Compared: Mannlicher-Schoenauer Greek Model 1903/14/30 Carbine and Ruger Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
This seemingly odd comparison was inspired by the arrival of a Mannlicher-Schoenauer Greek Model 1903/14/30 Carbine at the time we were reviewing a Ruger Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle. It matches two military style carbines that are both startlingly dissimilar and surprisingly similar. The two rifles look and feel very different and they are produced to very different levels of refinement and quality. However, they are about the same size and weight, hold the same number of cartridges of reasonably similar power and, most of all, as carbines they were designed to embody the same basic advantages of lightweight and handiness, while still being able to dispense rifle cartridge hitting power. At least conceptually, not much has changed between the 1904 introduction of the 1903 Greek M-S Carbine and the 2008 introduction of the 6.8mm SPC version of the Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle.
As our comparison moves along, we will explore the differences and similarities between these two carbines further. First, a brief history of the rifles and cartridges involved.
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1903/14/30 Carbine
The design of the action that was to become the basis of all Mannlicher-Schoenauer military and civilian rifles and carbines was completed in 1903 and, although M-S rifles were incrementally improved over the years before the last civilian models were finally closed out in 1972, the basic design of the action was never changed. It was the result of a collaboration of Ferdinand Mannlicher, who was the principle action designer and Otto Schoenauer, who helped with details of the action and designed the rifle's famous rotary spool magazine. Both men worked at the Austrian Arms Manufacturing Company located in Steyr, Austria. Today this Company is known as Steyr Mannlicher.
In late 1903 the Greek government sighed a contract with Steyr of Austria (who, naturally, had sole rights to the M-S design) to produce Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1903 rifles and carbines as the official service arms of the Greek military. The delivery of some 130,000 units began in 1904.
In 1914, the design of the M-S military rifles and carbines was slightly changed by the addition of an almost full-length upper hand guard to the forend of both rifle and carbine stocks. This became the Model 1903/14, of which around 50,000 were delivered.
In 1927, Austria having lost the Great War (WW I) and prohibited by treaty from the sale of firearms, Greece began receiving the first of some 105,000 Model 1903/14/27 Breda marked M-S rifles and carbines from Italy. Whether these were actually manufactured by Breda on Steyr (Austrian) machinery, or merely assembled in Italy from Steyr parts, seems to be unclear.
Finally, in 1930, Greece purchased another 25,000 Model 1903/14/30 rifles and carbines directly from Steyr, who by then was legally back in the rifle business. This was the last big buy of M-S rifles by the Greek Government. The Model 1903/14/30 is featured in this comparison, although all versions of the Greek Model 1903 Carbine are very similar.
The Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1903 (and all subsequent versions) was precisely made from very high quality materials to the tightest possible tolerances. This made them excellent rifles, but time consuming and expensive to produce. As a result, the Mannlicher-Schoenauer was a very successful sporting rifle, but only the Greek military adopted it as their service standard. The Greeks had, however, made a wise choice and the durable and reliable M-S remained in Greek service until after the end of WW II and the subsequent Greek Civil War.
After the Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines were withdrawn from service, they were sold as surplus. Our test sample, in externally good shape, but with some barrel pitting, was acquired for $450 on the used market. Here are some specifications for the Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1903/14/30 Carbine in 6.5x54mm caliber:
The Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine is built on a front locking, cock on opening, controlled feed, turn bolt action with a fixed, receiver mounted ejector. That description sounds superficially like a Mauser 98 action, but the M-S action is actually completely different from the Mauser. The bolt wobble so endemic to Mauser actions is largely eliminated by means of passing the bolt guide and handle through the split rear receiver ring. All internal parts are machined from steel and carefully fitted and polished. The Mannlicher action is extremely smooth in operation. It is probably the fastest of all the 20th Century military bolt actions to operate for a follow-up shot. (For more details about the basic M-S action, see our review of the Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1961 MCA Carbine on the Product Review page.)
Cartridges are fed in a straight line into the chamber from a Schoenauer rotary spool magazine. This magazine system is the smoothest and most reliable that we have encountered. It is also very precisely machined and cradles each cartridge separately. In the Greek military rifles and carbines, five cartridges are fed into the magazine as a group by means of stripper clips, making reloading very fast and easy. Fired cases are ejected to the right.
The trigger is a two stage military type. Our example had a 2.2 pound take-up followed by a smooth 4.7 pound release. We rate it very good for a military trigger.
The barrel and all external steel parts are polished and blued. A lug for a Greek sword type bayonet is fitted to the carbine's 19.7" long barrel. Sighting is by means of a protected blade front sight and an adjustable, tangent leaf, "V" notch, open rear sight graduated from 200 to 1800 meters. This type of sight eliminates the need to "hold over" the target as ranges increase beyond the 200 meters for which the rifle is zeroed, assuming that you can determine the range to the target.
The one-piece, semi-pistol grip stock is made of walnut and the forend features an upper hand guard. This stock is too thick through the grip area (typical of service rifles) and the length of pull is too short, but otherwise it is well proportioned. The length of pull is 13.25", slightly longer than the Ruger Mini-14. The butt (but not the shooter's shoulder) is protected by a steel buttplate. Fortunately, recoil is not a problem with the mild 6.5x54mm cartridge. Steel sling swivels are provided on the left side of the stock and a cleaning rod protrudes from the front of the forend.
The M-S Carbine weighs only 6.8 pounds, which is light for an all-steel and walnut military carbine of the period and approximately the same weight as the modern Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, even though the Mannlicher's barrel is 1.2" longer. It loads so easily and feeds so smoothly that it is literally hard to tell if it is loaded when operating the action. As you might expect, the M-S was 100% reliable during our range testing.
In summation, the Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine is the highest quality, smoothest and best made military rifle we have ever examined. Civilian sporter models were known as "the World's Finest Rifle" for most of the 20th Century, and deservedly so.
The 6.5x54mm Mannlicher-Schoenauer (Greek) cartridge
The Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1903 action was designed specifically for the 6.5x54mm M-S, one of the early smokeless powder military cartridges. The Greek service version of this round launched a 159-160 grain, round nose, full metal jacket bullet ("ball ammunition") at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2223 fps. The muzzle energy (ME) of this load was 1740 ft. lbs. At 200 yards, the velocity was 1685 fps and the remaining energy 1008 ft. lbs.
Here is the trajectory (in inches) for a 6.5mm, 160 grain RN bullet with a ballistic coefficient (BC) of .275 fired at a MV of 2223 fps: -0.8" at muzzle; +4.2" at 100 yards; +/-0" at 200 yards; -16.6" at 300 yards; -49.7" at 400 yards; -104.7" at 500 yards. Of course, once the rifle was zeroed, one raised the M-S tangent leaf rear sight to compensate for bullet drop as the range increased, eliminating the need to "hold-over" the target.
The 6.5x54 M-S velocity, energy and trajectory figures are comparable to some of the other famous 6.5mm military cartridges used in the two World Wars, including the Japanese 6.5x50mm Arisaka and Italian 6.5x52mm Carcano. All three of these service cartridges fired very heavy for caliber bullets weighing 156-162 grains, which produced exceptional penetration. The sectional density of a 160 grain, 6.5mm (.264" diameter) bullet is .328, which is considerably higher than the .305 SD of the famous 300 grain .375 Magnum bullet used around the world for hunting the largest and most dangerous game (elephant, rhino and buffalo). It is this extreme penetration that allowed the famous ivory hunter WDM Bell to cleanly harvest a considerable number of African elephants with the little 6.5x54 M-S cartridge.
The 6.5x54 had the makings of a great sporting cartridge and it became popular with hunters around the world, including in North America, where the major ammunition manufacturers loaded 6.5x54 ammo until the start of WW II. It is still offered by specialty ammunition makers in the US, such as Stars & Stripes (www.starsandstripesammo.com), as well as by European ammunition giant RWS.
Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition produces 6.5x54 M-S factory loads with 160 grain RN and 140 grain Hornady InterLock Spire Point bullets. The ballistics of the former are similar to the Greek military load described above, while the latter launches a 140 grain bullet (BC .465, SD .287) at a MV of 2400 fps and 1790 ft. lbs. ME. At 200 yards, the velocity is 2056 fps and the remaining energy is 1314 ft. lbs.
Here is the trajectory (in inches) for that load: -0.8" at muzzle; +3.1" at 100 yards; +/-0" at 200 yards; -11.4" at 300 yards; -32.5" at 400 yards; -65.0" at 500 yards. This is probably the best general purpose load for any 6.5x54 M-S rifle.
The 6.5x54's success as both a military and hunting cartridge was due to its relatively low recoil, which made accurate shot placement easy, and its great penetration. A properly aimed bullet that penetrates the vitals is deadly to man and beast. The handy, exquisitely made, ultra-smooth operating and reliable Mannlicher-Schoenauer rifles and carbines, the only firearms regularly chambered for the 6.5x54, also played a part in the popularity of the cartridge. (The 6.5x54mm M-S is among the hundreds of cartridges covered in detail on the Rifle Cartridges page.)
Ruger Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle
Introduced in 1974, the Ruger Mini-14 was designed by William B. Ruger and James Sullivan to resemble a scaled-down M14 service rifle. The name "Ranch Rifle" was added in 2004. This little autoloading carbine has been a major commercial success and in early 2009, as this is written, it is selling better than ever.
Various Mini-14 models are chambered for the .223 Remington, 7.62x39 Soviet and 6.8mm Remington SPC cartridges. The latter concerns us here and the Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle that fires it.
Here are some specifications for the Mini-14 All-Weather Ranch Rifle in 6.8mm Rem. SPC caliber:
The All-Weather Ranch Rifle is a gas-operated, semi-automatic carbine with an 18.5" barrel. It comes with a stainless steel barreled action. The Mini-14 is based on a Garand-style action using a fixed piston gas system and self-cleaning, moving gas cylinder. There is a recoil buffer to soften the action of the operating mechanism. The bolt is held open after the last shot is fired to facilitate reloading. Ejection of spent cases is to the right and allows the use of centrally mounted optical sights. Integral scope bases are cast into the top of the receiver and Ranch Rifles are supplied with Ruger scope rings at no extra charge. This entire action is made from investment cast and sheet metal parts with almost no internal polishing. It is clearly designed for economical mass production.
Cartridges are fed from a staggered column, detachable box magazine made of sheet steel. Five round magazines (only) are available from Ruger for 6.8mm SPC caliber Mini-14's. To reload this magazine, cartridges must be fed into it one at a time.
The trigger is a two stage military type. The trigger blade, safety, trigger guard and all associated parts are either investment cast or stamped from sheet steel. Our example's trigger had a 2.5 pound take-up followed by a creepy, but smooth, 5.6 pound release. It is better than most modern "black rifle" triggers, but inferior to the M-S Carbine's trigger.
The Ranch Rifle's stainless steel 18.5" barrel and all external metal parts are left a natural, dull silver color. Sighting is by means of a protected blade front sight and a fully adjustable, receiver mounted aperture sight. These are, overall, the best type of iron sights. They are easier to use than open rear sights, particularly for people with less than perfect vision.
The stock is a black, one-piece, injection-molded synthetic type with a surprisingly slender and comfortable pistol grip. There is a four panel checkering pattern molded into the plastic stock, which incorporates an upper hand guard. A black recoil pad protects the butt end of the stock, but it is superfluous given the low recoil of the 6.8mm SPC cartridge.
We found the All-Weather Ranch Rifle to be completely reliable in our range testing. The staggered column box magazine is no more trouble to load than others of its type and, once loaded, it is easily inserted into the rifle, after you learn how. Insert the front of the magazine first, at an angle, and then swing it into place. (If you insert the magazine on the same plain as the bottom of the rifle, it jams.)
We found that the conventionally laid out Ranch Rifle handles better and operates more intuitively than the awkwardly shaped AR-15 and its clones, which are its main competition in the market place. Should a jam occur the Ranch Rifle's open top receiver should make it faster and easier to clear. During our range testing there were no malfunctions. From the civilian user's standpoint, it is probably a better rifle than the AR-15.
The 6.8mm Remington SPC cartridge
Introduced just over 100 years after the 6.5x54mm M-S, the 6.8mm SPC is a recent development that was designed by the Army Marksmanship Unit in cooperation with the Fifth Special Forces Group for use in the M-16 platform. It was the result of a grass roots effort by enlisted personnel, not initiated or funded by the Pentagon.
The 6.8mm SPC (SPC stands for "Special Purpose Cartridge") is a .270 caliber round and uses the same .277" diameter bullets as the famous .270 Winchester. It is based on a shortened, blown-out, .30 Remington case with a sharp shoulder. When the GI's had the caliber and basic case design they wanted, they got in touch with Remington, whose technicians helped in testing and finalizing the design and sought SAAMI standardization.
Compared to the 5.56mm NATO (.223 Remington) and 7.62x39mm Soviet assault rifle cartridges, the 6.8mm SPC is clearly superior. It is the best of the contemporary cartridges intended for use in select-fire military carbines. Like the others, it has been adapted to civilian firearms, like the Ruger Ranch Rifle. Remington factory loads include match and hunting bullets, as well as military ball ammunition.
As a hunting cartridge, in a sufficiently accurate rifle, the 6.8mm SPC is about a 200 yard deer slayer. It is ideal for beginning shooters, women and youth, as the recoil is minimal and its killing power is adequate to get the job done at normal ranges.
Hornady offers two factory loads (match and military ball) with 110 grain bullets (SD .205) and Remington catalogs four 6.8mm factory loads, all with 115 grain bullets (SD .214). The latter claim a muzzle velocity of 2625 fps and muzzle energy of 1759 ft. lbs. when fired from a 24" test barrel. At 200 yards, the retained velocity/energy of the Full Metal Case bullet is 2053 fps/1076 ft. lbs. The bullets factory loaded by Remington include a military style Full Metal Case, Open Tip Match, Sierra MatchKing SBT and a Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded for hunting.
The actual velocity of these Remington factory loads, when fired from the Mini-14 All-Weather's attenuated 18.5" barrel, will be considerably reduced. Remington figures estimate the velocity loss to be about 20 fps per inch of barrel, or a total of about 110 fps. That would mean an actual MV from the Mini-14 of around 2515 fps.
At the factory specified MV of 2625 fps, the trajectory of the 6.8mm SPC Metal Case bullet (BC .292) should look like this: -0.8" at muzzle; +2.8" at 100 yards; +/-0" at 200 yards; -11.1" at 300 yards; -32.8" at 400 yards; -68.6" at 500 yards. (For those who want more information, there are detailed articles about the 6.8mm SPC on the Rifle Cartridges page.)
Ruger All-Weather Ranch Rifles in 6.8mm SPC are not often seen in gun shops, but they can be ordered by any Ruger dealer. Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1903/14/30 carbines have not been made in some 79 years, as of this writing, so you will have to search the used market if you want one. Considering their build quality, they are not particularly expensive, but good ones are in short supply. In terms of availability the 6.8mm SPC Ranch Rifle, being in production, has a big advantage.
The 6.8mm SPC cartridge is more available on the North American market than is the 6.5x54 M-S. Although not commonly found in stores, at least it is offered by two major ammunition companies (Remington and Hornady) and cartridges should not be hard to special order from your local gun shop. 6.5x54 M-S ammunition, on the other hand, will probably have to be ordered online or per telephone by the consumer. In Europe, of course, the situation would probably be reversed.
The Ruger, being a semi-automatic carbine, can be fired faster than the bolt action Mannlicher-Schoenauer. It can also maintain a higher rate of fire, as long as pre-loaded magazines are available. Once the Mini-14's supply of pre-loaded magazines is exhausted, however, the Mannlicher's stripper-clip reloading gives it the advantage in sustainable firepower. Starting from scratch (an empty magazine and a box of cartridges) the Mannlicher-Schoenauer can be loaded or reloaded faster.
We took both rifles to the range and found that the Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine will consistently shoot groups averaging about 30% smaller than the Ranch Rifle. An M-S Carbine in like new condition would probably do even better. The Mannlicher simply has superior intrinsic accuracy from a bench rest. It also has superior practical accuracy due to its superior trigger pull and balance, which allows the rifleman to hold it steadier when shooting from field positions.
As a short range tactical carbine, 25 yards or less, we feel the Mini-14 has the advantage. It is the better choice for home or ranch defense if you suddenly have to blow a couple of bad guys off the porch to prevent a home invasion. Its aperture rear sight also allows for quicker target acquisition.
As a 100 yard weapon, there is not much to choose between the two rifles and cartridges. Either will do the job. At longer ranges, 200 yards and beyond, the M-S Carbine has the advantage because of its superior intrinsic accuracy, better trigger pull and long range sights. At any range, the 6.5x54's 160 grain military bullet will penetrate light armor far more effectively than the 115 grain 6.8mm SPC ball load.
For the sportsman, the 6.8mm SPC Mini-14 will serve as a short range (100 yard) deer (CXP2 game) rifle, limited primarily by its indifferent accuracy. The more accurate and powerful 6.5x54 M-S Carbine can easily double that range limit. In addition, the 6.5x54 cartridge, with its heavier bullets of greater SD, is better suited to hunting large game, as it can deliver the required penetration. The M-S Carbine is clearly the superior big game hunting rifle.
Both carbines are light, handy and easy to carry. Both are short enough to be handy in a tree stand, blind, or (for that matter) jungle ambush. An advantage of the Ruger for transporting and carrying is the absence of a bolt handle sticking out of the right side of the action. The Ruger's slender pistol grip feels better in the strong hand, although the Mannlicher's oval walnut forend is more comfortable in the supporting hand. For civilian purposes, the pistol grip area of the Greek M-S Carbine should be slenderized, not a particularly difficult chore for anyone moderately competent at wood working. Both rifles come with short stocks, although the Mannlicher is slightly better in this regard. In total, as issued, we judged the Ranch Rifle to be the handier of the two by a modest margin.
It is difficult to scope an M-S Carbine because of its split rear receiver ring and the Greek Model 1903/14/30 was not drilled or tapped for any kind of scope bases. Nor will its bolt handle or wing safety clear a low mounted scope. When the M-S Carbine was designed, optical sights were not a consideration. While a telescopic sight can be fitted to a Model 1903/14/30 M-S, most owners are going to require the services of a professional gunsmith to do so. Scoping a Ruger Ranch Rifle, on the other hand, is dead easy. As mentioned previously, the receiver incorporates built-in bases and Ruger scope rings are supplied with every new rifle. If you require an optical sight and are not inclined to part with serious money to mount it, the Ranch Rifle is definitely the better choice.
The Mannlicher's biggest advantage lies in the area of build quality. It is a superior product by almost any conceivable standard of comparison. If you prefer a lasting investment or simply appreciate precision tools, the M-S is your rifle. It would also make a fine basis for a deluxe, custom-built rifle, which certainly cannot be said of the Ranch Rifle. (Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor, Rocky Hays, is the man to talk to about custom M-S rifles. -Ed) The Mini-14, by comparison, is a typical modern appliance, built to minimum standards of quality, fit and finish.
Summary and Conclusion
The Ranch Rifle's primary advantages are greater availability of rifles and ammunition, although examples in 6.8mm SPC are not thick on the ground and practically never seen on the used market. Ammunition is loaded by Remington and Hornady in the US. The Mini-14 can also shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger, at least until the magazine runs out.
The Greek Mannlicher-Schoenauer 1903/14/30 Carbine's primary advantages are superior intrinsic and practical accuracy, faster and easier magazine reloading (especially with stripper clips), smoother operation and far better quality and construction. Its 6.5x54mm cartridge hits harder, penetrates better and offers a larger selection of bullet weights to the reloader. These include bullets of greater sectional density that are suitable for hunting larger game. If, for whatever reason, you need a lot of penetration, the 6.5x54 is the way to go. Factory loaded ammunition, however, is available in the US only from European or domestic specialty manufacturers such as Stars & Stripes.
Frankly, it is hard for us to see why the Ruger All-Weather Ranch Rifle carries a $921 MSRP in 2009. It is clear that all available shortcuts were taken to hold costs down in its manufacture. Our impression is that it's about a $250 rifle, because that is what it looks and feels like. Compared to the quality and care lavished on the Greek M-S 1903/14/30 Carbine, well, there is no comparison. For the retail price of a Ruger All-weather Ranch Rifle, you should be able to get a nice Mannlicher-Schoenauer Greek Carbine.
Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.
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