April 2006

Messy Old Mausers: Good Deals For the Knowledgeable Buyer?

Curios & Relics, and full of grease, these old Mausers purchased from Southern Ohio Gun might make you a few bucks over the years, and could be fun shooters in the bargain.

This Yugoslav rifle (above) was the best of the lot. These old Mausers can provide a learning experience, and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a good gun under all the crud.

The Mauser 98, in most of its many variants, is one of the finest rifle actions ever developed, and one of the most long-lived. Today, we see that Remington has just announced its own version of the old German design in a “new” rifle. But you can still occasionally find inexpensive variants of the old M98 war-horse in original versions, as issued to troops in countries all over the world, offered for sale by some of the major importers, and that’s how we got our three test rifles. Southern Ohio Gun (SOG) had a sale, and we acquired three slightly different M98s for evaluation. Before we saw these rifles, we thought any of them would provide at least a decent action for a custom rifle, always with the understanding that custom rifles will almost certainly cost way more than just going out and buying a Ruger or Remington. But some folks are happy to spend lots of money for a personalized, one-off rifle, and the M98 is one of the best actions to use for such a project. One of our just-bought actions — the German one — was badly deformed on the forward part of its front ring, removing it from any reasonable consideration for use on a custom rifle. The other two could be made into custom rifles, but that’s not necessary, because any decent older 98 ought to be a good long-term investment, and should provide lots of shooting fun along the way. Do these 98s have any value, other than for collectors?

We bought three M98 variants from SOG, all 8mm rifles. They were a German K98 (SLG-K98 SB, $140), a Yugoslav Mauser M24/47 (SLG-M24/47, $110), and a Model 1903/38 (SLG-T03, $90). All fell into the class of Curios & Relics. Each rifle was tagged with a notice that stated the guns had not been inspected by a gunsmith, so there was no obvious guarantee we had three viable rifles. In fact, they all were thickly coated with cosmoline when they arrived, so we actually had no idea what was there. Were they worth their price, or just a total waste of money? Let’s take a look.

The “Kar” 98 K was the prime fighting weapon of the German army in WWI and most of WWII. As such, a German-made 98 in any kind of condition is a bit more desirable than any of the variants made in other countries. So we expected to pay a bit more, but we also expected a decent rifle. Ours was marked “dot,” on top of the front ring, the three-letter wartime code indicating a specific maker (dot = Waffenwerke Brunn, in Czechoslovakia). The ring also bore the date, 1943, and both the ring and barrel bore tiny Nazi proof marks. Are these worth what amounted to about a $40 premium? We didn’t think so, but many collectors do. The action bore the marks of hurried manufacture in the form of plenty of tool marks on the visible surfaces. The left side of the action bore the typical “Mod 98” marking of German Mausers. None of the myriad numbers matched, which didn’t surprise us. The days of being able to buy all-matching (they stamped everything), German-made, pristine-condition Mauser 98s for twenty-five bucks — like one of our staff did — are long gone. The safety didn’t work quite right on this one. It was uncharacteristically stiff and hard to move. The trigger pull was very heavy. The stock didn’t match the bolt shape, there being a cutout for a bent bolt, which this rifle didn’t have. Despite those problems, the overall condition, at first glance, was about what you’d expect for a battered old, arsenal-mismatched Mauser. We were somewhat disappointed, however, having seen better examples of the 98 for less money not many years ago. But if this is all you can find today, it might be worth looking into, we thought. So we ran a patch through the bore, took a look, and nearly screamed.

This rifle had the worst-bent barrel we’ve ever seen. Once we pushed the cosmoline out of the barrel, a glance through the bore gave us a most remarkable and appalling sight. We saw an oval hole at the far end, with obvious distortion to the rifling along the way. Despite the fact that the Germans deliberately made rifles with barrels bent to shoot around corners, we decided we would not shoot this one. We had no way of telling where the bullets would go, but they surely would not hit the paper at much over a few yards’ range. Oddly, the bend was not noticeable from the outside.

This rifle was the worst for cosmoline coating. We ruined a pair of gloves just pulling it out of the box. We decided, after a cursory inspection that revealed some decent-looking stock wood, to do a thorough disassembly and degreasing. This took the better part of two days, because we had to work slowly indoors in a newly finished bathroom that we didn’t want to destroy. The weather outside was about zero, and we had no heated outbuilding in which to work.

We searched the Internet for easy solutions to this horrid task of removing cosmoline, and the least toxic and most readily available method was to use a huge bucket full of very hot water along with some dish soap, lots of paper towels, elbow grease, and patience. One note on this method bears mention. The cosmoline will again solidify after it cools, so you don’t want to put much of it down your drain. It might result in a bad clog.

After, and only after, we got the grease off could we see what we had. In fact, some of the parts were pitted. The bore was not altogether bad, but it had apparently been packed with cosmoline without having first been thoroughly cleaned. We got out lots of gilding metal fouling as we final-cleaned the bore. We also found there were no locking screws for the action bolts. Some things just can’t be seen until you buy the rifle, disassemble it, and clean off the crud. With so much time and labor added to the cost of the rifle, we think an old Mauser like this one may not be ideal for the novice buyer. You may get a useful field-grade, non-collectible old 8mm rifle, or you may get a complete junker. What’s the headspace? If it’s out, you’re pretty much stuck with an action. So, unless the rifle has some intrinsic collector value for filling some obscure need in a collection of military rifles, your money and time may have been totally wasted. Also, if you don’t already know how to take the rifle apart you might break something along the way, adding to cost and frustration.

This rifle had the longest barrel, 29 inches. Before we went too far in our evaluation we shoved a patch through the bore and found it to be pretty straight. We then proceeded with partial disassembly, being thoroughly fed up with cosmoline. We took off the trigger guard to clean the action. We had trouble getting the floor plate out. After cleaning, we found that the interlocking surfaces had been struck with a hammer or similar tool repeatedly, which essentially ruined them. Careful filing failed to free the parts, so we were stuck with a distressed floor plate and magazine box that didn’t work like they were supposed to. One feature of this rifle was the lined hole in the butt stock, which is for disassembling the bolt. The lining appeared to be made of copper.

When we had the trigger guard off, we wiped out the stock, breech, barrel and chamber with enough paper towels and solvent to be able to safely shoot the rifle. We soaked the trigger guard and the disassembled bolt in hot soapy water to remove the cosmoline. Carefully heating the bolt with a propane torch let much of the cosmoline run out, and what remained was easily removed with Hoppe’s No. 9, patches, and more paper towels. We sprayed the stock with kitchen cleaner, and found some cracks at the butt that looked bad, but didn’t hurt the function at all. Would this matter to a future buyer? Probably. On reassembling the rifle we found the magazine box didn’t fit properly within the stock. More specifically, there was not enough wood left on the old rifle to fully surround the mag box. Spoils of war, we guess. We put it all together and [PDFCAP(4)]. The bore looked pretty good, and the final trigger pull was not bad, though not as good as that of the M24 Yugoslav rifle. We found accuracy to be in the range of 2.5 inches or a bit better at 50 yards. That may not be enough for hunting, but was certainly enough for casual shooting fun.

Gun Tests Recommends
• German K98 Mauser, SLG-K98 SB, $140. Don’t Buy. We thought at first this was a complete waste of money. However, we’ve been informed by one of our staff that SOG will take rifles like this one back and will either give a full refund, or replace it with a similar product. This is mighty nice to know, and something that makes us feel a whole lot better about taking pot luck with grease-covered guns. If this were a decent rifle, we could reasonably expect it to go up slowly in value, there being progressively fewer genuine German-made Mausers of any form on the market, at any price. So for now we have to declare this to be one we’d not buy, but will instead send back to SOG.

• Yugoslav Mauser 8mm M24/47 SLG-M24/47, $110. Buy It. We ended up with a clean VZ24 Preduzece 44 Mauser, with straight (unbent) bolt, that at least looked decent. We thought the issue sights worked rather well. We had a fully functional, rugged and powerful rifle. The trigger pull was excellent, breaking at a pound more than the force needed to overcome the first stage. To our satisfaction, the first three shots out the clean bore printed in a one-inch group at 50 yards, with the next three going into about three inches. The shots landed nearly dead center, which also was gratifying. So we were in some measure rewarded for our massive cleaning session. The serial numbers of the rifle don’t match, but the bore is obviously serviceable. We thought this rifle was short enough and light enough that it could be used as a knock-about field-grade hunting rifle, and would also be lots of fun to shoot, with low-cost surplus ammo. We thought this was the best of the three rifles. We’d buy it for shooting fun and general practice if we had access to inexpensive ammo. We’d expect it to slowly but steadily go up in value, but we seriously doubt we’d see a return on investment any time soon.

• 1903/38, SLG-T03 $90. Conditional Buy. We’d never carry such a big, long, heavy rifle on a hunting trip. This rifle wouldn’t win any prizes, nor would it be rare enough or in good enough condition for any but the most elemental collection, but it was plenty good enough to do a whole lot of inexpensive shooting, and that’s probably the best use for any of these old war clubs. Would we buy it? No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.


Also With This Article


-Text and photos by Ray Ordorica from Gun Tests team field and range evaluations.

German K98 Mauser SLG-K98 SB 8mm, $140

Yugoslav Mauser 8mm M24/47 SLG-M24/47, $110

1903/38, SLG-T03 $90

took it to the range

"The M98 Market"