Customizing the Swedish M96 Mauser Rifle
By Barr Soltis
According to Wikipedia sources, “the 6.5x55mm is a rifle cartridge developed in 1891 for use in the new rifles then under consideration by the Swedish-Norwegian Kingdom. The two nations had independent armies. Consequently, the normal procedure at that time was for their respective governments to use the same ammunition and then purchase small arms of their choice. Norway adopted the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, while Sweden adopted a Mauser rifle design.” It is the latter that is the subject of this article.
“Swedish Mausers are a family of bolt-action rifles based on an improved variant of Mauser's earlier Model 1893, but using the 6.5x55 cartridge and incorporating unique design elements, as requested by Sweden. In 1898, production at Carl Gustaf's stads Gevarsfaktori in Eskilstuna in Sweden. All Swedish Mausers were chambered for the 6.5x55mm cartridge and all Swedish-made actions were proof tested with a single cartridge developing 66,000psi. Swedish Mausers were manufactured by Waffenfabrik Muser Oberndorf a/n in Germany or in Sweden by Carl Gustafs stads Gevarsfaktori and Husqvarna Vaspenfabriks Aktiebolag. All Swedish Mausers, whether built in Germany or Sweden, were fabricated using a Swedish-supplied high grade tool steel alloyed with nickel, copper and vanadium, a product noted for its strength and corrosion resistance.”
The 140 grain spitzer bullet remains most popular for the caliber and it is best described as a long thin bullet. Much like a fat needle, it has earned a reputation as an extremely effective projectile. It possesses both superior sectional density and ballistic coefficients as compared to the 7mm and .30 caliber offerings of similar weight that are the mainstream choice in many countries, particularly the United States. Although 6.5mm/140 grain bullets have been loaded in a variety of calibers, the most popular is the 6.5x55 Swedish. However, there have been other less-known configurations that have earned impressive reputations on both the game and battle fields.
The average 6.5mm, 160 grain RN bullet looks like a pencil and is as plain Jane in appearance as they come. Measuring more than an inch long, it is an unusual looking bullet, but don't let that fool 'ya. Although its ballistic coefficient pales in comparison to the 140 grain bullets, it has a sectional density of .328 and it has proved its effectiveness and worth throughout the world. The 160 grain bullet is usually ignored by most US hunters, although in Sweden its popularity is surpassed only by the 140 grain bullet. The modern 160 grain soft point makes the 6.5 a nice woods bullet with its round nose.
I own an original 1918 Swedish M96 Mauser that was undoubtedly one of the untold numbers of these wonderful rifles that our Scandinavian military friends viewed as obsolete and subsequently sold quite cheaply to distributors in the United States. It has matching serial numbers and the thought of sporterizing it for hunting purposes would curdle the blood of many military arms collectors. Although it only cost the equivalent of half a days pay and even though I can not focus on the military sights (they were intended for much younger eyes) having it sporterized has never been a consideration.
About seven years ago I found myself looking for a new production 6.5x55 and purchased a Ruger M77, thus leaving my original M96 as a mantel piece. I owned the Ruger for many years and liked it, except neither factory nor hand-loads could get it to shoot even close to the 6.5x55's tack driver reputation, so onto the used gun market it went.
Immediately thereafter I began a search for another rifle to fill the void, but this new rifle would be my all-weather rifle. You know it, the rifle that you take out when you are hunting in the rain, snow or when hunting in damp, wooded areas. The one you take when you are certain that your beautiful wood stock rifle with its luster blued barrel will get drenched with cold Autumn rains or scratches from unforgiving vegetation. This will never be your pride and joy rifle, it will never be more than a utility piece that gets the job done without fret or stress. For me, this was supposed to be a Savage 16FHSS chambered in 7mm-08. Unfortunately, it shot much like a scatter gun, so off to the used gun market it went, just like the Ruger.
Several months later, my friend, hunting buddy and fellow Guns and Shooting Online contributing writer Ed Turner offered to sell me his 1913 Kimber of America 6.5x55 SE that was sporterized from a M96. The original M96 barrel and action were treated with what I would describe as a “Parkerized” finish and synthetic Ram-Line stock. The the rifle was topped with a 3x9 Bushnell Elite 3200 with its optics coated with a Rain Guard treatment, just what the doctor had ordered. Ed told me that this was the most accurate hunting rifles that he had ever owned and the rest is history. At the range my demanding expectations were easily met; a real shooter, I must say. Finally an all-weather, all-purpose rifle chambered in my favorite caliber.
One afternoon in August 2010, I received word of a spectacular “custom” sporterized Swedish Mauser that was for sale on the internet. Although I was not in the market for another hunting rifle, I thought I would check it out. The rifle was advertised as having a hand-forged jeweled bolt and follower, Timney trigger, Buehler safety, custom walnut stock with a beaded cheek piece, ebony tipped fore-end and Niedner checkered butt plate. Although it was drilled and tapped for optics, the rifle's 20 inch barrel was equipped a set of quality Lyman iron sights. The price was right, so I dropped the hammer once again and it arrived a week later.
I find it difficult to accurately describe my feelings when I first took this rifle in my hands. The rifle was perfect in every way. I own several rifles and none of them ever said to me “honey, I'm home” like this one did. Any buyer's remorse for having purchased a rifle that I did not need evaporated.
A week later I mounted a Nikon 1.5 - 4.5 x20mm Ultra Wide scope on the custom Swede and off to the range I drove in nervous anticipation. Beside me in the car sat the most beautiful rifle that I had ever owned and I just knew that there had to be something wrong; it was too perfect. Why was it advertised at a fraction of its real value? Did that mean that something mysterious lurked beneath its fine exterior, something dark, something terrible?
When I arrived at the range, it felt as if I were introducing a girlfriend to my family for the first time. Everyone wanted a personal introduction to my Crown Jewel and were elbow deep in line to throw it to their shoulders. They say that beauty is only skin deep and that was my fear, as it had to be a shooter first and foremost. After the scope was tuned for 100 yards the moment of truth arrived. Much to my pleasure, she performed flawlessly. A dream come true and she will not be banished to a life behind the dark doors of a steel safe.
As I said before, I would never sporterize my original M96. However; if I had two of them and if I were committed to doing it right, I absolutely would consider sporterizing one of these wonderful combinations of superior workmanship and accuracy into a modern-day hunting rifle. There you have it, a comparison between two modern firearms and two antiques.
Being part Swedish, I have mused about my sporterized Mausers. Could it be possible that one of them was once used by family member? Probably not, but I suspect that they would be quite happy to know that it has been put to good use after all these years and not left as a mantel piece or stuffed between the rafters of a dark attic.
So, it begs the question: What harm is done by taking someone's military surplus and turning into a treasure? Personally, I think none.
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