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Sporterizing Military Rifles

 

Sporterizing Military Rifles
By Russ Corder, Brownells Copywriter

Following World War I, and again after World War II, surplus military rifles were an inexpensive alternative to buying high-powered hunting rifles. In post-war America, inexpensive German K98 Mausers, .303 British Enfields, 1903 Springfields, and Japanese Arisakas were readily available to the public. While each of these rifles is capable of harvesting any North American game animal, they were not necessarily suited for hunting due to their weight, length, and sometimes stiff military triggers. Many hunters began sporterizing these battlefield veterans to make them lighter, more accurate, and more aesthetically pleasing.

For those new to shooting sports, it is important to understand what a “sporterized” rifle is. Simply put, sporterizing is taking a military rifle and altering it for sport shooting. This is primarily done by modifying or replacing the stock, shortening the barrel, installing new sights, mounting a scope, and in some cases, rechambering for more readily available civilian cartridges.

If you are thinking about sporterizing an old military rifle, there are some factors to consider before you start. Perhaps the most important is to remember that some of the modifications discussed in this article require advanced gunsmithing skills. Any alteration that can materially affect a firearm’s safety and reliability should be performed by an experienced gunsmith. Better to spend a little extra to pay the professional than do it yourself and risk a malfunction that endangers your life and safety – or somebody else’s.

Next, ask yourself if you really want to alter, and in some cases irreparably modify, a historic artifact? Prices for these rifles are steadily increasing as they become scarcer and collectors grab them up. Be warned that sporterizing a rifle tends to reduce its value.
 
The first step in sporterizing a military rifle is to hit the reference books!

 

Before tearing apart an old rifle, it is advisable to learn a lot about its history and mechanics. Brownells offers several excellent reference books that will help you become more familiar with these guns, For a general overview on a variety of military rifles, see A Collector’s Guide to Military Rifle Disassembly & Reassembly by Stuart C. Mowbray & Joe Puleo (#100-003-412). There are also rifle specific sources to check out as well, such as The Springfield 1903 Rifles (#825-013-000) by Lt. Col William S. Brophy or Clark Campbell’s The ’03 Springfield Rifles’ Era (#100-001-734) which contains information on sporterizing this particular model. C.S. Ferris’ United States Rifle Model of 1917 (#261-000-005) and The Mosin-Nagant Rifle by Terence W. Lapin (#637-000-002) are also good reference sources.

Mauser fans have a particularly rich array of resources
to help them research their favorite rifle.


For more information on Mauser rifles, there are two classic "must read" books on the subject; see Ludwig Olson’s Mauser Bolt Rifles (#108-004-000) and The Mauser Bolt Action: A Shop Manual by Jerry Kuhnhausen (#924-400-098). If you are more of a visual learner, there’s Building the Custom Mauser Rifle (#050-120-306) on DVD, which contains a step by step demonstration of the sporterizing process. And be sure to read Brownells Gun Tech Steve Ostrem’s Mauser sporterizing journey.

Another thing to think about when choosing a rifle to sporterize is the price and availability of ammo. If you pick a gun that requires expensive or scarce ammo, consider having it rechambered or rebarreled to something more common like a .270, .308, or .30-06. Ammo for the 8mm Mauser, .303 British, and .30-06 Springfield is available, though prices have increased due to the current ammunition shortage. Rounds for the 7.62x54R Mosin-Nagant remain plentiful and relatively cheap, as long as the supplies from former East Bloc nations hold out.

After selecting a rifle to sporterize, have it checked by a qualified gunsmith. These old guns may have seen plenty of use - even abuse - over the years and may have fired thousands of rounds with corrosive powder. Therefore, it is wise to have the headspace and overall safety inspected.

Next is deciding what kind of stock you want, wood or synthetic. Brownell’s offers a variety of traditional wood and composite stocks for sporterizing your rifle.

Some military rifles had crude sights, others were more refined. If your rifle falls into the former category, you can replace the iron sights or even mount a scope. Brownells has a wide selection of aftermarket sights and scopes to choose from.

Another thing to be aware of: many military rifles have straight bolt handles that will hit a scope when you operate them. To remedy this, Brownells has an assortment of replacement bolt knobs, including some that are angled to clear the scope. If you have a Mauser, check out the Brownells bolt forging blocks (#080-941-500) to shape the Mauser handle to your specifications.

Looking for more modifications that can sporterize your rifle? You can shorten the barrel, install a new trigger, adjust the trigger weight, alter the length of pull, upgrade the safety, or do just about anything that will improve your shooting experience with the gun. Sporterized military rifles are essentially custom built, and the modifications are only limited by the owner’s imagination.