Mauser: The Most Important Rifle

This assortment is only a part of the new cornucopia of Mauser 98 delight brought to us by the changing world picture. The author’s point is that any one of them in barely decent condition is a fine rifle for real rifle work.

This assortment is only a part of the new cornucopia of Mauser 98 delight brought to us by the changing world picture. The author’s point is that any one of them in barely decent condition is a fine rifle for real rifle work.

Before World War I, the Turks, Argentines, Chileans, Mexicans, Brazilians and many others had adopted the military 98. By the mid-1920s, there were already so many Model 98 Mauser versions and variants that a complete listing would’ve been almost impossible. And by the late 1940s, another World War later, such a catalog was literally impossible. Many countries had ordered rifles in that period from several manufacturers and in several configurations and lengths. Rifles were also refurbished, of course, and calibers were sometimes changed.

Brazil, at one time or another, for example, ordered quantities of rifles from virtually all the major European manufacturers and in 1954 began to manufacture receivers at Itajuba Arsenal. So when one says “Brazilian Mauser,” he may be describing a Model 1908 29-inch long rifle, similar to the German Gew.98 or K98a revision built by DWM; a Czech 08/34, almost identical to the Nazi K98k but with a 22-inch barrel and in 7mm; the Oberndorf-built M1935 long rifle, essentially a later clone of the original Model 1908, the “2nd Variation” 08/34; various rifles shortened to 24 inches and barrels rebored to 30-06 and appropriately modified; the M1954, a 30-06 rifle receiver built as such, but completed with parts left over from all kinds of surplus rifles, including German 98ks; or as many as a dozen other fairly obscure variants ordered in small quantities for special purposes or from firms unwilling to advance normal credit to the Brazilian government and therefore delivered only on a cash in advance basis.

Late-issue German WWII K98k.

Late-issue German WWII K98k.

The most common general action configuration of the M98 Mauser is the so-called “large ring, standard length.” The receiver ring measures 1.410 inches. The “small ring” rifles measure 1.3 inches. There are also differences in overall configuration, but the ring size is readily discernible and is, therefore, the main identifier. The standard action is 8.75 inches long; the “short” action measures 8.5 inches in length and, at 43 ounces, is 2 ounces lighter than the standard length. There are also large ring, small thread actions which accept M93/95-style barrels, and these — especially those built by FN — are very handy to gunsmiths who wish to stock actions that can be delivered in a variety of configurations.

However, the differences in size are minimal; a person chooses one or the other usually based upon aesthetics or, more commonly, what’s available at a given time. The truly short or miniature actions and the magnum length units are either carefully modified and sectioned militaries or civilian actions. Virtually any Model 98 action that has been checked for cracks and has been rebarreled with correct headspace is quite safe for any standard cartridge which can be stuffed into it. Smiths have become adept at opening up magazines and adapting receivers even to the longer magnum rounds.

But I have always been fond of shooting military rifles, in general, and Mausers, in particular, in their original configurations. The performance is surprising, the variety amazing, and the original cartridges are at least as good as the 30-06 and 7.62×5lmm rounds to which many were later converted.

In the six years or so since GCA ‘68 was modified to allow curio and relic firearms to enter the country again, quite a variety of Mausers have entered. The pictures accompanying and the information with them will supply some specifics, but I’ll relate some general data here.

The first big batch of Mausers to enter the U.S. recently arrived from China, and encompassed virtually all eras and nearly all manufacturers. The Chinese ordered millions, made more millions, apparently bought used specimens of other country’s service rifles after both World Wars, and may have gotten some from the Soviets. So the variety was startling. I saw several hundred rifles, which ranged from truly oddball 16½- to 17-inch barreled 8mm carbines to standard German-issue Gewehr 98s from World War I, German Standard Modell rifles, K98ks in German-issue style and complete with World War II fits and codes, and just about everything else one can imagine finding its way to that part of the world. Since these rifles saw as much as sixty years of hard duty, most were pretty beat up, though some were far better than average.

This article first appeared in the 1994 edition of the Gun Digest, and is an excerpt from the new book, Greatest Guns of Gun Digest. Click here to get your copy.

5 thoughts on “Mauser: The Most Important Rifle

  1. GarandMan2

    The M98 has THREE lugs, not two. And it’s not a “forerunner” of the modern rifle, it’s the prototypical modern rifle, and is still in production in German, the Balkans, Spain, and probably a half dozen other places. Moreover, it isn’t in many ways as quick a combat rifle as the Enfields and Lee-Enfields (the Number 4 is NOT a “Lee-Enfield) but it is vastly more versatile. The numbers are even easier to grasp. The rifle was the standard of over half the world, including Germany and China, through two world wars, and for about half a century. M98′s were designed to service sporting and military customers from the get-go, and the cartridges were likewise world beaters and trend setters.

    Yes, I wrote this article twenty years ago.

  2. GarandMan2

    Actually, the Model of 1898 Mauser is not the forerunner of the modern bolt action. It IS the modern bolt action. They’re still being made, 115 years later, in Spain, Germany and Serbia and elswhere. And the ’98 uses THREE locking lugs, not two.

    To understand the numbers–which, by the way, I didn’t get from some clown in a magazine article, but from China, Germany, and elsewhere, including the original “manufactory” in Oberndorf–all one needs to know is they were the standard of China and most of Europe for about half a century, including BOTH WORLD WARS.

    The Enfields are definitely slicker actions, ten rounds in the magazines, too. But overall, the Mausers lasted MUCH longer. And they’re much more amenable to updates, modernization, lightening, and so on. They were planned, from the very beginning, as both commercial and military rifles, which is why they are still so common.

    Yes, I’m the guy who wrote this piece, Jim Thompson.

    I am still a tad befuddled why my old account here won’t work.

    Perhaps someone hacked it and changed the password.

  3. Observer82AB

    The Mauser design is the forerunner of the modern bolt action. The Mauser 98, the strongest, as it uses two lugs, while the earlier used one. Hey, just like reading the article!

  4. 1911David

    As I am not a student of the ’98 but certainly aware of its historical provenance, I had no idea of the sheer number produced. We of the “modern” age would have thought that the Soviets had produced many more AKs but that just shows myopia, I suppose.

    I might argue that the even older Lee-Enfield SMLE and NO. 4s were better combat rifles than the ’98, but wouldn’t state that they are better for everything else.

    Garry James said it best: “Only arms made before 1920 are interesting.”

    1. GarandMan2

      The Mauser M98 is NOT out of production, obviously. It hasn’t been for 115 years as I write this.

      The M98 has THREE lugs, not two. And it’s not a “forerunner” of the modern rifle, it’s the prototypical modern rifle, and is still in production in German, the Balkans, Spain, and probably a half dozen other places. Moreover, it isn’t in many ways as quick a combat rifle as the Enfields and Lee-Enfields (the Number 4 is NOT a “Lee-Enfield) but it is vastly more versatile. The numbers are even easier to grasp. The rifle was the standard of over half the world, including Germany and China, through two world wars, and for about half a century. M98′s were designed to service sporting and military customers from the get-go, and the cartridges were likewise world beaters and trend setters.

      Yes, I wrote this article twenty years ago.

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