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

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F

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 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. He can be reached via email at

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  • Ian McCollum Ian McCollum on Sep 30, 2015

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

    • See 3 previous
    • Ostiariusalpha Ostiariusalpha on Oct 01, 2015

      @Nathaniel F. 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 Secundius on Oct 02, 2015

    What about the Gewehr 43 (7.92x57), my understanding that was a Great Rifle...