What do you think is the most accurate military surplus rifle?
It’s a subject of much debate within the online gun community, especially those who turn to military surplus firearms in pursuit of guns that meet at the point where history and functionality meet. Why the dispute, you may ask? Not all surplus weapons are created equal. The discussion on the ‘Net talk seems to be largely torn between the Finnish M39 Mosin, the Swiss K31 straight pull rifle, and the Swedish Mauser, for the title of “Most Accurate Milsurp.” Regardless of where others stand, I, personally, found myself drawn to the Mauser for its historical significance, innovation, and performance that’s still evident on the range today. Its design was so influential, odds are, if you’ve picked up a modern hunting rifle, its action was based on Mauser brothers’ design. I picked up a fine Swedish M96 rifle, made in 1901 by the Carl Gustav armory, and got to work.
History & Specs Overview
The history and specs of the M96 rifle are explained in greater detail in my video review embedded above, but here is a brief overview. The late 19th century saw an arms race to replace old black powder cartridge rifles with new smokeless powder repeaters. Mauser made one of the best a soldier could have. Sweden decided they had to have a Mauser of their own. The first in this series of rifles is the M96, which was introduced in 1896. Later carbine and sniper versions were available in subsequent years, but these fine weapons and its 6.5x55mm cartridge helped to ensure Sweden’s uneasy neutrality through both World Wars—although, at least 200,000 M96 rifles were given to Finland in their fight against the Russian aggression in the Winter War (1939-40). Many of those Mausers were returned after World War II ended in 1945. The Swedes pulled their Mausers off front line duty in the 1950s and out of reserve service by the 1980s, but many of these historic long guns have reportedly been meticulously maintained, which has helped to ensure that a great number of old M96s perform as well as modern rifles.
Firing the Swedish Mauser
Shooting the Swedish M96 was so enjoyable I couldn’t get it all in one shooting session, or even in one video. I loaded and fired some 400 rounds into the gun before testing stopped. The rifle looked pristine on the outside and the bore was not too bad, unsurprising considering the Swedes reputation for regularly inspecting and replacing barrels for their military rifles. Originally, the M96 was made to fire 160 grain round nosed bullets. However, in the early 1900s, they were regulated to fire 140 grain spitzer rounds. I loaded 140 grain FMJ rounds for testing.
Loading the Swede with single rounds is straightforward. Retract the bolt all the way back, and thumb the rounds down. Done. A M96 shooter also has the option of using clips (pictured right), which I get a kick out of using. The Mauser’s bolt is, arguably, the most prominent innovation of the Mauser rifle, in general. With bolt back, the shooter places the metal clip into the machined bridge above the receiver, and pushes the five rounds down. Slamming the bolt forward ejects the clip, and the rifle is ready to fire. With practice, reloading takes about three seconds—easier done than said.
The trigger on the rifle is nice, for a military rifle. Typical of many milsurp long guns, the M96’s trigger has a light release, but a lot of take up. Recoil was remarkably light for a military rifle of this age and weight (they generally come in around 8.8lbs). I find the sight picture with the long barrel to be distinct and cleanly outlined. I introduced my younger sister to high powered rifles with the Swede evaluated in this review. Within three shots, she was shooting with confidence and manipulating the weapon like a professional, proving the M96 to be an accurate rifle good for range fun for shooters of any age.
In my time with the Swede M96, I finally got to shoot a historic Mauser rifle for the first time, and even discovered a personal favorite cartridge in the 6.5x55mm. I’d say it’s an excellent contender for the title “most accurate milsurp rifle,” but what do you think?