|Bolt-Action Rifles of the 20th Century|
Mauser Influence on Rifles of the 20th Century
Its a fact that American bolt-action rifles of the 20th century were most influenced by a bolt rifle from the 19th century, and if I had to name the bolt-action rifle of the 19th and 20th centuries combined, the task would be easy. I would simply name the Mauser. This rifle formed the basis for nearly all turnbolt rifles of the 20th century, and certainly all the popular ones.
Fred Wells in Prescott, Arizona, has been making better-than-original copies of the Mauser design for many years using modern steel. Fred, nearly 80 years old, says that any time you depart from the basic Mauser design youre going downhill. Fred has a point, and some design basics of the Mauser have not been improved on by rifles of the 20th century.
In some respects, variations or copies are not as good as the old Mauser. Take the claw extractor of the Model 98. It has a reputation second to none among todays extractors. It controls a round of ammunition from the moment it leaves the magazine rather than rattling around as with most modern push-feed designs. The Winchester Model 70, which is available with another extraction/ejection system, is generally preferred with the controlled feed claw extractor and standing ejector. The Ruger Model 77 was upgraded from a push-feed and plunger ejector to a claw extractor and standing ejectorthe same basic system as the old Mauser 98.
What most folks do not realize is that modern claw extractors are not like the old Mauser. The Mauser bolt, you see, has an undercut in the groove that guides the forward end of the claw around the boltface as the bolt is rotated. Into this Mauser undercut fits a foot or extension on the base of the extractors guide rib for bolt rotation. This extension is missing on modern claw extractors. What difference does that make, you might ask? The difference is that the Mauser extractor will not slip off a case rim. The harder you pull on the bolt handle, the harder the claw tips inward and grips. Because of this it is a true claw and is really why this type of extractor is called a claw. Its grip is strong enough to pull a chunk of brass out of the case rim if a stuck case doesnt budge. Modern claw extractors lack the foot and consequently slip out of the cases extractor groove and over the rim if enough pressure is applied on the bolt handle.
Another feature of the old Mauser often overlooked by students of the modern firearm is the ring of steel inside the receiver just behind the barrel threads. The rear of the barrel butts up against this shoulder, and the ring surrounds the boltface and base of the cartridge case with just enough of a break for the extractor nose. You wont find this internal ring of steel on modern bolt-action rifle receivers, yet it adds an extra margin of strength and safety.
The large gas flange at the rear of the Mauser bolt has been copied or reproduced in some way on modern rifle designs, but the gas deflecting step in the bolt shaft has been left out. The Mauser bolt has a step towards the rear of the bolt that mates with a step in the receiver which prevents the gases getting a straight shot at the shooter under the flange.
A third lug to the rear under the receiver bridge serves as a safety lug on the Mauser, and a variation of this was applied to the 1903 Springfield rifle. Some writers, including Jack OConnor, said that it was of no value. OConnor said that it would only serve as a trip to swing the bolt to the side when it came back, that if the forward two lugs failed, the third one certainly wasnt going to stop anything. If youve ever seen a rifle bolt with both forward lugs sheared off and the rear one remaining, as I have, it will convince you otherwise.
One reason that the Mauser had so many safety features is because cartridge cases werent as heavy or as good back then as those made today. But more importantly steels werent very good then, and they werent very uniform. The steel was pack hardened or case hardened, a heating and cooling process that drives carbon into the steel from the outside, leaving a hard exterior that is relatively thin and a soft interior. The case hardening on the old rifles was not consistent. Today, with much stronger homogeneous steel, some of the old design features are probably not necessary. In fact, one of the two most important influences in rifle design for the 20th century is the improvement in steel. The other major influence is the manufacturing process. The old Mauser, for example, was made by machining away steel that was not necessary and leaving the shape that was desired, but no compromise was made in the design features. The rifle was designed to be a good one and then it was made.
Today, design is dictated by the manufacturing process, and the key is keeping the cost down to make rifles affordable. This brought about the popularity of the tubular receiver because it was easier and less expensive to make. Less metal had to be removed. Rather than machine a recoil lug, for example, it is less costly to sandwich a washer between the barrel and receiver instead.
Top 50 Firearms
Winchester Model 70
Page One - Overview,
Bolt Locking, Extractor, Ejector
Page Two - Gas Handling, Trigger, Safety, Magazine/Feeding, Scope Mounting, Bolt Stop
Page Three - Bedding System, Aesthetics, Rick's Two Favorites
Page Four - Comparing the Ruger 77 and Winchester's 70 Featherweight
Page Five - Blaser's Innovation, What the 20th Century
Has Brought Us For Rifles
Page Six - Lever-Action Bolt Gun?
Page Seven - Mauser Influence Spans the Centuries; Jamison's Top 50 Guns
This article was originally published in Shooting Times magazine in January, 2000.