The M95 Steyr Mannlicher Rifle: A bargain bolt action from WWI (VIDEO)

When most people think old bolt-action rifles, their world is crowded with Mausers, Mosins, Springfields, and Enfields. In this clutter one humble rifle sitting quietly on the shelf (and usually priced to move) is almost never taken notice of, the near forgotten M95 Steyr-Mannlicher. And well, there is a reason or two for this.

Why the need

Austrian soldier holds a M95 Steyr Mannlicher rifle during World War I.

Austrian soldier holds a M95 Steyr Mannlicher rifle during World War I.

In the 1880s, the bolt-action rifle was a new-fangled innovative firearm. One of the leaders in design of these guns was a fellow by the name of Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher. Mannlicher invented a super-neat strait-pull bolt action that fed from an internal box magazine. In 1885, Mannlicher merged his efforts with the Austrian Arms Factory company at Steyr and formed the Steyr Mannlicher group to produce a new rifle for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Their gun, the Model 1888 was a bolt-action rifle with a 30-inch barrel that fired black-powder 8x50R cartridges.

The Austrian army loved the gun but in 1893, smokeless powder really began to catch on, replacing black-powder seemingly overnight and in consequence the Austrians needed another new gun. That’s when Mannlicher and the gang came out with the M95

Design

M95 rifle sketches.

M95 rifle sketches.

The Model 1895 Infantry Rifle (Gewher) was designed from the ground-up to fire the stronger smokeless-powder cartridges.  Forged, oil-quenched steel was used throughout. A full-length wooden stock covered almost all of the metal surfaces to make it soldier-proof. The strait pull bolt action and integral box magazine of the earlier Mannlicher design was retained. The bolt was so fast acting that German soldiers who used the rifle in WWII—having originally been trained on the turn-bolt Mauser—called the M95 the “Ruck-Zuck” (for Very Quick).

Steyr M95 bolt-action in profile.

Steyr M95 bolt-action in profile.

The M95's enbloc clip full of 8x56mm rounds

The M95’s enbloc clip full of 8x56mm rounds.

To reload this fast-operating bolt gun, the M95 was charged with a five-shot enbloc spring steel clip that was held inside the rifle. This is not unlike the 8-shot enbloc of the M1 Garand familiar here in the US. Once the rounds were loaded the clip would fall free through an opening in the bottom of the magazine box and was reusable.  Between the fast bolt and the one-piece reload of the enbloc clip, it was possible for a trained rifleman to fire up to 30-rounds per minute with the M95.

To put it in perspective this gun was designed just 30-years after the American Civil War and long-barreled rifles that could mount a decent bayonet were the standard for warfare at the time. This meant that the original M95 would be considered huge by today’s standards at 50-inches long overall with a 29.5-inch barrel. This was mitigated by the short rifle variant, a handy little 7-pound carbine that used a 19-inch barrel and has a very distinctive stacking rod on the front barrel band.

M95 carbine with 19-inch barrel.

M95 carbine with 19-inch barrel. Note the sling swivel on the side of the forearm.

Turn-bolt half brothers

Royal Dutch army soldiers with Hembrug rifles

Royal Dutch army soldiers with Hembrug rifles.

The Dutch built more than 470,000 of these guns (prominently marked Hembrug after 1903) in 6.5×53Rmm, using it as their standard military rifle for nearly 50-years. These Dutch guns are conventional turn-bolt action rifles rather than the bolt-action of the M95 but use the same style of enbloc clip. Many of the great big game hunters of the early 20th century touted this gun, known in the west as the famous “256 Mannlicher.” The Italians also made a turn-bolt version in 6.5mm, the Italian Mannlicher-Carcano of JFK fame. While these guns share a name, profile, and magazine design with the M95, they are very different rifles actually derived from the earlier German Model 1888 Commission Rifle.

The Dutch Hembrug bolt action rifle is truly just a variant of the M95 Steyr.

The Dutch Hembrug bolt action rifle is truly just a variant of the M95 Steyr.

Use

German soldiers in WWII, armed with WWI era Austrian M95s.

German soldiers in WWII, armed with WWI era Austrian M95s.

The Austrian Army issued the M95 Steyr and used it to good effect in World War 1 on no less than three fronts. While the army itself had a bad experience during the Great War, the soldier in the field was not let down by his Steyr-Mannlicher made rifle. After the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire went the way of the dinosaurs but the various countries that rose from its ashes: Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Rumania, all kept their inherited M95s around for decades.

After 1930, most of these rifles were converted to fire the more powerful 8x56mmR round and arsenal reconditioned as model M95/34 carbines. When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, they promptly issued out stocks of old M95s and 95/30s to second line units.  Many found themselves in combat during WWII.

Collectability

M95, showing distinctive stacking pin.

M95, showing distinctive stacking pin.

With more than 3-million Ruck-Zucks manufactured 1895-1921, these guns have been on the surplus market worldwide since the Prohibition era. While the price of old military bolt-actions rose steadily over the decades, the Steyr M95 has remained fairly low and today can still be found hovering around the $100 mark. They never had the panache of the Mausers, the bargain basement price of the Mosin, or the widespread ammunition availability of the Enfield or Springfield rifles, which left them siting on many racks in gun stores.

While you can luck into these guns all day for a hundred dollar bill, shooting and collecting the accessories for them are another matter. Correct period bayonets usually run $75-$100 while slings, cartridge pouches, and other items are elusive. Unlike your 8mm German Mausers, 303 Brit Enfields, and 7.62x54R Mosins, bulk surplus ammunition for the M95 is non-existent. The majority of guns found today were converted in the 30s to the 8x56mm round. Most of the rounds out there in circulation today are WWII-made German 205 gr.

Most 8x56 Stery ammunition around today that is still in the box is left over from WWII.

Most 8×56 Stery ammunition around today that is still in the box is left over from WWII. The Nazi eagle means it is not only collected by shooters.

M95 receiver.

M95 receiver. Note the Austrian eagle marking over ‘Steyr’

spitzer bullet loadings that come in aged craft paper boxes. Thankfully, these are usually preloaded on the M95s standard enbloc clip. On the downside, these boxes often carry a Nazi Eagle, which makes them collectable militaria for hobbyists that don’t even have a rifle that takes 8x56R. This drives the supply down and the cost up on these 70-year old rounds, making them expensive to feed.

Hornady Custom sells modern ammunition, marked 8x56mm Hunn in a 205-grain soft point (at about $2 a pop) for those who want to use their WWI-era rifle for whitetail. Recently Prvi Partizan also started to make the first new FMJ rounds (a 208-grain load) in this caliber since the man with the tiny moustache took himself out.

Steyr Mannlicher M95-34.  Note the small size, in relation to a female shooter.  Photo by Oleg Volk.

Steyr Mannlicher M95-34. Note the small size, in relation to a female shooter. Photo by Oleg Volk.

Bottom line is, if you have $100 in your pocket and want a nice, historic rifle, the M95 may very well fit that bill.

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