Va­ri­a­ti­ons of the spor­ting M98 Mauser acti­on

The com­mer­ci­al M98 acti­on is a well-de­sig­ned mar­vel of en­gi­neer­ing that few mo­dern acti­ons can ma­tch.

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - Jo­han van Wyk

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.

BRIGHT IDEA

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!

IMPROVEMENTS

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.

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