Originally published in Points West magazine
Reloaded: A Cautionary Tale
By Steve Sanetti
In 1964, my father was a recently divorced shoemaker with little disposable income. To go hunting, he bought a World War II surplus German 98k Mauser rifle for $29.95 in a pawn shop. Being adept with his hands, he set out to “sporterize” the Mauser into his deer rifle.
He did everything imaginable to that Mauser to make it look like a Model 70 Winchester, an iconic bolt-action sporting rifle. He made a new stock for it, then hand-checkered and laboriously finished the stock with linseed oil. He cut the barrel down with a pipe wrench and removed the sights. He polished all the metal parts on the machines in his shoe repair shop, and then re-blued them in a tank made from an old gutter, heated with a plumber’s torch. He drilled holes in it to mount a Japanese scope, bent the bolt handle to clear the scope, and made a new safety lever that would work under the scope. He replaced the entire trigger mechanism with an adjustable trigger, narrowed the trigger guard, and devised a lever-operated floorplate to make unloading the gun easier.
I must admit that the finished product looked pretty good. It shot pretty well, too, and he got a number of deer with it. That rifle started me on the road to gun “accumulation,” which eventually led me to the Cody Firearms Museum. I also became seriously interested in Mauser rifles as a result.
In 1987, Dad retired to Florida and took the rifle with him. He never hunted again. In 2010, he passed away, and when I opened his gun safe, there was the old rifle. I brought it home and put it into the back of my own safe, where it languished unused until 2020.
In the throes of COVID one boring day, I got it out of the safe to examine it. Mauser enthusiasts prize original, unmolested specimens for their collections, with a Model 98k rifle now selling for thousands of dollars. Dad’s rifle was heavily (but skillfully) modified, but it was far from original condition. Very far. It has sentimental value for me, and not much else.
I had accumulated many gun books in the ensuing years, some of which specialize in the minutiae of German Mauser rifles. They have many codes and markings stamped upon them which tell experts about their origin. Studying what markings remained on the rifle, I determined that it was one of the very first Model 98k rifles ever made in 1938. What I determined next made my heart stop and my bank account seem very empty.
It was serial number 10!
About the author
Steve Sanetti has been a member of the Cody Firearms Museum Advisory Board since 2012 and is a former President and CEO of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.