By Jon Sundra
The new Steyr-Mannlicher SM 12 just may be the most conventional bolt-action sporting rifle coming out of Germany or Austria today. Compared to guns like the Blaser R93 and R8, the Merkel RX Helix and KR1, the Sauer 202, the Krieghoff Semprio, the Anschutz 1727 and the Heym SR-30 to name just a few, the SM 12 is downright pedestrian in its design! But that’s not to say it’s a ’98 Mauser-type action, either. Like the Mauser, it does have 180-degree opposed locking lugs at the head of the bolt that require a 90-degree bolt rotation (handle lift). Also Mauser-like is the fact that its locking lugs engage abutments in the receiver ring rather than the barrel, and there is no barrel/caliber interchangeability—a feature that is almost becoming mandatory with European hunters.
Arms making in the Austrian city of Steyr goes back to the 12th century and has continued there right up to present day. The roots of the current company go back to 1869 with the formation of the Austrian Arms Mfg. Co., for which the brilliant firearms designer, Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher, worked until his death in 1904. Mannlicher was perhaps the most prolific gun designer in history, but is best known for his “en bloc clip,” and for the Model 1895 straight-pull rifle that was used by many European countries in both World War I and World War II—some three million of them were manufactured. Also employed at the Steyr works was Otto Schoenauer, another firearms designer who perfected the rotary spool magazine that was later copied by Arthur Savage and incorporated in his Model 99 lever-action rifle.
In the early 1970s, it was Steyr who developed the bullpup concept in a military rifle in the form of the StG77 AUG, an acronym which in translation stands for “Universal Army Rifle.” Chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, the AUG and variants thereof have been adopted and are in use as the martial arm in 11 countries. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) also field Steyr AUGs.
The SM 12 sent for T&E was reportedly the first one available to the press; it was chambered in .308 Win., which is one of 13 calibers being offered this first year. The initial impression one gets on seeing the gun for the first time is that it is styled for the European market. I say that because the stock has a very subtle but nonetheless drooping buttstock instead of a straight comb or a Monte Carlo, a Bavarian-style cheekpiece, and the sliver-like forend they seem to prefer over there. Instead of checkering or stippling, the grip and forend panels are done in a fish-scale pattern, and the rubber buttpad has about as much give as an I-beam. A rosewood forend tip with schnabel and rubbed oil finish to the walnut completes the stock cosmetics.
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