Mauser M 03 Extreme Part III
After considering the worth of switch barrels rifles, Pete Moore gives us the nuts and bolts low down on the Mauser M 03 Extreme and is converted...
I have been using the M 03 Extreme for about four months now and in the two previous articles on the gun have considered the practicality of a system that allows you to swap calibres by changing the barrel and bolt. I first warmed to it then realised it is in fact a highly practical feature that has much to offer. In that time I have used it extensively in the UK on foxes and deer, and also abroad on larger species and proved to myself that the 03’s barrel retention and optical mounting systems offers 100% repeatability.
Switch barrel/calibre rifles are a very European concept, probably first made famous by Sauer with their 202 series and followed on by Blaser with their straight-pull R93, the RWS Titan and Merkel KR1. Steyr Mannlicher too have just launched their take on the idea.
However, the rifle that most of us associate with this is the R93 Blaser and it shares a number of common features with the M 03. This is hardly surprising, as though a name in its own right, Mauser is in fact a part of Blaser, though of the two I consider the 03 superior. The major reason for me is the fact the 03 uses a traditional turn-bolt mechanism and a proper detachable magazine, which I much prefer to the R93’s straight-pull action and top-loading-only, feed system. Combine this with the way the barrel changes, which is identical, and you have all of the advantages of this system but in my mind is a far more robust, simple and reliable action…
98 Rules OK!
There’s little doubt that Mauser pretty much wrote the book on bolt-action rifles and was the wellspring for the majority of modern sporting makes. In the 1970s and 80s Mauser offered a number of modern designs that included a straight-pull. None of these really prospered and by the end of the 20th century the only gun on their books was the semi-custom M98s. These were chambered in the grand African calibres like 375 H&H, 416 Rigby etc. and aimed firmly at the big game hunter. Doubtless magnificent, but far too specialised and for that matter expensive for more normal hunting use.
In 2003 Mauser launched the M 03, which gave them a proper, modern commercial rifle with all the advantages of switch barrel technology. But it was also uniquely Mauser too, as they retained certain design features and looks. The M 03 caters for a wide range of calibres from 222 Rem up to 458 Lott, in Mini, Standard and Magnum specifications and barrel lengths.
Nuts & Bolts
The standard M 03 is wood stocked and here you have a number of options; the Match shows a heavier/fluted barrel and is aimed at the shooter who wants a bit more precision. The Solid uses a plain version of the Match barrel but with iron sights. The Africa is the big game gun, with the Arabesque, De Luxe and Old Classic all showing various levels of decoration to suit those who like fancy rifles. All very nice, but I like my guns plain and practical and this year Mauser launched the synthetic-stocked Extreme; tough, strong and accurate and able to take the knocks real hunting can deliver.
The stock is a dark grey with low/neutral comb and rubber recoil pad at the rear. The pistol grip shows a right hand palm swell and there are textured rubber panels here and around the forend for added hold. The build is good and solid, and offers plenty to get hold of. Fixed sling swivels are included with the front one being in the tip of the forend, but the Extreme also shows a QD stud too, which I used for a bipod.
Like the Blaser R93 the M 03 uses a metal inner chassis, which is the spine of the rifle; this supports the bolt in its run with the forward section (in the forend) giving a place to locate the barrel. Unlike the R93 the Mauser chassis is steel, which makes the gun a bit heavier but stronger too. The barrel is attached to the receiver by twin captive nuts that engage with threaded studs that come down at 6 o’clock from the chamber section. Again identical to the R93. I have to say that I prefer this to the split clamp receiver systems of the RWS Titan and Sauer 202.
Out of interest I let Andrew Evans Hendricks (Riflecraft Ltd) look the M 03 over and he said that it was very well built and he saw no reason why it should not shoot well. Especially with the big steel inner chassis effectively offering the same stability as a good synthetic bedding job and stock. Range tests proved this correct with both the 223 and 30-06 barrels easily capable of ½”-3/4” @ 100 yards off the bench…
The M 03 uses a 6-lug bolt that locks directly into the chamber extension so there is no effort placed on the action. The bolt handle is pure M98 - long, straight and angled down, however, the lift angle is nice and short. The bolt is made in two pieces with a detachable, calibre-specific head and offers a big extractor claw and a spring/plunger ejector. At the rear is the de-cocker/cocker, which uses a flag-type lever that swings left to right horizontally. In some ways it can be considered a safety catch, but in others it’s a bit more sophisticated, as it allows a totally safe, loaded chamber carry and unload. But in relation to say the rolling lever safety of a Remington 700 is a bit slower to get into action.
One Up The Spout
The reason the Germans favour this sort of system, which can also be found on Blaser R93s and their double and single rifles, as well as the Krieghoff doubles and drillings is that for certain hunting situations the gun cannot be cocked prior to the shot, but it can be chambered. So you can easily manually cock the action as the game presents. I have to say that I can live with the de-cocker, though it does take a bit of getting used to. However, it’s an acquired taste; especially if you are used to the normal ON/OFF safety catch…
Typical of a switch barrel rifle the M 03 offers a long action only, which can accommodate all calibres. This is brought about by the magazine, which uses plastic filler plates at the rear of the mag box to take up the individual cartridge overall lengths (COLs). Standard capacity is 5-rounds with the 223 showing larger feed lips to compensate for the smaller size, which in this case feeds from a central position. The 30-06 mag layout offers a staggered column with normal left/right feed.
The release button is flush-fitted and located at the front of the well and the mags fall free when its operated, due to an ejector spring. Unusual is the fact that the magazine can be fixed into position by locking out the release button. This I suppose is a belt and braces feature for certain situations, but in my four months of use the clip has shown no sign of getting lost. To compliment this the action is cut away on both sides so allowing easy top loading, so if you don’t like a DM then you don’t have to use it in that manner.
Capacity varies as to calibre with the Mini and Standard offering five and the Magnum four. The only exception here is the wide bodied 404 Jeffrey and the WSM’s, which also use that case as a base.
Single Set Mech
The trigger is an adjustable, single set unit, which is something you either like or not. The standard pull breaks at about 2lbs and is crisp and smooth. Pushed forward to ‘set’ mode this is reduced to probably under 1 lb and typically is very light. Though appreciating what it offers, I never use this option in the field, as there are times when you might make a mistake and frankly the standard pull is easily good enough for precise shot release.
Like the R93, the approach to scope mounting is dedicated and uses QD mounts. Mauser elected to place the optic over the receiver, as opposed to on the barrel as the R93 does. This means that when you want to change the calibre you must first take the glass off, with the Blaser this is not required, as the barrel/scope can be removed en-bloc.
The mount consists of a long, inverted U-shaped plate with a 3-lug rotor catch at each end, which are operated by throw levers. These engage with corresponding sockets in the receiver bridges with the levers being pushed forward for them to rotate, engage and lock. It’s an elegant design that offers 100% repeatability. Mauser offers 1” and 30mm ring options, as well as a European rail. Like the rest of the rifle the mounts are well built and show 4 x 1-10 Torx screws per ring. The design is perhaps a tad high but will accept the larger 56mm objective optics with ease…
Currently I have three scopes for the M 03. In 30-06 I use the Swarovski Z6i 2-12x50 with TD-4 reticule (rail mount), this is very much general use as I can go down to X2 for driven game and up to X12 for long range work. For the 223 I have a Kahles Helia CL 4-12x52 multizerO with Mil-Dot reticule (1” mount) and for close work their CSX 1.1-4x24 illuminated (30mm mounts). This will probably be mated to the 8.5x63mm tube as a big and driven game gun.
The Mini and Standard barrel length is 23.6” with the Magnum at 25.5”. For my set up I kept the 30-06 as it was, but had the 223 cut back to 20” and threaded for an ASE UTRA CQB moderator. This as I explained last month gives me a nice and compact fox/small deer set up. For my 8.5x63mm tube I have gone for the heavier 19mm Solid build with iron sights at 21.5”. As here I want it all; just in case…
So how do we change barrels and calibres? Take off the scope, open the bolt and push down on the release catch (rear left) of the receiver and pull the bolt out. With the T-key provided, undo the two captive nuts in the under side of the forend (in front of mag well) and the barrel will lift up and off.
The bolt head is removed by pulling the de-cocker lever over the left and keeping pressure on it and at the same time push the bolt head up and out of the body. If you’re smart you’ll pick calibres that use the same case head, as you won’t have to buy other bolt heads. For example 22-250 Rem is the same as 243/270/308 Win and 30-06 and also 8.5x63mm. These last two can also use the same magazine. Mauser’s web site shows all this information to help you make your choices.
On reassembly of the barrel you don’t have to torque the screws down to a certain setting, just tighten up normally and that is enough. As I said, once you’ve zeroed a scope to a barrel there is no perceptible loss or shift of zero, which was one of my initial concerns. So confident am I now that if I’m out for some foxing then want to shoot a deer, I just swap the calibres and scopes and carry on. To illustrate this I zeroed the 30-06 barrel/Swarovski Z6i in the UK prior to my Bulgaria trip. When I arrived and as a matter of course I checked the zero and the gun was still shooting 1 ½” high @ 100 yards as I had set it on the range a week before…
De-cock or Not?
The de-cocker is a multi functional control, which is operated by the firing hand thumb. It’s well placed at the rear of the bolt but requires a bit of effort to push due to the nature of what it does. It allows you to chamber the first round but not cock the action, this is done by pushing it all the way to the left then cycling the bolt. To ready the gun just push it all the way to the right, where it will remain and re-cock every time you fire and cycle the action. At any time you can de-cock by pressing in on the lug at the base of the bolt and letting the lever swing over to the left. As can be seen, this also offers a high degree of safety for unloading drills and negotiating obstacles.
Being a bit different, as opposed to the more accepted US-style safeties, I initially found myself forgetting it was there and going for the shot only to realise the action was not ready. This was only a matter of familiarisation, but I would say that the movement of going from de-cocked to cocked is slightly slower than a conventional safety catch on a Remy 700.
One nice aspect of the rifle is Mauser’s carry case, which will accept the stock/action, two barrels, two scopes with mounts, two bolt heads, the bolt, extra magazine and any tools you need. All this in a compact package with three combination locks for security. It has stood up to some tough testing by me and in real time the treatment of airport baggage handlers. However, for dual calibre field use I am getting a soft case made up that will take the barrel/moderator, spare mag, bolt head and scope. This is not a Mauser option, but it struck me as a good idea.
The M 03 is not a cheap rifle at £1300+ , plus you have to add to this at least one scope mount – two is better and though the carry case is not mandatory if you hunt overseas I would recommend it. This initial outlay might seem a lot when compared to the average of £600-700 you would pay for a US make, but often as not you are going to get it re-stocked or bedded for best performance, which will add £400-600 to the cost.
A full calibre change barrel, bolt head and magazine for the M 03 costs £580, which is about the price of a cheaper gun. However, to put that into perspective, I had my Winchester Model 70 in 270 WSM, which cost about £500 converted to a 300 WSM, as follows: re-barrel £500, new synthetic stock £450, bedding and action job £250, total less base rifle - £1200. To do this for the M 03 would cost under £600 or £820 if you threw in a scope mount. Plus the change over takes minutes and not months waiting for your gunsmith to do it… I suppose it’s really about perception and whether you want lots of different rifles or just one with barrels etc. to suit. After years of going down the former route, I now find the latter far more practical, as I have one common chassis that I like and trust and it’s just a matter of mixing and matching calibres/optics to suit!
The M 03 comes across to me as a solid, tough, accurate and well made hunter, which will get the job done again and again, which has been my experience since I have been using it. I have recently come back from Bulgaria where the 03 in 30-06 guise dropped a very good fallow buck at 200 yards. I suppose I feel about the Mauser the same way I did about my old Riflecraft 308 LSR. Gone now, it was one of those guns that just shot so well and you knew you could pull it off the rack and it would do what was required without question. I have missed the LSR but now the M 03 has taken its place and I can’t see that changing for many years - if ever…
Name Mauser M 03 Extreme
Rifle one calibre £1305 wood stock £1380
Barrel £380, Solid £540
Bolt head £110
Scope mount £220
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates