Carl Gustafs 1896 Swedish Mauser

By Chuck Hawks

The Swedish m/96 rifle, which civilians generally call the Swedish Mauser Model 1896 or just the "Swedish Mauser," was introduced two years after the famous 6.5x55 cartridge and became its most enduring home. Both rifle and cartridge were tremendously successful. The 6.5x55 cartridge went on to become one of the world's finest sporting cartridges, widely used by both target shooters and hunters to this day.

The Model 1896 rifle remained the primary Swedish service rifle until 1938, when the Model 38 was adopted, and the Model 38 was basically an 1896 with a 24" barrel and an aperture rear sight. The basic 1896 action soldiered into the 1950's, when it was finally replaced by a self-loader.

The 6.5x55 cartridge has been well covered in the pages of Guns and Shooting Online, including a dedicated article and comparison articles on the Rifle Cartridge Page, so I will not go into it in depth here. Suffice to say that it combines the virtues of moderate recoil, reasonable trajectory, and good killing power. It is a medium capacity cartridge that has been proven all over the world. RCBS reports that 6.5x55 reloading dies have consistently been on their top 30 best seller list for many years.

Thousands of surplus Model 1896 Swedish Mausers were imported into the U.S. during the 1950's and 1960's, introducing large numbers of American hunters to both the 6.5x55 cartridge and the Swedish Mauser service rifle. The m/96 became one of the most desirable surplus rifles. Valued by shooters because it simply shot better, on average, than anything else and by collectors because of its exquisite quality and workmanship. The m/96 is probably the finest of all the early Mausers.

Sweden remained neutral in both the First and Second World Wars ("Neutrality through strength" was one Swedish motto). This means that there were no "wartime production" short cuts taken with Swedish Mausers, unlike the military rifles of almost all major combatants in the great world conflicts. There are no inferior Swedish m/96 rifles.

Indeed, the fit and finish of the m/96 is often superior to that of new commercial rifles costing far more. My example was made by Carl Gustafs in 1916, and it shames most of the new rifles being made today. This can be taken as a commentary on both the quality and workmanship of the m/96 and the lack of it in many modern rifles. It also means that any m/96 in good shape is a terrific bargain at the typical retail price of around $150 (in 2004).

The action is typical of early Mauser designs, with two front locking lugs, a 90 degree bolt lift, a full length extractor for controlled feed (this requires that cartridges be fed into the chamber from the magazine), and a fixed ejector. The Model 96 cocks on closing and the bolt handle does not serve as an auxiliary locking lug

The bolt handle protrudes straight out from the right side of the action. It is apparently brazed to the bolt body, and carries a serial number that matches the bolt and the rifle. The bolt knob is smooth and round and easy to grasp. The one-piece striker (firing pin) protrudes from the rear of the bolt when cocked, and can be lowered by hand if the user has a strong thumb or fingers.

The three-position safety is located at the rear of the bolt, concentric with the striker, and rotates through approximately 180 degrees. Fully counter-clockwise (as seen from the shooter's position) is "fire," fully clockwise is "safe" and locks the bolt closed, and the intermediate straight-up position is "safe" but the bolt can be opened. This allows the magazine to be emptied by operating the bolt with the rifle still on "safe." This intermediate position also allows the bolt to be disassembled when it is removed from the rifle. The bolt release is a machined steel lever located at the left rear of the receiver that is pulled outward to release the bolt.

Everything about the m/96 action radiates quality. All parts are carefully machined from steel. All key parts bear matching serial numbers, from the buttplate to the forward barrel band. There is even a steel cleaning rod supplied with the rifle. This protrudes from the front of the front receiver ring, which also incorporates the bayonet lug, and it can be removed for use by unscrewing.

The magazine follower is machined steel. After the last round fired and ejected, the follower locks the bolt open for rapid reloading (this was accomplished by means of stripper clips in military service). The magazine box is made of steel, as is the floorplate. The floorplate itself is not hinged, but is quick detachable for unloading by means of a recessed button at its rear. Use a ballpoint pen or the tip of a bullet to release the magazine floorplate. The roomy trigger guard is also machined from steel.

The trigger is a typical two-stage military type. After the initial slack is taken-up (the first stage), the sear is cleanly released with about 4.75 pounds of pressure (the second stage). This is a heavy rifle (approximately 9 pounds on my bathroom scale), so the 4.75 pound trigger pull is proportionately lighter than it sounds.

Unlike many classic military rifles, and almost all modern military rifles, the m/96 stock was clearly designed with an eye for line as well as function. Its overall appearance is slender and well formed, accentuated by its 29" barrel. It wears a straight-hand wood stock with a tapered 3/4 length forearm, oval in cross section, that is secured by a barrel band at the front. There is also a thin 14" handguard that runs from the front receiver ring about half way to the muzzle, also secured by a barrel band. Steel sling swivels are standard. Various woods were used, but the stock on my m/96 is straight grain walnut of an attractive color. The classy looking buttplate is steel.

Like most military rifles, the Swedish Mauser stock is too thick through the wrist for my taste. These stocks were, after all, built for strength. The comb is high and straight, like most modern stocks. This was done to accommodate the tall ladder-type open rear sight, and it is also ideal for use with a scope. The comb is actually too high for comfortable use with some replacement iron sights, such as the Williams aperture sight. The length of pull measures a modern 14". Although designed in 1896, this stock is quite modern in shape and feel and will seem familiar to anyone who shoots a rifle with one of today's "modern classic" stocks.

One last point about the m/96 stock. There is a brass disc about 30mm in diameter inletted into the right side of the buttstock. There are actually three disc variations, an early 2-screw disc, a later 2-screw disc, and a 1-screw disc. My rifle has the one screw type disc, and the information that follows pertains only to the one screw disc. For information about the two screw discs, or additional details about the one screw disc and lots of other information about Swedish weapons, see Mats' Weapons Page online. That is where I learned how to decipher the disc on my rifle.

The one screw disc is divided into 3 sections, each of which is marked in such a way as to reveal some information about that particular rifle. The smallest "slice" of the brass disc bears the numbers 1, 2, and 3 with a triangular punch mark over one of the numbers. This indicates the condition of the bore. No punch mark is perfect. 1 means a very few dark areas in the corners of the lands and grooves. 2 indicates rust in the corners of the lands and grooves and possible light rust in the grooves. 3 indicates spots of light rust throughout the grooves, but no sharp edges; this is still acceptable. A rifle scoring lower than 3 was rebarreled. My rifle is a 3, but any rifle passed by the Swedish armorers will shoot very well, as the inspectors were quite picky. The bore of my rifle looks good to the naked eye.

The next slice of the little brass disc indicates the elevation aiming error when shooting the standard m/41 Swedish service load, which used a 140 grain boat-tail spitzer bullet at a MV of around 800 m/s. There are three Swedish words in this sector of the disc. "Torped" indicates the 140 grain BT spitzer bullet (there was an earlier 156 grain RN bullet), "Overslag" means over, followed by a space and then "Str." Str is the abbreviation for streck, a unit of angle, and there are 6300 streck to a circle. Streck were used in a manner similar to the way North American shooters use minutes of angle. If there is a number in the blank space between Overslag and Str. it indicates the amount the rifle shoots over in terms of streck. 1 streck equals approximately 1/10 meter at 100 meters. So a 1 in the space on the disc indicates that rifle would shoot 10 cm (or a little less than 4") above the point of aim at 100 meters. The space is blank on my rifle's disc, indicating that it shoots to point of aim.

The largest slice of the disc has an outer and an inner arc of numbers. The outer arc bears numbers "6.5" followed by the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 (my rifle has a punch mark over the "2"). The inner arc bears the numbers "6.4" followed by 6,7,8,9,0 (no punch mark over a number in the inner arc on my rifle). According to Mats, these numbers reveal the actual diameter of the bore between 6.46mm and 6.59mm in hundredths of a millimeter. My barrel thus has an actual bore diameter of 6.52mm (.2565").

If the bore diameter measured between 6.51mm and 6.53mm all was well. If the bore diameter measured 6.54mm-6.55mm the rifle was used only for training. If the bore diameter exceeded 6.56mm the rifle was re-barreled. The Swedes are very meticulous people!

The long barrel and relatively heavy (but not excessive) weight make the m/96 an easy rifle to shoot from offhand or other unsupported positions. It hangs steady when aligned with the target. I seldom shoot offhand except at very short range, but the m/96 is probably the best rifle I own for the purpose.

The m/96 was supplied with a clever, ladder-type open rear sight, mounted on the barrel in front of the action, where open rear sights are usually found. But this example is unusual that there are three stepped positions for ranges of 300, 400, and 500 meters with the ladder folded down (what the Swedish Army probably thought of as the "battle sight" position), and elevation stops for 600 to 2000 meters (!) when the ladder is raised. Windage adjustments were accomplished by sliding the front sight in its dovetail. This was done by Swedish armorers, not regular soldiers. Whoever did mine knew his business; I found the windage to be right on the first time that I test fired my rifle.

Given my eyes' lack of accommodation, the idea of an open iron sight with a minimum range setting of 300 meters is fairly ludicrous. At 100 meters the rifle shot about 6" high. So I replaced the stock rear sight with a Williams aperture sight designed specifically for the m/96 that is screw adjustable for elevation and slides for windage. This simply replaces the original military sight, using the same mounting pin, and requires no modification to the rifle or sight.

The aperture sight is easier to use, but this example sits lower than the stock rear sight if the stock front sight blade is retained. I found that this effectively made the comb too high for my face, so I replaced the dovetail front sight blade with a taller example that allowed me to screw the rear sight to a higher position. That pretty much solved the problem. The new front and rear sights were ordered out of the Brownell's catalog by Guns and Shooting Online gunsmith consultant Rocky Hays, proprietor of the Newton Grant Company of Eugene Oregon.

There are scope mounts for the Swedish Mausers, but the good ones do require drilling and tapping the rifle to accept them. I do not plan to scope this rifle (it will remain my only iron sighted rifle), but if I did I would install a low power scope, such as a Leupold M8 2.5x28mm IER Scout, forward of the receiver. This mounting location would eliminate the necessity to alter the rifles straight bolt handle, which will not clear a scope mounted in the conventional position.

The m/96 is a very accurate service rifle. This was proven during the early years of the 20th Century, when the various powers held international service rifle matches. The host country provided the rifles and ammunition used in these matches to all of the teams so that all competitors used the host nations service rifle. In the entire history of this series of matches, the best scores across the board were not shot with the U.S. M-1903 Springfield, the British Lee-Enfield, or the vaunted German Model 98 Mauser, but with the Swedish m/96 and the Swiss Schmidt-Rubin rifles. These are the most accurate of the classic bolt action military rifles.

At the range, shooting from a bench rest over sandbags, my sample m/96 will put every round into the "X" ring at 25 yards. 25 yards is a reasonable test for me when shooting a rifle with iron sights, as it is about as far as I can see the sights and the target with reasonable clarity.

At 100 yards I fired two 3-shot groups with the original open rear sight. The first measured 2" center to center and the second went into an amazing (for me) 1 1/8". I quit right there, knowing I would never do better than that. I could not actually see the bull's eye at 100 yards; I just aimed at where I thought the middle of the paper must be!

After replacing the stock open rear ladder sight with a Williams aperture sight I was still able to shoot the "X" ring out of a target at 25 yards. At 100 yards I shot groups ranging from 1 1/8" to 4 5/16", with the average group being 2 1/8". This is really excellent performance, better than I have shot with any rifle equipped with iron sights in probably 30 years. I give all the credit to the amazing m/96 rifle and its long 29" barrel. All shooting was done with Sellier & Bellot 140 grain soft point factory loads (MV 2650 fps)

A 9 pound m/96 rifle shooting that factory load develops only about 10.6 ft. lbs. of recoil energy, making range sessions a real pleasure. What more could a recreational shooter ask for than a really accurate, inexpensive, exceptionally well made, classic rifle that doesn't kick much? If that sounds like a plan to you, search out a Swedish Mauser in good condition. You will not regret it!

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Copyright 2004, 2011 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.