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Springfield Models 1903A3 & 1903A4

by Paul Scarlata   |  September 23rd, 2010 0


The M1903A4 was a sniper version of the Springfield M1903A3 fitted with a Weaver 330C scope.

From its establishment in 1794 up to 1968, the Springfield Armory was the primary R&D and manufacturing facility for the small arms used by the armed forces of the United States. And while it has produced everything from flintlock muskets to selective-fire assault rifles, when the name “Springfield” is mentioned around any group of firearms aficionados, the image that immediately comes to mind is the “U.S. Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903″–the “Aught Three” of fame and legend.

In 1898 Mauser-armed Spanish soldiers taught the U.S. Army a rude lesson as to the shortcomings of the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. (As a Krag aficionado I hate to say that.) So much in fact that within five years, Springfield Armory had developed a rifle that used obvious copies of the bolt, magazine, and loading system of Mauser’s Modelo 1893 and Infanteriegewehr 98 rifles.

The management at Waffenfabrik Mauser took umbrage at various features of the new U.S. service rifle and threatened a series of patent infringement lawsuits. An out of court settlement was reached, whereby the U.S. government agreed to the payment of royalties totaling $200,000 for the Model 1903′s charger-loaded magazine.

Adopted as the U.S. Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903, the rifle underwent a series of changes over the next two years. Changes to the sights, bayonet, and stock resulted in the outline that is now so familiar to generations of American servicemen, shooters, and collectors. By January 1906, approximately 200,000 rifles had been built by Springfield Armory and Rock Island Arsenal when it was decided to modify the .30 M1903 cartridge to use a pointed spitzer bullet.

Adopted as the .30 Caliber Ball Cartridge, Model 1906 (a.k.a. .30-06), its 150-grain pointed bullet was driven to a velocity of 2,700 fps. The shorter bullet required that the cartridge neck be shortened, reducing case length to 2.494 inches (63mm) and requiring rifles already in service to have their barrels shortened and re-chambered.


The M1903A3’s bolt had dual front locking lugs, a third lug on the bolt body, a long non-rotating extractor, a wing-type safety lever, and a knurled cocking piece.

As produced by Springfield Arsenal and the Rock Island Armory, the pre-1917 Model 1903 was probably the finest made and finished bolt-action military rifle in history. And it quickly earned a reputation as one of the, if not the, most accurate of the breed.

With the massive expansion of the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I, the Army was forced to adopt the U.S. Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1917 (the M1917 Enfield) as substitute standard. After the war, it was suggested that the Model 1917 be adopted as standard, but while it’s an excellent battle rifle in its own right, for the regulars of the Army, the USMC, and the extremely influential target-shooting fraternity of the NRA, the Model 1903 was the rifle, and they were not about to give it up.

Model 1903 production ended permanently at Rock Island in June of 1919, while limited numbers were produced at Springfield until 1927. After that, production was devoted to the manufacture of receivers (which increased between 1940 and 1944), barrels, spare parts, and National Match rifles.

Although the semiautomatic M1 Garand rifle had been adopted in 1936, when the U.S. entered the Second Great Disagreement, the Model 1903 was still standard issue in most Army and all USMC units, and it would remain so for many months to come. Production of receivers at Springfield was increased, and rifles were assembled with barrels and other parts provided by subcontractors.

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Specifications:

Model: U.S. Magazine Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903A#
Manufacturer: Smith-Corona
Type: Bolt-action repeater
Caliber: .30-06
Magazine capacity: Five rounds, charger-loaded box
Barrel: 24 in.
Overall length: 43.4 in.
Weight, empty: 8.8 lbs.
Sights: Blade front; aperture rear, adjustable by ramp from 200 to 800 yards
Bayonet: M1 Bayonet with 10-in. single-edged blade


The Springfield Model 1903A3 was the last purpose-built, bolt-action military rifle used by the U.S. Army. Its most distinctive, and practical, feature is its aperture rear sight.

The Model 1903A3
In 1942 a simple aperture rear sight replaced the complicated M1905 sight, and the rifle’s designation became the U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1903A3. The 1903A3 displayed a lower level of detail work and finish–machine marks are obvious on the receivers and barrels–and they received a rough, Parkerized finish. To reduce costs even further, many 1903A3s were fitted with barrels having two-groove rather than four-groove rifling.

Despite these changes, the Model 1903A3 proved to be just as reliable and accurate as its predecessor, and with its aperture rear sight, it was probably one of the more practical bolt-action rifles ever issued to U.S. forces.

Remington delivered the first Model 1903A3s in December 1942. Production was also contracted to the L.C. Smith & Corona Typewriter Co. in March 1942, and that firm’s first rifles were delivered by October of the same year. It was necessary to issue Model 1903 rifles to each Army and USMC unit for launching rifle grenades because a suitable rifle grenade launcher was not developed for the M1 Garand until late in 1943. Many Model 1903A3 rifles were supplied to Allied forces, notably the Free French and Nationalist Chinese.

Production of the M1 Garand finally matched demand, and the contracts with Remington and Smith-Corona were canceled in February 1944. By that time Remington had manufactured 348,085 Model 1903 (Modified) and 707,629 Model 1903A3 rifles, and Smith-Corona had produced 234,580.

The Model 1903A4
The U.S. Rifle, Sniper, Model 1903A4 guns were assembled from Remington 1903A3 rifles selected for their superior accuracy, fitted with pistol-grip stocks, and scoped with Weaver 330C telescopic sights. (Model 1903A4 rifles will also be found fitted with a semi-pistol grip, the so-called “scant” stock.) No front or rear sights were fitted, the bolt handle was bent to clear the scope, and the magazine had to be loaded with individual rounds because the scope mount did not allow the use of chargers. It was the standard U.S. Army sniper rifle in World War II and remained in use throughout the Korean War.

In the postwar years, Model 1903A3s were distributed as military aid to France, Turkey, Greece, Ethiopia, and a number of Latin American nations. Recently, numbers of them have been brought back from Greece, and they are now available through the CMP at reasonable prices.

Shooting The 1903A3
The Model 1903A3 that I test-fired for this article is part of my personal collection. It was made by Smith-Corona in 1944, and it is in excellent condition with mirror-bright bore.

Using Remington and Winchester ammunition, I fired a series of five-shot groups from a benchrest on the 100-yard range, and it took a few turns of the windage adjustment knob to zero the rifle. I then shot for score, and despite its lowest sight setting of 200 yards, it tended to print a bit low. Groups ranged from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, which I think is pretty decent for a standard-issue military rifle of that era. While my Model 1903 Springfield is just as accurate, I find that its open rear sight is slower in use and does not provide as good a sight picture.

My shooting proved to me that the M1903A3 was a very dependable, user-friendly, and shootable rifle, and if I may be so bold, I say that it was probably the most practical bolt-action rifle of the Second Great Disagreement.


The M1903A3 was issued with the M1 bayonet that had a 10-inch single-edged blade.

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1944-Vintage 1903A3 At The Range:

Factory Load Velocity (fps) 100-Yard Accuracy (in.)
Winchester USA 147-gr. FMJ 2819 2.13
UMC 150-gr. FMJ 2771 1.75
Notes: Accuracy is the average of three, five-shot groups fired from a benchrest. Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 15 feet from the guns muzzle with a PACT chronograph.

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