By Mike Searson
The Swedish Mauser is one of the more exciting Mausers from both a historical perspective and that of the dedicated shooter. These small ring Mausers were developed at the end of the 19th century and most often chambered in 6.5x55mm. That cartridge was known as the 6.5×55 Swedish in America, 6.5×55 SE in most of Europe, and 6.5 × 55 SKAN in the Scandinavian shooting world. Other descriptions include 6.5×55mm Swedish Mauser, 6.5×55mm Mauser, and 6.5×55mm Krag.
A popular variant is the Model 1938 rifle (6,5 mm Gevär m/38). These are known as the “Short Rifles” and were adopted in 1938 as part of a post-WW1 global trend in producing shorter service rifles than those fielded during WWI, but longer than would be considered a carbine appropriately.
The first batch of m/1938 rifles, known as the Type I, were conversions of existing m/1896 rifles. They just had their barrels cut down by 5.5,” and most of these retained the original straight bolt handles.
Some collectors call these “m/96-38” rifles due partly to how importers like Century International Arms and Samco Global Arms referred to them in their catalogs when the rifles were imported en masse from Sweden in the 1990s. However, from the perspective of a more purist military collector, this was not an official name.
Eventually, purpose-built m/1938s were produced (Type II) by Husqvarna Vapenfabriks AB, with production ending in 1944. However, the Swedish military made no distinction in service between the two types.
1942 Husqvarna M1938
What we have here is an M1938 produced in 1942 by Husqvarna Vapenfabriks AB.
Rounds are fed via a stripper clip into a 5-round integral box magazine. The rounds come through the top of the receiver when the bolt is to the rear. The bolt handles on these rifles are turned-down like most modern bolt guns and located on the right-hand side.
This rifle has a threaded muzzle; however, these rifles weren’t threaded for silencers. Instead, a unique BFA (blank firing adapter) that was used for training was the intent. With no BFA, this rifle has a flash suppressor and a muzzle cap to protect the threads.
At the time of their import in the 1990s, many blank rounds with wooden bullets were imported as well. Some distributors called these “Vampire Killers.” A false rumor spread that the Swedes used them to shoot POWs without killing them. Had those sea lawyers actually cracked open a history book, they would have known that Sweden was neutral in WW2 and never required something as ludicrous. Instead, the BFA shredded wooden bullets loaded in the practice ammunition.
Tell them to go sell stupid somewhere else if you hear some tall tale about the wooden bullets.
Another interesting aspect of Swedish Mausers is the disc on the right-hand side of the stock. Earlier Swedish Mausers such as the m/1892 rifle, m/1892Carbine, m/1894 Carbine, and m/1896 Long Rifle used these to designate the regiment and rack number. However, in 1941, Sweden adopted a new round loaded with a 140-grain boat-tailed spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2,625 fps and 2,148-foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
The brass disc on these rifles had markings indicating the holdover amount with the new cartridge.
Pure Joy: Shooting a Swedish Mauser
The 6.5 x 55mm is a very accurate cartridge with low recoil and has proven itself very effective as a hunting round on deer and similar-sized game.
Several firearms companies have made rifles chambered in 6.5x55mm, such as Remington, Thompson Center, Ruger, Barret, SAKO, Steyr, CZ, Sauer & Sohn, and Mauser. In addition, ammunition is still available from Norma, Lapua, Prvi Partizan, and Hornady.
This rifle regularly shoots 1.5 to 2 MOA; it’s easy to see why so many were sporterized with their first influx to America in the 1950s. They made for excellent hunting and target rifles, and one could be built for half the price of a similar domestically produced sporting rifle at the time.
Some of this was happening even after the second major import wave in the mid to late 1990s. However, this trend mostly stopped with the realization that only so many of these great old rifles were made. Every conversion, upgrade, refinishing job, or exchange of a part means that just another piece of history is lost forever.
Is there really a reason to continue sporterizing old military rifles anymore? Why yes, yes there is. This brings me to…
Shooting a 120-year-old Swedish Mauser
If there were ever a handy little military carbine that was decades ahead of its time, it would have to be the Swedish Mauser m/1894. These were small-ring Mausers with 18″ barrels developed at the end of the 19th century chambered in 6.5x55mm.
They had a full-length Mannlicher type stock. Rounds are fed via stripper clip into a 5-round integral box magazine. The rounds come through the top of the receiver when the bolt is to the rear. The bolt handles on these rifles are turned down like most modern bolt guns and located on the right-hand side.
They were to replace the existing stocks of Remington rolling block single-shot rifles in use by the Swedish Navy and for mounted cavalry troops who needed a shorter carbine.
The m/1894 carbine, as its name suggests, was adopted in 1894. The first batch of 12,000 carbines was manufactured by Waffenfabrik Mauser of Oberndorf, Germany.
Production in Sweden of these carbines under license from Mauser began in 1898 by Carl Gustaf and continued until 1918. Including the original 12,000 from Germany, the total number produced was between 125,000 and 128,000 carbines.
There were not very many of these rifles made, and fewer survived the past century as they were commonly converted into spotting rifles for artillery and anti-tank use as well as converted to rimfire target rifles for training. Many more were sporterized when they were imported to the US in the 1950s and again in the 1990s. That’s how I found this one.
This sad little carbine was bought as part of an estate sale. Someone had long discarded the stock, sights, and all of the original military hardware. The finish was stripped to bare metal, and she was stuck in an ugly and unfinished oil-soaked, rough as a piece of lumber Monte Carlo type stock. The price tag was $25. How could I say no?
My first inclination was to obtain all the original parts needed to restore her to her former glory, carefully hand fit her to an original stock or a reproduction and have her refinished. But then, reality set in.
The cost to undertake such a task in today’s market would be prohibitively expensive. In addition, correct period stocks were running as much as an unmolested rifle in most cases, and sight parts are not exactly warming shelves at Cabela’s or Scheels these days. It was a hard decision, but I decided to go the other way and turn her into a proper modern target and hunting rifle.
My first order of business was to find a scope mount. I did not want to go with the more typical scout scope common to such builds. This is due to the position of the bolt and the configuration of the receiver. You risk whacking the scope, even with a turned-down bolt handle.
I did some research and called Brownells for an EGW Swedish Mauser 3-Hole with Hump Scope Base.
These bases are precision machined from extruded aluminum with Picatinny slot-and-rail spacing that allows fast and simple changes to eye relief, plus great flexibility in scope choice. They accept Picatinny or Weaver scope rings and have a milled center channel for weight reduction. They offer these bases with a 20 MOA riser, but I decided this would be a sub-500-yard target gun and saw no need for it.
To drill and tap the receiver, I reached out to my good friend Tyler Norona of Reno Guns & Range, and he lovingly drilled through the Carl Gustaf crest and tapped it to specs. Phase one was complete with each screw torqued to 20-inch lbs and a drop of blue Loctite.
We did have to resort to a higher set of rings than we would normally prefer to allow the clearance of the bolt handle without smacking into this optic. But, unfortunately, that would have been the case for almost any scope we used based on how high the bolt throws on these Swedish Mausers.
The Scope: Athlon Ares BTR GEN2 4.5-27×50 APLR3 FFP IR MOA HD
The Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 Model has an APLR3 first focal plane illuminated MOA reticle. You can quickly determine distance, holdover positions, windage correction, and leads for a moving target. The unique design of the fine .2 mil hash mark increments from the center all the way to four directions helps the shooter set a precise holdover position for their targets within a blink of an eye. The illuminated fine reticle provides excellent low light visibility, and windage holdovers on the bullet drop all the way up to 10 mils with .2 mil marks increments in between.
Most importantly, the glass is unbelievably clear, and parallax adjustment runs from 15 yards to infinity. The adjustments are audible and firm. We simply cannot believe the features loaded into this scope for the money. Find them at https://www.athlonoptics.com/
The Stock: Boyds Spike Camp
Initially, we thought we would reuse the wooden Monte Carlo stock in which the action was set, but it was too rough and oil-soaked from its initial setting that probably took place during the Clinton Administration.
We turned to our favorite laminated stock maker Boyds Gun Stocks.
At the 2020 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, Boyds unveiled a new stock called the Spike Camp. This lightweight, bare-bones precision stock has all the essential features a shooter needs without the bells and whistles. Simply put, a shooter on a budget can simply “do more with less” and not skimp on quality.
It is a short Monte Carlo style profile in Boyds’ Forest Camo pattern with a 13.5″ Length of Pull (LOP) and comes equipped with sling/bipod studs, a thumbhole grip, and a comb of perfect height. The barrel channel is sized to free float most barrels, and we found it extremely comfortable to shoot after everything was in place.
We added a Harris bipod to the stock after spending a few hours inletting and fitting. Because Mausers were made for an extended period of time throughout nearly every country in the world, there will never be a perfect drop-in fit. Boyds got it pretty darn close, though, with the majority of the fitting having to do with the magazine floor plate. If you are fitting a Mauser action to any stock, just take it slow. These make for great winter projects. Check them out at https://www.boydsgunstocks.com/
Refinishing: Nevada Cerakote
We knew we had to get this one refinished properly with most of the work done. We considered a reblue or a Parkerized finish but decided to withstand the elements and turn this into a truly great target rifle that looked great; we had to go with Cerakote. For this, we turned to our good friend, Russ Bacon, of Nevada Cerakote in Minden, Nevada.
My problem with Cerakote is that Russ is such an artist I can never decide on a pattern or color. I will have an idea in mind, go to the shop, see his other projects, and completely get blown out of the water again. This time it was easy because I decided “less is more.” After consulting with Russ, we decided to finish the rifle in an all-weather grey to match one of the colors in the Boyds Spike Camp. He did the barrel, action, scope mount, and rings. The finished rifle now looked amazing.
If you’re interested, here’s his website. http://nevadacerakote.com/
Range Time with the Swedish Mauser
I zeroed the Swede at 100 yards. The Athlon Ares was very easy to adjust to get us down to a 1.25” group. We were able to go out as far as 400 yards and keep our groups within 2.83”. The end result of our efforts was a short, accurate, lightweight target rifle. It may not be as high-speed as the latest chassis build, but it suited our purposes as 6.5 X55mm is a very inherently accurate cartridge. In the future we may swap out the stock military trigger for a better one by Timney.
All in all, this was a very satisfying build. Going into it I felt a few pangs of regret as I would always prefer to go the route of restoration, but mismatched parts are never a good thing unless you’re really into shooting guns from a certain period.
The end result of a target gun built on a 120-year-old action held a different allure and after seeing the end results on paper, it is probably preferable.
Mike Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life and is both an experienced gunsmith and ballistician. Mike has been writing about guns and knives for numerous publications for years- over 3,000 articles worth, for a wide array of titles. He also consults with the film industry on the subject of weapons. You can learn more about him at MikeSearson(dot)com or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson. He’s also on Instagram @mikespartansearson.