I think the idea of sporterizing a military Mauser has been with me since I was in my early twenties. There is no doubt that it was the direct result of reading Jack O’Connor’s books and articles. He, of course, was the shooting editor of Outdoor Life magazine from 1937 until 1973, and, without doubt, was one of the most influential gun writers of that time. Like many others of my generation, I greatly admired O’Connor’s articles during the years when I was beginning to hunt, and could hardly wait for the next monthly issue of that magazine to arrive in the mail. Certainly, he had a lot to do with feeding my early passion for hunting and accelerating my love of fine sporting firearms, particularly the big-game rifles.
One type of rifle that he obviously admired was the custom sporting Mauser. For me, some of the pictures of his Mauser sporters were simply the stuff of a young rifleman’s dreams, and I hoped some day that I could have one of my own. However, I understood that O’Connor’s best Mausers were the products of the fine work of such master craftsmen as Alvin Linden, Al Biesen and W. A. Sukalle, and, as the years advanced, I knew that such custom work was far too costly for my budget. That left only one alternative: I would have to build my own.
Of course, I had no illusions of my work’s ever comparing to that of some great rifle-maker. After all, I’m no custom gunsmith – just a retired prosecutor who happens to love good rifles, hunting and competitive shooting. But, somehow, it seemed important to me to have a sporterized Mauser with the lines of the classic style of a bolt-actioned hunting rifle of the 1920s, ‘30s or ‘40s. And, if all went well, the fact that I would have built it myself would simply make it more special, to me at least.
Now, tinkering around at home with a surplus military rifle to make it more suitable for use as a sporting rifle – and to make it better fit the needs and taste of its civilian owner – is one of those hobbies that has occupied the time of many a rifleman/hunter. That pursuit probably achieved its greatest popularity in the years following World War II, when tons of U.S. and foreign military rifles were made available to the public. Shooting publications of the late 1940s, ’50s, and early 1960s commonly ran pages of advertisements from companies such as Klein’s, Winfield and Ye Old Hunter that promoted these low-cost, surplus rifles. Money was tight then for most average families, and the better military surplus rifles were seen as less-expensive alternatives for the big-game hunter. All that was needed was a little imagination and some time in the home workshop.
As a matter of fact, my first deer rifle was a Mark IV .303 British Short Model Lee Enfield (SMLE) that my dad bought for me from a discount store. The cost of the rifle was less than $20. Of course, it was my job to convert it into the sporting rifle I wanted.
I worked on that old .303 in our basement, usually at night and on weekends. I cut down the military stock, reshaped the forend, removed some unnecessary metal (such as the clip guide and military peep sight), shortened the barrel to 22 inches, and cold-blued the barrel and action. It was slow work, and painful, too, when a tool would slip at the wrong time. But, I learned a lot about files, rasps, hacksaws and other simple handtools during the process. Of course, I did not feel competent about doing some of the work. On those occasions, I would enlist the help of a local gunsmith, such as the one who added a Williams front-sight ramp and a Williams 5-D receiver sight. (By the way, that 5-D sight actually did cost only five dollars back then; the year was 1960.)
My conversion of that .303 British was very inexpensive. It was also a little crude-looking. But it worked. In November of 1960, I harvested my first deer with that rifle using a 215-gr. .303 British Winchester factory load. Some time later, I got tired of the look of the .303’s converted military stock and bought a semi-inletted, two-piece stock blank from Fajen. I took my time, carefully shaping and finishing the stock and even doing some follow-up metal work. The rifle now looks quite nice and still shoots well, either with 215-gr. jacketed bullets or with the heavier gas-check cast bullets such as Lyman’s No. 308284 or their No. 311299.
After all the time and sweat I had in that old .303 British, perhaps it should seem that the last thing I would want to do much later in life would be to start another such project. But, as I said earlier, O’Connor’s articles and photos had kindled that desire many years before, and now, after my retirement, I really wanted to try another military-to-sporter conversion, this time on a Mauser. And this time the conversion would be a more extensive one.
The basis of my conversion turned out to be a clean Yugoslav Mauser that I bought through my local gun dealer. The Yugo Mauser is a large-ring M98 variation with an intermediate-length action. When I got home, I disassembled it, and everything (including the stock and barrel) was discarded except for the action.