest English and European walnut, Mauser stocked its sporting line in several distinct styles which today are still in vogue—the “classic” sporter, the “express” style, and the full Mannlicher. Mauser’s sporting stocks were svelte and slim and proportioned to the use of iron sights.
Of all the stock designs offered by Mauser, they outdid themselves when it came to the full stock Mannlicher pattern. Mauser Mannlicher’s are noticeably more esthetic and carry better lines through the forearm than the Mannlicher pattern made world famous by Mannlicher-Schoenauer.
The sporter model triggers offered by Mauser were a 2-stage single trigger, a 1-stage single trigger and a double-set trigger. In collections, the 2-stage and the double set are seen in about equal amounts—the single stage being somewhat of a rarity except on actions produced for the English trade. Mauser retained the rear winged safety in its commercial actions but offered a neat, unobtrusive sliding side safety as an option. You’ll find three types of floorplate releases on Mauser sporters—a military push button (rare), a detent-secured lever release which was the most common, and an inside-the-guard-release which was incorporated for the English trade and Mauser’s Type A sporter.
The single square bridge action was selected by Mauser to build what I feel is the finest, factory or custom, integral, detachable scope mount system ever devised. In practice, Mauser dovetailed across the front, round receiver ring a typical, Germanic claw mount base. It was the rear square bridge upon which Mauser’s genius was lavished. The rear square bridge was pierced with a tapered, square hole which mated perfectly with the projecting, tapered square lug of Mauser’s rear scope ring. A simple, finger activated spring cross-lock machined into the side of the square bridge secured the tapered post in place once it was fully seated. To remove the scope, you simply pushed in on the tapered cross-lock and lifted the scope up and forward to disengage the forward claw mount.
The high, tunnel-styled Mauser rings through which you could use the iron sights as well were serial numbered to the rifle and soldered typically to either a steel tube Zeiss or Hensoldt 4X scope at the factory. Mauser’s ingenious and terrifically rugged scope mount system was a popular option and often seen on surviving specimens.
The side rail of the commercial action was stamped “Waffenfabrik (“weapons factory”) Mauser-Oberndorf a/N” before WWI. After the Armistice in deference to the Allies’ vindictiveness, Mauser dropped “Waffenfabrik” and changed the wording on its commercial action siderails to read “Mauser-Werke (“Mauser works”) A.G. Oberndorf a/N.
Up until the 1930s, all metal parts were rust blued, then caustic bluing was adopted at the factory.
Mauser offered five standard models of various variations in its commercial sporting line. The factory used an alpha system to designate each of the separate models coupled with a “pattern number” to designate the variation within the model line. The five basic models were as follows:
Type A: This model was patterned after the best of the English “express rifles. “Its most distinguishing features were a banded front sight, a set of folding “express” sights, a 24-inch round tapered barrel with a banded front sling eye, a very fancy grained walnut stock with horn forearm tip and pistol grip cap and an inside-the-trigger bow floorplate release as well as the more common lever release.
Type B: This was the “bread and butter” model of the line and is the most common model encountered. It also was offered with the most “patterns” or variations. The basic Type B was offered with a round 24-inch barrel with one standing and two leaf rear sight, a walnut stock with cheekpiece, a banded front sling swivel, steel pistol grip cap, lever released floorplate, and a hard-rubber buttplate.
Type M Carbine: One of the two “Mannlicher” designs offered by Mauser (the other being the “S” model). The distinguishing characteristics of the Type M are its 20-inch round barrel, full-length stock, steel nose and pistol grip caps, steel buttplate with a hinged trap for a cleaning rod, and a flat bolt handle.
Type S Carbine: The Type S carbine is quite distinct from the Type M. The full stock is carried to the end of the 20-inch round barrel and is not capped but merely carved into a pleasing “V” shape. Mid way up the forearm is a carved forward facing lip motif which leads the eye toward the muzzle. The bolt knob is pear shaped rather than flat and the buttplate is hard rubber.
Special African Type: I consider this model the most unique of the original Mauser sporting rifles. The African model sports a long 27-1/2- or 28-inch round barrel, is stocked to within 11 inches of the muzzle, and is typically fitted with a tangent sight graduated to 1,000 meters. Having said that, the African Model 9.3×62 rifle pictured in this article sports a fully tapered octagon barrel with one standing and two folding leaves for the rear sight. Again, it just goes to show you how many pattern options were offered to the consumer.
Fortunately, a great number of original Mauser sporters have survived, and for collectors and shooters alike, these superb firearms constitute a fascinating area of study. They are the high-water mark of factory produced sporting arms, and their likes will never be seen again.
Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles by Jon Speed, Walter Schmid and Reiner Herrmann, hardcover, 471 pages © 1997. This is the profusely illustrated, definitive word on Mauser sporters. Out-of-print.
Mauser Bolt Rifles, by Ludwig Olson, Hardcover, 372 pages ©2002, $45.47. From Brownells, 200 S. Front Street, Montezuma, IA 50171, (800) 741-0015, www.brownells.com
By Holt Bodison
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