MAUSER K98 - 50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)

50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)


I’ve got to admit, I have mixed emotions when it comes to writing about—let alone shooting—the Mauser K98, or the Karabiner 98 Kurtz, as it was officially known, though sometimes abbreviated as K98k. On one hand, the K98 reflects what I consider to be the height of Peter Paul Mauser’s gunmaking genius, with the muscular claw design of its controlled-feed bolt, three-position wing safety, and oval bolt slots that dispelled gases away from the shooter’s face.

On the other hand, this was the same rifle that had its 8mm muzzle prominently pointed at American troops for almost 50 years, beginning with the Spanish American War and lasting through World Wars I and II. Moreover, during World War II, for security reasons, Mauser K98 actions were manufactured in different arsenals in various parts of Germany, but the final guns were assembled by prisoners in concentration camps—those prisoners who were skilled as wood carvers and metalworkers were sometimes spared a death sentence so they could work on assembling the Mausers—under the ruthless gaze of the Gestapo, who were constantly on the lookout for sabotage. Somewhat ironically, because of the Gestapo’s scrutiny, these concentration camp rifles are some of the best-built weapons of World War II, with many exhibiting double inspection stamps. As a result, they are quite collectable today.

Hacker found ejection to be swift, although not as smooth as the Springfield 1903A3.

The story of the K98 actually had its beginnings in 1860, when two firearms designers from Oberndorf am Neckar, Germany, Peter Paul Mauser and his older brother Wilhelm, produced their first bolt-action rifle. A single-shot weapon, it incorporated a bolt that cocked upon opening and a wing-type safety, features that would end up, albeit in much more refined versions, on the K98 three decades later.

For their new rifle, Paul Mauser designed a rimmed 11.15x60Rmm cartridge that fired a 386-grain paper-patched bullet at 1,423 fps. It was the first of a number of military cartridges he would create. Also known as the 11mm Mauser, it ended up becoming extremely popular among European and East African hunters. Because of its effectiveness, the rifle for which it was chambered—the Mauser M71—was adopted by the German army and renamed Infanterie-Gewehr 71; military versions were stamped “I.G.Mod.71.”

Not being content with the M71 as a single-shot, an Austrian army officer and gun designer named Alfred Ritter von Kropatschek created, in 1884, an eight-round tubular magazine, similar to that found on the Winchester 1873, for the Gewehr 71, thus turning it into Germany’s first repeating rifle. It was subsequently renamed the Gewehr 71/84, or Model 71/84, and remained Germany’s official rifle until the acceptance of the Gewehr 88, or Reichsgeweh, which was created by the German (Infantry) Rifle Commission at Spandau Arsenal, not the Mauser brothers. Having not participated in its development, the Mauser factory decided to abstain from its manufacture.

Nonetheless, the Model 1888 Commission Rifle, as it is also known, was the first to fire a smokeless powder round, the 7.92x57mm IS (Infanterie Spitzer), which utilized a spitzer bullet. Loaded with a slightly heftier powder charge, this cartridge would become the 8mm Mauser, chambering in the K98 and, consequently, becoming Germany’s official cartridge throughout two world wars. In yet another bit of irony, it was a cartridge that Mauser didn’t invent. It was the popularity of the K98 that tagged the cartridge with the Mauser name.

For whatever reason, the Spanish Mauser 93 used against our troops during the Spanish American War was chambered for the less powerful 7x57mm Mauser. However, this rifle utilized a staggered five-round internal magazine that was loaded via a stripper clip inserted into the breech end of the receiver. This same system would be incorporated in the K98.

Some of the many accessories that were issued with the K98 included triple ammo pouches, a cleaning rope with weight, oil can, sling, and stripper clips.

This rifle’s serial number and a double “SS” stamping on the barrel indicate that this K98 most likely underwent two inspections, one before and one after test firing.

The rear sight is graduated in meters.

Although Wilhelm passed away in 1888, Paul Mauser continued to produce an almost bewildering procession of new models for a number of armies around the world, including the Model 1894 for Brazil and Sweden, the M1895 adopted by Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, and China, and the M1896 which, by virtue of its use by Sweden, resulted in the development of a stronger “Swedish Steel,” which was used in the manufacture of all subsequent Mauser rifles, including the Gewehr 98, the Mauser Standardmodell and the Karabiner 98b.

All of this culminated, in 1935, with the K98, or Karabiner 98 Kurtz, which translates into “Carbine 98 Short.” Weighing 812 pounds and chambered for the 8x57mm IS cartridge, the K98 sported a sharply angled bolt handle for greater leverage, a smooth, solid action, and a unique three-position safety. When the thick steel tab located near the end of the bolt was turned down all the way to the right, the bolt is “frozen” and cannot be manipulated. Turning the tab straight up frees the bolt so that it can be worked to eject cartridges from the magazine, but the trigger remains locked. Interestingly, this position also blocks the shooter’s view of the rear sight, another bit of confirmation that the rifle cannot be fired. Finally, with the tab rotated all the way to the left, the bolt can be opened (thereby cocking the firing pin), the trigger is operational, and the gun can be fired. As a visual reminder that the gun is cocked, the rearward portion of the bolt protrudes out from the bolt body.

Loading is by five-round stripper clip. Note the stripper clip loading guide cast into the receiver.

For all its sophistication, the sights of the K98 are rather crude, even though they are optimistically calibrated out to 2,000 meters. Still, the rifle is accurate enough to hit a man-sized target at 500 yards, although from my experience, three- to four-inch groups at 100 yards is the norm with military ammunition. It should be noted that the military two-stage 812-pound trigger pull doesn’t aid accuracy.

The visual appearance of the stock is not helped by the fact that it is made of laminated plywood, obviously done for both economic and ease of maintenance reasons. But it pales by comparison to the walnut used on our own World War II 1903A3 and Garand rifles. (In an interesting turn of events, while the K98 was being developed, America was fine-tuning the Model 1903A3, which employed a modified Mauser action, for use against the Germans.)

There can be no denying that the K98 was a well-respected rifle mechanically. At the end of World War II, with Germany’s surrender, the last of the K98 Mausers were made in 1945 under French supervision, then the tooling was destroyed. After the Armistice, a great number of surplus K98 Mausers were shipped to the United States, where, like their counterpart, the Springfield 1903A3, their actions became the basis for superb sporters by such post-war gun makers as Griffin & Howe and Frank Pachmayr.

Today the K98 Mauser, though not exceedingly expensive, has become collectable, especially with Nazi stampings such as the Third Reich’s Totenkopf skull-and-crossbones “Death’s Head,” or post-war “RC (Russian-captured) markings. The rifles also are still coveted for their actions for competition and hunting—noble pastimes for a rifle that once challenged our freedom.