Maurice Ottmar 7x57 By SDH
Maurice Ottmar completed the Mannlicher stocked Mauser bolt rifle in time to display it at the 1985 NRA Convention in Seattle. (Coincidentally, the location of our first meeting although I was too overwhelmed to remember this rifle.)
Most everyone enjoys looking at a fullstocked carbine, even if they don’t desire to own one. This example is just 40” in overall length. I’ll describe it to you as I hold it in my hands.
The 19” tapered round barrel was marked “M. Ottmar Gunmaker 7x57 mm”. It was crisply contoured with a breech cylinder stepping down and tapering to a .540” muzzle. The barrel was fitted with an island rear sight base that holds a single standing leaf sight and two spring loaded folding leaves. They were hand engraved “100 yds. 200 yds. - 300 yds.” and each leaf has an inlaid vertical silver centerline. A short front base holds a small bead front sight. Both bases have attractive pointed finials on the barrel’s top centerline.
A small ring Mexican Mauser action is the heart of the rifle. It seems to be the perfect choice for a lightweight rifle chambered for a mild recoiling cartridge. The action has been externally trued and ground with a flat-top rear bridge. The cocking piece shield was fitted with a two-position wing safety.
The bolt handle was replaced with a swept back version that has three raised and checkered panels on the hollow knob. An adjustable steel trigger and new bottom metal - with a guard bow release for the floorplate - have been fitted.
The stock was made from a lovely stick of English walnut. The background color approaches an orange hue and the wood is well blessed with handsomely contrasting black streaking. From the grip forward it is quarter-sawn with the grain turning a bit in the butt to show even more smoky black waves of color. The beauty of the wood can also be appreciated through the keyhole views of the skeleton grip cap and buttplate.
With a curious departure from the norm, the grip cap, buttplate and sling swivel studs were manufactured from nickel silver. Now, if a client approached me with the idea of German silver furniture for a caplock Ohio halfstock, I’d agree in a heart beat. But a contemporary sporter, hardly. That is, until I saw this rifle. The nicely polished nickel has a mellow aged look and not the reflective glare you might imagine.
Stock architecture, as it relates to handling qualities and visual appeal, will make or break a custom rifle at the first glance, or touch. With a short-barreled full stock bolt rifle it is acutely critical because any deviant line will cause the rifle to look blunt or handle awkwardly.
The traditional theme of a Mannlicher stocked rifle portrays the elegance associated with a long barreled rifle in a fullstocked carbine. In other words, the goal is to translate sleek length into a compact package. Or, how to make short look long, and look good.
Historically it goes way back to Germanic wheellock rifles, as far back as the 17th century. This Ottmar rifle pulls it off as casually as some of the finest Jaeger rifles of the late flint period. Ottmar’s historic association and Germanic heritage have frequently shown up in his custom rifle design.
In my experience, if a rifle looks good it will usually handle well. One might say that looks and function are not necessarily associated and I would agree. But I would venture a guess that the maker that takes time to chose the appropriate components and designs a well planned rifle, also has a great deal of time invested in its function and handling qualities.
A short, small ring action was an excellent beginning. The magazine box appears to be full height holding four 7x57 cartridges. To reduce the profile height at the beginning of the forend, the stock is stepped down slightly in front of the forward guard screw. The step is just an eighth inch in height and from the bottom view is shaped with an attractive arrowhead. This architectural detail is repeated with the wood pedestals the sling swivel bases sit on. These small points can only be seen in a bottom view.
To enhance this forend transition area Ottmar carved small relief moldings into the stock at the front corners of the floorplate. An additional detail has the open V of the forend checkering straddling the step and pointing at the moldings.
In the full-length profile view the bottom line of the forend tapers towards the tip with what appears to be a flat line. Actually, it has just a bit of a dip towards the middle. Like a swamped barrel on a muzzleloader, the bottom line of the forend tapers then flairs. This makes the long wood look shallower, and vastly more elegant than a straight taper.
The top line of the stock is flat and true for its full length and covers half the diameter of the barrel. From a top view the flat next to the barrel channel dips inward to follow the sharp step at the barrel breech and tapers uniformly to the muzzle. The rounded upper quarter of the forend adds to the slender profile view and prohibits any notion of the slab-sided look of less graceful fullstocks.
Ottmar’s treatment of the ebony forend tip is one of those creative details that cause some folks to label stockmaking an art form. At its tallest, it is about .925” in height, and the maximum width is just under and inch. From whatever angle one chooses to view it, the dip and flair of the schnable is delightful. From the bottom view one has the added treat of a nearly 1/2” long finely tapered ebony point (some call it a widow’s peak) inlet into the centerline of the stock.
Although one hardly notices, all of these details smooth the lines as they flow from the major width and height at the action to the slender forend. In profile notice how the front sight and base flair out to complement the schnable tip. The front half of the rifle, the Mannlicher half, works admirably well.
The architecture of the buttstock falls within the parameters of the “American Classic” school of stock design. As with any style of gunmaking certain stocks will seem a bit different than the norm, somehow a bit more attractive, more pleasing to the eye. This Ottmar stock certainly fits into that category and I think I can point out some of the reasons.
The close-up photos of the cheekpiece clearly show that all of the stocks edges are hard, sharp and crisp; the outboard edge of the cheekpiece, the shadow line below the cove molding, the comb nose fluting and especially the point where the comb nose meets the cheekpiece hook. The comb nose is a traditionally difficult area to shape so stockmakers don’t always employ these three hard edges (comb fluting and two cheekpiece edges) all coming to together. If you look at the highlight below the comb nose fluting it appears as a uniform white streak. If there were even a hint of irregularity, the highlight would reveal it.
The highlights, or white glare spots seen in firearms photography act to show the curved transitions and the flat planes next to them. All of the highlights in these photos confirm the regularity of the stock shaping. There are no lumps, bumps or wavering lines.
Note the curve of the grip. It is a bit tighter and closer to the trigger than is the current trend. (Remember, this rifle was completed 15 years ago and the state of the custom gunmaking in America is in flux.) Open grip curves have become more fashionable in part because it is easier to make them look elegant. The curve of this grip looks, and feels wonderful to me. A couple of details help make this possible. First, there is just a small amount of wood (1/6”) below the toe line at the rear of the grip cap. Many stocks have a greater amount of the grip hanging down in this area. Because the transitions are is close together, the grip cap sets the form of the grip with deep fluting behind the cap and a deep transition valley at the rear of the grip. Many gunstocks lack these clearly defined details.
The design of the grip checkering makes the grip appear longer and sleeker than it really is. The thin uncheckered ribbon at the upper edge of the grip panel, and the length of the pattern from a narrow border at the grip cap all the way up to the trigger, accentuates the length of the grip. The checkering panel over the top of the wrist, the staggered forward V’s on the side and the lower borders almost coming together in a V at the front/middle of the cap, all combine to make a really well designed pattern that enhances the lines of the rifle while providing a sure gripping surface. The grip and forend panels are checkered about 25 lpi.
The execution is equally as good as the design. All of the checkering is slightly recessed and there is nary an unpointed diamond or run-over throughout. Also note the uncheckered border inside the grip cap and buttplate cutaways. These areas are checkered about 30 lpi.
Although the checkering is supposed to be pragmatic, the engraving is purely for embellishment. Small, and finely cut English “rose and scroll” decorate the rifle. A tasteful amount of coverage, by engraver Roger Kehr, dramatizes the lines of the metalwork. The bottom metal’s guard bow, floorplate and guard tangs, feature negative space layout that is sparse but complimentary. The action sports functional matting on the top of the rings and a similar amount of well executed scrollwork. This is exactly the amount of coverage and quality of design and execution that attracts even those who disdain embellished firearms. The signature “R.Kehr". Eng.” surrounds the rear guard tang.
All of the major metal parts are rust blued which helps to show off the engraving. The screw heads show the lovely glow of nitre bluing and, as an unusual twist, were not engraved. The cocking piece shield was color case hardened and, like the barrel breech, has a thin band of gold inlay.
Just holding this rifle is a pleasure. It weighs 6-1/4 lb. and handles like a fine double gun. High quality side-by-sides are a fair part of my business so I’m not exaggerating when I say that this rifle has the “between the hands” weight distribution and a balance point much like a well balanced British shotgun.
Whitetails, javelin, perhaps cougar? Any quarry within what I consider the 150-yard effective range of iron sights would be at risk. I’m not a fan of shooting at running game, but would love to try out this 7x57 at moving targets, or abundant jackrabbits. Unfortunately shooting this rifle was not possible, so I’ll just have to dream about it.
My friend Maurice Ottmar passed away several years ago but his contribution to custom gunmaking will live on forever with many special creation such as this rifle. Fortunately he had a broad and prolific career and has built many unique and imaginative custom guns. We are very lucky to be able to view and study this fine custom Mauser.