Back When Sears Sold Commercial Mauser Rifles

Firearm News, Gun Collectors, Major Van Harl, Mauser


JC Higgins Model 50 High Power Rifle with Mauser Action

USA – -( You could not even hunt with a centerfire rifle in the state of Illinois back in the 1970s when I first got into the retail / wholesale firearms business. You were allowed to hunt squirrels and rabbits with a 22 rimfire, but everything else, which really meant whitetail deer had to be hunted with a shotgun.

When you work with, provide customer service too, and in-between hang out with other firearms enthusiasts, you are always talking guns. However, back in those days, the topic of conversation was not about black rifles and high capacity handguns, it was about building the best bolt action, centerfire hunting rifle you could. That “magical” custom rifle you would spend hard earned money to build, for that elk hunt “someday” out west.

Winchester had stopped making their Model 70 bolt action rifle in the “old quality way” and had changed the design of the Model 70s made after 1964. Before that happening it was not uncommon for a future western hunter to buy a Winchester Model 70 just for the action. They would disassemble the rifle only to get to that action. An American made bolt action that was a quality commercial version of a 98 Mauser bolt action.

The Mauser Model 98 was the standard military bolt action rifle, for Germany in both WWI and WWII. The fact that many nations around the world also used German made 98 Mauser rifles for their armies increased the Mauser international footprint.

The Model 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle that the US military used in WWI and WWII was a 98 Mauser clone. I understand before the US going to war with Germany, they paid some type of royalty to Mauser. The P-1914 bolt action that the British used in WWI (manufactured in the US) that later became the M1917 that the US used in WWI, was a direct Mauser 98 clone.


Importation of war surplus rifles into the US after WWII was severely curtailed for political reasons, because of complaining by the US commercial gun industry. Why buy a factory new Winchester or Remington bolt action rifle when for pennies on the dollar you could get a well-built, slightly combat used, German 98 Mauser chambered in 8mm Mauser and capable of hunting anything in North America?

Politics kept the surplus Mauser 98 actions out of the US and changes in design and production lessened the desire of American hunters to build a custom rifle on a currently made Winchester Model 70 action.

The Belgians had been making Mauser rifles since the late 1880s and perfected the 98 Mauser. After WWII, when Fabrique Nationale (FN) got their firearms manufacturing capability out of the hands of the Nazis, they started producing both military and commercial versions of 98 Mauser rifles.

Two Mauser Bolt Action Rifles; TOP Parker Hale Mauser Rifle with Scope, BOTTOM Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle
Two Mauser Bolt Action Rifles; TOP Parker Hale Mauser Rifle with Scope, BOTTOM Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle

The FN commercial 98 Mauser action became the post-war industry standard for building fine bolt action rifles. Many of the famous names in the rifle manufacturing industry in Europe and the rest of the free world used the Belgian, commercial 98 Mauser action to build their proprietary custom rifles. Browning firearms being one of the American firearms companies that built high-quality bolt action rifles for world consumption on FN commercial 98 Mauser actions.

Sears and Roebucks, the people who would sell you almost anything that was legal also had extremely well manufactured, quality bolt action rifles built on FN commercial 98 Mauser actions. They were assembled by High Standard, with a chrome lined barrel and sold to the Sears customer under the J.C. Higgins name.

Browning was making almost the same rifle Sears was producing and calling it a custom firearm. Sears sold their FN Mauser rifles in both 30-06 and 270, and because of the J.C. Higgins name, some called these rifles “hardware guns.” Implying the Sears / FN 98 Mauser rifles were on the same par as a mass-produced single shot shotgun sold for $15 at the local hardware store.

What Sears unknowingly did was create a “sleeper” classic rifle that to this day is still misunderstood, underappreciated or undervalued.

So I walk into this estate sale a few weeks back. The home was a mess, and I almost left because of the smell, but next to the cashier I spot a rifle barrel sticking up. You just do not see firearms at estate sales anymore. I do not know if that is because of security risks or because of the increased value of firearms and the fact they command better money away from a rummage sale.

Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle Profile
My Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle estate find.
Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle Mauser Action
Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle Mauser Action
Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle Mauser Action Left Side
Fabrique Nationale J.C. Higgins Model 50 Rifle Mauser Action Left Side

I asked to see it, and as my hands took possession of the firearm, I knew it was a rifle built on an FN commercial 98 Mauser action. It was one of those “be still my heart” moments. And in fact, it was a J.C. Higgins model 50 bolt action rifle, chambered in 30-06 and made in 1950.

A little bit of wear but nothing like you might expect given how run down the rest of the home was. I could not see down the barrel, and the salesperson would not let me take a coat hanger and run it through the barrel. I was afraid a bullet might have been lodged in the barrel. Of course, not knowing what kind of damage that would have produced. He wanted $200, and I offered $150, but the seller would not budge.

I convinced myself that even if the barrel was ruined the FN commercial 98 Mauser action was worth twice the $200 (or more) I was about the pay for the rifle. So the FN 98 rifle that was disguised as a run-of-the-mill Sears firearm went home with me. Someone had put some grease in the barrel to protect it and after I ran a patch through I got to see what a 68-year-old chrome lined barrel looks like. It was shiny and almost like new.

One of the cross screw nuts used to tighten the rings that hold the 2.5 Weaver scope is missing and someone used a nut from the hardware store as a replacement. It works, so, for now, it will stay.

FN Mauser Action
FN Mauser Action

I contacted Tim Sundles at Buffalo Bore Ammunition and told him about the FN Mauser. He congratulated me on the find and suggested I could sell the rifle for three times or more than what I paid for it. It is that Sears name that unfortunately keeps the price and desire to own the Model 50 depressed.

We discussed hunting in North America for large game with a 30-06. 30-06, that is that great-great grandpa cartridge that Sgt. York was used in the trenches of France in the first World War. Does anyone still use that antique?

It would appear that Mr. Sundles does not think the 30-06 is an antique. I like large bullets, so the Buffalo Bore ammo 40C loaded with a 180 gr. SPTZ bullet was suggested to meet my needs. Mr. Sundles has been hunting black bear for the past 15-20 years using his 40C, 30-06 load. He honestly could not remember how many animals he has taken with that 180 gr. SPTZ bullet.

Now, what Mr. Sundles really likes is his 40B, 30-06 ammo, which is loaded with a Barnes 168 gr TTSX bullet . He believes this is the best bullet and best all round 30-06 load for North American large game. Take a look at his website that I have included.

I am also including the Barnes web page that gives you information and a video about the .308 / TTSX bullet. I am not a cartridge expert; that is why I spoke to Mr. Sundles.

After reading his input and talking with him, and then reading and watching the Barnes information online, I must admit I am convinced that my old (but newly found) FN Mauser loaded with Mr. Sundles ammo, chambered with the Barnes TTSX bullet will garner that “antique” 30-06 much modern appreciation.

Buffalo Bore 30-06 Supercharged Lead-Free Ammo
Buffalo Bore 30-06 Supercharged Lead-Free Ammo

Kim Sundles (Tim’s wife) decided to hunt her first elk in 2018. She used one of the other 98 Mauser cloned rifles on the market that was chambered in 30-06. At 200 yards she took a bull elk with one shot using the 40B load with the 168 gr TTSX Barnes bullet. Mr. Sundles has been loading the Barnes TTSX bullets in his Buffalo Bore ammo in various calibers and weights ever since the bullet came on the market.

Sgt. York was armed with an M1917 Enfield bolt action rifle on 8 October 1918. The Enfield was a direct US manufactured clone of the German 98 Mauser action. It makes me wonder if Sgt. Alvin York, US Army, might have been even more proficient that day during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in France if he had had some of Tim Sundles’ ammo.

Sgt York was awarded the Medal of Honor for his shooting skills and leadership under fire. There is no revisionist history, but there is nothing wrong with improving on the tools that make new history.

I built my first 30-06 rifle out of an old trade-in 1903 A3 military Springfield action. At the time still paying student loans did not afford me the luxury of buying an FN commercial 98 Mauser action. Now in my senior citizen years, I finally have my first Belgian manufactured FN commercial 98 Mauser rifle, and good old Sears made it just for me.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret. / [email protected]

Major Van Harl USAF RetAbout Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force, was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]

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