Following two world wars, American soldiers returned with scores of 8mm Mauser 98s that were never fired in anger again.
By Sam Fadala
The waters flowing through German firearms history are as muddy as our own. However, it's safe to say that Peter Paul Mauser came up with his turnbolt action in 1897, and that the rifle was in the hands of shooters by 1898, hence the Model 98 Mauser.
I submit that the Model 98 is the most successful bolt-action design of all time, and that the action and the 8mm Mauser cartridge have become true American classics, provable in at least five ways.
First, take a look at your own bolt-action rifle. Odds are good that the Mauser 98 had a strong influence on its design. Second, American soldiers brought home multitudes of 8mm Mauser 98s, none of which ever saw military service again. They became sporting rifles all the way, either converted or used for hunting in their original form.
Mauser 98 actions are also the heart of countless American custom rifles. Each hunting season, I begin my adventures with a recurve bow, later turning to a muzzleloader, but with no urgency to fill my tags until the end of the season. I required a deadly rifle for that purpose, so I had Morrison Precision of Hereford, Ariz., build an all-weather rifle for me. I ended up calling this .30-06 tack-driver (five bullets into a half-inch circle at 100 yards) "Mr. Clean Sweep."
That rifle has now accounted for 19 one-shot shows, including a Cape buffalo in Africa with a single 220-grain Barnes Solid. Although of modern manufacture, the action of Mr. Clean Sweep is almost identical to the original Model 98, claw extractor and all. The barrel maker at Morrison Precision commented, "You can't do better than the 98." I think he was right.
Finally, as ultimate proof of American adoption, Remington offered its annual Model 700 Classic in - you guessed it - 8mm Mauser in 2004.
The original Model 98 Mauser is not obsolete. American hunters and shooters can still buy German Mauser 98 rifles or actions, and we do so by the scores. I recently purchased a Premium Grade Model 98 M-48 in "military new" condition, complete with bayonet, bayonet scabbard, belt hanger, sling, leather ammo pouch and cleaning kit, from Mitchell's Mausers. The company also offers Collector Grade, Trucker Grade and Museum Grade 98 rifles as well as barreled actions for customs. My new Mauser 98 has a handsome and rare teakwood stock.
I came across my first Model 98 Mauser back in the days when television was black and white. The rifle was typical of the many thousands brought home from the vanquished German Wehrmacht. My friend's father, Mr. Roy, who lived down the street, owned such a Model 98, but there wasn't a single round of ammunition for it at the local gun shop. Mr. Roy mentioned having it "drilled out," as he put it, to 8mm/06. But he wasn't a handloader, so the rifle lay fallow until I located a supply of surplus 8mm Mauser ammo. In a judicious trade, I offered some of this fodder for the privilege of borrowing the rifle.
This 98 wore a German scope. Memory fails as to brand or magnification, but I do recall the scope mounted with high rings better suited to a giraffe than a person. How the Germans came up with such fine scopes and lousy mounts, I don't know. But the borrowed 98 was typical of the mismatch. Nevertheless, I enjoyed shooting it immensely, because it was star wars ahead of the only carbine I owned at the time. Later, of course, ammo became widely available, even in our small corner of America.
So why is the Model 98 placed on a pedestal? Its action is designed to lock a cartridge in a bank vault of strength. Arguably, the 98 does not require a third locking lug, but it has one anyway. The cartridge is held fast in the chamber with two turn-and-lock lugs, while the third cranks in toward the back of the bolt revolving into a recess in the action's bottom. Gas ports are provided should a wrongly loaded round result in a case or primer rupture. Thus, the lockup promotes accuracy and safety. The bolt in Mr. Clean Sweep has the same three-lug feature as the original, and I have no qualms loading my cartridges to safe maximum.
What's more, controlled feed of the Mauser is reliable and sure. I have never experienced a cocked-off-to-one-side cartridge in any 98. Lock time, or the elapsed milliseconds from trigger break to firing pin falling on primer, is excellent. There are actions with faster lock times, but I defy a big game hunter to tell the difference.
The smooth flow of the bolt on rails is sort of like a locomotive on well-aligned tracks. True, a bit of tuning never hurts, but a binding bolt is rare on a 98. Then there's the claw extractor, which grabs onto a large portion of the fired case to yank it free. Some gunsmiths grind the claw down. This allows a round to be pushed into the chamber, closing the bolt on it. My Morrison Precision 98 will do no such thing. While it's nice to slide a fresh round right into the chamber, followed by closing the bolt, I like the grab of my 98 to be with full contact. True, you must fit the round down into the magazine to be picked up by the bolt. And if you forget and slip one into the chamber, the bolt will not close on it. It can be done, but not easily.
A negative in the military version of the 98 is its two-stage trigger. I intend to leave my latest Model 98 original, with the exception of the trigger. It's coming out to be saved should I wish to reinstall it. A Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge shows my 98 breaking at 9 pounds, 6 ounces, which is way too heavy. A Timney trigger with a 2-pound let-off will replace it.
The other purely military aspect of the 98 is the safety. My modern 98 has a three-position wing safety, while the old-style safety remains on the original. It's not pretty, but workable.
When Johnny came marching home, U.S. ammo manufacturers hopped on the 8mm Mauser bandwagon in a hurry. They obviously saw the round as most useful on deer-sized game at normal hunting ranges, and therefore supplied loads with 170-grain bullets. Every seasoned hunter in North America knew the .30-30, and of course was familiar with its popular 170-grain bullet. The deer hunter, especially, now had a more powerful cartridge in the 8mm Mauser, a 170-grain bullet traveling at about 2,500 fps against the same weight bullet in the .30-30 doing 2,100 to 2,200 fps.
Handloaders who wanted to push the 8mm Mauser closer to its potential easily achieved 2,700 fps with the same 170-grain bullet. Today, the majors continue to offer the 170-grain bullet, but the 8mm Mauser fan has many options.
All handloading components for the 8x57 Mauser, including a veritable feast of bullets, are available. Every 8mm bullet wish is fulfilled. For example, I have a long-range "fun" load that I enjoy firing across canyons at inanimate objects, especially with the challenging original sights of my latest Mauser 98. The bullet is Sierra's 200-grain MatchKing, and I don't push it, being totally content with 2,200 fps produced by 47.0 grains of H-4350 powder for manageable recoil with good accuracy. There are also literally barrels of surplus 8mm Mauser ammunition available for "plinking." Some may be Berdan primed and are not easily reloadable. Others may have corrosive primers.
Factory ammo with the 170-grain bullet at 2,500 fps is entirely adequate for most big game hunting. I've found Winchester, Remington, Federal, PMC and other brands accurate with absolutely reliable bullet performance. At the same time, a shooter might want to explore ammunition from other sources. For example, Mitchell's Mausers has a premium line of 8mm Mauser ammunition with choices of 175-grain hollowpoint boat tail bullet, 175-grain pointed soft point, 198-grain police SWAT and 198-grain full metal jacket boat tail. Conley Precision Cartridge Co. also has a premium 8x57mm Mauser ammo with bullets as light as 125 grains at 3,000 fps, and as heavy as 220 grains in the Barnes X, Swift A-Frame and Hornady Spire Point at velocities of 2,400, 2,350 and 2,300 fps respectively.
The 8mm cartridge is considered almost as good as the .30-06. I like that comparison, because the .30-06 can push a 180-grain bullet on the heels of 3,000 fps muzzle velocity. Ballistics of the 8mm Mauser cartridge can be upgraded by having the rifle rechambered for the 8mm/06 or 8mm/06 Improved. Although both are worthy conversions, the average hunter would not consider going to such trouble.
Wonderful immigrants from across the sea built America the Great. Likewise, the Model 98 German Mauser arrived on our shores a foreigner for adoption. Some might disdain the M98 because it represents a weapon used against us in both World Wars, but to lay blame upon the rifle is like faulting the family sedan for causing a speeding ticket. The 98, as with all firearms, is a tool. How it is employed depends upon those who manage it.
For more information on Mitchell's Mausers, visit www.mitchellsales.com.
Reprinted from the September 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.