Variations of the sporting M98 Mauser action
The commercial M98 action is a well-designed marvel of engineering that few modern actions can match.
Original Mauser sporting rifles manufactured before the onset of hostilities in Europe in 1939 are today rightly regarded as collector’s pieces. Many a collector seek them out and study the finer nuances of the many different variations that left the factory, and it is fair to say that collecting original Mauser sporting rifles has become something akin to a religion of sorts for many.
The original M98 Mauser was designed for the German military cartridge of the day, the 8x57 J which fired a 227gr with a diameter of .318”. This bullet was later replaced by a 154 grainer of .323” diameter (the JS-bullet) and used in both World Wars. As a military rifle the Gewehr 98 ticked all the right boxes: it was well made and strong, reliable in the extreme, easy to strip and maintain, and could be reloaded in a hurry by a stressed infantryman by means of stripper clips. Naturally, many of these same qualities immediately caught the eye of keen hunters as well and it wasn’t long before the M98 action was pressed into service in the hunting fields of Africa and Asia.
Mauser themselves, a number of other German manufacturers, as well as Austrian and British riflemakers, used both ex-military and commercial M98 actions to build rifles on. Renowned British rifle makers of the day such as John Rigby & Co (who were the Mauser agents in Britain up to 1912), Westley Richards and Hol- land & Holland became even more famous for their fine M98action sporting rifles.
Naturally, military-surplus M98 actions were the most costeffective option for many gunmakers. Many of these military veterans were converted into sporting rifles and these are still serving their owners with distinction. For the more well-heeled makers and their customers, however, nothing but the finest would do and the M98 action of choice in this regard was the superb commercial M98 actions manufactured for sporting purposes by Mauser.
To cater for the multitude of sporting rifle cartridges that were created after the dawn of the nitro era, Mauser engineers conceived the idea of manufacturing their sporting actions in four different lengths. The thinking behind this idea was to allow the manufacture of a tailor-made action for a given sporting cartridge to ensure not only reliability but strength as well. Many makers habitually modified the ubiquitous standard-length M98 action to accept longer cartridges such as the .375 H&H and .404 Jeffery.
The list of required modifications to make such a conversion work effectively was extensive: open the bolt face and magazine rails, remove steel from behind the locking-lug recess to lengthen the available space in the magazine (potentially the biggest cause of trouble as it weakens the action in a very crucial area if not done correctly). In some instances, a clearance notch had to be milled into the receiver ring to allow a loaded cartridge to be ejected and a completely new trigger guard/ magazine box assembly had to be fitted as well. The fastidious Mauser engineers probably had a close look at some of the modifications, threw their hands into the air out of frustration and went back to the drawing boards.
The longest of the sporting M98 actions was the famed Magnum Mauser, examples of which are usually pictured in the hands of legendary hunters of yore leaning casually against all sorts of big and dangerous beasts. The Magnum was conceived as a result of a request by John Rigby & Co in 1899 for an action large enough to accommodate their rimmed .400/350 NE cartridge. Mauser responded by adapting their Siamese Mauser action (which was developed for use with a rimmed cartridge) and lengthening it to 9.150 inches – approximately a quarter of an inch longer than the standardlength M98.
The creation of the Magnum Mauser action was inspired by the development of proprietary cartridges such as the .416 Rigby and .505 Gibbs. The big M98 was quickly adapted to cycle these outsize cartridges to perfection. Magnum Mauser actions usually featured straddle-type floorplates with pushbutton release levers. The floorplates themselves were also of different thickness according to the proposed cartridge to be used in the action and the bolt-handles were proportioned according to the depth of the magazine boxes used. Although some of the large-calibre British cartridges such as the .375 H&H Magnum and .404 Jeffery could be made to work perfectly well from a standardlength M98, many higher grade .375’s and .404’s were nevertheless made on Magnum Mauser actions, as were Rigby’s .350 Rimless Magnum.
Mauser themselves also used the Magnum Mauser extensively and their rifles, chambered »
» for the .404 (or the 10.75x73, if you please), 8x75, and .280 Ross were all fitted with this action.
As is the case with the other commercial M98 variants, a number of variations of the Magnum Mauser may be encountered. Some of the very first examples had a pronounced stepped receiver ring and a round-top bridge. Later on, square bridges and rounded receiver rings became standard, and even later examples had solid sidewalls without the thumb cut-out because hunters normally do not have to load the magazine from a clip charger. One of the rarest beasts of all is a double square-bridge Magnum Mauser action with a solid sidewall. Very, very few examples are known to exist and such an action is a collector’s item par excellence.
By far the most commonly encountered commercial M98 variant is the standard-length, round-top action. It was for all intents and purposes identical to the military M98 and was used by Mauser for cartridges such as the 8x57, 8x60, 9.3x62 and 10.75x68. It was also sold in considerable numbers to various smaller manufacturers and custom makers the world over and these actions are sometimes encountered on rifles by makers such as Krieghoff, Sauer, Vom Hofe, Halger, Griffin & Howe, and others.
Although popular and often encountered the standard-length commercial M98 action was never cheap. Prior to World War II a complete Type-B Mauser sporter sold for a whopping $110-00 in the United States whilst at the same time, a Winchester Model 70 rifle in one of the standard calibres sold for a mere $61.25. My, how times have changed!
In typical Mauser fashion, vari- ous improvements and additions were added to the standard-length action and they may be encountered with or without flat-top bridges and/or receiver rings, solid sidewalls, militarystyle trigger guards and even single-stage triggers and flat, Mannlicher-style bolt handles. It was the bread and butter item of the Mauser production line for the whole of its production history and accounts for the lion’s share of the approximately 127 000 commercial M98 actions made. Should one be so lucky as to find a commercial M98 action for sale today it will most likely be a standard-length, round-top action. In good condition it makes one of the finest platforms imaginable for building a quality hunting rifle to last a few lifetimes.
The intermediate-length M98
» was, like the standard-length M98, also used for military applications and served the armed forces of countries such as Turkey and Peru with distinction. For Mauser themselves it was the action of choice for the 7x57 and, with a dedicated, sloped magazine box, the .303 British.
The intermediate-length sporting M98 action found a very willing proponent in the form of John Rigby & Co. Rigby made a small run (probably less than thirty) of .303s on the M98-action prior to World War I. These rifles are highly prized by collectors and are rarely encountered, but in addition to the .303s, Rigby also used the intermediate action for their famed .275 rifles. Hunters like Bell and Corbett carried their slim, trim .275s in pursuit of the world’s dangerous beasts and wrote extensively about their adventures. I have handled Jim Corbett’s .275 Rigby, the very rifle he used to shoot everything from maneating tigers to small antelope, and although there is not a stitch of blacking left on the exposed metal parts and the bore has seen better days, the action is still as smooth as glass after decades of hard use.
The shortest of the commercial M98 Mauser variants was the kurz (German for “short”). The kurz’s bolt was a mere 5.760” in length – more than an inch shorter than the Magnum’s bolt. In common with the Mag- num it was never used for any military application but was intended for sporting purposes from the outset. The kurz M98 was chambered at the factory for only three cartridges, namely the 6.5x54K Mauser, 8x51K Mauser and the .250/3 000 Savage.
Compared to the other desirable sporting M98 Mauser variations such as the Magnum, the kurz is by far the rarest of them all. Very few of them show up on rifles by other makers and even commercial Mauser sporters on kurz actions are as rare as hen’s teeth. In spite of the hype surrounding the larger calibre Mauser-actioned rifles, especially those on Magnum actions, the kurz should rightly be at the top of the heap insofar as desirability is concerned, and treasured accordingly. Alas, I have seen a number of kurzaction Mausers that had been butchered beyond any hope of salvage. Two were .250/3 000s, one in the rarely-encountered Africa Mauser configuration. It was impossible to even guess at the heritage of the third example. It had been rebarrelled to .308 Winchester (with much elbow grease, it has to be said), and along with the “conversion” went any hope of salvaging the rare little action. As someone with a very soft spot for the M98, it was painful to witness.
The kurz M98 was made only in small-ring configuration. As the accompanying photograph shows, the receiver of a smallring M98 is the same thickness on the outside as the action sidewall. As the kurz was originally chambered for rather benign cartridges, this was done to save weight and improve the rifle’s handling characteristics. This also explains why a double flat-top M98 kurz action does not exist: there is simply not enough metal around the receiver ring to make this possible.
I have already mentioned that commercial M98 actions may be encountered with a great many variations. In addition to things such as double-set triggers, flat-topped bridges and receivers and the like, the lettering on commercial M98s also differs. Prior to the Treaty of Versailles, commercial M98s were marked with the inscription WAFFENFABRIK MAUSER-OBERNDORF a/N on the sidewall. After 1922 the name of the company was changed and the inscription altered to read MAUSER-WERKE AG OBERNDORF a/N. The new name wasn’t applied consistently, however, and actions marked with the old inscription were used almost throughout the M98’s commercial production.
Commercial M98 actions had a number of features that distinguished them from the millions of military actions. They had more elegant, pear-shaped bolt handles, often contoured to match the depth of the spe- cific magazine box fitted to the action. They were generally also fitted with a longer cockingpiece, and the metal parts of each individual action was stamped with the last two digits of the Mauser serial number to avoid getting the parts mixed up if the rifle had to be disassembled for some reason. Again, there may be exceptions to these characteristics, especially on rifles made towards the outbreak of the Second World War, but generally they hold true for commercial Mauser sporting rifles.
This is but a brief dissertation on the commercial M98 Mauser action, but noted authors such as the late Lester Womack, Jon Speed and Ludwig Olsen have written extensively not only about the M98 action, its development and its numerous different variants. It is a subject that continues to fascinate hunters and shooters worldwide, especially those with a slight sense of the historical. Here and there new M98 actions are again in production, and although we will probably never see production numbers as in the M98’s heyday again, the demand is still there. Not too long ago, the managing director of one of the surviving London gunmakers approached a friend of mine with a request to help source as many commercial M98 actions as possible as they were inundated with requests for rifles on these original sporting M98 actions. Such is the legacy of the commercial M98.
As mentioned, I have a bit of a soft spot for the commercial M98 action. It was a well-designed marvel of engineering that was generally made from the finest steels available. It was well finished and reliable and due to the fact that it was available in different lengths, could be tailored around a specific cartridge and for a specific purpose. Very few modern actions can make a similar claim.
LEFT: With the bolts removed from the actions the four different lengths of commercial M98 Mauser actions are clearly apparent. Left to right: Magnum, standard, intermediate and kurz. RIGHT: The bolt of the Magnum M98 (left) is more than an inch longer than that of the shortest M98 variant, the kurz (right).
TOP: A 1915 vintage John Rigby & Co in .416 Rigby on a single-square bridge M98 Magnum action. BOTTOM: A Type-A Oberndorf Mauser sporter in 9.3x62 made on a round-top, standard-length action. It was originally retailed by H&H in London. Rifles: Andrew Tonkin collection.
Custom Mausers. A collaboration between Danie Joubert and Bennie Laubscher. At the top a 7x57 on an intermediate action (ex-Peruvian military) and below a .250/3 000 Savage on a kurz action.
A wonderfully light and well-balanced Mauser in 7x57 by master gunsmith Danie Joubert on an intermediate-length action.
Left-side view of the action of the custom-made kurz- actioned M98 chambered in .250/3 000 Savage. Note the thumb slot in the action’s sidewall and small-ring receiver.
Notice the single square bridge on this .416 Rigby. Those who carry their rifles in their hands often prefer the single square bridge because the round receiver is easier on the hands when you carry the rifle. The receiver area is where you’d hold the rifle. The inscription on the receiver ring says it all. Mauser sporters were very popular in Africa and India for big game hunting.
The 9.3x62 featured in the opening photo sports a peep-sight on the cocking-piece, fitted by Holland & Holland in London.
The affordable Mauser sporters on standardlength actions in 9.3x62 were widely used on dangerous game, even elephants. Kynoch ammunition was popular in those days.