Gun test: Mauser M18 Stainless in .308
- Credit: David Land
Long-term Mauser fan Chris Parkin tests how durable the latest stainless steel version is under British weather conditions in this review of the Mauser M18 Stainless in .308
I have been using a Mauser M18 in .243 for four years as an everyday and night-hunting rifle, and have grown to fully appreciate owning and using an example of what was originally seen as the low-cost offspring of the iconic brand. The latest update of the rifle is a full stainless-steel version that seeks to assure even greater long-term durability – ideal for the UK climate. Given the durability of the blued steel version and its resistance to rust, particularly after a cold night’s foxing and consequent condensation throughout when back in the house, I have no doubts whatsoever about Mauser’s steel, or their claims about these hammer-forged barrels.
This rifle starts out with an elegantly-profiled barrel, 17mm muzzle tipped with a threadcap concealing its 15x1 thread for moderator or brake. The threads and crown are neat, with no discernible chatter, so we continue backwards to the stock. This is a copolymer unit with integral soft touch areas at grip and forend for more tactile assurance in the field and easier grip, whether bare-handed or with gloves, with plentiful space on the forend to avoid fouling the barrel with your fingers and thumbs. The barrel’s generous free float within it is assured in all situations because of inherent stiffness within the forend’s latticed structure. With a sling stud below, it is no problem to fit a bipod and shoot without any effect on your point of impact.
Swelling to 28mm before the 35mm external diameter of the action, the barrel’s tenon is screwed into position with a profile that is well matched to the cylindrical receiver as it swamps up around the chamber area. Four screw holes are sited atop the receiver bridges for scope mounting, and I used a Barton Gunworks rail to mount a similarly economical Zeiss Conquest V4 scope that I thought was well suited to the typical overall budget of a buyer of this rifle.
This rifle’s bolt is a masterclass in ergonomics. Projecting out parallel to the ground at 90° to the action, the 70mm bolt handle is capped by a 28.5mm spherical polymer knob. It can be flicked open with just the back of your fingers through its 60° arc and remains straight out from the side of the rifle for what I consider superb bolt operation. You will keep gloved hands and fingers clear of the scope, never struggle to open the action with a tight case, and cycling the push-feed bolt nose to strip single rounds from the staggered left and right sides of the five-round magazine is both faultless and quiet.
It’s no surprise to see Mauser and Sauer using the same feed system and magazine on many of their rifles, as it works perfectly on them all. Tooling up to injection mould a magazine is very expensive, yet the cost per unit is smaller than for steel and spares are easily available at a modest cost – a factor that will always boost the longevity of a rifle. A recessed button to the front of the well is pressed to drop the polymer mag into the palm of your hand for reloading, but single rounds can also be clicked into it from above through the 85x15mm ejection port. On an empty magazine, the gun will also feed easily if a single round is dropped onto the mag’s follower. The bolt still closes smoothly, chambering the round without any meplat damage.
The extractor claw is recessed into the right lug of the three, with familiar Mauser/Sauer twin plunger ejectors sited top and bottom, offset from vertical to fling the spent case just upward and to the right out of the horizontal ejection port. Primary extraction is plentiful and although you can flick the bolt open with the back of your fingers, the polymer handle and ball are fast to grasp and will easily dislodge a hot case if one is sticky. Firing pin strike is assured, with uniform impressions in the primer.
Regardless of cost, the action has one of the finest designs I have used on a sporting rifle, with just a single raceway on the upper left side of the 20.4mm bolt shaft to retain rotational alignment in the receiver body. The bolt stop lever on the left side of the action’s rear bridge runs within it. I have run this action in some tough conditions, and it balances tolerances with functionality very well. It wouldn’t jam even when I deliberately tried to do so, and when dirty will shed the grime. I can tell you for a fact that even packed full of snow it still worked perfectly without any stuttering.
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Mauser’s curved trigger blade is 8mm wide and its smooth matt black surface settles nicely onto your finger pad and the weight is adjustable from 1-2kg. The trigger guard is spacious, with plenty of room for a gloved finger.
A serrated roller at the right side of the action enables ‘fire’ in the forward position with ‘fully safe’ to the rear. The intermediate stage enables bolt operation with the trigger blocked and the catch is quiet in use. Stripping the action from the stock shows that its cylindrical profile carries twin studs on the underside with a recess for the recoil lug. This is fixed into the stock and mates with the action’s underside slot. The fit is good, with no discernible stress to the inlet, which shows masses of internal triangulation of the polymer to maximise stiffness in the short fibre reinforced material without excessive weight.
Stripping the gun for deep cleaning is straightforward, with the two fixed studs locked in place at the end of the action using 4mm Allen key nuts. No separate floorplate is involved. The trigger guard is seamlessly incorporated into the moulded stock’s profile and allows plenty of space for gloved fingers. When deliberately bumped and wrestled it shows no movement and certainly hasn’t snapped on the one I have been dragging around with me for four years.
M18 stocks are a copolymer moulding showing softer inlays at the grip and forend for a more tactile feel. It is free floated around the barrel and remains that way from any shooting position, with satisfactory stiffness to retain that barrel float unless you are deliberately brutal. There are slight angles within the curves along the forend to stabilise your hand position and just enough space to keep gloved thumbs on large hands free of the barrel. The grip shows a modest ambidextrous palm swell with a radius large enough to accommodate my hands and a slight lip to the base. Your thumb wraps pleasantly over the top, with slight cut outs for the meat of your thumb below and to the front of the comb.
This rises almost imperceptibly towards the butt pad, which is a feature to soften the recoil transmitted to your cheek. The gun effectively unwelds itself fractionally from your cheek as it recoils. It’s subtle, but it works and allows a good cheek weld without fearing your head will ring after multiple shots, particularly if you are shooting prone and offering more physical resistance to the rifle’s recoil.
A 25mm thick recoil pad is fitted, with two push-button catches either side of the 45mm body. It is 132mm high and its homogeneous feel and firm composition means that the gun grips well into your shoulder pocket without any squidgy spots concealing harder anchor points where the fasteners would be. Squeezing the two black Mauser logo buttons together allows this pad to be removed, revealing a compartment that’s great for holding a pull-through or emergency items. Contrary to my first thoughts back in 2018, I have never accidentally dislodged or lost one of these and consider it a valuable yet charmingly quirky, well-designed feature.
Length of pull is ideal for me at 360mm/14.25" using this 25mm pad. It would seem Mauser designed in some freedom to provide alternate units to increase or decrease this length, but I have never seen one advertised. This seems to be a missed opportunity, but yet again we could go back to the tooling costs for such options. As it is, it is ideal for me at 5' 11", with easy reach to the bolt handle and the grip/trigger blade showing an 85mm reach from the grip’s peak.
Studs are solidly fastened under the butt and forend for sling/bipod fitting and have remained that way since my previous .243. The stock has internal sound deadening to prevent any resonance and although not as quiet as walnut, noise is never bothersome. When shooting prone you get good tactile feel of the rifle. Its spacious layout is ideal for my height and you get a great feel of the solid recoil pad’s pressure in your shoulder.
The recoil lug transfers energy linearly into the stock, there is no lateral misalignment of the forend’s tip around the barrel, and when you tension the Allen nuts capturing the studs on the action’s underside, they spin freely until meeting their limits, clicking to relevant torque value (I used 5Nm) without any feeling of crushing compression that illustrates a misaligned inlet.
The front stud is a solid and tenacious anchor for a bipod’s extending legs. The forend’s radiused underside appreciates a hand to retain position if shot from sticks with a flat top (Viper-Flex), but those with a U or V notch (like the Blaser sticks) will lock it in firmly.
When a rifle is a tool, not a toy, what more does it need to have? The M18 may not be the most expensive gun you can pose with, but from a functional and ergonomic standpoint it makes some of them seem rather silly, as they cannot match this ‘cheaper’ gun’s true capability and delightful handling.
I still find the bolt one of the fastest in the business and I can’t jam one. The mag feeds smoothly, ejection is positive and forceful, no bullets get damaged and snagged when pressed into or out of the magazine, and when you need to insert a mag there is no fumbling around trying to align it with the well. It just slips in with a satisfying click.
The bolt slides so smoothly you can feel the contact between the face and the round being chambered. Will Mauser make a left hander? I don’t know, and they don’t seem to offer this much as an option on any rifle. However, the gun is fully ambidextrous although it does lack a true left-handed bolt. Weight is not onerous, the barrel length at 22" suits .308 well and, with the ability to screw a mod straight on and easy access to scope mounts, you are straight out of the gun shop to go and zero the rifle.
This light stock doesn’t soften recoil like a heavier gun, nor will it exhibit the natural harmonic damping of walnut.But you can give these M18s some harsh handling, and other than cleaning and a dot of oil now and again they will live an easy life until the day it is worn out though fair use. I only ever had one minor hiccup on my .243 when the bolt handle needed a dot of threadlock added after three years. I’m not complaining!
Disassembling the rifle reveals the thought that has been given to every component. It is designed to be economical, yet never falter in its function. Polymers may be considered dismissively, but they are a material of the present industrial world and not to be dismissed because Grandads’s rifle didn’t use them. The modern world doesn’t have men at workbenches for hours fettling every sharp edge on folded steel, honing barrels and tuning mechanisms. We just need to press a button and the product is delivered. Here we see one of the old boys, the company whose 98 was a founding member of the modern rifle world, completely accepting present opportunities.
Expensive rifles are very nice, but the rifle for everyman is what Mauser stood for and I think still delivers, and I’m far pickier than most people when saying that!
Barrel and action: Stainless steel
Calibre: .223, 308, 30-06, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 300 WinMag
Overall length: 1060 mm/41.75” (1120mm/44” Magnum)
Magazine capacity: 5+1 detachable magazine
Trigger: Single stage, 890gr/31oz.
Barrel length: 560mm/22” (620mm/24” Magnum) 17mm diameter, threaded 15x1
Length of pull: mm/”
Safety catch: 3 position inc. bolt lock
Tel: 01483 917 412