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It's All In the Claw - Ganyana

Rifle Actions
allintheclaw_p2p8v5no6_ah.jpg - 11kb allintheclaw_p3p8v5no6_ah.jpg - 12kb
Mauser (top); Winchester push feed - Post 64 Model 70 (center); Lee-Enfield Note position of bolt handle, relative to the trigger (bottom)

Lastly let us consider the Mauser ’98 and its derivatives (such as the Brno, Winchesters Pre ’64 model 70, 1903 Springfield etc). The Mauser 98 with its clip loading feature revolutionised warfare (by 1914 only four countries in the whole of Europe and America were not armed with a Mauser or a derivative), whilst its extremely strong and safe action endeared it to the sporting rifle manufacturer. Here was an action that could repeatedly withstand the relatively high pressures generated by rounds such as the 7x64 and .375 H&H etc. and with good internal safety features that would prevent gas and debris from blowing back into the shooter's eyes in the event that a case ruptured in the chamber (not an uncommon event in the years preceding 1945, and it was this lack of protection for the shooter's face that caused the straight pull Ross and Mannlicher rifles to be dropped as the official battle rifles of Canada/Austria). The front locking lugs and claw extractor that made the Mauser so successful as a hunting rifle, actually proved to be a let down in battle. The bolt movement needed to reload is considerably longer than that of the Lee for the same sized cartridge, whilst keeping the breech face and locking lug grooves clean in either sandy or muddy conditions must have been an absolute nightmare. The powerful camming action provided by the non-rotating bolt head also proved a problem with poorly manufactured war time ammo (and over-reloaded modern cases, please note)

If a case was made from inferior brass, or has been reloaded too often with hot loads, the twisting-pulling motion of the bolt as the handle is lifted on a Mauser is often sufficient to tear the head off a case with incipient case head separation, leaving most of the case firmly wedged in the chamber, and needing a special tool to remove the remains. With modern ammunition this is not really a consideration, but if you insist on reloading maximum loads every time, and do not check your cases for incipient case head separation every time and/ or do not trim your cases, you will end up one day with half a case firmly stuck in the chamber. On the other hand the same camming action is a boon for moderately stuck cases. Many people reload at home in cooler conditions, take the rounds out of the box and chronograph them at the range in temperatures that seldom exceed 32º. They forget that by mid-day in the valley when air temperatures are pushing 40º, the rifle has been in the sun all morning and the metal is almost too hot to touch, that the pressures generated are going to be considerably higher than they were when the load was developed. The big Mauser type claw extractor combined with the camming action of lifting the bolt handle, will extract the case unless it is damaged. With the small modern type extractors, I have occasionally seen a case stuck in the chamber, with the extractor simply popping over the rim: nothing a sharp tap with a ramrod will not clear, but the days are long since gone when every rifle came fitted with a ramrod, and yours will be back in the vehicle, if not camp, when needed.

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The two features that endear the Mauser to me though, are the controlled feed system and the safety. The safety is a nice touch on a heavy rifle, since when it is on you cannot see through your sights and so cannot "forget" to take it off in the heat of the moment. It is the controlled feed/large non rotating claw extractor though that makes the Mauser the ultimate action style for dangerous game. In a Mauser (or correct copy) the round HAS to be fed from the magazine into the chamber. You cannot simply drop a round into the action and close the bolt. This is because as the round is pushed out from the magazine, its rim slips under the large extractor claw. Whatever fumble you make whilst reloading, the round, and only one round, is securely held in line with the chamber. A Mauser action can be reliably loaded upside down. Who reloads upside down? Actually a surprising number of people, when they are stepping around a tree as in the opening example, or rolling out of the way of something large that has knocked them down and is now coming back for seconds. As I said at the outset, the primary attraction of the Mauser only applies on a dangerous game rifle (an impala is unlikely to knock you down and then leave you rolling behind a tree for cover whilst executing a quick reload).

I have also witnessed an incredible number of reloading "brain fades" when adrenaline is pumping. People get halfway through a reload, forget what they are doing and try and start again. In any push feed action designs the result is an almighty jam as two rounds fight to get into the chamber at once. With a Mauser though, either the round held by the extractor is ejected and a fresh round picked up, or if the bolt isn’t brought back far enough on the second pass to eject the round, then the one held firmly by the extractor prevents another round from being picked up, and the original round will be rechambered. If you don’t believe how many stupid mistakes people make when reloading, come to a heavy rifle speed shoot, with score divided by time and all your mates watching (or organise one yourself with a few friends). If competition nerves make people do stupid things, adrenaline rushes when your life is potentially on the line is worse. I contend that any dangerous game rifle must be so designed so as to minimise the effects of "buck fever", "brain fade" or similar maladies on the part of its owner.

In summary then, for a plainsgame rifle pick the one that appeals to you most in terms of looks, feel, sighting system etc. For a dangerous game rifle though, make sure that the rifle you choose comes with a Mauser type claw extractor: it can save an awful lot of uneccesary adrenaline release.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.6 December 1999
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