Firearms

Range Report: The Classic Bolt Guns — Mauser, Enfield, and Springfield

Bob Campbell ejecting shell from a bolt-action Mauser K98

I have a well-developed sense of history. I understand the emotional attachment some of us have for historical firearms. Just the same, I am not a collector, but by definition, I am an accumulator of firearms. I appreciate the great bolt-action rifles of the past including the Lee Enfield, Springfield, and Mauser. Wartime versions with the furniture intact are the most interesting and desirable rifles. I prefer a rifle that is correctly assembled and which functions properly—otherwise, date of manufacture doesn’t matter much.

Chamber and magazine well of a K98 Mauser rifle
Even without stripper clips the Mauser is fast to load.

Ammunition supply is a problem. Surplus ammunition may be corrosive primed. This means there are corrosive salts used in the primer that attract moisture and result in quickly corroding the bore unless the rifles are cleaned immediately after firing. This is the cause of the many dark red bores in surplus rifles. It is possible to find good quality ammunition in 8mm Mauser, .303 British and .30-06 Springfield without a great deal of effort. The 6.5 x 55mm Swede is more difficult and the 7.5 Swiss and 7.7 Japanese even more difficult.

Hornady has introduced a number of loads that give the military rifle enthusiast a good resource for firing these rifles. These loads are reliable with Hornady quality. They also use modern soft point bullets that are well suited to hunting. These loads will give you a chance to discover how accurate many of these rifles really are. Previously, the only course for full-power loads using modern bullets was handloading. The occasional shooter that doesn’t wish to handload, but wishes to obtain the best results from his rifle, will be especially pleased with this ammunition resource.

Lee Enfield

The Lee Enfield is arguably the most battle worthy bolt-action rifle ever fielded. The action is among the fastest ever designed. The Lee Enfield offers a 10-round magazine capacity, and with stripper clips, is fast to reload. The action is looser than other military rifles making for great reliability. A two-piece stock, generous variations in groove diameter, heavy trigger action, and thin barrel are not target-grade features. Nonetheless, the Lee Enfield is sometimes surprisingly accurate.

Hornady Custom International .303 British ammunition
The .303 British is still in service with the Canadian Rangers, although it is due for replacement.

The Enfield is still in use in Afghanistan, although reports state that the ammunition supply is drying up. During recent troubles in India, the rifle was much in evidence in the hands of security personnel and police. It seems somewhat safe to say that the Lee Enfield’s service life is far from over. My personal Lee Enfield is a good, solid rifle in original condition, with a good bore and typical reliability. I have fired the rifle with a number of loads and found it reliable with average accuracy potential. It is interesting that even sniper variants of the Lee Enfield were not held to high standards for accuracy, with 4 MOA typical of surplus military rifles.

I carefully checked the rifle for loose furniture, and next ensured that all parts were tight before firing. With iron sights, 100-yard accuracy is difficult but with the proper shooting glasses and concentration, I have fired several 3.75-inch groups with this rifle. Hornady offers a Vintage Match loading with a 174-grain BTHP at 2400 fps, similar to the WWII service load. This load is stronger than most and burns clean with minimal muzzle signature. This load is similar in velocity and weight to the original service loading that served for over 40 years. I was able to fire a group considerably under 4 MOA with this loading.

Next, I moved to the modern 150-grain JSP. At 2685 fps this is a fine hunting load with plenty of power for deer-sized game, using the modern Hornady JSP bullet. Accuracy was good with a number of tight groups and an average of 3.5 MOA. There are more-accurate rifles than mine, but this is the rifle’s best showing.

Bob Campbell shooting a K98 Mauser from a standing position
The author was surprised by the fast handling and accuracy of the Mauser rifle.

Mauser

The story was, the British built their bolt-action rifle for war, the Germans built a rifle for hunting, and the Americans built the Springfield for target shooting. This is a fair assessment. The Mauser 98K and the similar Yugo 48 are reliable rifles with smooth actions.

The sights could be better. Apparently, individual marksmanship was not stressed. Despite these drawbacks, the Mauser is potentially as accurate as any bolt-action rifle and often serves as the basis for custom grade rifles. The 8mm Mauser offers as much practical power as the .30-06 Springfield for game taking. The caliber has traditionally been loaded down by American makers. Hornady offers a full power 195-grain Interlock loading at 2500 fps that has great potential as a sporting load. I fired this load for sighting in at 50 yards and then at 100 yards for accuracy. The Hornady offering is definitely loaded to potential.

A three-shot group was fired that fell into 2.2 inches with one effort, reflecting the true potential of the rifle. My average groups were closer to 2.5 inches which seems my limit for firing an iron sighted rifle at 100 yards. (With a solid rest and shooting glasses.) I fired the 196-grain BTHP Vintage Match moving at 2500 fps. Results were incrementally better as far as accuracy. While not as fast as the Lee Enfield in rapid fire, or as accurate as the Springfield rifle, the Mauser’s controlled feed action is very robust and reliable—and it was very close to the Springfield for accuracy.

Bob Campbell ejecting shell from a bolt-action Mauser K98
A smooth handling bolt-action rifle can be fired quickly.

Springfield

The Springfield 1903 rifle is perhaps the most accurate bolt-action service rifle ever fielded. The rifle is attractive, reliable, and among the most important service rifles in history. This rifle served in WWI and WWII and continued in service as a sniper rifle into the Vietnam era. The bolt-action Springfield is very similar in operation to the Mauser rifle, combining the Mauser’s dual front lock lugs and rear safety lug, safety operation, and non-rotating extractor with the cocking piece and two-part striker of the earlier Krag rifle.

The .30-06 Springfield cartridge is an inherently accurate cartridge and while the 8mm Mauser may give it a hard run for the money, the .30-06 is the most powerful and accurate of the three service cartridges. The rifle tested was built in 1932. .30-06 Springfield ammunition is plentiful in many configurations—unlike the other calibers tested. For comparison purposes, the rifle was fired with the Hornady M1 Garand loading.

This load uses a 168-grain A Max and is intended to function and give match grade accuracy in the M1 Garand. Results were excellent in the Springfield. I fired a singular 1.8-inch group, with the average of several groups falling into 2.25 inch. This rifle will shoot! Note: The Springfield is quite accurate but hardly embarrassed the Mauser rifle. The 98K is more accurate than I would have thought.

Hornady Custom International ammunition boxes
Hornady offers first class ammunition for vintage rifles.

The Swedish Mauser as manufactured by Carl Gustav has earned a reputation for excellence of manufacture and sterling accuracy. The rifle has also earned well deserved accolades as a light recoiling and superbly accurate deer killer. The 6.5x55mm rifle cartridge features a long, and heavy for the caliber, bullet that has excellent penetration. The original 140-grain military loading was designed with these attributes in mind.

Hornady offers two standout loadings in this caliber. First is the 140-grain BTHP Vintage Match. This loading is guaranteed to accent the accuracy of an original Swedish rifle. For hunting, the 6.5 x 55mm 140-grain SST at 2600 fps offers modest recoil but excellent effect on game. There are also 7.5 Swiss and 7.7 Japanese loadings available. I have not fired them all, but Hornady’s quality is a constant.

These modern loads are an option for firing the older warhorses. The Hornady loads are powerful, clean burning and accurate. Modern hunting bullets are used in the Hornady loads and are useful for taking game animals. Dust these old rifles off and give them a shot. You will be glad you did.

Did your favorite, classic bolt gun make the list? Which one would you rank at the top? Share your answers or bolt gun story in the comment section.

[bob]

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. I have enjoyed my 1893 ” Spanish Mauser ” since the 1960’s. Has a 4 power scope and is sweet to shoot. I load my own and use medium power loads with 139 gr. bullets. This rifle is very accurate but its not something to use on prarie dogs in the next zip code. Recently acquired a 1943 Mosin Nagant that is in fantastic shape with the only draw back being the old eyes trying to use the open sights. These old rifles are cool.

  2. Owned a lot mentioned. I loved my Springfield, competed in military matches as a youth but eventually went to the Garand, M1A and AR. The only bolts I have left are Russian pre war 91/30, found in a pawn shop with silver paint on it, probably an honor guard rifle, smooth action and tack driver and an M38 early war carbine, also shoot real well. I put sniper bolt handles on both since I did not like the original short straight bolt and they are just as nice as any bolt gun I have owned and at half the price including ammo.

  3. Bob, I’m 68, a retired vet, and have owned all 3 of these rifles for over 30 years….have shot them all long before owning any….I agree with everything you said is article…..still all fine weapons and I’d place them in the same 1,2,3, order as you did. Larry

  4. I am also a moisin fan of the M39. would like to see that warhorse covered in the future in comparison to the other 3 sometimes in the future.

  5. Great Article! Enfield + Springfield = Eddystone. After the Spanish American War, prior to the Great War, USA supported GB with Remington and Winchester manufactured Eddystone rifles. The Eddystone rifles had the characteristics or the Enfield chambered for 30.06 cartridges.
    A hundred years later there is a bounty of 30.06 ammo in a multitude of
    bullet weights and configurations at bargain prices..

  6. How on earth could you leave out probably the most common and popular surplus bolt action out there, the Mosin Nagant? I was buying them up when they were still $79 and while they have their quirks they are a great rifle firing a powerful 7.62x54R round.

  7. This would, of course, not include “collector grade” rifles.

    This would work as most of the current ammunition manufacturers offer a “light” grade Ammo in the older heavy calibers to lower recoil in ths

  8. Can any of the rifles in the article be shortened to “carbine” length (approximately 20 inches or so)?

    1. Yes! All the purist will be getting ready for a lynching party if they think I’m suggesting that you cut down a full wood model, but I’ve owned all the rifles in the above article in what is noted as “sporterized” = a cut & crowned barrel (shorter wood to obviously).
      You could look on gunbroker.com and see many offerings, but pawn shops, Armslist in your area or a gun shop that sells used firearms is the best choice for saving $ on a good sporterized classic. Just beware of the “Bubba” versions = someone who did the work in his garage and slaughtered the job! Keep in mind the rifling twists were designed for a full length barrel, but if you’re keeping your shots at a 100 yards or less and using moden, not surplus ammo, you’ll be fine! The Enfields are my go to for WWII bolts mentioned. Good luck & safe straight shooting!

    2. David

      Try to find a ‘Gibbs Rifle Company’ short Lee Enfield. Designed to mimic the Jungle Carbine or Brit No. 5, these are neat rifles that usually shoot well.

    3. Beware the heart attack when looking at the prices of the Enfield #5’s as they run about $500! If you can find a well done/factory copy like a Santa Fe Golden State for $300 or so, you’ll be happy with the result!
      Safe & fun shooting to ya! ????

  9. Really enjoyed this article. I’ve had a love for military bolt actions since childhood. After 20 years of active duty in the Army, I finally settled down and began pursuing my affection for these war horse. I have 2 Swedes (a 96 and a 38), 2 Mosins (a Finnish 91 and a Russian 30), a SMLE from Lithgow, and 2 1903A3 (one is a Remington, the other is a Smith Corona). All are excellent shooters, but my favorite is the Model 38 Swede.

  10. A couple of words on the 7.5 Swiss K31 rifle. The action of this rifle really isn’t a turn bolt, but rather a straight pull. I believe that with enough practice a good shooter can achieve a higher rate of fire than with the Enfield. Surplus 7.5 Swiss ammunition is extremely high quality and to the best of my knowledge has never been corrosive. It is still available from a number of sources. I’ve shot a few of the Hornady commercial loads from my K31 and they’re great – accurate and reloadable.

    The biggest problem I have with the old surplus rifles is the sights. The V notch sights such as the ones found on Mausers and K31s just don’t work with my 65 year old eyes. I can do better with the micrometer sights on my late production No 4 Mk 2 Enfield and the excellent peep sight on my Garand.

    1. I have 3 Swiss K31’s, a beech and 2 walnuts. I refinished the beech as it looked so raggedy when I got it. Now, it looks great. And is a great shooter. Love it. All 3 have bright, mirror like barrels. I also have one Yugo 48 Mauser I have yet to shoot. Wish I could afford all the others, but, have to be satisfied with what I have….for now. Additionally, I have a Mosin,and a great shooting Yugo SKS. Would love to see a 1903 and an Enfield in my safe. Sigh…

  11. I have a original British Enfield I bought in Oaklawn, Illinois back in 1959 for $10.00 at a sporting goods store. At the time they had hundreds of them all for the same price. I wrote a letter to the British Armory for more information on it and they could only tell me that it was made in Birmingham and the Nazi bombed it out and all records were destroyed. I have fired it many times and it is super accurate at 100 yards. It is my favorite big bore rifle. Very smooth bolt action. Have kept the letter they sent me back telling me it was a original according to the serial number, but could not tell me where the battle it was in, or what country it was used in. I can hit a quarter at 100 yards with it on the open sights . I have gotten a original bayonet for it plus a oiler that fits in the stock. When I hold it, it seems to almost tell me the story it holds, and the stock has been notched by the solder who used it. This rifle will be passed down to my children and grand children.

  12. I have owned a variety of rifles over the years.An M1Carbine, Chinese SKS which at the time was a tremendous value. As New $100.00. A Stainless Ruger Mini 14 and various others, but the one rifle I have never considered selling is my Interarms sporterised 1915 8MM Mauser made in Danzig.I have primarily used it as a deer rifle, using the original iron sights.From the first day I owned it , I considered mounting a scope, but living in Upstate New York, long shots at deer are few and far between.The Mauser is an almost perfect “Brush Gun” ,a heavy medium velocity cartridge, and the iron sights line up easily on target. It has been quite a few years since I deer hunted, but the last buck I took was at aprox. 100 yards chasing a doe in heat through the woods.I started seated, rose as the pair turned, heading back to my left. Aiming at the top of the shoulder I tracked left for a one count and shot.At first I thought I had missed as the buck conrinued to the left. I cycled another round into the chamber and it fell.The shot had hit just behind the shoulder blade and had carried a large portion of the lungs out the exit hole. I can honestly sy I gave never missed a deer when I have fired this rifle, and I am at best, an average shot who gets almost no practice. It is a much better weapon than I am a marksman and it hits what I aim at, always! At 102 years old it is just getting broken in!

  13. Always been a turn-bolt fan. And like the author of this article, I too, love to see these ‘old war horses’ in original condition, rather that butchered up and so-called, ‘sporterized.’ The article as great as it was, completely ignored another ‘great’ military turn-bolt, the Moisen-Gnant 91/30. Have used various configurations in both hunting and combat situations, with a few exceptions, they were accurate at 100 meters & beyond. Have also used the ‘short rifle’ versions too, the latest being the Chinese version.

    1. The 7.62x54R is comparable to the 30.06, .303 , .308, and the 8MM. All are designed for battle rifles out to 400 yards and medium sized game, deer or people are easily taken.

    2. I fell in love with the .303 Brit Enfield when I lived in Canada as it’s their 30-06 do all, hunt all rifle! From deer to elk & moose, the currant loads availible make it incredibly accurate and deadly true to fill the freezer. Everything is exceptional on the rifle except the bolt extractor spring. In the Yukon while learning some of the native traditions, I went on a hunt with a local family.
      In checking over their “emergency kit” I saw a chunk of tire rubber. Apparently it’s common on well used & loved Enfields to have the V shaped extractor spring vanish while chambering/extracting. Our wizened leader saw service at the very end of WWII on Normandy & he said all soldiers carried tire tread so as to tear a chunk off to jam in between the bolt head & extractor so as to keep the rifle functioning when the (insert your favorite swear words here) spring flues Northfield the winter! I own 3 Enfields, 1 original configuration/full wood and 2 sporterized, but my absolute favorite 4th is the US made Savage .303 British Lend Lease rifle. The US PROPERTY stamp on the top of the receiver tells of a time in history when so many of the rifles listed in the above article came to be mass produced. The 10 rd box mag makes the ENFIELD in .303Brit the winner!

    3. I fell in love with the .303 Brit Enfield when I lived in Canada as it’s their 30-06 do all, hunt all rifle! From deer to elk & moose, the current/modern ploads availible make it incredibly accurate and deadly true to fill the freezer. Everything is exceptional on the rifle except the bolt extractor spring. In the Yukon while learning some of the native traditions, I went on a hunt with a local family.
      In checking over their “emergency kit” I saw a chunk of tire rubber. Apparently it’s common on well used & loved Enfields to have the V shaped extractor spring vanish while chambering/extracting. Our wizened leader saw service at the very end of WWII on Normandy & he said all soldiers carried tire tread so as to tear a chunk off to jam in between the side of the bolt head & extractor so as to keep the rifle functioning when the (insert your favorite swear words here) spring flies North for the winter! I own 3 English Enfields, 1 original configuration/full wood and 2 sporterized, but my absolute favorite 4th rifle in the safe is the US made Savage .303 British Lend Lease rifle. The US PROPERTY stamp on the top of the receiver tells of a time in history when so many of the rifles listed in the above article came to be mass produced. The 10 rd box mag makes the ENFIELD in .303Brit the winner in my humble opinion!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.