1903 Springfield Ammo Test: Is Your Rifle CMP Worthy?

1903 Springfield Ammo Test: Is Your Rifle CMP Worthy?
1903 Springfield Ammo Test: Is Your Rifle CMP Worthy?

Grand Rapids, MI USA -(Ammoland.com)- A friend of mine recently asked me a question about shooting in rifle competition. I primarily shoot in the CMP division at the Camp Perry National Matches and have more than a handful of medals to prove it. My enjoyment is genuine and the guns I use today are top quality… but are sometimes over one hundred years old. My friend’s question was about finding an accurate CMP rifle and what to expect from a gun you may find on the rack at a gun store.

For this article I wrangled five variations of the legendary 1903 Springfield rifle. They included the following:

Rifle #1: 1903 dated to 1915, fully original condition. The gun was in like-new condition. Muzzle and throat both gauged at 0.

Rifle #2: 1903 dated to 1923, replacement stock used. Rack-grade rifle in terms of quality. Muzzle was 3 and throat 4.

Rifle #3: 1903A3 dated to 1942, new stock used, custom fit. New Criterion barrel. Muzzle and throat gauged at .5 and 1. This rifle has been used heavily in competition, but is essentially a ‘new’ gun.

Rifle #4: 1903A3 dated to 1942, mix-and-match parts gun built on a drill rifle receiver. 1943 barrel attached that gauged 5 at the muzzle and 3 at the throat. Very rough gun overall.

Rifle #5: 1903A3 dated to 1943, all-original matching Remington. Muzzle gauges at 1 and throat at 0. This is the author’s personal rifle.

The interesting thing about these rifles is that all of them, despite being very different individually, are all legal to shoot in the Springfield Match at Camp Perry and may be similar to what you would find today at a gun show or a specialty store. Hell, you’d probably be able to find one in your grandpa’s shed if you looked hard enough and it may come with a good story to boot.

These rifles were all fired under identical circumstances on the same day during a long and exhaustive test session. All rounds tested for velocity were fired over an Oehler 35P chronograph at 40 degrees Fahrenheit while six feet from the muzzle. The rifles were fired in the same way that one would shoot competition. I used a 1907 sling to stabilize the rifles in a manner legal for CMP, which is to tighten the sling above the bicep to pull the rifle hard against the shooting glove and shoulder to make it rigid.

I reached out to my friends at Hornady and they were kind enough to supply me with two factory-loaded .30-06 offerings, the 168gr ELD Match M1 Garand load and their excellent 150gr Interlock American Whitetail. I wanted to set the stage for this by using a classic load like the Interlock and a dedicated match load specifically for these rifles. In addition, I tested three handloads. They consisted of the following Hornady bullets with Varget powder in military brass: 125gr BTHP, 178gr ELD Match, and 195gr ELD Match. I elected to go with handloads because most people shooting matches load their own ammo.

I tested each ammunition separately in each rifle, meaning that I conducted the testing for the 168gr load in all five guns and then moved to the next load in all five rifles. This allowed me to gauge the performance of each type of ammunition individually in case there were any discrepancies between rifles. Five rounds were tested for velocity and then three, five-shot groups were fired for accuracy at 100 yards and averaged for my graphs. Yes, for the enterprising mathematicians among you that means that I fired 500 rounds of .30-06 in one sitting. Don’t worry, my shoulder is fine and it actually worked out to be only about an hour per ammo type, so 100 rounds per hour. .30-06 isn’t a savage beast of a cartridge, but it will wake you up compared to a little .223.

The only measurement that matters for us across these five rifles is group size. I didn’t make an attempt to zero any of the guns beyond their known zero, which was 100 or 200 yards with their owner’s target loads. Since I knew that I would be having some randomly placed groups, I hung up some big cardboards with a single point of aim in the center and went to town.To save time and to get it across to you clearly, I have assembled the data into two color-coded and easy to read graphs. It doesn’t even take a sharp eye to notice that there are some pretty distinct patterns that can be observed here, especially in terms of favored bullet weight in the 1903 family.

Of note is that the larger gauged bore on rifle #4 equaled the slowest (relatively) speeds and the worst accuracy overall. The gun had many more problems than just a sloppy bore, but it could still theoretically hold its own against the others in the hands of a skilled shooter using factory loaded ammo, which is pretty nice for the weekend competitor who doesn’t have the know-how to build or seek out a dedicated match gun.

What is most intriguing to me about this is how well-made the oldest gun in the test was. Rifle #1, made in 1915, delivered accuracy and velocity that was better than the others on average. The only other original rifle, my own, was comparable but just not quite as capable. I credit this to the finer sights on the 1903 as opposed to the more crude peep setup on the 1903A3. The original 1903 rifles were truly spectacular pieces of craftsmanship and their quality still stands up today.

So let’s talk about accuracy in these guns and what to expect on match day. The people that are obsessed with getting ½” groups out of their AR rifles may scoff my good 1.5” groups, but keep in mind that these are averages and I’m shooting off a sling in a coat, not with a bipod and scope. The performance of these old guns is extraordinary considering that two of them are at or nearing 100 years in age. The game of CMP isn’t about printing a tiny group under controlled conditions. You’ll be sweating, tired, fatigued, and probably miserable on the line. You’ll be shooting a heavy, hard-recoiling rifle with military iron sights at 200 yards, both on the ground and standing. To hit the black under those conditions is hard, and to hit constant 10’s and X’s is harder yet, but it is done all the time and you can do it, too.

I’d go so far as to say that CMP, especially with the Springfield, M1 Garand, and various other military rifles, is about as challenging a sport as you could ever hope to shoot. In fact, it may be the most difficult type of rifle competition out there. It isn’t just dependent on conditions, but it heavily relies on your personal relationship with your individual rifle. To be successful you must truly know your gun and ammo and make them work together. There are no promises with a 70-100 year old rifle.

To be successful you must truly know your gun and ammo and make them work together. There are no promises with a 70-100 year old rifle.
To be successful you must truly know your gun and ammo and make them work together. There are no promises with a 70-100 year old rifle.

Tests like I did here allow you see what I can see when I look at these numbers. That mix-and-match drill rifle in my test, rifle #4, using factory Hornady match ammo, can still put 10 consecutive shots into an average of about 3.7 MOA, which is fully inside the 9-ring! That’s right, even with a shoddy rifle you could be competitive enough to be successful. To put those numbers further into perspective, rifles #1, #3, and #5 will hold the 10-ring all day long, and there will be some X-rings scores in there just by the law of averages.

If you have a 1903 or 1903A3 sitting at home, get off your butt and get yourself some Hornady 168gr ELD Match ammo and get out to a CMP-affiliated club. These guns and their history need to be preserved in our culture and you should be out there firing yours.

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About Josh WaynerJosh Wayner

Josh Wayner has been writing in the gun industry for five years. He is an active competition shooter with 14 medals from Camp Perry. In addition to firearms-related work, Josh enjoys working with animals and researching conservation projects in his home state of Michigan.