Sniper reborn: Gibbs Rifle Company recreates the WWII M1903A4 .30-06.
Photos: Yvonne Venturino
Any military item of World War II vintage is now considered collectible and is therefore expensive. This is especially true of genuine WWII sniper rifles. I know, for I sold off a portion of my Old West firearms collection to finance just a few. For example, original US Model 1903A4 sniper rifles complete with the proper Weaver 330C 2.5X scopes and Redfield Jr. mounts start about $3K. So when I heard Gibbs Rifle Company (part of Navy Arms) was offering "new" '03A4s priced at a third of that I was more than interested.
A couple of weeks before this writing the Gibb's replica arrived. And to give my conclusion far before the end of this article I want to say my check paying for it is already on its way back to West Virginia. And my enthusiasm doesn't stem from its looks alone. In only two weeks, I fired several hundred rounds through this "new" '03A4 out to 300 yards. Not only do I consider it a fine shooting rifle, but it certainly is capable of better precision than my original US Model 1903A4.
Perhaps that should not be surprising. The United States, unlike Britain, the Soviet Union, and Germany, did not select rifles of superior accuracy for sniper rifles. Ordinary US Model 1903A3s coming off of Remington's assembly lines were chosen at random. They were given C-stocks (the pistol grip style adopted for all Model 1903s in 1929). According to the US military, fitting a C-stock on a US Model 1903 instantly turned it into a Model 1903A1, although markings on the rifle remained the same.
Other than the stock, US Model 1903A3s chosen to become US Model 1903A4s were changed in a couple of other minor details. Their bolt handles were bent so they would clear the scopes, and the receiver markings remained the same, but were switched from the top of the front receiver ring to its left side. Neither rear peep nor front blade sight were installed. Then the top of the receiver was drilled and tapped for Redfield Junior scope mounts into which were installed Weaver 330C 2.5X telescopes. In the beginning these scopes were simply pulled from sporting goods dealers' shelves. Later ones were purchased directly from Weaver by the government and those had the proper military markings.
Although over 1 million US Model 1903A3 rifles were made by Remington Arms Company and Smith-Corona during WWII, only about 28,000 were set up as US Model 1903A4 sniper rifles, all made by Remington. They were issued to the Army fighting in both the European Theater of Operations and the Pacific Island campaigns. Some also went to the USMC. Although almost no one in either military branch was happy with them, Model 1903A4s stayed in use through the Korean War (1950-1953) and supposedly some were even used in Vietnam in the 1960s, although I've not been able to find concrete documentation of that yet.
One reason often given for the military's unhappiness with the A4 was the scopes and mounts designed for civilian use did not stand up to the rigors of military service very well. Also the fact these rifles weren't chosen for superior accuracy and then were fitted with such a low power scope had a bearing on their acceptance. For example, consider the sniper rifles the more marksmanship oriented Marine Corps built for themselves. They were specially chosen US Model 1903 Springfields fitted with long tubed, external adjustment, Unertl 8X scopes. Here's another fact of comparison with other nations' World War II sniper rifles. The Model 1903A4 was the only one that did not retain its iron sights for use in case the scope was disabled.
Not A Fake
Because its model stamping was rotated to the left side of the rifle's front receiver ring, the US Model 1903A4 is one of the most difficult of all collectible firearms to counterfeit. To insure their new recreations of '03A4s don't end up being posed as originals, Gibbs Rifle Company has not tried to reproduce the upside down marking. Their new rifles are assembled on original Model 1903A3 actions with the model stamping directly atop the chamber.
All barrels put on US military rifles starting with the Model 1903 Springfield and going at least through the M1 Garand are stamped with the month, year and a maker's code. For example, my US Model 1903 Springfield's barrel is stamped SA 11/21 for Springfield Armory November/1921. My original Model 1903A4 carries the markings RA 4/43 for Remington Arms April/1943. To help ensure their rifles are not mistaken for originals, the newly manufactured barrels on Gibbs Rifle Company's Model 1903A4s carry a GR stamp with month and date. The one I received is marked GR 5/09. Also to preclude the replicas of Redfield Jr. mounts being pawned off as originals they are stamped with the company's name.
The Gibbs Rifle Co.'s replica 2.5X scopes are being made in China. The one on my rifle has no markings other than an "L" for left or "Up" with suitable arrows pointing direction on the adjustment knobs. As described in the reprint of the US War Department's September 1943 Technical Manual Gibbs Rifle Co. supplies with each rifle, the Weaver 330C scopes have standard crosshairs as does the scope on my original '03A4.
However, other '03A4 owners report their rifle's scopes have a thick center post with thin crosswire. The crosshairs in this new scope are fairly thick and subtend about 6" at 100 yards. It has worked perfectly except for one problem, which I will discuss shortly. Its adjustments are fairly precise, each click changes point of impact 1/4" at 100 yards.
According to the US Technical Manual mentioned above the Model 1903A4 with its 2.5X scope was supposed to be sufficient for accurate shooting to 1,000 yards. I consider that hopelessly optimistic. And evidently so did many WWII infantrymen who were issued such rifles. One friend's father who carried one in Europe in 1944/1945 said he considered 150 to 200 yards as practical combat range.
Here's the minor problem I encountered with the Gibb's scope. Like most of us I tend to shoot a new rifle first and then read the instruction booklet later. I could have saved myself some ammo if I had reversed that. On the back of the Technical Manual reprint that came with my rifle is the following paragraph:
"Please note that on your 1903-A4 rifle, the windage and elevation knob adjustments are marked incorrectly and have been reversed.
To adjust the windage, please use the elevation knob. To adjust the elevation, please adjust the windage."
Naturally because I didn't read this note first, my rifle's point of impact wandered all over the place while I fussed and cussed. Then I read the warning note, but being the bright light I am, instead of trying to remember to adjust one knob when another needed adjusting, I simply rotated the scope 90 degrees. Now the knobs are on the opposite sides of the scope compared to my original rifle's but when I move the elevation knob it moves the elevation and so forth.
Gibb's Model 1903A4s are a mixture of brand new and military surplus parts. Newly made are the barrels, stocks, scopes, and mounts. Military surplus are the entire action, and stock furniture. Barrels are 24" long with a twist rate of 1:10", and nominal land and groove dimensions of .300" and .308". These barrels are being made by the Pedersoli Company of Italy who are known for their good shooting rifle barrels on replica black powder cartridge rifles. As proper for a replica of the original '03A4s all metal parts are given a Parkerized finish.
The wood on my sample rifle is especially pleasing. It is fancy enough to catch the eye but not so fancy it looks ridiculous on a military rifle. Also as proper for a replica of a military rifle made during a world war, my sample's stock has not been sanded to a shiny smoothness. It is finished in oil. Trigger pull on this rifle is also pleasing. It has the standard 2-stage military type trigger and breaks nicely at 4-1/2 pounds. Functioning of the rifle has been perfect through the several hundred rounds I've shot so far. Also the clarity of the scope and its adjustments can't be faulted.
During WWII, the US military's standard .30-06 load was designated M2, with a 150-grain FMJ bullet moving at a nominal muzzle velocity of 2,700 fps. (Some sources say 2,740 fps, and others even go up to 2,800 fps but most say 2,700 fps.) I have only one type of .30-06 US military surplus load at this writing. Headstamped LC69, it chronographed from the new rifle at 2,646 fps, but its 5-shot, 100-yard group was very disappointing at almost 4".
For this article, I fired 10, 5-shot groups at 100 yards. Two factory loads were used along with eight handloads loaded with 150- and 155-grain bullets. The factory loads were those fairly new ones being made by Hornady and Federal labeled especially for M1 Garands. Those loads also did very nicely in this bolt-action rifle. Since my .30-06 handloads are also likely to end up being fired in M1 Garands they likewise use medium burning powders: namely Hodgdon Varget, Alliant RL15, Vihtavouri N140, and IMR4895. Of the 10 5-shot groups, the smallest group fired with the Gibbs was 1.38" and the largest was 2.5". Averaging all 10 groups gave the figure of 2.03". Note also in the accompanying chart velocities bracketed the desired 2,700 fps by about 50 fps or so in either direction.
That was the work part. The fun part was bouncing bullets off my Action Target PT-torso plates at 100, 200, and 300 yards. With the rifle sighted dead on at 100, I held in the top half of the 18" plates for hits at 200 yards and at the top of the targets at 300 yards.
Having given my conclusion away early in this article there's not much else to say. The bottom line is I bought this rifle and when it comes to guns I don't throw money away foolishly. The people at Gibbs Rifle Company made a good decision to market a new US Model 1903A4 for today's shooters.
.30-06 HANDLOADED AMMO PERFORMANCE CHARGE BULLET (BRAND, (GRAINS BULLET WEIGHT, TYPE) POWDER (BRAND) WEIGHT) VELOCITY (FPS) 150 SIERRA SPITZER Varget 48.0 2,746 150 SPEER SPITZER BT IMR4895 46.5 2,687 155 SIERRA HPBT Varget 48.0 2,717 155 HORNADY AMAX Varget 48.0 2,764 155 SIERRA HPBT IMR4895 46.5 2,648 155 HORNADY AMAX IMR4895 46.5 2,692 155 NOSLER HPBT Vihta. N140 46.0 2,649 155 SIERRA HPBT RL15 48.0 2,759 BULLET (BRAND, STANDARD GROUP SIZE BULLET WEIGHT, TYPE) DEVIATION (FPS) (INCHES) 150 SIERRA SPITZER 24 2 150 SPEER SPITZER BT 41 1.75 155 SIERRA HPBT 15 2.5 155 HORNADY AMAX 28 1.63 155 SIERRA HPBT 42 1.63 155 HORNADY AMAX 47 2.50 155 NOSLER HPBT 56 2.50 155 SIERRA HPBT 43 1.38 Notes: All groups are for five rounds fired at 100 yards from a sandbag rest. Chronograph readings taken with a PACT Professional Model with start screen at approximately 6'. All handloads used Remington brass and Remington 9-1/2 Large Rifle primers. .30-06 FACTORY AMMO PERFORMANCE STANDARD LOAD (BRAND, DEVIATION GROUP SIZE BULLET WEIGHT, TYPE) VELOCITY (FPS) (FPS) (INCHES) FEDERAL 150 FMJ 2,815 22 2 HORNADY 168 AMAX 2,646 20 2.13 Notes: All groups are for five rounds fired at 100 yards from a sandbag rest. Chronograph readings taken with PACT Professional Model with start screen at approximately 6'. USM1903A4 MAKER: GIBBS RIFLE COMPANY 219 LAWN ST. MARTINSBURG, WV 25405 (304) 262-1651, WWW.GIBBSRIFLE.COM ACTION TYPE: Bolt action CAPACITY: 5 BARREL LENGTH: 24" OVERALL LENGTH: 43.5" WEIGHT: 9 pounds FINISH: Parkerized SIGHTS: Repro Weaver 2.5X Model 330C STOCK: Walnut, oil finished LENGTH OF PULL: 13.25" PRICE: $999
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Venturino, Mike "Duke"|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2010|
|Previous Article:||Turkey talk: time to take a gobbler.|
|Next Article:||The six gunner goes AR! Hunting, that is. With a stag arms model 7 hunter 6.8mm Remington SPC.|