Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Mannlicher M72

When a Mannlicher-Schoenauer Is Not A Mannlicher-Schoenauer

It may be a strange thing to ask, but when is a Mannlicher not a Mannlicher? You have to go to several sources to find the answer to this question, and the result is only more confusing. The present traditional description of a “Mannlicher” is nested in the use of the fully stocked carbine configuration first made famous in the line of Steyr factory products by the commercial variant of their M1903 model, which was made as a carbine and as a rifle. But wait, Steyr made the M1903 in a full stocked carbine, a half stocked rifle, a half stocked carbine, and you guessed it, a full stocked rifle. The ones that made their mark on the hunting public were the full stocked models, handy, easy to shoot, and remarkably accurate for the day. Some sources claim that the M1903 was for years the M94 Winchester of England, quite a claim.

In fact, the stock design so wedded to the M1903 was well established by 1800 via European and North American gunsmiths, and people made little thought of the full stocked configuration. You can find “mannlicher stocked” rifles and carbines through out the 1800s coming from assorted European factories, with no mystique attached to them whatsoever. It remained for the 6.5x54mm M1903 to do that, and at a time well after the establishment of the “Mannlicher” name in weaponry. Soon after the M1903's taking of the market by storm, any and every respectable gunsmith was turning out full stocked carbines and rifles, a marketing item that remains in effect into the twenty-first century. Today (2006) you can buy new “Mannlicher” Rugers, Remingtons, Blasers, Steyrs, and more, for the design has never gone away.

One of the most confusing Mannlichers is the Steyr Model M-72, apparently manufactured from 1972-1976. According to Herr Hambrusch (Steyr CEO during the 1990s) it was a backup design for Steyr in case the Sporter model of 1968 became a market failure, however, the Steyr Sporter, more commonly known as the Steyr-Mannlicher, did well on the market and made the M-72 unnecessary. Indeed, one wonders why Steyr went to the effort of producing the M-72 in the first place. However, Steyr went forward with the production of the M-72 in two action lengths, and created the greatest curiosity in the Mannlicher-Schoenauer world in the process. Why did the Steyr management see fit to place the following markings on the left receiver side of the M-72, that is anyone’s guess. One look at a M-72, tells you it is not a Mannlicher-Schoenauer, but there on the receiver are the words

Mannlicher-Schoenauer M72
Made in Austria

right there in plain view. It’s enough to make any serious collector shake their head in disbelief and wonder if they are looking at a fake, but shortly the plethora of Austrian proof marks and Steyr factory symbols is enough to remove any doubt that this piece is the real thing, but why? That’s a good question.

Look at a M-72, the barrel is from the Steyr-Mannlicher production line, complete with swirls, but the magazine! Oh No! It does not have the familiar rotating release of the basic Mannlicher-Schoenauer of 1903 through 1968, the cute little button on the bottom is long gone, and inside the magazine well is a very workmanlike rotary magazine reminiscent of the Savage M-99 rifles, yet the blue is the same high quality as one would expect of a Mannlicher-Schoenauer. Now comes a look at the bolt. The handle has a Mannlicher style shape, but it’s at the rear of the bolt, like a Mauser. Open the action and you feel the smoothness and quality of a Mannlicher, but you find a six lug bolt and a partially enclosed bolt head, modern, but a far cry from the old and dearly beloved Mannlicher-Schoenauer. The magazine release is still there, but it’s a cheap little metal plate, not the solid knurled button of old. The sights, well, they are the same as those used on the Steyr-Mannlicher, there’s a lot of crossover between the two new models, and the wood work is excellent, a combination or European style and American. Finally the truth comes out, this rifle is one more heck of a well bred half breed!

The safety on the M-72 requires its own paragraph, because it is different. The entire bolt shroud also forms the safety lever mechanism in a strange looking bolt extension that rotates left and right via pressure on one of two wings. Press down on the right wing and the M-72 goes to safe, with a locked trigger and a locked bolt. Press down on the left wing and the rifle is now ready to fire, including the revealing of a large red portion on the lower left side of the bolt shroud. If that red section is not enough, there is another red dot on the top of the bolt striker that protrudes from the rear of the bolt when the piece is cocked. Over engineered, or maybe an early look at our tendencies to sue firearms makers, the Steyr engineers made quite a safety.

The specifications of the M-72 are very basic, there is the Model L/M and the Model S and S/T. The L/M is sized for the 57mm and .30-06 class cartridge cases, and chambered for the .22-250 Rem., 5.6x57mm RWS, 6mm Rem, .243 Win, 6.5x57mm, .270 Win, 7x57mm, 7x64mm, .308 Win, and .30-06 USG. This is the most familiar version, and they are commonly found in North America in either full stock or half stock. The Model S is chambered for the 6.5x68mm, 7mm Rem Mag, 8x68 S, 9.3x64mm, .375 H&H, and .300 Win Mag. The Model S/T is chambered for the 9.3x64mm, .375 H&H, and .458 Win Mag. The only way to differentiate between these last two models is to weigh them, unless you have a .458, which was only made in the S/T version. The model S weighs 3.9kg (8.6 pounds), and the S/T weighs 4.2 kg (9.3 pounds). The S/T also had an optional 23.6 inch barrel, the normal S barrel was 25.6 inches. To this writer’s knowledge, the S and S/T models are extremely rare in the USA, knowing of only one, a 9.3x64mm, in this country. In fact I was not aware of even the existence of S and S/T models until the summer of 2005 when I discovered long action Steyr owners living in Finland!

As usual with Steyr products, you have single triggers and double set triggers, vented recoil pads, and lacquer or oil finished stocks. Model L/M magazines hold five rounds, Model S and S/T magazines hold four rounds. Scope mounts were available via Steyr, Buehler, Redfield, and later Gun South Inc., and, some examples have a reinforcing stock crossbolt, a la the Winchester M70, others do not.

Whatever your taste is in Steyr products, a M-72 should be in your collection. I hunt with my 5.6mm and 7x57mm carbines, while the new in the box .243 rifle remains a safe queen.

Mannlicher M72 Gallery
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