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It's All In the Claw
~The hunter fired his first shot at the buffalo, resting his arm against the right hand side of a mopane tree for steadiness. At the shot the buffalo took off and the hunter took a quick pace to the left to keep the buff in view, swinging his rifle around the tree. He brought the rifle hurriedly to his shoulder again as the buff changed his mind about flight, and wheeled to charge. The hunter took his time, made sure of his shot and CLICK!!~
Various Extractor Claws.
Extractor Claws (L - R): Lee-Enfield, Winchester push feed with plunger type ejector and Mauser with large claw type extractor.
A shot from a fellow hunter felled the already mortally wounded buff, but the young hunter was left gazing at his rifle and babbling to his co-hunter about the misfeed, (for there was no round in the breech) which had caused his acute adrenaline rush. The older hunter said nothing, but walked over to where the youngster was standing and picked up a live round from the dirt near his feet. With a patronising smile the old hunter commented "I saw the round fall out as you were reloading. You were watching the buff like you should have been, but your rifle has one of those new fangled actions. I told you to buy a Mauser". Standing further back I laughed at the expression on the young man's face as he stared at the round his mentor was proffering him.

I have always been a Mauser fan and now I had seen first hand why any rifle for use on dangerous game MUST have a Mauser type claw extractor.

For years there has been considerable controversy, both in the 'States and Europe on action design, liberally fueled by each manufacturer pushing their action's strong points. There is much to consider in action design, and also a lot of bumf. Which action is "stronger" than another is purely academic in modern production rifles, whilst "lock time" which can be of considerable importance on a varmit or target rifle is irrelevant at the end of the day on a big game rifle. No one action available today has all of the features that I would consider "ideal" for a hunting rifle, nor are my ideas going to suit every hunter. Also, the features which are desirable or acceptable on a rifle intended for use on plains game may differ from those intended for large nasty things that stand on you. So let us consider three of the most common actions around, their good and bad features and their suitability for hunting.

By 1914 only four countries in the whole of Europe and America were not armed with a Mauser or a derivative.

First let's consider the umbiquitous Lee Enfield. The oldest of the designs still in widespread circulation and by far and away the best military bolt action produced. It is probably still the most common rifle in Southern Africa apart from the AK47. The Lee action is not noted for its strength and only the Mk IV or V actions have the strength for a cartridge as “hot” as a .308. I dislike the safety, the comb is too low for comfortable use unless a cheekpeice is fitted etc, etc. On the plus side though I have never used any other bolt action rifle which could be fired as quickly, or reloaded as quickly as the Lee. There are two reasons for this phenomenal speed of fire (I have witnessed 10 shots in 10 seconds with all rounds hitting a man sized target at 100m). Most importantly is the fact that the bolt handle is located BEHIND the strong hand. As you take your finger off the trigger after firing you move your hand up and backwards, whilst on chambering the round the hand moves naturally from the bolt to the trigger. On almost all other rifles you have to move your hand forward from the trigger to reach the bolt handle. The other reason is that the Lee cocks on closing, significantly reducing the force needed to open the bolt. It must also be noted that despite all the arguments you might hear about the need for an accurate rifle to have a quick lock time, front locking lugs and a one piece stock, I have seen many more accurate target rifles built on Lee actions than I ever have on Mausers.

Article continues below.

Given the right ammo (and/ or barrel) and a shootist who knows how to follow through during the (relatively) long striker fall, a Lee Enfield rifle will always outshoot a Mauser despite all the theoretical disadvantages. They are also one of the easiest rifles to keep clean, since the breech face is exposed. Not that they require cleaning to work, and will keep firing long after a Mauser or even an AK has clogged up. The main failure of the Lee action is its extractor. A small claw like affair, which always works unless you have a bulged cartridge or have broken the spring. Bulged or oversized factory rounds are a thing of the past, but go into any gun shop, however, and ask them what is the most common repair needed on a Lee, and they will tell you that it is a broken extractor spring, and that if you want one they are still awaiting the next shipment from South Africa. All in all the Lee Enfield is a fantastic action for a working man's plainsgame rifle. It may not be as "Strong" in terms of withstanding overloads as other designs, but it is easily the most rugged, and will withstand far more abuse/neglect than any other type.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.6 December 1999
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