By Mike “Duke” Venturino, Guns Magazine
Back in 2012 I did an article on faux full-autos, showing how modern day shooters can experience what some vintage full-autos felt like without the enormous expense and red tape involved in buying genuine ones. Well, vintage sniper rifles don’t necessarily involve much red tape but they certainly are expensive. I know because I have bought 10 in the last decade. However, my total count of sniper rifles is 14 because four are faux.
Why bother with a faux sniper rifle when I have originals in the rifle racks? Here’s a good reason. Back in 2011 I was downright gleeful about getting a German K98k turret-mount 8x57mm sniper rifle back into action after finding the proper Zeiss ZF39 scope with rings on eBay. My enthusiasm led me to shoot over 700 rounds through that 70-year-old rifle and scope combo in a period of months. Then one day I pulled the trigger, something moved inside the scope and its view thereafter was nothing but a blur. My Zeiss scope is now with a company specializing in refurbishing vintage scopes. Obviously if I am going to do that much shooting it should be with more current equipment, leaving the valuable vintage stuff for special occasions.
Spurred by that event my next bright idea was to get a German K98k rebuilt by Mitchell’s Mausers and fit it with an original Hensoldt scope that happened to come my way still in its German military issue leather carrying case.
Actually it was a grand idea because mating an original albeit rebuilt rifle with an original scope would result in a just barely faux sniper rifle. For mounts I turned to a company whose replica sniper rifle equipment has worked well for me in the past. That is Accumounts.
A set of their high turret type mounts along with split rings for a 26.5mm diameter scope was ordered. Actually, original German turret mount sniper rifles had the rings soldered to the scopes and Accumounts can supply such types but since this was a faux project I luckily didn’t take that route. You’ll see why I say “luckily” in the next paragraph. High turret mounts as opposed to low turret mounts were picked to insure that my Mauser’s bolt handle would clear the scope without alteration.
Rocky’s Gunworks did a fine job of putting on the Accumounts but then Rocky called me. He said, “Mike we have a little problem.” Such was that neither of us checked the distance between the Hensoldt scopes’ bells against the distance between front and rear mounts of the turret system. In short; there wasn’t enough scope length to fit. I retrieved the rifle with mounts attached from Rocky, wondering how to proceed.
One afternoon sitting in my gun vault with the Mauser across my knees, another brilliant idea occurred. That was since this was a faux sniper rifle it didn’t have to have a German scope—either vintage or replica. Those split rings would accommodate many types of scopes, even modern ones although that just didn’t seem quite right….
Soon my idea focused and I turned to another faux sniper rifle in the rack. It is a Finnish Mosin-Nagant Model 1939 in 7.62x54mmR caliber. That one started out as a standard iron-sighted infantry rifle but I had Rocky install Accumounts replica mounts and rings on it along with Accumount’s replica of the Soviet era PE 4X scope. The Accumounts PE scope replicas are plenty long enough to fit between the turret mounts. Another PE scope was ordered; their tubes are actually 27mm but Rocky was able to ream the rings out that minor amount with no problem and so salvaged my failed faux sniper rifle project. A refurbished German K98k fitted with a replica Soviet PE scope held by replica German mounts and rings? Works for me so long as it shoots well! It does. Groups under 1-1/2 MOA are common with my handloads.
Back to the faux Finn Model 1939 sniper rifle. Not long ago I didn’t even know Finland took possession of thousands of Russian Mosin-Nagant rifles when gaining independence in 1917. Now I’m a great fan of Finnish military bolt actions. Not satisfied with anything but the rifles’ receivers over a 20+ year period the Finns remodeled them variously, ending up with the Model 1939. Their alterations consisted of new barrels, stocks and triggers; the results being some of the most accurate bolt action military rifles ever issued. Unless a Model 1939 could put three bullets inside 1.3 inches at 100 meters it was not accepted into service. That’s with iron sights—not scopes!
Then in the book Rifles Of The White Death by Doug Bowser I found information that during their wars with the Soviets the Finns captured a number of good quality PE and PEM 4X scopes with which they built a few hundred sniper rifles based on Model 1939s. As written above Accumounts sells replica PE scopes and they also have reproduction mounts as used by the Finns. (PEM scopes were the same except their focus could not be adjusted as with PEs.) Knowing my Model 1939 was a good shooter I turned it, PE scope and mounts over to Rocky. What I got back was a faux sniper rifle capable of almost minute-of-angle groups consistently with my 7.62x54mmR handloads.
The PE scopes used on both rifles described so far are beautifully clear and their focus, windage, and elevation adjustments work perfectly. Their reticles are typical of those used in Europe in the 1930s/1940s. That is a thick, pointed center post with likewise thick lateral cross wires. I have no idea as to where these scopes are manufactured today but I suspect somewhere in Eastern Europe. Workmanship on both scopes and all the mounts I’ve bought from Accumounts has been excellent.
The next faux sniper rifle I’ll describe actually was my first put together back in 2007. It’s a US Model 1903 built of parts and was described in these pages previously. What warrants talking about it again is the new scope now on it. At first it was fitted with a replica made in China, which served well for 4 years. Then that scope just wore out from the pounding of well over 1,000 rounds put downrange.
In the meantime my friends at Montana Vintage Arms located in Belgrade, developed their reproduction of Winchester’s A5 (Later Lyman’s 5A) scopes. They call it 5B. As with everything made by MVA quality is superb. Additionally they offer these 17-inch, 5X scopes with both standard mounts as might be preferred by hunters or target grade mounts as target shooters would want. I got the latter. In the early stages of World War II the US Marine Corps built up some ’03s with Lyman scopes using both types of mounts for their snipers to use in the South Pacific. The ’03 with MVA scope was part of a sniper rifle display at the gun show in Bozeman the week before this writing. At least two people looked it over and then went in search of ’03s to use as a basis for their own sniper rifles. I know because they brought their finds back to show me.
A gunsmith friend named Steve Rhoades based in Phoenix, Arizona, has been building sniper rifles for guys down that way. In fact once he mentioned he would like to pick up a bare bones ’03 action and rebuild it into a sniper rifle for himself. Not only did I have such a thing but also a nice ’03 for him to use as a pattern. He got the needed parts from the Internet, a scope from MVA and then sent me photos of the finished product and a target. His rifle not only looks good but shoots fine too. Besides ’03s I know of at least one British No. 4 Mk I he has remodeled into a sniper rifle using scope and mounts bought from Numrich Arms.
And finally, we should not forget the guys and gals who don’t want to wait while a gunsmith puts together a faux vintage sniper rifle for them. There are options of buying one right off the shelf. Starting in 2009 Gibbs Rifle Company located in West Virginia began offering reproductions of US Model 1903A4 Springfields wearing replicas of 2.5X Weaver 330 scopes made in China. I got an early one and was quite happy with its optics but it quit adjusting after about 400 rounds. Evidently this was a common problem because Gibbs Rifle Company had the Chinese go back to the drawing boards and reengineer their scopes. While waiting for a replacement I lucked into a nice original Weaver 330 scope and stuck it on my faux 03A4.
Another source of ready-made sniper rifles is Creedmoor Sports. They offer reproductions of both US Model 1903A4s and the USMC Model 1941. That latter designation is an unofficial one used mostly by Marine armorers as they built the rifles. A Model 1941 consisted of specially chosen US Model 1903s fitted with Unertl 8X scopes. Today Model 1903 rifles are not uncommon but those Unertl 8X scopes certainly are. Creedmoor is using replicas by Leatherwood. Their ’03 and ’03A4 rifles are being built on original actions by the gunsmithing firm of Rock Ridge in Pennsylvania using new barrels and stocks.
In June of 2012 I bought the second Creedmoor Sports Model 1941 shipped and found it to be a perfectly fine replica sniper rifle capable of about 1-1/2 minute of angle groups. In a paper target match held at Butte, Montana, that same month on the 300-yard target a perfect score was 150. I shot a 147 with the Creedmoor Sports rifle.
As the number of shots I’ve mentioned going downrange from some of my faux sniper rifles prove, I’ve been spending more than a mite of time with them these past few years. Considering my aging eyesight, by having scopes on these vintage rifles I can still avail myself of their full accuracy potential. Add that to the facts that vintage sniper rifle shooting events are on the rise, along with the high cost of original vintage sniper rifles and I see a good future for faux ones.
Photos By Yvonne Venturino
P.O. Box 1802, Troy, MI 48099
167 Creedmoor Way, Anniston, AL 36205
Leatherwood Hi-Lux, Inc.
3135 Kashiwa St., Torrance, CA 90505
Montana Vintage Arms
61 Andrea Dr., Belgrade, MT 59714
Numrich Gun Parts Corp.
226 Williams Ln.
West Hurley, NY 12491
Arizona Sharpshooters – Phoenix, AZ
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