Growing up in the 2000s, there was no shortage of World War II shooter style video games. There were plenty of awesome weapons that I gained a passing familiarity for, but my favorite digital weapon of choice was the 1903 Springfield. Time has passed and I have gained a lot of real life trigger time, yet the 03 Springfield remained elusive. Until now.
A Bit of Context
So what is the 03?
At the turn of the 20th century, the Krag-Jorgansen rifle was the standard issue rifle for the US military. But American involvement against the Spanish in Cuba in 1898 made the rifle a scapegoat for tactical errors. Ultimately, the Americans wanted a rifle like what the Spaniards were wielding, the Mauser. In the end, the US government decided against getting a license to produce Mauser’s rifle, but chose to make their own version.
Adopted in 1903, the new rifle was well receieved by the troops and was standard issue for the American Doughboys in World War I (1914-18). Post-war, the rifle saw action in various punitive expeditions in Latin America before being replaced by the legendary M1 Garand semi automatic rifle. Not everyone got the new rifle though. When the US was swept into World War II, the M1903 was the most common rifle with the US Marine Corps and colonial troops, like those in the Phillipines. M1 Garand production never fully caught up and the M1903 and its World War II brother, the 03A3 remained a substitute standard for the duration of the war. There is a lot to be said about the M1903s variants and its long use as a sniper rifle when equipped with a telescope, but that deserves a chapter of its own. With that said, what makes the 03 Springfield unique?
At its heart, the 03 Springfield features a Mauser style of bolt action with three locking lugs and a large claw extractor as well as a stripper clip feed and a five shot staggered magazine. All the basic hardware on the M1903 is milled, while World War II produced rifles featured a lot of stamped steel parts.
Note the steel butt plate. It has a trap for a cleaning kit. It is something one would fine on many American military rifles up to present.
The 03 has a relatively complicated sighting setup. The ladder, when pushed up, is graduated to 2700 yards. Windage is adjusted via the knurled knobs. For close shooting, simply look through the triangle and put the thin blade front sight
where you want it to go.
A closer look at the bolt. Note the three locking lugs. The Mauser style of action isn’t the smoothest, but it is overbuilt for safety and strength.
Throughout the 03 series’ production run, the magazine cut off was retained. It is a switch that allows you to load single rounds while keeping a full magazine in reserve, just in case. It was a feature that was already redundant by
World War I.
Shooting and Impressions
The m1903 in the flesh, is something very new to me. Murpheysmuskets kindly lent a fine 1918 manufactured example, typical of those used during the Great War and into World War II. Though the gun was short with a handy 24 inch barrel, it was quite heavy at nearly nine pounds. It shoulders instinctively and the sights, though they look complicated, are easier to see and easier to use than an ordinary Mauser.
The 03 Springfield is chambered in the 30-06 cartridge, developed for this rifle, and is the most popular big game cartridge today in the States. Admittedly, this was my first time behind a 30-06 and the steel butt plate did not look friendly for the recoil shy.
It turned out to be much better than expected. The ammunition used was a 168 grain Sierra MatchKing bullet over a surplus powder charge and the shooting was done at 120 and 200 yards. Despite not having any stripper clips, the 03 loads easily with single rounds. Just open the bolt and push the rounds down into the magazine. Easy.
Flip up the rear sight and look through the triangular peep sight. Put the front sight on the target and let it go. The heavy nature of the rifle absorbed the 30-06 recoil like a charm. The bolt action was more than manageable when working the bolt and chambering the next round, though I admit it is not as smooth as Britain’s World War I contemporary, the SMLE. But the sights are far better, allowing me to predictably hit steel at 120 yards. Firing prone proved more difficult further back at 200 yards, at least for me, with an equal amount of hits to misses. After a while, the heavy 03 wants to wave around in my arms a bit so good trigger control was definitely needed. Having said that, the trigger was not too bad, though it was typical of military triggers of the day–long, predictable take-up with a smooth break.
Though the M1903s life as a standard issue rifle was limited, replaced by the iconic M1 Garand, championed to be the gun that won World War II. Having said that, the 03 outlasted its faster firing counterpart in its niche roles. The 03s accuracy and reliability ended up serving it well and the 03 is seen in many military target matches today. On the civilian side of things, many an 03 were converted into big game rifles. Today, it seems the 03 Springfield is getting the credit it deserves and is a hot item on the surplus market with prices from $600 on up depending on condition and variant. Though not as inexpensive as some other military surplus rifles, having come to learn what the 03 is all about, it would be worth every penny.