July 10, 2017
Odds are if you're reading this you have some familiarity with sporting rifles, and that means you've probably heard of the Mauser 98 action. Peter Paul Mauser's design - patented in September of 1895 and produced three years later - was the successor to the M1893 Mauser bolt design, which itself was an improvement of the 1889 Mauser that had proven far superior to the Springfield trapdoor and Krag rifles used by American forces in the Spanish-American War.
The Mauser M98, like its predecessor, proved to be robust and reliable, capable of handling higher-pressure loads than other designs while offering excellent accuracy at long ranges. And since its inception, the Mauser 98 has become one of the world's most cloned and copied gun designs, providing inspiration for some of America's most beloved rifle designs like the 1903 Springfield and Winchester's Model 54 and Model 70.
The Mauser design centered around a bolt with two front lugs and a large non-rotating claw extractor that takes hold of a cartridge as it leaves the magazine and holds it firmly until the cartridge strikes the receiver-mounted ejector blade and is sent whirring from the action. The 98 design has a third lug, set at the rear, that acts as a safety lug in the event of a catastrophic case failure.
Mauser of Germany has offered its original Model 98 rifles for decades, but the company is now importing production guns in significant volumes for the U.S. market. These aren't the austere military weapons designed for mass production during wartime. New is the Mauser M98 Magnum, so called because it houses a massive double square bridge magnum action (a reference to the shape of the front and rear receiver rings; in a double square bridge rifle both the front and rear rings are square).
The rifle is dressed to kill and is chambered in two of the greatest dangerous game cartridges of all time: the .375 H&H Magnum and the .416 Rigby. In fact, the latter cartridge may have been the original inspiration for the double square bridge M98 Magnum. During the early 20th century, before a spat known as World War I interrupted things, England's John Rigby & Co. and Germany's Mauser brand were quite close, and Mauser supplied Rigby with actions. Rigby's sleek new .416 needed a beefy action with a lot of space, and Mauser obliged with what we know today as the M98 Magnum action.
The whopping claw extractor proved reliable in war, but it's also a machined steel life insurance policy to protect you against goring, trampling and mauling. For this reason, Magnum Mauser actions are a favorite of professional dangerous game hunters, and the latest M98 has all the features you might want in a charge-stopping rifle.
There's an extended magazine, which design allows for an increased capacity (5+1 in .375 H&H Magnum, 4+1 in .416 Rigby), and a quarter-rib express rear sight with a fixed V and two leaves. Big bores need robust sights, and both the front and rear on this gun are beefy. They aren't screwed into the barrel but are soldered directly to the metal, meaning you could beat a buffalo across the head with this rifle and it would probably still shoot to the original point of aim. Not that you'd actually want to do such a thing.
The rear V is regulated for 50 yards, and it's accurate at that range. The front leaves are regulated for 100 and 150 yards. Although it's pushing the limits of a big bore with iron sights, if your scope goes kaput on safari and you need to smack your buffalo at 100 yards with irons, these are the sights to use. Plus, having 50-, 100- and 150-yard irons makes far more sense than having leaves that go up to, say, 300 yards.
Big Up Front
The front bead is rather large, white and easy to see in any light. The Mauser's sights are coarser than what many American shooters are accustomed to, but once you learn your placement of the bead in the shallow V, they are remarkably accurate. If you really do get into the kind of kill-or-be-killed scenario where seconds matter, you probably will focus on snap shooting, and in that case, a big, bold white dot is a whole lot easier to locate than a teensy bead.
The double square bridge design utilizes classic tip-off scope bases that are machined directly into the receiver. These features combine to make this an ideal dangerous game rig. You can securely mount an optic for increased magnification, but in a few seconds you can strip the scope and use the irons for a nasty follow-up in thick cover.
The M 98 Magnum sports a beefy all-steel receiver, and the straight bolt handle is true to the original design. The pistol grip is longer and not as steep as what you might find in a more modern sporting rifle, but it's true to the original design and, at least to my thinking, more comfortable. The angled grip fits more naturally in my hand, and the long, 14.75-inch length of pull makes this gun point more like a fine shotgun than a traditional bolt gun.
That may be off-putting to those who grew up with American guns and American stock geometry, but for quick offhand shots, the design is as functional as it is elegant. Both the .375 and .416 Rigby models are available with a standard .69-inch heavy barrel, and the .416 offers the option of an even heavier .80-inch profile barrel version that further helps reduce recoil.
In keeping with the classic look of the old Bond Street guns, the Mauser has a 25-inch barrel that allows it to shoot these older cartridges most efficiently. It also gives the rifle excellent balance. That bit of extra metal on the end makes this gun shoulder like the finest sporting clays gun - a sporting clays gun designed to swat lions and elephants.
Manufacturing practices have improved in the last 118 years, and the engineers at Mauser took advantage wherever they could to upgrade such a classic design. The original 98 was a successful design in an era when tolerances were not as tight as they are in the age of CNC precision machining. Improved tolerances take an already good action and make it stupendous, and the fit and finish are superb.
As you might suspect, there are no burrs or rough edges in this action. It's slick and smooth and clean throughout, and lockup is smooth and secure. All the metalwork on the M 98 Magnum has been treated with plasma nitriding for maximum wear resistance, and aside from providing excellent defense against corrosion, it gives the metal a deep, beautiful shine. Not that you would, but you could take this gun through the Georgia swamps in search of hogs and gators and it would come out none the worse for wear.
Gone is the traditional rear-mounted three-position flag safety, replaced by a wing-type three-position model that is much simpler to use and more compact. Ironically, this safety setup is borrowed heavily from the Model 70 - a gun that is the design offspring of the 98.
Although the wing safety is not new, it is improved over the Model 70. It's slightly larger and, when in the Safe position, is almost parallel to the barrel so there is less chance it will hang up and accidentally move to Fire.
The trigger mechanism has been improved as well, although "improved" is probably an undersell. The original Mauser 98 was a great design, but the trigger mechanism was quite heavy because the trigger doubled as a bolt stop.
The new Mauser has a modern three-pound trigger that would rival target guns, and it has no creep or overtravel. A good trigger wrings the true accuracy potential from the 98 action, and it's a detail forgotten on most dangerous game rifles. Just because a rifle is intended for use at relatively close ranges doesn't mean it shouldn't be capable of accuracy farther downrange.
Speaking of recoil, it's not as bad as you might think. This rifle weighs in at just under 10 pounds without a scope, has a long length of pull, a straight comb and a cushy Decelerator pad. With such a rifle the recoil from a .375 is more of a strong push than a stab.
About the same time I tested this rifle I tested a seven-pound rifle in .375 Ruger, and the latter was pretty brutal. By comparison the Mauser was quite comfortable, and if it came down to having one gun or the other on a dangerous game hunt, I know the Mauser would be my choice because I could deliver follow-up shots more quickly. But with the Mauser's genteel nature and excellent accuracy potential, there's a good chance that the first bullet will go where you need it to and there won't be a follow-up anyway.
You'd expect a flagship rifle like this to have excellent walnut, and the M98 Magnum does not disappoint. The grade-5 wood is oil-finished and full of feather and flame, certainly as good as any production gun I've run across.
Mauser's website says this is the base walnut and you can order an upgrade, but I can't imagine anyone would be disappointed with the slab of walnut on this standard version of the rifle. Still, if only the absolute best will do, you can have a select piece of exhibition-grade walnut installed on your rifle.
Accuracy was excellent for a big-bore rifle, with groups averaging anywhere from just over an inch to just under an inch and a half. Before you shake your head at those figures, bear in mind most rifles with a one-inch guarantee won't support that on rifles above .300. Consistency was good with all three loads tested, and I have no doubts that with a little load experimentation or by working up handloads you could turn this into a sub-m.o.a. rifle.
At $13,495, the M98 Magnum isn't a cheap gun, but rifles of this ilk never are. If you adjust for inflation, these rifles cost just about the same as the original dangerous game Mausers during the Golden Age of safari. That big, sturdy Mauser action has never been cheap to build, but no one can - after almost 120 years of faithful service - call into question the design.
What's more, Mauser has taken this storied action and wrapped it in all the accoutrements needed to create what could quite possibly be the finest classic dangerous game rifle ever built: a near-perfect trigger, posh wood and a great barrel.
Indeed, this is not a rifle for everyone, but if you're a professional hunter who needs a rifle to back up his clients or a serious collector, you won't be disappointed, for the Mauser M98 Magnum looks great, shoots great and handles great. Peter Paul would be most impressed. I'm not sure even he could improve upon this design.