The Elegant Ross Sporter

A svelte straight-pull in a class by itself
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The Model 1910 Ross Sporter has the classic lines and feel of a fine Scottish stalking rifle.

You wouldn’t have recognized the elderly, and obviously eccentric, man roaming the wharves and streets of St. Petersburg, FL. Dressed in pajama bottoms, old slippers and a pith helmet, the man was Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross, Ninth Baronet of Balnagown, Scotland, and inventor of the Ross straight-pull rifle.

A Knight of the Realm, he inherited an estate of 350,000 acres, 3,000 tenants and Balnagown Castle. Being born a privileged nobleman might be considered — in our egalitarian 21st Century — to be a detriment, if not a pre-ordained pathway to idleness and debauchery. This wasn’t so in the case of Sir Charles Ross. Over his lifetime he proved to be a savvy executive and businessman, a soldier, accomplished sportsman and a prolific inventor of everything from ship propellers to hydro-electric generators.

Just possibly, though, his first love was rifles.

The M-1910 locking lugs were changed to an interrupted-screw design to handle the increased pressure of the .280 Ross.

A Legend Begins

While attending Eaton College in 1893, Ross patented his first straight-pull rifle — a design, he admitted, so complicated it never saw the light of day.

The potential of Canada intrigued and attracted him. Moving there in 1897, he set out and built a hydro-electric company in British Columbia, invested in a trolley company in Vancouver and set up a rifle company in Hartford, CT, with a parallel rifle manufacturing relationship with Charles Lancaster in England.

His first sporting rifle was the Model 1897 Magazine Sporting Rifle chambered in .303 British, a design closely related to Austria’s 1890 straight-pull Steyr-Mannlicher. This early model featured a bolt sleeve with an integral operating handle riding in grooves in the receiver and an internal bolt sporting two solid rotating lugs at the bolt head. It also incorporated a threaded body mating with threads inside the sleeve controlling the rotation of the bolt head. The firing pin was activated by an internal hammer.

In 1900 Sir Charles improved his action by eliminating the internal hammer and adding a coiled mainspring inside the bolt body to activate the firing pin. With a few more minor improvements, the Model 1903 action emerged. The ’03 Sporter made in Hartford (and later at the Ross plant in Quebec) was chambered for the .370/375, a straight .375 rimmed cartridge also known as the .375 Flanged Nitro Express. It was factory loaded with a 270-gr. SP at 2,000 fps and a 300-gr. SP at 1,900 fps — a mild but effective big game load.

Meanwhile in England, Lancaster was chambering his Model 1903 Ross Sporter in a variety of calibers ranging from the .256 Mannlicher to the .370/375.

The handy, case-hardened safety is well positioned on the bolt handle.

Market Innovation

Concurrently, Canada was coming out of its engagement in the Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. The experience had not been a pleasant one. England could not supply Canada with Lee-Enfields, nor would the Brits build a factory to produce them in Canada so the Canadians found themselves going up against the Boer Mausers and Mannlichers with their utterly obsolete Sniders and Martini-Henrys. After the encounter, Canada went looking for a rifle of its own. It was an opportunity made in heaven for Ross.

The transition from Ross sporting models to Ross military rifles was an easy one. In 1902 the Canadian government signed a contract with Ross for an initial lot of 12,000 rifles. Using $500,000 of his own money, Sir Charles set up a factory in Quebec and became Canada’s chief military rifle contractor until the end of WWI.

The Ross military models proved highly accurate but unreliable in the mud, grit and gore of trench warfare. Worse yet, the bolt could be misassembled so it would blow out rearward — with catastrophic results to the shooter! However, the military contracts gave Ross the means to continually refine his sporting line.

In 1910 Ross introduced an improved straight-pull action featuring a “triple-threaded, interrupted-screw, double bearing cam bolt head” which opened horizontally and locked vertically. The new Model 1910 action became the foundation for the finest sporting rifles he ever produced as well as for the Mark III military model. Sir Charles designed the new action to handle the pressure generated by his revolutionary cartridge, the .280 Ross.

The express sights (right) are sensibly regulated for 200, 300 and 500 yards.

7 mm Sizzle

In its day, the .280 Ross was a very hot number indeed. The original loading claimed a velocity of 3,100 fps for a 147-gr. bullet and 2,800 fps for a 180-gr. pill. Winchester and Remington loaded the .280 Ross until 1935, their loadings were more realistic, generating 2,900 fps with a 140-gr. bullet and 2,550 fps with a 180-grainer.

It is said Ross wanted the Canadian military to adopt the .280 Ross, which could have been accomplished by merely rebarreling existing Mark IIIs. They didn’t, but the .280 Ross ran up some enviable target scores with the military target rifles built by Ross.

The .303 Ross Sporter shown here is indicative of the rifle’s design and quality. It has the classic lines and feel of a fine Scottish stalking rifle. The chamber designation is interesting, reading “.303 Ross,” rather than “.303” or “.303 British” (could this be a bit of Scottish nationalism coming to the fore?).

The barrel is 26" long (28" in the .280 version) and the flip-up express sights are sensibly regulated for 200, 300 and 500 yards. The action is very smooth — more so than the Steyr-Mannlicher M-95 or Swiss K-31. On a good day I can hold 2" at 100 yards with Sierra 174-gr. MatchKings and 37.0 grains of IMR-4895.

End Of Story

By September 1916, all Mark III rifles in the hands of the troops were replaced with Lee-Enfields. Canada expropriated the Ross rifle factory in March 1917, paying Ross $2,000,000 — a nice return on his initial $500,000 investment.

And what of our man roaming the wharves and streets of St. Petersburg in pajama bottoms, old slippers and a pith helmet? In 1942 at the age of 70, Sir Charles passed away peacefully, leaving Balnagown Castle to his American third wife, Dorothy Mercado.

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