Mauser M03 Trail
Pete Moore casts his eyes over the latest Mauser M03 variant the Trail and wonders if short is sweet?
It seems it’s not just me that appreciates what the switch barrel Mauser M03 offers, if the e-mails and calls I have had from potential buyer and owners since I got mine (an Extreme) in 2007 are anything to go by. Launched in 2003 by a new look Mauser company, the M03 though unashamedly modern, retains the look and feel of this iconic name in rifle manufacture.
Originally made in a wood stock, Mauser over the intervening years have added variants – in 2007 it was the Extreme, which showed good quality, synthetic furniture. The idea was a tough, all-weather design which really works for me. Since then we have seen further models and developments; some simply modifications and accessories, other being more significant like the aluminium-framed Light which is out soon. This shaves a pound off the all steel original and is to be most welcomed, as the standard M03 is no light weight…
New is the Trail. Though little more than an Extreme with an 18 ½ ” barrel with iron sights in a small choice of calibres; it is also a lot more, as it incorporates a number of Mauser accessories and modifications as standard. But at its heart it’s a handy and accurate design that is equally at home for driven hunts such as wild boar, a guide’s gun, where you want it easy to carry yet capable, or simply as a short hunter.
You would have to be blind not to recognise the Trail as the integral, rubber gripping inserts on the pistol grip and forend are now an eye-catching, signal orange. In Europe clothing/equipment of this colour is mandatory for driven hunts so incorporating it into a rifle is a novel idea. To our British eyes it does look weird, and wisely Mauser also offers this model in standard black/grey too.
My example came in 308 Win, which is good for the UK. Personally I would go for one of the larger options as 308 seems unlikely to be considered wild boar legal over here. Also on offer are 30-06, 8x57 IS (8mm Mauser) and 9.3x62 (other calibres available on request). All good cartridges; though my initial concern was how much performance would drop off with an 18 ½” tube when compared to the more accepted 22/24” of full size rifles. For the UK I’d say go 30-06 due to availability and the fact it’s entry level for British boar. I’d briefly shot the Trail before at the Isny factory in 8x57 and really liked it. First impressions were of a handy and shootable package and even in 8mm Mauser, which is a thumper, felt recoil was not too bad.
Before we continue, just a word on the M03s main feature - its ability to swap barrels and calibres. Unlike many rifles it uses a full, steel inner chassis that includes the receiver and barrel mounting bar in the forend. The barrel is secured by twin, captive nuts that draw down two, fixed studs under the chamber section, so you can switch tubes in seconds. A TORX, T-key is included to facilitate this. The bolt offers interchangeable heads to suit individual cartridges and the detachable magazine (DM) is one length and accommodates individual COLs by the use of synthetic filler at the back end.
By necessity the scope mount is QD as it must be removed to take off the barrel. My experience of the M03, which includes a lot of overseas use, has shown that calibre/optic change is quick, easy and suffers no perceivable loss of zero, which is essential for a switch barrel system.
Control-wise the action is a standard turn-bolt, though uses a de-cocker/cocker lever, which is just that bit different from a conventional-style safety catch. The trigger is a single set unit and the magazine is released by a large push button at the front of the well. Nice is the fact that both sides of the receiver are cut away so making topping up with the magazine in situ and single loading fast and easy.
So what makes the Trail so different? Well apart from the short, 18 ½”, standard-weight barrel and orange stock inserts it incorporates all the optional extras Mauser have developed.
New are the 3-Dot Open Sights inset (two at the rear, one at the front) with hi-viz orange dots that speed up acquisition and work well in darker conditions. OK irons might not be your thing, but as a close range back-up for driven or dangerous game they are to be recommended.
As standard M03s come with fixed sling swivels front and back, the Trail offers multiple options. On the muzzle is a 360º rotary lug allowing the swivel at the tip of the forend to be mounted in this position. This is complimented by another QD at the rear that can be re-positioned on the side of the butt. Set up like this it allows a cross-chest (German) carry, which I have found to be a most practical position.
On the original design the magazine button could be locked out, so as to stop accidental operation and loss, which would be devastating to a DM design! This was done by an Allen key. The new Mag Safe design simplifies this as all you do is turn the release button 90° to the right to lock it.
Sensible hunters tend to tape their muzzle to stop dirt/water getting into the bore, Mauser have gone one better with the Muzzle Safe system. This consists of a rebated muzzle that accepts orange rubber discs that seal the bore, which blow out by air pressure as the bullet is fired.
All/any of these can also be ordered for any M03 variant, I like the sling system, sights and Mag Safe, but would not bother with the Muzzle Safe…
Un-scoped the Trail weighs 7 ¾ lbs compared to the 8lbs of the standard M03 Extreme with its 23.5” barrel. However the loss of 5” of tube does make for a far handier feel, even with a scope on, though this is still an undeniably a heavy gun for its style.
Glass-wise I fitted my Swarovski Z6i 2-12x50 as I figured its versatile magnification range would suit both short and longer distance use. For example at x2 with the dot on it would be perfect for driven boar. Likewise at higher mags it’s ideal for those longer shots. Ammunition was a bit of a lottery initially and I picked four weights; Remington Express 180-grain SP, RWS GECO 170-grain SP and Hornady 168-grain TAP FPD (A-MAX) and their 150-grain SP.
Experience with my M03 30-06 barrel showed it could be fussy on bullet weight and style and as this was a 30” cal and used the same rifling twist I was uncertain what it might like. It did not prove me wrong as both the 150 and the 180-grain loads shot well over an inch, however, the Hornady TAP was under the inch with the GECO beign dead on, which was pleasing.
I have always found 308 Win to be a barky calibre generally and in carbines; especially so. The weight of the Trail did calm things down a little, but it’s still lively and the 18 ½” tube does create a lot of muzzle blast. Which leads me on to how much velocity/energy was I losing from the short barrel? This is an important consideration as you must weigh up gains and losses in ballistics and shootability on specialised rifles of this nature.
For example my old Remy 700 in 308 had a 22” barrel and with my 168-grain A-MAX reload was producing around 2550 fps/2320 ft/lbs. Over the chrono the TAP was making 2297 fps/1967 ft/lbs with the slightly heavier 170-grain GECO generating 2347 fps/2054 ft/lbs. So it’s plain to see that an 18 ½” tube does make a big difference.
In hindsight I reckon a heavier calibre would redress the performance imbalance a little and feel that 8x57 or even 9.3x62 might be better options if you are looking for power.
Operating the M03 is self explanatory, however just a mention on the de-cocker. Positioned at the rear of the bolt it consists of a lever with a push button below it. In its rest position (facing left) the bolt cannot be opened with out pushing the lever against its spring tension. To cock the action the lever must be pushed all the way to the right where it will stay, every time you fire and reload the mech will automatically cock. To un-cock; take the weight of the lever (push it fully right), press in on the button and allow it to swing to the left under control. It’s undoubtedly safe, but not as fast or practical in operation as a more conventional safety catch.
Perhaps a little specialised; certainly for the UK I really found myself liking what the Trail has to offer. Accurate and capable for longer shots, for me the real strength of the design is close range and unsupported work. Here the short build really pays dividends in handling, carriage and shootability. Plus it makes a nice truck gun too…
Though giving away some performance with its 18 ½” tube it’s still probably more than enough for any situation, given you select the right calibre. Would I buy one? Frankly no, as I already have a 21 ¾”, 8.5x63mm Solid tube for my M03, which fulfils all my needs. However, if not then I would be very tempted…
The down side however is the price; at £2750 it’s very expensive in today’s climate, but that stands true for all, European rifles to a degree, so it’s your call… If you own an M03 already the Trail barrel is available on its own.
• Specialised but very nice
• Pick the right calibre
• Good choice for driven hunts
|Name||Mauser M03 Trail|
|Calibre||308 Win (on test)|
|Weight||7 ¾ lbs (un-scoped)|
|Stock||Polymer (orange inserts)
Multi-positional QD slings
Barrel only £1100
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates