Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Last Mauser: The Yugoslavian M48

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Mauser rifles, and for good reason. Paul Mauser's designs were some of the most influential and lasting contributions to firearms development in the late 19th and early 20th century, and indeed, many of these contributions live on today in modern hunting and target rifles (like the Winchester Model 70). Millions of Mauser and Mauser pattern rifles (I'll explain the difference later) were produced, and to this day, you can bet that someone, somewhere has one of Paul Mauser's progeny in his hands, ready to do violence to those who would oppose him. I don't say this to glorify war, but merely to state a fact: Mauser rifles were and remain very effective weapons.


Thousands of Russian captured Mauser rifles in stacks during WWII, awaiting refurbishment.

The Mauser design reached its zenith in 1898 with the appropriately named Mauser Model 98. The new rifle was adopted as Germany's battle rifle, and variants of the '98 were sold to countries around the world This design was a signficant departure from the earlier 1893/1895 design I wrote about here. It had a new, stronger bolt with no less than three lugs that locked into the receiver at different points. As such, the '98 action could handle whatever cartridge you threw at it, and Paul Mauser provided that cartridge in the form of the 8 x 57mm Mauser. The grand daddy of modern cartridges, the 8mm Mauser pushed a heavier, larger diameter bullet at higher velocities than the 7mm Mauser used in the 1893 designed action. The cartridge was originally designed with a .318" diameter projectile; this was later changed to a .323" bullet which remains the current diameter to this day. The 8mm Mauser cartridge served admirably in two World Wars and was chambered in everything from bolt action rifles to crew-served machine guns. The Germans even used it in their fighter planes. The standard loading was a ~150 gr bullet at 2,900 fps, making it the most powerful battle rifle cartridge of its day.


A Gewehr 98 with bayonet and ammunition.

I mentioned earlier that there are Mauser rifles, and Mauser pattern rifles. Paul Mauser's first successful repeating bolt action rifle, the Model 1889, was oddly enough not adopted by the German military. Instead, it was Belgium who placed the first orders for the new rifle. Belgium also got the rights to manufacture the Model 1889 themselves, in their own country. This of course made sense for various reasons, not the least of which is that you don't want a powerful rival like Germany being the sole source of your military hardware. At any rate, this stipulation resulted in the creation of Belgium's state run firearms company, Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre, otherwise known as FN. FN had a long relationship with Mauser, and produced its own variants of Mauser designs for export around the world. I consider the rifles produced by FN and other manufacturers (licensed and unlicensed) to be Mauser pattern rifles, while the rifles produced in Germany by Ludwig Loewe and DWM (who both owned Mauser) are properly referred to as Mauser rifles. The difference amounts to little other than semantics in most cases, but there are some Mauser inspired designs that are unique to these licensees. The M24 was one such design.

Not to be confused with the M249 SAW, also a FN design. This picture is of a Soldier I served with in Iraq in 2004.

FN was a bit ahead of the curve on some things, and they made good use of their license to use Mauser actions. In 1924 FN released the appropriately named Model 24. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia purchased these rifles to equip its military. The M24 was based on the Mauser 1898 action, but it sported a barrel that was about 7" shorter than the Gewehr 98 rifle. Additionally, the action was shorter by about 1/4" of an inch. This took a total half inch of travel off of the bolt, which in theory meant that the action could be manipulated a bit faster. This shorter length action is known as the "intermediate length" receiver. The M24 was a beautifully built short rifle in its own right, a good 11 years before Germany would officially adopt the legendary K98k that was the mainstay battle rifle of the Werhmacht in WWII. Some very nice variants of the the M24 were made, such as the so-called M24/30 Venezuelan contract rifles, one of which I am fortunate enough to own.


Top: My M48B Yugoslavian Mauser. Bottom: M24/30 Venezuelan Contract Mauser. Generally, the Venezuelan is worth about three times the Yugoslavian. I prefer the Venezuelan for its superior fit, finish, and 7mm Mauser chambering.

World War II was the bolt action rifle's last hurrah, and as the Cold War loomed, millions of Mauser and Mauser-pattern rifles sat in armories throughout Europe. Some stayed in storage, some were relegated to second and third line civil defense forces, and some were sold as surplus to poorer countries. By the 1950s, the major powers in Europe had fielded semiautomatic and select-fire weapons for their militaries. It looked as if the bolt-action was dead and gone, but there was some life in the old girl yet.

After the war, Yugoslavia went Red along with the rest of Eastern Europe, and the new Communist regime went about preparing itself for the inevitable WWIII. Bolt action rifles were better than nothing, and Yugoslavia wasn't exactly overflowing with cash, so the old M24s were arsenal refurbished, often given new barrels, and stamped with the new Yugoslavian crest. The "new" rifles are known as the M24/47, with the 47 indicating the year of the refurbishment program. Alongside the 24/47, Yugoslavia produced new rifles built on FN tooling. These new bolt action rifles are known as the M48. Yugoslavia made them from 1950 to the early 1960's, and mechanically they were the same as the 24/47. They did receive a couple of minor upgrades from the 24/47 that were inspired by the German K98k (of which the Yugos captured many and also refurbished). Like the K98k, the M48 featured a turned-down bolt which supposedly made it easier to manipulate from certain positions, as well as a new stock with a sling cutout instead of sling swivels.  A cup-style steel buttplate was also adopted. The M48 would accept the K98k sling and bayonet, but most other parts were incompatible as the M48 had an intermediate-length receiver, like the M24 before it. Most of the M48s that were made were put into storage soon after manufacture. I speculate that this is because the Yugos were fielding their variant of the semiautomatic SKS at about the same time. That's not to say that the M48 just collected dust: some saw combat during the recent unpleasantness in the late 20th century that saw the dissolution of Yugoslavia, indeed, variants of these with custom stock carvings are sought after by some collectors.

A Yugoslavian M48 with stock art. Soldiers do all kinds of things (ranging from constructive to disgusting) to stave off boredom during war.

Yugoslavia made at least three variants of the M48. The first rifles featured all-forged steel parts. To cut costs, the M48A was developed, which substituted stamped steel for the magazine floor plate. The M48B (which was still marked the M48A for some reason) featured more stamped parts, such as the magazine follower, trigger guard, trigger, and upper barrel band. A variant of the M48B known as the M48BO was also made, without crests or markings of any kind. Some speculate that these rifles were made with the intent to fulfill contracts to somewhat, er, unpopular nations, and the Yugos wanted to retain a degree of anonymity. I don't know if I believe that. From what I've seen, the later rifles have a nicer fit and finish to them, despite the stamped parts, but all variants are tough as nails.




A pristine M48. These are getting harder and harder to find as the years go by.

In the late 90's, the M48s were surplused and sold, with a great many reaching American shores. As I mentioned, a good number of them arrived in nearly new condition, coated in a thick layer of preservative grease. Often these rifles came with accessories such as slings, ammo pouches, and bayonets. When they first hit the market, you could snap up greasy, unissued specimens for under $100. Alas, those days are long gone. Believe it or not, these rifles stirred up a bit of controversy when they were imported. The turned down bolt and stock cut-out of the M48 made it resemble the K98k to the untrained eye, and some unscrupulous individuals have used this to their advantage over the years to deceive the ignorant. These folks have stretched the truth in advertising, often referring to these rifles as 98ks, which is inaccurate. Mitchell's Mausers, a company of somewhate ill repute in collector's circles, also advertised these rifles as having teakwood stocks. Because everyone knows about the vast, lush teak forests of Yugoslavia, right?  It would be most unusual for a country that was making bolt action rifles to spend money to acquire teak stocks for them. Most collectors now agree that the M48 is stocked from elm, not teak, so don't be deceived. They're also sometimes advertised as "Serbian" Mausers, which is probably done to make the rifle sound "fancier", as many people don't equate the word "Yugoslavian" with quality.

I can't imagine why.

Fortunately, Yugoslavian guns and Yugoslavian cars are two different animals. Nowadays, unissued examples of the M48 without accessories go for $350 and up, depending on the variant. I acquired a M48B model about a year ago in that range, but mine came with a sling. It was coated in Grade A Communist Cosmoline, and it was a flat out pain in the ass to get it all out. Especially the stock. The grease hasn't improved the wood's integrity the last half century, and though elm is reasonably hard, it splinters fairly easily. Therefore I wanted to treat the stock as gently as possible. I wiped the stock down with odorless mineral spirits, but the cosmo had soaked in over the years. So, I placed the stock in a black trash bag, and during the hottest days of summer I put the bag in the back window of my car. After a half hour, I pulled out the very hot stock and wiped off all the cosmoline that had sweated out. I repeated this five or six times, until finally it was as good as it was going to get. Some folks will tell you to sand the stock, or use EZ-Off oven cleaner, or even a dishwasher. I'll pass on those methods. Sanding affects collector value and changes the shape and character of the wood, and the latter two methods can cause lasting damage to the wood fibers themselves. Those methods may give you a "cleaner" looking stock, but the potential cost is too high in my opinion. I would advise you stay away from Mitchell's Mausers if you're looking for a collectible M48; they have been known to heavily refinish the stocks on the rifles they sell. They look nice, but authentic they ain't.

Shooting the M48 is good fun. Out of all the Mauser and Mauser pattern rifles I own, it's the roughest in the fit and finish department. That's not to say it isn't well made, it's just not quite as refined as some of the pre-war, German or FN made variants. The bolt on the M48 is stiff but reasonably smooth, and the trigger is somewhat heavy. It's zeroed for 200 meters but with the right handloads, it shoots to point of aim at 100 yards. With the typically crummy Mauser style sights and practice, I can shoot 3-4" groups. Your mileage may vary. The sights and trigger really limit the potential of the rifle in my opinion. If you're a masochist, full power Yugoslavian surplus rounds are available for sale. Yugo cartridges are topped with 196 grain FMJ bullets that move at 2,600 fps, and they kick like a pissed-off Clydesdale. I recommend a butt pad such as Pachmayr's excellent slip-on Decelerator when shooting this ammo, unless you think a bruised and sore shoulder makes you more of a man (hint: it doesn't). This surplus ammo is corrosively primed, so clean your rifle immediately after shooting with a solvent that's designed to dissolve caustic salts. I rarely shoot corrosive ammo, but when I do I use a 1:10 Simple Green solution to dissolve the salts, spray the parts with WD-40 to remove any water (did you know the 'WD' stands for 'water displacer'?), then clean as normal with Hoppe's #9, and lastly follow up with a light coat of Break Free CLP. I haven't had any rust yet.

Even at $350, the M48 is still a bargain in my opinion. If that's too much for you, Very Good to Excellent examples can be found for $250-$300 if you shop around. It's a piece of Cold War history with a long and interesting pedigree, and no serious collection is complete without one.The M24/47 is very similar and usually a bit cheaper, but they're much harder to find in excellent condition with all matching parts. This is the last military issue Mauser pattern rifle that was ever made. These rifles are rugged, reliable, and reasonably accurate, and therefore worthy to bear the legendary name of Mauser.

As the Boers would put it, keep "Vertroue in God en die Mauser" or, "Faith in God and the Mauser."

40 comments:

  1. "kick like a pissed-off Clydesdale"

    Now I know why my M48 kept bruising me. I figured I wasn't using good technique and just moved on to a longer-barreled persian mauser that usually hurt less. I will have to go back to my m48 with different ammo.

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    1. Yeah, the Yugo surplus is punishing stuff. If you handload, any reputable manual with starting loads for IMR 4064 or H4895 will give you nice accuracy and velocity results with less kick.

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    2. Hi,
      I really enjoyed your writeup! Good job! I did notice one thing,
      though. I chronographed 3 lots of the Yugo 1950's 196 gr FMJ surplus, and they shot between 2378 - 2420 fps from a RC 98K with an excellent bore. Out of curiosity, I then chronographed 5 rds of genuine, pristine
      German WW2 1940 steel-cased ball (196 gr)that came in their original box. These were noticeably hotter, and chrono'ed 2498 fps average.

      BTW, I also tested some of the Romanian light ball (150 gr., green lacquered steel cases) from the 1970's. The recoil of these was very mild; they barely broke 2600 fps, but their accuracy in the RC 98K and a Yugo M48A was significantly poorer than with heavy ball.

      Hope this helps!
      John

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  2. I am little bit confused about this Gun
    name with the one i have.

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  3. I love my M48/M48A have been shooting them since 1998 .It is still my all time favorite

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  4. I think this gives a good history to the Mauser i have one as well but i dont k.ow the model ive looked up the markings and found them on the internet but i dont know anything else any suggestions?

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  5. If you send a picture of it to jfvac@yahoo.com, I will try to identify it for you. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty familiar with Mausers in general.

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  6. I have a brand spanking new barrel for the M48 22inches long. I dont want to brake in to my original M48. So my question is, can I use M47 reciever instead of M48. will this work so I can build a more modern hunting rifle.Thanks in advance. Respectfully Ivan

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  7. Thank you for your article. It is an excellent background sketch. I have a M48B that I bought for 250 a few years ago, with 100 percent bluing and very little wear on the stock. I did sand it lightly, but still feel that there is a large amount of creosote still in the wood. It was a revelation to get such a fine looking rifle for that amount of money.

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    1. Yeah, I don't think its possible to get all the goop out of these stocks without heavy chemical stripping and sanding. Mine weeps a bit when I shoot it still. Oh well. They are indeed fine rifles, though.

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  8. Great info. I have a perfect m48 and I did notice the difference in the surplus ammo. Im looking at a 1943 Russian capture 98k that's marked s243 I think,,,,, guy wants 500$. I am now officially a mouser guy! Love em!

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    1. Excellent examples of Russian captured K98k sure have gone up in price. Grab one while you can.

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  9. Came across this article. Great read with tons of info. I to have an m48 I picked up 5 yrs ago. I'm big into ww2 history . Always come away with one thought after I shoot mine."what would have been like to be an actual solder that had to fire that thing all day in a battle? Wow."

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  10. I just picked up a m48 at a local shop for 180+tax 1-30-14 matching bolt receiver stock the bore was filthy but cleaned up well very serviceable bore. but the wood is beautiful not in a new way but the original patina gave it a nice reddish look I will never clean this wood it took 50 years or so to get this look I saw this gun from across the room I thought for sure he would want 300-350 for it and when he said 180cash I snatched it up. there was a 24/47 next to it for the same price I could not afford both but it was nice too. He is a good guy sells at reasonable to cheap prices and sells a lot " Mikes Guns stcharles MO"

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  11. I have bought two or three of these guns in the past and the bores where all filthy but all turned out to be good, and one came out real good and shinny. just saying don't pass on a good gun because the bore is black it may be a good bore and you may get a deal because it is dirty.ask the shop keeper to run a brush thru them he should have no problem with that unless he is one of those A hole gun guys, we all know the type

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    1. I just ran across this article while looking for pics. I was surprised to see a pic of my M48 with the coat of arms of Croatia. I picked up the rifle at a gun shop in Moss Point MS. back in 2009.
      I haven't shot this rifle, I have another M48 that I shoot.
      Here is a link to the post I did when I got the rifle.
      http://www.surplusrifleforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=74895

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  12. Just joined your blog. Many thanks for the great write-up. I'm in the process of acquiring a M48 and was wondering if you can help me figure out when it was made. The serial # is 466xx. And, it is a matching numbers M48 with the machined floor plate, not a M48A or the other variations.

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  13. I just randomly happened to find your article because I typed up the question "Will a M-48 bayonet fit a K-98k?"

    I really liked this article. First bolt-action I ever shouldered was a M-48 that my friend let me try. She was a fine weapon, and may he rest in peace. Now I own a K-98k from 1938, did the research to see it was made in Berlin. Love this rifle, it shoots great and has done well with whatever I put in it. So far I've only shot 30 rounds with it while I have owned it. I picked it up from a friend for $300. Thus far in my life, this Wehrmacht rifle is the best 300 I have spent on myself.

    So two random questions, what does it mean if a Mauser K-98k has both the Imperial German stamp and the Nazi German stamp next to eachother? Also does a M-48 bayonet fit on a K-98k? The difference in price for bayonets is huge! A good K-98 bayonet is 125-145, but the M-48 is about 50 dollars. I just need to pick up strap and cleaning rod aside from that.

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    1. Sounds like you have a reworked 1898 from the first World War that was modified into a carbine configuration by the Nazi regime. If so that's an interesting rifle to have in a collection.

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  14. i recently purchased a m48, i am in the process of cleaning it up now.. the front and center clamps, i have tried 3 of the tricks i have found on you tube with no luck. i have clamped the spring and the front clamp by the barrel end, still wont budge. any ideas. thanks

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    1. A technique that has worked for me is using a hammer and non-marring punch in conjunction with the clamp. I use a nylon 1/4" punch but a smaller brass punch would work. Tap gently around the edge of the barrel bands and they will come free. Go slow and good luck.

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  15. What is a M48A with the issued accessories worth, today? This rifle and accessories is in Premium Grade, Military New, not issued to troops. Has been in Military Storage since made in the 1940's on Nazi machinery in Yugoslavia.

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  16. Hi, I think I have a Hopkins and Allen Belgian 1889 Mauser, minus the magazine/brush/strap/bayonet. Found in a basement in NJ. Are there sources for these missing parts? Is it worth trying to re-equip? Thanks

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  17. I have to say after reading the article and the comments I should be really happy with my purchase. I recently picked up a Model 48 for a mere 50$, only 30$ if you count the new box of ammo that came with it. It has a few minor issues that I am working through but at that price it could be a wall hanger and still be worth it..

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  18. Can someone tell me why the bolt on my yugo m48 amused does not close completely when loaded.closes fine when empty.thanks

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  19. Can someone tell me why my bolt on my m48 yugo mauser will not close completely, it closes fine with no ammo.

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    1. Sounds like bad headspace. Don't fire the rifle! Either the ammo is out of spec, or your rifle is. If the bolt doesn't match the receiver, I'd bet on the latter. See a gunsmith.

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    2. It may be the ammo. There is a batch of Romanian 8mm that is not properly sized and bolt actions with in-spec chambers will not work with this ammo. This ammo is steel cased with green primers, I bought this in green 20 round boxes and have seen this problem pointed out in many reviews.

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  20. Last Fall, my Son wanted a surplus bolt action rifle. We visited our local Gander Mountain. To my surprise, they had 6 or 7 M-48s. I've always been a fan of Mauser, but would not buy a German rifle made by slave labor. We ended up with the nicest one in stock and paid $325 for it. All the numbers match. We cleaned the Cosmoline off and took it to the range. Using modern (lower power) ammo the gun shot point of aim. I liked the gun so much, I bought one for myself.

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  21. Wonderful article! These are fantastic rifles, and so much fun to shoot. Picked up an unissued M48B a few years ago, cleaned the moving parts and barrel, and it is deadly accurate. I installed an AIM 2-7 scout scope using a Brasstacker mount without altering or tapping anything. Most accurate ammo has been Prvi Partizan (PPU) 200 gr match. Just bought an M48 that appears unissued as well, and has a better trigger. The ammo I referred to is new, non-corrosive, and readily available.

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  22. Are the parts of the yugo m48, m48a, and m48b interchangeable? I would like to replace stamped parts with milled parts. Thanks :)

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  23. I too appreciate your article. I recently picked up a M48BO with all matching #'s. The stock is solid but I just don't like the way she looks so I bought her a new dress. I took the replacement stock and cleaned, sanded, then coated with three applications of Satin Polyurethane. Now I have a great looking M48 and the original stock is in original condition.
    My M48BO rests in my safe next to my Mosin Nagant 91/30 and my Argentine Model 1891 Mauser; they play so well together.
    Just for kicks, I reload all three.

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  24. I enjoyed reading your blog. Very concise and inclusive Mauser History. I remember a neighbor in the 1950's who was a crusty WWII talked about the crack report of Mauser when fired. I own a matching numbers M48 and think about his comments every time I shoot

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  25. Jim, after removing the cosmoline from the stock, did you do anything further to treat / finish the wood?

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  26. I thought about rubbing a light coat of BLO into it, but the stock didn't seem dry so I saw no need to add any oil. The upper hand guard still weeps some when I shoot it.

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  27. Just purchased a pristine / matching #'s M48A for $250 (sight hood , sling
    and cleaning rod) - hope I did ok on the price .... I only shoot non-corrosive ammo so I need some help here .... anyone ?

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  28. I have looked all over for the cheaper PPU 200 gr. match ammo .... the best
    I can do on price is the Hornady 195 gr. SP at $ 32.99 per box .
    Yugo 1978 Military ammo is pretty much " not to be had " .... what is the
    outlook for future availability on the cheaper PPU or Yugo ?

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  29. I just got a Venezuelan FN24/30 at Gunbroker anyone can tell me where to buy a service manual to disassemble, cleaning and put it back together thanks

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  30. I just picked up an M48 with bayonet with scabbard. I love collecting older military rifles. I've seen Yugo M48s for sale but they always looked very tired. The item I bought today looks as if it came right out of the crate. No cosmoline but nevertheless in perfect condition. I looked it over carefully and the various wood components match perfectly. I've wanted an 8 mm rifle for some time after picking up a Swedish Mauser in 7 mm. I also picked up a Golden State Mauser retooled for .30-06. I'm looking around for the Spanish Mauser in 7 mm. Excellent rifles with a generally balanced feel and I have never had one jam.

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