Can I Hunt with Grandpa’s old 1903 .30’06 Springfield or Japanese 7.7?


These two rifles represent what most knowledgeable shooters would consider the best and worse of ex-military guns to use for hunting. The Springfield was made late in WWI, and the receiver cut so that it could use a .30 caliber "pistol" bullet shot from a semi-auto conversion unit.

  Former old bolt-action military guns such as the Springfield 1903, Japanese 7.7  Model 99 Ariskar, British 303s and Mausers from a host of countries can be used for hunting deer and similar-sized game, provided that the guns are sound and modern expanding ammunition is used. 

  The ready availability of .30’06 and 303 British sporting ammo provides a significant advantage to North Americans using these guns over others chambered for European calibers and the 7.7.  For decades Norma has been the principal source for European calibers and the 7.7, although this ammo may have to be special ordered from most  retailers. 

   The temptation is to buy up a bunch of full-metal-jacket military ammo and practice with it and save the more expensive soft-nosed rounds for hunting. Much of the military stuff is corrosive (particularly the old 303s), and if these barrels are not immediately cleaned after the guns are shot (even once) they will quickly rust and pit. This is a hint to always check the barrels before using or purchasing the guns. 

  Sights on old military guns vary from crude to finely adjustable with the older Springfield ’06s being the best, in my opinion. Many military guns will shoot high at close range, even with the sights set at their lowest positions. This is something that will only be discovered by shooting the guns with the ammo that you plan to use. 

  The key things are to make sure the guns are safe (have them inspected by a gunsmith if necessary), purchase modern hunting ammunition of the correct caliber, shoot the gun sufficiently to learn how to operate it, discover how it shoots and finally, be patient enough to take close-range shots (under 100-yards) using the iron sights. 

  If your gun is complete and in original condition, do not  refinish it,  sporterize it or mount a scope.  You will be better served to purchase a used sporting rifle, than try to convert an old military gun to sporting use. Already-converted guns can also be found on the used gun market.  Many military rifles were “sporterized” after World War II when the guns were inexpensive and civilian sporting arms were scarce. 

  I took a Dahl sheep in Alaska with a sporterized Springfield mounted with an old Lyman Alaskan scope after I graduated from the University of Alaska. I had better guns, but they had already been shipped home. I bought what I could find as inexpensively as possible and filled an empty slot on a friend’s sheep hunt after his would-be partner dropped out.  I no longer have the gun, but my  38-inch Dahl sheep is on the wall.

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