Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remodeling a BRNO Mauser Sporter, Part 1

For most of the 20th Century, the cheapest way to acquire a hunting rifle was to purchase a military surplus one and remodel it.  The US Government obligingly made available Krag-Jorgensens in .30-40 and later 1903 Springfields and 1917 Enfields in .30-06, while after WW II all kinds of military rifles were imported by commercial enterprises and sold as surplus. 

Surplus rifles are still available, of course, but unless you're content to sporterize the military stock and to hunt with military sights, you're monetarily ahead today buying a commercial rifle.  Why?  Because by the time you add up the costs of a new stock, a new barrel, altering the bolt so it will clear a scope, adding iron sights or drilling and tapping for a scope, you're well into what a new sporter costs--even if you can do some of this conversion work yourself.

So why did I just purchase a converted BRNO (pronounced "Bear'-no") Mauser in 7x57mm? 

BRNO (now CZ) exported 7x57's to many countries in Latin and South America.  Thanks to Robert W.D. Ball's Mauser Military Rifles of the World, 3rd. ed., we can tell from the crest on the receiver with its quetzal bird that this rifle was one of the 4,000 BRNO exported to Guatemala in 1937.

Why was this between-the-wars Mauser a good buy?  Because someone else had converted the military BRNO into a sporter and had therefore already incurred most of those expenses--and their cost wasn't reflected in the asking price!  This rifle still retains its military two-stage trigger and bottom metal, but it wears either a turned down and blued military barrel or a civilian barrel in 7x57, the bolt handle has been replaced, a Buehler safety installed, and the action drilled and tapped both for a peep sight with a ramped front sight and for Weaver bases.

Fair enough, but why was this rifle's price relatively low?  I suspect that there were two reasons:  first, whoever priced it didn't know that BRNO's are reputed to be among the very best of the Mauser actions.  In The Mauser M91 Through M98 Bolt Actions: A Shop Manual, for example, Jerry Kuhnhausen rates the BRNO's as "highly desirable for building custom rifles" (p. 215).

The second reason for this rifle's low price, I'd guess, is that the style of its stock is no longer in fashion.

The stock is actually a fairly conservative version of what's often called the California style of the 60's and 70's:  there's a white spacer in the recoil pad, but not one in the grip cap, while the fore end, although angular, does not end with an exotic tropical wood tip cut at some angle more acute than 90 degrees.

As John Barsness has pointed out, a Monte Carlo stock like this can potentially fit quite well someone with a long neck and sloping shoulders.  For bettor or worse, I'm built differently, and I much prefer the lines of the so-called classic stock.

Fortunately, it's easy to decide whether remodeling this kind of stock will work out.  My first concern is with the comb. Will it be high enough to use a scope if I eliminate the Monte Carlo comb, or will the comb then become so low that only iron sights will give me a good cheek weld?  I first put a straightedge from the nose of the comb to the top of the butt, trying to imagine how it will look.

I also retract the bolt as in the picture above, and check how close the bolt is to the comb at the nose.  For using a scope, I want the bolt to barely clear the nose; for iron sights--with my aging eyes, I prefer aperture sights--there can be some distance between the bolt and comb, as here.

If that checks out, I look at the underline of the butt.  Ideally, a straightedge placed along the underline and extended through the grip should come pretty close to the screw at the rear of the trigger guard.   If it does, I then take a close look at the  size and shape of the pistol grip.  The one on this rifle is a large, full one.  I like a more open grip, and the fullness here will let me cut it back a bit and thereby open it up, which I prefer for a quick offhand shot.

Finally, I evaluate the length of the fore end in relation to the length of the barrel.  Just as different people will disagree on color, so too on the ideal proportions for a sporter.  Here, to my eye, the fore end is too long, making the barrel look short.  I was concerned enough in the store to measure the barrel.  It is actually 21 1/2" long, so the fore end could be cut back to look more in proportion.  If I keep a sling swivel stud in the fore end, that will have to be a bit longer; if I put on a barrel band swivel stud, I can cut the fore end shorter and thereby make the barrel look a bit longer.

Having purchased the rifle, I have some remodeling decisions to make:  in addition to the barrel band vs. swivel stud on for the fore end, I need to decide whether I want to retain the military trigger.  I'll also have to order a new pad and perhaps a grip cap.  All these topics provide wonderful topics for delightful and obsessive thought.  In subsequent posts, I'll report on what I decide and how the remodeling is progressing.  And if anyone has questions or suggestions, I'd like to hear them.

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