This 21st Century version of the Mauser 98 is more refined, vastly superior even to the fine commercial actions and rifles that came out of Oberndorf before World War II. It is a handsome classic rifle designed to appeal to aficionados of the marque.
It is almost unheard of for a mechanism developed about 125 years ago to still see widespread use. The M98 action is virtually unchanged since the end of the 19th Century and is in great demand for building fine custom sporters and high-grade commercial rifles in the 21st century. Many modern actions trace their heritage to the Mauser.
The original Model 98 was superior to any bolt action before it. Its engineering and design were so correct and uncomplicated that it remains even today the standard by which all others are judged.
It has many features that are not so obvious, but which are ingenious in their relationships and how they function together to achieve the strongest, safest, most reliable breeching system of any rifle.
The hallmarks of the original M98 were its dual-opposed forward locking lugs and its controlled-round feed, in which the cartridge is held against the bolt face by the extractor and ’controlled’ as it is fed into the chamber.
Serious hunters prefer controlled-round feed actions to push-feed ones. Push feed actions dominate because they are cheaper to manufacture.
The Mauser M98 Standard Expert reviewed here is impressive. The fit and finish of all metal parts are superb. The Grade 5 walnut stock is striking, showing lots of flame and figure, and wood-to-metal fit is very close, particularly around the action.
The style is American classic, but there’s one jarring note; it has a British pancake cheekpiece which looks as if it was added on as an afterthought. If you like it, fine, but I am not a fan.
The high, straight comb is thick and rounded and slopes upward toward the rear, allowing it to make good firm contact with the cheek for steady holding. The skimpy cheekpiece is actually superfluous, since it serves no useful purpose.
The stock is nicely shaped and has distinctive character in the diamond-point raised section just ahead of the pistol grip and contours around the magazine floorplate.
The forend is round in cross-section and set off by a contrasting black tip.
The pistol grip is long and gently curved and true to the original design. The more open grip fitted naturally in my hand and shows the influence of the fine rifles turned out in the 1920s and ’30s by Mauser.
Panels of fine chequering in a point pattern decorate the forend and pistol grip.
The butt is capped with a thin black rubber recoil pad, and carries the rear sling swivel stud; the front stud is mounted on a barrel band about 50mm ahead of the forend tip. Length of pull is 365mm (14.37”), about an inch longer than it is on typical American rifles.
The M98 Standard sports a round-topped receiver but is also available in a double square bridge version that has classic tip-off scope bases machined directly into the receiver.
The top of the action is drilled and tapped for modern scope-mounting bases.
Outwardly the M98 doesn’t look all that much different to post-war FN and more recent Zastava actions. True, the left receiver wall is solid, but inside is another matter; the pretenders both lack the original M98’s solid collar.
Instead, the inner collar is slotted on the left side, leaving only partial collars top and bottom. Evidently, this was done to make milling the left locking lug raceway easier.
While I feel it interrupts the integrity of the breeching, I’ve never heard of it affecting the strength or safety of the action.
The M98 bolt head has a projecting nose extending about 6mm (¼”) forward of the locking lugs. So the nose portion of the bolt head sits snugly within the annular collar inside the receiver to tightly seal the breech area, the front surface of this collar abuts the barrel shank and makes fitting and headspacing a barrel a simple operation.
The bolt is machined from one piece of steel with the handle, dual head lugs and a third safety lug just forward and below the bolt handle formed integral with the bolt body.
A guide rib machined into the bolt body mates with a groove in the underside of the receiver bridge to prevent binding. When the bolt is locked, this rib lies under the extractor and serves to support the extractor spring against excessive inward bending.
Two large gas escape ports in the bolt body allow high pressure gas to safely dissipate in the event of a case head separation.
A rear gas escape port is milled partially into the opposite side of the bolt body’s interior, forming a recess that mates with a shoulder on the firing pin when the bolt is locked and allows the firing pin to move forward and fire a cartridge. If the bolt is not fully locked, the pin cannot fall far enough to fire a cartridge. This is just another of the ingenious hidden safety features that are lacking in other designs.
The modern M98 Standard action closely resembles that of the Rigby Highlander by retaining the large flange on the bolt sleeve that diverts any gases that might flow back along the bolt body. The sleeve has been modified to house a three-position Winchester Model 70-type safety operating horizontally on the right side of the bolt sleeve.
With the safety lever all the way to the rear, the firing pin and bolt are locked in place. In the middle position, the firing pin is still locked in place, but the bolt can be opened to remove a live round from the chamber. Pushed fully forward, the rifle is ready to fire.
I won’t own a rifle that does not have a three-position safety. I not only want the firing pin blocked, but the bolt locked closed as well.
The M98’s elegant bolt handle is straight and has a pear-shaped knob. The upper half is dished to lie closer to the stock and miss contacting the eyepiece of a low-mounted scope.
Operation of the bolt is, as might be expected, exceptionally smooth throughout its length of travel. This is because the bolt and all the metalwork on the M98 Standard is treated with plasma nitriding for maximum wear resistance. As well as providing protection against erosion it gives the metal a deep, lustrous finish.
The extractor is a long flat spring attached to the bolt by a collar that rides in a groove around the bolt body. The extractor mates with the right lug raceway in the receiver and does not rotate. The foot is tapered to mate with a bevelled undercut in the groove around the bolt.
When a cartridge is difficult to extract, increasing pressure on the bolt handle and bolt body causes the extractor to bind increasingly, pressing it harder into the cartridge’s extraction groove. It cannot slip over a case rim and its extremely wide bite on the case rim makes it capable of removing the tightest stuck case.
That tapered foot on the extractor is just another example of Paul Mauser’s design genius.
If you believe all the advertising hype and like the idea of “three rings of steel” around a cartridge case head, and believe it to be a modern concept, think again!
The M98’s inner-collar breech forms a massive ring of steel inside the receiver ring. It is an integral part of the receiver and encircles the bolt face and cartridge case head. When the barrel is screwed into a Mauser action, the rear of the barrel not only abuts the collar but also the face of the receiver.
The collar is exceedingly thick and buttressed at the backside by a bevelled contour. It is slotted on the right side for the extractor, but since the slot is in line with the ejection port, this doesn’t cancel its effectiveness as a gas barrier.
And when the bolt is locked, the rim around the recessed bolt face aligns with the interior receiver ring recess.
The cartridge seats deep in the M98’s chamber, all but the last 2.7mm (.105”). Many supposedly more advanced systems with deeply counterbored bolt heads actually leave more of the cartridge head exposed from the chamber mouth than does the M98.
All in all, M98 lock-up is as secure as a bank vault. Another of those unique features that’s absent on modern bolt actions.
The bolt stop and ejector are connected to a lever that pivots on the left side of the receiver bridge. The ejector is a standing type, and the bolt stop is an integral part of it, located just to the rear of the ejector.
The ejector blade passes through a slot in the left locking lug to reach the cartridge base. The 2mm (.08”) access slot slices through both the left locking lug and bolt face. As the bolt is withdrawn and reaches the bolt stop, the ejector extends past the bolt face to eject the fired case to the right. When the bolt stop and ejector are swung to the side and out of the action, the bolt can be withdrawn from the receiver.
Another advantage of the Mauser system, appreciated by handloaders, is that it allows the case to be ejected with whatever force the shooter desires. The bolt can be eased back gently so that the case can be picked out of the action, or it can be withdrawn with varying degrees of force to let it fall nearby or be pelted far and wide.
The bottom metal is all steel and the floorplate release is inside the front of the trigger guard, Oberndorf-style. The internal magazine holds four rounds of .30-06.
The action is glass-bedded in the stock with epoxy compound under the chamber section and underneath and behind the recoil lug. The rear action screw has a pillar acting as a spacer and there’s epoxy on each side of the front of the tang.
It’s neat and the barrelled action is a very close fit in the stock. The magazine assembly was so tight that I declined to pull it out.
The medium weight barrel is 56cm (22”) long and has a diameter of 29mm (1.140”) at the receiver ring which is carried forward for about 34cm (13.4”) before tapering to reach 17.3mm (0.681”) at the rounded muzzle.
The barrel is equipped with open sights. The ramped front bead, which is attached via a barrel band, is easy to see. The rear sight has a shallow V and white centreline, and is on a barrel band. The front and rear sights are adjustable for elevation and windage.
The new Mauser has an adjustable trigger with a totally inert, crisp 1.134kg (2.5lb) let-off that’s fully the equal of any trigger I’ve ever experienced. It definitely plays a major part in wringing the best accuracy from the M98 action.
The M98 Standard weighs just under 3.86kg (8.5lb) without a scope and 4.536kg (10lb) with the Zeiss Conquest V6 2-12×50 scope we had mounted mounted.
Accuracy was excellent, as indeed it should be from such a superb and weighty outfit with three shot groups which all consistently averaged under one-inch at 100 yards with four different types of RWS factory ammunition with different weights of bullets: 136gn EVO, 165gn HIT Green, 180gn JNI Classic and 184gn EVO. The results are listed in the table.
Manufacturing techniques have improved out of sight in the past 125 years and made it possible to produce the intricate M98 action and upgrade it to a higher level so that fit and finish are absolutely superb.
Trigger and safety refinements, better steels and tighter tolerances made possible with CNC machining render the modern M98 fully the equal of any bolt mechanism designed since, at least for hunting.
- Manufacturer: Mauser, Germany
- Type: Controlled-round feed, bolt-action centrefire
- Calibres: 7×57, 8x57IS, 9.3×62, .308 Win, .30-06 (tested)
- Magazine capacity: 4
- Barrel: 56cm (22”), rifling twist 1:10
- Overall length: 110cm (43.3”)
- Weight: 3.86kg (8.5lb)
- Stock: American classic style. Grade 5 highly figured walnut
- Metal finish: Plasma nitride
- Trigger: Single-stage, adjustable pull
- Sights: Bead front, shallow rear V, adjustable for windage and elevation; receiver drilled and tapped for scope bases
- Price: from about $13,500 but shop around
- Distributor: OSA Australia