May 02, 2023
“Krag” rifles hold several historic distinctions. They were chambered for the first smokeless-powder cartridge adopted by the U.S. military. They were not of domestic design, so adoption was hotly contested by American engineers—who even sued the U.S. government in outrage. And although heralded as the ideal balance of assault-stopping repeater and accuracy-promoting single shot (with the magazine cutoff engaged), the Krag was proven inferior in combat. It also was the shortest-lived military longarm in U.S. history.
Not quite 750,000 were made, in all variations, worldwide. About 500,000 were manufactured at Springfield Armory. First variants were the M1892 rifle and carbine. Regular updates were implemented, resulting in the M1896, M1898, and M1899 in several guises, including rifle, carbine, cadet rifle, and constable carbine.
They were quickly decommissioned and sold as surplus after the Springfield 1903 was adopted, so Krags were plentiful and cheap during the early part of the last century. Many, even most, were “sporterized.” Stocks were shortened, and barrels were often shortened as well. The Model 1898 rifle showcased here is one such sporterized Krag.
For many decades, sporterized Krags were popular and useful hunting tools. Peruse the used-gun market, and you’ll find that these modified-for-hunting Krags are still relatively inexpensive. You can find decent examples for $300 to $450. As with all vintage military arms, originals in correct configuration now bring a premium. A rifle in nice condition will top $1,000, and carbines are even costlier.
Krag-Jørgensen rifles load via a magazine gate attached to the right side of the receiver. Thumb it open, drop in up to five rounds, and slap it shut. It will align the cartridges for proper feeding.
The Krag did not initially use any fast-loading devices, but it did have a magazine cutoff, enabling the full five-round magazine to be held in reserve against a potential charge or other fast-and-furious call to action while being fed and fired as a single shot in the meantime.
One feature that most soldiers liked was the ability to top off the magazine with a round in the chamber and the bolt closed. No other bolt-action military rifle of the era that I’m aware of offered this feature until the advent of detachable box magazines.
Cartridges are fed in a rotary path around the underside of the action and up through an orifice in the left lower side of the receiver. The boltface picks up the rim of fresh cartridges and pushes them forward into the chamber. A massive cocking piece drives the firing pin home with gusto when the trigger is squeezed. If a primer proves stubborn, the cocking piece can be manually retracted for a second try without having to open the action. The safety is a classic wing type. Rotate it right to lock up the bolt and the firing pin. Flick it left to disengage.
A long, robust, non-rotating claw extractor rides atop the bolt, reciprocating in a slot milled into the top of the rear receiver ring. It draws fired cases rearward and flings them skyward when the bolt is worked.
Interestingly, Krag bolts have just one locking lug up front. There’s a backup lug that rotates in against the right front of the rear receiver ring, and the bolt handle itself serves as a backup to the backup. However, the solitary front lug bears the brunt of the pressure and was a primary reason the Krag was deemed unsuitable for use with the higher-performance cartridge the Army realized was called for after the Spanish-American War.
The rear sight on later variations (like the one shown here) is impressive. Of ladder-type design, it’s capable of relatively accurate volley fire at extreme distance. It features a small notch and a spring-steel aperture that can be rotated up into place to provide a very fine sight picture. It’s adjustable for windage via a small knurled knob on the left side.
The Krag-Jørgensen Model 1898 rifle shown was manufactured in 1900. This configuration was by far the most common of the U.S.-made Krags, and according to historic records, some 324,283 were made.
It was purchased by the grandfather of the friend I borrowed it from. A brand and his initials are burned into the left side of the stock. From what
I can tell, only the stock was “sporterized.” The barrel remains the original 30 inches long. (Original carbines had 22-inch barrels.) The heat shield was removed from the fore-end, and the steel fore-end cap, bayonet lug, and stacking swivel are gone. The owner hunted deer with it, and at least one of his grandsons eventually did as well.
One unique thing about this particular rifle is the slip-on rubber recoil pad. These were issued with M1 grenade launchers, from around 1931 until after World War II.
Ammo is hard to source currently, but I was lucky to find a partial box of Hornady .30-40 Krag cartridges loaded with 180-grain bullets. I also test-fired a few rounds of vintage Winchester Western Super-X ammo topped with 180-grain Power-Point bullets. The 9.5-pound weight of the rifle and the modest cartridge pressure and muzzle velocity made the Krag a real sweetheart to shoot.
Accuracy was good with Hornady’s new factory ammunition, and this ammo was superbly consistent, with a single-digit standard deviation. The vintage Winchester ammo shot quite well too, but velocity was less consistent.
Even with the limited amount of ammo I test-fired, I quickly became enamored with the classic Krag.
I think I need one of my own.
Krag-Jørgensen Model 1898 Specifications
- Manufacturer: Springfield Armory, springfield-armory.com
- Type: Bolt-action repeater
- Caliber: .30 Army (a.k.a. .30-40 Krag)
- Magazine Capacity: 5 rounds
- Barrel: 30 in.
- Overall Length: 49.5 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.4 lbs.
- Stock: Walnut
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in. (increased to 14.7 in. with vintage slip-on recoil pad)
- Finish: Blued barrel and action, oil-finished stock
- Sights: Ladder-type rear, bead front
- Safety: Wing type on cocking piece
- Trigger: 3.06-lb. pull (as tested)