When they fill a certain role, and do it well, military weapons can have long lifespans. How long can be astonishing. There are rifles, pistols and shotguns from around the world that have taken the battlefield for decades now, proving the latest isn’t always the greatest. But today, we’re going to focus on some true long-in-the-tooth warriors that have served for going on, or better than, a century. So without further ado, here are 4 Historic Bolt-Action Service Rifles That Still See Action.
What's Still Seeing Action?
The Mosin-Nagant is the undisputed champion of service rifle longevity. Consider this, it was adopted as the primary service rifle of the Russian Empire the same year the first game of basketball was played — 1891. And, astoundingly, the five-round bolt-action rifle, fed off stripper clips, is still on the active roster of some countries’ militaries today. China, North Korea and Russia all continue to employ variations of the 7.62x54mm rifle, albeit in diminished capacities, typically in the rear echelons and in reservist roles.
What has kept it relevant all these years is its simplicity, reliability and ability to pitch lead fairly accurately 500 yards and on out. The rifle didn't start out as elegantly austere; however, after combining aspects of Russian Army officer Sergi Ivanovich Mosin and Belgian arms designer Léon Nagan’s original submissions, a robust and dependable rifle was born.
The Mosin-Nagant has earned its battle stripes, including action in both World Wars. It is now more commonly found at your local shooting range, a popular choice of firearms buffs with a yen for affordable history and those who just can’t get enough shoulder abuse.
Really, the Lee-Enfield isn’t seeing that much military use any longer. The Canadian Rangers recently phasing out the rough-and-ready No. 4 MK 2, due to lack of replacement parts, somewhat marks an end of an era. But there is a smattering of the British Empire’s slogger in a number of Commonwealths’ reserve units. And it is still heavily utilized by police forces in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Its endurance since adoption in 1895 is due to it perhaps being among the best bolt-action service rifles ever produced. With 10-rounds of .303 British at his beck and call, “Tommy” had more firepower at his disposal than any other soldier armed with a bolt action he'd likely face. And it was as adept at sending a high volume of fire at an enemy in a “beaten zone” as it was with precision work. The redesign of the British black powder .303, the Lee-Metford, had a smooth and short bolt throw, aided by rear-position locking lugs, making the rifle lightning fast to operate.
Luckily, there are plenty of Lee-Enfields to be had, particularly of the SMLE variety. And there is nothing quite as stirring as sending rounds down range from the regal “three-oh-three.”
The glory of the battlefield has long past the venerable M1903, with it last seeing action as a sniper rifle in Vietnam. But the U.S. Military just can't quit this warhorse. The U.S. Army Drill team can still be found snapping to attention with bayonet-tipped Springfields. The five-round rifle’s superior balance makes it ideal for the precision movements that go into the team’s drills.
While ceremonial now, the M1903 was a tenacious service rifle. The Springfield was the U.S. Military’s primary service rifle in World War I, and proved to be a reliable and accurate weapon. Aiding the rifle on the latter facet was the .30-06 Springfield round it shot, which was more than adequate for long-range work. Its accuracy is what kept the M1903 relevant all the way through the late 20th century, even after it was supplanted by more advanced weapons systems. Decked out with a scope, the Springfield and its many variants were deadly sniper rifles in the hands of a trained marksman. Even today, one of these battle-worn beauties makes a fine match rifle, still able to find the X-ring with ease.
Like the Springfield, the K98k is more of a ceremonial arm today. The German Bundeswehr’s precision drill unit, the Wachbataillon, prizes the rifle for much the same reasons the U.S. Army uses the M1903 — its balance. But unlike the Springfield, the Karabiner 98k has seen plenty of modern-day action, such as in the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. And it can still be found in some small countries' arsenals.
The 7.92x57mm (or 8mm Mauser) rifle was adopted by German forces in the dark days of 1935 and served as its primary service rifle throughout World War II. The K98k was a shorter and lighter firearm than the service rifles that preceded it, making it ideal for maneuver tactics that were dominating warfare of the time. It weighed in at around 8 pounds, scant for the day.
Like many of the classics on this list, reliability was one of the five-round Karabiner 98k‘s primary assets. But as many rifle aficionados know, there is something else highly desirable about K98ks — their actions. They're rock solid. With two forward locking lugs, the rifle could fire high-pressured rounds safely and repeatedly. Another feature, highly prized, was the oversized claw extractor, which ensured jams were a rarity. Even today, these actions are sought after and likely to be found on slicked-out sporter versions that were fabricated from liberated arms after the war.