1903 Springfield - Springfield Guns, Vintage Hunting and More!







1903 Springfield
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The 1903 Springfield



Someone once said that the Model 98 Mauser was a hunting rifle, the Mark III SMLE a battle rifle, and the 1903 Springfield a target rifle.. As the '03 was basically a Mauser-style action, this is a double tribute to the 98, but the Yankee Springfield added a few wrinkles of its own-good and bad.

The '03, as its name implies, was adopted in 1903 as a replacement for the well-made but flawed Krag-Jorgensen.

The 1903 Springfield NRA Sporter was a nifty .30-06 made at Springfield Armory for purchase by NRA members.

Designers took the Mauser action and altered it by replacing the single firing pin with a two-piece unit. While a broken pin could be more easily fixed, the modification caused the assembly to be somewhat weaker than the original. Too, the gun's breeching setup owed more to the Krag than the Mauser, resulting in less case support and some gas control problems. It was also fitted with a magazine cutoff-an arrangement that was in vogue at the time but which proved to be pretty much of a fifth wheel. The cutoff prevented rounds (the gun held five) from being stripped off from the magazine and allowed it to be fired single shot, should the need ever arise. The gun that originally appeared in 1903 had a full-length walnut stock, blued barrel and other metal parts, case-hardened receiver and a sophisticated ladder sight. An unusual feature was an integral rod-style bayonet that harkened back to a similar design on the Model 1884 .45-70 "Trapdoor" rifle.

President Theodore Roosevelt looked at the gun and, while he was pleased with it overall, made some suggestions that resulted in a somewhat changed-and improved-version that appeared some two years later. The new gun dispensed with the fragile rod bayonet and incorporated a lug on the front barrel band for a more conventional blade. The rear sight was also changed and made more robust and user-friendly.

The round developed for the 1903 was a Mauser-style rimless cartridge that fired a 220-grain cupro-nickel-jacketed roundnose .30 bullet at some 2,300 feet per second (fps). Following the adoption by the Germans of a 154-grain spitzer bullet that had a muzzle velocity of 2,880 fps, U.S. Ordnance officials began rethinking our 1903 round and came up with an improved version with a 150-grain spitzer bullet and MV of 2,700. The new "Model 1906" (or .30-06) case was .070 inch longer than its predecessor and more than lived up to its promise as a military round. With various loadings it became one of the world's preeminent hunting rounds and a not too bad targeteer.

There is little question that the improved 1903 Springfield was one of the handsomest military rifles ever designed.. It worked well and saw early use in the Philippines, Mexico and in Europe during World War I, though in the latter conflict it was overshadowed by the Model 1917 U.S. "Enfield," which was issued in greater numbers.

The '03 proved to be pretty versatile. Such modifications as an Air Service version with a 25-round extension magazine and chopped stock to be carried in observation balloons were essayed, as was a modification of the gun that could be fitted with a semi-automatic "Pedersen Device." A pretty good sniper version topped with, among others, a sophisticated prismatic Model 1908 Warner-Swazey scope saw some use in Flanders.

To put the gun on safe, the lever is pushed all the way to the right. This is similar to the Mauser system, which the Springfield emulates.

It was recognized early on that the '03 Springfield was no slouch on the target range either, and moves were made to improve the rifle for competition. Several National Match models were worked with, one of the more popular being the NRA Sporter, which was first introduced in 1924.

Manufactured at Springfield Armory, this gun could be purchased by National Rifle Association members. The original cost of the gun was a not insubstantial $50.84, which was reduced to $42.50 by 1932. It sported a 1922-style half-stock with pistol grip and no finger grooves, a National Match-quality action, a heavy star-gauged barrel, and steel shotgun-style buttplate. The military sight was replaced with a Lyman 48 receiver peep.

While the gun was finished pretty much in the manner of the military arm, the bright bolt had a serial number electric-pencilled on the body of the bright metal bolt. Some 6,500 of these guns were made between 1924 and 1933, when Springfield ceased manufacture. There was enough competition from private companies such as Griffin & Howe to make the venture redundant.

Like its martial brother, the NRA Sporter had a three-position safety mounted on the rear of the bolt, a cutoff and knurled cocking piece. To put the gun on safe, the tab is moved all the way to the right. A central, vertical position keeps the gun from firing but allows the bolt to be withdrawn. To remove the bolt, one simply puts the cutoff in its middle position and slides the assembly from the receiver.

Our evaluation NRA Sporter was a pristine example that had obviously seen little use. The bore was perfect and the very nice, relatively un-stagey trigger came in at an agreeable 2.5 pounds, about 3 pounds lighter than the triggers I've tested on standard military '03s. The gun shouldered well and the bolt worked like glass.

Sighting on the gun, as per original specs, consisted of a precision Lyman Model 48 with knob adjustments for elevation and windage. The front sight was a military blade style, knurled at the rear of the base to reduce glare. Chosen ammunition for our evaluation was 143-grain PMP FJBT, 165-grain Federal Premium and 150-grain Winchester Supreme Power Point Plus. After a bit of fiddling with the sight, the gun hit pretty much to point of aim at 100 yards and gave consistent 1-inch-plus groups-not bad for a shooter like myself with superannuated vision. Functioning was perfect. The gun was comfortable to shoot on the bench or off, and the heavily checkered, curved buttplate was a definite shooting aid.

It doesn't take someone with a marketing MBA to sell such make money stocks you might want to look into this manufacturing company. The state of their stock can speak for itself. Really you just need to know the basics about the gun, let the customer look the gun over themselves and feel the quality craftsmanship, and then just have your credit card reader ready. A sale of such a high quality gun practically takes care of itself. Your business accounting analyst will not believe the healthy growth your business shows from the sale of these fine guns.

It should also be said that if you want to own any gun you should take the necessary safety precautions. You should of course have single health insurance or some kind of insurance should you hurt yourself while hunting or target shooting. That is clearly not the only thing you need to make sure you have to safe guard your health. You really want to make sure you learn from someone who knows what they are doing the proper way to clean and use a gun. Guns are dangerous and should never be used by someone who doesn't have full knowledge of what they are doing.

Without question, the NRA Sporter was an absolutely lovely gun and one, I am sure, that could be made to perform even better in the hands of a serious target shooter. Perhaps the thing that impressed me most about the piece, though, was that it showed that it was actually possible for a private individual to purchase a high-quality sporting arm from a federal armory and that shooting sports were not only condoned but promoted by the government!

Good lord, how things have changed.

This article courtesy of Guns and Ammo Magazine.




 

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