As one of the younger members of the TFB staff, it allows me to have a unique perspective into our great hobby by regularly going shooting with people of all ages and backgrounds, and I really enjoy the diversity. When you go with the younger crowd, the name of the game seems to be accuracy by volume as AR15 rifles spew now costly 5.56 ammunition towards steel ringers or bowling pins. With the older crowd you see more emphasis on accuracy and the stories of their rifles (I really enjoy that part). I like to hear how much people paid for certain guns back in the 70’s and 80’s, and how plentiful certain guns were. From these gentlemen you hear stories about them passing by barrels of pristine Enfields for $20, crates of Lugers, etc, but mostly emphasized is the amount of flawless Mausers that populated every gun shop until relatively recently. The story is pretty consistent; everyone thought that surplus Mauser rifles would be around forever, so everyone tore them to pieces via “sporterizing” or just unfettered neglect after shooting hundreds of rounds of corrosive ammunition. The same goes for surplus 8mm in that nobody ever thought it would go up from $0.08 cents per round and then disappear (given, I have seen people with MG42 machine guns burn through it to make noise and smiles). Now a nice all matching K98k can fetch over $1,000 despite the fact that over 14 million were produced, and yet again us young guys missed out on the opportunity to walk into a gun shop and pick one out of a barrel full of cosmoline soaked pieces of history. However, I was struck with “Mauser-itis” a few years ago and have been trying to acquire as many as possible. The guns featured above are the surplus Mausers I have collected thus far, and 4 of the 5 are model 98s (the top one is a Swedish model 96 that differs a bit from the 98). The Mauser 98 represents what many (myself included) hold to be the perfect rifle. It truly represents the firearms industry’s “Model T Moment” in that is was such an amazing game changer that its acquisition and proliferation began immediately. However unlike the Model T, it is still in production today and still considered the pinnacle of lead projectile delivery systems.
To put it into perspective, just about every centerfire bolt gun today uses a Mauser 98 action and operating principles, often with minor differences (the most common being a small hook extractor rather than the gigantic claw extractor). The genius of its designer, Paul Mauser shines even today because of the rifles longevity. The only other firearm I know of that was produced and utilized for such an enormous period of time was the Brown Bess musket, which was produced for nearly 140 years. But what makes the 98 so special? Well, it is hard to say because it is the quintessential bolt gun with features that seem normal and obvious to us nowadays, but were incredibly revolutionary at the time. For example, moving the bolt’s two main locking lugs to the front seems like the correct placement, but early repeaters either used one lug (like on a Krag rifle) or placed them at the back. This allowed for higher pressure rounds to be fired safely. The ability to be loaded quickly with stripper clips even forced other military forces to reevaluate their own small arms (namely the United States who ditched their Krag rifles for the Springfield 1903, a Mauser derivative). Other elements that made the Mauser 98 stand out were its firing pin (a single piece), controlled feed extractor, cock-on-open action, built in gas vents on the bolt in the event of a case rupture, a three position safety, and a rear safety lug. The rifle was also incredibly accurate, and this was the reason so many gunsmiths turned them into high quality sporting rifles. Today, the 98 is even still made by Mauser in Oberndorf as a fine high quality sporting rifle. I had the chance to handle one of these new examples at the Dallas Safari Club Show a while back, and I was stunned by the beauty of the rifle. Even my father was taken aback (seen here holding the rifle):
I do not care who you are, that rifle is a work of art and with a price tag of $30,000 it is a truly exclusive firearm that will grace a family (unfortunately not mine no matter how many drinks my father had that day) for generations. As far as the greatness of the Mauser rifle goes, do not take my word for it, but how about some giants in the world of firearm history:
“The Mauser has been called the quintessential soldiers rifle because quite simply it was the best bolt-action rifle ever made.”
“They (Mauser) couldn’t improve upon the design because they did so much in the way of research and development that the final product is the best that there is.”
“The Mauser 98 is the King of bolt action rifles; long live the King!”
“It (the Mauser 98) was Mauser’s masterpiece. Every little improvement that Mauser could ever think of, all sorts of little tiny details were added together and they formed what you may call the ultimate bolt action system, and even today companies are still making rifles with that bolt action.”
-Ian Hogg (God rest his soul)
So the experts agree, the Mauser 98 is an enduring masterpiece that will be around for a long, long time. So what makes the Mauser so great? Well, there are many reasons. The characteristics I listed above are enough to make it a great gun, but one thing I wanted to try and see for myself would be ease of training. I asked my friend Chase to help me with the experiment since he had never fired or even held a bolt action rifle.
I grabbed a few boxes of 7.92×57 and my surplus Czech Mauser and we headed to the range. After we arrived we painted the steel ringers at 100 yards and got to it. I gave my friend about two minutes of instruction and that was enough. Chase took quickly to the rifle:
After working the action a few times and dry firing at the steel, I handed off a stripper clip:
It was then time to make some noise. Chase took aim from the shoulder and was ready to fire:
A shot rang out and produced a very audible ping that I think surprised Chase.
He emptied the rest of the rifle’s internal magazine and hit 4 out of 5. All things considered, I was very impressed!
I then instructed him to do some shooting off the bench to try and improve accuracy. He stripped five more rounds into the rifle and got to work:
After forty rounds we had exhausted our supply of 8mm and the gun fell silent. It did however feel nice knowing that I had successfully trained someone to use a Mauser 98 with some proficiency (not that it was difficult).
With any luck, my Mauser collection will continue to grow. I love these rifles and I strongly feel that everyone should own at least one Mauser 98 variant. You can find them online for $250 and up, and some surplus Romanian ammo has been trickling in, which is fantastic for us Mauser lovers.The Mauser 98 has achieved firearm perfection by innovating so much that the gun has remained unchanged in over 100 years. The rifles are strong, accurate, well built, reliable, easy to maintain, easy to clean, easy to instruct with, and above all, fun to shoot.