No, this isn’t a real 1903A4. It is a run of the mill mix-matched Rock Island 1903 Springfield fitted with an S&K “Insta-Mount” and a Hi-Lux M73G2, replica scope from their “Malcolm” line. The scope mount is not drilled and tapped into the receiver. See the directions at the bottom. The cheek pad is from Ebay, $25.
The scope is mounted on a standard Weaver style rail with 3/4″ inch mounts for the thin tube of the old Weaver model 330 World War II era design.
This is a Weaver 29S from the same period as the Model 330, with the same 3/4″ tube. This is a drill and tap mount made for the 1903 Springfield specifically for this generation of scope.
This is a scene from “Saving Private Ryan” in the beginning towards the end of the Omaha Beach scene. The sniper character uses a M73 scope on a 1903A4. Later he switches to a Unertl scope on an A1.
The only modification I had to make to this gun was this small amount of inletting for the receiver band that holds the front of the S&K mount.
This is a picture of a bolt bought on Ebay that had been ground down for more clearance with a scope (the bottom one). It was not headspaced correctly for this gun and would require a gunsmith to use, but you can at least see the difference.
The shaved bolt offers a lot more clearance on the scope and in fact shooting would interfere less with the turrets.
Our resident US Army Sniper Ben Becker shot this platform and it seemed stable and capable of competition level consistency, despite the fact that it appears to have far too few parts when you install it.
These are all World War II era scopes that were deployed mainly on the Garand M1C and M1D snipers, but most likely were also used on 1903 Springfield sniper rifles at some point. They are, top to bottom, the Numrich Arms M84, the Numrich Arms M82, both of those replicas, then two Lyman Alaskans, which were the civilian version of these scopes back in the day. All have a 7/8ths tube, so do not fit standard 1″ scope mounts. I have yet to find a 7/8ths mount, but we will see all of these scopes when we go over the M1C and M1D Garands we recently ordered from CMP.
If you trace the evolution of the modern sniper rifle, it invariably leads you back to the Model 1903 Springfield. It served US forces in World War I, then soldiered on into World War II, through the Korean Conflict, and even appeared here and there in Vietnam. Several versions of the 1903 Springfield were used as sniper rifles, the most common of which was the 1903A4. It first appeared in 1943 and carried a Weaver 330 scope, mounted on a drilled and tapped Redfield base that was created specifically for the gun. The Weaver 330 later turned into the M73, and then the M73B1, and with its 2.2x not waterproof sniper scope, the 1903A4 is today the most classic of all US sniper rifles, but they are expensive, in the thousands of dollars for even a beat up one.
Over the past several years there has been an explosion in shooting competitions based on “as issued” military bolt rifles, or “service rifles.” Thousands of old ’03 Springfields and other bolt action battle rifles have left the confines of the gun safe after decades of non-use and have again become “working rifles.” The problem is, a lot of the shooters involved in these new service rifle competitions are great shooters, but have aging eyesight. Over a certain age, you really need optics to shoot well, but the 1903 Springfield isn’t the easiest gun on which to mount a scope. The receivers are extremely hard on most of them and difficult to drill and tap, and drilling and tapping them is a big decision as well. It is very rare if not impossible to find an ’03 that is all original, but they all have historical value and significance. Most of us out here with the guns are also history nuts and at least quasi-collector/accumulators, and we can’t just decide to drill and tap them for scope mounts so we can shoot them better. That is why, until now, they have largely just sat in the safe.
Fortunately, after searching far and wide, I found a scope mount for the 1903 Springfield that doesn’t require drilling and tapping, and actually looks, feels, and is solid like a genuine drilled and tapped mount. It is made by S&K Scope Mounts and it is called the “Insta-Mount.” With the new replica M73B1 scope being sold by Gibbs Rifle company , it is hard to distinguish an S&K 1903A4 from a real 1903A4. And the nice thing about it is that you can use really any scope setup you want with your rifle. The S&K mount gives you a standard Weaver base, for use with any standard rings or rail bases. For a casual service rifle match, even the oldest eyes will be able to shoot an authentic 1903 Springfield with optics, and without destroying the historical and monetary value of the gun.
What’s the catch? Well, one is that you do have to inlet your stock a little for the width of the barrel band that holds the front of the mount. In the rifle you see in the pictures, a Rock Island ’03 probably made right before World War I, the stock was already definitely not original, and they almost never are. The government cannot throw away or destroy battle rifles without an act of congress, so over the last half century or more they have re-barelled, re-stocked, and even completely refinished these rifles over and over again. In general, ’03 stocks are a dime a dozen and go for $100-$150. My stock on the Rock Island could even have been replaced three times and you would never know the difference. It has no inspector marks, called cartouches, and even if it did, you can buy cartouche stamps on Ebay that when used creatively are virtually undetectable from original specimens. The receiver is generally the only original part on an ’03, and my Rock Island has little collector value other than that it is a genuine Rock Island ’03 that looks pretty good and works.
If you have an ’03 that you wish you could shoot in a casual service rifle competition with optics, this S&K mount kit may work for you and it may not, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. If you don’t want to inlet your stock, buy another stock, put it on the gun, and inlet that. The bolt handle is another part you may want to modify if you plan to shoot the gun with a scope a lot, but as you can see from my pictures, this can be an optional modification, and you can do it with another bolt as well. On my gun, with the 3/4 inch rings I was able to score for the M73, the regular ’03 bolt handle clears just enough to not require any modification. I have included both pictures of my bolt and those of a bolt that has been ground down for a proper clearance for a real drilled and tapped 1903A4 mount, so you can see exactly what S&K is talking about in the directions when they discuss this issue. Remember these are battle rifles, and most competitions are timed, so a good clean bolt throw can be important.
With the installation pictures I have included here you will not go though the fits I went through when I first got my first S&K mount. It comes with virtually no directions, and a pile of what seems to be way too few parts to create a solid scope mount on a rifle. I freaked when I first read the part about grinding your bolt after you have installed your “no drill” mount. What’s the point of having a no drill mount when I now have to go grind my bolt? Well it’s not such a big deal after all. The same thing with inletting the stock. It is just part of the deal, and a whole lot better than trying to drill and tap an ’03 receiver. Read the directions, and follow the pictures. It goes together fairly easily, but keep in mind that the mount is aluminum, and it is easy to booger the screw holes if you are not careful. I had to get a second mount when I overmuscled the first one.
At present there are only two companies carrying the M73B1 scope. Gibbs Rifle Company is using it for their hog rifles that Scott Mayer already did a story on here. Those rifles are being made from revitalized de-milled drill rifles, so Gibbs has no conscience problem drillings and tapping them for a proprietary mount being supplied by Hi-Lux, who is making the replica scopes in China. I was unwilling to drill and tap my Rock Island, and my search led me to S&K, but it took me weeks to find a 3/4 inch Weaver scope mount with which to mount the M73B1 scope. Surprisingly, they don’t exist through normal suppliers, but I found one source, Sun Optics, that was willing to send me rings to try. My understanding is that Val Forget from Gibbs is in contact with them as well, so if you want to put this together, you will have to call around and see what you can get like I did. The Hi-Lux drill and tap mount also has a built in windage adjustment, because the M73 is known to not be very flexible with windage, but my rifle zeroed just fine with the turrets.
The rings I was not able to get were the 7/8ths inch that are required for the M81/82 and M84 scopes that were found on the Garand M1C and M1D sniper rifles. I have a picture of some here. These scopes were based on the Lyman Alaskan and are also only about 2.5x power. These would be historically accurate for period correctness, but I have not found a government issued 7/8ths mount for the Springfield, so for historical correctness I’m not sure. We will visit these scopes, including the what appear to be very good replica M82 and M84 scopes from Numrich Arms, in an upcoming article on the M1C and M1D we ordered from CMP. There was no sense holding this article up for now when summer competition season is around the corner just so I could find a 7/8ths scope mount with a Weaver base. I will find one, in time.
Also note that we have an article coming up on the “other” Springfield 1903A1 sniper variant that carried a special Unertl external adjusting scope. Hi-Lux also has created a replica of this classic external windage and elevation adjustment scope, and we are trying to work with the American Gunsmithing Institute to make a video of how to mount this on an ’03. That scope requires drilling and tapping, to the barrel (uhum), and it is a little tricky. But for an only moderately collectible ’03, it’s a nifty scope to create a pretty unique rifle. If you watch the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” in the beginning scene on Omaha beach the sniper character uses an M73 scope and a 1903A4, then later in the movie, in the scene where he gets blown up in the tower, he uses the Unertl model scope on a 1903A1. I sent one of my other ’03 Springfields, a re-parkerized gun I bought on GunsAmerica for $350, to AGI to make the video and hopefully that will come together soon.
A vintage 1903 Springfield is not going to be the most accurate gun in your arsenal. Most of them were re-barreled at some point with two groove emergency war barrels, and the ones that weren’t are pretty well shot out. You can still easily get surplus and aftermarket replacement barrels, as well as stock sets, bolts, and just about every other part for an ’03. If you tune your gun up it may do better than the two inches or so we were able to get out of my Rock Island. And even then, the Rock Island plant closed in 1919. It is almost 100 year old firearm, and it shot as well as many out of the box brand new deer rifles I have owned over the years. The S&K mount, though sorely lacking directions, is a brilliant piece of engineering and seems solid as a rock. That leather cheek pad I got on Ebay for $25 and it fits just fine, and looks great. I am leaving my Rock Island set up as a 1903A4. It’ll outshoot any Nagant I’ve ever seen, and we’ll see how she does against the Mausers, Arisakas and Enfields out there at some point. But let me warn you, if you get to the shoot and you see a Swiss K31, scope or no scope, put your rifle back in the car and go home. More on this as well later.
Installing the S&K Insta-Mount on the 1903 Springfield – Photo Essay
The nut with the two wings on it goes upside down, up into the back of the mount. Use one of the shorter thick screws to secure it to the mount, and the wings go down into the back of the action, matching up with the action pieces so it doesn’t stick out. You’ll see how it goes when you go to put it in. One of the wings here is hanging out just to illustrate. Note that the end hook is not screwed down yet.