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The Springfield Armory 1903 .30-06 caliber 5+1 bolt-action rifle is a splendid piece of classic nostalgia in the pantheon of great American arms. Core traits included a 5-round box fixed box magazine, elegant walnut stock, a buttstock oiling tube, M1905 16” long bayonet, sling strap studs and more. The design remains not only fetchingly beautiful but clever and functional. For instance, the fixed internal box magazine was one piece with the trigger guard, the stock had long grip grooves along both flanks and the oiling tube was loaded through the buttplate. A wooden handguard hangered the top of the barrel.

The USA went to war against Spain in 1898, but the army’s single-shot Springfields and 5+1 Krag–Jørgensen bolt-action top-loaded magazine rifles underperformed. Top loading a Krag–Jørgensen was easy, but the firing was slow, and the ammo proved less powerful than needed. The Americans turned to the German Mauser Gewehr 98 for inspiration and even developed its .30-06 ammo from the Mauser’s 7.92mm.

What emerged in 1903 as the Springfield M1903 was a 5+1 rifle around a 24” length barrel anchored to a wooden stock that had a straight diagonal from the back of the trigger guard all the way to the butt’s bottom point. The 24” barrel was considered short at the time, but this compromise provided a “one-size fits all” solution to cover both rifle and carbine needs. It had a neat improvement over the Mauser Gewehr 98: a shorter and easier to handle action that made for super-fast cycling.

The result was also quite heavy compared to today’s rifles and tipped scales at over 8.5 pounds. The magazine was fixed inside the gun and loaded via a five-round stripper clip or just loaded manually by pressing one round in at a time.

The M1903 was followed in relatively short order by the improved M1903A1. The main difference was the reconfigured stock that featured a slightly curled pistol grip and a much higher cheek comb on the buttstock. At then President Theodore Roosevelt’s personal behest, the original 1903’s bayonet was replaced with a more robust 16” one.

Most M1903s and their improved variants were made by Springfield Armory, but to meet production demands, a sizeable number were also made by Rock Island Arsenal.

This new gun was the US Army’s standard issue for World War I. And through 1918, M1903s used single heat-treatment for the receiver and bolts. The single treatment provided insufficient and caused unpleasant accidents. Thus, the fabrication process quickly evolved to a double heat treatment. That said, the earlier “low-numbered” guns (having serial numbers under 800,000 made at Springfield Armory and below 286,506 made at Rock Island Arsenal) are now considered collectors guns that are potentially too dangerous to fire. The guns made after that are nicknamed “high-numbered” M1903s.

Early 1903s were followed in 1942 by the simplified 1903A3 model, which was followed by the 1903A4 sniper rifle that included a rugged 7/8” tube 2.5X power M82 scope. Non-sniper 1903s had front blade sight that worked in concert with a very interesting flip up/fold down ladder leaf sight that was also a combination battle sight/peep sight. This sight has elevation gradient markings and was adjustable for windage too!

Semi-automatic 8+1 M1 Garand rifles started production in the mid-1930s. They were better than the M1903s but unavailable to equip the army in its all too rapid post-Pearl Harbor ramp up. Thus, the solid Springfields continued to outfit many troops even during World War II almost four decades after the gun debuted. Some were still being used even after that.

The 5+1 Springfield M1903 bolt-action is no longer made by the company. The dwindling supply of originals along with the arm’s history, beauty and more make it not just a piece of Americana but a much-coveted classic.

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Springfield Armory 1903

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