Paul Mauser’s Selfloading Rifle – The Worst Sporterization Ever? Maybe Not…

Paul Mauser, the person who with his brother was chiefly responsible for the excellent line of Mauser bolt-action rifles that even today are the pattern for almost all modern bolt-action designs, lost an eye in 1901 during testing of a self-loading rifle which had an inadequate locking mechanism. Mauser had been working on perfecting a military self-loading rifle for about three years at that point, going through many different variations and prototypes in his race to create the first viable military self-loading infantry rifle. The rifle Ian of Forgotten Weapons takes a look at in the video embedded below is not that rifle that cost Mauser his eye, but the rifle that Mauser designed in 1902 upon his recuperation and return to the problem. The prototype in the video is No. 4, and Mauser – undeterred by the loss of a mere eye – kept at the problem until he died in 1914, producing nearly 20 prototypes:

The No. 4 prototype did away with the previous mechanism, opting for a long barrel recoil-operated operating method and rotary bolt locking. For the era, this combination was by far the most successful and promising selfloading rifle mechanism, being used in the John Browning-designed Remington Model 8 which would come to market a few years later, as well as the French Meunier rifle, which would see limited service in WWI, and the notorious Chauchat Machine Rifle of the Nineteen Teens that would be the most-produced automatic weapon of the Great War. Mauser’s No. 4 is the earliest in this list, so the brilliant German designer was certainly not simply dogging the heels of greatness but truly pathfinding new mechanisms that would later prove to be successful. In terms of long-recoil operation, Mauser was only a few years behind John Browning himself, who substantially pioneered its use in the twilight of the 19th Century for autoloading shotguns, subsequently applying it to the rifle that would become the Model 8.

Ian notes that Mauser selbstlader No. 4 has been sporterized, calling it “the least thoughtful sporterization ever done”. Actually, that may not be the whole story. Beyond the high quality of the conversion of the No. 4 rifle, there may have been a very good reason for it to be sporterized. While I cannot confirm this, there is some indication that Mauser may have sporterized some of their own prototypes as a way to save them from destruction at the end of WWI, where the restrictive Treaty of Versailles limited the number of rifles the German Army could possess. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, and I am not a great enough scholar in the Treaty of Versailles and its enforcement, nor of the Mauser company during that period, to confirm or deny this theory, but it may not be so unlikely. At least one of the Mauser Militärgewehr Modell 1917/18 “Ultimate Mauser” was also sporterized in a very similar manner, though this could simply be due to the convention of European sporter rifle aesthetics at the time.

Was the No. 4 1902 Mauser selbstlader prototype sporterized to save it from destruction at the end of WWI? If it was, perhaps it was the most thoughtful conversion ever done.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at


  • Zang Kang King

    Mauser selbstlader, say that name 3 times fast!

  • ostiariusalpha

    I’ve looked it over as carefully as can be done from staring at a video and I’m 96% certain that it’s a factory stock, just like the Oberndorf Mauser sporter stocks. The look is quite particular.

    • Yeah, that’s what first got me interested in that possibility. So them saving it from the Treaty is one possibility, or perhaps they dressed it up for presentation as a sporter offering postwar.

      • ostiariusalpha

        If we knew who the first civilian owner was that might clear up the question of why the Mauser factory would have put the stock on the prototype. If they received it before the war has different implications from it being converted to private ownership afterwards to save it.

        • I suspect Dr. Sturgess may have acquired it via the late great Henk Visser of NWM.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Are you aware of the good doctor having many items from Meneer Visser’s collection? I haven’t looked into how many of the auction items are from the Sturgess’ collection. Seems very likely that Mnr. V wasn’t even a twinkle in his vader’s eye when the Selbstlader was sporterized, so who did he acquire it from?

          • Search “Visser” on the James Julia website. Several of the Sturgess items are specifically noted as ex-Visser items.

            Visser had a strong business relationship with Mauser for many years. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he acquired it from the factory’s own collection.

            Of course, Sturgess was an advanced collector in his own right. Ian has previously reviewed Sturgess’ Borchardt/Luger books.


            The point is that the rifle was not likely smuggled to the US in a GI’s dufflebag and then butchered after inspiration from a Williams Gun Sight DIY sporterization booklet.

          • Here is an example of one of Sturgess’ Mauser prototypes acquired via Visser. However, Visser acquired this rifle from SIG’s factory collection.


          • upvote daniel’s comments erry day

          • ostiariusalpha

            “Visser had a strong business relationship with Mauser for many years.”

            Do you mean H&K or maybe Sauer? I’m fairly sure that Mauser was well past shut down by the time Visser was old enough to develop business ties with anyone. As you pointed out, one of the short recoil selbstlader prototypes ended up with SIG, which seems like the Sauer & Sohn folks might have snuck as many of these experimental arms out as they could when they fled East Germany.

          • Mauser was ultimately reconstituted during the 1950s. Even some of the WW2-era employees came back, like the famed Ludwig Vorgrimmler. But yes, one imagines that the prototypes would have been shipped out of Germany before May 1945, or they would have been looted by the Allies.

            Alas, it far too late to ask Visser or Sturgess.

          • Ian McCollum

            It’s not too late to ask Dr. Sturgess…

          • Well that’s good news. Wonder where I got the idea that he had died?

  • Heretical Politik

    Did Nathaniel F just call out Ian, dropping the knowledge?


    • ostiariusalpha

      I’m sure Ian would be just as happy to be corrected if any supportable evidence was presented that it’s a genuine factory sporter conversion.

      • Ian McCollum

        I certainly would – it could be possible that the work was done by Mauser (the guy or the factory).

        • I will also add that I don’t think sporter styles were or are very consistent at all between Europe and America, so given that the Selbstlader has the same sporter configuration as the Militargewehr Modell 1917/18, that points to the origin of the conversion being in or around Germany, almost certainly.

      • Right, and as of yet the evidence is circumstantial at best… But I think there’s a reasonable doubt.

  • M.M.D.C.

    Wow! Challenging Ian’s encyclopedic gun knowledge, huh? Bold. 🙂

    • Ian is not an arrogant man. If you know more about something than he does, he will listen.
      Good guy he is.

      • M.M.D.C.

        Just kidding. Judging by his demeanor in his videos, he might just be the nicest gun guy on the internet. Any day now he’ll appear in a red sweater and blue Keds.

        In all seriousness, I really enjoy all the research and thought that go into his videos. Good stuff they are.

      • Also, we kinda know each other. 🙂

  • lowell houser

    How did a prototype Mauser end up in America?

    • If I’m not mistaken, this was part of the collection of the late Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess of Zurich, Switzerland. His rather large collection of historically significant firearms was imported to the US for auction. In fact, many of the prototype firearms from Ian’s James Julia videos have been from Sturgess’ collection.

      • Ian McCollum

        Yup, that is correct.

  • Ian McCollum

    The element that keeps me dubious about it being a factory job is that the rear sight is not completed.

    • What is incomplete about the rear sight? Is it possible parts were lost, or are there markings missing? If so, it might have been a rush job; that’s plausible given the supposed timeline.

      • Ian McCollum

        The flip-up leaves aren’t notched or labeled.

        • Oh yeah, you’re right…

          I don’t think that necessarily means the gun wasn’t converted by Mauser, as I think in some localities express sights like that would have been cut to the customer’s preference.

          • ostiariusalpha

            And not being cut indicates that Mauser (if this is indeed their handiwork) never intended to sell the gun at all. They really seem to have been altering the gun for the very reason that you proposed, to work around treaty obligations. The fact that they altered the sights here, but not on the 1918 Improved Mauser, makes it seem like they weren’t sure how far they had to go to pass for a non-military arm.

  • Secundius

    What about the Gewehr 43 (7.92×57), my understanding that was a Great Rifle…