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Military Surplus Hunting Rifles: These bolt action old timers will increase your hunting challenge while providing excellent performance.
I take two or three deer a season. Depending on my mood, Iíll often dig up an old military surplus rifle for a day's hunting, just for fun. Deer hunting with a classic military surplus bolt action rifle is an excellent way to enjoy outstanding performance and to satisfy a rifle loverís curiosity about what it is like to shoot and handle such arms.
The era of the bolt action military rifle began in the final decades of the 19th century and was pretty much over by the 1960's. Millions of these rifles were dumped on the civilian market as surplus. Many were sporterized and a large number were left in original military form.
All of these military cartridges are more than equal to the challenge of deer hunting. The original military sights range from fairly crude to refined and many sporterized examples have been altered for scope use. As with any rifle that is at least a half century old, it is advisable to have it examined by a competent gunsmith before use, but many shooters will be surprised at how accurate and effective good specimens of these rifles can be. Following are some examples of surplus rifles with which I have hunted.
Mauser 98 and M48 in 8x57mm Mauser
There were over 27,000,000 Mauser action military rifles produced. The Model 1898 Mauser was the premier service rifle during the first half of the 20th century. The classic Mauser 98 action is considered the standard by which all other bolt action rifles are judged. While many North American 8mm Mauser factory hunting loads are roughly equal to the .32 Winchester Special, European hunting loads from such companies as PRVI Partizan, Sellier & Belloit and Norma are quite competitive with modern .30-06 loads.
The M48 is a Yugloslavian military rifle with a medium length M-98 type action produced after World War II. Many of them can be found in nearly new condition. A number of fine sporting conversions of both models are on the market. Expect to pay from $200 to $600 for a good specimen. Many Model 98 Mausers have been converted to rounds such as the .270 Wincheser, .30-06 and 8mm-06. Even easier is to re-barrel to .308 Win., which does not require lengthening the magazine.
Personally, I do just fine hunting with the original 8x57 caliber and Winchester ammunition and I have never found it lacking for moderate range deer hunting. I had a Belgian Fabrique Nationale Model 98 with a 4x Bushnell scope and Bell & Carlson composite stock that was one of the most accurate rifles with which Iíve ever hunted.
United States Model 1917 Enfield and 03-A3 Springfield in .30-06
The Enfield Model 1917 was a World War I solution to a shortage of Springfields. Over 1,000,000 were manufactured at Remingtonís Eddystone facility. It is a cock on closing, lumbering bolt action with the largest breech action chamber of any of the rifles in this article. Massive strength and ample room makes the Model 1917 a popular choice for modern dangerous game load conversions. The Model 1917 has a very effective original military aperture sight. I gave my younger son a simple sporterized model with a Boydís Ria stock. It is an excellent deer and elk rifle.
The .30-06 O3-A3 Springfield was the United States governmentís effort to create a rifle equal to the German Mauser 98. The 03-A3 Springfield has been the basis for thousands of fine sporter conversions. Its balance and handling qualities are superior to the 1917 Enfield, but the original stock's very short length of pull must have been designed for midgets. Use a 1" slip-on recoil pad to lengthen the original butt stock.
Expect to pay from $200 to $800 for good sporterized versions of both models. Both models in good original military condition bring a premium beginning in the $600 range and going up. Frankly, today they are too valuable in original condition to convert to a sporter, but thousands of good sporters are available.
British Lee-Enfield in .303 British
The British Lee-Enfield was one of the best battle rifles of the early 20th Century and was in service well into the 1960ís in many ex-British colonies. Military surplus Lee-Enfields tend to be a bit rougher than most, because so many of them were reissued to British colonial troops.
The Lee-Enfield is not easily converted to other cartridges. Most sporters today are found in original .303 British, although some have been convereted to .308 Winchester and a few can be found in .45-70. Gibbs Rifle Company produced a number of plain, but very effective, sporters in all of these calibers. With full power loads, the power and velocity of the .303 British is similar to the .308 Winchester. The .303 British is a very credible deer round. The original aperture sights are quite good. When I was in South Africa, I noticed that a great many meat hunters used Lee-Enfield sporters. Expect to pay from $100 to $500 for decent sporters. I enjoyed hunting with the .303 British Lee-Enfield. For the money it is hard to beat.
Russian Mosin-Nagant in 7.62X54R
Trust the Russians to manufacture an obsolete, ugly, but thoroughly rugged and absolutely dependable military rifle. The 7.62X54R cartridge is comparable to the .30-06. The rifle was carried by Russian and communist armies from WWI through the Viet Nam era. Good soft point hunting versions of this cartridge are manufactured by Winchester, PRVI Partizan, Lapua, and Wolf. I purchased an original standard issue military carbine in unfired condition for a mere $120, then went to the range and shot a three-inch, 100 yard group using Barnaul Russian military surplus ammunition. Expect to pay from $80 to $200 for good examples. I have seen some scoped sporter conversions with custom stocks listed for up to $600. Mosin Nagant carbines can be easily converted to scout type configurations at low cost. I have not seen a Mosin-Nagant in a caliber other than 7.62X54R, except for one single shot conversion in 7.62X39, but the ammo is cheap and there is plenty of it.
Other Classic Military Rifles
Surplus military rifles with which I have not personally hunted, but which are reasonably common on the used market, include the 7.7mm Japanese Arisaka, which is crude, strong and effective. The U.S. Springfield 1892 (Krag-Jorgenson) in .30-40 Krag is a very smooth, if quirky, American made bolt action. The Italian M38 Mannlicher-Carcano in 6.5x52mm is known for its compact dimensions, fast operation and dependability. The Model 1896 Swedish Mauser in 6.5x55mm is a very high quality, well made rifle that typically delivers top accuracy and is chambered for a popular hunting round. The odd, straight pull bolt Schmidt-Rubin K-31 in 7.5X55mm Swiss is usually very accurate and still commands fairly high prices. The 7.5x55mm remains the Swiss service cartridge, but now it is chambered in an autoloading rifle.
It is fun to hunt deer with a military surplus rifle. It is often necessary to stalk closer before shooting if the original military sights are used. All of these examples are longer and heavier than most modern bolt action sporters and the two-stage military triggers take some getting used to, so a hunter will often not shoot groups as tight as might be the case with a modern scoped rifle. Some custom sporter conversions of the Mauser, Enfield and Springfield are beautiful, but even a homely Mosin-Nagant is quite capable of taking trophy deer season in and season out.
Note: For additional reading, see "Compared: Sporterized Military Cartridges" on the Rifle Cartridges page.
Copyright 2010 by Randy D. Smith. All rights reserved.