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Hunting rifles – Parker Hale M81

If you're in the market for hunting rifles, this sought-after classic has a beautiful walnut stock which makes it ideal for rebarrelling, says Bruce Potts

hunting rifles

Mauser action makes a basis for a good custom rifle

The M81 rifle was Parker Hale’s top-of-the-range hunting/stalking rifle and completed a portfolio of bolt-action rifles. These included classic, clip feed, deluxe, standard, African and varmint grades, to name a few.

Parker Hale M81

The M81 has a better-than-average walnut stock

Pure English styling

The M81 was a refined version of the hugely popular 1200 model rifle, with more classic styling, and was introduced in 1986. It blends the Mauser-type action with pure English styling and better-than-average walnut stock finished in the classic style with an oil finish. It is no longer available but this model is still sought after, as it makes an excellent project gun for rebarrelling to a classic English cartridge such as the .240 Apex Holland & Holland or .300 Magnum Holland & Holland.

Parker Hale uses its own take on the classic Mauser bolt-action configuration and as such offers a strong dual-locking lug arrangement and extra safety lug at the rear that could handle up to .458 Winchester Magnum cartridges. The actions were made in Spain for Parker Hale by the Santa Barbara plant and are a modern version of the Mauser with no thumb cutout to the left receiver side, better safety arrangement and bolt shroud, improved magazine, hinged fl oorplate and trigger mechanism. In all, a complete makeover.

The receiver was tapped for dedicated scope bases to fit Parker Hale’s own roll-off mounts, which were strong and lightweight with a recoil control stud. But aftermarket one-piece mounts like the one on this M81 add to the classic look and are very strong. This rifle wears a Pecar 4X scope that was originally distributed with the Parker Hale range of rifles, so complements the model. It also makes a useable classic rifle for a spot of “retro classic” deerstalking.

Parker Hale M81

1. Barrel: Cold forged barrel in .308 Winchester is hard-wearing compared with button-rifled barrels, so only neglect will affect accuracy. 2. Magazine: Hinged floor plate holding five rounds in .308 3. Action: All-steel Mauser type with cartridge feed control from the large side-mounted extractor claw is timeless 4. Stock: Beautifully profiled straight English design with rounded fore-end, cross-bolt recoil lug, fine wraparound fore-end chequering and oiled finish.

Extracts a cartridge reliably

The bolt has large locking lugs and a non-rotating extractor that feeds and extracts a cartridge reliably, whether it be this .308 Winchester or a .375 Holland & Holland.

The bolt handle has a low profile with a good length and bolt knob for assured reloading, and there are twin gas ports along the bolt body in case of a punctured primer. The remodelled bolt shroud covers the cocking piece to avoid untimely discharges and looks better than the original Mauser shroud with its safety. The M81 has a side-mounted safety that is far more hunter-friendly because it has a three-way locking system of the bolt, trigger and sear to prevent accidental discharge.

The trigger is a huge improvement from the military two-stage unit and though there is a long lock time, as with most Mausers, it does not affect accuracy too much.

The 1200 models often had alloy magazine floorplates and trigger-guards but this M81 model is all steel and, like the rest of the rifle, has a very good deep-blued fi nish that makes the M81 stand out.

Best of all is the superbly profiled classic stock design and quality of walnut. Parker Hale purposely selected walnut for better colour and grain. It has a rounded fore-end and wrap-around chequering and low comb to the straight-lined butt section with no cheekpiece. The oil finish adds that touch of class and is practical.

I have seen many an M81 rebarrelled, modified and sold as a top-rate English stalking rifle for four times the price. That tells you the base rifle is still very good.

What to look for

Barrels: Cartridge availability from .22 to .250 to 7mm Remington Magnum but check for any pitting internally from neglect that will spoil accuracy.

Action: Pretty indestructible but check scope mount screw holes are not stripped and the action cycles correctly.

Weight: 7¾lb

Overall length: 44¼in

Features: The best of the Parker Hale range, the M81 has a quality walnut stock and finish that are worth looking out for.

Importer: Only second-hand.

Price: £350-plus; still a bargain if you can find one.