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How To Build a 1903A4 Sniper Rifle

by Reid Coffield   |  December 23rd, 2013 2

How to build a 1903A4 sniper rifleIn one sense, it took me 51 years or so to complete this project. My friends gently—sometimes not so gently—rag me about taking so long with my work, but even they might be a bit shocked by that. I certainly didn’t plan it that way. It all started when I was 16 years old. I’d been reading gun magazines like Shooting Times and American Rifleman. The Rifleman ran a notice of the sale by the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) of unserviceable 1903A3 rifles for the princely sum of about $7.50 plus $10 shipping. It didn’t take me long to convince my dad that we needed one, and since I was gainfully employed at the local grocery, I would pay for it. Dad concurred, and the order was placed. Months later an unissued, mint 1903A3 rifle arrived at my home.

I loved that rifle. It was the first “new” gun I’d ever owned. I learned to shoot with it, and to make that possible, I also learned to handload and cast bullets. The more I used the rifle and was exposed to other gun people, the more I became aware of the importance of having spare parts. Fortunately, DCM also offered parts at very reasonable prices. Consequently, I sent off an order for about $15, which included five or six extra barrels since they were being sold for only 75 cents each! Milled trigger guards were about 35 cents each, and I ordered several of them as well.

Over the years I’ve used many of those parts. At least four of those barrels have been used on my original ’03A3, which I still have. By the way, even with all that shooting, my ’03A3 would still be considered as virtually mint. You definitely can do a lot of shooting with a gun without damaging it.

Not too long ago, I picked up an ’03A3 drill rifle. The barrel had been welded up, the boltstop welded to the receiver, and the face of the bolt welded to close the firing pin hole. In addition, the rifle was severely rusted and in terrible condition. I initially thought I might just break it up for parts or perhaps convert it to .22 rimfire. But as I examined this rifle, I realized the receiver had not been damaged. In fact, with just finger pressure alone I was able to break the weld on the boltstop!

For years I’d wanted an ’03A4 sniper rifle to go with my original ’03A3, but I’d waited too long. The prices of originals are now far too much for my budget. With this drill rifle, however, I could finally afford to have at least a replica of that unique rifle. I would just build it.

The 1903A4 was the first mass-produced sniper rifle fielded by the United States military. It was introduced during World War II and saw use in Korea and even in the early days of the Vietnam War. Admittedly, it was not the best sniper rifle of World War II, but it was what we had, and it was available in large numbers. There’s a lot of history associated with it, and since the release of the film Saving Private Ryan, where the ’03A4 was used extensively, it’s become very popular.

My first task was to remove the barrel, which had been spot welded to the bottom of the front of the receiver. I cut the weld down to the surface of the receiver and then applied just a bit of pressure to turn the receiver off the barrel. Again, the weld easily broke as there was virtually no penetration or depth to the weld. If there had been any significant weld penetration, the safety of the receiver would have been questionable. The receivers on my earlier ’03 Springfield .22 rimfire projects had been heavily welded and were unsafe for anything other than the low-pressure .22 rimfire. From what I’ve seen, every one of these drill rifles is unique. Some are safe for conversion, some are not. If you have one and you’re not 100 percent sure it’s safe, have a knowledgeable, competent gunsmith check it out.

With the original barrel removed and the welds cleaned up, I fitted and headspaced my 75-cent barrel to the receiver. Over the years I’d picked up an ’03A3 bolt altered for scope clearance, as were the original ’03A4 bolts. I also replaced the ruined magazine cut-off as well as many other small parts. Most of those replacements came from that original DCM parts purchase I made years ago.

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