One Good Gun: My Sporterized Mauser

Author credits the writings of Jack O’Connor, the shooting editor for Outdoor Life magazine from 1937 to 1973, with inspiring him to create a sporting rifle using the action of a military Mauser. This photograph of O’Connor (left) and author was taken in 1976 at the end of a visit with Mr. O’Connor at his home in Lewiston, Idaho.

Author credits the writings of Jack O’Connor, the shooting editor for Outdoor Life magazine from 1937 to 1973, with inspiring him to create a sporting rifle using the action of a military Mauser. This photograph of O’Connor (left) and author was taken in 1976 at the end of a visit with Mr. O’Connor at his home in Lewiston, Idaho.

Next, French Red stock filler was rubbed into the stock and allowed to dry overnight. It was rubbed off across the grain after drying completely. Once I was satisfied that the grain had been filled, the stock was ready for its finish. For that, I chose Birchwood Casey’s Tru-Oil. I applied the Tru-Oil using #00 steel wool. I dipped a  small “tip” or point of the steel wool into a tiny amount of Tru-Oil and rubbed it into the stock using small, circular motions. Each such application would cover only about a three-inch section of the stock, and, as soon as each application with the steel wool was completed, and while the oil was still wet, the excess oil was rubbed off across the grain using a clean, soft, lint-free cotton cloth. At that point, I began applying Tru-Oil, in the same manner, on the next three-inch section of the stock. Once the entire stock had been covered in this way, the stock was set aside to dry for 24 hours. After that time, another coating was applied in the same manner.

I considered the stock’s finish to be completed after the application of about five coats of oil. The finish obtained by the method I have described is a deep sheen, and, to my eyes, is much more attractive than the glaringly shiny, spray-on, acrylic finishes seen on some commercial gunstocks today. A hand-rubbed oil finish not only has a nice appearance, it is reminiscent of the time when gunmakers took real pride in the quality of their products, rather than placing the emphasis on how quickly rifles could be turned out.

By the way, at the outset of this project, I fully intended to checker the stock myself. However, after much practice on many odd pieces of scrap walnut, I finally came to the conclusion that, like the replacement of the bolt handle—any checkering of the stock should best be left to a professional. It is still possible that I might have checkering added in the future. But, even without checkering, the stock is still very pleasing to me.

Next, all metal parts of the rifle – barrel, action, front sight ramp, front swivel stud, grip cap and buttplate – were blued. I chose to use Belgium Blue for this process, a product which I had used before and had liked. Belgium Blue is wiped on after the part to be blued has been heated in boiling water, so, all the home gunsmith needs in the way of special equipment is a tank large enough to hold the part to be blued and an adequate heating source. After each application of the bluing compound, the part is “carded” (rubbed down) with steel wool to remove the excess bluing solution from the surface of the metal. Once enough successive applications have been made, as per the instructions, a deep, durable, blue finish results.

With the bluing completed, I mounted both the front sight ramp and the front swivel stud to the barrel. Their barrel bands had been ordered with inside diameters slightly smaller than they would need to be, so as to permit a snug fit on the barrel. To bring them to the proper size, I fastened each in a padded vise and used 200-grit emery cloth (wrapped around a dowel rod) to slowly increase their inside diameters to the dimensions needed. Once this had been done, the inside of the barrel band of the swivel stud was given a light coat of Brownells’ Acraglas Gel epoxy and was tapped into place on the barrel. The Acraglas was used, of course, to prevent the stud from moving, and this is much easier than using solder to accomplish the same result. Any excess epoxy was immediately wiped from the barrel with an oily rag. Once the swivel stud was in place, I used the same method to mount the front sight ramp to the barrel.

At this point, my conversion was basically complete. Of course, conversions of military Mausers can be much more extensive than the one I have just described. For instance, I could have changed the trigger from the original two-stage military one to a crisper single-stage trigger. Many brands of replacement triggers are available, but I do not mind two-stage triggers in the least for the deliberate type of shooting that is generally encountered while hunting. Also, I could have opted to replace the military safety, which is a top-swing safety located at the back of the bolt. Such a safety simply cannot be manipulated as intended when the rifle has a telescopic sight mounted in the usual position. But, again, I had no plans of mounting a scope, and the military safety – a three-position safety – suits me just fine. Further, adding such replacement parts can also cost a lot of extra money, and, the person considering the conversion must decide if the advantage offered by the after-market part is really worth the added expense.

With the work of converting the rifle behind me, the shooting could begin. It was time to fire it for accuracy to determine whether any adjustments were needed. For a test load, I decided to try some Hornady 139-gr. spire-point boattail bullets. The load that I settled on for use with that bullet was 48 grains of H-414 powder with a CCI 250 primer. I seated the bullet just short of the rifling, and the overall length of the cartridge was then 2.85″. According to Hornady’s 7th Edition of its Handbook of Cartridge Reloading, this load is actually a little less than maximum for the 7mm/08 Remington cartridge.

Not only did that load prove to be nicely accurate, it was also fast. When chronographed from my 24-inch barrel, the load gave an average velocity reading of 2920 fps. No indications of excessive pressure were encountered. As far as accuracy was concerned, groups at 200 yards were very near minute-of-angle when fired from my bench. (It’s interesting to note that Jack O’Connor’s favorite factory load for his 7mm Mausers was the old Western 139-gr. open-point bullet at a velocity of 2850 fps. Regarding that load, O’Connor said, “I have never seen a hunter who used the 7mm with that load who did not like it.” My load develops slightly more velocity with the same weight bullet.)

This article appeared in the Gun Digest 2011, 65th edition annual book. Click here to get your copy!

2 thoughts on “One Good Gun: My Sporterized Mauser

  1. Johndoe

    Should you sporterize a Surplus Mauser?

    No, decent sporting rifles are available in most calibers for almost the same price, sometimes even cheaper, than surplus military rifles. Why destroy a piece of history to have a cheap hunting rifle when you can go down to walmart and buy a Savage Arms Axis Rifle .30-06 for under $300?

    1. williamjreid

      The Yugoslav Mauser is “a piece of history” only insofar as that it is old. We are not talking a Purdy shotgun here.

      Is it really possible that you read this article and came to the conclusion that it is about building a cheap hunting rifle? Really?