The Krag-Jorgensen rifle was invented by Capt. Ole Krag and Erik Jorgensen in Norway in the late 1800s. Denmark adopted the design first, in 1889, preceding Norway’s acceptance of it in 1894. The Danes had it chambered for the 8x58R cartridge and used it until at least 1940. The first Norwegian cartridge for this rifle was identical to that which has become known as the 6.5×55 Swedish, but the proof-testing cartridges were of lower pressure than those used later in the history of the 6.5×55. Krag ammunition manufactured in this country is limited to about 40-42,000 psi, well within the rifle’s capabilities.
By 1890 every major power in the world had a bolt-action rifle for its military services except the United States. After deliberation over more than 50 entries, in 1892 the U.S. decided on the Norwegian Krag-Jorgensen, with a few modifications, as a replacement for the single-shot 1873 “trapdoor” Springfield with its 45-70 black-powder cartridge. According to Frank De Haas in Bolt Action Rifles, 3rd Edition (1995), as finally adopted and produced at Springfield Arsenal, the Krag fired a 200-grain round-nose bullet at a velocity of around 2000 fps. The Krag was used by the U.S. Army in the Spanish-American war of 1898, as was the old 1873 Springfield. The U.S. Navy used the Lee 6mm rifle in that conflict. The Krag rifle saw action in a few other conflicts in U.S. hands as well, but was quickly replaced by the 1903 Springfield 30-06. Although its military life with U.S. forces was short, it saw service up until at least WWII in other nations.
The Krag had its limitations. It could not be stripper-clip loaded, though the infantryman could top off the five-shot magazine without opening the bolt. Each cartridge should be inserted so the rim of the next one would be behind the preceding one, though the Krag’s magazine lines them up perfectly all by itself as you close the box. In fact we were unable to intentionally foul the loading process. The Krag’s ballistics were a good step behind those of the majority of other countries’ rifles at the turn of the century. However, the rifles were well made and turned out to be mighty sturdy despite the so-called limitation of having only one bolt lug. We tested our sample with Remington 180-grain PSP Core-Lokt and with HSM (Montana) 165-grain soft-point boattails. Here’s what we found.
Krag-Jorgensen 1898 Springfield 30-40 Krag, about $1500
From a brief look at Internet prices, a good Krag can be had for anywhere from $750 up to $2500 for rarer numbers. Better condition commands a higher price. We had the loan of a fine old Krag Model 1898 rifle with an excellent bore, lots of remaining bluing and fine wood, though the metalwork was showing signs of incipient rust and neglect here and there. The bore on our test sample was bright, there was no pitting, and the rifling was strong throughout. The faded cartouche on the stock showed a manufacturing date of 1901, difficult to read. The full-length stock was good walnut with some nice tiger figure on it, a few nicks and dings, but no major problems. The steel butt plate had a spring-loaded round door that still worked, but was getting rusty. Nothing was inside the hole in the stock. The various parts of the rifle were all there and were all in good working order.
We ran a few patches through the bore, but before we shot it we decided to take apart the bolt to clean off the old oil and check out how it was made. First we had to get the bolt out of the rifle. The method is to clear the rifle and withdraw the bolt as far as it’ll go. Then lift up on the front tip of the extractor, which is on top of the bolt, and while lifting it, move the bolt handle a bit more open, or counterclockwise. The long extractor will come out of its race and swing toward the right as the bolt opens a bit more. To get the bolt back into the rifle, make sure the extractor rail is pointed toward the right side of the rifle as you lay the bolt into place. Then simply rotate the bolt handle toward the closed position and the extractor will pop back into place. This is a simple process, but if you don’t know it you’ll never get that bolt out.
Bolt disassembly is easy. Pull back on the striker and twist it left until the cocking piece snaps clear of the lug on the bolt body, and then the striker assembly can be withdrawn from the bolt body. To get the striker assembly apart, put a little pressure on the striker spring and shove the striker cap (the actual firing pin) to the side and take it off. Then all the parts come off easily. As with so many early rifles, the machining on this century-old Krag was mind-boggling. We can’t even imagine how the bolt body was machined. The keeper for the firing-pin spring, which actually was the firing pin itself, was a hollow chamber that tipped to the side to come off. As noted, takedown of the bolt was simple, but we used a big bench vise to help us put it back together. The padded vise held the bolt body while we shoved against a strong spring and rotated the cocking piece back into place.
The magazine cutoff is an odd feature. With it deployed (down), the bolt will not pick up the next round. That way the rifleman can keep feeding singles into the rifle with five rounds in reserve. An upward flick of the thumb releases the magazine cutoff. We had the nagging notion that the cutoff lever was backwards from how we’d have designed it. It just seemed wrong. Then we found out the action of the cutoff arm was apparently reversed from the original Norwegian design at the behest of some U.S. specification.
The rifle also had a Mauser-type wing safety, unmarked as to safe or fire positions. All the way to the right (clockwise) locked the bolt shut and the striker rearward. We found the trigger to be stiff but relatively clean. The long barrel gave a long sight radius, and the sight picture was excellent, we thought, though the blade and notch were on the small side. That rear sight had lots of charm to it. Releasing a serrated cam lever at its front allowed the entire sight to pivot for windage changes. We later found it to be right on the money when exactly centered.
Elevation was controlled by a locking wheel at the right side. Loosen it a quarter turn and you could then slide the follower up from 100 yards to 400 with the ladder down, and with it raised, up to 2000. There was a tiny hole for precise use at longer ranges, i.e., with the ladder up. We liked this setup better than the later spring-loaded, pinch-to-move elevators on similar sights. This one was easier to use and more precise. The front sight was a flat-topped blade with no protective ears. It was pinned into a slot in the inset front ramp.
Although the Krag is supposed to be cranky with non-round-nose bullets, both our relatively pointy test cartridges fed well enough. The rifle had modest recoil, and judging from our sample, the Krags were nicely balanced despite their long 30-inch barrels. However, that long barrel took a while to swing from here to there. Other than that, we found the handling of the Krag to be without reproach in just about every way. The bolt was mighty slick whether feeding, ejecting, or just sliding back and forth.
Ejection was straight up, and you had to work the bolt briskly to get the empty out of the rifle and out of the way. It took a knack to open the magazine box easily, just like it took a knack to get the bolt out of the rifle. The magazine held five rounds, and they moved in a clockwise circular pattern from the box to the feeding ramp.
Our first groups were with the 180-grain Remington ammo and were not great, around 3 inches, with (always) two very close and the third out there somewhere else. But with the HSM 165-grain ammo, groups averaged around 1.5 inches, which we thought was not at all bad for a century-old rifle. The 180- and 165-grain bullets struck at the same elevation. Everything about the rifle worked perfectly, though we noted a slight reluctance to feed the last round from the magazine, with both types of ammo.
We could not trace the cause, but it was quickly overcome with a slightly greater push on the bolt. The student of old shoulder artillery will have himself a field day examining this design, and if he has an example good enough and rewarding enough to shoot, he will find it to be lots of fun on the range.
Not many Krags have been sporterized, because restocking means cutting lots of wood away around the magazine. Many full-length rifles have been altered to look like the somewhat rarer carbines. Genuine carbines bring a premium, so be careful. There are serial numbers that tell the true story, and any collector or reference source can fill you in on the correct carbine number range. Only 5000 official 1898 carbines were produced, compared to about half a million total Krag production from 1894 to 1904. In the early 20th century many full-length rifles were cut into “NRA Carbines” for sale to members of that gun-owners’ organization.
There were quite a few sub-species of the Krag, and they are beyond the scope of our report here, but there’s lots of stuff out there for the fan to find for himself. There are also collectors’ organizations. By the way, in Al Linden’s wonderful book Restocking a Rifle, there is a photo of a Krag with a custom maple stock and suigi finish that will forever dispel the idea that the Krag is a homely rifle.
Our Team Said: We thoroughly enjoyed our outing with the Krag, and suspect any shooter will also like it. Reloaders are advised to keep the pressure down. If we owned this one, we’d find and reload round-nose bullets of 200- to 220-grain weights, just to keep ourselves as honest as is this old rifle.
Written by Ray Ordorica, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT