An Old Springfield ’03 Sporter
By David Tong
While the current trend is toward sporting rifles that have synthetic stocks and rust resistant finishes to eliminate or greatly reduce corrosion and maintenance for hunting under hard weather conditions, I will agree with the rest of the G&S Online staff in an aesthetic preference for the classic blued steel and walnut checkered stock from a pride of ownership perspective. (Pride is, however, a dangerous thing!)
I work part time at a local gun shop, Albany Guns, Coins and Jewelry. Owned by Mr. Nick Russell and ably assisted by his employee, Mrs. Barbara Kropf, this little shop has a very eclectic collection of “modern” (read: post 1850's) firearms, due to Nick’s vast knowledge of sporting arms in his 35 years in business. I have managed to acquire a number of interesting arms over the past few years from them. So diverse is the used stuff he buys from individuals or estates that I have found little need to shop anywhere else.
The subject of today’s piece is a neat and tidy little Springfield 1903, still wearing its original military barrel in .30-06. Many moons ago, these rifles were often the basis for a custom rifle or someone’s garage hack job. August firms like R. F. Sedgley (late of Philadelphia), or Abercrombie and Fitch (emphatically NOT the teen clothing company of the same name) of New York City once did a great business taking U.S. service rifles and making them into objects of restrained beauty.
This particular rifle lacks any sort of maker’s mark or provenance, which means that it is worth whatever a buyer would be willing to pay for it. The rear sight is a Redfield click adjustable steel target type with interchangeable apertures, while the front sight is mounted on the once de rigueur barrel band ramp.
The walnut stock has a slim fore-end, open wrist and a shadow type cheekpiece on a comb with some drop at heel. It is, of course, finished in some kind of oil, probably linseed, and is fully checkered around both forearm and wrist. There is an ebony fore-end tip and a period (and still supple) “Noshoc” red recoil pad at the butt.
The original military trigger has been reworked to a single stage pull of some three pounds and is absolutely crisp. Due to tight inletting and the lack of a rear action solid bedding arrangement, there is the slight start of a wrist split. I will address that issue before I shoot the rifle by the addition of a pillar bedding tube and some bedding compound.
The stock also needs some wood removed under the magazine cut-off lever at the left rear of the action. This needs to be done so that it can properly "sit down” and not snag or be pushed upward to prevent accidental removal of the bolt from the action on fast cycling.
I would estimate that this rifle was built sometime in the 1930's to 40's at the latest. To me it is a reminder of simpler times, when people used to take the time to build things for themselves, using a military action to cut costs compared to buying a new Remington Model 30 Express or Winchester Model 70 rifle, which would have been its then-current competitors.
The bore appears near mint and very well maintained. The stock has few very small and inconsequential dings. Weighing about 7.25 pounds, it is slim and a joy to carry. It will be a treat to eventually pursue the invisible blacktail deer that supposedly inhabit our Western Oregon woods, or perhaps afield after Pennsylvania whitetail with a good friend of mine.
Much like my beloved 1911 pistol, a rifle like this speaks of permanence and of the romance of a by-gone era, when men like Theodore Roosevelt or Townsend Whelen used to carry something much like it in their travels.
If any of you are ever traveling along Interstate 5 in our lovely state, I would urge you to drop in and say hi to Nick and Barbara; they might just have something that speaks to you that way, too.
Copyright 2008 by David Tong. All rights reserved.