The Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA Carbine

By Chuck Hawks

Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA Carbine
Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA Carbine. Photo by Kellet Stephens.

The world famous line of Mannlicher-Schönauer hunting rifles and carbines, designed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and Otto Schönauer, began with the Model 1903 and were produced until 1971. Throughout this time, the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles were owned by Steyr, the prestigious Austrian gun making concern.

The eventual demise of what had been called "The World's Finest Rifle" was brought about by a rapid rise in the cost of manufacture during the 1960's, particularly the cost of the hours of hand labor required to manufacture these rifles. In addition, the proliferation of telescopic sights after the end of the Second World War negatively affected the popularity of Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles. Although both Steyr and Stoeger, their US importer, made every effort to downplay it in their advertising, the fact is that these rifles can be awkward to scope. The position of the bolt handle and the split rear receiver ring that help to make the action operate so smoothly also prevent the use of conventional, top mounted, scope bases.

The Mannlicher-Schönauer bolt action repeaters were improved, without changing the basic design, many times during their long production life. Recognized models include the Model 1903, Model 1905, Model 1908, Model 1910, Model 1924 (High Velocity Sporting Rifle), Model 1950, Model 1952, Model 1956-MC, Magnum Rifle and Model 1961-MCA. In addition, there were variations of all of these and special European models. Through it all, the two most significant features remained the Mannlicher turn-bolt action and the Schönauer rotary drum magazine. (Hence the name, "Mannlicher-Schönauer.") From 1903 until civilian production was interrupted prior to the beginning of WW II, the German Mauser Model 98 and the Austrian Mannlicher-Schönauer were the preeminent bolt action hunting rifles in the world.

The most typical of Mannlicher-Schönauers is the famous carbine with its signature full length stock (see photo above) and carbines were built from 1903 onward. Steyr Mannlicher still offers this style of carbine today, although built on an entirely different action.

The Model 1956-MC had a high, Monte Carlo comb intended for use with telescopic sights that effectively prevented the use of the supplied iron sights. This high comb drew complaints from traditionalists. A much more modest Monte Carlo comb, designed for use with both iron and telescopic sights, was introduced in the final Model 1961-MCA, the Carbine version of which is the subject of this article. (MCA stands for "Monte Carlo All-purpose.")

Another minor change was moving the auxiliary safety from the right rear of the receiver to a slider on the top tang. The 1961-MCA was drilled and tapped for Redfield SR-MS scope bases (finally!). Otherwise, the1956 and 1961 models were identical. Even the change in the Model 1961-MCA safety was not immediate and early Model 1961-MCA rifles retained the old style safety. 1961-MCA Carbines were made until the production of all Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles was discontinued in 1971.

The Model 1961-MCA Carbine was initially chambered for a variety of cartridges, including .243 Winchester, 6.5x54mm M-S, 7x57 Mauser, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and .358 Winchester. The latter is probably the rarest caliber. By 1971 the caliber selection had been reduced to .270 and .30-06.

Barrel length was 20" in all calibers except 6.5x54, which was supplied with an 18-1/4" barrel. MCA Carbines had a removable side plate to accommodate Steyr or other side mounts for scopes. Open iron sights were provided. The external metal finish was a highly polished blue with the bolt left in the white. Approximate weight was 7-1/2 pounds.

The standard trigger mechanism was an adjustable, single stage "shotgun" type, but the optional double-set trigger was more popular. Other available options included upgraded wood, stock carving, engraving and inlays. In 1966-1967 the MSRP for a standard grade MCA Carbine was $219.95 with single trigger or $229.95 with the optional double-set trigger.

The Alpine Carbine was a fancier version of the standard Carbine that filled the gap between it and the custom built Premier Grade. It was available in calibers .243 and .30-06 only. The Alpine Carbine came with an engraved bolt handle and deep relief stock carving in an oak leaf pattern in place of conventional checkering. The walnut stock was specially selected. In all other respects, the Alpine Carbine was identical to the standard Carbine. The 1967 MSRP was $405 with single trigger or $415 with a double-set trigger.

The Mannlicher-Schönauer bolt action was unique and quite different in execution than the usual Mauser based design, although the two shared important functional attributes. It was a controlled round feeding design with an open top receiver. The front locking, cock on opening bolt incorporated dual locking lugs spaced for a 90 degree bolt rotation and the root of the "butterknife" bolt handle served as a third "safety" locking lug The barreled action was bedded in a one-piece stock.

The extractor is a spring-loaded claw assembly inletted into the bolt in front of the lower (when the bolt is closed) locking lug. The ejector rides over the upper locking lug in a dovetail at the front of the bolt and is activated by the force with which it hits the bolt stop (which is part of the bolt release at the left rear of the receiver) at the end of the bolt's rearward travel. This unique extraction/ejection system does not require splitting the locking lug, as does a Mauser ejector.

The unique spooned bolt handle was mounted in the middle of the bolt, rather than at the rear. When the bolt was drawn rearward, the bolt handle passed through a slot in the rear receiver ring. This prevented the binding and bolt wobble common to Mauser pattern actions when the bolt is fully rearward and partially explains why the Mannlicher action was so silky smooth. The split rear receiver also made scope mounting more difficult, but that was not a consideration in 1903. The Mannlicher bolt could be disassembled without tools in less than 10 seconds.

The magazine could be removed from the bottom of the rifle by using a bullet tip to depress the recessed magazine release located near the front of the floorplate; then rotate the floorplate 90-degrees and pull the magazine from the bottom of the rifle. The entire Mannlicher-Schoenauer operating system could be taken apart for cleaning or repair in a flash.

Cartridges were fed from a detachable Schönauer rotary drum magazine, perhaps the best magazine system ever designed for a bolt action rifle. This five-round magazine held the cartridges individually and separate from each other. Cartridges were positively retained in the magazine to prevent damaging the bullet tips. The magazine was filled by pressing the cartridges into the magazine from the top and loading was easier than with an internal box magazine. The magazine's rotating cartridge platform carried the cartridges concentrically around a central drum. The top cartridge in the magazine was placed directly under the bolt and exactly in line with the chamber for slick, positive feeding.

All of the cartridges in the magazine could be unloaded without cycling them through the action by depressing a button located in the upper right receiver wall, just to the right of the bolt. When this button was pressed, the cartridges remaining in the magazine were ejected out the top of the action.

Another benefit of the Schönauer rotary magazine is that it did not have a follower to drag on the underside of the bolt when the magazine is empty. This is what allowed the rifle's fully open bolt to close and lock merely by holding the trigger back and swinging the muzzle down, a neat trick that no other bolt action rifle could duplicate.

The standard trigger was a single-stage mechanism adjusted at the factory for a crisp 4.5 pound pull. It was user adjustable if you preferred a lighter or heavier release.

Most M-S Carbines were sold with the optional double-set trigger. (In 1966 this cost an extra $10.) This mechanism had two triggers, like a double-barreled shotgun. However, only the front trigger fired the rifle. You could simply ignore the rear trigger and pull the front trigger to fire the rifle. Used in this manner, the front trigger pull was heavy (around nine pounds) and had noticeable (but smooth) creep before let-off, much like some of today's lawyer inspired triggers.

The sole purpose of the rear trigger was to set the front trigger for an exceptionally light release. If desired, the shooter could pull the back trigger until it clicked to "set" the front trigger; then the rifle could be fired by a very light touch on the front trigger. There was a small regulating screw located between the triggers to adjust the "set" trigger pull between zero and three ounces!

Firing the rifle unset the trigger. If the rifle was not fired after the front trigger had been set, the trigger could be un-set by holding the rear trigger all the way back and lightly pulling the front trigger until all of the the take-up was removed, then releasing the rear trigger and finally releasing the front trigger. This returned the front trigger to a normal (unset) pull. To unset the front trigger in this way, do not pull the front trigger past the take-up stage or the rifle will fire. Stoeger warned its customers that this last "trick" should be practiced on an empty chamber until it was thoroughly understood.

Alternatively, put either safety in the "safe" position and press the front trigger. This unsets the trigger without firing the rifle.

A third method is to open the bolt part way and press the set front trigger. This also serves to unset the trigger. Note that any of these methods unsets the front trigger, but the striker is still cocked and the rifle can still be fired by pulling the unset front trigger.

MCA Carbines came with two completely independent safeties. The first was a traditional wing safety at the rear end of the bolt that locked the striker. Unfortunately, a low mounted scope could block the rotation of this safety, preventing its use. The second safety was intended for use with low-mounted telescopic sights and blocked the trigger. This was engaged by a slider mounted on the top tang.

The barrel incorporated an integral sleeve that extended back and enclosed the head of the bolt. This was a strong design intended to protect the shooter. The controlled feed bolt face was not recessed to enclose the cartridge head. The lands and grooves inside the barrel were lapped to a mirror finish at the factory. Externally, the barrel tapered all the way to the muzzle and incorporated three visible steps.

Iron sights were standard on all M-S rifles. These consisted of a hooded, silver bead, ramp front sight and a two-leaf, open rear sight with a "U" shaped notch. The shorter leaf was supposed to be regulated for 100-200 yards and the taller (folding) leaf for 300 yards. Both sights were mounted in standard dovetails and could be drifted laterally to adjust for windage. There was no elevation adjustment beyond the different heights of the rear blades--in effect two elevation steps. The top of the front receiver ring, as well as the front sight ramp, were carefully stippled to reduce glare.

Carbines were supplied with traditional "Mannlicher" full length stocks. The purpose of the full length stock was to protect the barrel and prevent its contacting a hard surface when the rifle was fired over an impromptu rest. It also gave the rifle a very distinctive and racy appearance and this style of stock became known generically as a "Mannlicher stock." Steyr still produces a Classic Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine, but it is not based on the Mannlicher-Schönauer action. (See the Product Review page for a review of the modern Steyr Mannlicher carbine).

M-S stocks were typically made from select, European thin-shell walnut. There were bordered, hand checkered panels on both sides of the pistol grip and wrap-around checkering on the forend. The pistol grip cap and buttplate of the Model 1961-MCA were black plastic and both were set-off by white line spacers. The forend cap at the muzzle was blued steel.

The MCA stock design incorporated a moderate Monte Carlo comb. This was sloped slightly forward to move the comb away from the face during recoil. On the left side of the buttstock was a European style, shadow line cheekpiece. The pistol grip had a smooth, natural curve. Unlike most production rifles, the M-S stock was commendably slender at pistol grip and forend. Both were oval shaped in cross-section. Deluxe, quiet, 1" sling swivels were included.

The Mannlicher 1961-MCA Carbine fed cartridges smoothly and reliably from its Schönauer spool magazine. It was also unusually easy to load and unload. These little carbines were well balanced, easy to carry, fast to point and accurate. Their short length and elegant stock design definitely contributed to their lasting appeal. For many years, Steyr advertised the Mannlicher-Schönauer as the "World's Finest Rifle." Although they are basically a 110 year old design that has been out of production for over 40 years, legions of admirers think they still are.

Note: A full length review of a Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA carbine can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2008, 2013 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.