The rifle had obviously suffered the abuses of alterations. Yet beneath the chops and changes, the splayed head of the flat bolt handle at the middle of the rifle’s receiver and rotary magazine identified it as a Mannlicher-Schoenauer. The bolt glided back and forth like it rode on oiled air, and its lugs seated with a tight fist. The thin fore-end of the full-length stock pointed the rifle like a wand casting a spell.
On top of the receiver ring was printed “Made in Austria” and the words “Mannlicher,” Schoenauer” and “M.1908.” On the left side of the receiver was printed: “OESTERR WAFFENFABRIK GES. STEYR.” The last two numbers of a series of numbers on the bottom of the barrel at the breech indicated the rifle had passed through the Vienna proof house in 1920.
Gun Trader’s Guide described the Model 1908 as having double-set triggers, full-length stock, rotary magazine and trap buttplate—although a former owner had replaced that buttplate with a ventilated recoil pad.
The book also says the Model 1908 was chambered in 7×57 and 8×56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer. Rifles of the World indicates the Model 1908 was chambered in “an 8x56mm (Austrian) and, apparently, an 8x57mm (German) chambering appeared.” However, other sources state the rifle was chambered only in 8×56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer.
A couple of items that came with the rifle suggested mine was chambered in 8×56. A handwritten note read simply “8×56,” and further confirmation came via a box of Western cartridges marked “8×56 m/m Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1908.” The cartridges were loaded with 200-grain softpoint Lubaloy bullets. The box didn’t list a velocity, but Cartridges of the World gives the velocity as 2,165 fps.
The condition of the Model 1908 was pretty good for a rifle made nearly a century ago. The bluing on the metal was nearly perfect, but two hideous holes had been drilled in the left side of the receiver and two more on the top of the ring to attach a scope mount. The the stock comb had been butchered to raise its height, and varnish clogged the checkering panels on the grip.
The front trigger broke with 2.5 pounds of pull. Pulling and setting the rear trigger lightens the front trigger’s pull to one pound. Neither pull has a hint of creep or overtravel.
The rifle wears a rear sight with a folding leaf in a dovetail cut in a boss on the barrel. It’s not marked with a name or a number, and it might be the original. The front sight is a Marble with a gold bead. A Lyman Model 36 swing-away aperture sight is a cool addition to the rifle. The sight is mounted on the bolt release. The opening and closing bolt pushes the horizontal arm out of the way and it swings back into place when the bolt clears. A narrow aperture rotates out of the way to expose a larger aperture.
Operating under the premise that the rifle was chambered in 8×56, I started reloading. The Handloader’s Manual of Cartridge Conversions shows the 8×56 is an ever so slightly thinner and shorter version of the 8×57 Mauser, so with 8×57 cases and a set of 8×56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer reloading dies from CH Tool & Die/4-D Die Company (ch4d.com), I set to work forming and reloading 8×56 cartridges.
However, after shooting a few I discovered primers had backed out slightly and case shoulders had expanded forward. In fact, the fired 8×56 cases looked just like 8×57 Mauser cases, and it turns out I should’ve heeded the note in Rifles of the World about Model 1908 chamberings, and I should’ve made a chamber cast before loading. My rifle was an 8×57 Mauser and not an 8×56 Mannlicher-Schoenauer. In the long run, though, I have come out ahead because 8×57 cases and ammunition are readily available.
The Mannlicher-Schoenauer is a strong action but not quite equal to the Model 98 Mauser. With that in mind, I loaded my remaining unaltered 8×57 cases with various bullets and powders, and I’ve listed the best—along with Winchester’s factory load—in the accompanying chart. The rifle will mainly be used to hunt deer and elk in the timber. For that I’ve loaded Hornady 195-grain softpoint bullets at 2,250 fps with 46.0 grains of N150.
Even with the mistaken identity, working with the 8×57 Model 1908 has been informative and fun. The pleasure continues while practicing with the rifle in preparation for hunting, like its first owner did a century ago.
Warning: The loads shown here are safe only in the guns for which they were developed. Neither the author nor Outdoor Sportsman Group assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use or misuse of this data. Shooting reloads may void any warranty on your firearm.