While many consider the "low numbered" M1903 rifles "unsafe" to shoot note that neither the Army nor Marine Corps paid any attention to this recommendation when it was made and continued to use any and all M1903 Rifles right thru WW2. Hatcher has an entire chapter in his Notebook on this. In this chapter there are 137 documented cases of these rifles "blowing up" (and 61 noted injuries) and the major reasons cited include greased cartridges, 7.92mm Mauser cartridges (!), and thin, soft cased WW1 vintage cartridges produced at Frankford Arsenal. None of which you should be shooting 8) .
Burst Receiver: 68
Blow Back: 23
Burst barrel due to obstrction: 21
Burst barrel due to weak or seamy metsl: 13
Burst barrel due to burnt steel: 10
Hangfire while opening bolt: 1
Nature of damage not stated: 1
That said most shooting organizations prohibit firing SA rifles numbered under 800,000 and RIA under 285,507.
Note burst barrels were found to occur almost exclusively in "high numbered" and blow back is a function of defective cartridges.
Take your own chances, I've no problems firing my first year production (1905) SA rifle a couple times a year. But I've got no bore obstructions or bad cartridges!
I know a gentleman who not only served in the military forever but is a gunsmith - he told me that he would not hesitate to shoot an early '03. Since he regularly shoots everything from flintlocks to 50 cals I totally believe him.
I myself would love to own an early 1903 for the history value (and yes I would take it out and shoot it with the appropriate ammo).
My first year production M1903 was originally chambered in .30-03 and later converted to .03-06. When? I've no clue, she wears an "SA '05 A" marked barrel and is in a S.A.D.A.L. (on one line, no box) marked two bolt stock. The stock is no earlier than WW1 so she wears a M1917 canvas sling just to be different. Serial is in the 140,000 range.
AIR, reading in American Rifleman IIRC, the conversion from .30-03 to .30-06 was in 1905. IIRC, President Theodore Roosevelt has a lot of influence on several aspects of the changes from '03 to 03A1. Or is it 03Mk1? I'm not real sure of some early designations.
the mark 1 was the 03 that was capable of accepting the pederson device. these were made from late 1918 until 1920 or 1921.
the A1 came about sometime in the 20's IIRC.
the main difference from the 30-03 to 30-06 model was the chamber and the early guns had a rod bayonet. these are extremely rare today. sometimes on an onld sample you will see the stock was an original rod bayonet stock. that had been converted to the 03 bayonet we are used to.
,30-03 rifles in the hands of troops were not converted to .30-06 for many years and some rare ones were noted in the hands of troops as late as WW1. Rifle shoots the '06 round just fine. Toward the end of the initial production period of the M1903 units with .30-03 rifles exchanged them for new .30-06 rifles and the conversion was done. I recall sources saying circa 1910-1911.
I think Rifle serial number 1 was discovered in a unit in France in WW1.
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