It’s often been said that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Make it three: death, taxes, and ever-increasing prices of cheap, powerful centerfire rifles. For that reason, the Turkish M38 Mauser remains one of the best values in the whole firearms market. If you come across one in serviceable condition for $200 or less and you don’t already have at least two of these incredible rifles, buy it. Even if you simply stash it for resale later, you will more than likely profit on the deal as the incoming supply of old war rifles grows smaller every year and politicians become increasingly eager to fuel gun-buying hysteria.
Think about it: how many other battle rifles can be bought for approximately $200 in good condition? Just three that I’m aware of: the Turkish Mauser, its kissing cousin M24/M48 from Yugoslavia patterned on the K98 (price depends on a number of variables), and the ubiquitous Mosin Nagant. Value for money alone is reason enough to buy a Turk, especially for those on a budget.
Still skeptical about a cheap, powerful, good-looking centerfire rifle for an extremely reasonable price with an illustrious history and potential to make money on the deal as time marches on like the soldiers that held it prior? Don’t worry, the Turk has you covered with more positives than you can shake your stick of butter at. Almost as if it’s been greased with butter, the Mauser action operates so smoothly that my particular rifle’s bolt can be worked easily with just one finger and with complete reliability every time the action is cycled. I have never experienced a failure to feed or failure to eject with my rifle and it is a fair assumption that most others in good condition will function equally flawlessly as well. Next to Nagants, Mausers are essentially the AK-47 of bolt guns, but with loads more refinement. You can even stick a big giant bayonet on the end of it! This pairing has many potential functional uses: backscratcher, channel changer (for those times when the remote is just too far away), toothpick, and zombie poker, among many others.
Very few, if any, modern rifles can claim such smoothness. This may be due in part to the straight bolt handle, which has unfortunately died out due to bent bolts necessary for scoped guns and the prevalence of semiautomatic rifles. Not to say that straight bolts are superior to their angled brethren; far from the contrary, in fact. There is just something incredibly satisfying about yanking that straight piece of steel to cycle another round into the chamber as the extractor flings brass into next week. Rifles such as this are where the contrived “this car shifter feels like a rifle bolt” expression comes from. There are not many higher compliments that can be paid to a rifle’s action.
However, a great action is nothing without accuracy to match. Given a stable rest, my poor eyesight, good handloads, and narrow open sights, my rifle printed groups measuring approximately two inches at 100 yards. Predictably, it was able to ring an eight inch plate at 200 yards with authority. A six pound, eleven ounce two-stage trigger provides consistent and even pulls that take the guesswork out of shooting accurately. The first three or so pounds of the pull provide the take-up (this is merely the rifle asking, “Are you sure this is what you want me to shoot, boss?”), and the remaining four break like glass. In short, the rifle shoots better than I can and I have no doubt that group size would shrink if given a magnified optic. As an added bonus, my rifle’s front sight was already adjusted for 100 yards when I bought it and did not require adjustment like some of its period brethren that were intended for longer engagements.
With all these positive aspects, there is just one negative: the cost and availability of quality non-corrosive 8×57 Mauser ammunition. Ordinary Remington factory ammo, et al. is roughly $35 per box of 20 rounds, which is frankly ridiculous considering that approaches the cost of common magnum rounds. This is due mostly to lack of demand for factory production 8mm Mauser, which has steeply cut the supply and jacked up the price accordingly. Handloading is consequently one of the most cost-effective methods for obtaining consistently accurate rounds at a price that will not break the bank, though sourcing components at an affordable price can occasionally be challenging. My personal favorite load that I have found to be safe, accurate, and powerful is 51 grains of IMR 4064 topped with a 150 grain Sierra Pro-Hunter in Prvi Partizan brass. If handloading is not an option, Prvi Partizan (PPU) factory ammunition is a viable alternative that will provide good results as well. It can commonly be found at gun shows for approximately $18 per box of 20, which in turn makes it one of the most economical full-power centerfire calibers to shoot. That’s a bargain if I’ve ever seen one.
As far as customization is concerned, the only limit is the height of your imagination and the depth of your pockets. If I were to hypothetically ruin…errr, customize my rifle, I would shorten the barrel to twenty four inches, put it into a more modern (possibly synthetic) stock, and clamp a no-drill rail on the rear sight in order to accommodate something like a See All Open Sight. While Turkish Mausers are relatively cheap, plentiful, and generally receptive to modification, I personally think they are best enjoyed in their original form. Being as though these are not made anymore, it would be a shame to see a good specimen fall under Bubba’s knife.
While you won’t exactly be clearing houses with one any time soon due to its size, the Turk Mauser can still excel in many areas as a hunting rifle, range toy, or intermediate range precision instrument if so equipped for such duty. Given that fact, there is little to no reason not to buy one, or even a few if financially feasible. The Mauser action does not have its impeccable reputation for nothing. Strike while the iron is hot and the demand is not.
BUYER BEWARE: If possible, avoid buying 8mm Mausers of any type that were made prior to 1905, as these are most likely chambered for an earlier version of the cartridge that uses a .318 diameter bore (as opposed to the more modern .323 diameter). Shooting a .323 bullet in a .318 bore will cause immense damage to the rifle in addition to the distinct possibility of injuring the operator. Unless you’re prepared to go through the time and expense of securing proper .318 ammunition, older 8mm Mausers will most likely be relegated to duty as wall-hangers, which is a job they will do quite admirably.
Unloaded weight: 8.5 lbs.
Overall length (OAL): 49 inches
Barrel length: 28 ¼ inches
Caliber: 8x57mm Mauser (.323 diameter)
Trigger pull: 6 pounds, 11 ounces
Magazine capacity: 5 rounds
Finish (or what’s left of it): Blued
Price: $200 (more or less depending on condition and your haggling skills, or some combination thereof)