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After years of research and worldwide combat
experience, Paul Mauser standardized his bolt action rifle design in
1898 with his famous Mauser Model 98 action which featured cock on
opening, control round feed and positive claw extraction. Although
there have been several notable designs in the ensuing century the
main innovative thrusts in receiver designs have focused on cutting
manufacturing costs. No one has substantially improved on Mauser’s
original criteria of total reliability in combat under extreme
conditions of weather.
Currently Gottfried Prechtl Firearms in Germany and
Granite Mountain Arms in the U.S. are both manufacturing new Model
98 magnum receivers using the early 1930’s drawings of Paul Mauser
and adhering closely to his original specifications. Gottfried
Prechtl, on his website, goes into detail to explain where he has
diverged from Mauser’s original dimensions, but these are minor
changes and only serve to enhance gas pressure handling capabilities
and facilitate modern cartridge sizes.
As far as I am concerned - besides the stock - the
biggest design flaws in factory DGR’s and the biggest potential
hazard to your health is the lack of an extra-capacity drop box
magazine. I do not understand the big rifle companies, such as
Winchester and Remington with their three round magazines . . . .
and some of the factory issued big caliber Weatherby rifles hold
only two rounds!
There has been so much complaining from the rifle
hunting community that Weatherby now sells a floor plate that will
let you put three rounds in rifles like my .30-378 Mark V. In fact,
the main reason I recommend CZ rifles to safari bound newcomers is
for their enhanced magazine capacity.
The older model Brno ZKK 602 is a favorite among
African PHs because they hold five .375 H&H cartridges in the
magazine and one in the chamber. CZ’s new model safari rifles, the
CZ 550 Safari will do the same "one up, five down" stack.
To their credit, Ruger does put four shots down in
the magazine of their .375 H&H caliber M77 RSM Safari rifles, but no
one can beat CZ in terms of total firepower. This feature can only
be appreciated by someone who has emptied their rifle into a
dangerous animal that is still on its feet. I highly recommend
practicing rapid reloads at the rifle range before you go off on
safari. This is something I had to learn the hard way.
After my close call in Australia with a banteng, I
am almost overcome with gratitude just thinking about an extra round
in the big Weatherby calibers, if I had my choice, I would prefer to
have a rotary magazine, like the old 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer with
one cartridge up and five down capabilities. Too expensive to build
or not practical size-wise, I suppose; although Ruger has managed to
field both .44 Mag. and .22 caliber rifles that use a rotary design
I see no reason why a good modern designer couldn’t
come up with something similar for large caliber DGRs. A rotary
design magazine would have the advantage of holding more rounds than
a conventional straight or staggered cartridge design, but would not
extend as far below the stock, which would facilitate the rifle’s
handling and carrying characteristics. However, like I said, the
downside to this idea is the size of the magnum cartridges could
make it too fat in profile to fit elegantly into the stock.
Another good rifle design that incorporates a great
idea is the two "onboard" detachable magazines used by the
Steyr-Mannlicher L series DGR rifles of a few years ago.
Conventional wisdom warns against using detachable magazines in a
DGR for a couple of reasons. First, it is feared that recoil will
blow the magazine out of the rifle with hot hand loads, or even with
some factory ammo.
However, I personally know an experienced hand
loader who has taken his .458 Win. Mannlicher L on safari. He told
me that the locking mechanism is so robust that blowing out a mag
has never been a problem for him, even with brisk reloads. The other
nice thing about the Mannlicher L design was the extra magazine that
was built into the stock. This is so much better for quick reloads
than the pricey trap-door cartridge holders found inletted into many
custom rifle stocks or behind their recoil pads, not to mention the
inexpensive elastic slip-on designs.
The second thing with detachable mags that
conventional wisdom warns you about is that if you lose them you are
left with only a single shot rifle at best or a club—at worst. This
is true but that is why the Steyr-Mannlicher stock-mounted extra
magazine is so clever. Besides, if it was me, I would have 3-4 extra
magazines at a minimum. No big deal with a deer rifle, but in a DGR
it would be better to reload military style if the need arose. Eject
the empty magazine onto the ground, and slap a fully loaded new
magazine in as fast as possible. Even a missing $50-100 magazine
would not be a crippling financial loss, and the fact is they can be
usually recovered after the action in most hunting situations.
Well known writer and Zimbabwean PH, Don Heath, has
a detachable mag equipped Dumoulin in 9.3x62 which he loves, and
tells me that he has never had any problems with its magazine. He
carries several spare magazines, which are not only good for rapid
reloads but also enable quick changes from soft points to solids as
the need arises.
It is too bad Steyr made the Model L’s magazines out
of a plastic polymer which became brittle and unreliable with age.
Plastic and other synthetic materials have many places where they
are practical on a serious weapon, for instance as a coating to
protect the metal or to provide a buffer for some reason, but I am
dubious about using them for magazines.
So I say yes to detachable magazines for a DGR, if
they are properly designed and manufactured. An enterprising rifle
company needs to find an extremely talented metal smith to copy the
Steyr-Mannlicher magazine design and their stock mount system. Make
it out of steel, make it as robust as possible. . . . and make an
extra half dozen spare magazines for me!
Another seemingly minor, but actually very
important, point is that the bolt handle knob on a DGR should be
larger than the one used on standard big game rifles to facilitate
acquiring the bolt quickly and automatically when the hunter is
under stress. Also, I personally don’t want any checkering in the
metal on the bottom side of the knob. I once had a Remington 700
bolt knob "sandpaper" a nice scar into my right index finger when I
didn’t have a perfect grip on a heavy recoiling .416 Rem. Mag. KS
The large teardrop shaped bolt handles found on some
traditional Mauser DGRs are a perfect design that I see no reason to
change. Many bolt action military sniper rifles also sport extra
large bolt knobs for the same reasons that a proper DGR should have
one. They are easy to find and manipulate during very stressful
situations, where a small mistake can have dire consequences on your
Another high tech solution that is often overlooked
is an all-weather lubricant, whether grease, powder, or oil, that
will retain its qualities in extreme temperatures. An arctic to
tropic weapon needs lubrication that will enable it to function in
the harshest climates on Earth. The only choices I currently know of
are Shooter’s Choice gun grease which will function in temperatures
from -60 to +360F degrees and Shooter’s Choice FP-10 Lubricant Elite
which has a range of -76 to +500F degrees. There maybe are some
others available now, but these were the first that I know of to
tackle this problem. Polar bear hunters have found out the hard way
what a big problem lubrication can be in a very cold climate. A DGR
must be 100% reliable, so when the moment comes, you can take
whatever shot is offered without worrying about a frozen receiver.
Traditionalists weep at the thought of the demise of
rust bluing, but there are now better solutions for metal
protection. I had a Teflon coated, synthetic-stocked rifle back when
you could not give the things away and no one else in the world
wanted them. This was in the 1970’s, and I also wanted quick-detach
scope rings, but was shouted down by all the local rifle "gurus."
Being a contrarian by nature, I would have bought them anyway, but
the only sources at the time that I knew of for quick-detach scope
rings were in Germany, and I didn’t know any practical way to order
The same local experts who thought my rifle was a
horrible abortion happily took my money since they figured I would
soon be committed to an insane asylum and have no further need of
money. A pioneering assistant gunsmith hand made my prototype
synthetic stock from a fiberglass mold, and then found one of the
few gunsmiths in the country who did Teflon coatings. 40 years
later, the stores are full of similar guns and today no one even
looks sideways at mine.
Today we have even more advanced finishes, one
finish option I would consider for coating an arctic to equator
rifle is to send it to Robar and have them put on their NP3 and
Roguard finishes. There are other US companies offering all sorts of
different finishes, but the Robar Company has one of the best
reputations in the business. They have been around for a long time
and their rugged products are well known among shooters.
Their first product, Roguard, meets the U.S.
Military Machine Gun Dry Firing Requirements of 60 days of sea water
immersion or 1000 hours salt spray, and the other finish, NP3,
exceeds a 240 hour salt spray test, so it should be capable of
handling any demands most people might make on it. Robar recommends
having the outside surfaces done in Roguard which looks similar to
regular bluing, but is actually black in color, then have the
internal parts coated with NP3, which is a medium gray color, and
also has the advantage of being self-lubricating.
Receiver mounted sights are another interesting
idea. A feature of the old Brno ZKK 602 DGRs (much loved by everyone
who saw it) is the receiver with a flip-up peep sight built in to
the rear bridge. These peep sight models are much sought after by
many dangerous game hunters who haunt gun shows looking for wayward
rifles in need of new homes. If you can’t find a gun show gun then
the alternative is flip-up peep sights from some custom gunsmiths,
but only at fairly high prices.
While not a flip up design, Talley has a nice peep
sight that mounts straight onto their rear scope bases. On a full
tilt custom rifle built, it would be possible to have one of these
fitted to a trap door storage place in the stock where it could be
kept until needed. For most folks, putting it in a military surplus
compass pouch would get the job done, albeit not as elegantly.
Despite Jack O’Connor’s famous comment that hunters,
who wanted iron sights on their scoped rifle, were like Model T
owners who insisted on buggy whip holders, I don’t like a gun that
doesn’t have iron sights. I don’t want scope-only rifles at all,
even if they are varmint rifles. There are just too many things that
can go wrong to damage a rifle scope when you are far away from
camp. I want to be able to detach a disabled scope quickly, and have
some good iron sights to fall back on if a shot opportunity presents
itself. This can become a serious issue in the thick bush of Africa
on the trail of a big wounded animal such as a Cape buffalo.
A return of the flip-up peep sight built into the
rear of the receiver would be a heck of a selling feature to offer
and would gladden the heart of many true hunters. Novice safari
hunters generally like the idea of folding rear sights and flip-up
"moon sights" on the front, but the reality is that a folding back
sight on a DGR is not a very good idea. Most all professional
hunters and many clients have made the observation that when you
really need it, a folding back sight will always be folded down.
However, a flip-up moon sight on your front is
always a good idea for low light situations. Traditionally, moon
sights are made of warthog ivory, which they say doesn’t yellow with
age, but for me I’d rather have a tritium model such as I discussed
in Part One, unless the rifle was a very traditional piece and
warranted wart hog ivory.
CZ 550 Safari
I have extensively used both Warne and Talley
quick-detach rings and bases and they have served me well with no
failures. I do not like the Leupold QR design as the levers are too
easy to knock loose. I had a problem with a QR on a banteng hunt on
the Cobourg Peninsula in Australia. That incident broke me from ever
wanting to use them again. The Leupold QRW is a different story, as
it is just the Warne design marketed under the Leupold name. This is
a small point, but to me a very important point, when placing your
Harold Wolfe once wrote me, "As to the way of
hunting in Europe, people require huge, ugly scopes, which do not
mate with classic elegant lines of a rifle. This is why many rifle
catalogues do not show pictures of scope mounted rifles any more -
it just looks too bad." Undoubtedly this is true, but for the most
part Americans are long on performance and short on style. Most
serious hunters I know would not give you a dime for elegance.
Personally, I like designs that combine both
elegance and performance. However, there will always be the die-hard
traditionalists, to whom the scope manufacturers should cater to,
and personally I regret that you can no longer get all steel tube
Maybe all steel is a small point, but they are much
more rugged than the present aluminum tube models. I think this is
an important point and so much so that I think the extra weight is
worth it, even in mountainous terrain.
For many of us, the 4x is all the scope we may ever
need, but the variable powered scopes always outsell the fixed
scopes. This is the reality of today’s market. I would say the
Leupold 3-9x33 is probably the all time number one selling quality
scope in the US. It is rare to find someone with a fixed 4x or 6x,
but when you do it is usually the sign of a sophisticated and
knowledgeable hunter. I am one of the few people I know who uses a
4x on a big game rifle and it is a steel tubed German Zeiss,
unfortunately, this has not imparted to me any sophistication or
knowledge. I was just following Jack O’Conner and Elmer Keith’s
Then there is the issue of 1-inch vs. 30mm scope
rings. You will have some calls for 30mm rings, but most Americans
will prefer the 1-inch just because they are familiar, easier to
find, and usually less expensive. There is the argument that the
larger 30mm tube transmits more light. Obviously this is true but I
don’t know if the human eye can actually discern the difference.
However, if I was putting together an ultimate DGR and had the
budget, I’d probably go with the 30mm rings just for the hell of it.
Another thing to consider is your trigger mechanism.
If it is based on a commercial Mauser or Winchester design then it
is already simple, robust and easy to tweak. If it is an old
military Mauser trigger, I would recommend replacing it with a new
Timney trigger. I have an old Mauser 7x57mm deer rifle with a Timney
trigger that has worked flawlessly for many years. Although very
robust, the original military triggers leave much to be desired in
the accuracy department.
Finally there is the question of what is the best
safety. If your rifle only has iron sights, there is not much point
in replacing the original vertical Mauser "flipper" safety as issued
on all their military rifles. However, mounting a scope low on the
receiver, American style, necessitates the use of a horizontal lever
safety, such as found on the Winchester Model 70, to clear it.
The only decision you need to make is whether you
like the three position factory Winchester safety or a custom two
position safety. Since most folks are already familiar with the
three position safety, they don’t even think about it, but on a DGR,
a two position safety gives you an extra half second of speed in
getting your rifle into firing mode.
I probably would not spend the money to replace a
factory three position safety, but if I were building a new rifle
from scratch and had the option, I would go with a two position
safety just for the extra fraction of a second. Not a big deal, but
in the wrong circumstances it could become a very big deal
On the Ruger rifle, I would replace their small
safety with a bigger after market version. Older Ruger rifles had
sliding thumb safeties on their tangs like double barreled shotguns
and double rifles. This is the best safety design ever made for a DGR, and I have no idea why they ever dropped it. The decision had
to be the cost
Bunn is a hunting publication
veteran with a of Bachelor Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He hunts
Africa regularly and is an avid hunter with rifle,
pistol, shotgun, and bow.
factor, but there is no doubt the tang safety is the
fastest and best design that has ever been developed for a DGR,
whether scoped or unscoped.
The DGR is not your deer or elk rifle. It is a rifle
that you are betting your life on and you cannot take shortcuts with
Some hunters have tried—and died.