Many custom gunsmiths still consider the Mauser action the benchmark design for crafting a quality rifle ... so Jason Harris reviews the M03
The history of Mauser can be traced back to the 19th century, to the year 1898 and its model M98 action – which formed the basis of the modern bolt-action rifle.
Strong and reliable
The action of the Mauser was quickly noticed by sporting enthusiasts, who appreciated its strength and reliability. In fact the design was primarily conceived for the military. This action has stood the test of time and over a century later, many custom gunsmiths still consider the Mauser action the only design from which to craft a quality rifle.
A different stalking rifle
Following its merger with the Sig/Blaser consortium Mauser released the M03, a totally different stalking rifle – rather than another modified Mauser 98 action. The result is that an age-old design has been transformed to create a stylish and practical stalking firearm. In common with many European rifles, it facilitates the quick detaching of the barrel assembly for quick calibre exchange.
Elegant and practical
Instantly noticeable is the elegant yet full-bodied build of the M03 rifle. This is largely due to the stock, created from good grade walnut along clean and classic lines. The standard version has an appealing colour and figuring whilst the deluxe option has deep colouration and extensive figure pattern. All have a hand-rubbed finish offering subtle elegance.
The high, straight comb is perfect for good scope-to-eye alignment and the fore-end is nicely finished off with a black ebony cap in standard or a deluxe silver-engraved insert. A slim, black rubber recoil pad gives ample support in the shoulder. Both the fore-end and pistol grip offer finely cut and executed chequering, while the pistol grip also boasts a palm swell. The sling swivels are quick-detachable, but with a good non-stock-marring feature; while the actual swivels do not contact the wood surface and cause damage, however, the holes on the studs are too small to attach a bipod.
A change in action
This is where the real difference shows in the new M03. As soon as I picked it up it felt substantial, a solid, well-built rifle but not too weighty. This is largely due to the combined receiver and integral chassis system this rifle uses to establish a stiff backbone for the barrel, trigger and detachable magazine. There is only one action size that handles the small calibres from .222 right up to .375 H&H, which makes the receiver long and thus contributes to some of the heft of the M03.
The rifle comes either with a smooth satin-black nitrated surface, weather-resistant and non-glare, or a deluxe silver nitrated finish and some fine engraving. There are no scope rails or grooves, instead an integral three-sided quick-release arrangement that necessitates the use of a one-piece scope mount – the barrel cannot be removed without disengaging the scope on this switch-barrel rifle. The mount locates snugly as the three-lugged rotor drops into the receiver cut-outs. To tighten it you just push on both locking levers.
A unique appearance for the Mauser M03
The bolt is beautifully engineered and has several intriguing design features. It is also enormous and accounts for 400g of the rifle’s weight. Because the bolt locks directly into the back of the barrel it has to be long to transcend the short front receiver bridge. Efforts have been made to keep strength while shedding a few ounces and keeping an attractive design. The receiver bridge is open: no side wall on the left-hand side allows good access in the event of a stuck cartridge and, with the bolt faceted on four edges, gives the Mauser M03 rifle a unique appearance.
The bolt lift is short, at 55 degrees or so travel, leaving the open bolt at a 90 degrees angle to the receiver wall. This allows the user maximum room to operate the bolt without having to be concerned about snagging on a scope. Being a single-action size the bolt can be converted to handle any of the calibres provided by the simple and cost-effective removal of the bolt head, with six lugging lugs set in a double three-lug formation and a plunger-type ejector and substantial sprung extractor piece.
Forming part of the bolt shroud at the rear, the safety lever is a prominent blackened lever that, when set to the right, enables the rifle to fire, with a visible red dot showing. Pushing a button below the lever swings the arm forcibly – careful of thumbs – into the safe left position. This decocks the M03 and locks the bolt down, which can be useful as the rifle can be carried with a chambered round, knowing the firing pin is not cocked and under tension. A stalker can silently cock the M03 only when a shot is necessary.
With a set and standard pressure feature common to many European rifles, the more conventional single-stage trigger is factory set at 3lb or so and has a very crisp let-off, with no backlash or creep. By pushing the silver nitrated trigger blade forward after cocking the rifle, you set the trigger for a very fine let-off poundage. It is a brave person who uses this with numb fingers on a frosty morning’s stalk.
This is a key example of the consideration Mauser has given to the design of the M03. The detachable magazine allows the entire cartridge range to use one generic-sized item. This does mean it is large, with the smaller calibres needing a blocking spacer at the rear of the magazine to allow perfect feeding, but it is well made of steel and the polymer follower facilitates a smooth transition between magazine and barrel. Press the large button in front of the magazine to deposit it safely into your hand.
Minutes to convert
Supplied with a set of iron sights, the M03 barrel profile is that of a standard sporting rifle with an overall length of 23in. Finished in the same satin black nitrated finish as the action, it complements the rifle’s overall look. The special feature of this barrel is not the precisely cut rifled interior, but the two threaded studs below at the chamber end, similar to the Blaser design. This allows the barrel to drop vertically into position within the fore-end to marry up with two corresponding locking nuts, accessed from under the fore-end wood by a double set of Torx screws. Removal and fitting takes seconds with the Torx driver provided; a few turns and the captured bolts are released. A change of bolt head and magazine and a fox rifle can be converted into a deer gun or African rifle in minutes. You do have to remove the scope first, however, making the quick-release scope mount mandatory.
Testing in the field
Two models of the M03 were tested – the mechanics of both were the same but the wood and engraving differed. Each was in .243 Winchester calibre; I shot the standard version with open sights and the deluxe with a Leupold scope attached. At 100 yards both rifles averaged a respectable 1in group with factory ammunition and scope attached, and 1½in to 2in with open sights. The Norma 100-grain soft-point load, with 2,873fps and 1,833ft/lb energy from the 23in barrel, resulted in the best groups.
Remington’s 80-grain Power Lokt and Federal Premium’s 100-grain Nosler solid base shot 1in to 1¼in at this range. With a reload of 39.5 grains of H414 powder behind a 95-grain Nosler Ballistic tip bullet, I managed to eke out a couple of ¾in groups. The rifle’s great pointability and good balance were instantly noticeable, and though the .243 cartridge is not a heavy recoiling calibre, the M03 was very pleasant to shoot. An early-season roe doe was stalked with Steve Bowers using the deluxe model and a quick, humane 110-yard shot concluded the successful outing.
I’m pleased to say that the German-made Mauser is refreshingly new and not just ‘another quick-change European rifle.’
This is not simply another barrel-change stalking rifle: with the M03’s safety and bolt, Mauser has included some really good design features, and others, such as the non-marring swivels, show an attention to detail that is sometimes lacking in other rifles.
Name: Mauser M03
Barrel length: 23in
Overall length: 44in
Trigger: Standard and set
Safety: Push-operated lever
Sights: Iron sights, with dedicated scope mounts extra
Magazine: Five shots detachable
Price: Standard £1,377
Spare barrel: £376
Spare bolt head: £107
Spare mag: Standard £89
Deluxe £401: (engraved)
Scope Mount: £218 (1in rings)
Double Case: £160
Importer: Beechwood Equipment, Tel: 01372 468555
An alternative to similar operating marques, the Mauser M03 series of stalking rifles proves itself worthy of a good deal of consideration