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The J.C. Higgins Model 50 Bolt-Action Rifle

Intended for blue-collar riflemen, the J.C. Higgins Model 50 featured several high-end components.

The J.C. Higgins Model 50 Bolt-Action Rifle
J.C. Higgins Model 50 rifles were built on genuine commercial Mauser actions by FN and marketed by Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Model 50 rifles were built in Belgium, by super-supplier Fabrique Nationale—the same company that made many of John Browning’s early designs. Although labeled and sold for a blue-collar demographic, this J.C. Higgins rifle features some very high-end components. For starters, the rifle’s action is a genuine commercial Mauser 98 type, built by craftsmen well versed in the design. The barrel was made by High Standard and is chrome lined. As you can see in the photo, the Model 50 also had a nice stock of dense walnut. And it was properly laid out so the grain runs straight and strong through the wrist area behind the action. Sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co., the J.C. Higgins brand was named for Irishman John Higgins, an immigrant who dedicated his full career to Sears. Sears used the J.C. Higgins name on most of its sporting goods from 1908 to 1962. In addition to the bicycles, golf products, and so forth, Sears commissioned various rifles, handguns, and shotguns from several major firearms makers, including FN, High Standard, Stevens, Marlin, Sako, and Husqvarna. Model 50 rifles were sold for significantly less than most of the prominent good-quality hunting rifles of the era, such as Winchester’s Model 70. However, unlike budget rifles of today, fundamental quality was excellent. The action and bottom metal are milled from steel—not forged or cast. The barrel was made by a company known for match-winning target pistols. Model 50s were chambered for just two cartridges: .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield.

Mechanicals

Model 50 rifles feature a proper 98 Mauser type action made by FN for the commercial market. Bolts feature dual, opposing locking lugs up front and the famous full-length, nonrotating claw extractor. The bolt handle is bent and profiled to be compatible with a riflescope. And the scope-compatible, wing-type safety on the bolt shroud blocks the firing pin from falling. The magazine is a double-stack, fixed box type, and it holds five rounds. The magazine floorplate features a pushbutton release, and the complete floorplate, follower, and follower spring assembly rotates downward and drops into the palm of a hand when the button is pressed.

Provenance

I found the Model 50 profiled here in a local gunshop and purchased it thinking that even if the rifle doesn’t shoot well, the commercial FN Mauser action alone is worth having for a future custom build project. My rifle is chambered to .30-06. At some point, a previous owner gave the rifle some dedicated attention, stripping the original finish off the stock and giving it a very nicely applied fresh finish. The rear sight has been removed, and a nice Williams dovetail filler was installed. The front sight post on its ramp is still present. Aside from that, the rifle is original. The metal finish is in very nice condition.

Rangetime

jr-higgins-model-50-rifle-review-02

When I bought the Model 50, it came without scope bases. Research suggests that FN Mausers came drilled and tapped with holes in the rear receiver bridge quite close together—but the bases I initially ordered from Brownells didn’t fit. Rear hole spacing for my rifle is 0.86 inch—considerably more than the apparent standard. A local gunsmith fitted Weaver-type bases for me, and I was in business. For function and accuracy testing, I mounted a Leupold VX-3i 2.5-8X 32mm scope in Seekins rings.  At the range, resting the Model 50 over sandbags up front and beneath the toe of the stock, I fired three-shot groups with three .30-06 factory loads, allowing the barrel to cool between each string. Throughout, the rifle loaded, fed, and fired flawlessly. But then, I expected no less because it’s an FN Mauser, after all. Accuracy was about what I expected from a vintage rifle. The best-shooting load was Hornady’s 180-grain SST ammo, which averaged 1.35 inches at 100 yards. With the little Leupold scope aboard, the Model 50 weighs 8.5 pounds. That’s not mountain-rifle weight, but I was grateful for it during the shooting session, as the hard plastic buttplate bit my shoulder more than I’m accustomed to. It reminded me what a blessing modern soft recoil pads are—they really spread out recoil and reduce the perceived kick. Ergonomics are good; the simple but nice J.C. Higgins Model 50 shoulders comfortably, points naturally, and cycles smoothly and easily. Nice examples can be found on the used-gun market for $250 to $450. I think the Model 50 may be the highest-quality entry-level hunting rifle ever produced.




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