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Somebody else ideas on Sporterizing Military Rifles

Bang for Your Buck: Comparing Surplus Rifles for Sporting Conversions

There are a lot of different military surplus rifles out there for good prices. While it is certainly possible to turn any of them into a deer rifle, some lend themselves to this process more so than others.
I now have some amount of experience in basic sporterizing of the big 3 platforms. Those being the Russian Mosin Nagant, the British Enfield and Mausers from around the world.
I will give a run-down of the pros and cons of each rifle. I should say at the outset that good examples of each of these rifle are capable of putting 5 shots into a 2 inch circle or better at 100 yards.
All of them can be accurate. All of them are already chambered for cartridges that are perfectly adequate for deer.
The Mosin Nagant is still dirt cheap. You can get them wholesale in excellent condition for as little as $60.
Pros: Low cost for the rifle. Lots of well-priced aftermarket parts made by companies like ATI. Easy to work on. The action is really slick, smooth and fast and there’s nothing else quite like it. Post-war rifles and carbines especially are a real joy to operate.
Cons: The Mosin Nagant safety is notoriously awkward unless you do something like weld a metal loop onto that knob to make it easier to grab and turn. There are no aftermarket barrels available for this action for some reason.
Theoretically, the .30 caliber barrel should make it relatively simple to re-chamber the rifle for some other rimmed cartridge.
But I have never been able to confirm that anyone has actually done this.
The bolt handle is always straight, which means that it does not clear a scope and has to be cut off and a new handle re-welded. You could just bend the existing handle, which is cheaper.
But the Mosin Nagant bolt handle is so short that turning it down doesn’t leave you with quite enough to grab and comfortable operation of the action does suffer.
K-98 Mausers and their variants make me drool. I love Mausers.
The Mauser is without a doubt the most widely sporterized military rifle ever made and there is an enormous wealth of parts and know-how out there.
Pros: Largest selection of after-market parts of any surplus rifle. Extremely high quality parts are available if you want them, unlike the stocks and other parts for the Mosin Nagant, which are purely utilitarian.
Barrels of all sorts are available. Any gunsmith will know how to work on Mausers. They are readily re-chambered for nearly any non-magnum length cartridge.
If you plan on spending a lot of money on a sporterizing project, you will not be disappointed by the results with a Mauser.
Cons: Unless you want a scout rifle, you are going to have to get a gunsmith to work on the bolt in order for it to clear a scope.
Then unless maybe you have a very high mount, you will have to replace the safety for the same reason. At least with the Mosin Nagant it’s just the bolt.
Basically, if you want to make a Mauser into a conventionally set up deer rifle you are going to have to spend at least $150 on parts and gunsmithing just to get it to the point where you can put a scope on it. Bend or re-weld the bolt handle – $50.
A 3 position safety that clears the scope – $50. Drill and tap receiver for scope mount – $50. And then you can’t really undo any of this. The rifle has been permanently altered.
The Enfield is rarely the first thing that people think of nowadays when we talk about sporterizing surplus rifles. But in much of the world, the Lee-Enfield action was the original sporter platform.
The K-98 Mauser was invented 9 years earlier, but it wasn’t until after the first world war that large numbers of Mausers entered civilian hands.
Sported-up Enfields and the .303 cartridge took loads of wild game of all sizes in Africa in the early part of this century.
The famous man-eaters of Tsavo were killed with a .303 and the legendary Karamojo Bell killed around 100 elephants with a .303 Enfield early in his career.
It has been said that .303 British has taken more moose in Canada than any other cartridge. Clearly this is not a cartridge or a rifle that is to be easily dismissed by American hunters.
Pros: This is sounds like a small thing but really it’s rather a big thing in my book; the No. 4 Mk. 1 Enfield has a bolt handle that is already turned down far enough that it will clear most any scope you are likely to mount.
The safety switch is on the left side of the receiver and a scope does not interfere with it’s use. Then there is the wonderful fact that you can buy a scope mount for the Enfield that mounts through existing holes in the rear sight base.
There are such bases for the other rifles as well, but the Enfield is unique in that it’s rear sight is so far back that a scope mounted over it does not produce a scout-type configuration.
You can use a regular rifle scope with the usual amount of eye relief. This means that you can set up an Enfield with a scope without doing a lick of actual gunsmithing and the rifle can be returned to it’s vintage configuration at any time.
The total cost of scoping this rifle is far less than either the Mauser or the Enfield. $36 for the ATI base from Cabela’s and you are ready to go with your standard Weaver-style rings and whatever extra scope you’ve got laying around.
Cons: There aren’t a whole lot of aftermarket parts around in the US for customizing the Enfield. It’s not like the Mauser where you can get jeweled bolts and whatnot.
The action is not as familiar to American hunters as the Mauser action is (most sporting bolt actions, including the Winchester 70 and the Remington 700 are based on the Mauser).
You can find high quality stocks from respected stock-makers (unlike the Mosin Nagant) and ATI makes a basic composite black stock.
But you certainly more limited in what you can do than with the Mauser. The action is strong, but not as strong as the Mauser and you can’t go re-chambering it for the shorter magnums.
Note also that an original Enfield magazine has a capacity of 10 rounds, which in many states is illegal to use for hunting (not an issue in Virginia, though).
The magazine is easily detachable and 5 rounds magazines are available for around $30 to remedy this if you do need to come into compliance with some idiotic law of that nature.
Assuming that one is doing this on a low budget, the bore is everything. You’ve got to pick a rifle that has a good, sound bore or else you’ll have to re-barrel and there goes another $200 or more.
Unless you are trying to create a work of art where money is not the issue (this is the case with many Mauser projects), forget about re-barreling or rechambering. It will eat up so much money that you could have just walked down to the gun shop and bought a brand new scoped Savage 111 for less money that would shoot better.
Live with the cartridge that the rifle is already chambered for and if you are not a reloader then do your ballistics research to find the ammunition maker that loads your cartridge to full strength (run screaming from Remington’s 8mm Mauser loads, for example).
I expect that it must still be possible to get a No. 4 Mark 1 Lee-Enfield for as little as $100 at a gunshow if it isn’t too pretty. Maybe a gouge in the stock or something.
I got mine for $70 wholesale a few years ago. $100 for the rifle, $36 for the mount and there you go. If you are the sort of person who is even contemplating this then you probably already have some spare rings and a scope laying around.
So that’s a quality deer rifle for $136. Even though the Mosin Nagants cost less than the Enfields, the ability to mount a scope without any gunsmithing make the Enfield the smartest choice going in terms of the most bang for your buck.
So to speak.

View comments

  1. Good article – thanks!
    I may have a line on an Enfield. I’ll think I’ll pursue it…


  2. Weetabix,
    For someone who wants to keep the rifle in as close to original condition as possible, the Enfield represents the best way to go. Given your priorities, I think you ought to get that Enfield.
    Just don’t forget to put the parts from the rear sight into their own ziplock baggie and LABEL IT, lest the pieces get sucked into the vortex of unidentifiable little metal doo-dads that junk drawers get filled with. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.


  3. I received the photos via email yesterday and inquired about the price. It’a a No 4, Mk 1. Bent bolt handle and all.
    I haven’t done too well with the baggie thing to date. I haven’t changed out many parts, yet, on things, so it’s not too late, but I’d better get started!


  4. There are a lot of Mausers that already have a bent bolt (model 98, M48, etc). Also you forgot to mention the ATI scope rail integrated stock that you can use with most fully bent bolt Mausers. You can find them as low as $70. The scope mounts high enough that the safety clears. So rifle plus the stock plus scope and rings.
    I would think the Enfield would be a good choice for value but go with a Mauser if you want to put some money into it later down the line to rechamber or spruce up. It will retain more value than the Nagant.
    There is a reason why most modern hunting rifles follow the Mauser action. Heck the USA plagiarized the design of the Mauser to create the 1903 Springfield rifle!
    You may have a hard time finding a Nagant that will achieve 2 MOA. If you decide to go that route, you can get a cut, drill and tap bolt handle and a do it yourself drill and tap scope mount for the Nagant which are about $50 for both.


  5. I concur You are a collector like myself,who shoots,You want a Enfield #4 MKI or II This is the rifle that has been there.More than likely the proofs will be real and the numbers matching.You may have to work on the stock,and the bore may need a little tlc,but this rifle will perform for you


  6. Great review and great help. Thanks to you.


  7. I’ve never owned a Mosin Nagant but I’ve owned the Enfield and a few Mauser sporters. I agree with everything said about the Enfields, which is one of two centerfire rifles I decided that I couldn’t part with when I downsized my collection.
    I will say this though, for consistant accuracy I think the Mauser 96 cant be beat. They’ve got the same complications as the 98 in regards to scope mounting, but I’ve never seen one in half decent shape that wasn’t a tack driver.

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