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Old February 25, 2005, 11:23 AM   #1
steelbuster
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springfeild 03 ID

I picked up an '03 at a garage sale the other day and am now trying to figure out what I have.
The reciever is marked " U.S.Springfield Armory Model 1903 165XXX" The only other marking I can find without taking it apart is a small "NS" stamped on the top flat of the bolt handle where it joins the bolt.

The rifle has been modified ,it looks like the original straight stock was cut off ahead of the barrel band with what looks like the original sling still attached there. It has a long ramp type front sight and a rear Lyman peep sight mounted at the rear of the receiver. There are no mounting holes at the front of the receiver or on the barrel.
It is in generally very good condition although the bore is not that great.I would like to shoot this rifle but have heard and only half remember the facts about the brittle receivers in the old Springfeilds.
Please tell me what you can. Also is there a method to check the headspace I could use?
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Old February 25, 2005, 11:44 AM   #2
Jim Watson
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That is a very old rifle. According to Brophy it was probably made in 1905 and is definitely a casehardened low number action.
NS on the bolt stands for Nickel Steel and is a replacment made in 1928 or later.

Brittle?
Maybe. It might fragment if a casehead split. It might not.
P.O. Ackley said that the bolts were more variable than the receivers and that he considered a low number receiver with a nickel bolt to be safe to fire with standard ammunition. But there are more lawyers in circulation now and it is usually recommended not to shoot a low number Springfield. I have shot one and am still here to tell it, but I am not telling you to shoot one I haven't seen.

Since the bolt is certainly a replacment, headspace could be anything. If replaced by Ordnance or a reputable gunsmith going on Ackley's advice it would be correct, if stuck in to complete a bubbaized parts gun, it could be anything. The only certain way to check headspace is with a headspace gauge used correctly. Technique matters.

Y'all be careful, now, you hear.
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Old February 26, 2005, 10:29 PM   #3
steelbuster
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Thanks for the very good info.
I spoke with the owners widow when I bought the gun and the only information she had was it had been her husbands hunting rifle for more than 60 years, so it has been fired many times.
What little info I found on the brittle receiver story from Springfield, seemed to indicate that failure's seemed to occur in the first few rounds fired through the rifle and were thought to be connected to bad ammo produced with soft case heads which would rupture and bleed gas into the receiver.
Any thoughts on the viability of the action due to the extended use this one has had? I might indicate the guy at the forge might have been having a good day when he made this one.
I am leaning toward having the headspace checked and giving it a go, perhaps with some moderate handloads. I have very little use for wallhangers .

PS How was the original rear sight mounted? The field strip routine says to drive out the cross pin from the fixedbased sleeve and drive the sleeve forward off the spline pin. Is there any machining on the barrel that I could look for?
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Old February 26, 2005, 11:36 PM   #4
Jim Watson
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Most of the wrecked low number '03s for which Hatcher could identify the cause of the blowup were due to things like casehead failures with poorly annealed brass, often from wartime contractors without the experience and QC of an arsenal or ammo company. Or from trying to cram an 8mm cartridge into a .30-06 rifle, which takes a sloppy '06 chamber and a lot of effort, but some people managed. Or from the practice of greasing bullets to try to prevent hard metal fouling from cupro-nickel bullet jackets. In most traceable cases, something had to go wrong, the rifles didn't just kaBoom by themselves, they had, after all, been prooftested when built. But when something DID go wrong, it went very wrong if the receiver had been overheated in the factory.

If this one has served as a hunting rifle for 60 years and had not been scrapped by the Army or NRA before that, you might expect it to be ok with normal loads in sound brass. Look at the little ledge on the right side of the receiver ring. Are there any punch marks there? That would indicate the rifle had been overhauled and re-proofed. My Mk I has three such marks. Pull the barrelled action out of the stock. Look at the recoil lug where the front guard screw goes in. Henry Stebbins says a brittle receiver will often show chipping around that hole, where recoil slammed the action against the screw shank. Everything looking good is not a guarantee that it is not brittle, some of these actions have been broken by being dropped or hit with a hammer, but it has lasted a hundred years, it might go a few more.
Your call.

The sight base was held on by a pin going through a "spline cut" in the barrel. If you have the original barrel and it has not been turned or drawfiled heavily to reduce weight and remove toolmarks, I think there should be two shallow grooves about three inches ahead of the receiver. One at the original location, one where the sight was relocated when the rifle was converted from .30-03 to .30-06. If it is a replacement barrel that was put on with its own sight base, there should be one such notch on the bottom of the barrel at that location. But I don't have pictures good enough to be absolutely sure.
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Old February 27, 2005, 12:32 AM   #5
steelbuster
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Thanks again Jim,
There arn't any punch marks on the ledge. I am going to pull the stock off ASAP and take a look at the recoil lug.
I just had a little laugh after checking ebay for parts availability. There was a Lyman 48 apature sight like the one on this rifle that was bid up to $100, and a "NS" bolt that was going for $115. That's double what I paid for the gun so maybe this was a good buy after all.
I am enjoying the ID process as usual.
Pete
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