Yr. obdt. has long been a fan of pre-WW1 Mauser actions as the basis of custom hunting rifles. Thunder Speaker, the redoubtable .338 Mag that I tote on general-rifle elk hunts, is based on a 1909 Brazilian contract 98 Mauser action made by DWM in Berlin in either 1910 or 1911. I’ve had several other custom rifles based on old Mausers, including an 18″ barreled .308 based on a small ring 98 action and even a graceful European-style stalking rifle in 7x57mm based on an old 1891 Argentine action.
Old military rifles in original condition, though, can be lots of fun as well. Here is an interesting guide on purchasing such rifles. (Note: The prices mentioned are somewhat out of date.) Excerpt:
Those of us who purchase military surplus guns should always keep one thing in mind: the newest bolt-action military rifle one is likely to encounter on today’s surplus market is close to forty years old, while some of them passed the century mark a decade ago. Time’s passage tends to have a deleterious effect on most things, and wood and steel are not immune to its ravages.
Regardless of the quality of the original materials and the skill of manufacture, the safety of any rifle approaching three-quarters of a century in age must be looked upon with skepticism – and that’s with those rifles that have been properly maintained.
Many years ago I purchased a No. 1 Mk. III* Lee-Enfield and upon stripping it down I discovered that the receiver had been manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield in 1911, modified (by someone) to Mk. III* specs in 1919 and re-barreled (by someone else) before being put into storage in 1944. A faint “50” was stamped inside the stock’s barrel channel indicating that new wood had been installed around that year before it was reissued again.
It bore markings that led me to believe that this military surplus gun has been used by the armies of three different nations during its career, meaning it likely saw service in World War I, World War II and possibly one or more of the intermittent Middle Eastern conflicts.
I owned a 104-year-old rifle that has been repaired, rebuilt, refinished, re-barreled and restocked by any number of persons – of unknown skill and ability.
It is perhaps belaboring the obvious – at least to anyone that knows old firearms – to point out that any used gun should be checked by a competent gunsmith prior to firing, as opposed to our childhood method of putting the gun in question in an old tire and pulling the trigger with the string a few times.
Of course the great advantage of old military guns is that most of them are available to the Curio & Relics license holder (like yr. obdt.) and many of them are available even more freely, as guns built prior to 1898 can be purchased by any buyer with no license whatsoever. Ammunition is generally cheap and readily available for most of these guns.
The best way to develop good shooting skills – in fact, the only way – is to shoot. An inexpensive military surplus bolt gun is a good way to learn how to capably handle a powerful rifle accurately.
Furthermore, they are a lot of fun.