Harvesting deer with a modern hunting rifle and high-tech optics may not present much of a challenge for some hunters.
If you are a firearms enthusiast and collector like me you may enjoy hunting with military surplus weapons, particularly rifles made prior to 1945.
What makes these rifles so interesting is the role many of them have played in world history. The qualities of these weapons are generally excellent because they were handmade by craftsmen that paid attention to fit and finish. Most all of these weapons were built following the early gun-making tradition of merging wood and steel into an art form.
There are numerous surplus rifles produced around the world particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries that would make good hunting rifles.
Consider the Springfield black powder 45-70 adopted by the U.S. government in 1873. It served with Gen. George A. Custer’s at the Battle of Little Bighorn and in the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders.
The most common surplus rifles available to the hunting public are the bolt-action rifles from World War II. To give you an idea of the accuracy of these guns, I test fired three rifles that were issued to front line troops fighting in the European Theater. They are the German Mauser, 98K (Karbiner), the American 1903 Springfield 30-06 and the British Enfield 303.
The German Mauser is a bolt-action design that set the standard by which most bolt-action rifles are made today.
My Mauser is a “DUV” coded gun made by the Berlin-Lubecker Company in 1941. Most German arm manufactures used armament codes on their weapons to help disguise the factory from allied bombing. Another interesting part of the history of this gun is that it is a Russian capture rifle noted by the “x” on the action. This means some German soldier probably lost his rifle and life in one of the brutal campaigns on Russia’s eastern front during World War II.
The Springfield 1903, 30-06 used Mauser’s bolt-action design and was issued to the U.S. Armed Forces at the outbreak of World War II. It was later replaced by the famous “M1 Garand,” a rifle that Gen. George S. Patton called, “the greatest battle implement ever made.” This particular gun was given to me by a former Marine who used it on Guadalcanal fighting the Japanese.
The Enfield 303 was the workhorse of the British Army. This is also a well-made weapon that is known for its accuracy and high rate of fire. It has short bolt design with a 10-round box magazine that allows for rapid firing. This rifle was original purchased from Sears and Roebuck in the 1960s for $39.95.
Testing the rifles
The rifles were not scoped and were equipped with ladder sights or open sights with ghost rings. I traveled to a state maintained shooting range located in the Apalachicola forest south of Tallahassee, Fla. The targets were set up at 100 yards about as far as I could see and expect any decent groups. To test the accuracy of each rifle a total of five rounds were fired and the closest sets of groups were measured.
The rifles were bench rested and the ammunition was Remington made after-market hunting cartridges. As you can see all three rifles shot acceptable groups for open-site shooting. The Enfield shot some 1-inch groups followed by the Mauser with 2-inch clusters. The first shots from the Springfield drifted out of the black but as I became more accustomed to the ladder sight the last two shots hit the 9 and 10 ring.
Accuracy is dependent on the shooter, and I certainly believe the groups can be tightened up with a little practice. Other variables were the differences in the sight picture of the different rifles, the milk crate I used for a barrel rest and the seat that moved from side to side.
Overall, I definitely say the accuracy of these rifles were more than adequate for large game harvest. If you are interested to see what a scoped k98 can do at a thousand yards visit “You Tube.”
The quality of most examples of these weapons is high but be aware that millions were made and some have seen significant use over the last 70 or more years. I remind you to always have used firearms checked by a competent gunsmith before firing.