A Modern Classic: Mauser M12 Review

A Modern Classic: Mauser M12 Review
I sit on the board of the Conklin Foundation, a hunting/conservation entity named in honor of the late Dr. Jim Conklin. Dr. Jim was a hard and ethical hunter, so when we have a knotty issue to deal with, the guiding principle is WWDJD: What Would Dr. Jim Do? When it comes to evaluating a new rifle from Mauser, I have another guiding principle, WWPPMS- as in, What Would Peter Paul Mauser Say?

Peter Paul Mauser (1838-1914) was a firearms genius best known for his bolt actions. Starting in 1871 he delivered almost annually an increasingly improved version of the turnbolt action- culminating with the 1898 German Mauser, still considered by many to be the best bolt action ever designed.

Through the ravages of two world wars, the Mauser firm had more than its share of hard times, and the 98 Mauser was copied and cloned with little compunction. But the name persisted, and today the brand is housed in Isny, Germany, under the parentage of the Blaser Group, which also manufactures rifles under the J.P. Sauer & Sohn brand.

And now there's a brand-new Mauser model and action, the M12 (for 2012, in keeping with the Mauser tradition of naming models by year of development, if not actual introduction). This is hardly the first Mauser since Peter Paul Mauser's passing. Others have included the 66, the straight-pull 96 and the 03 turnbolt. These were all sound designs that had their fans, but as Mauser evolution continues, what I really like about the new M12 is that it represents a return to the traditional Mauser, along with significant modern innovation.

The Isny facility is being expanded, but currently Blaser, Mauser and Sauer rifles are manufactured more or less under the same roof. There are obvious economies of scale in that, cosmetics aside, some basic parts can be common to all three brands. The most obvious would be barrels, which are hammer-forged on site.

The challenge is to keep each brand separate with its own distinct character. With Blaser that's easy; the straight-pull R93 and R8 are different from anything else. It could be a snap with Mauser. The original 98 Mauser still exists as part of the Mauser line, but in today's world it's an expensive action to produce. Sauer bolt actions have also been distinctive as modern sporters, though perhaps not as "different" as the Blaser. And the Sauer rifles have also been pretty pricey.

Supposing it was desired to create more affordable models of both Sauer and Mauser rifles- and yet retain the distinctive character of each? The results are the Sauer Model 101 and the Mauser M12, both released early this year, each priced at $1,499 for the most basic models.

For manufacturing economy they share some key components: hammer-forged barrels of similar contour; full-diameter bolt bodies with six forward lugs in two circles of three; and rugged polymer detachable magazines. The trigger assemblies are similar, and the trigger guard/floorplate assemblies, though clearly not the same, are also similar.

Most other components are quite different, so it shouldn't be construed that these are the same rifles stamped with separate brands. The stocks are styled differently, for one, and the Sauer Model 101 has an altogether different safety. It also has Sauer's traditional partly enclosed action and a significantly different bolt handle.

With the Mauser M12, the intent was to create the look and feel of a traditional Mauser turnbolt but on a modern action in an affordable package. The feel starts with the straight-comb classic stock. This is not a stock one might see on a 1900-vintage sporter; combs were a lot lower back then. But it is a traditional stock style, and it's used on both the Extreme synthetic-stocked version and the walnut-stocked rifle I tested.

The walnut version features good cut checkering, a "laid back" pistol grip, black rifle recoil pad, and the stock is sculpted ahead of and behind the magazine well. The wooden stock has a right-handed cheekpiece, which doesn't do left-handed me much good. But it is attractive, and the stock has neither cast nor palm swell, so it's ambidextrous except for the cheekpiece.

The action is open at the top, which is both traditional and easy to top-load. The rounded receiver rings are essentially the same as the receiver rings on the 98 Mauser, and they are drilled exactly the same, receiving the same scope mount bases as a 98 Mauser.

This did cause me a bit of panic. I went through all my junk drawers and couldn't find anything even close to fitting. Then I went to our local gun shop, Shoot the Moon Outfitters, and we sorted through every mount they had. Eventually, consulting the Brownells catalog, we found separate Weaver bases that would work.

The bolt handle is straight, which puts the trigger finger a bit behind the bolt handle. It would take a right-hander to determine if there is any real advantage, but for a lefty operating a right-handed action there definitely is: The bolt handle is well forward of the trigger finger and doesn't bark your finger.

Metal work is matte blue, except for a matte stainless bottom plate on the magazine bearing the Mauser logo. The bolt body is jeweled and extremely smooth.

Thank God the M12 doesn't have the original 98 Mauser flag safety. Instead it uses a traditional three-position cocking piece safety at the rear of the bolt, on the right side behind the bolt handle. It's visible, easy to use and fairly goof-proof with significant space between the three positions. Forward is Fire, of course, and the middle position is for unloading with the rifle on Safe. The rearmost Safe position locks the bolt.

Two differences between this action and the most classic Mausers are a big and highly visible cocking indicator knob at the rear of the bolt and the fact that the safety swings all the way back against that cocking indicator, making it almost impossible to accidentally brush or bump it into the Fire position. The bolt release is in the typical Mauser position at the left rear of the rear receiver ring; it's a simple push-button release, and the bolt comes out easily.

The bolt handle also looks like a traditional Mauser bolt handle, but the bolt itself is a departure. It has three lugs offset at 120 degrees, the circular three-lug arrangement increasingly common on modern bolt actions, but the Mauser M12 and the Sauer 101 go a step further with another set of three lugs just behind the first. This means the bolt face is fully enclosed, and the lockup is both concentric and extremely strong. It also means the rifle is a push-feed action, as opposed to Mauser's classic controlled-round feed.

I'm not one of the guys who is rabid about controlled-round feeding. Push-feeds work. They are stronger because the case head is fully enclosed, although this is primarily a theoretical advantage. Mauser 98s and clones are plenty strong enough, but a push-feed action with the cartridge case fully enclosed by the bolt should handle considerably more pressure during a catastrophic failure (like a case head failure) or a screw-up (like a major overload).

The push-feed action is also more accurate because lockup is more rigid and more concentric. That's also theoretical because quality of barrel and uniformity of ammunition are more important, but all things being equal, push-feed actions should be and often are more accurate than traditional controlled-round feed actions.

As a push-feed action, it's mandatory that the bolt have a spring-loaded hook extractor on the bolt face. This one is pretty generous and certainly performed perfectly. The Mauser M12 also has twin plunger-type ejectors on the bolt face, which throw the empties straight out at 90 degrees.

The detachable polymer magazine is definitely not classic Mauser, but it's nearly indestructible and impervious to the elements. It also works, and even though it seats flush with the floorplate, it holds five standard cartridges and, unusually, four belted magnum cartridges.

The trigger is also not traditional Mauser 98- thank God. It's a bit wider than usual at about 0.30 inch and lets off at a crisp two pounds with no creep and no overtravel. All the brands in the Blaser group have wonderful triggers, but we all know that's fairly rare in the world of modern factory rifles.

The hammer-forged barrels made in the Isny factory are excellent. On the M12 the barrel is fully free-floated, which can mean a heat-finicky barrel, but this is not a thin tube. It has a gentle taper with a muzzle diameter of about 0.67 inch, not a bull barrel but certainly no lightweight. Add in the heavy bolt and rigid lockup, and good trigger to help you put it all together, and it should shoot. In order to help that along, I put a Bushnell Elite 2.5-16X with 30mm tube on it.

I first saw the M12 at the Isny factory in February. Mauser CEO Thorsten Mann gave me the pitch, and I shot a 6.5x55 M12 in the tunnel range. It wasn't the time or place to get serious, but the rifle shot well. I also shot a whole bunch of running boars with it. Well, actually, I shot the video images of running boars in the firm's shooting theater (wow, what fun!) I liked the rifle a lot, and about three months later I received one in .30-06 to test on my own range.

Some of you may have noticed this isn't the kind of article I usually do for RifleShooter, but I was curious about this Mauser and wanted to run it through the magazine's accuracy-testing protocol. Regrettably, I was limited in my selection of .30-06 ammo on hand: Federal and Hornady. I had just one Federal load, but I had three radically different flavors from Hornady.

In terms of raw accuracy, the accompanying chart speaks for itself. The barrel is 22 inches, and all loads chronographed a bit slower than printed specifications. These are are generally based on 24-inch barrels, so this is normal. The rifle likes some loads better than others, also normal.

Of the four loads tested, Federal Fusion 180-grain was the worst in this rifle. That's a bit surprising, as I've had good luck with it. But equally surprising, the load it grouped best was pure vanilla ice cream- Hornady's 180-grain InterLock, averaging an impressive 0.46 inch.

Averaging all loads I shot comes out to exactly 1.0 inch, which I consider exceptional for a factory rifle with four factory loads. However, it's worth noting that the spread went from around half an inch to slightly more than 1.5 inches, which shows what we all know: Most rifles shoot some loads better than others, so try as many as you can.

There are also some things worth mentioning that the chart doesn't show. Performance was most erratic with Hornady's Superformance GMX. This is belied by a solid average of 0.99 inch, but the best group with this load was 0.29 inch, and the largest was 1.50. I won't try to explain this. The tightest group I fired was with Hornady Custom 180-grain InterLock at 0.23, and I'll take that any day. On the other hand, other groups ran at or just over a half-inch, so the rifle likes that load.

Between zeroing, chronographing, grouping, cleaning, firing fouling shots and so forth, I put a bunch of rounds through this rifle, and I learned a couple of subtle things. All barrels are different, but in my experience hammer-forged barrels are fairly tolerant of heat. With this barrel some of the best groups were fired from a warm barrel.

More interesting, it liked to get dirty. The tightest groups came just before cleaning, never just after. This says nothing about the Mauser M12 in general, just a caution that some barrels shoot best stone cold, others warm; some shoot best when freshly cleaned, others when slightly fouled.

So what would Peter Paul Mauser say? I think he would harrumph that his Mauser 98 was the better battle rifle- and perhaps better in battle against dangerous game because of the controlled-round feed. But I'd like to think he'd recognize that, as a sporting rifle for use under normal conditions, the strength and accuracy of the M12 win some points.

Since he passed away long before scopes came into common use I think he'd initially be befuddled by the high, straight comb, but if he tried it I bet he'd like it.

He might harrumph a bit more over the polymer magazine, but a good engineer must recognize sound design. So first he'd make sure the rifle worked and shot straight, and then, although perhaps a bit grudgingly, I'd like to think he'd give it a thumbs up.

Mauser M12 Review

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