Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA .308 Carbine
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
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 finally ended in 1971. Throughout this time, the exclusive right to manufacture and sell Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles was owned by Steyr, the prestigious Austrian gun making firm. The final 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 make the action operate smoothly also prevent the use of conventional, top mounted, scope bases. M-S rifles were not factory drilled and tapped to accept the best solution to this problem, Redfield's two-piece SR-MS bases that mount to the front receiver ring and the left side of the split rear receiver ring, until the introduction of the final 1961-MCA models.
Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles were improved, without changing the basic design, throughout 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 by the approach of WW II, the German Mauser Model 98 and the Austrian Mannlicher-Schönauer were the pre-eminent European and African bolt action hunting rifles.
The most typical of Mannlicher-Schönauers is the famous carbine with its signature full length stock (see photo above). Carbines were built from 1903 right up to the end in 1971. Steyr Mannlicher still offers this style of carbine today, although built on an entirely different action.
The second to last Mannlicher-Schönauer model, the 1956-MC (Monte Carlo), had a high, Weatherby-like, forward slanting comb that effectively prevented the use of the supplied iron sights. This was a big departure from traditional M-S stock design. The 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 1961-MCA model. (MCA stands for "Monte Carlo All-purpose.")
Another minor change was moving the second (or auxiliary) safety from the right rear of the receiver (where it resembled a modern Remington Model 700 safety) to a slider on the top tang. The new safety slider was molded from black plastic for silent operation and to avoid scratching the blued steel tang extension, the only plastic part in the entire action. Otherwise, the 1956 and 1961 models were pretty much identical. Even the change in the Model 1961-MCA safety was not immediate and early Model 1961-MCA rifles retained the old style safety.
The rifle reviewed here is the final version of the M-S full-stock carbine, the Model 1961-MCA. It is chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge and was produced in the latter half of 1965. It is drilled and tapped for Redfield SR-MS two-piece scope bases and has a removable side plate to accommodate Steyr or other side mounts. Open iron sights are provided and it has the tang mounted safety. The trigger mechanism is the optional double-set type, which is very common on these rifles.
In addition to the famous full-stock carbine with a 20" barrel, Model 1961-MCA's were also available in a conventional 2/3 stock Rifle configuration with a 22" barrel. There was also a beefed-up Magnum Rifle with a 25-5/8" barrel that retained the high comb, Model 1956-MC style rifle stock.
Following are some basic specifications for the Mannlicher-Schönauer 1961-MCA full stock carbine reviewed here, based on measurements and information provided by Stoeger in the 1967 Edition of the Shooter's Bible.
The Mannlicher bolt action is quite different than the usual Mauser based design. It is a controlled round feeding action. The front locking, cock on opening bolt incorporates dual locking lugs spaced for a 90-degree bolt rotation and the bolt handle serves as a third "safety" locking lug. None of this sounds appreciably different from a Mauser 98, but the Mannlicher achieves these features in a unique manner.
The extractor is a machined, spring loaded, claw assembly inletted into the bolt in front of the right (when open) or lower (when closed) locking lug. The ejector rides over the left hand (or 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. (See photo below.) This unique extraction/ejection system does not require splitting the locking lug, as does a Mauser ejector.
The bolt handle is mounted in the middle of the bolt, rather than at the rear. When the bolt is drawn rearward, the bolt handle passes through the gap in the split rear receiver ring. This prevents binding and most of the bolt wobble common to Mauser pattern actions when the bolt is fully rearward and is part of the reason why the Mannlicher action is so smooth. The handle location places it well forward of the trigger guard when the bolt is closed and locked. Of course, the split rear receiver ring makes scope mounting more difficult, but this was not a consideration in 1903.
The Mannlicher bolt can be disassembled without tools in less than 10 seconds. Use the tip of the firing pin to release the Schönauer magazine and your can have the entire operating system apart for cleaning or repair in a flash.
of bolt head and ejector. Photo by Kellet Stephens.
Cartridges are fed from a Schönauer rotary drum magazine, the best magazine system ever designed for a bolt action rifle. This five round magazine holds the cartridges individually and separate from each other. Cartridges are positively retained in the magazine to prevent damaging the bullet tips. The magazine is filled by pressing the cartridges into the magazine from the top and loading is easier than with an internal box magazine. The magazine's rotating cartridge platform carries the cartridges concentrically around the central drum. The top cartridge in the magazine is placed directly under the bolt and exactly in line with the chamber for slick, positive feeding.
All of the cartridges in the magazine can 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 is pressed the cartridges pop out of the top of the action, rather than dropping out the bottom, as would be the case with box magazines equipped with a hinged floorplate. In addition, the whole magazine can be removed from the bottom of the rifle by using a bullet tip, the tip of the rifle's firing pin, or something similar to press in the recessed magazine release located near the front of the floorplate and then rotating the floorplate 90 degrees.
Note rotary magazine follower and leading edges of split rear receiver ring at extreme left. Photo by Kellet Stephens.
Another benefit of the Schönauer spool magazine is that it does not have a follower that drags on the underside of the bolt when the magazine is empty. This is what allows 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 can duplicate. Can you say, "Smooth action"?
The rifle reviewed here came with a double-set trigger, the most popular option on Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles. This oddity (at least to American shooters) is a trigger mechanism with two triggers, like a double-barreled shotgun. However, only the front trigger can fire the rifle. If you ignore the rear trigger and simply pull the front trigger to shoot, the trigger pull is very heavy (nine pounds by our RCBS trigger pull gauge) with noticeable travel before let-off, much like some of today's lawyer inspired triggers.
The sole purpose of the rear trigger is to set the front trigger for what used to be called a "hair trigger" release. Pull the back trigger until it clicks to set the front trigger. The rifle is then fired by barely touching the front trigger when the sight is aligned on the target, and we mean "barely." There is a small regulating screw located between the triggers to adjust the "set" trigger pull between zero and three ounces! If you are weary of today's heavy "lawyer" triggers, the double-set trigger will be a revelation.
Firing the rifle unsets the trigger. If the rifle is not fired after the front trigger has been set, the front trigger can be un-set by holding back the rear trigger and very lightly pulling the front trigger, returning the front trigger to normal pull. Stoeger warned that this last "trick" should be practiced on an empty chamber until it is thoroughly understood. Amen to that! Alternatively, put either safety in the "safe" position and press the front trigger. This will unset the trigger without firing the rifle.
We have never liked set triggers on a hunting rifle. We feel that they are too heavy and creepy when unset and, when set, too light to reliably control during the adrenalin fueled excitement of a hunt. We prefer a clean, single stage trigger that can be adjusted to release at about three pounds. The Mannlicher-Schönauer single trigger is just such a trigger.
The barrel incorporates an integral sleeve that reaches back beyond the head of the bolt. This is a strong design intended to protect the shooter. The controlled feed bolt face is not recessed, so call the Mannlicher design, "two rings of steel." The lands and grooves inside the barrel were hand lapped to a mirror finish at the factory. Externally, the barrel tapers all the way to the muzzle and incorporates two visible steps. It is a complicated and classy profile.
Iron sights are standard on all M-S rifles. These consist of a hooded, silver bead, ramp front sight and a two-leaf, open rear sight with "U" notches. The shorter leaf is supposed to be regulated for 100-200 yards and the taller (folding) leaf for 300 yards. Both sights are mounted in dovetails and can be drifted laterally to adjust for windage. There is no elevation adjustment beyond the different heights of the rear blades--in effect two elevation steps. The front sight ramp, top of the front receiver ring and the top of the striker are stippled to reduce glare, a thoughtful and painstaking touch not found on lesser rifles.
and stippled top of front receiver ring at far left. Photo by Kellet Stephens.
The test rifle is an M-S Carbine and it wears the traditional M-S full length carbine stock. The purpose of the full length stock is to protect the barrel and prevents its contacting a hard surface when the rifle is fired over an impromptu rest. It also gives the rifle a very distinctive and racy look and this style of stock became known generically as a "Mannlicher stock," regardless of the brand of rifle on which it is found.
The popular Ruger M77RSI bolt action has been in regular production with a Mannlicher stock since the early 1980's and the Ruger No. 1RSI is a Mannlicher stocked single shot rifle. The CZ Model 550FS is another attractive Mannlicher stocked bolt action carbine. Winchester has produced Model 70 carbines with Mannlicher style stocks in the past and today the Remington Custom Shop supplies Model Seven rifles so stocked. Of course, Steyr produces the modern Classic Mannlicher Full Stock Carbine that we reviewed a few years ago. Specialty rifle makers, such as Thompson & Campbell, also offer Mannlicher stocked carbines. To some modern shooters the Mannlicher stock seems odd, but most riflemen appreciate its sleek lines, which is why it lives on today, long after the demise of the rifle that made it famous.
The stock on our test rifle is hewn from select, European thin-shell walnut and is typical of M-S stocks. This walnut is the wood variously known as "English," "French," "Spanish," "Circassian" and so forth, although genetically they are all the same species of walnut. It is generally considered the best of the stock woods from both the practical and aesthetic viewpoints. There are generous, bordered, hand checkered panels on both sides of the pistol grip and wrap-around checkering on the forend. The pistol grip and buttplate are black plastic and both are set-off by white line spacers in the 1960's style. The stock's end cap at the muzzle is highly polished and blued steel, as are most other external metal surfaces on Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles.
The MCA stock design incorporates a moderate, fluted, Monte Carlo comb. On the left side of the buttstock is a shadow line cheekpiece for right handed shooters. The forend and pistol grip are oval in cross-section to conform to the shape of a partially closed human hand and the latter has a smooth, natural curve. Unlike most production rifle stocks, the M-S is commendably slender at pistol grip and forend, like the best custom-built rifle stocks. Deluxe, silent, 1" sling swivels are included. The stock feels good in the hands and contributes to the M-S Carbine's legendary fast handling. It also looks great!
Unfortunately, while the Monte Carlo design does a satisfactory job of keeping the comb away from the shooter's face, a Pachmayr Decelerator (or equivalent) recoil pad would be a very nice addition to a seven pound, .308 M-S Carbine that will be fired a lot. We made do at the range with a temporary slip-on pad.
We had intended to shoot the Mannlicher-Schönauer using the original iron sights, but since this particular example came with perfectly good Redfield SR-MS scope bases, we decided to mount a Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32 MC scope in steel Leupold STD low rings. It is always nice to be able to see what you are shooting at.
The addition of the scope plus the steel bases and rings brought the rifle's weight up to 8 pounds, 14.6 ounces, reasonable for a powerful cartridge like the .308 Winchester. The extra weight definitely helps to moderate recoil.
A note to other M-S owners: SR-MS scope bases have been faithfully cloned and CNC machined replicas are available from Walt's Walnut at www.waltswalnut.com or telephone 573-485-8588. The price is $150 as this is written, including shipping.
Naturally, we were anxious to get the M-S Carbine to the range for some shooting. As soon as the crummy Western Oregon winter weather permitted, we made tracks to the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers covered shooting positions, solid bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. The weather was chilly, but at least it was not raining and there was no discernable wind.
Guns and Shooting Online Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks, Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays, Technical Assistant Nathan Rauzon and Technical Assistant Bob Fleck handled the shooting chores. Bob brought along his Ruger M77RSI, a Mannlicher-stocked carbine of known capability that served as a "control" rifle during our testing.
We were able to collect several types of .308 ammunition to try in the Mannlicher. The available factory loads included Hornady American Whitetail with a 150 grain InterLock SP bullet at a MV of 2820 fps, Federal Low Recoil with a 170 grain Flat Point bullet at a MV of 2000 fps, Winchester Supreme with a 168 grain Ballistic Silvertip bullet at a MV of 2670 fps, Winchester Supreme Elite with a 150 grain XP3 bullet at a MV of 2825 fps, Stars & Stripes with a 165 grain Hornady InterLock SP bullet at a MV of 2597 fps, Remington Express with a 150 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at a MV of 2820 fps and Remington Managed Recoil with a 125 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at a MV of 2660 fps.
We also tried four handloads using IMR 3031 and Varget powders, which are widely recommended for the .308 Winchester. One reload used a 150 grain Sierra GameKing SBT bullet backed by 42.2 grains of IMR 3031 powder to achieve a MV of about 2700 fps. Historically, this load has averaged about 1.5 MOA groups in the Ruger M77RSI. The second used the same 150 grain Sierra GameKing SBT bullet and 44.8 grains of Varget powder for an estimated MV of 2680 fps. The third used Hornady 150 grain SP Interlock bullets in front of 42.2 grains of IMR 3031 for an estimated MV of 2720 fps. The fourth used 165 grain Hornady BTSP InterLock bullets and 44.0 grains of Varget powder for a velocity of 2556 fps from the Mannlicher's 20" barrel. All of these reloads used Winchester brass and CCI 200 primers and the powder charges were based on data from the applicable reloading manuals.
We did our test shooting from a bench rest with a sandbag under the rifle's forend. Three shot groups were fired for record from 100 yards at Champion Score Keeper targets. The barrel was allowed to cool between shot strings, but not between individual shots.
Here are the shooting results with factory loads:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR FACTORY AMMUNITION = 2.45"
Here are the shooting results with reloads:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR RELOADED AMMUNITION = 2.83"
As you can see, the Mannlicher-Schönauer provided adequate big game hunting accuracy, but nothing more, due to flyers that enlarged the size of many groups. Lightweight carbines are not target rifles; their advantages lie elsewhere. We used the set trigger for shooting our recorded groups. Shooting with the unset, creepy, nine pound trigger pull increased group sizes by about 30%.
A three shot group with the rifle's favored Remington 150 grain Core-Lokt factory load went into 3-3/4" at 200 yards, which is consistent with its 100 yard performance and confirmed that this rifle and load is sufficiently accurate for use on big game animals at that distance. This would be a good standard load for the M-S carbine.
It wasn't until well after the conclusion of the shooting portion of this review that we discovered the forend of our test rifle had warped upward against the barrel at the muzzle, which is very detrimental to accuracy. Guns and Shooting Online Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays re-bedded the barrel, adding epoxy and carbon fiber reinforcement inside the forend to prevent future warping. The result was a substantial improvement in accuracy. After re-bedding, the Remington Express 150 grain Core-Lokt load we had selected as this rifle's standard hunting ammo averaged 1.5" groups at 100 yards and the flyers disappeared.
We chronographed two loads from the Mannlicher's 20" barrel to get an idea of the velocity loss compared to the industry standard test barrel length of 24". The Remington 150 grain Core-Lokt factory load (catalog MV 2820 fps) actually delivered an average of 2665 fps, measured 10' from the muzzle. If the Remington velocity figure is accurate, that would mean a loss of 38.75 fps per inch of barrel reduction.
The other load we chronographed was a handload using a 165 grain Hornady BTSP Interlock bullet in front of 44.0 grain of Varget powder. The Hornady Handbook of Cartridge Reloading claims a MV of 2600 fps for this load, as tested in a Winchester Model 70 with a 22" barrel. Our average chronographed velocity, measured 10' from the muzzle, was 2556 fps. The velocity loss of this load in the Mannlicher's two inch shorter barrel thus amounted to 22 fps per inch. The general assumption is that higher speed loads suffer greater velocity losses when fired from a short barrel and this was born out in our test.
We adjusted the M-S double-set trigger to its maximum pull weight for our test shooting. (Eight ounces per our RCBS gauge, which we doubt is accurate at such low levels.) We all felt that it was still far too light for a hunting rifle, except under special circumstances. This is not a trigger system for the casual shooter and once a year deer hunter. If you get a Mannlicher-Schönauer with the double-set trigger option and are unwilling or unable to spend the time to master the ultra-light set trigger pull, fire the rifle using only the unset front trigger in the field. This is safe and reliable. If you set the front trigger and don't fire the rifle, be sure to unset the trigger before you do anything else.
The Mannlicher rifle feeds exceptionally smoothly and reliably from its Schönauer spool magazine. It is also very easy to load and unload. We wish that all of our bolt action rifles incorporated this superior magazine system.
We could not find much to criticize about the Mannlicher-Schönauer. With the rifle at the shoulder, the reach to the forward placed bolt handle is excessive and slows repeat shots. Its lock time is leisurely and its striker blow heavy by modern standards, but that is more of a theoretical, rather than practical, consideration. It would be nice to have a recoil pad. The latter can be added by any competent gunsmith if you are willing to shorten the stock to compensate for the length of the pad. Otherwise, a slip-on pad will suffice for practice sessions at the range.
For the record, the Mannlicher-Schönauer Carbine handles just as well as advertised. Its short length and slender stock design definitely contribute to its fast handling and sure pointing, as does its excellent balance in the hands. It is a rifle designed to be fired offhand. However, once mastered by a careful marksman, its double-set trigger makes it seem like a match rifle when fired from a shooting bench.
For many years, Steyr advertised the Mannlicher-Schönauer as the "Worlds Finest Rifle." In the context of bolt action rifles, we are inclined to agree. The Mannlicher-Schönauer Carbine is beautiful; a real pleasure to own and use. If you can find an affordable example in good, shootable condition, buy it. You will not be sorry.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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