Vintage Varminting


One of the fellas shared this bit of history. Above is a custom Mauser varmint rifle chambered in the excellent .219 Donaldson Wasp. On it he has a 10 Unertl.

The stand is an ancient piece of shooting kit. It is now long gone but during it’s day several version of this concept were used for shooting in the field long before bipods were a thing.


  1. I’ve actually had youngsters tell me that it is “impossible” for a Mauser action to be “accurate enough” for a varmint or target rifle.

    All I could think was “Kids say the darndest things.”

    That’s a sweet looking rifle, with a nice piece of wood.

    • yea I know what you mean. It’s getting hard for me to write about anything that is new anymore. I just want to talk about vintage guns and optics lately. I’m sure you have noticed

      • Shawn, the world is dying for your hot take on the latest cutting-edge high-tech AR-15 clone.

        I don’t hear anybody complaining about your vintage stuff.

      • Lots of younger shooters are ignorant of what a gunsmith can do. I mean, really unaware. They confuse and conflate “gunsmith” with “armorer” – they think of gunsmithing being things in terms of “aftermarket parts add-ons” and “parts replacement.” Do gunsmiths change parts? Yes. But gunsmiths can make parts – from nothing. I’ve made firing pins, springs, etc from raw metal. I’ve made piles of fixtures and tools to hold parts in machines, and so on. The removal of shop classes from high schools, and the absurd and idiotic programs at colleges have left a generation+ of students completely unaware of what talent+basic tools can accomplish.

        Once, while listening to these claims that a Mauser 98 action could not be made “tack-driver worthy” as an action, I finally had to say that a) yes, they could, but b) it isn’t done much now because it is cheaper to buy a Rem700 or clone action that has already been made to high specs from the get-go. I told them that a gunsmith could make a 98 action as precise as someone’s wallet would allow.

        So then one of the two tykes starts telling me that because the 98 action has a flat bottom, that it is “impossible” to chuck up and indicate in on a lathe in a 4-jaw chuck. That turning operations were ‘impossible’ because of the flat-bottomed action, that the bolt’s forged handle meant that you couldn’t replace it with the sexy tactical bolts/knobs, yadda, yadda, yadda.

        After practicing my breathing (“Bad air out, good air in… bullshit out, clean air in…”) I started to explain to these budding gun experts (who learned so much of their knowledge from Youtube) that:

        a) the way you true up a Mauser, Win70 or 1903 or 1914/1917 action is you make a mandrel, you slide the mandrel through the action’s bolt holes, then you have a drive screw you screw into the mandrel and you can true up the face of the front ring, re-cut the threads if you like, etc. You’ll have to grind up a special HSS tool to get at the threads with the mandrel in there, but it’s not difficult, just takes time to make.

        Much of a gunsmith’s knowledge is how to hold parts and guns so you can work on them, and then more of his knowledge is making specialized tools for gun-plumbing. Like a barrel vise, special wrenches, special threading bits (eg, for the 1903 and Garand barrels – they use 0.050″ square threads, not Whitworth or ISO/UN thread profiles. The Mauser uses 12-TPI, 55 degree Whitworth threads, not 60 degree metric threads. Go figure – the Krauts using English threads. On and on and on. If you’re a classic gunsmith, you’ve got drawers and boxes filled with this sort of arcane tooling. If you’re a ‘smith who works on only 700’s, you have almost none of it. A guy who is a parts-changer for AR’s and Glocks probably isn’t even aware such things are not only possible, but used to be common – because… “perfection.”

        b) if the bolt raceway is too large, you can sleeve the bolt. They had never, ever heard of this. I had to tell them that this used to be done with Rem700 receivers – you’d bore the bolt raceway out to 0.705 to 0.706 or so, then glue/solder shims onto the outside of the bolt where it went through the support areas, and suddenly the bolt would become quite snug in the raceway when in lockup.

        c) you could put the bolt into a LaBounty fixture, indicate it in, then counter-bore the face of the bolt and solder or glue in a piece of steel, then drill the firing pin hole exactly on center and only as large as necessary. Hitting the primer dead on-center, and cleaning up the friction in the firing pin is a high bang:buck return to tighten up dispersion in muzzle velocities. When you hit a Boxer primer off-center, you get inconsistent ignition and inconsistent pressures, which leads to vertical stringing…

        d) add a Timney trigger or re-work the existing trigger with stones and a fixture, and you’ve improved the trigger. The Timney triggers can be improved, too, with some ceramic stones and a jig.

        e) You solve the Mauser bolt issue by pulling the shroud, firing pin, extractor, etc – get down to a naked bolt, you put it into a Brownells bolt handle forging block, you put the block into a vise, you go get your ox-gas torch and a rosebud, and you heat the bolt handle to cherry red, and then you forge it down into the recess in the block.

        You cool it, then dress off the scale with a file. Bolt is dealt with, no soldering or threading required.

        f) bed the action and free-float the barrel – just as you would with any other action…

        and so on. They had no idea that you could do this sort of stuff on a gun. None. Then I really blew their minds: I told them that if they had no machine tools, and they intended to true up enough actions, they could have either Dave Kiff or Dave Manson make them a truing toolset where no lathe is required – just drop the piloted tap/cutter into the bolt raceway, put the receiver into a padded vise, and start turning the tool into the receiver. You can true the threads and face the front of the front ring with one tool in about 15 minutes – the tooling costs about $700. Works slicker than snot on a doorknob – no machine tools required. They had no idea this could be done. None. Truth be told, if you get a chunk of tool steel in the annealed state, you can make this tooling yourself on a lathe, then sent it out to a heat-treatment shop to be hardened and tempered. Screw it into an action and you can true it up. Here:

        There you go. Howa 1500 and Rem 700 kits. Poof, blueprinting done.

        Then I blew their minds: I told them that the same technique I used for truing up the face of the front ring on a 98, M70 or 1903 (mount it on a mandrel between centers on a lathe) is the technique I use to true up the front of an AR-15 upper. Make a mandrel, put the mandrel between centers in the lathe, and take a scant cut. Poof, I’ve gotten the barrel co-linear with the bolt. Yes, some AR upper receivers have inconsistencies in the orthogonality of the front of the barrel port to the bolt axis.

        All of this work made economic sense back in the days when we could get a milsurp rifle (98, 1903 or 1914/1917 Enfield, or Rem Model 30) for chump change. When I was a kid, you could go into most gun stores or gunsmith shops and find a literal barrel of milsurp rifles, muzzle-down, slathered in cosmoline, for $50 to $100 each, you-pick-em. Yank the barrel, and stock off, salvage the action, get a high quality barrel and stock (or make one from a blank, as was done above) and you were off to the races.

        You could do this for economic sense back then. Gunsmith labor rates were $25 to $30/hour, instead of $70 and up now. You could have the action made quite true for $300. Today, given that it is difficult to find a halfway decent 98 rifle for less than $400, and most ‘smiths are charging $70 to $90/hour, suddenly buying a 98 action for $400, and investing $700 in labor charges doesn’t make sense when you can get a brand-new 700 clone action that is true right out of the box for just under or just over $1000 – less if you get a real Rem700 action from an outfit like PT&G, who sells trued-up 700’s for about $750. Again, here:

        If you’re paying for it to be done, you can start from there, and get results much faster – unless you’ve squirreled away a dozen 98 actions the way I have, it doesn’t make economic sense to blueprint them any more.

        • I think part of the blame for this goes to our cheap stuff/expensive labor culture. When you can buy new garbage from china for less than the cost of the skilled labor to fix it, people get used to the idea that things aren’t fixable, but rather disposable.

          You can see some of that in “upgrade culture” with guns: Your AR trigger sucks? Dispose of it and put in a Geissele. 10/22 barrel sucks? Dispose of it and put in a Volquartsen.

          I’m just barely old enough to remember TV repair stores and vacuum cleaner repair stores. Those guys retired without apprentices, and I can understand the economics of why. A generation of boys raised without fathers in the home hasn’t helped either.

          I think YouTube is doing something to fill in the apprenticeship gap and the single mom gap.

          • The reason why AR triggers get yanked out and thrown away is that they’re case hardened to only about a 0.002″ depth. So by the time you polish up the mating surfaces, you’re through the case hardened layer and into the soft steel underneath – and now the trigger feels like you’re dragging your finger through cold peanut butter.

            I’ve made classic triggers that aren’t MIM’ed into very nice triggers, even when they require a little work. eg, the M14/M1A or Garand trigger – I’ve made those triggers very nice with a little spot weld, some filing and some polishing of the mating surfaces with a stone. The spot weld is to reduce the engagement – I put a spot weld onto the trigger, then file it back to get the engagement I want. There’s a classic example of how the classic trigger systems are better than the AR trigger system, but I digress.

            There’s nothing I can do to improve a Glock trigger short of changing out the internal parts to change the slope on the connector.

            This is where I go back to the Winchester Model 70 as the paragon of a good, single-stage, adjustable trigger. You could stone them to make them very crisp. They could be adjusted very competently to reduce or increase engagement, and you could back off the spring and set the trigger pull down to about 3 lbs fairly easily.


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