Special Guns Episode 9 MannlicherQ&A

Special Guns with Roger Rule

Episode 9 –  Daniel Fraser Mannlicher-Schoenauer Rifle, 6.5×57


PART 1 {Roger and Virginia sitting, gun in holders}

VIRGINIA: My name is Virginia Hall and I’m here today to introduce you to Roger Rule, author of The Rifleman’s Rifle, and host of this series of episodes, Special Guns with Roger Rule.

ROGER: Thank you, Virginia, and welcome, …and welcome viewers to my 9th Episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: What do we have today?

ROGER: In our previous episodes of Special Guns with Roger Rule, we learned the action of Paul Mauser’s Model 1898 rifle and its derivations, including the most improved one, the Winchester Pre-64 Model 70, have been the main source of actions used by best English and custom makers as a basic starting point in building their custom rifles.  And that was because that action and its derivations were well-designed, strong, reliable, control-round feed mechanisms and highly regarded by the riflemen world over.

To answer your question, Virginia, the gun I want to cover today is THE OTHER famous controlled-round feed bolt action rifle whose action has been used by nearly all the best English and custom makers as a basic starting point for their custom rifles when they didn’t use a Mauser action type.  This other action was used from and based on the great Austrian Mannlicher Schoenauer rifle, or just simply M-S rifle, for convenience.

VIRGINIA: So if I am following you, this is one of those rifles that used the action from the M-S rifle, not the M-S rifle itself.  Is that right?

ROGER: You got it.  This rifle is made by the Scottish maker, Daniel Fraser, using a Mannlicher Schoenauer action.

VIRGINIA: So if it’s not a Mauser 98 action, what’s special about this one?

ROGER: I’ll go into the reasons of why this action was chosen in favor of the Mauser 98 action, when it was used.  But first, since the action is probably more important to our story than the Scottish-manufacturer of our rifle today, I want to go into a little history of the Mannlicher Schoenauer action.

The year was 1900 and the place was Steyr, Austria. This Mannlicher Schoenauer action was the basis for both carbines and rifles with several models before WWII which included, by model numbers: the M1903, the M1905, the M1908, the M1910 and the M1925.  Then, production was halted in 1938 when Germany occupied Austria.

After the war, production resumed in 1950 and continued to 1973 when the rifle became too expensive to build under the old-machining methods and the company made a total model change and the great Mannlicher Schoenauer went the way of the pre-64 Model 70 and the long-extractor Mauser – dead but not forgotten.

But before it died, the post WWII production saw several models made in both rifles and carbines. Those included the M1950, the M1952, the M1956, the M1961, the Alpine model, the Premier/custom models, and a Magnum Rifle with a magnum action.

I have seen one of the rare Magnum action rifles in .458 Win Mag and that action is truly a beast.

Now, to answer your last question Virginia, what is special about these actions over the Mauser as a source for custom rifles?  The author, Frank de Haas, in his book, Bolt Action Rifles, simply stated: [The Mannlicher Schoenauer rifle] …

(quote) “is in the elite class of bolt-action sporting rifles, and it gained worldwide recognition and fame.”  (close quote)

And if you have a copy of the book, Gamefield Classics, by Michael McIntosh and Bill Headrick, you probably know why.  The authors dedicate one chapter to the Mannlicher Schoenauer and the chapter is entitled, “Silk & Steel,” which is a very appropriate title when you are familiar with the action.

The parent company operated as Austrian Arms Factory from as early as 1831.  By the end of the 19th Century, it had become very large with 10,000 employees building 13,000 military rifles every week.  About 1880, they added an R&D department and began experimenting with finding the perfect rifle for the sporting arms market.  Most of the credit for the Mannlicher Schoenauer rifle goes to one of their in-house gunmakers, Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, but together with the Company director, Otto Schoenauer, they came up with the final version of the rifle, which would become the Mannlicher-Schoenauer Model 1900.

VIRGINIA: So, if the M-S action was made in 1900 and the Mauser action was made in 1898, is there much difference between the two?

ROGER: Yes, to look at their differences, we first need to look at what they have in common.  They are both turn-bolt actions; they are both control feed actions. They both have a primary fastener consisting of two lugs at the front of the bolt that fit into recesses in the front receiver ring.

For their differences, they differ in two main ways.  The first difference is in the secondary fastener of each:  The Mauser has another single smaller lug just forward of the bolt handle as its third fastener.  For the Mannlicher Schoenauer, the operating handle is near the center of the bolt body with a lengthened rear receiver ring so that the base of the bolt handle acts as its third fastener.

The second difference is in the way the magazine works.  The Mauser has a box magazine with cartridges resting staggered, one atop the other, their centerlines slightly off to the right or left of the center of the bore. The Mannlicher Schoenauer was designed with a rotary magazine that positions the top round centered with the bore; and consequently, feeds each round in perfect alignment with the bore.

Both of these differences caused the Mannlicher Schoenauer to be a much smoother operating system: not only a result of cartridge alignment, but also because the central location of the bolt handle provided more stability when working the action of the bolt handle.

In Gamefield Classics, the authors describe this action as “feels more like silk then steel,” and hence, the name of the chapter for it: “Silk and Steel.”

The primary inventor, Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher would go on to become very famous in the gun industry competing with John Moses Browning in innovations and patents in automatic weapons. Frank de Haas said of him: (and I quote)

“Mannlicher…became one of the world’s leading military arms designers. He is most noted for his development of the clip-loading magazine system …and automatic rifles and pistols.” (close quote)

So for the fact that the action is so smooth, and the fact that the Greek government ordered over 100,000 Model 1903s with many becoming military surplus rifles, the Mannlicher Schoenauer actions have been second to Mauser actions sought after by custom makers, especially English rifle makers for the first sixty years of the 20th Century.

There have been magazine articles about famous persons who have owned the Mannlicher Schoeanuer rifles, especially one recently in the May 2016 issue of American Rifleman, featuring Ernest Hemmingway’s fondness for his carbine version. He actually had three of these.

VIRGINIA: If this M-S action is so much smoother than the Mauser, why don’t we see more custom guns made with it, rather than with the Mauser action?

ROGER: Good question: When telescopic sights became the norm, the Mannlicher Schoenauer action lost much of its popularity because it has an open top rear receiver ring, which proved difficult to install scope mounts centered over the bore.

Even though there have been several manufacturing firms that have built specialized scope mounts and rings to deal with this, they are more expensive compared to other rifle mounting systems and it usually takes a very skilled gunsmith to install them correctly, adding to the expense.

But overriding this biggest objection to these actions, there are a couple of other neat features that Mannlicher incorporated that cannot be found on other actions. The rotary magazine in his rifles is usually loaded from the top of the receiver like a Mauser, but once loaded, if you want to unload it quickly, there are two ways to do that:

For one, there is a button provided in the bridge of the receiver that when depressed, allows the cartridges to unwind in the magazine and roll up and out, as if defying gravity.

Also, the magazine inself, covered by a floorplate can be removed by depressing a release that frees the floorplate to be rotated 90 degrees and then the whole magazine assembly and floorplate can be removed.

Custom makers like these little details.

VIRGINIA: So this rifle today was made by a Scottish maker using this Austrian action?

ROGER: Yes, again, you got it!  Our gun today is a custom rifle built with a Mannlicher Schoenauer Model 1903 Austrian-made action, by the Daniel Fraser Company of Scotland. Now, let’s take a look at the history of this famous Scottish gunmaker.

PART 2 {Audio only} 

The original Daniel Fraser’s gun interest was in rifle target shooting and in 1859, he began serving an apprenticeship with the already established gunmaker, Alexander Henry in Edinburgh, Scotland, famous for his rifles.  Early on, Fraser showed great aptitude and must have been trusted because when he was only 21 years old, Henry sent him to Turkey to supervise the training of the Henry rifles procured for the Sultan’s bodyguards.

In 1867, Daniel joined a volunteer rifle brigade, and soon was assigned to the Queen’s Brigade of the Queen’s Edinburgh Volunteers where he developed a passion for competitive shooting. In his first year, he defeated John Farquharson in a rapid fire match. Two years later he won the Duke of Cambridge’s prize and another award offered by the Secretary of State for War.

Fraser worked for Henry for 20 years. Their relationship must have remained amicable because in 1877, they jointly patented a two-position match rifle stock. The following year, while Fraser was a member of the Scottish Team to the famous Creedmore Match in North America, he obtained a U.S. patent 201524, the rights of which were assigned to Henry.

The following year, however, Fraser left Henry and opened his own gun making business at 4 Leith Street Terrace in Edinburgh.  Within two years, in 1880, Daniel Fraser was granted his own patent for a falling block rifle design. A match rifle using this action was quickly adopted by the Scottish National Rifle Club and six of the eight members of the team, Fraser being one of them, used it competing nationally in 1881.  He would compete again in 1882, 1883 and 1885.

Eventually Fraser developed a formidable reputation for building best guns, especially best rifles, and his double guns evolved their own distinctive house style.  Daniel enjoyed his success for only 24 years: while grouse shooting in August 1902, he caught a chill and never recovered, died later that year at age 57.

His sons carried on the operation for another 20 years but finally went out of business after the first World War, in 1922.

One of the most famous stories over the years in connection with a rifle made by Daniel Fraser concerned the renowned African hunter, W.D.M. Bell, who shot more than 1,000 elephants in the period 1895 to 1930 with a rifle he had Daniel Fraser build for him with a Mannlicher Schoenauer action.  He first used the 6.5×54 Mannlicher cartridge but changed to the 7mm Mauser because he was unable to acquire dependable ammunition in those days for the 6.5×54 caliber. Bell’s legendary name has remained closely linked with the 7mm Mauser cartridge, but it was the 6.5 that was his first preference. Coincidentally, our rifle here today is a 6.5mm rifle, however it is 6.5×57 not the 6.5×54 Mannlicher caliber Bell used.

In 1983, the name and goodwill of Daniel Fraser was acquired by Bernard Horton-Corcoran, a respected big-game hunter and gunmaker himself. Bernard had built his first gun when he was 22.

Part 3 {Roger and Virginia sitting, adjust camera for standing}

In his book, Sidelocks and Boxlocks, copyrighted in 1991, Geoffrey Boothroyd, in his introduction of the Scotland trade, mentions that the Daniel Fraser name is “once again found on rifles and shotguns made on the Black Isle.”

In an article, “Daniel Fraser & Co.” published in The Double Gun Journal, Vol. 6, Issue 1, the author, Robin MacDonald Rolfe, wrote:  (and I quote) “The Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands… cannot be the place one would expect to find a high quality gun and rifle maker… In 1983, Bernard Horton, bought the rights to the name… Daniel Fraser has come home…the modern Fraser gun or rifle differs little really, from its illustrious predecessor.”  (close quote)

Chris Brunker, who has worked for Christie’s auction house as the resident “expert in charge” saw some of the Black Isle Fraser guns at the Scottish Game Fair in 1989 and wrote: (and I quote)

“The new guns have a marvelous finish and are very highly thought of…they certainly deserve all the praise they get.” (close quote)

On a personal note, I tried to go to the Black Isle shortly after Daniel Fraser started their operation.  Virginia, have you ever been to Scotland?

VIRGINIA: No, I haven’t.

ROGER: The Black Ilse is located across the Moray Firth across from Inverness.  You’ve heard of the Loch Ness Monster?


ROGER: Well, Loch Ness is the lake at the town of Inverness.  Going to where Daniel Fraser was located, I had to go on the other side of the Moray Firth across from Inverness.

I was driving a rental car on Highway A82 when I ran into trouble about 30 miles north of Glasgow.  I swerved on the narrow cliff- side road across from Loch Loman to give room to an oncoming bus, and driving on the left side of the road as they do in the UK, I overreacted and hit the rocky cliff and blew out both of my tires on the left side of the car. That was a Saturday afternoon.  I had to walk two miles back to a roadside old stage stop, which was still a going concern as a gas station and inn, just outside of a little town called Luss.  The rental car company could not help me on Sunday so I had to stay two nights at the inn.  Interestingly enough, without anything to do on Sunday, I walked down into the little town of Luss and felt very much out of place because most of the men I passed were wearing kilts, dressed up for church.


ROGER: I was surprised to see that — I thought the wearing of kilts was something out of the last century, I didn’t know they were still wearing them. I also noticed the men wearing kilts were wearing wingtip shoes, I had no idea that wingtips were of Scottish origin.  My trip to town was otherwise wasted because everything other than the churches was closed on Sunday.

By the time the car problem was resolved, I no longer had the time in my schedule to go on to the Black Isle, so I missed my chance of finding the then-new Daniel Fraser company.

However, as it turns out, the resurrected firm of Fraser there, was shortlived.  They had produced less than 100 guns in a combination of big museum-quality double rifles and superlative bolt action rifles on original Mannlicher Schoenauer and Oberndorf Mauser actions, when the name and goodwill of Daniel Fraser was sold again, in 1997, to Dickson & Macnaughton of Scotland. So the name of Daniel Fraser continues to live on today as Dickson has produced some bolt-action rifles bearing the Fraser name.

Like the earlier Daniel Fraser rifles and guns, many examples of those built on the Black Isle are still in existence. I have here today one of their six bolt action rifles made in 1992, and for it, they chose the great Mannlicher Schoenauer action which fits our purpose for this episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.

VIRGINIA: They only made six that year?

ROGER: Yes, six bolt actions. And more than likely, some of those were made with Mauser actions. I don’t have their records, but only 100 guns in total of all the guns they made were built during the Black Isle ownership.

VIRGINIA: This must be a rare rifle.

ROGER: Let’s take a look at it. This rifle is chambered for the popular European .264 cartridge, the 6.5 x 57 mm, and has a 22” barrel. It’s built on the time-tested 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer action, honed and polished, with an extremely crisp trigger release. The 6.5x57mm caliber is an unusual cartridge to most Americans.  It is basically the 7mm Mauser necked down to 6.5mm, very similar to the cartridge that W.D.M. Bell preferred.

{Stand up and Pick up the rifle}     

Right off, the unusual shape of the bolt handle gives away the fact that it is a Mannlicher Schoenauer action.  This shape has many names, but probably the most common is a butter knife bolt handle.

                        With the safety up, it is on safe, the bolt is locked and the trigger will not fire.

{Press safety down}

With safety down, using right hand to press it left, it is in the firing position, needed to release the bolt.

{Pull the bolt back}    {check to see if safe}


                        Notice the bolt release looks similar to that of the Mauser, but its function is different. Instead of pulling out the lever at the front of the housing of the release, on the M-S there is a checkered knob at the rear of the housing that you press in, causing the release to free the bolt.  This is easier and more user-friendly than the Mauser’s.

{Remove bolt}

We have said the Mannlicher Schoenauer is also a popular custom gunmaker choice because like the Mauser and the Winchester pre-64 Model 70, it is a control round feed action.  I will insert a cartridge on the face of the bolt and show you that it holds onto the cartridge and defies gravity.

{Insert cartridge in the bolt and swing the bolt around, then remove cartridge and re-insert bolt in rifle}

Also, notice how smooth the bolt slides. It cocks on opening.

{Allow bolt to fall down}

Once cocked, the bolt literally falls into place if you tip the rifle muzzle down.  Cartridges are fed into the magazine through the top of the receiver.  This is a rotary magazine with the cartridges going into a spool that holds 5.

{Re-open and insert three rounds}

Now for safety, I am going to unload the magazine, and notice these M-S actions have this little button on the receiver bridge, when depressed, a spring unwinds and sends the cartridges out of the magazine.

{Unload three cartridges by pressing button—then CLOSE BOLT}

There now it is unloaded again and for safety, we just double check a view of the chamber.

Now that it is unloaded, I will show you how to remove the magazine.   You’ll notice there are two round recesses in the floorplate.  With a bullet or any stylist, depress the forward recess which is under spring tension, and then twist the floorplate 90 degrees…

{Use a stylist and press front button on magazine floorplate}

…and viola!  The magazine can be pulled out, loaded or in this case, unloaded.

Then to re-install, just reverse the process, place the magazine in…

{Re-insert the magazine}…turn the floorplate back to its normal rest position and you can feel the spring loaded button locking back into position.

Two things that catch the eye are the quality of the figure of the wood and when I turn it over, the engraved European red stag on the floorplate inlaid with gold and surrounded with an oval border in the Celtic style.

VIRGINIA: This morning when I came in, I saw that gold deer on the floorplate and was amazed to see the hair or fur in the engraving, it is so real looking for two dimensions.

ROGER: Hopefully, the close-up still images we have included with this episode will show that to our viewers. But to me, for a bolt action rifle, the grade of the walnut in the stock is just as predominant.

PART 4 {Audio-only}

The stock is near Exhibition grade, hard Turkish walnut with contrasting black streaks in a warm rich brown background, with some marblecake figure.  The fancy streaking runs the full length of the gun and shows consistently on both profiles of the stock.

It is shaped with a classic comb, high enough both for scope use and for working the safety and yet not too high to look untraditional or to need the step down of a monte carlo. This is a well-designed stock shape as the original pre-war M-S rifles had notoriously low combed stocks for their factory iron sights, and were not suited for scope use.

The beaded cheekpiece is the European style with a nicely carved shadowline.

The comb is fluted perfectly for the shape of the pistol grip and both the forearm tip and the pistol grip cap are made of horn.

The pistol grip carries a palm swell for the right hand as did our Chapuis rifle of Episode 4.

The length of pull is 14 3/8”.

The checkering patterns are traditional, but very fine, about 22 lines per inch and are point pattern designs with two two-point patterns of separate panels on the grip and a fully wrap-around pattern with eight points on the forearm.

The stock is fitted with two sling swivel eyes and a silver oval for the owner’s initials; this one is vacant.  It is finished off with a nice composite checkered buttplate with an engraved relief of Diana the Huntress. The buttplate screws are indexed and nicely engraved.

When we look at the metal work, the action is all Mannlicher Schoenauer, but better polished and blued.  The heads of the two screws on the underside are both engraved and indexed – the Daniel Fraser touch. The barrel is stepped down, nicely polished and rust blued, with no sights. The butterknife bolt handle is ribbed for control, instead of the round knob we think of on traditional bolt action rifles.

On the floorplate, there is the gold enlay engraving of a European red stag and specifically notice it is surrounded in an oval presentation with an engraved gold-filled Celtic border, a true Scottish touch.  Additionally, the Daniel Fraser serial number 5046 is gold filled on the bottom of the trigger guard.

As to inscriptions, the left side of the action is marked (“OESTERR WAFFENFABR. – GES STEYR”)  “Austrian Gunmaker- City of Steyr” in German.  On the right side of the front receiver ring is the M-S serial number 17791.  On the right side of the barrel chamber is inscribed 6.5×57 for the cartridge along with stampings of London proof marks.

The top of the barrel is inscribed, “DAN’L FRASER CO. – CROMARTY – THE BLACK ISLE SCOTLAND”.

PART 5 {Roger and Virginia sitting at table, rifle in holders}

For the cartridge, Cartridges of the World, by Frank C. Barnes, has a nice write-up. He credits Paul Mauser as the founder of the round, and shows loads with 129 to 157 grain bullets. Ammunition is commercially available from RWS, DWM and Sellier & Bellot. For handloaders, this would be an easy one, necking down 7mm brass and using any of the array of .264 bullets out there.

The scope on this rifle is a quality Zeiss Diavari C 3-9×36 with duplex reticle and Butler Creek scope covers mounted in German EAW quick detachable ring/mounts made special for mounting Mannlicher Schoenauer actions. These are required because of the open top rear ring of the receiver.

With this scope, the combined weight of the rifle is 8 lb. 9 oz.

I have shot this rifle at the range and found it pleasant to shoot compared to my .270 Winchesters.  It proved more accurate than I can hold, and for game, it should be just a notch above the .257 Roberts in take-down power.

All in all, this has been another very special gun.  And since the Black Isle company of Daniel Fraser only made six bolt actions in 1992, without their records we can only wonder how many of those were built on the Mauser action and wonder further, whether this is the only one built on the Mannlicher Schoenauer action.  Whatever the case, it is a pretty rare rifle anyway, and coupled with its quality and beautiful wood, it is a very desirable rifle. I don’t know what the price of this gun was in 1992, but in 1995, the asking price for a Daniel Fraser bolt-action rifle was 4,000 pounds, or about $9,600 US then.  In 2016 dollars that would be $15,132 now.

VIRGINIA: Another expensive gun!

ROGER: That’s it for today, thank you Virginia, and thank you viewers for watching, and if you enjoyed this episode, I invite you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and share with others.  And, I hope you join us next week for another episode of Special Guns with Roger Rule.