1903 Safe to shoot?


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Chuck Perry
October 15, 2005, 12:08 PM
I inherited a Springfield 1903. I have read that these rifle's with serial #'s under 800,000 are unsafe to shoot due to improper heat treating. The receiver is marked "U.S. SPRINGFIELD ARMORY MODEL 1903. serial # 302XXX. The previous owner was a shooter, and I know that this rifle has seen quite a few rounds. So, is it safe to shoot in any way? The rifle has been nicely sporterized, with a great trigger job, jeweling on the bolt, bolt handle, safety and trigger and a Redfield peep mounted on the rear ring. I hate to not use it, but I don't want to blow it up in my face either.

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El Rojo
October 15, 2005, 12:28 PM
Do a search on THR for this and you will find enough information to make your head spin. Basically to sum it up, the CMP and many other never recommend you fire these rifles. Others say with good modern ammunition that isn't too hot, you will never have a problem. I have a low number I bought from the CMP not realizing I wasn't supposed to shoot it (they didn't make that real apparant when they first started selling them). Turns out they disabled the firing pin, so I couldn't even shoot it. I have since got a new firing pin, but I haven't got the courage or been drunk enough to try it yet.

jefnvk
October 15, 2005, 03:03 PM
Pretty much what Rojo said. Do some searches, determine if the risk is worth it to you.

What bothers me the most, is that if you do have an ammo problem, there probably isn't much room for error. It may function fine up until the point where the ammo has a problem, but is it going to contain the problem? Flying metal near my face is not something I want to risk.

mete
October 15, 2005, 03:08 PM
The Army declared these guns unsafe . They should never have come on the market .It isn't worth the risk !!

DMK
October 15, 2005, 03:31 PM
It seems such a shame that these fine old weapons can't be fired. Is it possible to have the receiver re-heat treated to properly harden it?

Superreverb
October 15, 2005, 03:37 PM
I have read that these rifle's with serial #'s under 800,000 are unsafe to shoot due to improper heat treating. The receiver is marked "U.S. SPRINGFIELD ARMORY MODEL 1903. serial # 302XXX


You pretty much answered you own question. The answer is an emphatic No.

Keep it around as a beautiful, old historic piece and appreciate it for what it is. If you want a shooter '03, buy a (readily available) high number.


Regards - Ed (proud owner of #424xx" 1905 mfg '03, along with 4 others that are safe to shoot....)

Sleeping Dog
October 15, 2005, 03:39 PM
It could be the receiver, could be the bolt, both were single-heat-treated. re-treating could throw off the dimensions.

I have ammunition that I load at the bottom of the recommended powder range. I shoot that thru my lo-numbered 03 and have done that for years. I suspect that very few were heat-treated wrong.

CMP was created by lawyers (congress) so I expect them to give careful, CYA advice.

Warning: don't do as I do.

Regards.

TMM
October 15, 2005, 03:57 PM
can you have a new barrel made?

iamkris
October 15, 2005, 04:23 PM
TMM - it's not the barrel that's the problem, it is the receiver

http://www.snipercountry.com/Articles/SpringfieldM1903.asp

Gewehr98
October 15, 2005, 04:41 PM
It seems such a shame that these fine old weapons can't be fired. Is it possible to have the receiver re-heat treated to properly harden it?

The problem with the low-number receivers was that the carbon was cooked out of the receiver steel, they were literally "burnt" as they were being heat-treated. Hatcher's book goes into detail, but the heat treatment was done without the use of a pyrometer, mainly by eyeballing the color of the metal, and before the error was caught, 800,000+ Springfield M1903 rifles, and 285,000+ Rock Island M1903 rifles had slipped out the door.

My dad has a low-number 1903 that was modified decades ago for National Match competition.

I've made him several batches of low-pressure cast bullet .30-06 ammo, so he can still shoot the old girl safely. ;)

jefnvk
October 15, 2005, 05:31 PM
The Army declared these guns unsafe . They should never have come on the market .It isn't worth the risk !!

I might add to that, while the Army may have found them to be obsolete, tehy didn't remove them from supply until they came in to be rearsenaled, and the Marines kept on using them.

IMHO, very few will ever have a problem. But I don't want to be the guy pulling the trigger on one that does, and I sure don't wan't that guy shooting next to me (which is why they were banned from National Matches). No one but you can make that decision, if it is worth it to you.

mete
October 15, 2005, 05:49 PM
"Hatcher's Notebook" has a complete story about this .

SMLE
October 15, 2005, 06:17 PM
This a mostly a big bugaboo about nothing. If you read Hatcher's notebooks, you'll find the actual number of failures was very small. Bear in mind also that the magic number of 800,000 wasn't reached until AFTER WWI, and you don't ever hear of mass failures of 1903 rifles in the war. The Marines AND the Army rebarrelled these rifles and used them through WWII. On the other hand, I know a fellow in Australia who has had TWO "high number" '03s fail. Don't try to conver the rifle to a custom magnum, don't use hot handloads in it, enjoy shooting it, it will probably out live you and me both.

jobu07
October 15, 2005, 06:51 PM
...enjoy shooting it, it will probably out live you and me both.

That's what I like to hear. I wager that the ones that were going to blow up already have blown up anyway.

GoRon
October 15, 2005, 07:23 PM
Can the reciever be tested for hardness?

My dad and his wife are in the same situation with a low number rifle.

jefnvk
October 15, 2005, 07:29 PM
Can the reciever be tested for hardness?

Not really, without destroying it. I have heard about people hitting them with a hammer, supposedly the bad ones will shatter if you hit it hard enough.

Chuck Perry
October 15, 2005, 08:04 PM
What happens when one fails? Does the receiver develop a hairline crack, or does it detonate?

MachIVshooter
October 15, 2005, 08:21 PM
What happens when one fails? Does the receiver develop a hairline crack, or does it detonate?

In the handful of recorded failures, there were some non-life-threatening injuries to hands and faces. I believe one such incident left the shooter blind in one eye. AFAIK, all incidents involved soldiers, not civilians. I do not know all the details, but basically it seems that the incidents were extermely isolated, and none have occurred in the last half century.


I have a 1903 numbered well under 800,000 (mine is 1918 manufacture, rebarreled at S.A. in July of '42) and I shoot it regularly with normal velocity handloads and factory ammunition. I'm still here.

Chuck Perry
October 15, 2005, 08:31 PM
Lots of good replys here guys, thanks. I have fired this rifle with factory ammo in the past, and will probably continue to do so. The rifle has been handed down through our family now. It "came home" with my Grandfather's uncle, who worked in some mechanical capacity in the Army in WWI. I suspect alot of his down time was spent tinkering with weapons. He's long gone now, as is Pap, so I'll never know the full story on this one. As I said, the Uncle was a shooter and a hunter, so this one probably saw quite a few rounds. He used to trick shoot targets with a 22 rifle backwards over his shoulder and a mirror to aim. Wish I could have seen that!

Vern Humphrey
October 15, 2005, 08:36 PM
There were actually several factors involved in M1903 blowups -- the heat treating of the receivers were only part of it.

In a couple of cases the cause was the attempt to fire an 8X57 Mauser cartrtidge in the rfle -- the Springfield is a controlled-feed action, and the extractor will hold the case against the bolt face and the 8X57 round will fire. How many bursts were due to improper ammunition is unknown.

In addition, there was bad metal fouling in the early days. Tin plating was used to overcome this, and also troops in the field liked to dip bullets in cosmoline to lubricate them (in hopes of preventing fouling.) The tin-plated bullets tended to chemically solder themselves to the cases, raising pressures to dangerous levels. And you imagine how cosmoline-coated bullets raised pressures.

As pointed out earlier, low-number Springfields were not withdrawn. They remained in service until worn out. When returned to the arsenal for refurbishing, low number rifles were they placed in War Reserve instead of being reissued. So if you have a low number rifle, it has probably been worn out and rebuilt at least once.

greg531mi
October 15, 2005, 09:40 PM
"Hatcher's Notebook" has a complete story about this
I read Hatcher's book on this, and it was under 100 guns.
It seems when they added a second shift to the heat treat, they had all these problems. Most are close in serial number. Then, some were shooting 8mm, So, making over a million guns, and having only 100 failures, they condemed all these guns????
If I have been shooting my 03 for years, I would keep on shooting it.

Vern Humphrey
October 15, 2005, 09:51 PM
I read Hatcher's book on this, and it was under 100 guns.
It seems when they added a second shift to the heat treat, they had all these problems. Most are close in serial number. Then, some were shooting 8mm, So, making over a million guns, and having only 100 failures, they condemed all these guns????
If I have been shooting my 03 for years, I would keep on shooting it.

We should also point out that the '03 Springfield is the most documented rifle in this aspect. We know that Mausers and Lee-Enfields have blown up, but we have no idea how many, or why.

And no one's afraid to shoot a pre-WWI Mauser or Lee Enfield, if it looks like it's in good shape and has proper headspace.

Gewehr98
October 15, 2005, 10:26 PM
I knew about Lewis' (aka Vulture's) two 1903A3's, they cracked in the front receiver ring, ostensibly from an overtorqued barrel. I've still got his pictures from the gunandknife forums. I made sure my 1903A4 restoration and rebarreling was done with kid gloves, based on those pictures.

Likewise, there's a goodly number of M1917 U.S. Enfields, made at the Baldwin Locomotive Works Eddystone plant, that suffer from cracked front receiver rings, and receivers made there have been deemed by some to be brittle and unsafe for use. Those M1917 Enfields built at Winchester's New Haven, CT and Remington's, Ilion NY plants seemed to have escaped this problem.

Do I dare mention the Canadian Ross rifle, and what happens if somebody improperly reassembles the bolt after field-stripping it?

Then there's the problem with the single locking lug on the M1892 through M1898 U.S. Krag rifles. While the bolt locking lug bears the pressure load of firing, the bolt guide rib and bolt handle have their own safety recesses in the receiver in the event the bolt locking lug fails. Regardless, one of the first things the savvy Krag buyer should check for is cracking in that single locking lug. Metallurgy in those days, while still better than cast iron cannons, still left a bit to be desired compared to what we have now. (As I measure the wall thickness of the chamber in the cylinder of my stainless .44 Special S&W Model 696, at 0.050"!)

johnmcl
October 16, 2005, 11:22 AM
Chuck,

This is obviously your call here, buddy, on whether to shoot it or hang it on the wall. The general logic is that those low numbered Springfields are unsafe to shoot. The Army thinks so, as does CMP, as does many with respected reputations in the shooting field. There's evidence presented as to scale of the problem, but questioning its existence.

Best of luck,

John

BruceB
October 16, 2005, 12:07 PM
At one time, I owned an as-issued 1903 Springfield with the serial number 800321, obviously one of the very first "high-number" '03s. The barrel date (original barrel) was February 1918, meaning that the manufacturing change occurred DURING WW I, not after the war. Note that in recent years, it was discovered that a limited number of rifles with numbers ABOVE 800,000 were in fact made with the older single-heat method. Not many rifles were involved, perhaps only a few dozen, but these were apparently rifles that were already in process when heat-treatment changed. All such rifles were numbered very close to the magic 800,000 figure.

Elmer Keith himself, writing about his time at Utah's Ogden Arsenal during WW II, told of simply fitting new bolts to low-number Springfields, checking the headspace, and firing a couple of standard PROOF LOADS (special high-pressure ammo for testing the safety of guns). He stated that no low-number rifles failed the proof test during his service at the Arsenal. These rifles were then released for normal issue and service.

Testing for "sufficient" reciever hardness is pointless. The faulty receivers are TOO HARD, to the point of brittleness. Dave LeGate, I think it was, writing in Rifle Magazine many years ago, described his disbelief in this brittleness...until he took an early 1903 receiver and tapped it lightly against a bench vise. The receiver shattered like glass, and he published photos to show the breakage.

I own and shoot a Rock Island low-number '03, professionally sporterized by my gunsmith Grandfather for one of his sons around 1950. The rifle was heavily used for over fifty years with factory ammo, until my Uncle's death a couple years ago, at which time it passed to me. It has seen extensive use here with cast bullets, and later this week it is travelling with me to Alberta for a deer/elk combo hunt. It won't be my "main" rifle, but rather goes along as a spare and/or iron-sight fallback. I consider it to be serviceable in all respects....but it IS still a low-number rifle, and I keep that in the back of my mind. It's a calculated risk, I suppose, but a low risk, given the rifle's performance history.

Hacker15E
October 16, 2005, 03:34 PM
Likewise, there's a goodly number of M1917 U.S. Enfields, made at the Baldwin Locomotive Works Eddystone plant, that suffer from cracked front receiver rings, and receivers made there have been deemed by some to be brittle and unsafe for use. Those M1917 Enfields built at Winchester's New Haven, CT and Remington's, Ilion NY plants seemed to have escaped this problem.

This is an issue with the tightness with which the original barrels at the Eddystone factory were screwed into the receiver. When the Eddystones were rebarreled, the receivers developed small cracks. Not a problem with brittleness, but over-torquing.

buttrap
October 17, 2005, 04:28 AM
I had one for many years I used to shoot. It was made in 1905,been converted to 30-06 from 30-03. It had the barrel replaced with a late 1918 barrel that was still on it that must have had well over 5000 rounds put tru it before I got the thing. A buddy of mine still has the thing and shoots it with light loads. If the thing survived having two barrels wore out on the thing the receiver must be not that much of a bomb.

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