Bob Shell is a 30 year veteran of Antique and Obsolete ammo crafting and is also an author. He writes for various magazines including Shotgun News, Canadian Firearms Journal and Guns Australia. Also a contributer to New Zealand Guns He is also on realguns.com He is a member of POMA & OWAA both professional outdoor writing associations.Also belongs to the Canadian Outdoor Writers' Association When he is not writing he is making ammo for some obscure caliber. I write for some online sites such as ezine,hub pages and smarty-arty. My writing website is http://writerbobshell.com/
I just published a new book on Amazon e-book also available on Barnes & Noble. Book title is Reloading From Another View ll and can be downloaded to a kindle or a nook. It is a very detailed book on reloading including much info not found elsewhere. Published 8/18/11
From left 8 X 57, 303 British and 7.62 X 54
Most Successful Rifle
When I am referring to the most successful I mean the most widely distributed military rifle that was used from the late 19’Th century through WW ll. It would be something that was used by several countries over a period of time and perhaps the design was copied by some commercial rifle makers. Of course it will be a good design that withstood the test of time. I have three that could qualify. There are other good military rifles but they didn’t enjoy as wide a use as these three.
303 British Military Rifle
The first candidate is the outstanding rifles chambered for the 303 British Round. The rifle came out in 1887 and adopted in 1888. It was invented by James Paris Lee an American, incidentally. Originally loaded with black powder they switched to smokeless and a pointed bullet using Cordite powder. The one used the most was a 174 grain flat base bullet at about 2400 FPS. Cordite powder was used for many years in the 303 as well as British sporting arms. The rifle saw use in both WWl and WWll not to mention many other smaller wars and skirmishes. It is popular in many of the former British colonies including Canada and Australia. As a military rifle it had few peers and some folks feel that it is the best pure military rifle of the period. It was powerful enough for the job at hand and reliable. It cocks on closing which is liked by some because it would help a little in getting a stubborn round out of the chamber. It also was capable of rapid fire for a bolt action a desirable feature during war time. It has provisions for escaping gas in the unlikely event of a case rupture. Many of them have oversize chambers which was done on purpose to be able to chamber and fire dirty or deformed ammo. That causes case separation especially when handloading so look out for bulges in your chamber when examining fired cases. To counteract that problem set your sizing die to just enough sizing to where it will fit in the chamber. Accuracy can be outstanding in one that is in good shape. They have a two piece stock which is disliked by some. Another plus is that they are readily available and fairly inexpensive unless it an odd model. The MK 4 which was brought out in the 1930’s was a stronger and simpler version of the older models. The fact that it was used by the Brits for 70 years would indicate that it is a strong and reliable rifle. Since they were used until 1957 there are a lot of variations out there. The ammo for it is still relatively available and brass is sold at various locations. The bullet is a 311 diameter which can be found easily. Since it is a rimmed cartridge it might turn off some folks but it functioned with great reliability in the weapons it was designed for. The magazine protrudes below the stock which might make it more difficult for a hunter to carry though the balance is forward of magazine. The 303 round loaded with a good hunting bullet is capable of taking most big game animals out there. Some folks compare it to the 30-40 Krag but due to higher loading pressures it will out do its American competitor. The Krag was commonly loaded to 40,000 PSI while The 303 rifles were designed for pressures of 45 to 48,000 PSI though some of the newer ones were chambered for the 308 which can go to 62,000 PSI which would suggest that it was a strong rifle. At one time it was chambered in a few sporting a rifle such as the Winchester model 95 but that is no longer true. No one to my knowledge makes a clone of the Lee Enfield rifle today. It can be sporterized to an extent but it might not be worth the dollars required to make that happen. That is something that the owner would have to determine. You can mount a scope with a side mount which will enhance it accuracy and with a good barrel it may very well be worth the bucks. Adding a sporter stock would enhance it looks if that’s important to you.
Russian Nagant Carbine
Another widely distributed rifle was the Russian Nagant. It was adopted in 1891 using a round nose bullet however in 1909 a 150 grain spitzer was employed. At about 2800 FPS it is in the same class as the 30-06. Like the 303 it was adopted and used in many of the satellite countries controlled by the Soviet Union. Like many things Russian it was plain and rugged and gave good service. Many of the actions looked crude though they were reliable. The ones made by Remington and Westinghouse were better looking and finished. There are no provisions to route gas away from a shooter in the event of a case rupture which can be a problem with old ammo. In all honesty that event is very unlikely with good ammo. However during the 1920’s some Russians were rechambered for the 30-06 cartridge to make them easier to sell. The problem with that was the barrels were not set back which meant that it was extremely dangerous to fire it in the Russian because the base wasn’t supported. If by a small chance you have one don’t even think of shooting it as the results will be catastrophic. The safety is difficult to use though it works. In fact the 7.62 X 54 cartridge is still being used in some sniper rifles and machine guns making it the most long lived military cartridge still in use for the last 119 years. If you buy one and want the best accuracy then you need to slug the bore. They run from 308 to about 316 so a bullet that matches the bore will produce the best accuracy. With the properly matched bullet accuracy can be very good. When handloading ammo keep in mind that they are designed for 45,000 PSI and if you have an older one keep that in mind. Factory and military ammo are fairly easy to find and are commonly loaded with a 310 diameter bullet. Cases are available as are 308 & 311 diameter slugs. It is a flexible cartridge capable of handling cast bullets and reduced loads. If you need a larger slug then you might have to get creative or use an oversized cast bullet. With good ammo it is capable of most hunting situations that most people will encounter. They come in many models from various countries so there are differences in them. One odd feature is the firing pin can be adjusted with a supplied tool. I have fired quite a few of them and never saw a need to do so. I have a WWll sniper version but the trigger is lousy, making it hard to get all of the accuracy it’s capable of. Some of the others I own have decent triggers. You might be able to polish the trigger parts to improve it but if you don’t know how best leave it to a gunsmith. There is a no gunsmithing mount for the Mosen Nagant in case you want to scope it which is a desirable feature as you can return it to original. I mounted one on one of my rifles and it took only a few minutes with simple tools. They have a black composite stock for someone who wants a sporter looking rifle. A real desirable feature for this rifle is they are inexpensive, in most models, and commonly available. Many magazines sell them sometimes for less then a C note. Gun shows and many gunshops are a good source for these rifles. If you want to collect low end military rifles this might be a good place to start. Parts are also plentiful.
The third candidate is the justly famous model 98 Mauser. It came out in 1898 with a 318 diameter bullet which was changed to 323 in 1904. It was originally adopted by Germany but many other countries used it during both world wars and many other conflicts both large and small. Like the others they were produced in several countries and many variations. They also were produced in several calibers including the 7.65 X 53, 8 X 57, 7 X 57 and the 30-06. All of the common chamberings including the 8 X 57 are capable hunting rounds and components are easy to find. The chambering depended on which country was buying them. There were other less common chamberings that may be encountered. The Mauser action is the most copied in the world because of it’s strength and safety features. Many manufacturers still produce close copies of the 98. Among them are Ruger, Parker Hale and even Remington produced a Mauser clone recently though they dropped it. The old model 70 Winchester and some of the newer ones follow the 98 design. The action is strong and safe and one produced prior to WWll is almost a work of art. The extractor is one of the most desirable features that sportsman seek. Although I have never has a problem with the newer types such as the Remington’s I do like that large extractor. However in an original it prohibits you from loading single shot unless you put the round in the magazine first. A gunsmith can fix that however. The Springfield fixed that problem though it is essentially a Mauser action. In fact the US paid Germany royalties prior to WWl because it was such a close copy. It has two large locking lugs plus a safety lug which sets it apart from the earlier Mauser rifles. Like the other two they are common and inexpensive in many models. For a less common one or a sniper version you will pay a lot more. Since many millions were made and used for decades that would indicate a high degree of reliability. For gunsmithing purposes the Mauser is head and shoulders above the others. You can install a scope easier not to mention the many verities of mounts and other accessories produced for that rifle. Rebarreling it is easier then the other two plus it can be modified into many calibers not practical in the other two. That would include magnums from the 264 through the 458. While possible I wouldn’t recommend full length cartridges such as the 375 H & H because you have to weaken the receiver where the lower lug is. They do make a magnum Mauser action for the long rounds. The Brevex action was made for the larger cartridges and the recent Remington was made in the 375 H & H magnum. The magazine can be shortened for such offerings as the 243 and 257 Roberts. There is a rimmed version called the Siamese which will handle large rimmed cases such as the 45-70. However they are not as common and I for one would not modify one in original condition.
2.5 PU scope on Nagant
So which one is the best: Much of that would depend on who is shooting it. All three have many desirable features and if you leave them original there is not one that is better then the other. If you sporterize then the Mauser is the easiest way to go though you can spiff up the others. There are other rifles not listed that are as good as the three in some respects but they weren’t as widely distributed. The French, Japanese, and the Dutch, Italians and Greeks among others had good rifles that may be preferable to some individuals. I have shot them all and there isn’t one that I dislike though there may be some undesirable features found on all of them. At a later date I will go into them.