The Steyr Mannlicher Classic Full Stock Carbine
By Chuck Hawks
Josef Werndl founded the company that has become today's Steyr Mannlicher in 1864 in the city of Steyr, Austria, a center of arms production since the 14th Century. The new business was almost immediately successful, and in 1867 received an order from the Austrian Army for 100,000 rifles. Following the development of a successful repeating rifle in 1885, orders flowed in from around the world and the Company acquired an international reputation. Josef Werndl died in 1889, but the Company lived on and prospered.
Soon after the turn of the 20th Century Steyr acquired exclusive rights to the rifles developed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and Otto Schoenauer. This proved crucial to the future of Steyr, much as acquisition of the rights to John Browning's designs was crucial to FN in Belgium. One result of this collaboration was the famous Mannlicher-Schoenauer hunting rifle.
Despite the boom and bust cycles caused by Austria's participation in, and loss of, two World Wars during the 20th Century, Steyr managed to survive. Today, Steyr Mannlicher is again one of Europe's prominent producers of high quality small arms.
I met Frederic Pavat, the U.S. Sales Manager of Steyr Mannlicher (Austria), at the 2004 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. We got along well, and in the course of a casual conversation I found that our views on hunting rifles had much in common. I also mentioned that I had long desired to review a Classic Mannlicher rifle for Guns and Shooting Online.
After the SHOT Show Frederic put me in touch with Tony Rosetti, Jr., the CEO of Steyr Mannlicher USA. At my request, Tony graciously consigned to me a brand new Classic Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine in caliber .243 Winchester for this review.
The rifle arrived in due time. Inside the usual cardboard packing box was a very unusual, foam lined, black plastic hard case bearing the logo "Steyr Mannlicher" in gold. And inside of that was the test rifle, owner's manual, and warrantee cards. (The warrantee period is two years.) This neat and very secure packaging was the first indication of the attention to detail that I later found seems to mark every aspect of the Classic Mannlicher rifle.
The Classic Mannlicher is the modern descendent of the famous Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbines of the 20th Century, legendary rifles that are a very hard act to follow. Yet Steyr Mannlicher does not shy away from the latest technology. Thus the new Classic Mannlicher is a mixture of old and new, traditional and high-tech.
The Classic Mannlicher is available as a Half stock rifle (this is the standard rifle), a half stock Mountain rifle with a slender schnable style forearm, and the Full stock carbine reviewed for this article. All of these share the same action, construction and finish, and all are stocked in European walnut. It is the barrel length and style of stock that determine the specific model.
Here are the basic specifications for the Classic Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine, taken primarily from the owner's manual included with the test rifle.
The most obvious feature of the Full stock model sent to me for this review is its full length walnut stock. The slender forearm that runs below the barrel all the way to the neat blued steel cap at the muzzle is the ultimate Mannlicher carbine styling clue. Indeed, the word "Mannlicher" has become a generic term describing this style of stock, just as "Kleenex" has become a generic term for facial tissues. I, for example, own a Ruger M77RSI with a Mannlicher style stock. To me, this is the most attractive of all Steyr Mannlicher rifles.
In the case of the test rifle, the stock is dark walnut with long, even darker grain lines. It is a handsome piece of wood. It has a slightly European "hump back" comb profile and a Euro style (pancake) cheek piece that is nicely carved. The pistol grip has a rather pronounced hook at the end, a touch of California styling that has been widely embraced in Europe.
The stock finish is the oil type that Europeans seem to prefer, which leaves the stock dull and the pores of the wood open. It was applied over a very well prepared surface that was obviously sanded with extra fine grit paper. If this were my rifle I would hand rub a couple coats of something like Outers Stock Oil into the stock to fill the pores of the wood and achieve the smooth oil finished luster that I prefer. The butt plate is black rubber, and the pistol grip cap appears to be ebony. The rifle was supplied with petite sling swivels for a narrow (3/4") sling.
While we are still on the stock I should mention that the cut checkering on this Classic Mannlicher was fine (about 24 lpi) and extremely well executed, with clean borders and uniform and nicely pointed diamonds. Seldom will you see a better checkering job on a contemporary factory built rifle.
Luxury stocks, of higher grade walnut, are available for a surcharge. Specimens of available luxury stocks may be viewed from the Steyr Mannlicher web page (http://www.steyr-mannlicher.com/).
The barreled action is finished in a deep, highly polished, high gloss blue. This is similar in execution and beauty to a Weatherby Deluxe blue job. The round barrel was clearly hammer forged, as the external spirals that are the reverse of the rifling that results from this process were not ground off. Instead the barrel was polished and blued "as is." This spiral effect on the barrel has become a Steyr Mannlicher trademark, and most observers at the rifle range commented positively on the look; certainly it is unique. The barrel is free floating for its entire length except at the muzzle, where the stock terminates.
With the bolt closed the streamlined receiver is fully enclosed, with the only openings being an elongated oval ejection port on the right side and a cut at the rear for the bolt handle. The bolt handle is the smooth, butter knife, Mannlicher type. The matching streamlined bolt sleeve covers the back of the receiver. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. I should add that the bolt throw, ejection port, and magazine are all correctly sized for short action cartridges like the .243 Win.
The two-piece bolt itself is massive, with a rebated head and a body the same diameter as the locking lugs, similar in that way to a Weatherby Mark V bolt. But on the Mannlicher bolt head there are four locking lugs arranged in two pairs centered 180 degrees apart, requiring a conventional bolt lift. The bolt handle also serves as a safety lug. There are two gas escape ports in the bolt body to divert hot powder gassed away from the shooter's face in the event of a burst case. The extractor is a spring loaded claw type mounted in the bolt head, and the ejector is the reliable plunger type. There is a small hole in the streamlined bolt sleeve through which the end of the firing pin protrudes when the rifle is cocked. This serves as a cocking indicator.
This bolt can be disassembled by hand without the use of tools, but Mannlicher states that: "Under normal circumstances the bolt needs not be disassembled. It has been permanently lubricated by the factory."
There is no separate release lever to allow removal of the bolt from the receiver. Instead, the three position, tang mounted, roller safety is put in the intermediate--loading--position (marked by a white dot). This allows the bolt to be operated while the trigger is locked. Raise the bolt handle, but do not withdraw the bolt. Then roll the safety back to its full "on" position (which in normal use locks the bolt closed and blocks the trigger). Then simply withdraw the bolt from the receiver. To reinstall the bolt, just slide it into place in the receiver and lock the handle closed. That's it. It is a unique but nifty system.
The safety is unusual in a couple of other ways. For one, there is a gray button that pops up from the front of the roller switch when the safety is in the full rearward (on) position. This prevents accidental movement from "safe" to "fire" but does not impede normal operation of the safety.
Another unusual feature is that when the safety is fully on (gray button protruding), the bolt handle can be pressed almost entirely into a channel in the stock so that only the tip protrudes. This is a handy feature when carrying the rifle in a saddle scabbard or through very heavy cover. Pressing the bolt into its channel in the stock also locks the firing pin. When the safety is rolled to the middle (white dot) or fire (red dot) positions the bolt handle springs out of its channel for easy grasping and quick operation.
The only drawback to this system is the loud clicking sound made when the bolt handle pops out of its recess. It is loud enough to attract the attention of wary game animals. When stalking game with rifle in hand and the safety on, I would ensure that the bolt was not pressed into its recess in the stock.
The roller safety and the tang in which it is mounted are made of a black polymer, only one of several places where the space age material is used in this rifle. Other instances of the use of polymer parts include the detachable magazine box and follower (the magazine floorplate is steel), the front and rear sight blades (the rest of the sight assembly is steel), and the caps that are thoughtfully provided to cover the hex-head trigger guard screws. The trigger guard, bottom iron, and magazine floorplate (as mentioned) are all highly polished and deeply blued steel.
As something of a traditionalist when it comes to rifles, I should have been offended by the use of plastic in such an expensive rifle, but for some reason I wasn't. Perhaps the polymer parts did not bother me because, first, they are not obvious and they do not make the rifle look "cheap." Second, I could see how the material was probably superior to steel or aluminum alloy in the specific applications for which it was selected.
For instance, the polymer magazine probably feeds slicker than would a steel magazine and the bluing is prone to wear off of steel sight blades, which can be accidentally bent. I suspect that a steel tang would cause excessive wear on the tricky roller safety system. So call the use of polymer in these areas good design rather than simple cost cutting.
The single stage trigger in this rifle broke cleanly at 3 3/4 pounds. It is obviously intended to be user adjustable, but the adjustment screw heads were plugged with some sort of white compound. If this were my rifle I would have chipped the stuff away and reduced the pull to the 3 pounds that I prefer. Since I had to return the rifle to Mannlicher, I left the trigger alone. In any case, the large nickel (or possibly chrome) plated trigger is easy to control and superior to about 90% of today's factory adjusted triggers. The surrounding trigger guard is large and would easily accommodate a heavily gloved trigger finger.
The Mannlicher Classic carbine arrived without a scope base and these are not common in rural Oregon, although they can be special ordered. So I decided to take the path of least resistance and test the rifle using the supplied open sights. The rear sight is a shallow "V" shape with a square notch in the center, and the front sight is a ramp mounted square post with a white face. These are adjustable for windage at the rear and elevation at the front.
The rear sight is adjusted by first loosening a set screw with a small screwdriver; it can then be moved laterally in its dovetail. The front sight is adjusted by pressing down on the sight blade; the adjusting nut can then be turned with the blade of a tiny screwdriver or any small, pointed object. Lowering the front sight raises the point of impact; raising it lowers the point of impact.
Rocky Hays, Guns and Shooting Online gunsmithing consultant, did most of the shooting chores at the range as his eyes can accomodate iron sights better than mine. Shooting was done from a bench rest using sandbags at 25 yards and a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest at 100 yards.
One thing that we quickly discovered is that the loading/ejection port is so small that, while single cartridges can be loaded directly into the chamber, it is a fiddley process. (Single loading a cartridge under stress in the field would be a real challenge.) We found it easier to insert a cartridge into the magazine and operate the bolt to chamber the round. The magazine is very easy to remove and replace by means of snap catches on each side of the rifle.
One of the rifle's special features is that the magazine can be locked in the rifle in two positions. The first is fully seated, as with any normal rifle; in this position the bottom of the magazine is flush with the stock. The second position is a "safety position" and is described in the owner's manual this way: "Push the two snap latches of the magazine against each other and push the magazine into the rifle until the magazine latches on the upper detent. In this position the magazine will protrude from the stock by approx. 5mm. When the bolt is operated the cartridges WILL NOT feed from the magazine."
Three .243 factory loads and one handload were used, representing four different bullet weights. The factory loads included Winchester Super-X 80 grain PSP and 100 grain Power-Point bullets, and Winchester Supreme 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip bullets. The handload used an 87 grain Hornady BTHP bullet over 37.0 grains of IMR 4064 powder. This load has shot well in just about every .243 rifle in which I have used it.
We started shooting at 25 yards (remember the iron sights), and immediately knew that the rifle was a winner in the accuracy department. 3-shot groups with all four loads went into about 1/2", with the handload using the 87 grain Hornady bullet being perhaps the smallest by a very slight margin. Even better, the rifle showed no sensitivity to the different bullet weights. Groups with all four bullets could be superimposed and covered by a quarter.
The handload using the 87 grain Hornady bullet was chosen for the final shooting at 100 yards. At that distance 3-shot groups varied from about 2.5" down to an incredible 1" (discounting the occasional called flyer that is inevitable when using iron sights at that distance). Let me again emphasize that this was done with open sights! To summarize, the Classic Mannlicher passed the shooting test with flying colors, recording the best groups ever fired with iron sights for a Guns and Shooting Online review. There were no malfunctions of any kind.
Steyr likes to think of their Classic Mannlichers as "traditional gentleman's rifles." Indeed, they are not inexpensive; the invoice price of the test rifle was $1600. Steyr advertises that, "high reliability, long service life, maximum precision and comfort are only a few of the characteristics" of the Classic Mannlicher. And, judging by the rifle reviewed for this article, they are quite right.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2004, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION