The Legendary Magnum Mauser Action
As far as bolt-actions intended for dangerous game are concerned, the famed M98 Magnum Mauser is without doubt the most famous. It is most often associated with classy British rifles with the names and addresses of famous gunmakers engraved on the barrel. As such, they are often greatly coveted (whenever one becomes available, it has to be said) by serious collectors and riflemen alike.
The M98 Mauser action was originally designed for the German military cartridge of the day, the 8×57 JS, and the Gewehr 98 ticked all the right boxes. It was strong, easy to disassemble and maintain, could be reloaded under pressure by means of stripper clips, and, most importantly, it was reliable. These same qualities, of course, made the M98 eminently suitable for sporting use as well, and it wasn’t long before M98-actioned rifles were in use in the hunting fields of Africa and Asia.
In addition to actions dedicated for military use, the Mauserwerke also made excellent M98 actions for commercial use, and they even sold these in sparing quantities to other makers for their own use. Although military-surplus Mauser actions were available for relatively modest prices almost right from the start, several best-quality British rifles were made on commercial M98 actions, and the ones I have seen have generally been superb. These rifles were largely responsible for the death-knell of the superb Gibbs-Farquharson and other single-shot falling-block actions which had hitherto been the more affordable alternative to an expensive double rifle.
With the advent of the cordite era in the late 1890s, the gunmakers of the day were challenged to develop large-bore cartridges suitable for use on dangerous game, and that could be made to function reliably in the new repeating actions. Westley Richards developed their .425 which was a slightly odd-looking cartridge with a bottleneck case and a rebated rim, while Jeffery developed the .404, a fine cartridge with a gently sloping shoulder that was clearly developed with smooth feeding from a bolt action. Holland & Holland came up with their superb .375 H&H Magnum, to this day one of the most popular big-bore cartridges. All these cartridges could be made to work from a standard-length M98 action, but this course of action was potentially fraught with peril as well. The list of modifications to accomplish such a conversion effectively and safely was extensive: Open the bolt face and magazine rails, remove steel from behind the locking-lug recess to lengthen magazine space (potentially the biggest cause of trouble as it weakens the action in a very crucial area), and lengthen the bolt throw. Sometimes, a clearance notch had to be milled into the receiver ring to allow loaded cartridges to be ejected, and often a completely new trigger guard/magazine box assembly had to be fitted as well.
In their capacity as the Mauser agents in England, John Rigby & Co took a somewhat different approach. Way back in 1899, Mauser developed a special M98 action to accommodate Rigby’s .400/350 Nitro-Express cartridge. The .400/350 NE was a long, rimmed cartridge that fired a 310-grain bullet at moderate muzzle velocity, but it was a proven success on large game. So what Mauser did was to adapt their Siamese Mauser action by lengthening it by approximately a quarter of an inch and fit it with a specially developed sloping magazine box that allowed smooth feeding of the rimmed .400/350 cartridge. When Rigby started looking around for a suitable action for the newly developed .416 Rigby some years later, the Magnum Mauser action was born, and suddenly a host of new possibilities opened up.
The Magnum Mauser action was the inspiration behind such proprietary cartridges as the .416 Rigby and .505 Gibbs, and the long M98 action could be tuned to handle these cartridges without a hiccup. Magnum Mausers were usually fitted with straddle-type floorplates with push-button release levers, and the floorplates were also of different thicknesses accordingly to suit the proposed cartridge to be used in the action. Even bolt handles were proportioned according to the depth of the magazine boxes used. Although the .375 H&H Magnum and .404 Jeffery could be made to work perfectly acceptably from a standard-length M98, many high-grade .375’s and .404’s were nevertheless made on Magnum Mauser actions, as were Rigby’s later .350 Rimless Magnum. Mauser also used the Magnum Mauser extensively, and their factory rifles chambered for the .404, 8×75, and .280 Ross all made use of the longest Mauser action available.
The combination of German engineering and British tailoring (to steal a phrase from Mauser historian Jon Speed) was a winning combination, and in a well-made rifle a Magnum Mauser action was as reliable as anything. Across the Atlantic, makers such as Griffin & Howe and Hoffman Arms also made use of the Magnum Mauser action and some of the rifles produced by these icons of American gunmaking are extremely well made and highly sought-after as well.
When production of the Magnum was forcibly halted as a result of the outcome of World War II, it left a very big gap that took years to be filled. The French-made Brevex action was a good substitute, but was only made in limited numbers. When the Brno 602 came along in the 1960s, many were pressed into service to handle the big bolt-action cartridges of yesteryear, but people still fondly remembered the old Magnum Mauser.
It took more than half a century, but finally the Magnum Mauser was revived, and by none other than the reconstituted Mauser company itself. It is again in production, and again in use by the (new) Rigby in London, part of the same group of companies. Not to be outdone, Magnum Mauser actions are available from a small number of boutique makers as well. One thing is sure about the legendary Magnum Mauser, though: it was just too good to be left to die.