Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine ~ A Short History

By David Tong,
In this article, David Tong takes us through the history of the Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine.

Side view of carbine sold by gunauction.com dated 2012
Side view of carbine sold by gunauction.com dated 2012
Ammoland Shooting Sports
Ammoland Shooting Sports

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- The designers of this classic rifle design were Ferdinand Mannlicher who was responsible for the action, and Otto Shoenauer, who conceived the removable, rotary magazine.

Its first appearance was at the 1900 World’s Fair, and the main emphasis was military sales.

 Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine

Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine **
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine Patent Example
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine Patent Example **

The rifle action was a derivative of earlier Mannlicher military rifles, and it famously used a series of proprietary cartridges, most notably the 6.5X54mm M-S. The action featured twin-front opposed locking lugs a la “Mauser,” but also used a split rear bridge to allow an abutment that also had the bolt handle integrally-machined with it to act as a third “safety lug,” in the case of both front lugs failing from an over-pressure cartridge.

The most interesting part of the action though was Shoenauer’s magazine. Each rotary spool magazine was spring detachable from the action for cleaning. Each caliber had to have spools to match the portion of the case’s diameter to ensure proper function and feeding.

Every one is as smooth operating as if it was suspended on axles with ball-bearings.

The same could be said of the action’s operation. The beautiful close tolerances, heat-treatment of superior steel alloys, and the lack of drag against the bottom of the bolt body by a sprung magazine follower as in every other bolt-action rifle save the Norwegian / U.S. Krag-Jorgensen, means that it is the only bolt-action I am aware that it is capable of closing and locking an open bolt into battery by simply tilting the rifle toward the ground while keeping the trigger pulled.

The Greeks were the first and only military to adopt the M-S rifle as standard issue in 1903. After WWI, the factory built mostly hunting rifles, and none are more renowned than the 18.5” Carbines. There were various sub-variants with minor changes in 1903, 1905, 1908, 1920, 1924, 1950, 1952, and 1961, but none of the varied from the original design characteristics, mostly by cosmetic or dimensional changes to the wood stocking.

I am unaware of which specific M-S rifles famed Scottish hunter William Dalrymple Maitland Bell used to hunt/slaughter elephants prior to WWI. It is said that the vast majority of his over 1,000(!) elephant kills were with small bore rifles of 6.5mm through .303”, due to his study of elephant skull anatomy and placement of the shots into the brain from rear oblique angles.

Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine Patent Example Left side view. img gunsamerica.com auction sold 2014
Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine Patent Example Left side view. img gunsamerica.com auction sold 2014

The  Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbine is indeed a joy to hold and swing, much more in keeping with a shotgun than a rifle. My own M1952 was chambered in the then-new .308 Winchester and built in the late-1950s. It featured the then usual double-set trigger system found on most of the Carbines, whereby the rear trigger was used to set the front trigger to a pull weight of about 1.5lbs; far better than the stock, un-set pull of some eight creepy pounds! (a single-set trigger, or one with a proper 3lb release without the set mechanism is favored, though)

The major demerit of the M-S rifle or Carbine is the split-bridge action, making scope mounting both more difficult and higher in placement for clearance of the bolt handle. The M1961 rifles and carbines featured a Monte-Carlo comb and cheek rest design, along with the near obligatory era black plastic grip cap and fore-end tip with white plastic spacers, to help afford a proper cheek weld for accuracy consistency but made them ungainly compared to the former sleek shape of its forebears.

The only time this Carbine took big game in my hands was long ago on Santa Cruz Island off Oxnard, California, in the days before Bill Clinton via the Nature Conservancy made it into a National Wildlife Refuge, and nearly all the wild boars placed there as a food source by the Spanish in the 1600s were exterminated as a non-indigenous species. A running shot on a smaller sow at 75 yards with the set trigger and a Leupold Alaskan 3-power scope with one shot was all that was needed, just behind the right shoulder. A number of good dinners ensued.

From gunsamerica.com auction closed 2014, showing left side period Leupold scope mount adjustable for windage as per my own personal carbine.
From gunsamerica.com auction closed 2014, showing left side period Leupold scope mount adjustable for windage as per my own personal carbine.
Mannlicher Schoenauer Model 1903 Bolt Action Carbine with Scope
Mannlicher Schoenauer Model 1903 Bolt Action Carbine with Scope **

Nowadays, these are valued collector’s items, yet there is a gentleman in Austria who apparently still manufactures these rifles and carbines, which Steyr-Mannlicher themselves discontinued in 1972, due to the expense of production.

The website, only in German, is found here: https://goo.gl/WFiYkB

The Mannlicher-Schoenauer Carbines are indeed beautifully-made arms before plastics and MIM dominated the firearms industry as it does so today.

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    Rothhammer1William D MohlerSFC WILLIAM D> MOHLERbyronHank Recent comment authors
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    SFC WILLIAM D> MOHLER
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    SFC WILLIAM D> MOHLER

    Does restocking a 95% blue 1903 ruin its value?

    William D Mohler
    Guest
    William D Mohler

    Does restocking a 1903 with 95% bluing ruin its value? And are the “Springer” type scope and mounts available

    Rothhammer1
    Guest
    Rothhammer1

    I would go as far as to say that, unless there is something radically wrong with the original stock, restocking or altering a ‘prewar’ MS with 95% original blue would border on the definition of a criminal act.

    Is the old stock buggered?

    Some rather nice claw mounts (proper to the period) can be found at newenglandcustomgun.com . As with everything Mannlicher Schönauer, they are quite pricey and scoping a split bridge MS is a job for the very best craftsmen.

    byron
    Guest
    byron

    i have a 1956 model i think
    in 7×57

    with a left hand stock from the factory
    carbine

    sorta odd to shoulder but of all my rifles (70+)
    its by far my favorite

    Rothhammer1
    Guest
    Rothhammer1

    Good readers: There is an error in the author’s listing of Mannlicher Schoenauer sporting models. They are listed in the article as “sub-variants with minor changes in 1903, 1905, 1908, 1920, 1924, 1950, 1952 and 1961 [sic]…” The designations of Models 1903 through 1910 (1910 was omitted from author’s list, there never was a 1920) indicated which proprietary caliber the rifle (or carbine) would be chambered for at the Steyr factory, thus: M1903 – 6.5×54 M1905 – 9X56 M1908 – 8×56 M1910 – 9.5 X 57* The 1910 is also referred to as 9.5×56 and, by the British, as .375… Read more »

    Pop
    Guest
    Pop

    I had one in 270 , set triggers and rifle bbl. foolishly let a gun store owner talk me out of it. Still miss it It was a 1950

    Thos. B. Fowler
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    Thos. B. Fowler

    The first one of these that I shot was when I was a kid about 13…it was chambered for a huge, finger-sized cartridge in 9mm something. I was booted back into my 12th year…3 times. My shoulder was so bruised…and then I was able to procure a 6.5x54MS, in a 1903, as a 50 yr. old man. The recoil was mild, and the groups were fantastic…I took a deer with it, off-hand, 125+yards. That rifle was followed by a 1956 in .243, half stock…followed by my favorite, a 7mm 1903 carbine. Deadly on whitetails. I loved this article….thanks!

    Rothhammer1
    Guest
    Rothhammer1

    The M1910 is 9.5X57 (.375 Nitro Express Rimless). If you hold her nice and tight, you won’t get hurt.

    SK
    Guest
    SK

    The last time I looked CZ-USA was making a Mannlicher stock even chambered in 6.5×55. These are beautiful weapons.

    Wild Bill
    Guest
    Wild Bill

    @SK, I have that CZ in 6.5 Swede. It shoots well, is more than fairly accurate, low recoil, and looks great.

    Tionico
    Guest
    Tionico

    Friend of mine, rather an older gentleman, has a Ruger M 77 stainless in 6.5 x 55 with that Mannlicher style stock. He has mounted a fixed 4x by 32 scope. Full weight with five rounds is about 7.5 lbs. He has taken a number of trophy bucks, and near trophy as well, and one near record cougar, all at distances of 400 yards +/-, one shot drop in their tracks kills. It was he who introduced me to the merits of that chambering. I now am pleased to own two Sedish military rifles, a Carl Gustav and a Husqvarna,… Read more »

    oldvet
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    oldvet

    As far back as I can remember I always drooled over the mannlicher-schoenauer . Probably the eye candy to me was that full length stock. My dad used to hand carve stocks thus my appreciation for firearms wearing wood.

    oldvet
    Guest
    oldvet

    Another firearm that was way above my paygrade at the time I saw it was a Drielling (not sure about spelling). The rifle barrel was an 8×57 seems the double tubes were 16 ga. it also had a full length stock.

    Rothhammer1
    Guest
    Rothhammer1

    The drilling (pronounced ‘dry-link’) are always finely crafted arms, usually by well known ‘high grade’ manufacturers or hand made by fine gunsmiths.

    A ‘site with information regarding drillings, Mannlichers, other fine ‘big game’ rifles is NitroExpressForums.

    Hank
    Guest
    Hank

    Despite the bolt handle being so far forward, I always thought the butter knife pattern looked eloquent. However two reviewers at C&Rsenal complained that after firing repeated shots, the narrow edge of the bolt handle resulted in a sore palm. Probably not an issue for the casual hunter but not great for sustained shooting at the range. Still, a very pretty gun (minus the awkwardly mounted scope).

    oldvet
    Guest
    oldvet

    As smooth as those actions were -are I have to wonder if their brass was slightly over size so that they were having to cam them into the chamber.

    Hank
    Guest
    Hank

    Probably the way they were working the bolt. Rather than using the fingers they were using the edge of the palm to lift and retract the bolt, then the heel of their hand to slam it home. Bad technique perhaps with this pattern of bolt handle.

    Rothhammer1
    Guest
    Rothhammer1

    The serrated underside of the bolt handle could contribute to this. I’ve never found it to be a problem, however, with my M1910 Mannlicher Schoenauer.

    JorgeNorberto Pedace
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    JorgeNorberto Pedace

    UN BINOMIO EXTRAORDINARIO