SA JAGTER/HUNTER | January 2020 | By JOHAN VAN WYK
Vintage Mauser sporting rifles
The sporting rifles produced by Mauser from 1898 until the outbreak of World War II are rightfully regarded as some of the finest production rifles ever produced. They are highly sought after by Mauser collectors, many of whom go to great lengths to procure rare specimens with unique or rarely seen features, and prices for original, unaltered rifles steadily continue to climb as time goes by.
When the M98 Mauser action was introduced, the British gunmakers immediately took notice. Unlike the falling-block single-shot and double rifles the British specialised in, the M98 was inexpensive, reliable, and most importantly, widely available. Consequently, the British themselves were quick to adopt the M98 as their own and makers such as Holland & Holland, Jeffery and Westley Richards began developing cartridges for the new action. Within a few short years, they were producing sporting rifles for well-heeled customers as well as for export to the various British colonies. Mauser even appointed London gunmakers John Rigby & Co as their exclusive British distributors in 1898, a union which was to last until 1912.
As the British gun trade was in full swing at the time, many of these British Mausers were extremely well-made rifles chambered for practical, hard-hitting cartridges such as the 7x57 (called the .275 in Britain), .318 Westley Richards, .375 H&H and .404 Jeffery.
In 1900, Mauser developed a specially lengthened action at the request of Rigby to accept that company’s rimmed .400/350 NE cartridge. The .400/350 was designed for single-shot and double rifles, but Mauser adapted their Siamese Mauser action (which was designed for a rimmed cartridge with a sloping magazine box) by lengthening it by approximately a quarter inch. The .400/350 was already for all practical reasons obsolete at the time, but the action designed for it was revolutionary.
Subsequently called the M98 Magnum Mauser, it could handle large cartridges with ease and the availability of the Magnum Mauser paved the way for the development of cartridges such as the .416 Rigby and .505 Gibbs.
MAUSER’S TYPE B RIFLES
The British trade, via Rigby, bought M98 actions and barrelled actions from Mauser to build and finish into their own rifles. Mauser themselves, however, offered sporting rifles as well. These were known as Type B (for Büchsen, or “rifle” in German) rifles. They were available in sixteen different configurations and could be ordered with various extras such as telescopes, single-pull or double-set triggers, etc. Type B rifles were generally well-made with attractive wood, chequering on the pistol-grip, and typical European stocks with slim fore-ends. They were produced in large quantities and, depending on the action length, could be had in various chamberings, from the 7x57 to the 10.75x68. Type B rifles were popular but compared to a British “best” Mauser, they looked a bit plain.
THE MORE BRITISH TYPE A
To compete directly with their valued British customers, Mauserintroduced the Type A rifle before World War I. The Type A differed from the Type B in several aspects and was designed to look more British in order to appeal to a wider international audience.
Whereas most Type Bs had either tangent-type or simple folding-leaf rear sights, the Type A usually featured one standing leaf regulated for 100 yards along with four additional folding blades for distances up to 500 yards. The Type A stock was generally fashioned from higher-grade walnut and had a buffalo horn grip cap and wraparound chequering on the pistol
grip and fore-end. Horn, metal or plastic grip caps were fitted, and either plastic butt-plates or rubber recoil pads. Some Type A stocks had cheekpieces, others not. Standard stock dimensions (custom dimensions were available on special order) were 14.5” length-of-pull, 3.5” drop at toe and 2.25” drop at the comb.
As with the Type B, the Type A was available in various configurations. Jon Speed (Original Oberndorf Sporting Rifles, Collector Grade Publications, 1997) lists a total of eight different variations, including lightweight carbines on Kurz M98 actions with 22” barrels. Other optional extras included octagonal and semi-octagonal barrels, double-set triggers, tangent sights, longer barrels, and telescopes.
Most Type A rifles used straddle-type magazine floorplates opened by means of a pushbutton latch in the front of the trigger guard, but I have seen the oddn rifle fitted with a quarter-turn lever. The front sling swivel was mounted on a barrel-band and the trigger is usually the standard Mauser double-pull type, although any other Mauser trigger mechanism was available as well. Round-tapered 23.75-inch barrels were standard, but longer 27.75-inch barrels were available on special order, as were semi- and fulloctagonal barrels.
Calibre-wise, the Type A was available in all the standard Mauser chamberings, including the .250 Savage, 6.5x54 Mauser, 6.5x57, 6.5x58 Portuguese, 7x57, 7x64, .280 Ross, .30-06, 8x51K, 8x57 (J and JS versions), 8x60 (J and S versions), 9x57, .318 Westley Richards, 9.3x62, 10.75x68 and .404 Jeffery.
Type A rifles on any of the four Mauser action lengths may be encountered. The .250 Savage, 6.5x54 and 8x51K were made on Kurz actions, and as Kurz actions are the rarest of all the commercial Mauser variants, they are highly collectable and not often encountered.
Mauser invariably made their 7x57s on intermediate-length actions, while the rest of the standard calibres (up to 10.75x68) were, with a few exceptions, made on standard-length actions.
THE RARE AFRIKA MAUSERS
In addition to the Type A and B, rifles, Mauser also offered the Type M and S full-stock rifles, the Model C Army hunting rifle (a plain, military-style rifle intended for use by servicemen), as well as the Afrika model.
Afrika model Mausers have always been somewhat of an enigma for me. They had long and clumsy 27.75-inch barrels and sometimes even military-style wooden handguards, and was, from an African point of view, not ideal at all. Afrika Mausers are rare and sought after by collectors, but I will admit that they are not my cup of tea at all, rare or not.
SOME OF THE RAREST OUT THERE
Mauser used the M98 Magnum action for the .280 Ross, 8x64 Brenneke, 8x68S, 8x75 and .404 Jeffery. These are some of the rarest Mauser sporting rifle that were made, and collectors will pay a premium for a specimen chambered for one of these cartridges in good, original condition.
Regarding the list of available calibres, it should be noted that Type A rifles for some of the calibres on the list were never widely produced, one case in point being the .280 Ross. The .280 Ross had impressive ballistics for its time but after a member of the British aristocracy unsuccessfully tried to stop a charge from an angry lion with one in 1911, the cartridge all but died away. I have heard of original Mauser rifles in .280 Ross, but I have yet to see one.
Likewise, for Mausers chambered for the 6.5x55, 6.5x68, 8x64, 8x68S, 8x75, 9.3x57 and 9.3x64 Brenneke. Rifles chambered for these cartridges were made in very limited numbers and are very rarely encountered.
Original Mausers chambered for the .318 Westley Richards cartridge are interesting specimens as well. Because of the .318 cartridge’s length, they were made on standard-length M98 actions fitted with Magnum magazine boxes. A small radius was milled out of the receiver ring to allow easier loading of cartridges. I have seen a few of these rifles but they are few and far between as well. The .318 was exclusively made up in Type A rifles.
BIG AND POWERFUL
The .404 Jeffery was the largest and most powerful cartridge that Mauser chambered rifles for. A Type A Mauser in .404 is a very desirable firearm and the few that I have seen had changed hands for big money.
The same can be said about a Type A in .250 Savage. They are very rare and consequently expensive. Unfortunately, Kurz-actioned .250s seems to be prime candidates for not-so-sympathetic restoration or alteration attempts, at least in South Africa. I have seen several valuable rifles that had been subjected to work that would make a blacksmith blush.
On the other hand, Mausers chambered for the 9.3x62, 8x60 and 10.75x68 are frequently encountered. The 9.3x62 seems to have been a favourite for export to Africa and I have seen more of them than any other Mauser chambering. Over the years the 10.75 has been much maligned by the likes of John Taylor and Finn Aagaard but it was on offer throughout Mauser’s production period, indicating that it was popular in Africa and Asia.
Collecting original Mauser sporting rifles is akin to an incurable disease for some, and some Mauser collectors will go to extraordinary lengths to obtain a rare specimen. There are, however, a few things to consider when contemplating a Mauser rifle that is for sale. Condition is the first consideration.
As they were factory rifles to begin with, finding out whether a Mauser is still in factory-original condition or not, is the first order of business. A Mauser that has been drilled and tapped for a scope no longer has any inherent collector’s value, despite what many may think, and the same is true of a rifle that has been refinished or altered in any significant way.
Mausers were also finished using different techniques during different periods of their manufacture. In the early days, which for purposes of this article stretches from the beginning of production up to approximately 1930, the metalwork of Mauser sporters was rust-blued.
Rust-blueing is attractive but time-consuming, and from the early 1930s onwards, only the actions were rust-blued while the barrels were hot-blued. Later the complete barrelled actions were simply hot-blued. Likewise, the stocks on later rifles tended to be bulkier and not as nicely finished or in-letted as those of earlier rifles. It is therefore a dead giveaway of tampering if a rifle from before World War I carries a hot-blued finish as the process wasn’t in use by Mauser at the time of the rifle’s manufacture.
Something else to bear in mind is that the markings on Mauser rifles were officially changed in 1922 as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. Prior to 1922, the inscription Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf a/n was rolled into the sidewall (and sometimes the receiver ring as well) of each action or applied to the ribs of octagonal-barrelled rifles. After 1922, the inscription was changed to Mauser Werke Oberndorf a/n. To confuse matters, however, Mauser had large stocks of actions manufactured prior to 1922 on hand, and they continued to use these for many years. As a result, many rifles made after 1922 still bear the older inscription, even some made into the 1930s.
Jon Speed published a guideline for dating Mauser sporters by means of the serial number. I do not intend to rehash his hard work here but as a rough guideline, the following production timeline applies to sporting Mauser rifles:
In addition to the listed numbers, Mauser continued to make small numbers of Mauser sporting rifles throughout World War II and a few were even assembled as late as 1946, by which time the Mauser factory was under French occupation.
The topic of Mauser proofmarks can easily take up an article by itself. What we do know, however, is that early manufactured Mausers carried one set of proofmarks, those manufactured after 1924 another set, and those made after 1940, yet another. The proofmarks can therefore also be a rough indication of when a rifle was manufactured.
In addition to proofmarks, the serial number was usually stamped on the left side of the receiver ring and the side of the barrel. Calibre designation is usually found on the barrel, alongside the serial number. Bore diameter and yet another set of proofmarks are usually found under the barrel shank, as well as the date of manufacture in the case of older rifles.
Mauser also used more than one set of descriptions for some calibres. The 8x60, for example, was available in both J and S versions. The J version fired a .318” bullet and Mausers chambered for this cartridge could be marked “8x60”, “8,0 N” or “8x60 N”, with the “N” standing for “normal”. Rifles chambered for the .323”-diameter S version can be marked as “8x60 S” or even “8x60 MAGNUM” to denote the particular version of the cartridge. Mausers chambered for the .30-06 are often marked as “.30 US”, “7,6 S” or even “300 US”. I have seen .404s marked as “.404 J” or as “10,75x73”, the .404s metric designation.
When in doubt, consult an expert, or have the bore slugged and a chamber cast made to determine actual calibre. Something else which often causes the price of a vintage Mauser to escalate is the presence of a so-called “squarebridge” on the action. These were intended for scope mounting and were manufactured in various configurations. Most often encountered are standard-length actions with a single square-bridge and thumb slot. Double square-bridge actions, especially ones lacking a thumb slot, are very rare, however, and Magnum-length double square-bridge actions are just about the rarest variation of the sporting M98 that was ever manufactured.
Fewer than 127 000 commercial Mauser rifles and actions were produced between 1898 and 1946. With such a limited production, original Mausers are there-fore comparatively rare and right-fully sought after by collectors.